Saturday, January 29, 2011

Nafarahi Kuwa Hapa

Kajire Primary School--We are welcomed by 500 kids (some still carrying desks from the classrooms to the stage,) loads of parents, teachers, community members, and the local pastor. Everyone gathers in the front of the school for a new year kick-off ceremony that will include the presentation of gifts and... speeches from us! Eeek! We're so nervous--scribbling Swahili phrases on our palms like nafarahi kuwa hapa--so happy to be here--(that erase from sweat just minutes later!) With hearts pounding, we watch the beautiful faces in the crowd, listen to the poignant poems, songs, and dances about joy, love, struggle, education, and HIV/AIDS prevention. The preacher's voices is strong, soothing, and his message of struggle and education echoes across the school grounds with inspiration. The importance of education rings further through Patrick's words and even in Swahili, I can feel the power. It's my turn--my chest tightens as I walk up to the front. But, to my amazement,I actually remember what I want to say. Habari asabuhi. Jina langu ni Lori. Mimi ni mwalimu Americani. Grayson ni mwana yangu. Napena kiswahili kidogo sana...

Good morning. I'm so happy to be here. My name is Lori and I am an American teacher. Grayson is my son (this is where Grayson interjected 'jambo!' and they laughed.) I only speak a little Swahili...

From there, I spoke in English, voicing my appreciation and excitement to be here. Nicola introduces herself (and makes it almost without a tear) and we talk about how these gifts are the seeds--just beginning of the relationship we want to continue through pen pals, visits and communication. It's a heartfelt moment--and Grayson smirks at our big emotions. The needs of the school are great--electricity, water, supplies, food (the ones who do stay to eat only get corn,) etc. They are overjoyed to accept our gifts--especially the laptop. Grayson, Patrick, and the teachers work on trying to get an internet connection there. Later, school officials and parents take us to a special spot where they plan to build their computer lab and library. They want our approval--and the hope is so tangible. We celebrate the end of the ceremony by a cold Orange Fanta (and cold has a whole new meaning here--no electricity, and even in Voi the refrigerators are not really *cold*)

Nicola works with the younger children--class 3 and 4. She worries a bit that she has no teaching experience, but her nurturing, kind nature, plus the eagerness of the little ones proves a success. Along with Grace, the head teacher, they read Goodnight Gorilla and practice greetings in English--good morning, good night and good afternoon. Together, they have a blast.

I work with Class 8 and these kids exude respect. I walk in and they immediately stand up, and recite their greetings in English. Their teacher introduces me, I say good morning in Swahili and they stand up again, reciting their greetings. Ah! I motion for them to sit down, and right away, I start in with the Magic Treehouse book to read. I feel a little strange at first reading a chapter book to this age group (some of the boys in the back look to be at least 16! But they cannot move forward to secondary school until they pass their exams.) We talk and brainstorm characters (they love the little mouse in the story) and setting, but they are very reserved. I try to figure out if they just don't understand me, or if they're uncomfortable by the fact that a strange woman has barged into their class to read to them. I make them laugh, teaching them words like "wow" and "yikes" and eventually we get involved writing a paragraph "If I had a Magic Treehouse, I would go to..." but I realize that imagination might have different parameters here in Sigala Hills--what imaginary safaris, or journeys, they have taken in their minds . We brainstorm the continents on the chalkboard, and talk about the rainforest like the setting in the book--but it's tough to find other imaginary destinations--the moon, a volcano, the time of the dinosaurs. One boy in the front (looks to be the youngest in the class,) is the most vocal--and I appreciate him so much! His story reads: " In my magic treehouse I will go tot he moon. I will see a monster there." He was the star dancer in the anti-HIV dance during the ceremony. My time runs out, and I say goodbye-- and I leave wondering what, if any, impact I might have had on these kids. How maybe I overestimated their English and their willingness to jump right into conversations about books and ideas. It's a good first step for me.

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