We are almost at Christmas which is proving to be a very busy, yet very exciting time! It is all of the usual Christmas activities - shopping, cooking, decorating, going to carol concerts, pantomimes only for/with 30 guys! We made a list last week of who we had to get presents for. It was more than 125 people and that was only boys, 4 of their relatives, (they could choose 4 each) workers and workers families.
So how do you shop for that many people, most of whom you don't know? Well, you go to Johannesburg, enter the shops with a list of ages and have lots of fun choosing outfits for all of them! Things in Johannesburg are a lot cheaper than here in Lusaka and a lot better quality. Don has started working with Zambezi airlines on a part time basis so we can get a good deal on flights and we stay with some people Don and Christine know which makes it worth the travelling to do the shopping. We took two big suitcases and 2 smaller ones which were empty on the way out but well and truly stuffed on the way back. This week we will begin wrapping all of the gifts.
A couple of weeks ago I took some of our boys to watch a Peter Pan play. Samson (the oldest boy that stays here) is involved with a group called bearfeet. It is a little bit like an amature dramatics group but they also do workshops and lots of projects with underprivileged children. They have worked with the boys here before but this time only Samson was involved in the play. The play was really good and the boys are still quoting lines from it! They had done it really well and included relevant places (Manda Hill, Lusaka, Soweto Market) and some Nyanja lines which got massive cheers. We were invited to go on the Friday but wernt able to make it so changed to go on the Wednesday. When we arrived the show was delayed by an hour as they were still waiting for the rest of the audience, they had gone to pick up a bus load of street kids who still live in Soweto market. The joy on their faces while they were watching the show and the whooping of delight when places they recognised were mentioned was so lovely to see however it was tainted with the overwhelming smell of glue as kids all around us were busy sniffing. It was so sad to see little children, and bigger children, who couldn't even go a few hours without glue. We all spent the evening recovering from the effects. In some ways I think it was good for our boys to have a reminder of how they use to be.
A few weeks ago we had a bad couple of weeks. I had drawn money out on a Thursday, which was still in my wallet on the Fri night. I didn't use the wallet on Sat and by Sunday morning it had gone. I spoke to Christine about it and we decided to watch and wait. Lots of the boys were going visiting on Thursday and if we hadn't caught the person by then the plan was to search them all. So Thursday came and we had our suspicions but they one we thought wasn't going visiting. Anyway we went ahead and searched them all, bags and person, and didn't find much. The next morning we managed to search the whole farm and the dorms but still found nothing. The person we suspected was still at home so we decided to set a trap. One night while we were watching a movie Don hid in my room and I left the door open. After about an hour the one went out... then came back in with a cup of water. Then again about half an hour later he went out, but came in quickly, then went again a couple of times then there was shouting and running with Don flicking on the light and announcing to the boys that he had just caught a thief. He was holding Danny. The boys were all very shocked that we had set a trap. Don had earlier announced he was going to bed and keep the noise down. Danny admitted to taking the money, he also confessed he had taken a lot more money but didn't say where from. He was taken to the gate and told not to ever come back. It is horrible to think of such a small boy (he is 10) being out on the streets but we cant have him here when he is acting like that and somehow he has to learn. This was also the final straw as there had been other incidents of bad behaviour and times when we were suspicious about the way he was behaving.
One of Christines dreams is to set up a bakery. She really enjoys cooking and somehow thinks she isn't busy enough with 3 mornings working and everything else! We had our first order for yesterday. 200 packets of small gingerbread biscuits, iced and packaged to look lovely. The plan was to cook them on Thursday afternoon and ice them in the evening, then package them on Friday. Thursday afternoon came, no power! We finished cooking them at 11.30pm on Thursday night then spent from 7am until 3pm on Friday sorting everything else out. We put a little card in each one so it is free advertising too. Hopefully we will get more orders, but next time have power!
I was lucky enough to have a trip to a lodge from Tues-Thurs this week. I won a prize for 2 nights for 2 people at a fund raising event back in October and asked Sarah to come along. We had contacts with the owner of the lodge so emailed him and asked if it would be ok for a couple of the boys to come and pitch a tent. (Usually they don't have tents at this lodge) He replied telling us to come when there are 2 chalets free and they can stay in one. So on Tuesday Nico, Lucky, Sarah and I headed off. We arrived at a beautiful lodge set on the banks of the Lower Zambezi river which had crocs, hippos and all kinds of animals in. We went on boat trips and a canoe trip (coming very close to elephants and crocs!) and had a wonderful time surrounded by the most beautiful scenery. Needless to say we didn't want to leave. It was a lovely break in preparation for the madness of Christmas and it was nice to spend some time with the other guys. The owner was very generous in allowing the boys to stay as well.
Today, by contrast, I have been to visit Emmanuel and Thandi's family. They are orphans who are 14 and 15. (I think.) They have an Auntie who lives in Kabwe, (which is a 2 1/2 hour drive,) with their sister and cousins. Another sister lives near by there and is married. The family really don't have much so the boys feel that going to stay would be an extra burden they don't need. We suggested going one day and taking them some presents for Christmas. This idea was greeted with great enthusiasm! So today we started off about 9 o'clock and went to Kabwe. We did some shopping, mainly of food as that would be the most useful gift we could give them, and then went to find the family. Thandi wanted to buy them clothes too but they couldn't remember the ages and didn't know how big the children were as it is over a year since they had last visited. The house is in one of the poor compounds on the edge of Kabwe but since the last visit they have managed to set up a little business selling charcoal. Last time the family had a lot of problems with sickness, the uncle had TB, but that seems to have been sorted out now as well. The family are still very poor though and the Auntie is very close to having another baby. The boys didn't want to stay long, all they really wanted to do was check everyone was ok, they are virtually strangers after all. It is also distressing for the boys because although they want to visit it is sad to see their family living in such conditions and not be able to do very much to help. At least one of the children was going to school as he was reading a tatty book outside to the other children so there is hope for him if they can continue to afford to send him to school.
In the next few weeks we anticipate being very busy with Christmas preparation then a few days after Christmas I am going to the other side of town to help with a party for the kids who are still on the street. It is being organised by a lady who has a similar, bigger project and takes in more cases of abuse, often the smaller children that have been abused by the bigger guys. She also does a lot of work going into places like Soweto where the kids are, and gets to know them. This should be an interesting experience, one which I am slightly nervous and excited about at the same time. She will go out at about 6am with a bus to collect the boys and bring them to her place where they will get presents and food be looked after for the day.
I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and New Year