The matatu ride from Nairobi to Wangige takes about an hour. I get into a minibus with a picture of Barack Obama painted on the side. Today the driver blasts Classic 105 FM and “Say a Little Prayer for You” comes on and I swear we are singing along together as the matatu swerves around potholes in the road that snakes through the coffee fields towards Cura village. One of the stickers on the dashboard says ‘Arrive Alive’.
I jump out at Wangige market and take a 30-minute walk along a red road up to Cura orphanage. As I walk up the last stretch, several children from the primary school in vivid blue sweaters are already waving and dangling from the trees that line the path, calling, “Mzungu! Mzungu! Howareyou?!” They run alongside the path until we meet at the entrance to the home, where 10 children hold my hands at once, and others yell, “Jenfa! Jenfa! Make me one photo!” Caroline and I catch up with each other and she asks, “What’s in the bag?” “Art supplies. Pens and colored pencils and paper so we can do a drawing project.” Rotary has asked me to lead a series of art workshops as part of their initiative, Imagining a World without AIDS. The students of Class 5 wait for me at their desks in the primary school.
Before beginning the art workshops, I spent about 2 weeks with the children at the orphanage, hanging out, eating lunch, and telling stories. Leah’s stories often began, “Long, long ago there was a hippopotamus and some bees…” or “Once there was a cow, a goat and a hyena…” We played 4 kinds of Tag, Duck, Duck, Goose and Red Light Green Light. They taught me dances and songs and we had a massive soccer game. I photographed them while they filled their days, played, studied, braided their housemother’s hair, ate beans and ugali and greens. The children who live at the orphanage go to school each day with students who walk from their homes in the village.
The kids from Class 5 jump around in their chairs as I walk into the classroom. Working with one of their teachers, Steven, who translates my English to Kikuyu and Swahili, I explain the art project for Rotary. We ask them to draw pictures of a world without AIDS, a world where HIV/AIDS doesn’t exist. I hand out the art supplies and walk around sharpening pencils and photographing them as they draw pictures of houses with big gardens and people and many children. “This guy is big, he’s healthy,” Kelvin says. They laugh and compete to show me their artwork. They all want another and another and another piece of paper. They trade crayons and share colors and lean over each other’s drawings, smile and exclaim about each other’s work.
Over the week, I worked with classes 6 and 7 in similar intense and creative sessions. After hours of deliberation, I chose one drawing from each class and then photographed the students and their artwork to be profiled in the Rotarians for Fighting AIDS newsletter and the Rotary International website. I asked them what they dream about. Leah Wanoro, who lives in Cura village with her mom, said she dreamed of having a good job to help needy children. Samuel Njenga, who lives at the orphanage, said he dreamed of having a big house and a good car. Jane Njoki, who also lives in the village, said she dreamed of having a good things and nice clothes; “I want to have a good life. I want to be a musician.”