Posted on September 27, 2013
Life in Eburru has officially gotten hard.
It’s not hard because I have to fetch water from a well and carry it to my house.
It’s not hard because I have no running water and for the last year have been taking “bucket showers.”
It’s not hard because I have to heat water on the stove to take a shower, or to wash dishes.
It’s not hard because I have to wash my clothes by hand.
It’s not hard because I have to go to the school to get drinking water and then carry it to my house.
It’s not hard because almost every night the electricity goes off without warning, for an indefinite amount of time.
No, all those things make life inconvenient, but not hard.
What makes life hard is knowing the truth is almost impossible to find in Eburru.
Life is hard because I continually trust people, and that trust is continually broken.
Life is hard because there is no sense of justice or protection.
Life is hard because even when I try my best to help people, it doesn’t seem to help at all.
Life is hard because there are a million needs that are impossible to meet, and impossible to let remain.
Sometimes, it is all too much to take.
This month, more than any other, I have felt the isolation of Eburru. Probably because I still do not have a reliable internet option, I still do not have a tv or radio and so I am, at least in one sense, isolated from the rest of the world. I think I would be ok with that if it weren’t for feeling completely overwhelmed with all the things that have happened this month. Sometimes, the needs and the pain of Eburru are just too much to take in. It gets to be too much to bear at times, and it is in those times I long for connection to places and people outside of Eburru. I long for a distraction from the brokenness I see in front of me every single day. I probably shouldn’t want that, but man oh man what I wouldn’t give for a good “Duck Dynasty” marathon right now.
September started off great with a little 3 day respite in Nakuru. I love going to Nakuru for many reasons, not the least of which is there is no one there who asks me to fix an impossible problem. No one asks me for money, no one tells me heartbreaking stories, I don’t know the needs of the people behind the gated communities. I get to just relax. It’s great for me and for my soul. And, there is Java House which has the closest thing resembling “American food” that I have found anywhere in Kenya. After a month of eating potatoes, beans, and rice, it’s nice to go somewhere and get a tasty burger and fries.
A few days after I got back from Nakuru, I heard a story that one of my friends was being sought by the police. A girl in town was accusing him of rape, and he was on the run. I had no idea where he was, or if he would ever come back to Eburru. A few days passed and I got a phone call from my friend saying, “everything is ok now. The case is over.” I asked how the case was dropped and the answer was, “I paid 1,000 shillings and the girl told the truth.” At first glance it seems like a really great thing my friend was able to get out of trouble. Problem is, I have no idea what actually happened, and 1,000 shillings ($12) seems like a ridiculous price to pay to get a charge like rape just dropped. While I am happy for my friend, this leaves me questioning the justice system here even more.
As I am questioning how the police are even doing their job another thing happens. I’ve told you stories about Kamau and his sisters Mothoni and Susie. I love these kids so much. They bring a ton of joy to my life. Now, they are back in Eburru and so I get to see them almost every day. Well, a few days after the case of my friend gets dropped, I get a call from the police station: “Njeri, it’s Muigai. I am in the police station with Mama Kamau, Mothoni has been put in jail.” I ask what happened, and the story is a girl in Class 7 convinced Mothoni to go with her to get cabbages. Mothoni had no idea the girl was going to a field that was not hers to steal the cabbages. The girls got caught and were taken to the police. Mothoni is 8 years old. The police refused to let Mothoni go, even though the person who owns the shamba requested it, saying if they let Mothoni go they would have to let the other girl go as well. They said, “No, we cannot let her go it is the law.” So, it seems like the police are interested in upholding the law. Until the next morning when Mama Kamau went back to the police and they told her if she paid 400 shillings Mothoni could go home. Mama Kamau paid and Mothoni came home. As soon as I heard Mothoni was being released I went to their house to wait for her. When I saw her coming down the road I walked up to meet her. I gave her a huge hug and she just started crying. This poor little kid had to spend the night in jail, alone, all because the police were “upholding the law.” I got (and still am) so angry at the complete lack of justice and mercy for Mothoni. If all the police wanted was a bribe, why not tell Mama Kamau and let her pay the bribe at night instead of making this little girl spend the night in jail, completely terrified and alone? How does anyone here feel safe when any crime can be “dealt with” if only you find the right price? It’s insane.
Along with these things, September was the start of the new school term. That means school fees are due. For the first two weeks of September I could not go anywhere without someone asking me to pay school fees. Two solid weeks of being asked for money every day. It got to be so much I was afraid to go out of my house because I had no idea how many kids and parents would corner me to ask me for money. It wouldn’t be so bad being asked for money if I could change my attitude. If I could somehow hear the stories and understand it is not my job to meet all the needs presented to me, or give to every request then I could handle it. But, I actually feel really bad when I have to tell a kid who is asking me for school fees so they can keep learning that I just don’t have money to help any more kids. I try to explain how I am helping all the kids I can right now, but it doesn’t matter because it’s the kid in front of me who is not being helped. It simply is too much to take.
And then there is this: I have read books talking about money. I’ve read The End of Poverty, Toxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, Serving With Eyes Wide Open and they are all really great books with great insights. And a lot of what is said in these books I agree with. I agree just giving people handouts doesn’t help them in the long run. I agree with so much these books say. And yet, when I see a family struggling because they have no food; when I meet kids every single day in town center who tell me they have had nothing to eat that day; when I know a family is getting rained on because their roof leaks and they have no money to fix the roof; when I see all these things I think surely the books must be wrong. Surely it is better to feed people than let them go hungry. Surely the kids should not suffer because their parents are unable to provide a good house, or food to eat every day. Surely something should be done, right?
And, that intersection, of helping and not helping is what causes me to feel overwhelmed to the point of despair at times. How do I really know if I am helping someone? How can I see kids who are hungry and not feed them? And, how can I continue to see a leaky roof knowing the kids who live under this roof are constantly sick and cold because they can’t stay dry?
And yet, I am only one person, with finite abilities and resources and I cannot fix all these problems. I cannot buy all the kids of Eburru food every day. I cannot buy a new roof for a family and pay the school fees for their kids at the same time. I cannot give to every request that is presented to me. And sometimes, that truth just sucks. I want more than anything to fix it all. I want to make sure kids eat, to make sure kids get the medicine they need when they are sick, to fix a leaky roof, to help people start businesses so they can sustain themselves.
And I simply can’t do it all.
There should be so much freedom in knowing I am not the Savior. There should be so much freedom in knowing I cannot do it all. But, all I keep thinking is, “I am not the Savior, that is true, but the Savior brought me here for a reason, and what if that reason was to help this person?” If it was only one person that would be easy. I would just help them. But, it’s literally hundreds of people. Hundreds of people with thousands of needs. Sometimes, it’s just simply too much to take.