Not Guilty.

Teenage girls warming up for a tug-o-war

Dear Olivia

Remember when we were in Zambia and became obsessed with helping the street kids? We felt guilty about our safe, warm, upbringings in lovely houses. Guilt, I’ve always thought, has been a driving force behind philanthropic behaviour. Rich cats shed cash to charities and relieve themselves of a few kilos of greedy guilt. It’s well documented many people in foreign AID have run away from shitty times at home, then feel guilty that their shit was way better than the shitty lives of those needing the AID.

The children who come up here are mostly black, and come from very poor, rough neighbourhoods – last night an eleven-year-old boy attempted suicide, devastated he’d lost 15 family members to gang warfare. Not surprisingly, more than 80% of the staff are white and not so poor, or rough. Yet I don’t think guilt makes this place tick. Or pity.

This camp, in the middle of a magical forest, has been running solely on human compassion for over 100 years – what’s the motivation? Marty the chef cooks for 200 children three times a day and it’s his thirteenth summer. He doesn’t even use it as an excuse to swear or throw pots; he does it for absolutely nothing. Not a nickel. Twenty five men from San Francisco belong to this special group called the PKs (Purple Kumquats) who turn up throughout the year to mill trees, build bridges, repair cabins and tile bathrooms, all for free too. They do consume an enormous amount of beer over their PK weekends but they could do that at their local – three hours closer to home – if that was their incentive. The ex Chief Executive, a thigh-slapping character of 76 is meant to be taking it easy in retirement yet I often see him roaring around in the digger shifting fallen trees and giving his wife heart palpitations (perhaps that’s his motivation).

Crazy trees, crazy place.

People can’t seem to stay away, donating precious time and there’s no religion demanding it. The Other Mum that lives here – and is brilliant thank goodness – came to work for a summer in 2002, fell in love with the Director and has never left. The family previously in our role planned to work for two years and stayed for eight (yikes). I’m a bit spooked by the magnetism of it all. I’ve been wondering whether everyone’s actually secretly addicted to the Out Of This World oxygen from the five-hundred-year old trees and have to keep coming back for a fix. People do smile a lot. My dreams are the best I’ve had in years and a few snorts of morning air soon sorts out a hangover. That must be it, otherwise it’s genuine altruism; I didn’t think that existed.

Love Angela

PS You’ll be pleased to know we’re thinking of buying a pig. Go free range.

One comment

  1. Ahhh the bliss of it. It seems so idyllic and so horrific at the same time. I love the idea of you and the toddlers wandering to the river, making huts in the trees, and chasing dear little Ten around the garden. I am mortified by the other children’s fears of what happens to naked children. Mortified. The little ones in Chipata didn’t seem to be suffering from much more than acute poverty (with only a touch of sarcasm). Perhaps we, in the highly civilised western world – are not quite so civilised if you are encountering so many children, so regularly, in such a state of trauma? Bella, I love your blog. Please keep going, I am addicted.


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