SHIPS THAT DON'T COME IN
Maxie is about 7 years old and at the moment is sitting on my lap in our home on Mt. Kilimanjaro. This morning Maxie is bright with the curiosity of most children as he watches me type this story on my personal computer. Not sure of his age since I found him on the streets of Arusha about a year ago. I remember the day well as it was a Saturday and all the children were headed to town for the weekly dog dip. At first I thought he was an orphan but later discovered he lived with his mother, an alcoholic stepfather, and a third woman in a one room mud hut near my friend's house in Arusha. Each night Maxie slept on the floor in a corner with a tattered old blanket as temps dip into the 40's. Yes! - it gets very cold in Tanzania from June-August. Sanitation was horrific as 8 adjoining families shared a single choo (an out house or one holer for old country folk like myself).
The stepfather had taken a second wife and in the one room hut Maxie learned the facts of life far earlier than a child should. He was terribly abused and malnourished, but with all his problems he was and remains a very happy child. On one occasion the stepfather sent Maxie to the store to buy 3 cigarettes. Eyeing some hard rock candy, Maxie purchased two cigarettes and a small piece of candy. Upon his return to the house, the stepfather held him down and burned him severely with a lit cigarette. Sometimes I think the biskuti (cookies) I bought daily for Maxie and his friends was the only food most of the children ate on most days. All the children kept watch for me daily as I passed through their neighborhood. You would think I was Santa and Christmas morning was close at hand.
From the first day we met, Maxie stood out from the other children. Call it a strange aura, spirit, unique soul, or whatever, but Maxie had it all. As I have all too often experienced in my dozen years or so in Tanzania, the environment can and will eventually crush the spirit. That's when you see the light go out in their eyes. Nothing, even death, is more devastating to observe and accept. It drains your own spirit a little more each time you see it. Sometimes I think starvation is more humane.
It was winter in Tanzania when Maxie and I first crossed paths. This last winter was exceptionally cold for Arusha. Yes, I said COLD! Believe it or not, winters in Tanzania can be quite baridi and much of a surprise to foreign visitors. The city sits a mile high on the western slopes of Mt. Meru and her 14,982 foot snow covered peak. Known as the Center of Africa, cold air and clouds blanket the old African trading village in winter. Arusha marks the mid way point on the ancient trading route between Egypt and South Africa, gaining world fame in the 60s when John Wayne and John Huston used the city as base camp in the filming of the movie Hatari.
Maxie, as always, was barefoot with a single set of clothes that Goodwill would have burned. He bore the physical signs of a small child who spent most of his days roaming the dusty streets of Arusha. Bloated stomach, patches of scalp scarred from ringworm, signs of bones past broken, burn marks and scars from daily exploration of his world. With Tom and Huck, his days were filled with ventures into a world of alleyways he had yet to discover. The first morning we met I thought he would freeze to death, but the cold morning air failed to chill his lust for life. His inventiveness and imagination were obvious from the small toy vehicles he fashioned from bits of wood, rubber, old tin cans, and other found treasures.
The decision to take a child as young as Maxie from his Mother was not an easy one. Recovering from major surgery two years ago and living with PMR (a nasty auto-immune disease) my health at the age of 63 is day to day. I know that Maxie's life will be devastated if anything happens to me before I can secure his future. When I first came to Africa, I thought I was going to do great things and change the Dark Continent. Instead, of course, it has changed me. Now I settle for helping a few kids along the way. As Mother Teresa said, "You can't do Great Things in this world, but you can do small things with Great Love." Surprisingly, I'm able to care for about 20 children on my $910 a month Social Security from the States. A dollar really goes a long way in Africa.
Each morning at my desk, Maxie sits in my lap and listens to music by earphones. I try and select songs that a 7 year old would find enjoyable. One morning, as I was looking through my musical collection, I ran across a song I had not heard before. This should not come as a great surprise to anyone since my collection stands at 14,000+ mp3 songs donated by friends from around the world.
The Song was Titled
"Ships That Don't Come In"
The Song made me think about Maxie and Life.
I know I'll never see Maxie's ship come in. I just hope that in the time we have together
I'll be able to build him a small life boat.