August 7, 2018
You may have noticed that I’ve not written much of late. It seems to me that I’ve been very busy, but still nothing much to write about. However now tuitioning (free math classes) has begun, with all the attendant need for organizing.
Every year it’s the same thought (worry)—“Will they come?” I think of the line from the war resisters in the 60’s and 70’s, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” So yesterday morning, bright and early I was up, posting signs directing students where to go and hoping, hoping, hoping. And then they began to come in—2 here, 3 here, 1, 4, in groups. We had 43 that first day!!! It’s the most we’ve ever had on day 1. Today I didn’t to an accurate head count, but I had 4 more in form 4 and the other teachers reported having new ones as well.
Sunday, Hillary and I had driven to Nairobi to pick Alison Staab from the airport. She has been here before, but not during tuitioning. She was teacher # 2. I had bribed the form 4 teacher from SFG to help by promising him my graphing calculator, which he covets! That was # 3. Who would teach the form 1’s. I didn’t know. But has happened so many times in my 14 years here, at the last minute, namely 11 am Sunday morning, Catherine Wanjohe’s very bright daughter, Laura, came knocking my door to announce that she was ready to teach math for me! Whew! Somehow it always works out.
On the way back from Nairobi, I had began my worry list. Enough chalk, erasers (aka “dusters”), were there tables in each room, and enough chairs? OOPS! I’d left all my texts at SFG (this realization came about 9 pm Sunday evening). Hillary had my car, so a quick text to him, would he run up to SFG in the morning and bring my books? (He would).
And at 9 am I had about 10 bright-eyed form 4’s, ready to tackle the hard ones—binomial expansion, circles, tangents and chords, series and sequences, area approximation, calculus—-We made a list on the board and will tick off the topics as we beat them back. All morning, kids drifted in. If they were form 4’s they were welcomed to our group in the Mji dining hall. Forms 1, 2 and 3’s were directed to the big church hall where there are 3 rooms with blackboards.
During the 10:30 break I trotted down to see how the other groups were doing. Every one looked happy, eager and attentive. This is my favorite part of the summer. I get to teach and we do the topics the students want. Kids are there because the want to be. I’m not constrained by the clock and when I see their heads are full, we call it quits for the day—usually by noon. But even after 3 hours, they don’t go home. They stick around and work more problems on the topics we’ve been covering. Or they whip out texts from other courses and work together.
A number of them asked whether someone could teach them chemistry. I hadn’t been able to recruit anyone, but then today, small Patrick of Mji (small because there were 2 Patricks and he’s the younger) came to see me. He’s waiting to begin his engineering course in September, so I asked him whether he could teach physics or chemistry. He wasn’t too sure about that, but then several hours later, he showed up with his friend Teddy, who says he can (and will) teach both. He was wearing a t-shirt he’d earned in a math competition for being part of the winning team. Seems promising!!! He will come at 1 tomorrow to begin.
And so I wonder, again, how this happens, that things just seem to work out. Who’s pulling those strings, anyhow?
Mary, one of the youngest of the Mji kids is in form 4 at SFG. You may recall she stayed with me here for 4 days during the mid-term break in June, soon after I arrived. She is here now, with 2 other girls who live too far away to commute each day. One is Lucy, the girl with the big arrears whom many of you helped out to pay her back fees. The 3 of them are staying in “Mom’s house”, where Julia, the matron, lived for some 10 years, being mom to 35 orphaned kids. Now the home is closed and Julia is happily married, living in the US and enjoying her 6-month old son. Her rooms looked very bare. The 3 of them are jammed into a very narrow bed and a mattress on the floor. I didn’t ask, that’s what they wanted to do.
They are eating with Alison and me, sharing whatever food we make and eating tons of bread, a Kenyan staple. Tonight we had hamburgers. We even found buns in the Naivas and for once the HB (here called mince meat) was more red than pink. The preparation was a shared process. Margo (head chef) patted the patties, cooked them (to perfection, of course) in a little tiny cast iron frying pan, 1 at a time, adding cheese as they got turned over. The buns had been put in the freezer when we got home from shopping (I had bagged it, exhausted and the girls didn’t know). Hmmm, how to toast them. I split one, hoping the halves would fit in the toaster. Well, no…. OK, I’ll toast them over the gas flame. Uh, no, the grid is too close to the flame. I don’t know how to turn on the oven, and particularly I don’t know how to light the broiler. AHA! Skewered each one with a fork and assigned Mary to hold them over the flame until lightly browned. They tasted pretty much like hamburgers, albeit, not like bar-b-qued HB’s. Well, here we are living somewhat primitively. They were quite edible and we were full. What more is needed?