July 8, 2017
One of my favorite visitors is Catherine Wanjohi, founder of Life Bloom. I’ve written of her many times, of how we met in 2005 at lunch in the parish rectory. Fr. Kiriti thought we should know each other. It was instant friendship/mutual admiration society. We soon discovered we were on opposite ends of the same issue, namely, empowering women. My job was to educate poor young girls, in part to keep them out of sex work (often the only opportunity open to a girl with no skills and only an 8th grade education—if that. Hers is to help girls/women who never had the opportunity for school, to pick up their lives, understand their situation is not their fault and help them find a way forward out of it.
She had been in The Netherlands, taking classes until Monday. Tuesday, she and her gentleman friend came to visit. “We’ll just drop in for tea and a brief visit.” Yeah, right, like we’ve ever had a brief visit. No matter how long we are together we never get to the end of our conversations.
I had not met Francis before, but liked him immediately. He’s a quiet man with a nice smile who fit right in. Catherine and I had much to discuss, as always but he didn’t seem to mind. We backtracked from time to time to fill him and Alison in, but mostly we just loved being together. She’s about ½ my age, but it’s as if that age difference didn’t exist.
Among other things she caught us up on Josephine Zaina, a deaf woman whom I had met 3 or 4 years ago when a man from the parish told me how destitute she was, having just given birth to twins and with 2 other children and a vanished husband. We did a big shopping to get her through a few weeks and tried to carry on a conversation with 2 babies and 2 small children needing attention too. Recently she has become a poster child for Life Bloom. She attended a tailoring and design school, where she excelled. When Catherine was in the US recently, she visited her wonderful friends in Tacoma, WA, where someone with a big heart offered to fund a sewing machine for Josephine. She found a small shop, and yesterday morning was opening day with the big sewing machine presentation. Wow! What a happy woman. The machine is brand new, not used and looks like it will do everything but cook the dinner and change the baby.
Here she is in an outfit of her own design. She looked so happy!
It will take time and more capitol to get things going, but this lady has made quite a journey. She is very determined and optimistic. The twins are on the right, one clearly smaller than the other. The husband has shown up again and is evidently covering school fees. The oldest one wasn’t there, so I presume he or she was in school. The others could all be in pre-school. Maybe they took the day off to share mom’s joy. I didn’t ask.
Alison and I couldn’t stay too long, off to SFG again to tutor more kids. They come to the library in fits and spurts, at tea time, sometimes during class time, if the math teacher remembers, at lunch and late in the afternoon. When we have no customers, we are busily teaching ourselves various topics. Vectors have been my bugbear for a long time. Vector question in the Kenyan syllabus are very different from ours. I’ve struggled with them for years, but finally decided I had to master them. My review book of the last 20+ years of national exam math questions has 31 vector questions. Clearly it is seen as an important topic. I was well through the first 15 or 16 before I began to see the logic behind the solution. Before I was just wandering around through the information until I stumbled on the correct solution. Now I see the logic and the path through that maze, and now have taught them to someone with reasonable success (I think!) This is part of the “learn something new” way to deter the onset of senility.
My day began with my usual Saturday chores, do my personal laundry (by hand in cold water), and change my sheets. The room is small, the bed frame is heavy, with no gliders under the legs, so the bed is hard to move away from the wall. The process is a real pain. I had to enlist help from one of the girls to move it back. Then it’s time to shower and wash my hair. The water is tepid, the drain is cogged (catch the water in buckets and wash tubs, pour it down the toilet) and I’m brushing against my dripping underwear as I move in and out. It’s an interesting experience in making do.
We had scheduled today for Scarf Day as I wanted it to happen while Alison was here and it had to be before the form 4’s began their mocks (practice KCSE). Today was also Games Day, so when we arrived the girls were all out in the soccer field, on the basketball court, playing volleyball or watching. We had set the time for 4 pm, the advertised ending time for games. In the meantime we set up shop in the library and a few kids came in. Three form 1’s asked shyly, “Madam Margo, will you teach us about constructions?” As I worked with them I quickly realized they are very bright math students, so they got it quickly.
Shortly they began peppering me with questions about the US. “How does one get to go to America?” “How long does it take to get there.” (Oh about an eternity—laughs) “What did it feel like in the plane? Could you see the land below?” “I have an aunt who…” “I have a cousin who…” “Do you have a car in America?” (big eyes). When I explain that it’s pretty hard to get around in the US without a car, as we have no matatus (small 15-passenger vans that go everywhere), no piki-piki’s (motor bikes all over town, delivering goods and people to any destination), they are shocked. Then I went into my usual story about how there are poor people in the US, there are even homeless people in the US. They can’t understand how that could be. No, No, everybody in the US is rich! Well, in fact, NO.
Suddenly I look up to see it’s almost 4 and we haven’t set up the library for Scarf Day. Run out to the field to find the form 4 prefects who were tasked with the organizing.
The way we do it is each girl picks a number from 1 – 73, then they come forward to a table covered with the scarves and choose. No matter how hard I try, it’s always chaos and today was no different, but was further complicated by the fact that one of prefect was somewhere playing games and not to be found. Alas, she was the one who had done the numbers. Judy Wambui, the other one, quickly made tiny numbers, which we tore apart and folded. I found a cup and we passed out the numbers. As usual, I told them about the 6 or 7 ladies in the US who have knitted all the scarves and love doing it for them. They get very excited and so we begin.
Choosing the right scarf is very serious business. The lucky ones with the low numbers have so many choices, while the high number holders are sad that they didn’t get their favorite. Not sure how to make it fairer. But in the end, they all compare, look over the other girls’ choices, do some horse-trading and tumble out into the quad for the requisite photo op. They are really hyped by then and it’s worse than herding cats, but finally we have some semblance of order and some pix are taken. The form 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s look on and I wonder how many more years of Scarf Day will there be?
After all the girls have chosen, new staff members get to choose. They always ask why can’t they choose first and I patiently explain the scarves were knitted for the students and staff members are lucky there were some extras. Veronica, the new librarian had selected hers while we took pix. Alison and I packed up the tools of our trade, pens, pencils, protractors, compasses, erasers (known here as rubbers—always makes me giggle), pads of paper, calculators and make for the car. Oh, here’s the new gate attendant, a sweet young woman who really needs a scarf is waiting to open for us and is really happy to get one. Monday we’ll find the 2 new cooks and Sr. Jemima, the new deputy principal. Right now we are tired.
Back home we realize we are hungry, so have crackers and cheese. Now I understand why they are called appetizers, b/c they really whetted my appetite. We quickly sorted through the leftovers, deciding on sandwiches made from the rest of the meatloaf, with pickles and catsup. Nothing ever tasted better.