Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Day I Fell in Love with My Adopted Child

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Day I Fell in Love with My Adopted Child

Article excerpt


HER eyes wide, she searched through the red shoulder bag full of goodies to find notebooks, pencils, crayons, a sharpener and small toys that made her smile.

My favourite was the windup musicbox mechanism that played Beethoven's Fur Elise. As the beautiful, haunting melody tinkled into the hot, dry air of Kenya, her expression of wonder tore at my heart. This was Patricia-Nyokabi Mungai, the child I had sponsored since she was tiny.

Then her mother, Njeri, showed me the shack where she sleeps on the ground with her two children. It was about three metres square. "Life is very hard," she told me, with a wistful expression in her large, sad eyes. Patricia looked up, not understanding what we were saying, but picking up her mum's tone.

I was overwhelmed to be there.

Heathrow had been at its pre-Easter worst and I wondered what on earth I was doing - travelling all the way to Kenya to meet a little girl I had never even written to. At that thought the guilt kicked in. In 1995 I started to sponsor a three-year-old girl through the charity PLAN International, but knowing that my standing order (pound sterling12 per month) went to help the whole community she lived in, I didn't bother about sending letters or presents.

Child sponsorship seemed a good way to help Third World development, that's all. I never felt like a true foster parent - each year I looked at the new picture of Patricia, noted how she'd grown, read the report - and put it all away.

Now I was going to meet her for the first time, and I felt nervous. But how would an 11-year-old girl be feeling, knowing this stranger was coming from England just to see her?

As we bumped along in a four-wheel drive, over the dusty wasteland of flat, litter-strewn soil and scrub towards the hamlet of Kiangombe, this felt more and more like an intrusion. We'd been briefed about the family and their community at the local PLAN office in nearby Thika, about an hour north of Nairobi.

The sky was grey; my head was full of statistics about this povertystricken country - I looked about for the romantic, beautiful Flame Trees of Thika written about in Elspeth Huxley's famous book, and saw none.

Of course, Patricia wore her best dress. She appeared last of all, coming shyly round the corner of one of the shacks, after I'd met her 30-year-old mother, Njeri, and the grandparents who share the compound - four or five rough wooden shacks inside a fence, with a pen in the corner for the sow.

All the neighbours were peeping over walls and fences at the show.

Patricia's little brother, Francis-Ndungu, could hardly contain his excitement. But Patricia looked almost shocked, just managing to whisper "Hello" when her mother prompted her in Kikuyu. …

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