#2 Getting Settled and to Work

Arrived Naivasha yesterday afternoon, having made a short stop at St Francis Girls (SFG).  Got the usual mobbing from the girls, but I did miss our class of 2010.  Judy arrived 2 weeks ago and is all settled in.  She also loves to cook—not me—and had a lovely spaghetti dinner, with fresh cook kale and veges, plus a lovely salad.  She had invited Sr. Cecilia, who came to this parish after I left last November.  She is SOMETHING!  She asked to be released from her order so she could focus on building an elementary school in a very poor area.  She works with an NGO in the UK, but they are still fledgling and have not been able to raise a lot.  Nonetheless she has begun her school, now K-3, but as time goes on wll be K-8.  Watch this space for more news on Sr Cecilia and her school.  She’s very sweet and totally dedicated to this school and to providing free education to the children in that area.  Theoretically elementary school is free, but it’s not, really.  Hers is.

My body is trying to decide where it is, but I did sleep pretty well last night, waking just once at 2:30.  I’ve learned to turn on my ipod and listen to books I’ve previously downloaded.  Currently I’m listening to The Help, which I read when it came out, but listening is a whole different experience!

Thursday, June 2

Had some problems getting the first one out 2 days ago.  It’s 4:15 am and I am wide awake, so I thought I’d get caught up.

Already my days are so full I hardy have a minute to myself.  David, second oldest at Mji Wa NeemaI, children’s home where I stay, is home from boarding high school for a couple days break and he’s been waiting for me to arrive.  He’s in form 4 (senior year) and preparing for the KCSE (national exam).  ACH!  Some of the problems they come up with!  But he and I put our heads together and sort out some of them.  Some involve topics new to me and my brain is still somewhere over the Atlantic, trying to catch up with the body.  Nonetheless, he seems happy with what we’ve worked out.  We talk about how to approach problems, set up the information in the most helpful ways, how to write a solution that will impress the person marking his paper—strategies.  We worked evenings until I couldn’t think and then again in the morning until I left for school.  Now he has gone back, smiling and a bit more confident, telling me when he will be here in August and hoping I’ll have more time.  He’s good at math and I understand he gets good grades.  Here’s another one we’ll need to send to university.  Judy and I both feel the need to give the children here in the orphanage the best preparation for life we can manage—the beginning of their lives has been too painful and lacking.

Before I go on, I want to talk about the cast of characters.  You’ve read about Jecinta, the social worker, with whom Judy spends her time.  I hang out with Jecinta, principal of SFG.  There is also Jecinta, adopted daughter of Jecinta (sw) and Jecinta, student at SFG, whom some of you are sponsoring.  I met her last summer when visiting Sr Judy and wrote about her.  So I’m going to have to identify each when I write.

I’ve spent 2 days at SFG, mostly with Jecinta (p) and mostly planning our summer—and solving some math problems.  She is a great teacher, but like all of us, is better at some topics than others.  She waits for me to come to teach 3-D geometry.  We agree that I will teach the form 4’s, but she has to be there so she can get it too.  I am always bringing problems to her that I haven’t seen before, so our skills complement each other well.  It’s so good to be with her and to see how she has grown in her job.  She is clearly in charge and the girls love her.  She still has those girls running everywhere, a policy that she and Peter, deputy principal, instituted early on in their administration.

Speaking of Peter, a very tall, slim, handsome man, he has some wonderful news.  His face was aglow as he told me yesterday that he is getting married in August, right in St Francis church, with reception to be held in the dining hall at SFG.  He is such an addition to the school, also much beloved and respected by the students, teaching social studies.  I am thrilled for him, and confided to Jecinta that I couldn’t figure out why some young woman hadn’t snatched him up a long time ago.  Yesterday he promised to tell me why he has delayed so long (I’m guessing he’s in his 30’s)

Jecinta and I have talked a lot about inspiring the girls to contribute to the school after they graduate, go to university or whatever and have some small means.  Then she told me this story.  She had had a meeting with the principal of a nearby elementary school to discuss a problem with a girl she had taken in and really supported (another Jecinta!!!)  In the course of that meeting he mentioned the problem that poor girls have all over—missing school 4 days a month b/c they couldn’t afford pads.  Upon hearing this story, the girls of SFG started a “fund” of extra pads, soap and other necessities.  They had done some calculations, that each girl was missing an average of 40 days a year.  Many of them have had this same experience.  At SFG, such necessities are provided for those who can’t afford.  I was so touched that our girls, in their adolescence, in their push to prepare themselves to face a life of challenges, have reached out to their younger sisters to give them a hand up.  WOW!

Tonight (Thursday) I will sleep at Jecinta’s so I can see the weekly evening math contests they have initiated.  Hang on for a few days and I’ll write about it.  We decided I’ll stay there at least once a week so I can be there during evening study hours.  One extra person to answer questions will be a big help, she tells me.

She gave me a tour of her house, just inside the school gate.  It was almost complete when I was here in November, but now she is all settled in and so happy there.  I met her darling daughter, Mary Lin (not sure I’m spelling this right), a charming 2nd grader, who loves math and wants to be just like her mother.  I asked her whether it was OK if I slept over.  She gave me a wonderful, tooth-gapped grin.  She’s a bit shy, but warmed up quickly.  I think we’ll be buds.

The knee continues to vex me.  It swells and hurts if I walk on it too much.  Fr Kiriti will permit me to use a parish car, but I have to wait until the insurance is paid, July 1.  Today I took a matatu, always a new adventure and somewhat anxiety-producing.  The one to SFG goes to Nairobi.  They can’t afford the petrol to drive 1/2-full, so they go up the road, with the tout hanging out the window, practiced eyes scanning the people walking or standing around for a hint that someone might want a ride.  When they get to the edge of the more populated area, they turn around for another swing if it’s not full.  I’ve now seen some of the business that goes on.  There are lots of unemployed you men.  Four or 5 of them will climb on at the beginning of the run to make it look like it’s partially full.  No one will get on an empty matatu, because it certain it will turn around, maybe twice.

So after waiting at the side of the road in front of the parish compound, one stops and I see that all the “passengers” are these shills.  “No”, I tell them, “I’ll wait for one that won’t turn around,” proud that I’m such an old hand, I know that drill.  Another comes, with about the same load and I realize I’ve waited too late in the morning and if I ever hoped to get to school, I’d better hop on and take my chances.  So I do.  This particular tout is good, eyes everywhere, constantly signaling the driver by slapping his hand on the roof, either to stop or to move on.  It’s a race to keep ahead of the next one.  If they stop very long, the next one will pass and get any potential ridrs ahead.  The teamwork between the tout and the driver is a wonder to observe.  And I was really lucky today.  They kept right on going, picking up a lady here, a man there, a mother with infant and small son (who stared at me and passed to the back rather than sit with the strange mzungu).  Finally we get to my stop, where crossing the road is a risky business.  It’s the main road between Nairobi and Nakuru, another large city.  The cars, motorbikes (piki-pikis) and matatus continue to jockey for position and to try to pass the slow, black smoke belching, overladen trucks.  One has to be attentive and spry to get across.  No “pedestrian has the right-of-way” in this world.

There is finally a break and I run across and make my way down the embankment and off to the school.  As I round the corner of the thorn bush hedge along comes a donkey cart with 2 men. I side-step and we greet each other, each offering the smile we give to strangers, and proceeding on the way.  By the time I arrive, my knee is telling me I need to get rides with Ben, parish accountant, who goes to SFG every day.  RATS!!!

It’s now 5:15 am.  I’m going to try for a few more hours sleep.  I hear the call to prayer from the local mosque coming through the morning quiet.  I have much more to tell and tomorrow I will write about the first 2 scholarship girls I interviewed and photographed today.  Such heart rending stories.  I hope I can do them justice.

Love, Margo

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