Friday, December 21, 2007

No More Rice

At today's Mothers' Union meeting, Nan again congratulated the guardians on their tireless volunteer efforts throughout the year. The mamas sang goodbye to me and hello to new visitors from San Diego: Lori and Don, delightful California Rotary friends of the Hardisons, will be at St. Philip's for a week.

Everyone was in a festive holiday mood, even when "Professor Nancy" had to announce that rice could no longer be served at the orphan feeding programs -- for awhile, at least. The price of rice, imported from Indonesia, has doubled since the inception of the program. During the same period of time, the value of the U.S. dollar has declined dramatically. The guardians understood and expressed their gratitude to Nan, to God and to the churches in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Vermont that continue to support the orphan feeding program in the face of rising costs. And the children will come to understand one more stark reality: only githeri will be served on Saturdays. Stark realities are facts of life in the Diocese of Maseno North, where most families live on less than 62 KSh ($1.00) a day.

Economic disparities abound. A chest xray at Maseno Hospital costs the equivalent of $6.00; so does a gallon of gas. (Very few people own cars, of course.) Unfortunate, if understandable, expectations also abound. Not every American is wealthy, but even the poorest of us is better off than a Maseno mama. Economies of scale are difficult to explain in the face of global inequities. It is neither uncommon nor unreasonable for me to be approached discreetly: "Sister, I have a problem; perhaps you could help..." Nor is it easy for me to say that I cannot buy a new laptop for a student clinician or a new car for a struggling young couple to start a taxi business. I cannot even pay for a month's rent-and-household furnishings for an abused wife or for the secondary education of an evangelist's grandniece.

"Pole" (which means "Sorry" in Kiswahili, when it is used only once -- "Slowly-Slowly," when it is repeated), I have to say. But I am beyond sorry; I am in tears. I can offer only small donations and large prayers.

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