The Life Of A Child

What is a child worth – a million dollars, a billion, a trillion?

I don’t think you can put a dollar value on the life of any person, let alone a child. Over the last year Pete and I have been working on a unique situation which couldn’t be told until he had left the country.

Early last year I was teaching a small group of boys at a residential rehabilitation farm about an hour out of Nairobi. Pete goes there a couple of times a week to help out the practical side of things. I was teaching an English class.

Basically what happened is that the father of one of the teenagers appeared as he found out his son was in the program. Many years before he had been granted refugee status in Australia and he had just returned to his homeland and stopped through Kenya on his way back. He found out his son was alive so came for a visit.

What proceeded for the next year was this father working with us to get his son to be reunited with him. It’s a very long and laborious process but we all held our breaths at every roadmark waiting to see if he would pass the test.

It’s certainly not as easy as one would think.

There’s the court case to make sure no human trafficking is taking place. You have to prove that this 14 year old actually belongs to both parents. He has to get a birth certificate, no easy feat in Kenya.

Many of the places we went to he had never visited.

Many of the places we went to he had never visited.

One of the first tests is a biometric one. It’s a flash name for fingerprinting but you have to go to an assigned testing station.

Then there’s the mandatory health tests for TB, HIV/AIDS and a full health check. It takes about an hour to get there and you have to book out 2 full days.

Before each test we have to feed the young man and his mother, it will be the only meal they will have that day because they don’t have much money to get by.

The dad has to get a form couriered by DHL because he’s told that it has to be an original form and not a scanned one. I meet with the mother to get her signature. She travels about an hour for a 5 minute meeting. I then call the Australian High Commission about dropping it off and the lady says ‘you can always just scan it and email it through’. I dare not tell the dad that he didn’t need to pay the $60 to courier the A4 paper through after all.

It was only 2 days later we got the news that Sam (not his real name) had been given an all pass visa to move to Australia. We were so relieved, he finally could go to his new home.

But it isn’t that simple.

Imagine, this kid has never lived anywhere but Nairobi. He hasn’t finished primary school and the only aeroplane he has seen is in the sky. In Kenya not just anyone can enter the airport terminal, only those with a ticket. Sam would not have a clue of what to do or where to go. He’s intelligent but it would be way overwhelming when it comes to travelling.

So, we go and book his flight and at the same time. I will be travelling part way with Sam – only to Dubai. From there he will become Emirate Airlines VIP.

A tour of the animal orphanage to see a lion close up.

A tour of the animal orphanage to see a lion close up.

After this I realized that this kid has never seen real wild animals. It’s a sad state but many children in Kenya haven’t simply because they don’t have the money for it. After chatting with his dad, we were given permission to take him to some animal game parks. One week we took Sam to see the baby elephants and then to the giraffe centre. The next week he got to stay overnight with us and at 6am the next day we spent hours driving through the Nairobi National Park. We couldn’t spot the lions so ended up going next door to the animal orphanage where there are caged lions who cannot be released back into the wild. At least he could see them in the flesh.

Very difficult to get a smile out of this kid!

Very difficult to get a smile out of this kid!

Often in poor families the kids all share the clothes. Whenever we have seen Sam we see him in different shoes and clothes, which often don’t fit properly. Today we take him to get two sets of clothes, brand new ones. That way, when he gets to cold Australia he won’t freeze too much (we hope).

I have to mention Sam’s parents. Both of them are brave and committed to this huge step for their son. It is difficult for any mother to release her child to someone on the other side of the world. She doesn’t have access to the internet. She doesn’t have a post office box (no mail boxes here). The likelihood of him calling her is very small. She won’t see him for years.

The father has spent A LOT of money not only for a ticket but all of the expenses involved in the process. He also has a new family in Australia he is providing for. The easy road would’ve been to forget his son or send money every now and then to the mother. Instead he chose to go on this long journey which never had any guarantee of success.

Mum and son

Mum and son

A child is not a small adult. They are vulnerable. They don’t think and act like an adult. They are immature and make dumb mistakes.

But they have hope and vision. They believe BIG things for themselves.

For this kid, the world is now his oyster. The possibilities for Sam are endless and we look forward when we return to Australia next year to see how he has blossomed.

He has a new home, bedroom and family waiting for him. He will go into high school. He will achieve his goal of going roller blading.

He will do well.

It has been an honour for us to be involved in this year long process and wouldn’t have swapped it for anything.

It’s been worth it because Sam is worthy.

The Trial of Getting a Visa

Pete puts it nicely – It’s not difficult to live in Kenya, it’s just complicated.

With 5 days out before we started out 52 journey home I remembered I didn’t have a visa for our 15 hour stay in Mumbai, India. Great for someone who has put together a 7 week itinerary through a few countries, schools, churches, clubs and business meetings – I totally forgot  about this.

No worries, after a couple of phone calls and checking out the website which stated that a transit visa could be done in one day and only $27 each. It’s kind of weird, India just announced that you can finally get a visa at the airport, just not a transit one. Liz has travelled through Mumbai airport a few times, me I haven’t been there for over 20 years. Most people say to stay clear of this airport but we had no choice. BeyondWater generously paid for my ticket but Liz was a different story. She has to be back in Aussie anyway as part of her pension agreement and she had no spare money.

So the trip has ended up Nairobi to Dubai, to Mumbai, to Singapore to Sydney. Sure it is painfully long but cut the price down by $1,000, so it will be worth it.

I convinced Joy, one of my co-workers to take Liz and I into town on a matatu as he was taking the car out to the farm. His motorbike won’t be ready for a few more days. Joy says she will be at our place the next morning at 6.30am, as she says, it’s better to be there early than to wait forever, and you never know what the traffic will be like.

First though we had to get new passport photos as the India visa requires a different size. Pete’s out late working so we walk up to the mall (only 15 minutes) and get our new photos at a price of $10. They look good, but we also had some normal size ones sitting in our draw at home.

Joy arrives on time as promised. She had to convince her parents that she wasn’t chucking a sickie from work and walks a distance to our apartment. Pete drops us off at Lavington, a 10 minute drive away and we manage to get straight into a matatu, which is rare. It’s normal practise to wait until the matatu fills up before it leaves and we filled the last seats.

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This is what a matatu may look like.

 

Now this is not a nice flash new 10 seater van. This is a beatup looking thing with Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie blaring out over the speakers. The great thing about catching a matatu is that they go where no one else dares and at a speed that is crazy for around here. If I were to drive not only would the parking be a nightmare, it would take 2 hours in the morning. We were moving along nicely until all of a sudden the traffic came to a standstill. This didn’t deter our thrifty driver, he swerved to the right and headed on the wrong side of the road, side swiping a cyclist with a passenger (they were fine) and he headed to the front of the line. While there is an insane driver there is also the conductor who collects the money (50 cents for a one way ride). He may or may not have a seat and when someone wants to get off he whacks the side of the van to tell the driver to pull over. He is also happy to yell out the one window that work ‘’Town, town’ in case someone needs a lift.

All is well until we near the CBD where we don’t move for 20 minutes. We decide to walk, a much better option. As soon as we get out a drunk elderly man walks past Liz and says ‘Nice hat’ – she wasn’t wearing one.

Right on 8.30 we get to a building that a security officer says is the high commission office. No signs, just another guard who tells us to leave our bag at the entrance. As in every other public place the security wand is waved over us. We proceed to a room that looks like an ancient library. Still no signs, no staff, just a couple of people who tell us that the line is the seating. So we sit for an hour. Slowly the crowd builds up, but no staff.

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A view of the Nairobi CBD

 

Dead on 9.30am a man walks in with his stamp, get’s it on the correct date and yells ‘next’. That my friend is but step one in the process. This nice gentleman says to go to the opposite room (no signs yet) where we take a seat. Our number (3) is called. The lady goes through the stamped papers and tells us we need to see her manager – the man seated next to her. We return to our seats to see the manager telling a woman that he ‘won’t process her visa and why did she leave it till now to get it’. No worries I thought, we’ve called, checked out the website. Liz and I approach the desk. He asks if these are the tickets (they say they are), we give all the forms. He knows what date we fly out, he knows we need a transit visa. He brings out another form which we duly fill in. He gets out his receipt book and starts with adding about another $15 to the fee.

At this point, I ask again for the umpteenth time ‘So, we will get a visa by the time we fly out on Friday’. He stops, puts his pen down and asks what time our flight is. His simple answer is ‘No, it won’t happen’. No, you can pay more and get it done faster, no reason why, just that he won’t do it. He’s the manager and it was his choice.

Stuff it I think to myself. How many times do you have to ask about time frames, will something get done, is it possible? I’m not asking to be in the country forever, just 15 hours.

‘I will have to withdraw my application’ I say. No reaction from him except ‘That’s your choice’.

What a dude.

So after a drink we catch an even more dodgy matatu back to work. Liz, she loses her phone.

No visa = changing tickets to be in India for only 6 hours + $100USD. I think it was worth it.

Today at 11.35pm we head for home.