Problems occur in African schools just like every other place. And teenagers are teenagers the world over. Victoria had been given a very nice picture album by a friend, filled with photos of her family, friends, school and activities. This was to show around at the school because the students (and staff) love to see what our lives are like. The girls wanted her pictures and Victoria had generously said they could have them. Not a picture was left! But then the album disappeared. She had told them the album was a special gift from her friend, but …..well…when it was time for Victoria to leave, the album was nowhere to be found. Victoria was a good sport about it, but I could see she was a bit bummed.
Two days after she left, Jecinta (principal) announced a surprise desk, locker and bed check. I had not heard of these, but evidently they occur from time to time in all schools. Students are not allowed to have food (attracts undesirable visitors), money (no place to spend it here), perfume, cosmetics, phones etc. First every desk was emptied out and sure enough, there was the album in a form 3 desk. Jecinta lost no time in taking that girl to task. The girl claimed she had planned to return it, but was too late. “That was Sunday, we have been announcing about the album and this is Wednesday and you still had not brought it?” I don’t know the nature of the punishment but Jecinta runs a tight ship here and I was told the girl is not likely to do that again. Evidently it was not her first offense.
All mail is read first by the administration here. So in the check letters were confiscated, including the note Victoria had given me for Teresiah, her long-time penpal. Teresiah had not had time to read it. Naturally she was upset, but I understand it was returned to her.
These seem like harsh measures to us, but are common practice in schools here. The attitude is that the students are in school to learn and they should not be distracted. They wear the same uniforms so that no clothes comparisons can occur. Thus they are not permitted to have street clothes. I had to leave (to do my shopping) before it was all over, but reports were that a good bit of contraband was discovered. It takes the whole afternoon to inspect belongings and spaces for 200 girls. Imagine when it’s 320!
Today (Friday) I found a table on the porch of the school and parents there. Hmmm, this is unusual. Then Jecinta explained that today was parent conference day for form 2. ACH! No one had told me. There I was in my clean but very ordinary jeans and t-shirt. The men were in suits and women dressed to the nines. Did I ever feel shabby! But when Fr Kiriti arrived in jeans and a t-neck, so I felt a bit better. The teachers all assured me I was just fine, but were they going to tell me my appearance was an embarrassment to the school? No!
The drill is that each parent briefly confers with each of the student’s teachers. The staff room was jammed and parents with their daughter milled around the yard, waiting for things to clear. Students in forms 1, 3 and 4 were just studying in their classrooms, as the teachers were all busy with parents. I walked around and greeted parents, but small talk isn’t my strong suit and I was glad to go off to form 3 to teach them for Jecinta. In fact I taught them for 2 hours, then back to the staff room. It seemed rude to eat lunch when parents were right there, but that’s the routine. Later I saw that parents were given lunch in the dining hall, followed by a meeting that ran on African time—beginning 1/2 hour late. Several girls sang and one did a recitation honoring parents, followed by teacher introductions. After I self-consciously introduced myself Jecinta leaned over, “they want you to say more.” Um…So I ad libbed a bit then excused myself to go teach the form 4’s.
About 4 I was ready to go home. Backpack over my shoulder, I started out the door, only to be stopped by Elizabeth (secretary). “Are you going down to Naivasha town?” “Yes” “Do you ever ride motorbikes?” “Yes, why?” “There’s a motorbike driver here who wants a rider going back down. Hmmm, sh 20 on a matatu, sh 200 on a piki piki. Oh well, I want to get down quickly, b/c Fr Kiriti was coming to have tea and I had some things I needed to discuss with him. “OK” (to the driver) “How much?” (I’d learned you have to bargain for the price in advance) “I’ll take you for nothing.” Now that’s a switch. “No, I’m happy to pay you.” “OK, sh 50” Huh?!? “No, I’ll pay you sh 100”. I hopped in the back, while Esther (matron) admonished the driver to be very careful with me. Later she texted me to ask whether I had arrived safely. I had.
Back in my little house I shed the 50 lb backpack (why is it so heavy?) put the teapot on to boil, got out the tea cup, then sat on my bed to read. I can always tell when Fr Kiriti is coming, he greets all the children and whoever else is around, so I can hear him 3 minutes before he knocks on my door. Here they would say “before he knocks my door”. The leave off a lot of prepositions. They pick you at the airport.
RATS! The electricity just went off. Thank heavens for a laptop with battery, b/c I had not saved this! In the past I have lost more than one pearl of writing to the vaguaries of the electric system. I grope for the torch (flashlight) AH! There it is. Oh, and there’s my backpacker’s head lamp. They are like gold! I strap it on my head, and settle in the type when on goes the electricity. Sometimes it’s out for hours, but the gods are with us tonight.
After Fr Kiriti left the tea party I walked out to take the picture of the church for # 11 and as I came back I stopped to talk to Julia (matron of orphanage) for a minute. Just then the 4 8th graders come pouring in all excited from a class field trip to Nakuru, where they heard President Kibaki. Daniel is totally hyper, telling Julia about getting Kibaki’s autograph. I can’t begin to convey his excitement, but…. “Mom, I got his autograph! They wouldn’t let us near him—we’re just kids, but I yelled ‘Your Excellency’ and waved my arms (demonstrates arm waving). Before they could push me back, he said ‘let that boy come here’, just like when Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’” (Daniel is about 5’9”, long and gangly, hardly a “little child”. All the time he is searching around in his backpack, but of course he can’t find it. “And then they gave us free milk, camel’s milk and he smelled awful” (confirmed by the others). “Ewww! It was so gross! But they gave us free yogurt too. SWEET!!!” And out they bounced to tell the rest of the children. We were in stitches! Shoulda gotten a picture of that!