#27 This and That

Sunday August 21

#27 This and That

This had been a slow news week.  I spent 3 nights at SFG, teaching the form 4’s in the evening (read on to see why I don’t drive at night).  They’ve done their mock KCSE exam, which we are now “revising”.  Alas, the results were disappointing, with a fairly large group failing the math part.  Today I met with them to talk about why they couldn’t do some of the questions and what sorts of things they might do to at least try the questions.  These girls are still frightened of math, they don’t like it and the have no confidence that they can succeed.  This last is what I hoped to address.  We talked for about 45 minutes and they assiduously took notes.  We’ll see.  When kids have had a poor start in math it’s really hard to overcome it.

I spent the nights in the principal’s house.  It’s fairly spacious as Kenyan homes go, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, sitting room (as it’s called) and kitchen.  That said, it is spare.  For example, there are no electric outlets in the room where I stay.  When I pointed that out to Fr Kiriti he was surprised.  Evidently that wasn’t part of the plan.  The kitchen is small with few cupboards and no stove, except for a 2 burner gas cooker.  Most of the cooking is done on a jiko (no idea how that’s spelled), a small charcoal burner, that gives off copious quantities of noxious (and probably toxic) fumes.  Like most domestic activities, the cooking on the jiko is done on the floor.  Every Kenyan woman can bend like a hairpin, knees straight and butt up.  They do the laundry like that, as well as cooking and farming.  I once opined to Catherine that that might explain the prominent, muscular bottoms of Africans.  She exploded in laughter, but it makes sense to me.

Jeninta (p) has a housegirl, also named Jecinta (hg) and a niece of the same name.  Jecinta (hg) takes care of Jecinta’s daughter, Marylynne while Jecinta (p) is 30 yards away in her office or in class.  As housegirl jobs go, she has it pretty easy.  She and Marylynne spend a lot of time watching either cartoons or dubbed soaps, mostly Spanish.  I’ve bought Marylynne some books of African folk tales, which she immediately devoured, then went back to the soaps.

You may recall I’ve written about Elizabeth, the Sudanese girl who joined form 1.  When she arrived she had literally nothing.  Esther, the matron, had to do the shopping for her, uniform, shoes, socks, underwear, toiletries, most of which she had never seen, hair and skin care products, laundry and showering soaps, mattress, sheets, blankets, pens, pencils, books…  At the end of the term she went to Nakuru to stay with her uncle.  I had hoped she would agree to stay at SFG because she did very badly on her exams, but she was a bit homesick for Sudanese cooking, language etc.  It’s not that she’s not bright, she has never been to a regular school.  She didn’t have the idea of sitting in a desk in a classroom.  Yet she did pretty well on the KCPE, which is why she was admitted.  Last week, when the students returned for the tuitioning, Elizabeth didn’t show up.  I became concerned about her and emailed Gabriel in the US, the mentor of all the Sudanese kids in our schools to find out what he knew.  He called the uncle and discovered that she hadn’t understood about coming back to school.  After emails flew back and forth, we got the phone number of the uncle and sent some money for her matatu fare as well as for someone to bring her, as she had no idea of how to get here.  More shopping had to be done, although fortunately not all the expensive stuff, but more soap etc.  Esther and I took her to the supermarket, but I hadn’t brought enough cash for  everything.  She needed a second pair of shoes—she has only one pair.  School shoes are heavy laced black klunkers that must be kept clean and polished.  During the rainy season, they have to have 2 pair so one can be drying out.  She also needed something warmer than the sweater and “jumper”, which we would call a fleece jacket, as at this time of year it’s cold at SFG.  In fact, this year I have been colder than I ever remember.  The wind blows there, which is why our 2 windmills are so efficient, but in winter (now) it is not comfortable.

So today I walked down to the big outdoor market.  It’s actually 2 markets, one produce, which is held on Wednesday and Saturday (today is Sunday) while the more permanent part is a rabbit warren of small platforms on which goods are displayed, covered with some roofing that leaks.  The aisles are about 1 foot wide, very uneven because the water leaking from the roof makes ruts, washing away the soil and uncovering rocks which make walking through it very uneven.  I found myself grasping at posts from time to time to keep from falling.

Wish I’d taken a picture.  This one is the produce section from last year.

The more permanent part features used clothing—a vast display of almost anything one would want, at very low prices.  I’ve been told that markets like this are the destinations of some of the gift clothing sent by churches and other well-meaning- groups.  We may be dismayed at this, but it provides a living for many people and shoppers pay very little.  It may be much better, psychologically, that getting a hand-out.

I wanted a vest, either fleece or down for Elizabeth as well as a knitted hat.  It took some wandering about, but I finally found a nice warm vest for ksh 250 (about $2.75).  I couldn’t find the hat, so I walked over to the school uniform shop, owned by my friend, Mr Kingori.  As I neared the door, I saw him inside with someone massaging his right arm.  He greeted me effusively, as always, and explained that several years ago he had been shot during a mugging.  Only recently had the pins in his bone been removed and it pains him from time to time.  In case I thought about driving at night, this convinced me it’s not a good idea.

He had the hat I wanted and even has someone who will stitch names in the garments—even in the vest I’d bought down the road.

I haven’t written about the scene on the day the girls returned.  I had never been present on opening day and it was definitely a new experience.  All day girls come traipsing along the road that leads from the main highway, lugging their plastic bags of shopping, plus the backpacks stuffed with books and papers which they supposedly spent time pouring over during their 2-week break (Right!!!!)  All over Kenya on opening day, teachers search every item, looking for money, spray bottles, gum, hair straightening chemicals and in some cases, drugs or alcohol, although that has not been a problem at SFG.  This took place in the staff room, where I sat at my desk and watched the mob scene.  Two women teachers did the bag search, while 2 male teachers collected and recorded the pocket money anyone brought.  They can get it from the secretary whenever they need things, although there are no stores nearby.  In addition, shoes had to be removed to check for toenail polish—not permitted.  This is a tough place!

They’d been told to arrive before 5 pm, but matatus are unreliable and many were late, even some of the few brought by parents in cars.  The lateniks had to leave everything in the staff room until the next day, at which time only one teacher was there (rest were in class).  I volunteered to help, although I didn’t feel too comfortable piling through all the belongings.  In all the bags I searched, I found only 1 contraband item, a small piece of hard candy, which I gave to Patricia, the English teacher whom I was assisting.

Time for sleep.  Tomorrow is another day of teaching.

NOTE: if you’d like to learn more about the Kenyan ceramic jiko stove click here

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