Rosalie on Dawn Patrol at Playa Saladita.
The first time I spotted Rosalie, the sun hadn’t gotten up yet. Surfers call it Dawn Patrol, the 30 or so precious minutes of gray light before the sunrise. We were at Playa Saladita, a semi-remote surf riders paradise in southern Mexico.
There are small few of us females that can be found frolicking like Gidget, and I felt a twinge of excitement as I paddled toward Rosalie. She was sitting in the line-up with her florescent zinc-oxide sunscreen on and her Mexican surf instructor nearby.
Meeting new friends at age 30-plus is nothing like the playground days of yore: walk up to a peer attempting to set a record on the swings and then shyly asking, “Wanna be my friend?” No, these days it’s a cautious dance of “how’s it going?” or “how long you gonna be here?” etc, etc.
Rosalie is from the “still waters run extremely deep” tribe, and from the minute we met, I knew there was much more to her story than just a random Gringa catching waves in before the sun came up.
We exchanged small talk and pleasantries for several days until it was time for me to fly back to los Estados Unidos. I gave her my email address and hoped she would write. She was fascinating to me.
Rosalie ripping a wave.
She did write. From snowy New York City, her home at the time, I received her first message upon arriving, by sailboat, into Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It was the first time I’d been able to check email in more than two weeks. Oddly enough, she was going through a “break-up” with her life much like the one I had just been through. Should she take off for a year or so and surf in Mexico? Should she take a leave an absence from her career? Writing is a glorious form of communication because it allows two people to build a friendship quickly.
I am a bad influence but a good friend. Yes, you should leave your very-high-up-the-art-world-food-chain career in New York City (please note that I have no idea how awesome Rosalie is because I have resisted “Googling” her, but our mutual Texan friend has, and all he can do is say, ‘oh yeah, she’s major league in the art world.’) And, of course you should move to Mexico to surf, and then, by all means, you should come to visit us at our place in Maui, too.
It’s not all of my doing, but you know what? She did it. We wrote extensively through it all until the day Kevin and I picked her up in our borrowed pick-up truck at the Kahului Airport in Maui. That’s when I knew, for reals, that Rosalie is much more than a chick in the Dawn Patrol surf session.
When you’re trying to dig, but not be too obvious about it you have to take lots of mental notes. One of the things that Rosalie referred to randomly was volunteer work she had done in Kenya. My journalistic radar turned on and the satellites linked up when she talked about Africa. Here was something much more than meets the eye.
I was right. In mid-November, just before Kevin and I left to return to Mexico, we cozied up around Rosalie’s dining room table and she told us about Kenya.
What started as an escape from the holiday doldrums–that two week stretch from pre-Christmas to post New Year’s Day–turned into a years long relationship with eight orphans in a remote Kenyan village for Rosalie.
Four years ago, she arrived as a single, white woman on a night flight into Nairobi, Kenya. Rosalie’s journey had been arranged through a handler, who had never before been to the village or orphanage where he was sending Rosalie. There, in the darkness, a Kenyan man was at the airport to pick up Rosalie insisting that he take her to his apartment because it was too late to leave for the remote village.
Children overlooking the remote village of Tumaini in Kenya.
Rosalie went with the man. All the fears you’re likely thinking right now – rape, kidnapping, human trafficking, were all going through her head at the time, but she trusted him. They went to his apartment where she stayed a restless night in a room with two of the man’s female relatives.
It took a day by bus from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, to make it to Kakamega, the crossroads that led to the village. After the bus ride it was a 45-minute ride by matatu to Kakoi Corner, then a 20 minute minute walk into Tumaini, the location of the orphanage. There was no electricity. There was no indoor plumbing.
That’s when Rosalie met Rose, the founder of the orphanage and school in the village.
Children at the Tumaini village.
At this point in the story, Rosalie brought out her computer and dozens of pictures. The children of the village filled in the blanks of the story. Their large, deep brown eyes, and buzzed haircuts said it all. I wanted to reach into her computer screen and hug each one of them. I started to cry. I saw Kevin’s eyes start to water and Rosalie began to tell us more.
She told us about the kids who would ham for her attention saying, “Tee-cha! Tee-cha!” as she sat in to teach a class at the local school. She told us she read a story about Martin Luther King Jr. to the children and they didn’t understand why he was such a big deal to African Americans because they –thank goodness–had never experienced the racism that once had gripped the United States. They believed that MLK Jr. was actually a king.
Rosalie showed us a picture of her holding a little girl who hadn’t said anything since being brought to the orphanage. And then there was the little boy, HIV-positive, whose eyes said it all at the moment the camera happened to capture.
It is a heavy reality, but it is lightened by the love and life the children breathe into the world at the school and orphanage. Rosalie has been back to Tumaini four times in the past four years. She’s given all the money it took to build a police station/jail, which is called Rosalie House. She has raised funds to build seventh and eighth grade classrooms. Her friends have helped with funds to continue to build the school and orphanage. Rosalie hopes that some day there will be enough money to build the children a library.
Rosalie and children at the ‘Rosalie House.’
Rosalie is planning to go to Tumaini, Kenya again around Easter 2013 to work with Rose and do the very important work of spending one-on-one time with the children. Never underestimate the power of hugs and human touch.
Shortly after we had seen Rosalie’s pictures of the Kenyan children and we had said our goodnights, I laid awake in bed thinking about those images and the suitcases of stories each of those children brought with them to the orphanage. I was moved. Meeting Rosalie was much more than another chick in the surf break, her volunteer work resonated within me.
It’s interesting in a round-about-way how a chance meeting with a stranger in a foreign country can carry enough weight to change your lifetime itinerary. Before meeting Rosalie, I had written all of Africa off to Somalian pirates and post-Apartheid provisional zones. You couldn’t have gotten me to even think about venturing to the continent. But now, after hearing Rosalie’s stories and the work she has done, I can’t wait for my opportunity to join her there.
One-size does not fit all when it comes to defining an adventurer. Had I not taken a few minutes between waves, I would have never known that New York Rosalie was actually a keen adventurer and life-changing philanthropist on another continent. I treasure my friendship with her, and am reminded by it, daily, to always reach out to new people. You never know how or when they may change your life.
I won’t be asking for a beer on this one, but rather, a donation for the children of Tumaini…see below.
Rose Bugusu, the Tumaini orphanage founder, with Ble.
If you’re interested in learning more about Tumaini, Rose Bugusu (the founder of the orphanage) has set up a page with Global Giving and has an opportunity to have a permanent page on their website if she’s able to raise $5,000 total through a minimum of 40 people before Dec. 31, 2012. <http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/educate-aids-orphans-in-africa/>
Global Giving <www.globalgiving.org> is a US based non profit that accepts donation money for international charitable organizations. It allows people in the US to easily donate money online by credit card or paypal and get a tax deduction.
If the $5,000 goal is met, Global Giving will give a permanent page to Tumaini on their website, which will mean there will be greater visibility on what donated funds are being used for in Tumaini and Global Giving will issue regular updates on fundraising progress.