# 17 Alone for Awhile

July 26, 2018

My summer visit is more than ½ gone!  ACH!  Where did it go?  It always feels like this—like I’ve just arrived and suddenly I’m winging my way back.  Today Hillary and I took Julie to Nairobi, where she’s spending the night in a very posh hotel.  In the lobby we are all given hot, moist towels, even though Hillary and I were quick to point out we weren’t guests.  Then we were offered glasses of apple juice.  Julie wrote to me later she’d indulged herself in a lovely bath. 

Before we took her to the hotel, we stopped at the Maasai Market, which is a must for everyone who visits here.  It’s overwhelming with so many stalls and vendors, a lot of noise and a visual craziness, so many items, bright colors and STUFF!  Every vendor is out to get likely looking suckers to part with some shillings.  I parted with a lot of shillings and Julie did pretty well for herself.  She loved it, but we all breathed a sigh of relief when we got out of the noise. 

Over the years I’ve gotten a lot more tough.  When the vendors get too pushy  (and they all do) a look them square in the eye and with my best school-teacher firmness tell them, “When I say NO, I mean NO!”  Most will respect that and back off.  If I take the time to explain what I do with my items, most will immediately reduce the price significantly and thank me.  One lady, from whom I bought some great soapstone bowls, even asked for my contact info.  I carry my Kenya Help business cards.  She was impressed that I really do have a foundation—even threw in a small soapstone hippo.  I’ll buy from her again.

Poor Hillary.  We’ve decided we are bad energy for him.  Yesterday, when he took Julie to Narok to visit Sabore, a Maasai chief we all know (from Rotary, which he visits each year) Hillary got stopped by the police TWICE!!!  He admits he might have been speeding the first time, but the second time there was too much traffic.  He couldn’t have been speeding.  That time the cop confiscated his license.  So today he went to the police station where he obtained a copy of his license and a document indicating he’d lost his license.  As we came out of the M market, he made a u-turn, which prompted an officer to stop him, saying it was illegal—indicated by a double yellow like.  I protested I’ve seen people making u-turns all the time and when he perceived he wasn’t getting a bribe, he let us go, “Because of the shosho” (grandmother) he said.  HA!  When we passed that place again there was no double yellow line!!!  Moreover, Hillary later revealed, he wasn’t even a traffic officer.  They wear a special hat, so this cop had no authority to even stop us.  ARGH!!!  It’s getting bad!  The only way to deal with them is to be polite, but not be intimidated.  Hillary asserts that had I been with him yesterday he would not have lost his license.  I would have asked for the name and badge number of the cop, as well as proof that he was actually going 109 km/hour.  That’s about 60 m/hour.  Since Hillary was pretty sure he wasn’t, demanding to see the photo they claimed to have might have silenced the whole thing. 

I wrote recently about the issue of school burning.  Today’s paper says more than 40 have been torched, and a member of parliament is urging the return of caning to put a stop to “indiscipline”.  I doubt very much it would have that effect.  If anything it would make students madder.  What I think they need is teachers and administrators who actually listen to the students, more and better food, and better teaching.  I’m told that in government schools teachers often don’t show up to classes.  They have a much stronger union here than in the US and they can’t be fired for inattendance.   Fortunately the minister of education has refused to consider allowing caning.  She will offer more positive moves to reduce student anger.

I will be alone for about 10 days until Alison arrives.  It’s a bit of a down time for me, as students are all in exams, so there is little to do at school.  I have other things to do, including working on the brochure for SFG, visiting old friends and just taking it easy.  On Monday I’ll get a ride with a friend to Nakuru where I will visit with Fr. Kiriti for a few days.  That will be a time to relax, read a book and walk around the countryside.

Earlier this week Julie hiked in Hellgate National Park, one of my very favorite places to hike.  She went with Fr. Kiriti, who loves going there and Hillary who had never been.  Alas!  About 5 years ago I had to put an end to my hike there.  I feared I could break a leg (or worse) and it would be very hard to get me out.  I knew I was no longer strong enough to do it.  Much as I hate to concede anything to age, the fact is, I can’t do that hike.  Sigh!  However, Julie loved it.  At about 10 years younger than I was when I first came here, she is a strong hiker, and Hellsgate is breathtaking.  Fr. Kiriti hadn’t been there for several years, after a large group of hikers died in a flash flood.  Most of the hike is in a deep, narrow canyon, with deep gouges in the side, worn away for eons by rushing water during those flash floods. 

It has been great to see each of my guests find her place here, her personal niche where she could give her gifts.  Mary, of course, found many, many opportunities at the district hospital.  The nurses there loved her and she loved them.  Kathleen, who works in HR, found her place at Life Bloom, helping to refine their peer mentoring program, and at SFG, doing a similar project, working with the new counsellor.  Julie is a financial planner and became very interested in the Kenyan banking system and how the saving circles, so common here, could find the best place to invest their money, to earn the most interest.  She visited a number of banks and “Sacco’s”, which seem to be something like a credit union.  The savings circles (called something else, but I’ve forgotten it), are groups, mostly women of 12 or more who meet monthly, contributing an agreed upon amount, which is then deposited in an account.  One group of 20 has bought a plot of land in Gil Gil, (up the road toward Nakuru), and plan to build.  Apartments are springing up everywhere as young people leave the rural areas and flock to the larger towns and cities to find work and possibly a mate.  Before Julie left this morning, she visited one other place, then made a report to some LB ladies, with recommendations about the best investment opportunities.  All 3 of them have left an impression on this town.

It has been unseasonably cold here—colder than I’ve even known it.  Most days I’m in a turtle neck, vest and jacket.  This morning when I walked down to the rectory to collect my newspaper, I saw Mary, one of the workers here, in a short-sleeved shirt, positively shivering.  “Don’t you have a long-sleeved shirt?”  “No, I haven’t got one.”  I remembered Hillary had been very kind, when I thought I’d lost my jacket, to find another for me in the market.  Unfortunately he had underestimated my girth, so I gave it to Mary, who is much smaller.  She was really grateful and I was so glad I had it.  It was much better than what I’d originally thought about—giving her one of my t-necks. 

# 16 Catching Up

July 22, 2018

I think I haven’t posted for more than a week—not because I had nothing to report.  Quite the opposite, I’ve been so busy I’ve had no time (or sometimes no energy) to write.  This will be a short synopsis.  I can’t remember everything.

Last Friday my 3rd visitor arrived.  Julie Schatz is a past president of Menlo Park Rotary, of which I am a member.  She has wanted to join me, but had to wait until her term was over.  Even at that, she didn’t make the decision until right before I left.  Hillary picked her in Nairobi after she missed her flight in Paris, because of a late SFO departure.  It was the same problem that Mary and Kathleen Fitzgerald encountered, only in Amsterdam.  In each case, the layover was short.  I, too, had a short layover and a late SFO departure, but my Amsterdam connection was also late.  Lesson:  don’t book flights with 1-2 hours connections!!!

In the meantime, Mary, Kathleen and I had gone to Nakuru to visit Fr. Kiriti in his Wanyororo parish, which is much more rural than Naivasha.  We spent the night, then he took the 2 of them to the National Park, while I spent the morning catching up with my wonderful friend, Agnes Mwamburi, whom I met in 2005.  She is another woman of action, whose major passion is forgiveness, reconciliation and non-violence.  She has a small foundation and is developing a program to take to high schools, mostly boys, to teach them peaceful ways to be.  So far she’s gone to 1 school, where she was received somewhat skeptically, I believe, but after a few weeks the principal came to her asking, “What are you doing to our boys?  They are very changed.  The teachers want to be trained.”  Like many good ideas, hers may fail for lack of funding, but we talked about governments departments that might be willing to fund her.  She’s a doer.  She will get that funding. 

We were still talking over breakfast when Fr. Kiriti called to say they were finished and ready to drive back to Naivasha.  By the time we returned, Hillary had delivered Julie here and she was looking around, getting settled.

The 4 of us had quite a week, Mary spending most of her time at the district hospital across the road from the church compound (where we stay).  Kathleen connected with Life Bloom and loved being with them.  Julie bounced back and forth between LB and SFG, just soaking up the culture, meeting people, learning about living in this part of the world.  All 3 tell me this has been life-changing for them. 

Thursday Hillary took Mary and Kathleen back to Nairobi, from where they’ve now gone on safari.  Before they left, Mary told us about an 8-year old boy whose Tanzanian mother had abandoned him in the hospital and disappeared.  Although the staff is trying to find her, that’s unlikely if she doesn’t want to be found.  Yesterday (Saturday), Julie and I went to the Naivas, where we bought him a chocolate bar.  Outside the Naivas is a lady who sells apples and oranges, which we bought, saving one of each for the boy (Morgan by name).  We walked to the big outdoor market where everything in the world can be found and bargained for.  We wanted to buy him clothing, but since we had not yet seen him, didn’t know anything about his size.  We did buy a backpack so he’d have a place to keep his things, a teddy bear, to perhaps assuage his loneliness, and a jacket.  Then we went to the hospital and after wandering around lost for awhile, met Nancy, a nurse Mary had talked about and loved.  She introduced us to Morgan, who turned out to be a very outgoing, friendly and seemingly comfortable boy, tall for his age.  A young man, caring for his small brother in the next bed, was our translator, as Morgan speaks no English.  He was thrilled with our gifts, immediately attacking the chocolate, and then the apple.  He offered to share with the broken leg boy in the next bed, which we thought was lovely, since Morgan probably gets few treats.  That little boy refused, because he only would take something if his big brother gave it to him.  Next time, we’ll know to give a bar to the brother.

We asked what he might need.  “Everything.”  They said.  Julie and Morgan compared foot size (about the same—Julie’s are small, Morgan’s are LARGE for an 8-year old).  We have a list of items, underwear, shoes (some of Julie’s) socks, pants, shirt.  He told us he likes to draw, so we’ll give him my pad of paper and pencils and pens from Julie.  Later that evening we had a caller, Odhiembo (Paul), the catechist, who told us he had some donated clothes in his office and would see that Morgan got some of them.  We’ll fill in what else is needed.

We asked what will happen to him.  If Mji were still open, he would come here, but….  Odhiembo said the local children’s department must be notified (assume the hospital has done that) and he will be sent to an orphanage or if he’s very lucky, go to a foster home.  What breaks my heart is to see this boy who immediately came to us, no fear, not the least shy, clearly bright, though he knows no English and wanting to go to school.  If he were at Mji, that would happen.  We will continue to monitor and visit him, but in the end—what will happen?  God only knows.

In the news now, as is always the case at this time of year, are reports of burning of high schools.  Shocking???  You bet, and I’ve been reading about it for years.  It seems there are many causes, mostly anger on the part of the students, who know no other way to vent their frustrations.  Why are they angry?  If the reports are to be believed, discipline is a big issue—corporeal punishment is still very common and at times it is very harsh.  This is despite it’s having been outlawed by the Kenyan government and banned by the Catholic church.  Every year, billions of shillings worth of belongings and buildings are destroyed.  The parents are charged to repay, but many cannot.  In the meantime, school is disrupted, students have lost books, papers, study guides etc.  Other sources of anger are insufficient food and a lack of loving respect on the part of the teachers.  They truly believe that if they don’t beat the students they will have no discipline.  “Beat” sometimes means a few slaps on the hand with a rubber hose, but often boys particularly are caned.  Sometimes they must kneel on hard concrete or rough ground, go dig a hole (then fill it in) or other dumb and violent measures.  Clearly just outlawing corporeal punishment without offering training in alternative methods of maintaining order and discipline has not been effective and Kenya will continue to experience school burnings until something is done.  Students report they have no avenue of communication with the administration about their concerns.  Head teachers (principals) evidently have no sense of how to deal with teenagers. 

I have talked for years about the difference between discipline and punishment, offering examples and ideas.  Often the response is skepticism.  Beating has been the order of the day for generations.  It’s not a mindset that can change overnight.  However, Julie just read me a newspaper article telling of a high school teacher who slapped a girl so hard she suffered a broken eardrum, needed surgery and developed an infection.  The teacher was sentenced to 3 years in prison (a rare outcome).  Some teachers and administrators in the school are being investigated for trying to cover up the incident, claiming the girl was faking her pain and suspending 12 other student who corroborated the girl’s claims.  The judge, a female, did not believe the adult testimony, and gave credence to the students.  This is major progress, but a drop in the bucket of this problem.

If you are wondering about SFG. I can report is the students are not planning to burn the school.  I’ve pleaded, argued, confronted and offered alternatives for many years.  I believe things are improving.  The new principal is whole-heartedly in the camp of no corporeal punishment and I have written to my board, asking for books to bring to the school to help the teachers see other methods.  Of course discipline must be maintained, but not through fear. 

I don’t see fear in our students, nor anger, although of course there are incidents of misbehavior.  A school of that size with no discipline issues would be very rare in any society.  Teenagers are by nature a bit (or a lot) rebellious.  I believe in logical consequences, being excluded from a desired event, apologies, counseling to determine the nature of the student behavior.  I’ve been singing this song for 14 years, and I know that some have heard. 

A big problem is that students come to school angry about treatment outside the school.  It is hard for us to understand the depth of belief in “beating” in this society.  Many times I’ve been told that a parent, called to school because of bad behavior (called indiscipline here), only to ask incredulously, “Haven’t you beaten her?  Why?  That’s what she understands!!!”  If a student is suspended, she or her will certainly be beaten at home.  When Mary volunteered in the pediatrics ward at the hospital, she reported many very suspicious wounds and fractures.  Sometimes the nurses were instructed, “Watch that parent!”  Adults were beaten as children and know no other way.  On occasion I’ve asked, “Were you so stupid you couldn’t learn any other way?”  Now I understand they weren’t given that opportunity.

This is a very hard topic for me to write about.  I’ve grieved many years over it.  At one point I thought I might quit coming, but upon further consideration, I said, “No, I can’t quit.  I have to keep offering alternatives.”  Eventually this will end here, as it has (for the most part) in the US.  It takes a very long time to change a culture and I am under no delusions about how much change I can effect.  But I must keep trying.  And I am not alone.  Many others have come to the same conclusions I have.

# 15 We Celebrate Hillary’s Birthday

July 13, 2018

Friday

Yesterday Hillary drove us to the Maasai Market for my annual junket to buy treasures for our craft shows.  Mary and Kathleen were quite overwhelmed, as I was by the first few times I went.  The hawkers are very aggressive, in 1 of 2 ways.  Either they try to overwhelm one with their insistence—really pushy—or they are your best friend.  Both are hard to deal with.  I spent most of my time with James Njoroge, from whom I have bought great stuff for many years.  I bought a few things from the woman in the next stall.  I use “stall” loosely.  All items are laid out on cloth on the floor, as the market is held in the 4th level of parking in a 4-story mall.  There are no permanent structures, just a vast floor. 

Next I looked at some very nice fabrics, beautiful shawls.  The consessionaire wanted way more than I was willing to pay but did come down in her price.  After I left, I still felt conned, so I consulted with both Hillary and Njoroge, who agreed I’d paid too much.  I asked them to explain to her that I’m not a tourist, nor am I a shop owner/exporter-importer.  All the money raised from the crafts come straight back here to pay school fees.  Njoroge was great.  He told her straight out that her prices to me was too high.  I acknowledged that it put him in a bad spot, as this woman is his market/neighbor every week.  His take was it was OK if she is mad at him.  He believes in our work and gives me very good prices.  I never have to bargain with him.

Upshot?  She actually refunded some money, although she tried to get me to take more items instead.  I said NO to that one.

It’s pretty intense and exhausting, so we hopped on the elevator down to ground floor where there are several restaurants, one local, then Mcdonald’s, KFC, pizza—only thing missing is Taco Bell!  We opted for the local Kenyan place, which had a very nice, international menu—I had a Mexican-style salad, Mary had shwarma,Kathleen had Bar-b-que chicken, all of which were very tasty and not at all expensive. 

Fr. Kiriti had asked us to stop by a special shop to get altar candles—not sure why any old candles can’t be blessed and used—but on the way we encountered the mother of all traffic jams.  On a main road with but 2 narrow lanes, a truck had broken down in our lane.  Traffic streamed by in the opposite direction, but we sat.  And we sat.  And we sat, until finally someone began directing traffic, holding up the cars going the other way so we could pass around the truck, which by then was busily off-loading its cargo.  Even after that the traffic was terrible, with main roads intersecting, often with no lights or even stop signs.  Cars, trucks, matatus, pedestrians all vie for the chance to squeeze through.  Like always, eventually we arrived, got the candles and were on our way—obviously I’m not writing from the jam!

We dropped Hillary in his community of Kaoli, just outside Naivasha on the road from Nairobi, arrived home and all collapsed, tired but happy.  Around the table at dinner we did show-and-tell with our newly purchased treasures. 

Today I had promised to teach an early (for me) class and was pushing myself to get out, but so much to do just to leave the house!  Remember to take back the rest of the scarves for those who didn’t get one, take pencils for the other form 1 class I didn’t get to, backpack, keys, jacket, turn things off—finally ready.  But then the usual problem coming out of the church driveway onto the often very busy road with the usual slow trucks and matatus, as well as piki-piki’s darting in and out, as well as pedestrians running across or just walking on the side of the road.  It takes every bit of my concentration to arrive safely, which I did, but (RATS!!!) 3 minutes late.  I rush to the classroom, only to hear a male voice teaching.  Check the schedule.  OH miracle of miracles, had the time wrong.  Was actually 7 minutes early.

The day was full, teaching, consulting with teachers,  arguing with the form 4 teacher about an answer—I finally convinced him—and comforting a girl in tears.  As I was putting my things in the car to leave, I stopped to greet a mother with her daughter.  It’s not at all common for a parent to visit a student, so I was curious whether there was a problem.  It turns out the girl was a form 3 transfer from a school where there were some trouble-makers.  The girl wanted no part of that so prevailed on her mother to find another school—SFG!  She really likes it, but is struggling with math.  SFG math classes were far ahead of her old school and she was getting frustrated.  Can you imagine how happy they were when I told them about the free “tuitioning” in August as well as offering to help her as much as possible before school closes for the August break.  The mother is a nurse in Kijabe Hospital on the way to Nairobi, where she works in the palliative care section with mostly terminal HIV patients.  I gave her a ride home, after which I picked Hillary to take him to his birthday dinner.

I had suggested a place I know, but on a hunch asked whether he had some other favorite place to eat.  He did!  We went to a very nice place nearby, where I had never eaten.  The 4 of us had a wonderfully relaxing meal (although I’m convinced they had to slaughter the chickens out back before they could prepare our food).  I didn’t have anything very exciting for a gift, but I did let him choose a scarf from the few left over from scarf day and gave him one of my beloved TJ chocolate bars—organic, fair trade, injectable strength, which I brought to support my habit, lest I develop the DT’s from withdrawal.  He loved being wined and dined by the 3 of us and we loved doing it.

Saturday

I had very carefully scheduled each of my 4 expected visitors to come at least 1 hour apart so I could focus on each one.  Instead, one showed up at 9, one at 9:30 and the 3rd shortly threafter.  ARGH!  Not sure whether it was their mistake or mine. 

Michael is an old man who helps needy kids, riding his rickety bicycle from far away.  He had told me last week that he wanted to come see me and immediately I knew what he wanted and it wasn’t to visit with me.  He’s a very sweet man, but he goes on and on until I want to toss him out.  I keep waiting for the pitch and it always comes.  In the past Judy and I used to help him out, but that just encouraged him to come back for more.  I may be a Grinch, but I have enough children I help and I do it by educating them.  That’s what I believe in—the old—teaching them to fish rather than giving a fish.  I can’t save everyone in Kenya! 

Next came David Luther, whom I’ve known since 2006.  Through no fault of his own, he just missed being able to attend university on the regular admission program and I’ve felt bad about it ever since.  He’s a very bright guy and a hard worker.  I promised him this year I would sponsor him.  He is so excited to think his dream might come true.  He wants to design websites and in a way I think it’s good that he couldn’t go to school in 2009.  Not sure how much web design was available.  Even now he had to search to find a school that offered a bachelor’s in CS.

Next came Diana to whom I’d promised beads I’d bought, as well as some that either I don’t wear or were broken.  She and her sister supplement their meagre school support by beading.  Both are self-taught.  I’m hoping they can come up with some new designs for the beads I bought, ½ price at Michael’s some months ago.  I had carefully put them all together in one bags and stored them in a place where I could easily find them—but only if I could remember where that place was!!!  I searched and searched, getting more and more frustrated.  She was about to give up and go back home, empty-handed and disappointed, when I said, “let me look in my room one more time.”  There, behind my door, on a small chifferobe (hmmm, my spell-check doesn’t know this word and I am pretty sure it’s not right.  Oh well!) I have some hooks.  Under something else I’d hung on the same hook was the bag of beads!  Whew! 

Cyrus, oldest young person to grow up here at Mji, had promised to come down from Nairobi today to see me.  He and I have had a lovely friendship.  He has no family and he loves having a Sho-sho (grandmother).  He’s in his last term of medical school, having suffered a year delay due to a strike by the instructors at Nairobi U.  He says he didn’t waste that time, but found internships, so continued his education with on-the-job training.  He looks good, seems confident and is, of course, eager to be finished.  He then needs to do a 1-year internship before he is finally Dr. Cyrus Kariuki.  He really wants to become an oncologist, but in this system must finish the initial 5 years first.  After that he wants a master’s and then possibly to study in the US.

I took him to the same place we had gone to last night.  He and I have always had our “long talk” to catch up—the grandmotherly advice as well as a lot of laughs.  He takes his place as first-born of the Mji family very seriously, which generated much discussion about several of the boys who have lost their way.  Generally most of the Mji kids have succeeded in school and are moving on either to university or out into the world as adults.  But two of them in particular just have not.  We didn’t find any solutions to their problems, but shared out concerns.

I always look forward to seeing him, each year noting a continuing maturation of spirit as well as moving into manhood very well.  Great guy.

# 14 School Days

July 10, 2018

I spend every day at school, doing various things, meeting kids in the library during their very limited free time, teaching classes, teaching the teachers, meeting with the principal, or sometimes just working hairy problems.  

Three Form 1 students come for consultation almost every day after lunch.  We discuss the problems they are having and I think mostly go away with questions answered.  They are very earnest and really want to learn.  They have a practice teacher, who seems to be mentored by the other form 1 teacher, but that teacher is busy too.  Yesterday I taught both form 1 section, each time with the teacher present, as I was teaching a method (FOIL) the teachers didn’t know about, but liked.  The kids love the variety of having someone different teaching them, plus there is still a bit of a cache about having an American come teach them.  I try to keep it light and fun, but I was more than a bit concerned that girls in their 2nd high school year couldn’t combine integers.  Example  –6 + 9  or 6 – 9.  In fact, today after the last class I went to one of the form 2 rooms where about 12 girls had stayed to “revise” this topic.  We thrashed it though, but some find it hard to move from the very old-fashioned number line method of adding, to what I think is much easier.  Ex: – 6 + 9   “do you have more positives or negatives?”  “More positives”  “How many more?”  “3”.  “Right, answer is  + 3.”   It’s so easy that way.  When I explained that to the teachers they agreed it is a much better teaching device.  

The 4 math teachers are all new.  That makes it hard with no continuity.  On the other hand, they are young, enthusiastic, eager to help the students and willing to think about how I teach some topics.  So often I see one or 2 of them sitting, surrounded by students, on a bench outside the math teachers’ office, answering questions, explaining, freely giving of their time.  

In fact, I see much more of that than in the past.  For the last few years, the teachers and the (then) principal were virtually at a standoff.  The whole atmosphere was toxic.  I didn’t write about it because there was nothing I could do and I knew the principal read my blog.  The new principal is an energetic, positive, enthusiastic, problem solver.  Everyone seems so much happier, students and staff alike.  It’s like a whole new school.

There is just one teacher who is a real drag, but he will shortly be replaced.  He disappears for a week right after every pay day.  Rumor has it he’s on a major toot.  I’ve been aware of his ineptitude for several years, but got no ears from the powers that be.  This new principal is having none of that!!!  He will go.  Just like in the US, it’s hard to sack a teacher, but there is plenty of evidence of his failure to report, bad performance of his students and a terrible role model.  He sits at his desk, either reading the paper, talking loudly to other teachers (for which I spoke to him 2 weeks ago, before his most recent disappearance) or doing nothing.  ARGH!!!  I don’t know how he can call himself a teacher.  Loser is a much better description.

I have tried to schedule time when all 4 math teachers would be free for an hour to have a graphing calculator workshop.  I think tomorrow after lunch will be it (but I’ll have to abandon my form 1’s).  They are all salivating over those great calculators, but I’ve refused to give them out until they learn a bit about how to use them.  In fact, the form 4 teacher wants his own so badly he is willing to teach in our August “tuitioning” in exchange for mine!  It means I’ll have to get a new one (actually used) on ebay when I come home, but it will be really good to have him working with the form 4’s.  

Mary continues to love working at the District Hospital despite the many shortcomings she sees.  She loves working with Sr. Dr. Carren, whom she describes as a bright, caring, efficient and no-nonsense leader there.  Yesterday and today she has worked in the palliative care section and has come home full of tales.  Palliative care has a broader definition here, including people, especially children, with major disabilities.  She describes the devotion of the parents who never leave their children’s side.  She is what I call a born nurse.  She adores what she does, just as I adore teaching math.  She comes back in the evening, tired, but eyes sparkling with news and a sense of accomplishment.

Kathleen shares her time between Life Bloom, where she loves going on home visits to mostly single moms, or sometimes abused women.  She is inspired by the work LB is doing and by the wonderful staff.  She, too, has much to report out over our dinner table.  At SFG, she has found a niche, just listening to girls, who flock to her.  She is helping the new form 1 teacher revive the peer mentoring program, which had been allowed to wither away.  Evidently the girls had asked the new teacher the very first day on the job (about 10 days ago!) whether she would take that up.  Since she is also the counselor, she readily agreed, despite being on total overload.  She and Kathleen have huddled together to share ideas and plan.  Today they met with the girls who want to be the mentors and who have asked for more training, to begin that process.  It’s a wonderfully sign of the shift in spirit from the negative to the positive.  Heretofore, I’ve seen a punitive atmosphere, versus now a helpful, supportive atmosphere.  It gives me great hope for the future under this new principal.

As you see, all 3 of us have found our places in this milieu, sharing our loves and our passion for what we do.  It’s turning out to be a great year.  

As I was preparing to leave Menlo Park, a month ago, I wondered whether I would have the energy and endurance to do this again.  Even the first week or so, I wasn’t sure whether I could pull it off one more time, but I’m hitting my stride now, aching to keep going when the time is up, still feeling upbeat at the end of a long day.  This is where I belong each summer.  I am content.  

# 13 Scarf Day 2018

July 7, 2018

It has been really cold—turtle necks, camisole, vest, jacket kind of cold.  So we decided to have scarf day early this year.  For my new readers, scarf day began with Anita Dippery, one of the founding members of the Kenya Help board, knitting scarves for a number of the children at Mji.  That was so successful, she proposed making scarves for all form 4 girls at SFG.  She gathered her knitter friends, known as the Knitting Elves, and together (I’m one) they’ve made at least 80 scarves every year.  Hmmm, now that I think of it, the first graduating class (2010) had only 17 girls, compared to 73 this year.  

Kathleen helped me arrange all the scarves on tables in the library.  In the meantime, the form 4 prefects prepared slips of paper, numbered 1-73, put them in a hat and as each girl entered, she chose a slip.  It always begins in a fairly orderly manner, only to develop into chaos as the choosing moves on.  The girls love the fact that the Knitting Elves care enough to make them scarves, AND this year they were doubly grateful because of the cold.  

New staff members get a scarf too and there were many of them.  They’re always put off by my permitting the student to choose first.  “What?”  “The scarves were meant for the girls.  There will be some left, not to worry. “   It makes the girls very loved, as well they should.

One scarf is very light-weight and takes very little space.  Eighty scarves filled a whole suitcase even with vacuum packing bags and were heavy.  However, my visitors each packed only 1 bag for herself.  One brought a second bag for me, full of small gifts, and medical supplies and ½ the scarves.  

My one worry is what happens to scarf day when I stop coming here?