Decorating Truths from A 15-Year-Old Tanzanian Boy

Warning:: Moms of boys may experience uncomfortable, unexplainable side effects while reading this post. Side effects are treatable with a prompt visit here to sponsor a teenage boy.  In order to alleviate the discomfort, take one or two of those and email me in the morning–for real, you should email me after you do this.

Flashback about four weeks ago.  I get in bed at my normal bed time one Sunday night (yes, it is actually still in the 8′s have I told you I am 97 years old?)  and I happen to remember to bring my phone upstairs with me and I see a text from Caroline.

What luck!  So I watch and I learn one thing about Tanzania; I learn what CBS decides to tell me about the Maasai Tribe. I mean, I didn’t even realize that Tanzanite comes from Tanzania–I really should have researched this country I was going to visit.  I must have doubled up on art class and skipped Geography in school or something.  But now I’m armed with a tiny bit of knowledge about Tanzania and it feels good. Note to self:: Maasai Tribe.

Amazing Race on CBS

Flash forward to today.  It’s the day I get to meet our sponsored child, Topiwo. We just started sponsoring him right before this trip so all I have is a photo of him and a name I’m not sure how to pronounce so I call him “Topo” to myself and the initial information that Compassion sends, but we hadn’t corresponded through letters yet so, you know, we didn’t really know each other.

I was lucky enough to get to be there when Amy met her sponsored child and it was breathtaking.  And I knew every meeting is different and I am a 97, I mean 38-year-old mom who has Wynonna Judd on her iPod meeting a 15-year-old boy in Africa.  Worlds are colliding people.  I was prepared for lots of awkwardness and maybe not even a hug or anything, maybe a thumbs up or something or a rock throwing contest at lizards or whatever.  I’ve been around 15-year-old boys before at my own house,  they are their own special people and I’m good with that.

So we leave the city of Arusha, and we drive an hour and twenty minutes into the most beautiful land I’ve ever laid eyes on–sorry North Carolina.

Vast green grasslands with big huge-attention stealing, Mt. Kilimanjaro quietly watching over the entire last 45 minutes of driving.  Mt. Kilimanjaro is an introvert but one you can’t help but notice.  It was breathtaking.  And on the way, our guide, Mary tells us that many of the children at this Compassion location are Maasai. Wait, what? Maasai?  I know that word! The ONE thing I actually kind of heard of about Tanzania?  I have to put on my sunglasses on the bus and make Maggie tell me funny stories because how do I explain that I’m already tearing up that Topo might be Maasai?

So we pull up to the site and they sing to us because they want to make us cry.

And we get out and we start shaking hands and laughing and introducing ourselves and I make my way around scanning the crowd for a boy that looks like this …

 our youngest holding our photo of Topo

And finally, I make my way around to a group of boys and a sassy girl with some kind of transition lenses glasses…

and they are all circled around and pointing to a boy standing in the middle of the group with his head down….and he is smiling.  And I ask him his name and it starts with “Top” which is the only part of his name I know how to pronounce.

And there he is. Wearing the same clothes as in the picture.

 

I hope he could tell I was happy to meet him?

And I am so happy that I didn’t cry (Maggie was praying for that specifically) because who wants to meet a 38-year-old mom with Wynonna on her iPod who is also CRYING? No one!  Everyone would much rather meet a 38-year-old mom with Wynonna on her iPod who is making a face like they are going to eat them.

So he is absolutely adorable (15-year-old boys everywhere now hate me but whatevs, they are not my demographic anyway and he was TOTALLY adorable, people!).  I pulled out a little photo book we made for him and showed him pictures of my family.

 

He loved this one…

Then it was time for them to sing another song because they wanted to see me cry again here’s a 25 second clip if you want to hear.

 

back row, right corner, a little off rhythm, purple sweater, yellow shirt–oh wait they all have that on

Then we went into the Compassion office and, y’all, he grabbed MY HAND.  I promise I did not in any way try to hint for him to hold my hand, I wanted to make sure I gave him space to be his own personality (clearly, I held back all of my emotions which you can tell by the stoic look on my face in the photos) but oh my word he held my hand and sat by me in the office and he looked at the photos about 23 times while running his finger over parts of them and asking me what that thing was (a street light) and then he raised up the book and kissed it–right on the photo of our dog!

Next we got to go to Topiwo’s home.  And this part needs its own series, people and I’m going to do my best to cram it into one long, everwordy post. So grab a coffee, run to the bathroom  and get ready to be astonished…. this is gonna be worth it, as long as I don’t wreck it all up.  I will never forget this as long as I shall live…

And for the record, I’ve always said, you never really know a person until you’ve been in their home or at least I’m saying it starting today.

After four days of walking over urban dirt roads and paths littered with trash, visiting children in concrete homes crammed close together we found ourselves in this pristine, pure, open plain at the foot of some mountains…

here’s a few seconds of our walk – it’s shaky but you get the idea::

 


And then we get to his home.

A handmade home.

And it is breathtaking.  He LIVES here. And it’s a simple hut made of stuff of the earth and it is humble and glorious all at the same time.  OH my goodness this child lives in a mud hut!  A real one!

And we meet his aunt (I think?) who he lives with.  Topiwo’s mother died when he was young.  His aunt is absolutely wonderful and we do not speak the same language in words but we do have an interpreter and I can tell by how she speaks and her eyes and her face that she is nothing but maternal and I am in love with her.  And disclaimer: they do not smile when they pose for photos so even though she looks a little stern as soon as she started speaking and the camera was down she came alive.

So Topiwo had a sponsor since 2005 (before our family) but for some reason they cancelled so now we get to be his sponsor.

She talked and talked and told us how Compassion has helped their family over the last seven years, and oh my goodness this is the part where I tried to hold back tears. That area of Tanzania has experienced drought so Compassion has supplied the family with food. Maasai live off the land so they are immediately affected by drought. Even though Topiwo is the one sponsored, Compassion visits the home of all their children (his last home visit was in April) and they assess any needs of the family because they want to make sure that no one goes without food and basic health care.

Because of Compassion, now Topiwo can go to school, have a uniform and a pair of shoes and even get tutoring for his studies.  I ask her what she hopes for Topiwo’s future and she says for him to do well in school and succeed in life. And Compassion gives him that chance.

Meanwhile all the neighbors and family have gathered. There are babies and children and men and women and they all seem to know that Topiwo’s sponsor is here and they want to meet us all and shake our hands and they are so gracious and mild mannered. I am so grateful for the community that Topiwo is surrounded with–there are so many people here that know him and love him!  Such a different feel from the home yesterday.

We went inside the circular mud hut, it had a fire pit in the middle, a damp dirt floor, no windows at all–just a small hole and it’s really, really dark. There were two rooms and you could see thick branches like pillars holding up the structure from the inside and twigs and grass on the roof.  This is where they live.

he tried to look stern but this man was a sweetheart, patting Topiwo on the back from time to time

And we walked outside and you know what? As we were getting ready to leave I didn’t feel sad about where Topiwo lives.  I actually was incredibly happy for him because he is rich with love and community and joy and gracefulness.  Richer than a lot of people that I know.

Now if you have read this far this is where it gets worth it. On the outside of the home Topiwo had painted Psalm 23 and then his name and the names of others who live there.

Topiwo lives in a mud hut.

Do you remember how the 23rd Psalm starts?

Did I happen to mention that Topiwo lives in a mud hut? And that his family lives in Tanzania and didn’t have any food until Compassion stepped in?  This young man quietly declares his faith and I wondered about what message I am sending people when they walk through my front door?  Do I really believe that I have everything I need, or do I immediately launch into declaring what I don’t have and what isn’t good enough as soon as someone walks into my home?

This 15-year-old Tanzanian boy who lives in a mud hut is teaching me about how I think about my home and my life.

So I might get in trouble with Shaun Groves for doing this, I don’t know if we are allowed to be partial to a certain group of children but, I remember that Shaun said teenage boys are always the last to get picked for sponsorship.  So, as a mom of 3 boys in tween and teendom I stand on my soap box on behalf of the teenage boys who don’t currently have a sponsor and ask my fellow moms of boys :: will you and your boy sponsor a teenage boy today?

They are the near future of their community and are patiently waiting for us to release them from poverty.

And they also might teach you a thing or two about decorating.


**Photos by the fun and quirky and photogenic Keely Marie who does a great Kip voice.

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Comments

  1. ROBIN FINK says:

    THIS POST AND your story has moved me to tears. i have visited tanzania and kenya, and the orphanages there. because of this post, i have now sponsored samwel. thank you nester- you are making a difference in this world. bless you, bless you, robin in umbria, italy

  2. Shelly White says:

    After 5 days (and counting) without electricity during a freak summer storm over the Mid-Atlantic, this post really hit home to me. People can really make do with less than they think! Thank you, Nester for this heartfelt post!

  3. Roberta says:

    Thank you. Your words and the pictures minister to my heart. Our family (including our 15 year old son) sponsers children through Gospel for Asia, and I so humbled by the letters of gratitude and contentment. Your reminder to be content humbles me as well…I have been looking at my home through discontent lenses and gratefully receive the correction. It’s all about Jesus.

  4. crystal p says:

    After reading this, I now appreciate my life so much more. There is no room for complaining about the THINGS that i DESIRE, because from day one the divine maker, GOD, provided me with all that I need. I being moved to sponsor a child; therefore I will be consulting with my son to see if he interested. Thanks for speaking to my heart.

  5. God bless you, nestergirl.

  6. i read this post the first time you wrote it…and i just read it again while trying not to cry into my coffee cup. i just want you to know that one of the things my kids are getting for Christmas this year is their own child to sponsor through Compassion- a 7 year old girl and an 8 year old boy- just like them… thank you for sharing your beautiful heart.

  7. Thank you for sharring this beautiful post.

  8. Oops… new to posting. I will be delighted to sponsor a teenage boy – and I love the idea of giving the gift of sponsorship for Christmas gifts to my children!

  9. This was truly a great story! I found your blog through you sister Emily’s, Chatting at the Sky. This did touch my heart. I am the mom of 2 adult sons, 26 and 23, one serves in the US Army and a beautiful 19 year old daughter, who I would not trade for anything in the world, but I have always and forever will have a soft spot in my heart for boys. Thank you again for sharing this story and again making us (me, myself and I) realized how blessed we are in the USA and also just how selfish we can be.

  10. Marie1846 says:

    I was readinding you’re post about your gallery wall when I clicked to your link on the young man that you sponsor and your visit. When I read your suggestion about sponsoring a teenage boy in Africa,which I would never have thought about, that’s just what I did! I have been blessed. Thank you Nester!

  11. This post was beautiful. I was pretty much holding back tears. Thank you so much for sharing this story. My husband and I sponsor a young boy through compassion as well. He is a bit younger than Topiwo and lives in Uganda. This story really touched me and I hope that someday we would have a chance to travel to meet our boy, Musoke. It also touched be because I have a very deep heart for the continent of Africa and recently visited Zimbabwe and saw huts much like Topiwo’s home. To me, it really brought me back down to Earth and reminded me how simple and beautiful life can be. Sometimes more is not better and I continually have to pray that God will remind me of that. So, thank you for the reminder and for the beautiful story.
    -Brittany from La Vita DiBella

  12. beautiful, miss nester. i’m a mom of teenage boys and this moves me. what an amazing experience.
    love to you.

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