- A reminiscence on Kasisi Children’s Home and me
April 28, 2013
It is Easter, and after a stressful fortnight of marking and processing my University course exams, my BP reaching a crescendo, I decided to pack my bags and head for Kasisi Children’s Home.
This one Easter, I had a welcome that evoked in me a sense of realizing my place at Kasisi. Often the Sisters would, with bewitching joviality and love, jokingly rebuke me for having been away too long. Could never get to understand their conception of time. Their concept of "too long" seems to be a translation of a week being equivalent to months. In my opinion, I am never really away that long. I have come to learn to never mind them. I always tell them I am a prodigal son. I am always back anyway, whether it takes me a week or months.
This Easter had a resonance that was different. A resonance that painted a picture of my beginnings at Kasisi.
In the glow of the setting sun, as the girls opened the gate for me, one of them said, “Welcome back home, Mr. Mbinji”. Well at least, she pronounced my name correctly, though the “Mr.” always makes me think I am bête noire. I prefer being called, Mbinji.
Over time, the children have had different variants and pronunciations of my name. “Mr. Mbinji”, the older ones would get it correctly. As for the little ones, it is always hilarious. “Mr. Beans, Sister.” I wonder when they ever did see me in a blue habit! And of course, there is, “uncle, daddy” too.
Anyway, back to the welcome. I felt sad and happy, at the same time. Sad, because perhaps, I had stayed away too long. But mostly happy, because, indeed I was home again. That the girl welcomed me back home, is simply a loving acknowledgement that I and her belong in the same place and time.
Often it is said, home is where when you go, you are welcome. But Kasisi has taught me differently. For Kasisi, home is where when you go, you belong.
How then did it happen that I belong?
Well, it is a very short story. Mamusia (Sister Mariola), Mayo (Sister Jolanta), and the other Sisters all have a similar story of my first appearance at Kasisi. Rather devious of them, but pleasant and memorable. Not very different from mine, anyway.
This Easter, sitting outside, watching the brilliant stars and the clearly visible Milky Way, I went back into memory lane. Why did I come into Kasisi? Why did Kasisi come into me? Is there a difference? It has now been slightly over 16 years, and I will tell you how. Perhaps, the how will answer the question, why.
The year was 1997. The place was Kaapstad, iKapa, or as it is commonly known – Cape Town, South Africa. I was by then a year into maintaining the website for Afronet (the Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development) which was based in Lusaka, Zambia. And it was one of those days when my wondering mind, reached deeper into realms I had never thought of before. The internet for charity!
In the cold wet days of July 1997, I searched for children’s charities back home in Zambia. I sent emails to about five or so charities. All I wrote was that I could develop and host a website for them as a means of helping them have a wider reach in terms of intending donors and sponsors. I also did indicate that I will be doing it at no cost to the charity. At the time I was sending the emails, I really did not have any reserved domain for such a project. The idea was to piggy-back the charities’ websites on the Afronet domain. An idea which thankfully the head of Afronet went to the moon over. After all, it would add to Afronet’s image. Well, it did.
“As an organization concerned with human rights and development, Afronet recently added to their website an advertising window for Zambia's largest orphanage..,” OneWorld.net acknowledged at the time.
Of the five or so charities I had emailed, only one responded. And it was Kasisi Orphanage, now commonly known as Kasisi Children’s Home. The Sister-in-charge, who I did not know at the time, but who signed herself as Sister Mariola Mierzejewska gave me the green light. Her last name was a mouthful to me, and I did at that time wonder what kind of name it was. Couldn’t wait to meet this nun with a rather strange name.
Anyway, in 1997 Kasisi Children’s Home was born on the internet under the domain name, http://afronet.org.zm/kasisi. Later it moved to its own domain name, http://kasisi.org, donated and hosted by Craig Anderson in the UK. Somewhere in end 2008, we lost the domain, and all efforts to buy it back failed. Fortunately, in 2009 Thierry De Jonghe registered http://kasisichildren.org in Belgium, where it is currently hosted. Thanks to these guys. I am just still the tardy webmaster!
In 1998, when I briefly visited Zambia, I decided to visit Kasisi Children’s Home. I needed to understand more about the place. I really did not even know where exactly in Lusaka it was located. I had to ask around for directions. I hit the road with apprehension as I had now learnt it was way out of town. And the road was a mess! Kasisi River, I remember calling it for some years to come. Rainy season, was a think-twice road to use.
When in Kasisi Mission, I got lost and had to ask for directions, again. Finally, I located the place. It was ethereal love at first sight. The front had (still has) well tendered gardens, with breathtaking flowers. And there is 1956, inscribed on top of the main entrance door. A rather halcyon welcome to the place.
I strutted in like I was entering my own home. And this elderly Sister followed me. “Who are you,” she asked. “I am Mbinji,” is all I said as if my name was a valid visa to the place. She really did stare at me. I think she was not charmed at all. I did look like a lost street adult. Torn Levis, untucked Che t-shirt and wild-west boots, I guess I did not cut a sight she was used to at the Home. Especially when such person seemed to want to roam around, like he belonged. Later, I learnt she actually did think I was a lost street adult seeking sanctuary at the Home.
That first day was spooky.
“Hi,” a smiling youngish looking Sister says.
“Hi,” I say and I ask where I could find Sister Mariola. She walks me to the office. Behind followed the elderly Sister, still sizing me up. Well, this one is seriously protective of this place, I thought. The younger Sister quickly left before I could enter. Guess, she too was wondering if I was indeed a street adult.
I knocked, and the same Sister who just led me to the office opened the door.
“Hi,” she said, again. I do use expletives quite often, and I nearly mouthed one. But well, this was a place run by nuns, I had to be modest.
“Welcome to Kasisi,” she said.
“But we already met.”
“No”, she replied. Well, I think she must have used a rear door after leaving me at the main office entrance. Kind of weird of her, I thought. Fact is, I had not met this one other Sister.
I entered, and there was Sister Mariola. A Sister I had only met through emails and website update pictures. She was rather different from my mental images of her. In my mind the Sister-in-Charge, was a stern faced nun in a dull blue habit. A no-nonsense type. Reminiscent of the Catholic brothers that taught me at lower secondary school.
That in the pictures she sent, she smiled; I thought she did that just for the website. Up to that point, I really had never interacted with nuns. The only nun I think I knew then, was Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Sister Mariola in person was describable only in two words. Awesomely magnetic! With time, I came to learn that all of the nuns and Kasisi itself are actually awesomely magnetic.
With a smile on her face, that reminded me of mom before chiding us, Sister Mariola really did size me up, too. Looking back, I really did not cut a figure that was commensurate with the project I had just started for them. I, in person and I, on the internet was incongruent!
Then the elderly Sister, Sister Jolanta, and the spooky ones walked in. Well, they were identical twins. Or the twin angels of Kasisi as one local newspaper once dubbed them. These are Sisters Janina and Maria.
That first day, I was appraised by Sister Mariola, Jolanta, Catherine, Christina, Janina and Maria. They were surely doubtful of this scrawny looking young man in torn jeans, and who drove in with a very noisy car (as Sister Catherine later described my Ford V6). Years later, Sister Mariola and Jolanta did own up to their apprehension of the intentions of the scrawny looking young man in torn jeans. Today I am humbled they did give me a chance. Could be it is divine providence.
Or perhaps, they believed in Mother Teresa’s saying, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
Indeed, they were kind not to have judged me harshly from my looks. That day, I left Kasisi knowing I will be back and back again thereafter. Thus, when I finally returned home, in the year end of 2001, Kasisi was the first place I visited even before settling down.
In the years after that, my bond with Kasisi strengthened. I do all sundries of voluntary work for the Home and some benefaction for them. I even managed to get Afronet to be a benefactor for Kasisi. But this did not last, as Afronet folded up in 2004. Yet, I continued, as my belief in Kasisi was not inspired by Afronet, but by own beliefs and the Sisters themselves. Their laughter, jokes and love would always resonate around me whenever I thought of the Home. And of course the little angels that dwell there! “Mr. Beans, daddy,” are sounds that are always musical to me.
Looking back today, there is no regret, no worry, and no questioning why Kasisi came into me. This is because, in giving myself to Kasisi, Kasisi has also giving itself back to me a thousand-fold.
There have been dark periods in my life, and Kasisi has always been there for me. The darkest was, when I was nursing my HIV+ younger brother. I had nursed one already nearly a decade before then. He later passed away. For this one, I told myself, not on my watch again. It was psychologically trying for me. But, Kasisi and the Sisters stood by me. They nearly brought me to tears with the unwavering support they gave me. Till today, I feel I will never be able to thank them enough.
In other dark times in my life, I have had to remind them that they really should not be concerned with me, the street adult or prodigal son. Like the time I came back from South Sudan sickly. They picked me up from the airport straight to the Home. In the sick bay that day, I shed tears of my taedium vitae (weariness of life), and mostly love.
I reminded them that they have two hundred and something children to look after, but there was no negotiation. Huh, Mamusia can be stern! Often it is like I am talking to deaf persons. Gosh! They never listen to my protestations. Sometimes, I think they have connived to make my life beautifully miserable, theirs too. Some celestial conspiracy!
Well, perhaps in ending my reminiscence, I should answer the question, why I came into Kasisi and Kasisi came into me. The answer is simply that through no predetermined design, I had just simply walked into a place where angels walk with us. Ora pro nobis.