June 16, 2015
#5 Church, Ndingi and St. Francis
Things change every time I come here, little things, like a new mass, earlier than the 8:30, which used to be 1st mass celebrated in English. I rushed to get ready, remembering the ksh 10 for the bulletin – important because it has the readings, which are hard for me to understand – locking the door, and trying not to trip on the many rocks and roots just waiting to catch the tip of my toe. Outside the church I found people waiting and from inside I heard the unmistakable hymns of the end of mass, followed by the always-long announcements. So 8:30 mass began at 9. The old 1st mass is now the 2nd.
I sat in the same pew I always use, the one with the small plaque that read “Dedicated to the Memory of James Paul McAuliffe”, and had a little talk with him while I waited. Looking around I found everything was familiar, even the people scurrying to their accustomed places, people on the altar, moving this, placing that. Suddenly the choir stood, the congregation stood and the procession down aisle began, accompanied by the glorious voices of the choir. I love to hear them sing and find it hard to believe that it is the B choir, the A choir being for the Swahili mass (3rd).
First come the solemn boys (where are the altar girls?), followed by my favorite part, the small children dancing down the aisle, many glancing out of the corners of their eyes at this odd mzungu whom they may have forgotten from last year. Some catch my eye. Some return my smile; some quickly pretend we didn’t make eye contact. All are so cute, so full of energy and the wonderful rhythms of the African music. Next come the acolytes carrying—OH NO!!!, not incense!!!! I hate incense and the smoke is billowing out! ARGH!
I don’t know this priest and the minute he opens his mouth I know I’m going to have a hard time understanding him. Oh well, it will be my meditation time. But it’s hard to be “inner” when even more incense is added, as they swing the censer all around the altar. Am I in an Orthodox Church? ACH! The windows aren’t open and even though the ceiling is high, the air gets thick with smoke. Soon I find myself feeling light-headed. I sit while others are standing and eventually decide to leave before I pass out from the heat, smoke and lack of oxygen. Only later did I learn that at announcement time my friend Peter Mungai, chairman of the parish council and my good friend and fellow math teacher, called upon Margo to come to the podium and be greeted by the parish. But Margo had left. ARGH! Was I embarrassed when I heard that!
As promised, I went to Archbishop Ndingi boy’s high school, hereafter called Ndingi, choosing to leave my car behind and walk up that path I have trod so many times. It’s about a 30 minute brisk walk which took me 40 minutes, but by the time I reached my favorite landmark, the Deliverance Church, Fountain of Joy, I knew I was more than ½-way. The walk is a lesson in being in the now. The way is rocky and full of roots, holes and other obstacles. I can’t let my mind drift too much, lest I am tripped up. Yet while I walk, I am mentally writing something in my blog. Some of those mental meanderings actually make it to the blog, but many are lost, perhaps fortunately for you, my readers. Else I would flood you! Even so I noticed the lambs and kids, many so small they must be just a few days old and this is the season. I love watching them exploring their new world, tasting, running, playing with each other. The goats are particularly adventurous, like fearless little boys, climbing up, jumping down. I try not to think of their fate.
I don’t know what comes over me in the classrooms here, but it brings out the latent ham. I question, I cajole, I tease, admonish, mock and I do have their attention. We spent the whole 40 minutes on 1 question, but we got all the parts correct. At the end, I said, “Does anyone want to ask a question?” No one did. “Does everyone understand?” “Yes”. “How many could do this problem alone now that we’ve worked it all out?” No hands. Oh, no, nobody understood? Then a few hands went up – a very few – so I said, “OK, make sure you revise (review) this tonight and the next time I see you I will ask whether you did this one again, and if anyone has not (pause for dramatic effect) he gets the school teacher stare,” which I demonstrated, looking over the rims on my glasses. They loved that and I had had a great fun time.
Each year I work out all the problems (except the always-present Kenyan tax question) and leave the whole KCSE (Kenyan Curriculum Secondary Examination) from the previous year solved and in a binder. I make 2 copies, one for each form 4 class at SFG, but I had not thought to make one for Ndingi. Then I had a better thought. The students should be doing it. I shared my idea with the teacher, talking about groups, each being assigned 3 or 4 of the 48 problems. They must work together, ensuring that every member understands those particular questions. When everyone is satisfied of the correctness, one member enters the solution on the official exam paper and each signs his name, attesting that he is an expert for that question. In the end, the worked out problems will be left with the school for future students. I’ve now suggested that to one of the form 4 math teachers at SFG. He immediately could see the potential. It would mean that I don’t have to do it anymore, which saves me a lot of time. However, doing those questions keeps me on my toes and aware of the kinds of questions typically asked in those exams. Maybe I’ll do my own anyway.
As SFG, I find my desk is being borrowed by teachers who have offices out of the main teacher’s room. It is tea time and they all gather to relax and chat for a few minutes. I must say the tea break is a brilliant idea left over from the British. The world might become more peaceful if everyone took a 20 minute break from the rigors of the day.
The first few weeks each year are full of meeting new people and renewing old friendships. So when I saw my friend, Stephen, the gate keeper who loves to read, I was so glad. We went into the library so I could pick out some books I thought he’d like, and there I found a chemistry class using the wall to project a power point lesson. One of the students was explaining, while Andrew, the teachers sat at the side, inserting questions and elaborating on the student’s words. Kenya Help is trying to obtain 10 laptops so more teachers can prepare such lessons. I’ve brought flash drives for each person, because even with 10 laptops, they will need to share, so they’ll need to save their work.
After school I went to visit Joyce, the maker of the wonderful bags of African fabrics I use for all my shopping and bring back for others. She learned to sew about the time I first came to Kenya. Initially I think the work she did for KH sustained her, even enabled her to send her daughter to a good school where she is doing so well, will likely go to university and be able to sustain her mother in old age. In the intervening years Joyce has honed her skills and developed a good reputation as a reliable seamstress. She may never be rich, but she is neither hungry nor fearing to be locked out by a landlord wanting his rent. And she is very happy, as you see. Her gratitude to KH is sincere and she expresses it with eloquence. I notice her English is improving along with her sewing skills.
While we chat it began to rain, at first sprinkles, but then suddenly the tap was turned on and it became a real African giraffes and elephants deluge. Fearing I might get stuck in the mud on the unimproved road to her house, I hastened to leave, Joyce insisting that she cover me with her large umbrella on the way out. Sure enough, it was already a sea of mud, but I made it out to the main road, noticing that there was less water the further I went. By the time I got home, I could see there had been little rain, only a few kittens and puppies. Joyce’s area had had its own private squall.
The friendship renewal continued. I called Peter Mungai to explain my absence at the end of mass, but he was in the compound and came to see me in person. He understood, having felt the heat and heaviness of the air and noting the closed windows. He stayed for more than an hour as we reminisced in my little kitchen. There are some people with whom I can be totally frank and I know he enjoyed being able to speak openly – not possible most of the time in this culture. Peter is 55, has been a high school principal, but has now returned to the math classroom. He found the responsibility to being the “head” was very stressful and when a colleague, another principal dropped dead in the classroom, he made his decision. He wants to be able to complete his fatherhood journey with his 3 very bright children and enjoy his much earned retirement with his wife, who teaches English.
Later Cynthia, now a graduate of SFG, has come home to Mji Wa Neema so she can go tomorrow for another copy of her exam results, her uncle having lost the original. Cyrus comes in and for the first time, I wish I could just go to bed. I am tired. To quote my late husband, “getting old is not for the faint of heart.” I am feeling my 79+ years. However, in the morning I am full of energy again. Another day in Kenya.