#9 Thugs and other Stuff

#9  Thugs and other Stuff 

Had a short meeting with Fr. Peter this morning to discuss the fate of a boy from Mji Wa Neema, then off to school.  Soon after arriving I learned that thugs had breached a weak spot in the thorn hedge and entered the SFG compound.  But it was handled beautifully.  First, the principal had anticipated some sort of shenanigans and warned the 2 watchmen to be particularly vigilant.  Second, some time ago a code system had been enacted (new each night) such that if a watchman were grabbed and forced to call the principal he would give the code word first.  If the principal were grabbed, she could be forced to provide keys to the computer lab and the offices where money is kept.  The watchmen were not grabbed last night b/c they saw the shadows as they jumped into the compound.  One immediately called Ruth and announced the code word, at which she turned on a LOUD alarm placed on the roof of her house.  She then called police and Peter Murigi who set off a second alarm, near where the students and those teachers who stay within, live.  She said the only part that was not perfect is they don’t know how the thugs got back out, b/c they were watching the entering spot and they searched the grounds.  So they got away, but no damage was done. 

I don’t want to give the impression that the school compound is unsafe.  Two sides are protected with very high stone walls topped with particularly strong barbed wire.  The other 2 sides have an 8-10 foot thorn hedge  The breach was at a spot where the hedge had been cut back to facilitate the drilling of the bore hole. The breach will be repaired very soon.   Needless to say there were many tired folks today. 

I have had to rescue Maya.  She came to me this morning, “Granny I am getting nothing to eat but bread.”  OK, I get it.  She has tried, but she can’t live on bread alone—isn’t there some scripture to that effect?  The students, being proper Kenyans, are happy to have ugali every day.  Ugali  does not appeal to the American palate, no matter how hungry you are.  

Another difference is the amount of food people eat.  I’ve noted before the huge plates of food consumed by the small children here at Mji Wa Neema.  Where do they put it?  If I ate that much food I’d be shopping for a larger wardrobe very shortly, but these children don’t seem to be Imageoverweight.  Here is Tylon, flanked by Joseph, with his plate of rice, veggies, chicken and chapatis, taken the night Fr. Peter joined us for dinner.  This was topped off by several servings of ice cream and a pile of biscuits. 

Ruth needed a ride to town, so I took her down to a copy shop right across from the Naivas (supermarket).  I bought pasta and sauce, pnb and cheese.  When she had finished her errand we drove up the road a ways to the small street market across from the church where I shop all the time.  I got tomatoes, carrots, green peas, bananas, oranges, cucumber—can’t remember what else and we headed back to school.  Ruth keeps chickens, so I am buying eggs for breakfast.  

ImageThis is the street market where I shop for produce.  I carry my cloth bags and often my traditional woven grass basket.  It’s quite lovely, with one strap, which a Kenyan woman would put on her forehead, with basket hanging down the back.  They must have incredibly strong necks, b/c this is not an easy way to carry, but it does leave the hands free to cradle baby.  Not needing that freedom, I put the strap over my shoulder.  Nonetheless, the market ladies admire my basket.  Every seller has a stash of plastic bags, but I staunchly refuse them, except for shelled peas.  The colorful fabrics in the left background are lessos, used by women to wrap around the waist to protect their skirts.  

My dear Esther, Matron, was so gracious.  She will keep the food in her house, between the 2 dorms.  Maya will come there to eat and Esther will prepare it.  I encouraged her to share Maya’s food, if there was anything she liked.  I grabbed Maya when her class was over and took her into Esther’s office so I could discuss the arrangements.  Just seeing the fruits and veggies made her feel ever so much better.  

I’m feeling bad that she had to wait so long, but it’s partly b/c she was trying so hard to fit in.  She didn’t want to complain.  I had thought the cateress (euphemism for cook), was taking better care of her, but she wasn’t even there today—Wednesdays off.  I think we’re going to have a happier camper.  She has been such a trooper, as I’ve said before, but I think she has had her experience with new foods and is now ready for American fare.    


#8-2013 Ups and Downs

#8-2013 Ups and Downs

No, not happiness and sadness, up and down the hill between Naivasha town and SFG.  Made the round trip so many times the car practically steered itself!

Up early to get to school by 8:30 to teach the form 4’s.  They had asked about surds, which are Imagesquare roots that are not whole numbers, like root 3, or cube roots, 4th roots and so on.  It’s not a hard topic, but they didn’t know much about them, so we began.  Then run down the hill to pick Joyce, whom I had suggested for sewing school badges on uniforms.  When the students went home for midterm break they were given the badges and told to have them sewed on.  However, the girls who were “retained” didn’t have that opportunity.  Hence Joyce.  I had to drive down to the main part of town, then on the very bumpy, potholed road to her house.

She has a very old, foot treadle Singer, in a hardwood table and made of steel.  The kind that lasts longer than the user and weighs as much.  She and a neighbor hoisted it into the boot and off we went—but oh, I needed to stop at a Safaricom shop, of which there are many, to reload my modem, Maya having used us $60 worth of credit doing Skype and Facebook while she was home on midterm break!  ARGH!  I hadn’t realized how much time she had spent on that this weekend and I had also not understood how expensive it would be.  I had loaded on ksh 5000, which I figured would last the summer, and this morning I had zero credit!  It’s not her fault, she didn’t know, but I had to buy more credit, so I thought I could stop by the shop where David Mungai (see #6) works, right on the way back to school.  Alas, it is only a small shop and the biggest credit they carry is ksh 20 credit chits (about $.25) When you load credit, you have to key in 16 digits.  Imagine doing that 80 times!  No, I guess I have to go to the big Safaricom office, where any transaction takes at least ½ an hour if it isn’t complicated.  Complications take longer.  ARGH!!

So on up to school where we get Joyce set up in the library to sew.  It’s teatime, so I bring her tea and a mandazi-deep fried dough and yummy.  Now I have no time for my tea and mandazi, but I’m peckish, so I ask Peter whether it’s ever permitted to drink tea and eat in class.  “You can get away with a lot of things the rest of us can’t – but they’ll laugh at you.”  I took that to be a yes, and yes, they did laugh, but I got my tea and goodie.  It was form 4 again, working on harder surd expressions.  I was glad I had 1 copy of the book we use at MA, b/c it has better problems.  I’m not sure everyone got everything, but I think enough of them did that they’ll explain further to the others.

Now it was 12:30.  I had to go back home to see to Maya, who was to report back today after mid-term break.  Woe unto anyone who arrives even 1 minute after 4 pm!!!  We decided she could be accompanied by the other girls from Mji Wa Neema, partly so she could experience returning to school and walking down the dusty road from the highway and partly b/c I had promised to meet someone on an important assignment—story to follow.

So into the church compound, get Maya going, eat some lunch and on down to the town, this time parking at the Naivas (locally owned supermarket).  I was early for my appt, so hoofed it down to Safaricom, where indeed it took more than ½ hour to load 5 ksh 1000 credit chits.  “I’ll leave it here.  Have to go to Naivas.  Back in an hour.”  Hoof it back up to Naivas, where I am to meet someone I’ll call Jane (as in Doe)

Jane is a graduate of SFG who qualified for the low cost admittance to university.  Very bright, but a poor and totally dysfunctional family.  Her admission papers got delayed so she couldn’t begin in September.  She found a room to live and started a small business.  Coming home at dusk one night she was jumped and gang-raped.  OH, God!  Why does that have to happen, especially to this girl whose life has been so hard until she came to SFG, where she thrived.  She just hermitted herself for some time, trying to deal with the trauma.  Eventually Peter Murigi was able to contact her.  Her admission papers had finally arrived and he had been calling her for several weeks.  She came to school and told him the whole story, including the fact that she was pregnant!  She chose to carry the child and will keep it, so my appointment was to buy baby things for her, compliments of her very generous sponsor, who has really supported her.  We bought “nappies”, and plastic covers, soaps, lotion, a baby bath tub and food for her.  We planned to go to the local outdoor market, where virtually anything can be purchased at very low prices.  But by the time we got through the checkout I discovered I had used up all my cash.  No credit cards there!  In fact, I was scrambling for enough shillings.  She shyly handed me all she had, which was ksh 55 (about $.65), which I was about to accept, when I discovered ksh 300 ($3.75) in my pocket.  “I’m rich!”  everyone in the “queue” behind us laughed at the mzungu” who was excited about a mere ksh 300.  We piled everything into the car, went down to Safaricom, where they had completed loading my credit on the modem and off to Jane’s house.  ARGH!  Down potholed, rutted lanes, left here, right here, until we came to a small series of 1-room residences.  We carried in all the goodies and food.  She was exhausted but relieved that we had got purchased what she needed (almost).  She is due in 3 weeks, but feared it might be sooner. If we don’t make it to the other market before she delivers, her very sweet sister, come to stay for the first month, will go with me to get the rest of what she needs.

Now back up to school to pick Joyce and the machine to bring back to her house.  Every time one is on the road through Naivasha, going up to the highway and to school, there are impediments, donkey carts pulling 50-gallon barrels of water, hand carts delivering heavy loads, pulled by one man and pushed by another—back-breaking work.  There are the matatus, pulling off and on the pick or disgorge passengers, overloaded trucks belching black smoke in the faces of those behind, piki-pikis darting in and out of traffic (small motorcycles used as taxis) people running across the road.  I have to totally concentrate on front, 2 sides and back (to be aware of someone more lead-footed than I who might be “overtaking”).  It’s exhilarating but scary to drive here—definitely not for the faint of heart, but no one ever accused me of that!

Driving on the dusty road from the highway to SFG I see girls returning from break.  Most have arrived by matatu and are walking down to the school, carrying personal supplies they’ve purchased for the remainder of the term.  I stop and let 3 of them climb in the back.  Giggles and titters.  We drive in the gate, where girls are lined up first with the gateman who checks to be sure they are our students, then with a teacher who checks something else, not sure what, then to the chemistry lab where the women teachers are searching bags, backpacks and bodies for contraband.  Even though the girls know this search will happen, they try to sneak in goodies.  One girl had her underwear and pockets filled with sweets.

Maya had endured that earlier and was again put off by having all her things pawed through.  It’s all part of the drill here, not just at SFG, but at every boarding school.

ImageJoyce had just finished sewing on 80 patches, which meant a nice piece of change for her.  She is a single mom with an adult son, daughter in form 2 and daughter of her late sister in form 1.  She supports them and pays school fees by her sewing business and was really grateful for the opportunity to earn some shillings.  She is the designer and maker of the bags and totes I bring home (more about that in a future EM) Note the mural on the wall behind her, designed and executed by the Kenya Help girls who some years ago raised over $40,000 for SFG.

Two strong girls carry the table back to my car while Joyce lugs the machine.  Maya gets settled, girls are hugging each other, glad to be reunited and school is again humming.  Joyce and I drive back down to the town, back over the rutted, potholed road to her house, where she enlists the help of a neighbor to carry in the machine.  I finally return to the parish compound promising the gateman this is the very LAST time today he will have to swing those wide, heavy panels to admit my car.

I park, gather up whatever from the back and notice an empty soda bottle and a paper full of chips left by my graceless passengers.  So much for offering a ride.  I toss the bottle in the trash and take the chips to add to the fare of the pigs.

One of the ways Jecinta supports the children’s home is by raising pigs, in a small stye at the edge of the parish compound.  Food waste from Mji Wa Neema, as well as the rectory and the small convent within the compound, are used to feed the pigs.  A very large vat in the kitchen at the back of the children’s home serves as a collecting space, where everything is dumped and then cooked.  It’s most uninviting to the eye and nose, but Julia assures me the pigs love it.  I added my own contribution, some watermelon rinds and several tomatoes that didn’t get eaten in time, as well as the small bit of hamburger I had intended to add to last night’s leftover soup.  ARGH!  It was too old for my nose, but not for the pigs, according to Julia.

As I chat with Julia and Agnes while they prepare the children’s dinner, Joseph (pnb-boy) comes in.  Julia had sent him for his exercise books, which she checks each night.  This boy has really come around, thanks to the pnb he gets in the afternoon if he has a good report from school.  Almost all the exercises he has done are wrong, but at least he is doing them, instead of tossing the books and claiming he has no work.  I had suspected he had a good report when I first saw him and he didn’t look down and try to run away.  He had even taken his shower w/o being told.  This is the same wretched child who just last year refused to wash and when taken by the bigger boys to shower would scream bloody murder, despite their very gentle washing of him.  Who knew pnb was such a cure-all?

Having no hamburger to add to my soup, I cast about for something for dinner.  Aha!  That avocado Maya and I bought in the street market looks ripe and there are some not-too-old tomatoes.  I have bread and cheese.  A sandwich!  I toasted the bread in a pan to melt the cheese, then added slices of perfectly ripe avocado and tomatoes.  Despite having no mayo, it was delicious and filling when topped off with some watermelon.  Life is good.


#7 Midterm

#7 Midterm  

Hi, it’s Maya again, per request. St. Francis Xavier Girls Secondary School got out for midterm break Thursday morning and I have until Monday at 4pm to enjoy some American food and sleep in. I’m writing from my cozy bed in Margo’s house, wearing a pair of blue jeans and my favorite polo. So comfy. 

Next to me is my friend Joseph, who’s getting a huge treat by playing Temple Run on my iPhone. He better keep his mouth shut about it or a line of jealous kids will be trailing out of Margo’s door by tomorrow. Here’s a picture he took on photo booth, a Mac application that Joseph - funny piclets you take photos in silly effects with a webcam. (He doesn’t actually look like this, and neither does the door.) 

            I’ve never heard him make as much noise as he did when he laughed at this picture. We also played with some cool new toys that Granny bought at the Maasai market and looked at some picture books. Unfortunately, Joseph and the other children in the home won’t be able to keep any of the toys because they’re all for selling, but he did pick out a book that I think is perfect for him. It’s an all-picture book of prehistoric fossils, from T-rexs to Brontosauri (not sure what the plural of brontosaurus is.) I asked him if he knew what the fossils were called, and he replied, “skeletons.” I guess he’d never heard of dinosaurs before. 

            Since I started with today (Saturday the 22nd), I guess I’ll go backwards. Yesterday, I woke up around 10am and found a note Granny had left, saying she was at SFG teaching some math and would be back around 1 for lunch. We had discussed this already: she would teach in the morning, and after lunch I would go back with her to help teach or whatever. It was 12am back home, but I knew my friends’ summer routine didn’t include sleeping until 2 or 3. I sat down at the kitchen table with Margo’s computer and logged on to my Facebook for the first time since leaving Palo Alto. Right away, I saw one of my girl-friends was online and started telling her all about Kenya. Turns out, she didn’t appreciate hearing about the toilets as much as you guys did. That conversation didn’t last long. If my friends didn’t even want to hear about the difficulties here, there’s no way they would ever make it through a day in SFG. I felt a little proud of myself for surviving this far. 

            I talked to some other friends about the climate, culture, and cuisine while frying up a pan of eggs and buttering three pieces of toast. My plan was to eat as much as possible over midterm and that could last me through the rest of my time in SFG (two more weeks). Soon, it was 12:30pm and I was still in my jammies and unshowered. Abandoning my dishes, I hopped in the shower. When I got out, Agnes came by to let me know Granny would be a little late. Still in my towel, I went back to the kitchen to try and eat some more and make a cup of tea. I checked my email to see if there were any new ones.  

            When Granny came back, I ran to put on my uniform, brush my hair, and put on my school shoes. I was in for it.

 “Maya, I left you three tests, and you’ve failed all of them.” (she claims she didn’t say fail, but she did) I failed to notice my camera cord on the table and take it to my room, wash her dishes that she left in the sink (and some of mine), and finish the heel of old bread before opening a new one. I actually had used most of the old bread, but I wanted to use a big slice to cut out a hole to put an egg in. 

“But Granny,” I said. “I didn’t know that there were going to be tests.” 

“Life is a test,” Granny told me. 

Oops. Now I ask “Did I pass the test?” every time I throw away a dirty napkin or put away a spoon. Don’t think she saw that coming. 

            When we got to school, I found out that I was actually assigned a class to teach by myself. I hope that no one is under the impression that I have a degree in teaching or something. I did some factorizing with the Form 2s, tried to pretend I knew what I was doing. In the end, I think I may have actually taught them something, but I’m not really sure. After that class, I didn’t have anything to do and neither did the Form 3s, so I decided to pass the time by trying to write all 54 African countries on the board from memory. The girls had fun helping me remember by giving me a first letter, or location in the continent of one that I hadn’t written yet. With a few hints, I got 49, and three of the ones I missed were islands anyway. The Form 3s were impressed by how well I knew their continent, but it was only because I’d been tested on almost every country in the world this past semester in history. We had more time, so I wrote all 50 states on the board as well. I had wanted the girls to try and do it, but after California and Florida, their next guesses were LA, Canada, Argentina, and Sweden. Geography here is really geology, so they’ve never had any education on countries and their location. I’d love to teach a class on that. 

            On Thursday, Granny, Ben, Jecinta, and I drove to the Musical Maasai Market in Nairobi. It was so overwhelming, there were at least 30 vendors and they all seemed to be selling the same stuff (as well as claiming that they made it). Everywhere we went, people were begging me to buy their merchandise. We were everyone’s “sister” and “new friend” Maya Maasai market dishand “first customer.” When the first vendor we saw gave me a gift of a beautiful dish (see picture on left), we were obligated to buy from him later and he even followed me around to remind me that we said we’d come back. One seller was so ridiculous when I tried to bargain with him that he told me I’d promised him a higher price earlier. I’d never even seen him before. Another tried to trade me a new 100ksh bill for the crumpled 500ksh I was holding, thinking I wouldn’t notice the value. These people clearly thought I was some kind of idiot. Despite the hassling, I had a really fun time looking at all the jewelry, bags, dishes, sandals, key chains, toys, and other goods. I bought a chess set for my brother Ben, a spear for Michael, a woven bag, beaded sandals, and some garnet jewelry, which is gorgeous, but I feel bad about because I know it probably didn’t come from an industry that I want to support. I also spotted some beautiful paintings that I knew my parents would love and convinced Granny into buying some to sell (yes Mom, you can choose which one you want).

We had to bargain with that artist for over 20 minutes so I left it up to Jecinta and went to watch the Maasai performers, who were singing and dancing.  

Maasai dancing


#6 A Visit With an Old Friend – Well, A Longtime Friend

#6  A Visit With an Old Friend – Well, A Longtime Friend 

I’ve known Kennedy since he was 14, in 2006.  I’d gone with Fr. Kiriti to a house on the Naivasha Prison grounds.  He often celebrated mass at someone’s house.  It was the first year I had taught math during the August holiday and I feared no one would show up, so I had asked Fr. Kiriti to announce my plan.  Anybody who wanted to “revise” math should show up at 9 am at Archbishop Ndingi chemistry lab.  The home belonged to Kennedy’s family and his mother heard the announcement.  A few days later a tall boy came knocking at the door of the rectory where I was staying, asking to see Margo.  “I heard you were teaching maths.  May I join your class?”  “Be at Archbishop Ndingi at 9 am on Monday.”  Instead, he waited for me outside the door and accompanied me to Ndingi, a nice walk of about 35 minutes for me.  Probably 25 minutes for him, but he kept my pace and we chatted along the way.  Every day after that he waited for me to walk along.  He was such a likable boy and I saw something special in him.  The mere fact that he wanted to get to know me, he wanted the math and he was a serious person, although with a wonderful smile—all of that impressed me. 

The following year, he came by to inquire whether I was doing the “tuitioning” again.  I was and so again we walked the path up the road to Ndingi.  As was my wont, I asked where he saw himself in 10 years.  He said he wanted to be a writer.  


Then the spring of 2008 came, with the post election violence.  As luck would have it, Kennedy’s family had gone north to Kisumu for a family funeral, thereby possibly saving their lives.  They are Luos, living in Naivasha, a largely Kikuyu area.  In the month-long siege, more than 1200 were killed, many in Naivasha and many Luos.  They escaped with their lives, but lost everything.  Neighbors who had been their friends looted and burned their house.   They lost everything, even the father’s job as a prison guard.  

They settled up north in Luoland, near Kisumu, but Kennedy couldn’t continue high school.  No money for fees, the problem for thousands of young people here.  He wrote to me and eventually I agreed to sponsor him, although I had long before made a decision to sponsor only students at Ndingi and SFG.  

Eventually he graduated from high school and I knew he needed to go to university.  He is now in his 2nd year of medical school. 

And so Kennedy came to visit me today, taking a matatu from his dorm in Thika to Nairobi and then on the Naivasha.  It was so good to see him and to have a chance to catch up.  But first, “Are you hungry?”  “Well, yes.”  “”Do you know what a hamburger is?”  “Yes.”  “Do you like them?  Shall I fix you one or I have peanut butter or cheese.  What sounds good?”  “I’d like a hamburger—with cheese on it, please.”  While he ate we caught up with his life and mine.  He LOVES being in medical school, loves the hospital environment, and thinks he wants to be a surgeon.  He said the nicest thing to me.  “When I finish med school and am a doctor, I want to be just like you.  I want to found a hospital like you founded a school (I didn’t really, just raised the money) and send young people off to medical school.”  “You could establish a hospital in Luoland, couldn’t you?”  “That’s actually my dream.”  Wow! Talk about casting your bread upon the waters! 

Kennedy knows David Mungai, second oldest boys here at Mji Wa Neema and a 1st year med student at the same school.  So when he was ready to leave, we walked up the road, just like old times, first stopping in the street market across the road for the eggs Maya and I forgot to get earlier.  The woman had many eggs prominently displayed, all cracked or with a hole.  Back behind her were the whole eggs.  I bought those.  I probably paid a premium, but that’s OK I just wasn’t up for broken eggs.  

We walked up the road, dodging trucks and matatus on the side until we found the shop where David works.  He had been expecting only Kennedy so was surprised to see me.  But David and I are buds too.  He later texted me to say how happy he was that I visited him in his shop. 

Earlier, as Maya and I returned from the street market, laden with many fruits and veggies (but sans eggs), we saw people emerging from a wedding in the church.  Maya hopped out to take pix, which I hope she will include in the posting she’s working on.  The bridesmaids had on beautiful red dresses as did the beruffled flower girls.  With little girls dresses, the more frufraws the better. 

When I was walking back from visiting David, I saw 3 of bridesmaids and one flower girl sitting dejectedly on a low wall, waiting for someone to collect them.  The wedding had been over for some 3-4 hours! 

Fr Peter Jecinta Ruth – desert

Earlier in the week I had invited Fr. Peter to come to dinner with the children of Mji Wa Neema.  We agreed he would come Friday at 7.  Jecinta and I had discussed serving hamburgers, but I knew I didn’t have time to figure out how to make them for so many people and I wasn’t sure how many would like them.  So we agreed on chicken, rice and veggies.  It was a delicious meal, prepared on African time (8 pm) by Agnes and the older kids here.  Julia has gone home for a few days to visit her ailing father, so it was a lot for Agnes to put together, but she did a great job.  Maya and I had an inspiration to bring ice cream and biscuits for dessert.  This is usually Judy’s treat, so Judy, we did it in your name.  Maya picked out 3 flavors and I bought a huge box of biscuits (foreground).  I was sure there would be lots of leftovers – NOT.  Those kids had stacks of biscuits and ate all the ice cream.  Note Ruth in the upper corner finishing off one of the containers.  Neither Fr. Peter nor Jecinta had ice cream.  Most Kenyans dislike cold things. 

I thought the dinner quite successful and I hope it is the beginning of more interaction between Fr. Peter and the children.  

All for now. 


#5-2013 A Long and Energizing Day June 18

#5-2013  A Long and Energizing Day                                                                             June 18 

It’s Tuesday and I had scheduled myself to teach 4 classes.  Teachers are madly marking exams in preparation to send home grade reports to parents when school closes on Thursday for midterm break.  They are delighted to have someone take their classes so they can continue working.  In fact, so delighted that 2 more classes got added to the day.  As if that weren’t enough, after I completed the last one, I wandered over to visit the form 4’s and found 8 or 9 girls working on math.  So we had an impromptu session and walloped logarithms.  Those who were there were smiling happily and feeling very smart.  Too bad it was so few. 

Every year logs is one of the big topics they ask me to talk about.  It’s always the same.  They haven’t a clue about what logs are, but after we talk about it and slog through several problems, it begins to sink in.  This year’s form 4’s are a bright and hard-working bunch, so they “pick” it very fast.  In Kenya, things are not picked up, just picked.  When Fr. Kiriti tells me he will pick me from the airport, I feel like a nice, ripe peach! 

I’ve been thinking about how to use Maya’s presence to greater advantage.  She has really shined as a math tutor in her class, so I asked some of the teachers whether it would be helpful to have her not attend the Kiswahili class, of which she understands virtually nothing, instead going to one of the lower math classes as a sort of teacher’s aide.  The Kiswahili teacher might have been a bit put off, but she could see the good of it and agreed.  So this afternoon she went with me to 2 Form 2 classes where I was teaching factoring.  It was so nice to have another person wandering up and down the aisles, answering questions and checking their work.  The form 2’s loved having her there and she loves helping out.  Wish I had a picture, but I get too busy and too involved to think about using the camera. 

I’m finding the teaching most invigorating.  I come out of each class feeling totally energized, but then at the end of the day I’m exhausted.  

(Wednesday evening) 

Things are coming thick and fast.  I wish I had time to write everything, but I can’t do things and write about them at the same time.  I need a voice activated writing device!  

Today was another teaching marathon.  Tomorrow the school closes for 4 day midterm break.  Teachers must mark exams so the parents get a midterm report which the student takes home, except that some 150 (just over ½) the students are being “retained” because they didn’t meet the target.  This is not atypical in Kenya, but I am dismayed that it’s happening in SFG.  It’s something that bedevils me.  

After classes were over today, students and teachers met in their “families”, a new plan, which I love.  Each teacher is assigned a group of about 25 students from all 4 Forms.  They refer to themselves and “mother” or “father” and the students as “my daughters”.  They sat on the grass in the middle of the quad, chatting and enjoying being together.  I wandered around, looking for Pauline and noticed a group of “orphans”.  “Who is your mother or father?”  “Madame, Ruth (principal)”  “Oh, right, she’s in Mombasa at the meeting of secondary school heads.  I’ll be your step-mom today, but if I sit down on the ground, will you give me a hand up?” Of course they did. 

I didn’t know whether there was something specific teachers were to talk about (there wasn’t, I later learned), so we talked generally about going home.  One form 2 girl offered, “For those of us who got D+ and are being punished by having to stay—we want to go home too.  I don’t think it’s fair.”  “Don’t think of it as a punishment, but as an opportunity to catch up—to fill in the blanks of things you haven’t learned.  Remember, your teachers are giving up their holiday break time too, when they would rather be home with their families.  Your teachers aren’t doing this to punish you, but to help you.”  It was wonderful to see the expression on her face and that of others change as we put a positive spin on it.  I brought some videos for the SFG students, so I suggested they might be able to watch them one evening.  The cheered them a bit too.  

Like any other school, SFG has it’s problems.  Retaining students during breaks is a common way of “motivating” students to work harder.  We talked about ways to study to ensure that they have learned well and would not be “detained” again.  We talked about their right to learn.  “Go to your teachers when you first realize you’ve not understood something.  Ask your fellow students for help.  Re-do homework until it is clear to you.”  I talked about teamwork, that the students who “pick” things faster have a responsibility to the others because we are a family, a team.  I talked about Maya, who in 7th grade was a somewhat reluctant learner and how she has changed her attitude and her work ethic and now she is a star.  

Speaking of Maya, I love the way she is finding her place.  During evening preps she now goes to the Form 1 or Form 2 classes and helps the students.  They are thrilled to have a chance to be with her and she is loving doing that.  Each day I see her feeling empowered as she discovers what a contribution she can make.  She’s still dealing with the food issues, the potty and shower issues, having to hand wash clothing, but she’s able to set those aside in favor of the bigger picture.  

I had planned to take her on Thursday to one of the craft markets in Nairobi.  I’d asked Fr. Peter whether I could steal Ben (parish accountant and great driver—I’d never drive in Nairobi) and Jecinta (social worker and great bargainer).  After I explained that I buy items which I take home, donors contribute for them and the money is all sent back here, he agreed.  It was all arranged until Jecinta called to say the market is only open Saturday and Sunday.  That wasn’t my memory from last year, but she insisted.   Maya was greatly disappointed, but took it well.  RATS!  Then this evening I realized I hadn’t told Ben the trip was off, so called him.  “No, don’t you remember the one we went to last year?  It’s open Tuesdays and Thursdays.”  OK, scramble, scramble.  The trip is on again. 

I called Esther to get a message to Maya that I would pick her in 15 minutes, bring her home for the night so we can get a good start in the am.  Then I asked Julia for some boys to go with me, as it was after dark.  Believe me I never fail for volunteers.  Five wanted to go, assuring me they could all fit in back.  

Just as we were leaving the compound, deputy Peter called to say they had a medical emergency and could I bring a girl back to the hospital, along with Esther and Andrew (teacher on duty for the evening).   There was no way 5 guys could sit in the far back of my little Toyota Rav 4, so I ended up with just Simon and Patrick, who had been in my kitchen doing research on WW1 and WW2 on my computer when all this came down. 


Left – Simon in the kitchen with Ruth.  The kids love to have their pix taken and then giggle when they see themselves.  Below – Patrick is in the dining hall, doing his homework. 






So off we went, with Simon, the biggest boy, and about as sweet and thoughtful as a young man could be, and Patrick, quiet, bright and also very sweet. 

We arrived to find a very small girl named Elizabeth with intractable hiccups.  This may not seem like a medical emergency, but I’ve never heard anyone hiccup like that.  It was faster than a heartbeat.  She has experienced this twice before and had to have an injection to stop the spasms of the diaphragm, which cause the problem.  We dropped them off at the hospital (more like a clinic) and arrived back, with Patrick carrying Maya’s backpack and Simon escorting us back into the children’s home compound.  It is so touching how these guys take care of us, particularly Simon who is always available and eager to help. 

Maya immediately changed into home clothes and sat at my small table.  “It’s so good to be back here.  It’s amazing how nice this seems to me.”  My little “house” is so small and basic, but after the dorm room and other accommodations at school, it seemed like a palace to her. 

More news tomorrow, I hope with pix of the market.