Friday Jecinta and I planned a drive to Nakuru (a new first for me) to see about registering one of our 2011 SFG graduates at Egerton University. The road to Nakuru, dubbed prior to it’s repair as “the road from Hell”, is pretty good, though 2-lanes most of the way. The problem is the trucks, so overloaded that sometimes they are chugging along at 10-15 km per hour (6-10 mph). Drivers of faster vehicles vie for the opportunity to “overtake”, sometimes missing oncoming traffic by inches. It is a true testimony to Kenyan driving skills that there are relatively few accidents. To say that driving the roads is unnerving is to minimize the necessary concentration and attention required. Why do I want to be able to do this? Because I am so inheritently independent. Getting from Naivasha to Egerton by matatu is an all day affair, most of it cramped in the back of a stinky van, still dependent on the skill of the driver. I figure I can be just as safe in my own hands and can do it more efficiently with greater flexibility.
As I walked down to get out the car, I met Ben, who mentioned he was going to Nakuru. “Oh, no point taking 2 cars, do you want to go with me?” In addition I had Joseph Mwangi, whom I had never met, but who was the second principal of Archbishop Ndingi high and ran it for 3 years while it was still held here in the parish compound. I had never known that it began here. The rooms used by Mji Wa Neema were the original classrooms, and what is now used for offices, the computer college and a social hall were the original girls dorm. Nice to fill in a bit of history.
The drive to Nakuru was uneventful, if tense for the driver. Ben again pronounced me a very good driver, which I interpret to mean that I don’t dally, but don’t overtake carelessly. Dropping off Ben and Joseph, Jecinta and I picked up Agnes Mwanburi whom I’ve known since 2005. She is one of those powerful women, totally dedicated to women’s empowerment and independence. She has established many self-help groups, but devotes the major part of her efforts to bringing water to small villages so that women don’t have to walk hours to fetch dirty, heavy water for their families. I told her I thought there were a number of foundations in the US which help dig wells. If anyone knows more about this, Agnes would love to have that info. Please send to me.
It’s always hard for Agnes and me to find mutual free time, which is why she went with us to Egerton, just so we could chat while Jecinta took care of her business. It is another 22 km (14 miles) beyond Nakuru, through beautifully fertile farming areas dotted with small settlements (villages). It rains abundantly in that part of the country, so fields are green, animals graze on the grass at the roadside and anyone with land can make a living if willing to work.
Egerton is in one of these villages, away from the urban hustle and bustle. The campus is beautiful, with wide lawns, lovely old trees, very nice buildings and lots of space. It’s a perfect place to learn. Wandering about, listening to Agnes’s news, I spotted the mathematics building and remembering my wish to talk with someone having connection with the high school math curriculum as well as the KCSE, I proposed to walk in to see what I could learn. We met a very nice math professor who listened politely to my plea, agreeing with some points, skeptical of others, but nonetheless thinking I had a point. He directed us to the education building where we met a lady in the office who just happens to be the mom of an SFG form 1 student. (Nice to have friends in high places!) She directed us to a man who has peripheral connections with the mighty committee I seek. We talked for 45 minutes, mostly agreeing on the sorts of changes I’ve wished for these many years. Before leaving I promised to write a letter outlining my vision and sending it to him and to the email he provided me. That is yet to be done, but I’m quite pleased to have this chance. Now I have to write a very persuasive document!
Back in Nakuru proper, we ate in the dining room in the diocesan office complex. The food is good and the prices cheap. Who can beat that. We giggled as we asked for a bag for my chicken bones, destined for Jecinta’s dog—literally a doggie bag.
During lunch Agnes told Jecinta about a very versitlile grass some of her women are growing. Called vetiver, it is used for thatching houses, weaving baskets and mats, feeding cattle, preventing soil erosion, and fixing nitrogen in the soil. It’s very deep roots make it drought-resistant, yet it grows fast. Jecinta is always interested in any plants that can improve the lives of the many poor people she serves, particularly the grandmothers about whom Judy has written.
So back out towards Egerton we went to get some plant starts from Agnes’s garden. Her house is large and airy, with a very nice kitchen—unusual in my experience here, with built-in cupboards and good counter space. It has a stove but also a fireplace where the jicko, a small charcoal burner commonly used for cooking, sat. Even with all the niceties, including a sitter, not a squatter in the loo, she has to put up with such inconveniences as no water in the house—some piping problems, evidently, which will be repaired “soon”, a very loosely defined term.
We couldn’t contact Ben, so left him to return by matatu. He later explained he had been walking on a noisy street and didn’t hear his phone.
The ride back was equally tense as the one earlier and I arrived back amazingly exhausted. We stopped in the parish compound so Jecinta could pick some things from her office and on the way out of the gate to take her home, encountered 3 teachers from Milimani school, next door. So there we were with a full load again. Two got out with her, but one lives right near SFG. As we drove I asked about his work. He teaches class 8 and has several of our Mji Wa Neema kids, including Ruth.
I have not written about Ruth, as well as her sister, Beth. Both are such sweet girls, but very slow. Ruth is 20 years old and theoretically in class 8, but she can barely remember the multiplication and addition facts. One evening I tried to explain multiplication of 2 2-digit numbers but she never really got it. Jecinta and Julia (matron) tell me she can’t process information, such as how to make a recipe, even if explained carefully. She can cook some things, but only b/c she has seen the operation many times and helped until it is more reflex than anything else. She doesn’t want to go to school, where she feels very disadvanaged, despite the kindness and understanding of the teachers. I opined that possibly she should be allowed to drop, but the teacher said, no, it is very important that she take the KCPE to get the certificate, even if she doesn’t pass, which she won’t.
Jecinta, Julia and I had a talk about her future. No one has any ideas of what to do with Ruth and Beth. Their mother was even more dysfunctional than they. The girls have benefitted by being at the children’s home. They are both willing workers, just not self-starters even in the most basic activities. Two other girls here are only a bit more able than Ruth and Beth. They too must complete school and could possibly be sent for training in salon or kitchen work—both too challenging for Beth and Ruth. Girls like this often get taken advantage of here, which is Jecinta’s worst fear. We discussed the possibility of a tubal ligation, but you can imagine the can of worms that might open in this Catholic institution. Yet neither girl could understand and comply with instructions for contraception. Eventually they will have to leave here, but how to safeguard them is still very unknown. These are the things Jecinta deals with all the time. She is a saint!
All, for now, Margo