A little boy in Kenya's worst slum melted the hearts of Minnesotans, who have brought him here in an unlikely medical mission to correct his crossed eyes.
Little Moses Mwaura arrived a few days ago at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, entering a new world in princely fashion atop a luggage cart, skinny legs spread wide, floppy yellow slippers on his feet.
The Customs exit whooshed open and people surrounded him. "Jambo! Jambo!" they said, greeting the 6-year-old in Swahili.
Moses gazed impassively at them. Then he focused on three balloons he had been handed. One eye looked up at the balloons. The other was so severely crossed that you could barely see the iris.
That eye brought Moses on an unlikely journey to Minnesota from Kenya's worst slum.
Two years ago, barefoot and grimy but smiling, Moses ran up to a member of the Edina Rotary Club as she toured the Mathare Valley in Kenya, where more than 500,000 people are jammed into a squalid square mile of teetering tin and cardboard huts. She took a picture of Moses and didn't forget him.
On Monday, Moses will have an operation to correct his crossed eyes. Later in the week, he will pay a visit to a dentist.
Everything in his journey to Minnesota -- the Delta Air Lines flights from Nairobi and Amsterdam and back, the surgeon's fees, the costs at Fairview Southdale Hospital, the dental visit and his stay with the families of Rotary members -- has been donated.
"I call it the miracle of Moses," said Sandy Schley, the Edina resident who met Moses on one of several visits to Nairobi.
Schley is governor of Rotary International District 5950, which covers a large part of southern Minnesota. One of the Rotary district's projects is to bring clean water to needy parts of East Africa. She was touring the Mathare Valley with a University of Minnesota graduate who had grown up there when they ran into Moses, the youngest of four children of a single mother.
"I was watching this little boy with no shoes on, ragged pants, his nose running. He had one eye staring straight ahead and another looking at the wall," Schley said. "He came up to me and snuggled close."
She admitted hesitating for an instant before the hug, wondering if she might catch something. She took his picture, and "he sauntered off."
"I thought, 'He'll never think of me again,'" Schley said. "But he changed my life."
She saw him a year later when she returned to Kenya, after some of the Rotary-funded "ablution blocks" -- toilets and stations with clean water to wash in and drink -- were installed in the slum.
All of a sudden there was a newly clean Moses, wearing what looked like a school uniform: shoes and socks, gray shorts, a red-and-white shirt and a ragged sweater.
Schley and Tim Murphy, the Rotary district's international project director, began using Moses in presentations as an example of how water and sanitation can lead to nourishment, education and business development. Soon Rotarians all around the area knew about the little boy from the slum.
After hearing the story several times, Schley's ophthalmologist, Dr. Charles Barer, asked her: "Would you like to have Moses' eyes fixed?"
"My eyes just filled with tears," Schley said. "He said, 'I'll take that as a yes.'"
Barer is with Edina Eye Physicians and Surgeons. His colleague, pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. S. Jafar Hasan, will perform the surgery.
To a frozen land
Moses strolled into Hasan's office Friday afternoon with a big lump under his new red sweater. He had stayed with Murphy's family in Lakeville overnight, and when he saw Tim Murphy knot a tie that morning, he insisted on having one, too. He pulled out the blue tie to show Hasan that he had one just like the doctor's.
Hasan said Moses has badly crossed eyes, a condition he probably was born with. Hasan will cut and reattach the inside muscles of both eyes to straighten them. The surgery, which he performs five or six times a month, should take only about 45 minutes, he said.
He is also testing Moses' eyes to see whether he needs glasses.
Murphy, who was in Kenya for several weeks before he brought Moses to Minnesota, is the boy's legal guardian while he is in this country. Their trip to Minnesota was delayed because Moses had no birth certificate.
As the red tape was being worked out, Moses told his uncle a week before his departure that he was ready to go to Minnesota to get his eyes fixed.
When Moses and Murphy went to the Nairobi airport, it was 80 degrees. Moses' mother had somehow gotten him a pair of scuffed snow boots for the trip to a frozen land. The only other possessions he brought were the donated clothes on his back.
Of French fries and life
Moses is a busy boy, the Murphys said. He quickly learned how to ride an escalator in Amsterdam, and ran to hop aboard the ones at the Twin Cities airport. At the Murphy house, he played in the first pile of snow he had ever seen.
He didn't like the family dogs. But when Tim's wife, Cindy, took him downstairs to look at some toys, he spotted an electronic keyboard, said "keyboard" in English and immediately began trying to play it.
"He's been dancing to it, singing to it; it was the first thing he went for this morning," Cindy Murphy said Friday. "He didn't want to leave the house without it."
His first night in America Moses ate fried rice ravenously, as if someone might snatch his bowl, scraping the sides until every grain was gone. He passed up a hamburger but ate the bun and loved French fries.
While Tim Murphy had to sleep after their 20-plus hour plane trip, Moses was wild with energy. Later he crashed and fell asleep in an instant, sharing Cindy Murphy's lap with his balloons and a knit bear that a Rotarian had made for him.
Rejecting a bed, Moses curled up in a sleeping bag on the floor of 17-year-old Ryan Murphy's bedroom. He awoke a few times whimpering, unsure of where he was. On went the light, and Moses calmed down and went back to sleep.
Gatherings with children were planned this weekend as Moses goes to stay with Schley and her husband, Duane, in Edina. Later this week, he will pay a visit to Dr. Angela Wandera in Eden Prairie, another Rotarian and pediatric dentist who is donating her services.
On Thursday, the day before Tim Murphy will take Moses back to Kenya, the Edina Rotarians who have heard so much about the boy from the slums will meet him in person.
If his behavior holds true, he is likely to run around the room, touch things he hasn't seen before, give the Rotarians some vigorous high-fives and perhaps look at them gravely with newly straightened eyes.
"He's loving life right now," Cindy Murphy said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380