Saturday, January 29, 2011

Time to Play

The games are the biggest hit! No need for language or intimidation. The sports equipment is a magnet, and we are mobbed by hundreds of kids so eager to play. I make the mistake of asking a little boy to hold the soccer ball and within seconds, he's practically dog-piled. Grayson and I have a panicked glance and then scramble to get the kids off and safely in order. (Not easy.) With the help of another teacher, we get the kids in line and begin the relay races. Balls, frisbees, tossing, hopping, throwing, holding in between knees and on top of heads. We are all laughing, delirious with excitement and the electricity is like no other. Grayson and I set up a kickball game (harder than it sounds...they understood the kicking and running, but outfield was a hole other issue!) It's confusing, but totally fun in a chaotic sort of way. Nic organizes jump rope games, which are a huge hit--chanting and all. We give American football a chance too! The warm sun bakes us, but it doesn't matter. Here is where the magic begins. The magic of connection and fun and shared dreams.

We pass out our 200 pen pal letters to the teachers and they are so enthusiastic to begin the relationship with our students. It's hard to say goodbye to all the smiles, the waves, the hopes and promises. Our van needs a push-start and we're reminded again that we're in Kenya. The kids do all the pushing! It's a day I think none of us will ever forget.

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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Anticipation and Exhaustion

Meeting of the Teachers

Kileva Primary School, about 50 students, Class 1-4

We are met at the small school by Margaret, the headmistress. Parents working out front chopping and clearing tall grass away from the buildings—it’s

a snake haven here and this will provide a safer environment for the kids. We discuss how we can help—and we decide to come back on Friday. It is the first day of school here in Kenya—the start of the year when kids move up to the next class. They spend this first week transitioning, waiting for teachers and supplies, food for lunch, waiting even for students to show. We gather together class 3 and 4, both of which speak some English. We put them in a big circle and try to teach them the “Ndovu, Ndovu, Simba” game. Eventually, they get the hang of it, and we play for a while—laughing and chasing each other around the room—that is until we spot 2 or 3 wasps nests hanging above in the rafters. The schools here in Sigala Hills have no electricity or plumbing, but Kileva has had a few rain

containers donated for water collection. But they are in desperate need of the basics: teachers, supplies, food for the students. I find myself wishing on star and star after star. Time to leave, we say tuna ona baaday, see you later, and leave to a hundred waving hands, fifty smiling faces.

At Mwambiti Primary, we are welcomed by 240 wanafunzi (students) clad in bright orange uniforms waiting outside and in classroom as

their teachers hold a staff meeting. (students spend a lot of time waiting here.) They quickly gather round us, and we take photos of the joyous crowd. I ask them to teach me to count to ten in Swahili—moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano, sita, saba, nane, tisa, kumi—I can’t remember them all, and all 240 students erupt in laughter. It makes me happy. We crash the teacher’s meeting—and they are very reserved at first. They introduce themselves and their years teaching—30 for the senior teacher! When they find out we are there to help in any way possible, the mood lightens (despite the huge wasp buzzing around Grayson's head.) The English teacher is excited for me to talk about writing. We promise to return Thursday, and say goodbye to the smiling faces once again.

Kajire Primary is by far the biggest at 500 students, Class 1-8 (which includes kids up to 17 if they don't pass exams in class 8.) We are greeted by many staff and community members, all welcoming us with a handshake (a special shake from the younger men.) We talk to headmaster, Michael, and he is overjoyed to have us support his school. There will be a celebration for us on Wednesday and then we will spend the day there. Possibilities bubble up inside me.

For the rest of that day, we spend time organizing more books, pumping up balls, and making lesson plans for the rest of the week. We work on the two laptops (one for Patrick, one for Kijere School--thank you Sheila, Kim, Lien and Mark for your amazing donations!) It is a time of anticipation and exhaustion, and the heat doesn’t help. But that night, we get it all done and begin the countdown of two days. What a gift to be here.

White Sand and Warmth

We make the long drive east to the Mombassa on the coast of the Indian Ocean. After picking up two young women in Patrick’s village who work in Mombassa and who were home for New Year’s, we drive the two hour trek—often slowed by speed bumps through small towns, or road work, or creeping moving trucks we have to speed around (which still surprise me as they pass to the right—opposite sides and all.)

Palm trees signify our arrival on the coast. But the poverty here is striking. The charcoal bundles along the road for sale (from people burning trees in the bush.) Shanty home and structures. Loads

of trash along the street. People moving everywhere in search of a sale, a meal, a job. It’s rough to pass through.

We cross the ferry—our car jammed onto the rig—people on foot flood in like grains of sand in a bottle. We roll up windows and sit in the hot, hot car as we cross. I guess people really get used to sweating here. I'm not quite there. Finally cross the water (no access to South Coast by land) we make our way through winding roads to the coast. Here, the land is lush, and homes seem sturdier, people able to grow crops on their land, raise cattle—safer from the lack of lions or elephants.

Tiwi Beach is gorgeous. We rent snorkel gear and run across the white sand into the warm, warm ocean. We avoid high resort charges by renting cheap gear and staying away from those million dollar lounges on the beach. The aquamarine water welcomes us in like it’s been waiting. Patrick comes in too—he’s never learned to swim, never had the opportunity to visit the ocean as a child and it makes me happy to see him relaxing in the waves. Grayson tries to get the hang of snorkeling, but his snorkel leaks—so after many attempts her grabs the fins and maks alone and hunts for shells. The wooden dhows float on top the water, often homes for the seabirds that congregate there. Underwater, I find a small paradise. Cowfish, schools of tiny stripes, neons with greens and yellows shining brightly under me. I watch a huge hermit crab in a tall spiral shell make his way across a cavern. Then spot my favorite: a tiny bright orange clownfish swimming amongst the tall, red urchins-- about 12 inches. Once again, I’m drawn in to the underwater peace, the white sand and grasses blowing in the current. I’m stabbed my an urchin on my way onto the sand (a tiny piece still in big toe now, I think) we bask on the sand, watching colorful kangas blow in the wind and guys selling coconuts on the beach. We walk down the shore, passing sideways crabs running and dragging things to eat (like spineless urchins) their holes in the sand and guys leading camels down the beach. We have lunch at Twiga Lodge (a resort where you can actually afford the food!) Vegetable curry, fish, cheese/tomato sandwiches and chips.) Topped off by two coconut milk shakes. Full bellies again and happy.

On our way home, we’re graced by a huge downpour. Never seen rain like that here. Rivers of red earth rush down along the side of the road. The sunset is gorgeous, broken up by clouds and small rainbow, as we pass the sacred mountain—Kasigau. I long to turn off the road and into the bush where I studies lions two years ago. The magic is still here—and it fills me up.