# 7 – Today I Am the Visitor, not the Visitee

Despite my having wakened at 6:30, it was 11 am before I drove into Naivasha Boarding, a boys primary school, which Joseph attends. I’d had to field some phone calls, respond to emails, gather up my laundry to be done in the parish machine.  Off to the Naivas to get a Black Forest Torte, Joseph’s favorite, plus some juice and a chocolate bar, all requested by Catherine Wanjohi, his foster mom. I was first distracted by trying to find a large washing basin for my laundry.  I’d crossed the road, wandered down a rough dirt lane.  Stopping by a shop I was told “There is a shop selling plastic things just there” (pointing).  I went “just there”, but no such shop.  “No, it’s down that way”, indicating further along.  Picking my way carefully among the stones and rubble so common in the streets here, I inquired several more places before my search was successful.  I had to climb several uneven cement steps, and stood waiting for the customer before me to complete her purchases, put away her purse, stuff the items in her backpack and almost knock me over.  Seeing a large green tub, I pointed it out to a very nice young man, who got it down and industriously wiped out the ever-present dust.  “How much?” I asked the lady in charge.  “Ksh 380”.  OK and I handed her the money.  “May I borrow your young man for a few minutes?”  Handing him back the tub and grabbing his arm to steady myself, I walked with him back to the main street, where the surface was reasonably smooth. I thanked him and I walked across to the Naivas.  While there, I noted a similar item for ksh 1310.  Hmmm, quite a markup.  Besides I like buying from the small shops.  It’s just that the walking is hard getting to them.  I’m getting quite brazen, grabbing a stranger and asking for an arm to steady myself.  People are inevitably very nice and willing to help a decrepit old lady! 

Waiting for me by my car was the ever-present parking attendant, wanting the ksh 80 fee to park.  ARGH!   Back on the road I tried to remember how to get to the road to the prison, and suddenly I remembered the funny disorganized street pattern.  Sure enough, just as I’d been told, the sign for Naivasha Boarding was on the left.  The school is about 500 yards down a very dusty road, full of cars ahead of me, kicking up a thick dust cloud as they too, headed for the school to visit their sons. This necessitated closing the windows, raising the inside temp to what felt like the 90’s.

Last year when I went to this same event, Joseph had seen us, recognized the car, as we drove in.  This time I had to drive way around to the playing field where possibly 100 boys were gathered, in hopes that someone would come to visit them, while all around the field and other places in the large campus were families in clusters, already enjoying each other.  ARGH!  How was I to find Joseph among the sea of brown faces, shaved heads, green sweaters and grey shorts?  Catherine, out of the country, had written to tell me of the day, explaining she had delegated her sister, Evelyn, to bring the requisite banquet and giving me her phone number, so I called.  She and a nephew had already arrived and were sitting on a bench outside Joseph’s classroom, waiting for the teacher conference.  She sent Joseph to find me, which he did right away.  Being the only mzunguin the whole place, I wasn’t hard to spot. 

As we walked back toward his classroom, he told me he’d been told Catherine is away, so he figured no one was coming.  Now here I was, in addition to some 7 or 8 of Catherine’s family.  I handed him the box with the torte, cautioning him to carry it flat. Remembering I’d brought that same torte last year, he grinned happily and held it carefully.

He doesn’t talk much, but we quickly found the classroom and Evelyn, whom I immediately liked.  She reminds me a lot of Catherine.  We sat together on what I would have dubbed the “miscreant’s bench” were I a teacher there.  They sit outside the classrooms, presumably for that purpose, except when populated by parents. 

Shortly our turn came up.  We found a pleasant young man who looked at Joseph fondly as we sat down to get the report.  Joseph is sadly near the bottom of the class.  When the teacher asked him what he thought prevented his doing better in math, he thought for a minute.  “I don’t understand the questions,” he replied.  Ah, such a common problem.  It’s not that students don’t know how to do the computations.  They just can’t figure out what to do.  We talked about that a bit, after which I asked Joseph to step out for a minute.  I wanted the teacher to know a bit of Joseph’s story, his transition from a (mostly) street kid, fending for himself, developing street kid skills—lying and stealing—to staunch his hunger.  At Mji, he had a hard time with things like bathing (screamed like he was being beaten), washing clothes, helping with chores and mostly, going to school.  He couldn’t read, hadn’t figured out the decoding and was terribly frustrated.  He knew almost no English.  Today what I saw was a shy, but confident boy of 13, standing before us and his teacher, quietly explaining what he thought he could do to improve. He spoke in English with ease, using complete sentences and looking us in the eye.  I wanted that teacher to know the tremendous strides Joseph has made. He will catch up, I’m certain. Under Catherine’s loving care, Joseph’s anger and frustration seem to have slipped away, giving him the chance to become a real student.  It was wonderful to see.

The 3 of us walked back across the grounds to the spot chosen by Evelyn and sat on the ground, chatting.  As we talked, she told me she too, is a math teacher, at the university.  I’d known that at some point, but had forgotten.  We discussed the shortcomings of the math curriculum here, until I had to leave for my next event.

Nancy Glaser is an old friend who now works for Stanford Seed, (google it), living in Nairobi.  She wrote to me several days ago to say she would be in NVA today, on an outing down by the lake and would I like to join them for lunch.  I’d agreed before I knew about Joseph’s event, and I did want to see Nancy, so after stopping by my house to use my western-style toilet—can’t do the squatters anymore— I headed off, thinking I understood the directions.  Head toward Nakuru, turn at the road to Hell’s Gate, go along for some 20 minutes, look for the big sign board on the right—Fisherman’s Camp.  I drive and drive on a road that might be smooth and nice until suddenly it’s a sea of potholes—so many it’s not possible to dodge them.  One must simply choose which hole to go through. In some places the road was clear, even deserted, others full of slow moving lorries, heavily loaded as usual and spewing black smoke as usual.  All along I’m watching for the promised “Fisherman’s Camp” great, big sign board. Several times I stopped to ask was it further ahead.  Most Kenyans are eager to be of help and will answer the question whether or not they’ve even understood it, let alone know the answer.  Once I pulled alongside a waiting matatu to ask the driver (surely he would know).  He couldn’t pick what I was asking, despite how slowly and carefully I pronounced it. Finally a man alighted, crossed the street and was able to convey my question.  “Yes, it’s further on.”  I drive and drive then spot a shelter with 2 policemen.  I stop there.  “Yes, it’s further on.”  I drive and drive, my 20 minute journey having stretched to nearly an hour.  At one point I see “Fish Eagle Camp”.  No she clearly said, “Fisherman’s camp”. When I got to the entrance to Hell’s Gate, I’m sure I’d passed it.  That is confirmed by the piki-piki driver waiting at the intersection for a fare.  “It’s back about 3 kilometers.”  ARGH!!!  Seeing nothing else, I turned in at Fish Eagle Camp and only then did I see a sign in fancy script, very hard to read and impossible while driving by, dodging the potholes.—Fisherman’s Camp.  Indeed this is where I was heading.  After only a few more wrong turns, I find my way and see Nancy, madly waving to me, even as we spoke on the phone.

We had a lovely lunch and opportunity to catch up. She has been doing international work for maybe 8 years or so and loves it.  Her focus is helping entrepreneurs set up successful manufacturing businesses that will provide thousands of jobs for locals, as well as develop international markets for Kenyan goods.  I’ve seen for years that graduates have a very hard time finding jobs, so I was really glad to hear about her work.  Evidently several very big donors are funding this work.

I couldn’t stay too long, having yet a 3rdevent, Talent Show at SFG.  As I was about to leave, it occurred to me that Nancy could go with me if we got out somewhat ahead of her group.  We could stop by SFG so she could at least see it.  She’s been a loyal blog reader from the very beginning and I wanted her to see what I’ve been writing about for 14 summers.  We headed back along the pothole, lorry jammed road, through NVA, past the very large Catholic Church, completed by Fr. Kiriti (along with SFG) during his 9 years here and on to the school.  The girls had just finished lunch and were ready to resume the program.  We walked through the entrance passageway and out into the quad.  After all these years, it still takes my breath away the first time I come each year.  Nancy has seen enough of African schools to know how great this one is.  She seems impressed

As we headed to the Gean Jill dining hall, named for donor Jean Gill, who loves the transposition and doesn’t want it changed, we met Lydia, new principal, who greeting us warmly and pointed out the journalist from The Nation,there to record the events of the day.  To my knowledge, this is the first time SFG has had this kind of recognition.  He turned out to be the very videographer I’d interviewed in my kitchen last week, to possibly create some videos for our website. Nice coincidence.

We could stay only briefly, as we didn’t want to keep Nancy’s bus waiting up on the road, maybe 1000 yards away.  As it turned out, they’d stopped for petrol, so we could have stayed longer, but we just sat by the side of the road, chatting and waiting until the bus arrived.  She ran across the road through a fortunate break in the heavy traffic and I was on my way back home.

I collected my laundry, (no more hand washing for me), and back home, flopped on my bed tired, but happy for a very full day, which, it turned out wasn’t quite over.  Patrick, lately of Mji, knocked on my door.  He had seen me and came to visit.  Having completed Archbishop Ndingi in November, is waiting to begin a course in mechanical engineering.  He can’t attend university, having earned a grade too low for admission, but will be at one of the many technical institutes here.  It’s not clear to me how employable the graduates of said institutes are, but it’s the best he could do.  He believes if he does very well at the institute he can enroll in university for a degree.  Maybe by then Nancy’s work will have begun to show progress.

And now, dear readers I’ve glance up to see it’s 10:58 pm and I must be ready for mass tomorrow at 8:30, even though I know it won’t start on time.  Last year I conscientiously arrived on time, only to wait 10 to 30 minutes.  The one time I arrived late, mass started on time. Go figure.

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