Mambo! Poa!

Last week I explained Mambo. Poa is the proper response. Described to me as: Mambo = What’s Up? Poa = It’s cool.

At the end of our visit to Tanzania, we had an opportunity to visit a local orphanage our Canadian trip organizers and our Moshi-based guiding company were involved in supporting only blocks from the hotel we stayed before and after our assault on Mount Kilimanjaro.

Many of us had brought along clothing, toys and supplies from back home to give out.

Now, I didn’t know the situation at the orphanage. I didn’t know how many kids were going to be there, where they came from, how they got there (I have been consistently asked if the kids were AIDS orphans), or what the success rate of placing them is.

I didn’t go there pre-loaded with any information, expectations or intentions of changing the world for them. I just thought I would visit and see if I could make a brief, but positive, impact on them for one day.

Boy, did I have that one backwards…

These kids were amazing. Far from the foot-dragging doldrums atmosphere of the orphanage in the movie Oliver, these kids were some of the most outgoing, friendly, constantly-smiling kids I have ever seen.

I have video of them singing a welcome song when we arrived.

I am used to the performances I did at that age, or seeing my son’s performances at Selkirk Elementary. You know, where they put about a third of the kids in the front row because they put some effort in, and hide the rest in the back (I still remember Ben’s Christmas of the living dead… his “dance” looked like the shuffle of a zombie).

The orphans’ performance was nothing like that—100 percent effort and volume!

“WE ARE HAPPY, WE ARE HAPPY, WE ARE HAPPY TO SAY WELCOME! WELCOME!!”

That doesn’t make quite the impact it did at the time; I’ll post the video on the website edition of this article to give you a better feeling for it.

My next impression was how unexpectedly polite and honest and fair these kids were. Again, not at all like the kids from the Charles Dickens tale (I can’t believe the impact that stupid musical made).

About five of us were handing out pencils to a mob of kids. It was next to impossible to give a pencil to a kid who already had one; they would show you the one they already had and point out a kid who didn’t have one.

And it wasn’t because there was someone giving out Frisbees behind me, either. Those stayed in the bag until after the clothes and pencils and such were given away.

After the welcome performances and the clothes and such were given out, the fun began. Out came the toys and goodies. Gone was the organized distribution of goods and we really got a chance to meet and spend time with the kids.

Another surprise… they spoke excellent English! (OK, so did the kids in Oliver, but they didn’t speak a word of Swahili… Man, did I hate that musical!).

Winnie was the first girl I had a chance to chat with. She was eager to give me a quick tour of the place and show me the room she stayed in.

The kids all loved to have their pictures taken. You could hardly snap a picture before they were charging you to come and look at it.

It wasn’t as if they had never seen a camera or an iPod before. They were quite skilled on them. Leave them your iPod for a minute and they would be scrolling through your photo library and dragging and zooming your pictures like professionals.

I showed Rama my camera and how to take pictures. I think he was taking better pictures than I was.

I started taking video of the kids and showing it to them. They loved that, and Rama wanted in on this action as well.

I hand him my camera and BANG, he’s off like a shot, holding my camera in front of him. A quick flashback of the Artful Dodger, but the panic subsides as I realize he’s not taking my camera back to Fagin’s lair (Damn… that stupid musical again).

Instead, Rama was running my camera into all of the action. I had tried to take video of the action but failed miserably in comparison to the kids.

A six-foot fat guy has to stand back from the action and try to get good footage from a distance. A short, barefoot eight-year-old orphan has no such restrictions. They were in the middle of the action, right up close and in your face.

I think Rama has a future in the film industry.

It seemed everyone who went to the orphanage that day had a Rama of their own, and more than one. Rama, Gift, Regland… they were like my posse for the day, and each of us seemed to have one.

OK, so it wasn’t all Christmas Day and recess time at the orphanage. The kids didn’t seem to have their own shoes, just a pile of generic Croc-style shoes they would grab from (and not necessarily a pair) when they felt they needed them.

The rooms were small, just fitting two triple bunk beds, in which the kids slept two or more to a mattress. They stored what little they had on the top bunks, but it didn’t look as if they had a selection of clothes to choose from.

Their lunch was a millet porridge, something we also had on our hike. It was bland, but not bad, and made a good part of a healthy breakfast. Still, I wouldn’t want it to be the only thing I ate for lunch.

Most of the kids ate out of plastic cups, but at least one was eating from one of the new Frisbees they had received that day.

The orphanage had a corn mill on-site to process corn brought in by local farmers, or grown on the orphanage property. It was left to dry on tarps in the middle of the playground, but that didn’t stop the kids from playing. The soccer game continued right over top of the corn that was drying there.

I’m still not sure what the success rate of adopting out the kids is. I do know that adopting a Tanzanian child from Canada is difficult. The website I visited that night said that there was a three-year residency requirement for adoption.

That’s something I think about now, when I look at our spare room, or hear my kids say they have nothing to eat as they stand in front of an open refrigerator, or when I see the large piles of laundry stacked up here compared to the small piles I saw there.

So my visit to make a positive impact, however brief, on a sad and dirty group of kids turned into them making a lasting impact on me.

The good times they shared with me are something that will last in my mind for a long, long time to come.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series on Mark Beese’s recent trip to Tanzania in an attempt to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. In the final instalment, he will describe the climb itself. pagebreak

Beyond the information on the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre website (http://www.kiliorphanage.com), I have since found out that about 75 percent of the kids there were indeed orphaned by AIDS, the balance by malaria and other causes.

At the time I visited at least two of the children had AIDS as well. There are currently 45 children staying at the centre, and so far adopting out the children has not been successful.

I am pretty sure at least one adoption was hampered by the three-year residency requirement (Tammy assured me we had room for Rama).

The Centre has plans to develop a new property that will be able to house up to 100 kids. The 17-acre property has already been purchased. If all goes according to plan, water will be taken care of this year, electricity next and construction the following year.

The cost of this project is estimated at about $350,000.

Click Here to Read Part 1: