Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Whining Toto

Not far from my apartment here in Nairobi is a little side street that I enjoy walking on. It’s not really paved (it might have been at one time), and it’s only about two blocks long. Not that we have ‘blocks’ here. On it is a lonely compound. It has a large yard and an old, simple, single-story house on it. The yard is neat, but just the basics. There are no flowering bushes or lawn furniture. In fact, I have often wondered if anyone really lives there. It seems a little deserted. But the grass is cut, it’s not over grown. So it’s not totally forgotten.

Last Saturday, I was on my way back from a walk and I could hear the whiny cry of a toddler. You know the type – perhaps a “crabby, just up from a nap cry”; or an “I need some attention fuss.” I thought to myself, “Ohh, poor toto. No one is minding you.” (Mtoto means child in Swahili; often used mixed into English, the “m” is left off.)

It took a moment to realize it was coming from this place that I often peered at longingly. I slowed my pace peaking first through the gap in the gate and then through the hedge. There was a car or two in the drive. I realized that whine was diminishing.

Then I saw the toto sitting on the front step watching me pass through those same cracks in the fence and hedge. When I could see the whole of this baby, I stopped. I could see he was about 2 or so. I waved; the kind of wave you do for a baby here – flattened palm facing the toto and rocking my hand side to side.

When he could see me he stopped crying altogether. The tired little toto lifted his hand with his fingers spread apart and waved back at me in a slow deliberate motion. It was almost as if in wonder that the creature he was eyeing through the fence had also noticed him – even if his parents had not.

I wished afterward that I had tapped on the gate and introduced myself to the adults inside. I thought as I walked away, it would be a good time to meet these absentee occupants. And that toto might have had a bit more attention from a passing auntie.

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