Five-year-old Moses Mwaura, who barely a week ago was living in a Kenyan slum, seemed perfectly at home Thursday in the plush surroundings of the Edina Country Club.
Looking through a brand-new pair of glasses with newly straightened eyes, he shook and slapped hands, showed well-wishers his newly cleaned teeth and signed a wobbly "Moses" on a newspaper story for a fan.
Moses was at the luncheon to meet Edina Rotary Club members who have heard his story as an example of the good that Rotarians do with international projects.
Moses' eyes were severely crossed when he met Edina Rotarian Sandy Schley two years ago as she toured a dismal slum. Determined to get the boy help, Rotarians and the community joined forces to get Moses an all-expenses-paid trip to Minnesota.
He arrived a week ago courtesy of Delta Airlines, bringing only the donated clothes on his back. An eye surgeon, dentist, pediatrician, attorney, Fairview Southdale Hospital and others donated their skills, time and money to help Moses.
His eyes were corrected in a two-hour operation on Monday. On Tuesday and Wednesday, he visited dentist Angela Wandera in Eden Prairie. He had 19 cavities -- more than Wandera could possibly fill in such a short time -- so she took care of the most important baby teeth.
Wandera, an American citizen who was born in Kenya and speaks Swahili, was one of the few Minnesotans whom Moses could talk with and be fully understood.
At the Rotary luncheon, Moses asked Wandera what had happened to the glasses she wears in her office.
"He told me to put them on my face as he had put his on, 'So that we can be like the white people,'" she said. "He's very funny."
She met Moses shortly after he arrived and told him she was going to call him "clown" because he was such a comic. Moses wanted to know what a clown was. When she told him, he retorted that he was going to call her a Swahili endearment used for little children.
"But I'm an old lady," she told him. "No you're not," he said. "You're a little girl."
Looking straight ahead
Overcoming the reserve he showed at the airport last week, Moses turned out to be a tiny dynamo at his hosts' homes, running, throwing balls and getting up to play the piano at 3 a.m.
But Schley, who had Moses for part of the week, said his behavior changed after his eye surgery.
Afraid to open his eyes at first, he finally asked for a mirror and stared at his image in the glass. His eyes were inflamed -- four muscles had to be cut to realign them -- but they were looking ahead.
Then he got a pair of glasses to correct farsightedness.
Soon Moses was goofing around again, but much of his frantic rushing was gone. His hosts speculated that some of his hyperactivity may have been because of his desire to get close to new things he could not see clearly before he had the operation.
That doesn't mean he was placid. Bored with the luncheon program, Moses made adults at his table smile when he blinked his eyes at them in exaggerated fashion. He took advantage of an open door in the country club's lobby to dash outside, closely pursued by a guardian in high heels.
Today he returns to Kenya with Rotarian Tim Murphy, who brought Moses to Minnesota last week.
Moses' trip has left him with more than a pair of glasses and normal eyes. A Twin Cities Rotarian has offered to pay tuition for a private school in Kenya. And Murphy said that at least for a while, Moses is moving in with an uncle who escaped the slum and got a degree from the University of Minnesota.
For the Rotarians, whose work to bring clean water to Nairobi's slums benefits thousands of people, Moses is an unusually personal symbol of the benefits of their work.
"This is just the ultimate," Murphy said. "One young man has a chance because a bunch of people tried to help."
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380