Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Last Day

So little time, so much to do. We did a deal with Marvin over some pretty, semi-precious stones, we've just had a quick swim in the very glam and sparkling pool, then a jacuzzi. Supper out tonight, then an early start in the morning to fly home. Cross fingers the ash from the volcano keeps clear of Heathrow.

I have not yet told you of the girls' centre by the fruit market, a last-ditch safety-net for a few lucky girls, who are nominated by various community leaders in the huge slums as being especially needy or at risk (the mind boggles). They get to learn about horticulture, growing their own meagre lunch of veggies, cooked in a solar pot. That's better than nowt. During a one year stay, they get taught various useful skills - sewing with a treadle machine (no electricity there), making beads out of rolled up printed paper waste, and then threading them into stylish necklaces, crocheting some surprisingly handy little totes out of old plastic carrier bags, making small wallets out of fruit juice cartons. Yesterday, they were having a treat - a three course lunch at the sister of Shariffa, the Ismaili lady who founded it all. The girls would never have been served in that way in their lives. When Shariffa brought a doctor to see them, a woman from Chicago, and she asked each of them how they were - they burst into tears. No-one had ever asked them that. The doc gives them each a full check-up, once a year and can offer limited medicine. Even an aspirin is fabulously rare.

One of the girls took us around the market for some shopping, carrying the bags. Shariffa's driver Festo led us to the best stall for each purchase. Once again we found nothing but smiling courtesy in that dark and muddy place... but the produce was shining and beautiful. We gave Mary our loose change. This was the first money she had ever had of her own.

We talked to Iris, a volunteer and trained gardener who is leading the garden project. She is pretty inspirational, helping the girls work out what works best, experimenting with composting techniques. She's German, said she'd be glad of all my old gardening books which of course are in English - that way they can start a library and the girls can do some research into plant nutrition etc. Getting the books to them may prove tricky as the postal service is not 100% reliable.

The girls sang to us as they left - a slightly ghastly 'thank-you' routine but actually it rapidly became funny and fun. This project needs people to place orders for the pretty and stylish things they make - 100 necklaces, or 100 cushion covers, or 10 woven bags. I think you see this kind of stuff in cool shops in Brighton - anyone who'd like to know more, let me know!

Shariffa is a real star - cajoling people into supporting her project, and absolutely clued up about all of it. The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the Ismailis, said: if you have a son and a daughter and can only afford to educate one of them, educate your daughter. I'm into that, big time.

As it happens, in the evening we ate with our hosts' neighbours - she was born in Kenya and it was her mother who helped start the bead factory at Kizuri. Their three children are all devoting their working lives to the betterment of the country, one with a Slum TV service, another with UNICEF, etc. Their lovely open house was full of art and family pictures. They played hits from the 60s in the sitting room while we sat under a canopy on the terrace, warmed by a kippering chiminea...smoke billowed around us while we talked about the history of this marvellous country. David runs a tree planting charity - has planted millions of trees here. He also talked about a NIKE-backed project up on the Lake to help the young girls who trade in fish; recently the fishermen have started to demand sexual favours before they will sell their catches to the girls, so HIV/AIDS has rocketed. This project - again with horticulture and other manufacturing power - is transforming the lives of a few hundred or maybe a thousand girls. That's so few. But every single one counts.

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