#31 On the Way Home Aug 14, 2015
My last days in Naivasha were full, partly with finishing the last of Harry Potter. I had read them when they were first published, eagerly awaiting each new book. I was amazed at how much seemed totally new and which parts were different from my memory. But what I realized is that it’s the classic hero’s journey, discussed many years ago by Joseph Campbell.
It wasn’t all reading, from Friday through Tuesday (but not Sunday) I did my usual tutoring of all who wanted to come to do math. I’d been told that 30 kids were coming from one group and I feared I would be overwhelmed, but in fact it’s the same each year, I get 20 – 30 kids. This time is was a pretty consistent 22 kids. We worked 9 – 12 each morning but this year we had the addition of afternoon science tutoring by Maria Lokateri, SFG graduate in 2013, who earned A in math, chemistry and physics. Below, she is surrounded by our SFG girls on the day of the SFG reunion. She’s wearing the white top.
Just 4 days of teaching was not nearly enough time to make a major impact on the students, but they kept coming back, so evidently they thought they were getting something. It’s always an interesting group, some kids from Karachta, a very poor area down by the lake, near some flower farms, girls from SFG, several boys from Archbishop Ndingi and of course our kids from Mji Wa Neema.
Below is David Kamau teaching chess to Luca and Julia. Mary Anne Rodgers and family had brought the set to Mji Wa Neema, much to everyone’s delight. They’re sitting in the sun outside the dining hall because some rewiring in town has all of us with no electricity for the whole day.
I spent several afternoons at SFG, discussing the summer with Ruth Kahiga. Being principal is no job for the faint-of-heart. We discussed strategies for helping the form 4’s increase their grades on the KCSE. As much as I hate the idea of “teaching to the test”, the fact is that in Kenya, a school’s reputation is based primarily on their KCSE performance. SFG has never been filled to capacity (320). This year we have 280, so it’s close, but it would be helpful financially to be full. Locally, the people also appreciate what they term, the “formation of the girl child” by which they mean our efforts to turn out effective, mature, caring young women and not just academic stars. And it’s hard to have real “stars” because our target population is not the top students, but those middle performers, who often have great potential, but for various reasons did not get top marks on the KCPE (the primary school exam which determines who gets into the best high schools.) Our students tend to be in the 280-350 range out of 500.
A US group is using our facilities for most of the summer, running a leadership camp for high school students from the slums of Nairobi. I met some of the leaders, one of whom, Sally Kinney, is a professor at Tulane University in New Orleans. She found us by surfing the net for information about girls high schools in Kenya and happened on our website. She watched the TEDx talk I did in 2011, interested because she had done one herself on her own project. She told me they want to do another at Tulane, a TEDxx (for women only!) Here they are in one of the form 1 classrooms with their team t-shirts. Sorry this picture is not well focused.
I had saved Wednesday for packing and found I had pretty much everything in suitcases by the time Fr. Kiriti picked me up to go to dinner with Annastasia and Mwangi, good friends of his who have become good friends of mine as well. Their 3-year old son, Raphael, is a real character who loved the books I brought for him and was fascinated by the junior form of Labyrinth which I also gave him. He’s a bit young to get the idea, but it’s a great strategy game. We played a round so mom and dad could get the idea. Alas I can’t remember their 8-month old daughter’s name, but she is a darling baby, whose baptism I attended early in my visit.
Both Mwangi and Annastasia are engineers. He works at KenGen, the geothermal plant in outer Naivasha, a good hour’s drive from their lovely home, while she works in Nairobi, more than 1 hour’s drive in the other direction. It’s the same issue that many bright young US families face.
Our flight left at 11 pm on Thursday, and because I was ready to go by 11 am, I had lots of time to say good-bye to Sr. Magdalene, who dropped by for a visit, and Julia, to whom I feel so close. The issue of whether more children will come to Mji Wa Neema is still up in the air and if it doesn’t happen, then what happens to Julia and the 2 small boys, Joseph and Luca (just found out his name is not Lucas)? Where will the older kids go when schools close? This is home to almost 30 young people and while they may not live there on a daily basis, it is their home and Julia is mom. So hard.
Fr. Kiriti arrived and after fitting 4 large suitcases, 2 backpacks and my carry-on bag into a fairly small Nissan, as well as David Wekessa who had come down for the weekend and needed a ride back to Nairobi, we drove off, first to drop off the car Fr. Kiriti and I own together and which I drive during the summer. It will stay with Joyce and Charles while Fr. Kiriti is in Berkeley enjoying his sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology. We made a final stop at SFG and then were off.
Above is our farewell picture, with Julia, Luca, Josephat, Fr. Kiriti, David Wekesa, Tabitha (behind), Magdalene, Evelyn and Joyce.
First stop in Nairobi was at Joyce’s restaurant on the University of Nairobi campus. She is such a good friend to Fr. Kiriti and to me as well. She insisted we had to eat, although our lunch had been late, but as it turned out, I was happy I had had that extra bit. Dinner was on the plane, about midnight, by which time I was feeling pretty hungry.
The Nissan belongs to a priest friend of Fr. Kiriti. He lent the car in exchange for Fr. Kiriti’s agreement to filled in for mass on Sundays in Nakuru while the car owner was on leave in Ireland. So next stop was the St. Patrick Father’s center, where the Nissan was left for it’s owner’s return in a few days and we loaded all the baggage into a taxi. By then (6:30) it was total Nairobi traffic jam time. The driver was really skillful, intimately conversant with every back road and alley, but even so, it took more than 2 hours for the 30-minute drive to Jomo Kenyatta Airport.
Five am saw us arriving in Dubai, where we had a 4 hour layover before the final 16-hour trip to SFO! ARGH! This is a long trip! Of course the planes are huge and the queues are long. I went first through the final boarding pass check and proceeded down the escalator, thinking Fr. Kiriti was right behind me. At the bottom I didn’t see him and feared there had been a problem. Shortly he appeared and when I asked about the delay, he beamed, “I got upgraded to business class!” I must confess a bit of jealousy, as he was trundled off with preferential boarding, while I stood in the poor people’s queue. I am writing this from my seat with 3 ½ hours to go. The section I’m in must be Economy + because the space is not nearly as cramped as I’ve had in the past. This is a new jumbo jet, with the business and first class upstairs.
Inevitably, the plane did finally arrive at 2 pm Friday. Following a long-standing tradition, we were met by my son, Mark, who again had the problem of fitting all those suitcases, plus the 3 of us into his car. Despite our worst fears, we managed and finally we arrived at my house in Menlo Park, so be met by my 2 kitties, who missed me very much and have been telling me thus at every opportunity. Later we enjoyed dinner with my son Mark and his family. By 8:30 Fr. Kiriti was out like a light. I lasted until 10, not wanting to sleep too early, lest I wake at 4 am or so.
I am home and thus another summer, my 11th, is ending with promises to all my Kenyan friends still ringing in my ears, “I’ll see you next June, God willing.”
To those who have read my blogs, I thank you for your loyalty to my adventures. Until next June….