Over the weekend I visited the Catholic orphanage which I thought would be a depressing place. But it was an amazing experience. There were 34 children there, all but one under the age of five. These kids were the happiest kids I have seen in Kenya. They were used to getting visitors and flocked to me and my companions as soon as they saw us in the door. They wanted what every kid wants: love. They wanted hugs and kisses, they wanted to be picked up and never put down. They wanted to be pushed on the swing, and a piggyback ride, and to play pattycake. I went with the volunteers from Spain and one of the Brothers and the 8 of us each went to a corner and played for an hour. Steve was in charge of the swing; pushing each child for ten giggle-filled passes. Alfonso, a guy with a big lap and a bigger heart, was bouncing four children at once on his knees. Vicky was listening to a small group proudly recite their ABCs. I spent most of the time having my hair pulled out by some enthusiastic future beauty stylists. The first sad part was hearing that many of the children actually have parents out in the manyattas who are too poor to keep them. The second sad part was leaving. The kids wanted to be swung in one more circle, give one more sloppy kiss, or to hold hands for one more minute.
On Sunday evening a dust storm started up. The wind blew hard like it does during a New England blizzard. Instead of snow swirling around getting in my eyes, it was red dust. I returned home in the evening and it was pitch dark. The dust had obscured the moon and stars that usually light up the way. I struggled against the wind to get my laundry off the line before it blew away. I succeeded, only losing one sock that I found the next day stuck in a bush. On the way to school that morning, I had to hunch over against the wind. With my eyes squinted nearly shut to discourage dust, I tripped more than usual. I got to school very thirsty. Of course I was thirsty, it was a moisture-sucking dust storm. I always bring a nalgene full of water but today I noticed when I got to school that the water that I had left in there from a couple days before had turned mouldy. It was super gross, chunks of mold freely swirling around. I really didn’t want to drink that. Unfortunately, there was no other water to be had. My school provides a 20 L jerrycan of water for the staffroom to drink and use for washing hands. It tastes absolutely awful, like soot, but is better than nothing. Today, however, there wasn’t much water left and I knew it was important to be able to wash our hands. My school doesn’t have any spoons, so we have been eating rice and cabbage with our hands. I washed my hands, and tried to ignore my thirst. The lunch was slim as well, only a couple tablespoons of cabbage on top of the rice. By the time I finished eating and picking rocks out of my teeth with my fingers, I had a headache from the thirst. I went to class, still trying to ignore it. I walked to the lab with my students, we were planning on testing the effect of impurities on the boiling point of water, when a dust tornado formed in the clearing between the classrooms and the lab. It was big, at least 15 ft high, and fat. The two students, the lab guy, and I all ran to the door of the lab. It was like a scene from Twister. One girl was struggling with the keys to the lab as the rest of us pressed against the side of the building urging her to hurry. The dust got closer and closer, and Arbe panicked and tried to run away to escape it. The lab guy and I were urgently looking from the dust tornado to Halima with the keys slipping in the lock. She finally got the door open and we all piled inside. The tornado was on us as we yelled for Arbe. I grabbed her arm and yanked her inside and slammed the door. The windows and door rattled as the tornado hit. We all took a deep dusty breath and giggled at our close call. After class I returned to the staffroom and looked longingly at my water with the leisurely swirling clumps of mold. I resigned myself to drinking it anyway. I have some iodine pills that are meant to kill bacteria. I used two of the small brown pills and shook the bottle to ensure all the moldy microbes were murdered. I emptied a couple of red Gatorade packets into the mix, thinking it would mask the strong iodine flavor and, maybe, hide the dead, but still large, clumps of mold. Then I let the concoction settle. I was pretending that all the mold clumps would settle on the bottom of the bottle. I told myself that it could not be any worse than the weevil-eating incident of a few weeks ago. I took a deep breath, lifted the bottle to my lips… and then a miracle occurred. I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the dust cloud that heralds an incoming car. I put the mold-iodine-juice down and breathed a sign of relief. A car meant I would be able to catch a ride home. A car meant I wouldn’t have to walk home through the dust cloud and I would be there in 10 minutes instead of forty. And most importantly, a car meant I would be able to drink plenty of mold-free water when I got there. I lament the loss of two packets of Gatorade, but I’m sure it is a worthwhile sacrifice and probably much better for my health.