# 21 Two Reunions, a Big Day for Tuitioning and Being Dear Abbey,

August 13, 2018

I hardly know where to begin!  Saturday was the reunion of all the beneficiaries of Empower the World (ETW).  There have been over 200 by my rough count, but a turn-up of 55 wasn’t bad.  They are scattered about the country, some out of country, some still in school, with exams and of course some just not accepting of the need to “pay if forward.”  However the 55 who did show up have renewed their commitment to being a force for good in the world in whatever way they can.  

The day began with some talks, one by me, but the main idea of the day was to form 3 groups— high school, post-high school, and out of school.  In each group they were to discuss how ETW and the opportunity to go to school had impacted their lives.  I had set the stage for that by posing the question, “Where would you be today if someone who didn’t even know you hadn’t cared enough to donate for your school fees?  What if you had been unable to even attend high school?”  

Then they were to discuss how they can make a contribution, monetary or otherwise, to ETW and finally, how can ETW make a more important impact?  They had lots of good ideas and very good intentions.  Now we see whether intentions and ideas turn into action.  They are all still very young.  Even if they’ve finished school, they are just getting their adult lives underway.  But we still want to remind them of the gift they’ve been given and their need to continue the giving line.  I am reminded so often of the quote from my friend, Rebecca Bloom, who said to me some years ago, “With privilege comes responsibility.”  These beneficiaries, all, by definition, from poor backgrounds don’t feel privileged, but by the very fact they’ve received their educations, they are privileged.  For many it’s a totally foreign idea to help others, particularly folks they don’t know, but we keep planting the seeds, hoping some will sprout.  Long germination time!!!

Sunday was the reunion of the kids who grew up at Mji Wa Neema.  Those are the 35 kids whom I met first in 2005 and with whom I shared their home until 2016, when the home was closed.  They are hurt and angry and I wasn’t sure they’d even show, but show up they did!  It was just GREAT to see all of them, grown into adults, on their individual paths to career and responsible long life.  Some have gone through rough patches.  We thought some were lost, but most have moved through and are seeing the light.  One boy in particular, whom Judy and I both loved a lot, at 16 or so left the home, unhappy with his life here.  He found that life on the outside, with no place to live, no money for food, no education, no job—was HELL.  He’s now back in high school and is here for our 2nd week of tuitioning.  Gone is the look of anger and resentment.  He’s life a new kid!!!  Really his whole facial expression and manner has been transformed.  I’ve felt great joy to see him be his sweet self again.  

Almost all are finishing high school and finding post-secondary schools.  Two of the girls are to study catering.  Another, a pretty slow student, wants nursing school, but no reputable school would accept a D on the KCSE.  There are bogus schools that would be happy to take our money, but she would never become an RN.  She was very sad when told about it.  I gave her the option of repeating form 4, but few want to do that.  She’s now considering horticulture.  Most know what they want to do and are either in school or waiting to begin in September.

We had our usual feast of sheep (couldn’t afford a goat this year) topped off with the traditional ice cream and biscuits.  We remembered Judy Murphy who began that maybe 10 years ago.  We’ve done it every year since.  Judy hasn’t come for the last 3 or 4 years, but this kids still love her and particularly remember all the great things she did for them.  Alison got a blank book in which the kids wrote letters to her.  We’ll add pix we took and she will get it after I get home.  

All day (and even the day before) it was a steady stream of kids, “Margo, I need to talk to you.” “Margo, I have an issue.”  “Margo, I need….” “Margo, do you have ….?”  On and on, until I wonder whether unbeknownst to me my name had been change to Abbey. (as in Dear..)  Well before I’d given ear to each one, I was longing for my bed.

Today (Monday) began the second week of the math tuitioning.  I walked into the Mji dining hall at 9 and maybe 2 or 3 kids were there.  “Oh, No, no one is coming back.”  HA!  By 10:30 there were 37 form 4’s crammed into the room, using every available chair—jammed in so that I had to say, “Pretend you’re in a matatu.”  People are always JAMMED into the matatus.  The other classes were smaller, about 11 each, but that made 70—a new record, I believe.

I thrashed through lots of 3-D geometry, but by the end of 3 hours I was so brain-dead, I was making really dumb mistakes.  I’ve new designated 4 people to be my mistake catchers.

After all the planning and shopping for Saturday night, Sunday morning and the big meal, of Sunday afternoon I had not thought at all about Monday and the fact that 8 kids are staying here for the tuitioning.  ARGH!!  They need to be fed. And still came the stream of people wanting to pour out their stories to me.  I wanted to hide under the bed!  

The hardest for me is Kamau, just out of high school, with a B+ in KCSE.  B+ is a very high grade, particularly this year when so many kids failed.  He has wanted engineering school since he was a little guy.  He’s not a little guy anymore, tall and skinny, quiet and very, very bright.  But the Kenyan University system decided not to accept him into the engineering school, but determined he should study bio/chem—a subject in which he has no interest.  We could send him to engineering school by what’s known as the “parallel intake” program, but it would cost some 4 times the “regular intake”.  What to do?   He’s one of the brightest of the Mji kids, great guy and devastated.  He’d been to see Hillary, then he came to see me.  There is little recourse, but Hillary does have an acquaintance at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, fondly known as JKUAT.  It’s is slim chance, but maybe….  For reasons known only to God and the Ministry of Education, an engineering degree is even more expensive than med school.  

And so, dear readers, I will turn off my light, turn on my ipod and sleep.  Tomorrow is another day, with who knows how many form 4’s will show up and already several people in line afterwards  with “Margo, I…..”


# 20 Tuitioning Begins

August 7, 2018

You may have noticed that I’ve not written much of late.  It seems to me that I’ve been very busy, but still nothing much to write about.  However now tuitioning (free math classes) has begun, with all the attendant need for organizing.

Every year it’s the same thought (worry)—“Will they come?”  I think of the line from the war resisters in the 60’s and 70’s, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?”  So yesterday morning, bright and early I was up, posting signs directing students where to go and hoping, hoping, hoping.  And then they began to come in—2 here, 3 here, 1, 4, in groups.  We had 43 that first day!!!  It’s the most we’ve ever had on day 1.  Today I didn’t to an accurate head count, but I had 4 more in form 4 and the other teachers reported having new ones as well.  

Sunday, Hillary and I had driven to Nairobi to pick Alison Staab from the airport.  She has been here before, but not during tuitioning.  She was teacher # 2.  I had bribed the form 4 teacher from SFG to help by promising him my graphing calculator, which he covets!  That was # 3.  Who would teach the form 1’s.  I didn’t know.  But has happened so many times in my 14 years here, at the last minute, namely 11 am Sunday morning, Catherine Wanjohe’s very bright daughter, Laura, came knocking my door to announce that she was ready to teach math for me!  Whew!  Somehow it always works out.  

On the way back from Nairobi, I had began my worry list.  Enough chalk, erasers (aka “dusters”), were there tables in each room, and enough chairs?  OOPS!  I’d left all my texts at SFG (this realization came about 9 pm Sunday evening).  Hillary had my car, so a quick text to him, would he run up to SFG in the morning and bring my books?  (He would).  

And at 9 am I had about 10  bright-eyed form 4’s, ready to tackle the hard ones—binomial expansion, circles, tangents and chords, series and sequences, area approximation, calculus—-We made a list on the board and will tick off the topics as we beat them back.  All morning, kids drifted in.  If they were form 4’s they were welcomed to our group in the Mji dining hall.  Forms 1, 2 and 3’s were directed to the big church hall where there are 3 rooms with blackboards.    

During the 10:30 break I trotted down to see how the other groups were doing.  Every one looked happy, eager and attentive.  This is my favorite part of the summer.  I get to teach and we do the topics the students want.  Kids are there because the want to be.  I’m not constrained by the clock and when I see their heads are full, we call it quits for the day—usually by noon.  But even after 3 hours, they don’t go home.  They stick around and work more problems on the topics we’ve been covering.  Or they whip out texts from other courses and work together.

A number of them asked whether someone could teach them chemistry.  I hadn’t been able to recruit anyone, but then today, small Patrick of Mji (small because there were 2 Patricks and he’s the younger) came to see me.  He’s waiting to begin his engineering course in September, so I asked him whether he could teach physics or chemistry.  He wasn’t too sure about that, but then several hours later, he showed up with his friend Teddy, who says he can (and will) teach both.  He was wearing a t-shirt he’d earned in a math competition for being part of the winning team.  Seems promising!!!  He will come at 1 tomorrow to begin.  

And so I wonder, again, how this happens, that things just seem to work out.  Who’s pulling those strings, anyhow?

Mary, one of the youngest of the Mji kids is in form 4 at SFG.  You may recall she stayed with me here for 4 days during the mid-term break in June, soon after I arrived.  She is here now, with 2 other girls who live too far away to commute each day.  One is Lucy, the girl with the big arrears whom many of you helped out to pay her back fees.  The 3 of them are staying in “Mom’s house”, where Julia, the matron, lived for some 10 years, being mom to 35 orphaned kids.  Now the home is closed and Julia is happily married, living in the US and enjoying her 6-month old son.  Her rooms looked very bare.  The 3 of them are jammed into a very narrow bed and a mattress on the floor.  I didn’t ask, that’s what they wanted to do.  

They are eating with Alison and me, sharing whatever food we make and eating tons of bread, a Kenyan staple.  Tonight we had hamburgers.  We even found buns in the Naivas and for once the HB (here called mince meat) was more red than pink.  The preparation was a shared process.  Margo (head chef) patted the patties, cooked them (to perfection, of course) in a little tiny cast iron frying pan, 1 at a time, adding cheese as they got turned over.  The buns had been put in the freezer when we got home from shopping (I had bagged it, exhausted and the girls didn’t know).  Hmmm, how to toast them.  I split one, hoping the halves would fit in the toaster.  Well, no….  OK, I’ll toast them over the gas flame.  Uh, no, the grid is too close to the flame.  I don’t know how to turn on the oven, and particularly I don’t know how to light the broiler.  AHA!  Skewered each one with a fork and assigned Mary to hold them over the flame until lightly browned.  They tasted pretty much like hamburgers, albeit, not like bar-b-qued HB’s.  Well, here we are living somewhat primitively.  They were quite edible and we were full.  What more is needed?

# 19 A Mini Vacation in Nakuru

July 31, 2018

Yesterday I hopped a ride with Lydia to Nakuru, where I am visiting Fr. Kiriti.  I arrived Java House 10:30, and worked a Sudoku until he arrived at noon.  I’d asked my friend, Agnes, where I could buy yarn.  Evidently no knitters in Naivasha—I searched all the markets.

So, after a so-so salad, we went off to a nearby shop, only I’d mistaken the name.  Wrong shop.  Who would imagine it would be so hard to find.  I’d brought a bag of yarn from home, but have knitted almost all into hats, which I’ve given away.  The latest, a pink number, was awarded to Toleo, Fr. Kiriti’s adopted daughter.  She’s worn it since.  Another girl, Chapusi, from East Pokot, has been here with Toleo today.  She will get the yellow creation that’s about ¾ finished now. She leaves for home early in the am, so have to get my fingers busy.  

Although this is generally the cold season, but not the rainy season, we had a major rain storm last night and again right now (6 pm).  These are big tropical storms, huge drops that make so much noise on the iron sheet roof that I couldn’t hear A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren playing on my itunes.   By morning the air was clear, sky was blue and the ground wet but drying fast.  

This morning I went with Fr. Kiriti way up, away from town to a small settlement.  We turned into what looked like several shops, but an open doorway led to what we would call apartments, but here are known as houses.  He was to celebrate mass at one of them.  We arrived promptly at 10—on time, but virtually no one was there except the hostess.  We entered a small sitting room, crammed, as is generally the case with large, overstuffed couches and chairs.  He set up the altar on a coffee table and proceeded to wait.  Soon, as he knew would be the case, people began to arrive.  Slowly by slowly they came in 2’s and 3’s, several with small children.  The sitting room filled and people sat in an outer room, and then outside the door when necessary.  He put on his robes and mass began.  I couldn’t tell whether it was in Kiswahili or Kikuyu, but later was told it was the former.  As usual, I was free to meditate and observe, as I understood not one word.  The eyes of the small boy seated on my right began to droop and his mother gently pulled his head over into her lap, where he stayed for the full time.  Another small boy sat quietly, not uttering a word nor even swinging his legs.  Like many children, he has been taken to mass from early infancy and knows the proper behavior.  He couldn’t have been more than 4.  The hostess led the singing, all of it unaccompanied and all sung beautifully.  How do they do it?  Her husband counted how many wanted to receive communion, at which Fr. Kiriti carefully counted out the hosts.

When all was over, I was asked to speak to the group.  I said a few sentences, then waited for Fr. Kiriti to translate for me.  “No” they said.  They understood me.  This makes is very much easier.  

Afterwards the hostess always serves a meal.  She told me that some of the woman came early in the morning to help with the food, then had gone back home to dress.  The walk everywhere, so I’m guessing some of them walked a very long way.  

In the afternoon Fr. Kiriti wanted to visit a friend, a nun who is director of a retirement center for the Little Sisters of St. Francis.  It’s a very new center, beautifully built, with spacious rooms with large windows, so very light and shining with scrubbing.  Sr. Scholastica is a warm, caring woman of 50-some years, who led us to one of several tables in the dining room.  We were joined by others, who shared their tea, cake and arrow root with us.  Some of you may be more familiar with arrow root in the form of poi.  I tired some years ago and put it in the same category as ugali—wallpaper paste, but Kenyans love both.  Maybe if you have it from infancy you like it.  Alas, my mother didn’t serve it to me!

(nextday)  This is Fr. Kiriti’s office day and a lazy day for me.  

I’d left the yellow hat on the couch so Chapusi would be sure to see it.  She came out to breakfast wearing it, as was Toleo wearing her pink one.  Simon, the cook indicated he’d like a hat.  Favorite color?  Black. “How about if I make it with Kenyan flag colors, black with green and red stripes, separated by small strips of white.?” I spent most of the day sitting on the couch, knitting and listening to my resurrected ipod.  One may think that a dead machine is dead, but I can testify, this has been a miraculous recovery, for which I am truy thankful.  It reads me to sleep every night.  The hat turned out so nicely.  Simon was visibly pleased, “Oh, very smart” said with a beaming smile.  

About noon I decided to take a walk.  The road in front of the church compound is dirt, as are all the roads in this community, with the exception of the main road.  When the hard rains come, it’s a sea of mud, with deep ruts and very uneven.  Fortunately most of the traffic is by foot, so I climbed up the hill to the junction, greeting people if they seemed they’d welcome that.  By and large Kenyans are very friendly, and will offer an invite for tea to a perfect stranger.  This happened to me today, but I didn’t want to bother her.  Walking back down, I encountered a lady and 2 men deep in conversation.  As I was passing, they stopped the conversation to greet me.  One of the men, after vigorously shaking my hand, asked, “I want to ask you a question.  How many years are you?”  Since he seemed pretty old himself, I said, “82, and you?”  “86”   I saluted his greater age and passed on.  How often does a perfect stranger stop someone to ask his/her age????  It tickled me greatly.

#18 Saturday

July 28, 2018

I thought it was going to be a quiet day of doing nothing. NOT!! As I sat eating my daily dose of bran cereal with cranberries and walnuts (courtesy of T. Joe’s), Rafael knocks on my door.  He did that yesterday too, and I suddenly realized he was stopping by to be sure I was OK, all alone here.  He’s kind of the head man among the crew that keeps the parish running.  Tall and very thin, he is also one of several choirmasters—the one to whom I had given a copy of Breaking Bread, the songbook from my church at home.  It has lovely songs, very different from those sung so beautifully here and I’d wanted this choir to at least see some of them.  Raphael is working on the harmonies, which are not in the songbook.

Today Raphael seemed to want to chat, so I invite him in, making tea for him as I continue eating before my bran flakes become even more like bran sog.  I ask him to wash my car, which is, as usual dusty brown, and to apply some special windshield cleaner which claims to remove road scum.  One of the reasons I don’t drive at night is the oncoming headlights make a lightshow, diffused by the layer of crud.  Raphael is so willing, such a nice guy, who tells me he wanted to be a math and physics teacher and again I bemoan the system that wastes good brains and fine individuals.  He’s probably in his mid-20’s, so maybe he can still go.  I’ll tell him about KIVA loans and maybe can give him a boost.  I can’t think about the fact that he keeps this place hummng and would be sorely missed.

Finishing my breakfast, I remember I’d promised Lydia (principal) I would do another tweak of the brochure we’ve been designing together.  Every time I take up that task I get a different idea.  Move this picture there, rewrite that paragraph, take out this picture, put in that one.  In the end, I’m not sure it matters very much.  We just want parents to see pictures of the school and the students in their various activities.  

This is a tough time for private schools, as secondary school is now “free”.  “Free” means it doesn’t cost as much as it used to, but there are still fees to pay, uniforms to be bought, as well as books, paper, pencils etc.  Students who, in the past, would not have been able to attend high school are flocking to the classrooms.  Unfortunately, the Kenyan government, in their infinite non-wisdom, has not built more schools, nor hired enough teachers.  The classes are crowded and the papers are full of articles suggesting changes to improve things—suggestions that are virtually all ignored.  SFG and other private schools must make the case that our classes are not crowded, our teachers are dedicated and the school is well equipped.  It has to be worth it to pay the cost of private school.  In the end, I believe there will be a détente, with students whose families can afford the fees will sit in classrooms with students who are scholarship recipients whose families couldn’t even afford the government schools.  Only the future will tell.

Feeling fairly satisfied with the latest version, I hop in my car, first going to the Jama market where I am assured yarn is sold.  I brought some, but have knitted most of it up.  I love sitting in the evening, listening to books on my computer, knitting while the mosquitoes try to find the holes in my bed net.  Some do.  

Jama is a 3-story market, that sells everything so I ask someone near the entrance where I might find yarn.  “Yarn” isn’t a familiar term, I learn.  Later, Fr. Kiriti tells me they have no name for it, other than “string that you make sweaters from. “ “Down stairs.”  I grab the railing and trundle down stairs, look around, and ask someone at the counter I think might be the right one.  When she finally gets what I want, “Up stairs.”  “Someone up stairs just told me it’s down stairs”.  I go up stairs and then to the 2nd floor, where I am assured that Jama no longer sells string to make sweaters from.  I guess it doesn’t sell everything.

Reluctantly I head for the old Naivas, where there is little parking and is in the middle of a big jam of matatus.  I haven’t been there for several years, as the new one is easier.  I’m accosted by the city parking man who exacts the 80 shillings fee and go in.  I know that store very well, and head for the second floor, where I saw yarn some years ago.  Nope, Naivas no longer sells it either.  Sigh.

Now I head for school to take the brochure on a flash disc then head back home for peanut butter and banana on stale bread.  

My refrigerator has decided to do its annual recalcitrance.  RATS!!!  I like to buy bread and milk in quantity, then freeze it so I’ll always have some.  The milk no longer freezes.  ARGH!!  Raphael takes a look and thinks maybe the surge protector is bad.  I take in and the power strip that is slowly failing down to the electric shop.  The proprietor is a very nice, rather funny guy who remembers me (so he says) from last year.  I tell him he has an unhappy customer and he pretends dismay.  I tell him the strip won’t charge my phone any more.  It’s the 2nd one this year that has failed.  He checks it and sure enough, it lights up the light.  He can’t understand why my phone won’t charge, even implies maybe I’m wrong.  “Do I look like I’d have time to hassle you about a power strip if it worked?”  He laughs and we toss it back and forth.  Eventually he trades in my strip for another, determines that the refrigerator surge protector is not the problem and gives me the name of a friend who “did a very good job on a refrigerator across the road.”  Not much chance to get this guy on Saturday afternoon and I’m leaving Monday morning for 3 days in Nakuru.  Oh well!  I think Raphael will talk to the repair man and together they’ll put it back in order.  Or not.

Later I encountered Raphael who was to carry the church’s electric keyboard to Kayole, a small community up the road toward SFG (suburb of Naivasha!).  He’s been so nice, I offered to give him a lift.  I know that community (or so I thought) as it’s where Hillary lives, just across from Damaris’ African Bag Shop.  What I didn’t know is that Kayole isn’t the small community bordering the road, but in fact goes WAY far back from the road as well.  Raphael had only a sketchy idea of the location of the church where people were waiting for him to play for mass.  We stop for directions.  “It’s up that way.”  We go that way and stop again.  “It’s over there.”  We go over there, stopping again—and again and again.  The roads are terrible, I mean really TERRIBLE and I wonder for the 1000th time whether that poor RAV 4 with 175,000 kms will continue to carry us along.  Toyota makes ‘em good!  Finally we encounter a lady stopped in the road, who turns out to be looking for Raphael to escort him.  In the meantime, I am hopelessly turned around.  She offers to show me the way back to the main road, over those same very dusty, rutted, pot-holed roads, only she goes faster than I want to.  At one point I turned the corner I’d see her turn, only to find an empty road.  Hmmmm.  Well, those look like fresh tracks in the dust, I’ll try that one.  Sure enough, there she is and the main road is right ahead.  I know where I am, thank her and am on my way back home.  

Another day in the life of Margo, girl adventurer!