Thursday, July 7, 2011
#10 The Chief and Other Events
The form 4’s have begun sitting for the practice national exam, aka “the mocks”. This is a very tense time for them and as I saw them today and yesterday, the pressure was etched on their very serious faces. This process goes on for several weeks, after which the exams are marked and the “revising” process begins. The girls will stay at school for several weeks after the others go home, for “tuitioning”—a period of time outside the standard term for which parents must pay extra tuition.
Because I have been focusing on the form 4’s I have much less to do now, so was casting about for other classes I might help with. Turns out that a form 1 math teacher had to take his turn monitoring the mocks, so I took his class. The topic was not one I enjoy, nor one I know a lot about—currency conversion. Conversion factors are often 6 digits and depending on which direction one is converting, sometimes division is necessary. I’ve never made a secret of how much I hate long division, especially with 6-digit divisors!!!. I’ve seen a whole class session to do 1 question because the arithmetic is so yucky. BUT—yes, I always have a plan—I noticed that Jecinta (p) has a supply of scientific calculators in her cupboard—ones I have brought over the past few years for kids who couldn’t buy their own.
I found her in the kitchen, relaxing a bit and watching the bread baking process. She was in total agreement that form 1’s s/b allowed to use the calculators for such lessons, despite the rule that they are not to be used before form 3. I piled 25 into my backpack and trotted off like Santa. When I opened my pack, the class let out an audible gasp. Calculators!!! Some had never used one, some had never even seen one—like Ann, the girl I wrote about who is #1 of 12+ children (and is about 15—you do the math) We talked about when it’s appropriate to use one and when it isn’t. I had to point out “on” and explain how to key in the numbers. They loved the lesson. They loved the fact that most of the calculators are solar. They know the term “green” and know that the school is trying to be as green as possible (hence the solar/wind electricity). We were able to get through the lesson with no trouble. I do love calculators!
Now that I had a bit more freedom of time, I texted 2 old friends from my very first trip. The math department at Ndingi, which is where I went in 2005, had 4 math teachers, who took care of me so lovingly. We became great buds and I’ve remained in contact with 3, even though all have moved on to other situations for various reasons. One was Regina, about whom I’ve written. Another was Cecilia who was “taken” by a government school (and thus gets better pay and retirement benefits). She now teaches in a girls school in Masaailand, pretty far away. The third is Simon, who was elevated to the august position of chief just about 1 year ago, while I was here.
A chief’s main job is to mediate local disputes outside the court system. Kenyan courts are even more jammed than ours, so it’s very efficient to have this process in place. It’s actually the traditional process, preceding the British court system by centuries.
They all called me back and we will try to find a time when Cecilia can come from rural Narok, Simon can get away from his chief chair and Regina can come from her school so we can have a reunion.
Simon’s bailiwick is just up the road a few kilometers, so I proposed I should come to see him in the late afternoon—I’ve never been to a chief’s place of business. Asking around the staff room for directions, I learned that John, the Kiswahili teacher is a friend of Simon and Christopher (physics/math) know him too. So about 4:30 3 guys and I piled into my car and drove south towards Nairobi.
Getting driving directions from non-drivers is an experience! They don’t realize the driver needs to know where to turn before arriving at the spot. However we managed and the turn-off was easy. Simon’s office is 1 block off the highway.
As we turned into the plot where his office is located he was standing in front with his big beautiful smile. Such a nice man and a perfect person to be an arbitrator. We greeted and hugged and allowed as how each looked great. He introduced me to a one of his elders, a man of 72, quite grizzled, looking like a true elder and 2 of his police assistants.
Elder, chief Simon N’ang’a and 2 assistants
The office is a one-room structure, with a table for a desk and impressive chief’s chair. Several other chairs and a bench completed the furniture, along with the wheelbarrow which is also stored inside
We chatted about a number of things, including the arbitration process. Disputants appear at the door, usually accompanied by several elders whose purpose is to support the individual’s cause. Each side presents the facts while the chief and elders from both camps listen. The disputants are dismissed while a discussion of the pertinent points takes place. The purpose of the elders is to put the issue in historical perspective and to offer sage advice. Together they come to a common agreement, call in the disputants and Simon announces the decision. I asked whether the elders representing each side always find a common ground. Yes, they do. Once in awhile he has to refer an issue to the District Office, but rarely.
It seems like a great process to resolving conflict peaceably. The decision has the force of law and the decision is almost always accepted, as this is the tradition. I love the respect given to the elders and their many years of experience. I asked whether women ever fulfilled the elder role. At first he said no, they are much too busy working in the homes and the fields. Hmmm, why didn’t the men work in the field while the women arbitrated. Yeah, right, Margo! Later he said sometimes women accompany other women filling that elder role.
I had brought an invitation to the graphing calculator workshop. Simon had been one of the very first to use one and one of the more assiduous in learning more about the capabilities, so I knew he’d like it. As I stepped out to get it from my backpack, several people who had been waiting to see him (I didn’t know they were there), slipped in. When I realized what was going on, I withdrew, although I couldn’t understand one word of the Kikuyu they spoke.
Shortly I heard the unmistakable voices of small children, “How are you?” Looking across the field (lawn?) I saw children ranging from maybe 3 to 8. I waved, then grabbed my camera and walk toward them. Several ran away but these children shyly greeted me, each solemnly shaking my hand. I indicated the camera, at which they came to life and ordered themselves into a photographic group. They just looked and giggled and looked and giggled at the picture. So cute.
Then it was getting late and I needed to be back. My curfew is dusk!