If Jose hadn't called me, i honestly wasnt going.
Look... if i learnt anything from "About a Boy" (Starring Hugh Grant) its that you cant just do something good; you have to MEAN it. You cant just tell a girl she's beautiful; how you treat her has to reflect your appreciation of that beauty. That means getting her door when you step out of the car, holding her hand when you're navigating through a crowd and offering her your jacket when it gets cold.
Sure you could claim the whole "Equality" defense as to your un-gentlemanly ways but some things have nothing to do with being right especially if being right means heading home at 9.30 pm... on your own... to an empty bed....
So if Jose hadn't made that call to my phone on Saturday morning, i almost certainly wouldn't have gone to that dilapidated children's centre in Katanga.
Sure volunteering at an underprivileged kid's centre to cook and serve lunch to over 70 starving kids is the right thing to do but i'm an asshole (generally) so its not about whats right. Why give more of myself to this world than i feel i'm getting back? Oh... does that sound selfish? Well here's today's lesson: LIVING is selfish.
Hey i know the facts: these kids aren't to blame for the fact that they were born into one of the most poverty stricken corners of our city. Katanga is, interestingly, sanwiched somewhere in between Wandegeya and Mulago, tucked away like the dirty little secret it is. Plagued with more dirty little neglected kids than houseflies, running around their sewarge-drenched backyards, spreading and sharing the latest communicable diseases like christmas candy. All this non-chalantly over-looked by their incapacitated/unwilling/ un-interested/un-interesting loafers of parents, stewing in their own dull misery.
And it smells really bad there.
somewhat small but sanitarily satisfactory apartment on Saturday, the epidemic-epicentre-waiting-to-happen that is Katanga was way down on my list of idyllic destinations. But Jose called and that call of his made all the difference to what my weekend turned out to be like.
I mean, to control a group of unruly, seemingly unwanted kids without the aid of some large stick or rabid dogs is quite an accomplishment. We were introduced and it turns out the Instructors at this centre are unpaid volunteers (which i know sounds repetitive but we all know no one gives something for nothing). I dont recall their names but they were friendly enough.
Christine and Philip entertained the troops (kids), the rest of us took the money Jose had
been collecting prior to the day, bought the largest stack of chapatis you ever saw, a barrel of beans, a plantation of vegetables and a... um... and a thingie of spices. Grace and Prim did the bulk of the cooking though William helped out quite a bit with the...um... with... uh... lets say with the chopping. Jose took pictures of me sitting down,supervising.
And they were hungry, ya'll. Forget what you've seen in the movies... these kids were like the little raptors from The Lost World (Jurassic Park 2), gnawing away at their lunch like they'd just come out of hibernation. And i watched them, stared for whole minutes at a time and a rush of random reflections flowed through my mind, mostly movies and songs about beans. But then at some point i began to realise that these kids werent some weekend charity project. Its not just about bulking up my C.V.or patting myself on the back for being a decent fellow.
Its not about trying to look good in the eyes of some girl or comforting my guilty soul... Well its about all of that but none of them at all.
You see, its about all that to us, the "Volunteers". It is charity to US. But to them.... to them its lunch. Its a warm meal in a week of cold, empty
plates for their dirty little neglected stomachs in the dirty little neglected bile of Katanga region. These kids are only provided with ONE MEAL A WEEK... Should it matter WHY we give? Perhaps to our deities or to our eternal souls but i dont think it matters to them. When you're hungry, all you want to do is eat. Thats ALL that matters.
So yeah, its dirty. It doesnt smell good and
its certainly no site for a picnic. But chances are the Katanga parents love those kids just as much or even more maybe than their aptly priviledged counterparts and are just stuck in a moment they cant get out of ( yes, i'm listening to U2). This isn't about charity. If someone's hungry, they should eat... right? I wouldnt have gone if Jose hadnt called me but i'm glad i did... you know why? Cos as the kids left the room to
head back to their forgotten existances, they were all smiling and a few of them even stopped to shake my hand saying, through their tooth-decayed milk teeth,"Bye Bye, Richard."
THAT made all the difference.
Footnotes: For info on how you can get in on some of The Soup Kitchen love, call Jose at ANY time of day or night on 0782430333.