Zimbabwe and the Babies


   This is another Harare memory from spring 2009I am officially in Zimbabwe attending an art festival… with a personal side trip planned.  A Zimbabwean dancer friend, living in NYC, wants me to visit her mom who operates an orphanage in Harare. I take a cab into the suburbs to meet Francesca who is indeed a remarkable woman just as her daughter claimed. Her story is of widowhood, raising young children, a move to Harare, educating the children–who then move abroad, following them for a time but returning to her home country to be trained by a missionary organization to work with abandoned children. The result is courageous and beautiful; Francesca has created a real home. The Danai Children’s Village loves and nurtures 27 children, babies to teens, who have been abandoned by virtue of poverty or AIDS. The toddlers squabble and play, munch their oranges and crackers, throw toys and hug bears. Abandoned at birth in a shopping mall, Joseph is now a happy two-year old, snuggling against Francesca, trying to share his soggy cookie with her, laughing a belly laugh amazingly deep and secure. Jacob, who is 14, will graduate from high school in three more years. He was eight when dropped off with Francesca and had only known life in a shanty with his dying parents; he had never seen a book or held a pencil. He was a child with little language, less confidence, no family, no future. Now Jacob is a charming studious teen, willing to shyly share his hopes and dreams. The large and rambling main house and adjoining bunkhouses are well-maintained and adequately furnished. There’s a garden where the darkish green leaves of rugare predominate but the pumpkin crop looks promising. A chicken pen has a whole lot of scratching and cackling going on and I cannot help but think how much better this meat will taste than that of the factory-grown, chemically-plumped pseudo-chickens fed to us at home.  Money to Danai goes directly for food, clothing and toys—all that is real and immediate. Administrative overhead is covered by a Christian missionary organization that makes this home possible. A storage shed out back holds bags of rice and beans and tins of cooking oil each adorned with an American flag stamp. I am proud of our national contribution even with the knowledge that the poor of the developing world would be better served if aid money went to support locally-grown crops instead of to American agri-businesses and the high cost of overseas shipping. Still, the stars and stripes are on a prideful mission in this Harare backyard.

There is a new power-sharing government in the land and Harare has a new Mayor. Francesca is hopeful because he actually paid a visit to the orphanage. Held a baby even. Meanwhile Joseph is laughing and Jacob is studying and the greens are being prepared for supper and life goes on.

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