Haley Kawaja passes out another Christmas hamper to a resident of the Kaptembwa slum in Kenya. — Submitted photos
Three days, 72 deliveries, $3,010 Canadian dollars. 1,800 tomatoes, 72 chickens, 15 people.
Five trips to the grocery store, three trips to the market, five slums, a lot of streets, one orphanage.
Four cars, three motorcycles, one truck. 132 emails, three Band-Aids, and 11 hours sleep.
This was the Kenya 10 Christmas Dinner Project.
In the week leading up to my first Christmas away from home, I found myself contemplating the whole idea of the holiday itself. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all here, but I wasn’t missing presents, or Santa hats, or lights or gingerbread lattes. It wasn’t the absence of “Jingle Bells” on the radio or snow on the ground.
I wanted to embrace Christmas in Kenya, but my lack of a Christmas-y feeling came down to the fact that I didn’t know what Christmas meant to me here.
This was a different Christmas, so I needed to do something different.
With just a week left to Christmas Day, I set a goal to feed 10 families. After sending out the initial batch of emails to a few friends and having the project idea published in my last blog, emails started to flood in. I remember thinking after one day, ‘oh gosh - I’m already at 20!’ By the next day it had doubled and by the 23rd, it grew to 72, with 10 more coming in on Christmas Eve.
I had three days to pull it all off.
First, a little preparation was needed. How was I going to get all this stuff? How was I going to carry it all? And how was I going to choose 72 families?
With the help of a local matron — Jen — to organize all the food pricing and pickup, friends who volunteered their time, a sponsor who contributed a vehicle and driver for three days and the help of locals and community workers to identify families, we were ready to begin.
My alarm went off at 7 a.m. I had gone to bed two hours earlier as the emails continued to steadily bombard my inbox. My phone rang at 7:30 to inform me that my driver, Darlington, and my friend Billy were outside my apartment and ready to go.
First stop, the market. In my experience, 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday is supposed to be peaceful, with that weekend calm in the air of people off work and still at home in bed.
Someone forgot to inform Nakuru.
We entered the market and got swallowed by the crowd: men carrying 200-pound bags of produce shouted for us to move aside as we tried desperately not to squash the scurrying chickens and at the same time tried to keep a hand and an eye on our bags. Shouts of “mzungu (white person)!” echoed everywhere and the more we tried to blend in the more we so blatantly stuck out.
Jen took our hands and pulled us on, weaving us through piles of tomatoes and cabbages and pointing every so often at bags bigger than me, saying “that’s ours” and “that’s ours” ... “that one too.” Men were called and bags started to disappear as strict instructions were given to find the grey truck at the entrance of the market.
Numbers were firing in my head. How many bags of carrots did I need? How many peas? Onions? Potatoes? Tomatoes? What was I forgetting? Crap. Matunda. I mean, machungwa. Oranges. English, Swahili, English, Swahili.
Next stop, Gilani’s Grocery Store.
Another friend, Rachel, showed up. Perfect. “Rach — sugar, tea, juice, biscuits! Billy — flour, rice, oil, salt!”
One hour and six trolleys later, we met Jen outside with the truck (and the oranges). After playing a round of food Tetris in the back of the truck, we headed to Our Home Nakuru (OHN) Orphanage for packaging. We found two more friends waiting for us and had 30 piles made in no time.
But what were we going to pack them in? The hampers were far bigger than we anticipated, and regular grocery bags definitely weren’t going to do. Another trip t%o Gilani’s for the strongest, biggest garbage bags we could find.
Back to OHN and 10 bags set aside for families in the area around the orphanage. Back home to pack up the extra vegetables another friend had dropped off earlier that day. Still 80 tags to finalize with string. Still chickens to get organized. Still emails to answer. Still emails coming in.
My alarm went of at 5:30 a.m. My first thought was, who’s calling me in the middle of the night? My second thought was, it can’t be morning already. My third thought was just ‘no,’ and my fourth, a despairing ‘yes.’
Market, Gilani’s, butchery, OHN. Wait — not that easy. One problem: my bank account has a withdrawal limit of $480 dollars per day and it wasn’t enough to keep up with the orders. A brief meeting with the grocery store manager and a plead of “come on, it’s for charity” and we received an advance of $400 worth of food and the go ahead to come back whenever we could. Sorted.
Arriving back at OHN that day, I was overwhelmed with support, seeing seven of my closest friends ready and waiting to unload the truck. As they sorted the food and started making new piles of 30, we packed up the truck with yesterday’s bags, adding in the chickens.
Finally, it was delivery time. Twenty-five bags down on Day 2. We got home 7 p.m., sufficiently covered in dust, dirt, Band-Aids and yes, even a little chicken juice.
Christmas Eve. My alarm went off at 6 a.m. Trying to find my way out of the mosquito net to stop the blaring sound of a new day.
I couldn’t find the opening, and accidentally pulled the entire net straight down on top of me. Fighting to get out and getting more and more caught up in the net, I finally escaped, hopped out of bed, tripped over my shoes and at last slapped my hand down on my phone and silenced the alarm. Good start.
With 60 bags already packed, we had just 12 to go. As usual, we started at the market, next the grocery store, then to the butchery. As we picked up another 42 chickens, friends came by in their cars to take bags to other areas. The traffic was so heavy that day that the truck could hardly get anywhere.
I needed a bike. Twenty minutes later, I sent two bags strapped on a motorcycle and hopped on another to meet friends across town who would then take the bags to yet another place.
People, chickens and bags were flying in every direction.
Our final stop of the project was Kaptembwa slum. After doing a few home deliveries, we parked the truck in the middle of the streets and handed out the last 20 bags to an ever-growing crowd of eager, excited people. With an empty truck, we drove out of the slum sitting in the back with everyone running after us laughing, smiling, waving and yelling “thank you.”
Day 3 ended with the delivery of 37 bags.
Kenya 10 (facebook.com/projectkenya10) received 82 donations and delivered to 72 families (the late donations will be used to feed families in the new year). We delivered to the streets, five slums, and over 20 homes, averaging on about 600 people fed this Christmas.
The families were very diverse, including those with members who were mentally challenged, HIV-positive, unemployed, orphaned, single parents, homeless, paralyzed, blind, etc. But one thing they all had in common was the tragedy of extreme poverty.
Thank you so much for bringing them the memorable Christmas they deserve.
Haley Kawaja, Programme Coordinator
ROTH HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme
Reach Out to Humanity
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