One day last week, I got the hell of my ghetto hood, and took the dala dala to visit my friend Justine at the orphanage she is volunteering at, around 45 minutes away at an oasis called Usa River. The ‘Cradle of Love’ is a baby home for newborns to three year-old infants who have either no parents, or parents who cannot take care of them for various reasons.
Hopping off the dala, we ventured for a short while up a lush green path to reach the COL gates. The orphanage itself is a collection of cheery pink buildings with terracotta roofs, surrounded by expansive gardens, and clotheslines with endless rows of drying nappy cloth. American founded, and Australian run, COL is a pretty uplifting place considering the circumstances by which its teeny residents come to arrive.
Take Noel, for example, a Down’s toddler who came to COL in 2011 after being abandoned on the steps of a local church. Or Jackson, an albino boy who was surrendered by his parents to the orphanage, to protect him from being murdered by Black Magic practitioners. Or Jerry and Ema, both born with HIV, or Jift, whose mother tried to flush him down the toilet. Other babies like Heaven’s Light and Goddy Bless were named so by their rescuers- alluding to the various conditions behind their miraculous survivals.
Sure enough, I teared up as soon as we entered the main building. Picture a roomful of the most adorable miniature muffins you could imagine, all charging for us, arms outstretched, desperate for cuddles. With so many perfect little pipsqueaks headed straight at you, how on earth were you meant to choose just one???
Well, turns out you can’t pick out a singular child. As soon as I hoisted one up onto my hip, I had about six others clinging to my legs and crotch area. I became a walking tree of baby humans (clearly a novice) and was quickly covered in saliva, tears, snot and soggy nappy. It was some reception.
I took a quick tour of the premises with Justine, who explained how the babes were separated into four categories: newborns, crawlers, wobblers and toddlers. Each group had its own daily schedule including feeding, changing, washing, naps and playtimes. We were to help out with feeding and playtime. My two favourite things!
When the nannies sing chakkuuuuulllaaa (food), the baby herd flocks to the feeding zone. Wobbler breakfast was our first duty. I was handed a bowl of cream coloured goop (maize porridge) and sat on a little wooden bench to get feeding. Despite its slimy appearance, the gruel is packed with energy and nutrients. Cheap and nourishing, the kids love it, and devour man-size bowls, which doesn’t seem healthy but what do I know. When your mother abandoned you in a field to die, like Ken, or was a drug addled prostitute and left you for days without food, like Hawa, this is heaven. A ginormous bowl of breakfast is hakuna matata.
The wobblers don’t have high chairs, so to consume their meals they assume a front-on standing position, with one hand on each of your knees, braced to be spoon fed at a very rapid pace. They really know the drill, and as soon as the bowl is empty, one wobbler departs, and you have a new hand on each knee ready to go.
After the feeding frenzy it is potty time for the wobblers, where they go and sit in a room altogether to do their business. Cute but stinky, and time for Justine and I to play outside on the grass with the toddlers. I made two boyfriends, Losokoni and Ibrahim, who ate exotic fruits from the trees and fought for my affections like regular Don Juans. We played some music (may have cranked some Toto), danced and flopped around having a grand old time.
Heading back up to the main house, we noticed a shady looking youth in a grotty tracksuit lurking around the crawlers playpen. Justine and I observed him with furrowed brows and wondered how this deadbeat made it through the gates. Unsmiling, he looked like one of the touts from the main street who might steal your camera. We consulted one of the nannies to discover his purpose, and see if we needed to call for help.
Turns out that forlorn man was no thief. He was the father of a crawler called Edgar who he had come to visit. When the nanny brought Edgar out to see his Dad, the young father’s face broke into the most beautiful smile and as he quietly hugged his boy, I felt like the shittest human alive for having judged him so horribly. The man clearly adored his baby son, but had no wife or means to take care of him. We learnt the plan is for Edgar to go back to his papa in a few years when he is older and able to look after himself. Let’s hope time flies for them both.