#14 The Readers and Some Teachers July 2, 2015
I was awakened from what’s becoming my regular afternoon nap, by Celina announcing I had a visitor. It was a face I knew well, but couldn’t put a name to. It was Mercy (pronounced Marcie here), class 2014. She came to say hello and to tell me she will begin university in September and hopes to study hotel management. Students must declare a major when they begin their university work and it’s hard to change your mind later. I asked her how she had made this choice. She looked a bit befuddled. I suspect she had looked over a page of possibilities and thought that sounded exotic. “Have you talked to any hotel managers? Asked them what they do” “No.” “Would it be a good idea? Maybe the person would say, ‘Ugh, I hate this work.’” We chuckled over that, but I wonder how an 18-year old who has lived a very sheltered life could know how she wants to spend a good part of her adult life.
While she was there in came Julius and Paul to borrow books. Julius I know from last summer. Paul is a newcomer. They know they can select a book from the shelf in my hallway. I write it down, then cross it off when they return it to select another. A few minutes later Danson appeared (old customer) with Brian, new guy. These boys are all class 6 at Milimani Primary School next door. They are sweet as can be, grateful for the opportunity to read the books and eager to know more about this mzungu lady. Julius and Danson had seen me and greeted me the day I visited Milimani High and had walked through the primary area during their recess. They came that afternoon for books.
Danson, Julius, Paul and Brian. Kids do love to have their pictures taken.
Mercy had been at SFG when my granddaughter, Maya, was there. I asked whether she would like to see the video of Maya’s acrobat performance for her baccalaureate at Paly. Of course. So I invited the boys as well. All were mesmerized.
The teachers at school love to tease me. One in particular, Janet, who teaches Kiswahili and biology (?) has razzed me mercilessly. “Margo, your mug is too big.” (I gave her a big mug at the end of last summer. “Margo, why don’t you ever wear a skirt?” “I don’t like them.” “Margo, why don’t you learn Kiswahili?” on and on. I give it right back to her and now she is infecting the rest. I does make me feel accepted, because they tease each other a lot too.
Here is Janet, looking as sassy as she is, sitting at my desk. She is the counselor and has a private office, but she’s a very social person and loves to be in the staff room. Saturday is talent show day, the BIG EVENT of the year. “Margo, you know you bought fruits for all the girls last year. Now, you know, they expect something. What will you get?” Last year Janet and I had gone to the big outdoor market (not the small one across the road from where I live) and I really saw her in action. I wish I could remember the name of her tribe, because they are notoriously hard bargainers. Wow! She is something! I had to call her off several times, because she was bargaining away the tiny profit a seller makes. For her it’s a game, a challenge and has little to do with the actual value of the item. My idea last year was each person would get 2 servings of fruit, but despite Janet’s great talent, supplying that for 300 people cost me dearly. This year it will be one fruit-oranges, at ksh 5 ($.05) each. Both she and Ruth agreed the girls get bananas often but rarely oranges. So tomorrow, after tea time, she and I will drive down to the market and bring home 300 oranges as well as the items on the shopping list Ruth will give us tomorrow. Before I had the car they had to get a taxi because it is far too much for someone to carry, particularly on a matatu.
Yesterday I had requested of Nancy Koskei to teach logarithms to her form 4 class. It’s one of my favorite topics to teach, mostly because the students don’t understand them, fear them and just skip them on exams. Yet they turn out to be among the easiest and quickest questions, earning 3 marks in less than 1 minute for the student who understands them.
It’s the same routine every year. “What is a log?” No one knows. “A log is a power.” No one is impressed. But by the time I had come back for the second lesson, the import of that definition was dawning on them. In addition to questions that just test one’s understanding of logs, the test always includes a very ugly and time consuming calculation with logs. It’s the sort of thing that makes me crazy. No one would ever do that calculation with logs. They’d use a calculator, but the question will be on the non-calculator part of the exam. “OK, everyone put the calculator in the desk. This is brain time.” Reluctantly they do—except one girl who hid hers on her lap. I caught it of course, because it’s easy to see them looking down, obviously punching buttons. Sometimes kids are dumb! I made her put it away. “OK only those who don’t have a brain can use a calculator.” (giggling) “If I see one again, the offender will have to stand before the class and announce, “I have no brain!” More giggles.
Later I consulted with Nancy about a question from last year’s KCSE. Here she is in her office. She’s a really good teacher, though a bit stricter than I think necessary. She doesn’t joke with the girls much and actually seems kind of scary. One day after observing her I said, “Nancy, you never smile in the classroom. Smile a little-you have a beautiful smile. Lighten up a bit.” She was taken aback a bit, but smiled beautifully. I’ve have had to work hard to break through her reserve, but that last exchange helped a lot. She was new last year and I think she didn’t quite know what to make of this old mzungu who arrived one day and wanted to help with math teaching. I think I’ve earned her somewhat grudging respect, mostly by asking her help for questions I was unsure of, making sure she knew I wasn’t coming as Mrs. Know-It-All.
I forgot to include a picture of the 9 (who later became 10) girls who stayed at school over the midterm break. Here they are.