#7 – Thoughts

So many things I could write about, but what is really eating at me right now is several very hard stories.

First is from Esther, one of our Mji kids, very bright girl who is finishing her diploma course in medical technology—training to manage the machinery in hospitals, IV’s MRI’s etc.  She has 2 more years to complete a degree, after which she will be imminently employable.  But in her last term, she failed a class.  This is despite the fact that she’d never failed before and that one of her room mates, whom she had tutored, passed the same class.  Curious???  Questionable? Yes!  Here’s the story.

The head of the department of medical technology routinely, selects some girls whom he propositions.  If they refuse, as Esther did, he arranges for them to fail.  In other words he’s a total scumbag.  Esther is no wimp.  She went to the instructor, questioning why she had failed.  “Oh, you weren’t serious, you joked around at the end.” Huh!  This is a girl who had never failed and who is not given to joking around. He did not show her her exam nor explain just how she had failed.  He refused to reconsider her grade.  By then she knew the dept head and his shenanigans, so she approached his secretary, who confirmed that he does this with every new class of students.   The good news is that she is retaking the class, doing well and by this time he has moved on to the new students.  She won’t be bothered and she won’t fail.  She would love to change schools, but this school is considered tops for this training.  She is virtually guaranteed a job upon finishing. 

Naturally she was embarrassed when he first approached her.  Like many such victims, she was ashamed, despite having done nothing wrong.  She didn’t tell anyone, just tried to avoid the scumbag.  But finally she came to me and has now told Hillary and Fr. Kiriti, who have both assured her that she did the right thing, they are proud of her for standing up to this person in a position of authority.  We will of course continue to support her, have paid the fees for the retake and will support her for her final 2 years.  But she’s paid the price of losing a whole term!

Today came Mary, a graduate of SFG from 2011, where she had position 2 (her score on the KCSE was second highest).  She went to Nairobi University where she majored in sociology.  She wants to be a social worker because she wants to help other unfortunate kids.  She comes from a totally dysfunctional family and knows how important it is for such children, of which there are many, just like in the US, to have someone to pick them up, dust them off and tell them they are OK, they are loveable, they are bright and they deserve a future just like everyone else. But, in all this time she has been unable to get a job.  Why? She goes for an interview, is tentatively offered a position, but either she’s expected to bribe the intake person, or sleep with him.  Like Esther, she refuses. 

I told both of them about the Me Too movement and how at least a few of the most egregious scumbags are now in prison, others have been discredited, lost their jobs, lost their families and certainly lost the respect of those who incorrectly believed them to be good people.  I truly believe in time women will be seen not as “other” but as equal partners in the experience of growing up and becoming conscious human beings. But…..oh my, it’s a slow process. ARGH!!!!

Later a visit from Sister Veronica, who lives in the small convent here on the church property and works in the District Hospital across the road. I know that generally when someone like that comes, it is with the hand out.  Today the tale was of a family, once able to live independently, but now destitute because the carpenter dad fell from a roof, breaking his leg, which has not healed well.  Their 7thgrade daughter and form 2 son are home for lack of school fees and there is little food in the house.  Believing the long term end of poverty is education, I gave her funds to pay the school fees and some for food.  I can’t feed all the hungry people in town, nor can I pay fees for all the children, but when I hear of something like that, and I have money in my bag, I can’t refuse to help.  I advised her to assist the family apply to ETW for the following year.  We support only high school fees, so the family would need to find other support for their daughter, but grade school fees are not too much and Sr. Veronica will find other to help.  As we talked, we bemoaned the passing of parish social worker, Jecinta Gakaku, who passed away maybe 8 – 10 years ago.  She was the go-to person for the whole town, not just the Catholics. She never asked the religion of a hungry person, she just scrounged around to find them some cooking oil, maize flour for ugali (traditional food) and some beans.  Because she was so effective in distributing food to the needy, agencies would bring in large supplies.  I remember once when one end of the Mji dining room was stacked almost to the ceiling with bags of maise, beans and flour, plus oil and other necessities.

When she passed, the priest who succeeded Fr. Kiriti chose not to replace her.  Nor has the current priest seen the necessity to do so.  It’s just tragic.  I’ve urged each of them many times to find another social worker.  I’m always given the runaround, “I’ll ask the diocese to send us one from the social worker office in Nakuru”. Guess how many have showed up.  Yep!!! Nada.

It’s now Saturday morning.  I’m in my “house” listening to the glorious music of the choir as 3 new priests are being ordained in the church next door.  I had considered attending, but in the end I knew I couldn’t manage 4 or 5 hours of sitting, standing, kneeling, not understanding the sermon, and having to sit so far back, I couldn’t see.  Moreover, I’ve kind of used up my weekly energy allotment, so am sitting on my bed, writing, thinking and again feeling some degree of amazement that I am here and that I am so happy being here.

Earlier this morning as I sat in my pj’s and warm robe eating my breakfast, Fr. Kiriti breezed in to deposit his bag while he attended the ordination.  He sat for a cup of tea, then went off to see who else was here.  These events are always a time for them to meet and greet.  Shortly after that arrived Sr. Irene, whom many of you will remember for her heroic work among young Pokot girls to save them from the traditional FGM experience.  She, too has come for the ordination, along with another nun who has preceded her in Pokot.

When I get my act together, I’ll shower and shampoo, take my clothes to the washer in the rectory, and go off to the Naivas for our weekly shopping.  I’ve been here 2+ weeks.  It is so familiar that it was “home” to me 5 minutes after I walked in.

#6 – Visits, Visitors, and Pizza

After spending the morning at St. Francis, first observing a form 3 class and then doing some re-learning of the Kenyan vectors curriculum while eating my lunch, I met my 3 students in the chem lab where we beat surds into submission. I think they got it, they seemed to. As always, time will tell. 

Every year there are new math teachers whom I need to introduce to the graphing calculator.  Unfortunately the batteries in all the ones the old teachers were using had died. Did they ask for more batteries?  No, they just put them in a desk drawer.  Did they remove the old batteries?  I guess no one had explained the problem of leaky batteries.  One battery had leaked very badly, but later John was able to clean out all the yuk and new batteries brought it back to life.  I hope that will be true for the others when I take new batteries tomorrow. Bernard, the one of the new math teachers is eager to give it a try.

I left at 2 having booked an appointment with the principal at Archbishop Ndingi, the boys high school for the parish.  He’s an energetic, positive guy, but Ndingi is a school that dipped down, and is just now on the upswing.  He and I spoke of the problems he is facing and what are his successes.  While I can’t offer him money, which is what is needed (in large quantities), I did want him to know about the 3 St. Denis scholars who will join form 1 in January and whose fees are guaranteed for the full 4 years.  Also, I’d been authorized by Fr. Kiriti to ask whether he had any boys who had not returned from midterm break because the family couldn’t pay the fees.  Yes, of course he does!!!  We think Empower the World (Kenya Help in Kenya) can take on 2. This is happy news and he will contact those parents to bring their boys back.  It is so sad when a bright kid can’t stay in school, when he may have been sent home for fees over and over, so he falls behind and gets discouraged. That doesn’t happen with our Kenya Help sponsored kids, but so many parents desperately want an education for their children, they bring their kids to school, but then someone falls ill, the mother dies, dad loses his job—the variations are endless, but always the upshot is the kid can’t finish.  It’s the unrelenting poverty of so many. 

I arrived 10 days ago.  At that time there were big rectangular holes in the road.  Since then, more holes, no filling.  At best traffic is terrible.  Now it’s impossible.  As I inched my way along, I arrived at the crossing for primary school kids.  There is actually a crossing guard there and people actually stop—-except for some big shot, blue lights flashing, but no visible signs of police, fire, nothing.  The driver and other occupants are banging on the horn, shaking their fists and trying to pass on this impossibly narrow space, with tiny kids scampering across.  Not Kenya at its finest!

Shortly after coming home, Diana came to see me.  I met her maybe 6 years ago when she was selling chips in the market and supporting her then-pregnant younger sister.  I was totally impressed with her determination to be a responsible first born in a family of 5 children, each with a different (absent) father and an abusive, alcoholic mother.  Diana had always wanted to be a pre-school teacher.  She has that great love of small children so necessary in that vocation.  All she lacked was the training.  For the past 3 years she has slowly by slowly been chipping away at the necessary courses. First she earned a 2-year certificate, allowing her to find a very low paying job (like $50 per month!!!) and taking classes during the school holiday times.  She is now in her first year of the next level, called a diploma and has found a job in a pre-school run by an American-established orphanage.  She has a class of 10 children, abused, neglected, unloved and then finally placed in this home, where the rule is no child is beaten, or hit in any way.  This is not the Kenyan culture, but the Americans running the school are gently training their staff on the loving way to raise children.  Diana told me that in the beginning the children were hitting, biting, pinching each other and her!  She would go home at night in tears.  But the school directors helped her successfully tame those children with loving firmness and she is so happy!!!!  I could see it in her face the minute she came in.  She loves the school, the children, her classes, everything about her life.  Yet, she has had to incur debts to pay fees for her younger brother and worries about how she will pay the remaining $300 of the $400 she had to borrow.  We talked at length about her joy and her sorrows. I’m hoping to visit her school next week to meet the people who run her school and the orphanage. 

Mary, John and I have been planning our meals, shopping for ingredients and sharing the preparations.  Tonight is the grand experiment of pizza.  I found a recipe online for the dough, which is now rising in the kitchen. John finally figured out how to light the oven (I’ve never been able to do it) and we have a bit of down time until the dough doubles in size.  Then we will spread it out in the pan, use the pizza sauce I found in the Naivas, shred the not very good cheese, chop green peppers, tomatoes and slices of ham I also found in the market.  Before I finish this we will have eaten our pizza dinner so I will be able to report on our success or lack thereof. 

We were totally out of sugar, thanks to Mary’s sweet tooth, requiring me to beg some from Laben the cook at the rectory.  He is always very generous, giving me 1/3 kilo, when I needed only 3 tablespoons.  Mary has been properly chastised that the rest is to last for several weeks.

On the way back with the sugar, I encountered Fr. Ngaruiya, with whom I had a math-teacher talk, what did he teach today, what had I taught today, how did it go, how are the boys in Ndingi, where he spent 4 hours in the classroom, doing? (well) and so on.  Promising to text him the page of a particularly messy problem I’d encountered yesterday, I continued back to the kitchen where we watched the utube of pizza dough making again as we tried to make do with what we have.  It’s fun to work with the 2 of them, scurrying about to find what we need and they watch as I mixed the ingredients with my hands, as suggested by the utube chef (mine were much messier than his).  The great thing is that no matter what I make or John makes, we all enjoy the food and the being together.

When I first arrived I was exhausted every day, hardly able to stay awake more than 3 or 4 hours before collapsing on my bed again.  More than once I questioned my decision to come this year.  I so wanted to make it at least 15 summers and if I last to August 20, I will have met my goal.  Now I am awake all day, though ready to sleep much earlier at night than is my usual habit. I’m feeling more energy and getting into the swing of my Kenyan life.  I guess it was the right decision after all.

(Several hours later)

I wander out to the kitchen and sure enough, the dough has risen and the oven is hot, though I have no way to determine how close to 450 F it is.  The jarred pizza sauce is very watery, but I didn’t quite figure it out until I was spreading it on the dough—too late to boil it down to a firmer consistency.  We add tomato slices, green pepper and small squares of ham.  Mary and I like cheese, John and Mokami, who has now joined us, do not. The cheese seems to have been aged 2 ½ days at best, but we spread it over ½ the pizza and into the oven it goes. Fourteen minutes later, I see it’s not fully cooked, so we wait a bit more and remove it.  It looks great, but when we try to cut it, we discover to our dismay that the watery sauce, plus the water from the tomatoes has caused the dough to STICK to the pan. RATS!!! And double RATS!!!  Undaunted, John painfully pries up each of the 4 pieces and carefully plops them on each plate I hold over the pan.  Well, it’s out of the pan, reasonably cooked and fairly intact.  Now comes the acid test.  Fortunately 2 of them have never tasted pizza and Mary only has had some of the really terrible pizza Alison and I purchased last year as a big treat.  Clearly the only way to go is up. 

It was actually quite edible, though unlike any pizza to be found in ANY pizza house in the US, bar none.  The crust was soggy, and too sweet, the sauce lacking in any real herbs, like oregano or basil, or anything to be found in an Italian kitchen.  I’m sure an onion only walked through and went on, while the garlic refused even to dip a toe!  The pieces were BIG and I opined that cold pizza was a time-warn tradition in the US.  Twenty minutes every place was slicked clean.  Not a crumb left for morning.  We declared it a qualified success.

#5 – Weekend Activities

I thought this would be a quiet weekend, I would have nothing to write about, but as usual, things just turn up.

Yesterday (Saturday) was to be shower/ shampoo, do laundry and be a bit of a lay-about.  But then David Luther wrote to say he wanted to visit me before he returned to Nairobi.  He’s one of the first sponsored students, graduate of Ndingi, and now is in Nairobi University, studying computer science.  I first learned about him in 2006 from a math teacher at Ndingi who had identified him as a gifted math student.  As is so often the case here, his single mom could not keep up the fees and he’d been sent home with no hope of coming back until Kenya Help (or its precursor) took him on.  Faithfully attending my August “tuitioning”, he sometimes thought he had a better way to solve a problem.  While I explained, he would quietly go to an empty space on the board, not say a word, just write his version and quietly sit down.  It tickled me. 

He had to wait a long time before I was able to promise him university. For the most part, Kenya Help supports school fees for high schoolers.  Yet I knew that a great brain was being wasted and decided to sponsor him.  He has now completed his first year.  As he was telling me about it, his face shone with such happiness. He said every time he enters the gate and must show his student ID he feels overwhelming joy, not quite able to believe he’s really there. He came to thank me and to promise when he is finished and working he will seek out kids like himself and send them to school.  YES!!!!!

Fortunately I brought in the clothes I had hung on the line in time to miss the deluge that fell in the late afternoon.  This is the time of the “short rains”, but I’m told they came late this year, causing havoc with the planting time. 

I had lent John one of my favorite books, Tattoo’s on the Heart, by Fr. Gregory Boyle. Later he told me it was a bit hard to understand, so I suggested that I read it aloud.  I read to him for maybe an hour, but at one point he was so moved by the stories of the LA street gangs and the loving way Fr. Boyle treated them that he broke down.  I encouraged him to cry, while knowing that it’s seen as shameful for a Kenyan man to show his tears, particularly to a female.  Explaining that my belief is that tears wash away the pain and it is good, I left him to compose himself and think about what he was hearing.

Later, John wanted to cook.  I am perfectly content to let someone else cook for me.  Mary came in and I began reading again, stopping to explain some of the slang and odd phrasing.  We read for an hour while John cooked and then after we had eaten as well.  I’m sure many of my readers know that book and some may have heard Fr. Boyle speak, but if it is new to you, I really encourage you to read it and be inspired, as I have been.  Fr. Kiriti read it last October while visiting here.  At one point he told me, “That book is going to be my text”. 

Today (Sunday) is Corpus Christi Sunday.  I guess I’ve not been here for that before, but it’s a bigger event than in the US.  Instead of having 3 masses, there was 1.  The church is holds over 1000 and fills every Sunday, sometimes with SRO, so how were all those folks going to fit in for 1 mass?  Fortunately, I misunderstood the timing and showed up at 8:30 for a 9 am beginning because even at that early hour, I found about 1/3 of the spots taken and people streaming in.  I always sit about 5 pews from the front, so wasn’t aware of what was behind me, but I did observe what I often see, which I call the rump bump.  Someone is sitting on the aisle.  Someone else sees a spot in the middle.  She must either climb over all the feet or she places her backside on the small edge left by the first lady and gently bumps her rump.  She in turn does the RB to the next person and so on until the inside spot is filled and the late comer has the aisle spot.  This seems to happen only with ladies. 

The first 8 rows of the center section has been reserved for the choir.  The pew dedicated to my late husband, Jim, is 5 rows back and has always been the first row behind the choir.  “OH NO, I can’t sit in his pew!  But I always do.  RATS! Oh well, I sit across the aisle. It turns out that 2 of the 3 choirs are joined, thus requiring the extra rows.  Before mass begins a man makes an announcement in Kiswahili.  A lady, very beautiful and beautifully dressed, turns around, looks at me and smiles.  Although we’ve never seen each other before, she knows I don’t understand and tries to gesture, but I don’t get it.  Next to me are 2 young boys, and next to them is their mom.  Hoping she speaks English, I lean over to ask what he said.  “All the men must leave and proceed to the old church (with very hard benches, many backless)”.  Oh, that’s how they will do it.  Mass begins, with the choir singing gloriously.  Oh, they are so good!  Beautiful! I am delighted and while I don’t know the words, I’ve heard this opening hymn many times and hum along.  Everyone is standing and dancing or swaying with the beat.  I couldn’t keep my body quiet if I’d tried.  Shortly though, my joy was somewhat dampened when I realize the mass will be in Kiswahili, so I’ll understand nothing.  As some point 12 people are called to the front. They repeat something, Fr. Ngaruiya puts his hand on each head, saying something, he blesses the group, sprinkles them with holy water and they return to their seats. It took me a few minutes to deduce they had recently become Catholics and were to receive their first communion. This I verified with the mom next to me.

Mass goes on for more than 2 hours.  While I couldn’t get the sermon, despite his sprinkling in a bit of English, I did determine he spoke something about communion in the hand vs on the tongue.  He also demonstrated the proper way to genuflect—which would never work for these tired old knees.  When it was my turn for communion, I stuck out my hand, as I always do.  He gave me the wafer, but only later, when I asked Mary about what he’d said did I learn he was saying it was better we take on our tongues— we should not take it in the hand.  ARGH!

After the mass, the whole congregation was to join a procession down the main street to the center of town and back.  I did not for 2 reasons.  One was because I feared I’d be jostled in that big crowd and fall and two because I had accepted a lunch invitation from a lady with whom John stayed for several years after he had to leave Mji (reason unknown to me). He has told me much about her and I really wanted to meet her.  So when most people were exiting the back of the church I slipped out the side and went back to Mji to await John. 

Since I had sent the car with Hillary to Nakuru for Fr. Kiriti to use, I had to call a taxi.  John offered to get one for me.  The guy came, and wanted ksh 700 ($7).  Although I didn’t know where we were going I knew that was a total ripoff. It pissed me off.  “NO!, Are you nuts???  Not even close! “  “What will you pay?”  “I don’t know where we’re going.  John, tell him where it is and then driver, you can tell me a sensible price.”  They talk.  “Ksh 500”. “No”, and I get out.  “”400?”  By now it’s 10 minutes after the time we’re supposed to arrive (I thought).   Knowing it was still a ripoff I agree, get in and discover the seatbelt receptacle is not there.  Nope, not riding in any car with no seatbelt.  I get out again, really steamed.  John, all alarmed gets in, fumbles around and finds one for a lap belt.  ARG! What to do?  We’re late. If we don’t get out of the church yard NOW, we’ll be held up by the returning procession.  OK, let’s go. 

As we come out the gate, I see the procession returning, just about ½ block away.  Driver has to take a back road, very bumpy, but it’s about a 5-minute trip. ACH!  Worth at most ksh 200 ($2), but I pay him the ksh400 (grudgingly) and get out.  John escorts me inside, where my hostess has not yet arrived from her church, then goes back out.  “Where are you going?”  “I want to get his number so I can call him to come back when we’re ready to leave.” “Absolutely not.  I will never ride with him again!”  He goes to let the driver go. 

Faith arrives, and is just a lovely woman who has taken in many “lost souls” over the years, fed them, housed them, paid school fees for them and given them a full course of love.  This is what has turned John around.  She and I talk for more than an hour while we eat her lovely lunch. When I tell her about the ksh400 taxi guy, she is as outraged as I am.  “NO, that should be ksh200 or even 150.”  She calls a neighbor, who agrees to take us back for 200 andhe has seatbelts that work. 

I’m getting the car back tomorrow, when Hillary brings it back from Nakuru, but if I ever need a driver, I’ll hire Faith’s neighbor.  I nice man, good driver and not a cheater.

Back at home I have a customer.  Monica left SFG to attend a day school in town because her mom couldn’t pay the fees, but also, it’s very windy at SFG and often coldat night.  Evidently it was giving her health issues (asthma?). It is amazing how much warmer it is here, but I’m guessing there is a rise of 500-1000 feet between here and SFG.  

Monica wants to know about surds.  I don’t know what they taught her, but she’s yet another form 3 who doesn’t understand them at all.  Yet when I begin to explain, she gets it pretty fast.  She wants to come again tomorrow after school. 

The power had been out since early this morning. As the light faded, both because it was getting late, but also because it was getting cloudy (and later rained), I could no longer see the book.  RATS!!! Ah, I’ll use my old backpacking head lamp.  Funny looking but perfect.  Mounted on my forehead it could be focused exactly where I wanted it. Problem solved. Full weekend.

#4 – First Day at SFG and Dinner in the Rectory with Archbishop

I finally got to St. Francis Girls today.  It looks so good, trees trimmed, grass cut, a new planting area along the driveway, full of blooming roses bushes.  I am so happy to be here.

Principal, Lydia Ndungo, and I truly hit it off last year.  She had been at SFG only 1 or 2 months when I arrived in June 2018, but we immediately saw eye to eye regarding necessary reforms, disciplinary philosophy, good teaching and bad and much more.  This morning it was like she had been waiting to report her many accomplishments and her continuing frustrations with the many issues she inherited from the previous principal.  I’m so impressed with her knowledge of how things are done properly, according to the education laws here.  She is firm but very respectful of her staff and will brook no nonsense. She has gotten rid of lackluster teachers who were not meeting their goals and replaced them with dedicated, hardworking others.  There is no tenure system here in the private schools, so if a teacher is “not performing”, the common phrase here, which means that teacher’s students consistently do badly on the national exam, they just do not renew the contract.  This is not the case in the public school, where a teacher almost has to commit a felony to be removed—like in the US. 

Lydia had called a meeting to discuss the revival of a staff “merry-go-round”, a common group practice in which each member contributes an agreed upon amount.  That princely sum is awarded to the #1 member, whose name promptly goes to the bottom of the list and #2 to becomes the recipient of the next month’s contributions.  It’s a reasonably painless way to save, except a few years ago, someone absconded with the funds as he left the school.  Lydia led a discussion about how that can be avoided in the future. It seems that some of the staff didn’t want to participate, which is fine, but she asked those people to leave, after which she discussed some previously made decisions and the fact that several of the non-participants were naysaying the whole project.  One wonders why.

Last night John Durango, who henceforth will be called Durango in the Kenyan manner of using surnames, cooked out dinner.  Interesting that he loves to cook, while Mary definitely does not. I had bought a “traditional chicken”, meaning that chicken spent its life uncaged, skittering about to find bugs and other delicacies, while developing strong muscles and tough meat. To tenderize, it is boiled for at least an hour, then dredged the pieces in oil mixed with spices and fried.  It was deliciousand when I said as much he really beamed.  I’m not sure he’s had a lot of recognition and praise in his life.  Like everyone else, he responds very well to positive input, trying even harder, so that when I mentioned that there were dead stalks on the banana tree outside my window, next day he got a machete or panga, as they are known here, and hacked them off.  Having cleared the area, he loosened the soil and tomorrow he will plant a garden.  He also fixed my door which had become very hard to open and close.  He’s so willing. 

When Fr. Kiriti told me he, along with Mary, were to be my baby sitters (as I call them), I was a bit concerned, but now I am so happy he is here.  He’s like a bright spirit, one who has seen the depths, to some degree, and has now happily returned to the light.

Fr Ngaruiya had invited me for dinner tonight, to bid Archbishop Kairo goodbye.  Arriving promptly at 7 I found only Fr. Murage, whom I know from several years ago. Slowly others drifted in, 2 seminarians here on “attachment”, the driver, a Nigerian priest whosename I nevergot, Fr.Ngaruiya,  and 3 or 4 others.  As we ate I counted 9 priests, including the AB and me.  I did feel a bit out of place, as they watched the Women’s World Cup of soccer.  Not being a sports fan, I wasn’t too interested, but I noticed they chatted all through and didn’t seem to focus on it much either.  It was very nice that they invited me, but I couldn’t understand much of the conversation, having not yet retrieved my Kenya ears, which can understand the accent.  Making my goodbyes and thank you’s, I borrowed the arm of one of the seminarians to escort me back to Mji, where I found Durango preparing the dinner (at 8:45, no less!)  Evidently, he and Mary have worked out an agreement—he cooks, she cleans up.  My part is to buy the food.  I keep them supplied with apples, which are a big treat here, so they are content.

                                                                                                             Friday, June 21, 2019

I went to SFG this morning, but didn’t visit any classes, wanting to review vectors before I try to teach them.  The vector applications they use are very different from ours and I forget in between.  Lydia had been called away, but I spent some time with Linda, who teaches forms 3 and 4 math.  She is a holdover from last year and very dedicated.  She has agreed to teach the form 3’s for the math camp, so I think I have a full staff.  That was a big worry for me when Alison, who has taught in our August free math program for the past 3 years, told me she couldn’t come this year. 

I didn’t eat lunch at school, instead, teaching 3 form 3’s about surds (square roots).  That topic is seen as very hard here, although it is one of the easier math concepts. Having a mindset that surds are hard, they kept stumbling, not because they didn’t understand, but because they thought what they understood was wrong—it was too easy.  After we finally dispelled that wrong notion, we moved along easily.  I will see them at lunch hour on Monday to continue that topic, and I will get 3 more struggling girls on Tuesday, and another 3 on Thursday.  It’s in that 1 on 1, or in this case, 3 on 1, where I get the most satisfaction from teaching.  I love to see the relaxation of the face, the smile and pleased expressions as they come to understanding. 

By the time I got home at 3 I was ready to eat the refrigerator, box, contents, cord and all, but contented myself with a apple and a grilled cheese sandwich, with the worst cheese I eaten in years.  So unaged that it actually squeaked as I chewed, and no flavor. There aren’t a lot of amenities I truly miss, but TJ’s Unexpected Cheddarwill be the very first thing I buy upon return.  Maybe one (or more) of my summer visitors can slip a package or 2 in their suitcases.  I had had ½ package left in my refrigerator when I left and it survived perfectly.  I savored that grilled cheese to the last crumb.  Alas it is gone and I know nowhere here to buy good sharp cheddar. Ah, the sacrifices I endure to ensure that children understand the vagaries of vectors and surds!

Promptly at 5, Espedita arrived to take me to her home for dinner.  I hadn’t realized that she is actually a trained chef until I sat in her kitchen watching her chop vegetables with the skill of any TV chef.  Chop, chop, chop, whisk into the pot, chop, chop, chop, stir, look into the other pot, taste, add some spices, wash a pepper and handily chop it, without removing the seeds, which I had always thought necessary.  She did it so fast that I expected to see pieces of her fingers among the onion bits.  But no, it was all from the leg of sheep she deftly dismembered.  She used more garlic for that meal than I would use in a month, maybe more, and onion after onion.  It was all delicious!  And while she cooked we talked about the issues with her autistic son, who is quite bright and very skillful but can’t focus and can’t live alone.  She is so loving and caring about him and has oriented her life so that she can be sure he maximizes his best qualities.  But of course she worries about his future. Such is motherhood.

By 9 I was literally falling asleep in her living room and asked to be delivered back home.  It had been a long but wonderful day.

#3 – Settling

I spent one whole day stumbling and tripping over my suitcases until this afternoon I couldn’t bear it any longer and slowly got most things put away.  I’m sure there will be much rearranging during the summer and I eventually won’t feel so inundated with “stuff” as I find homes for the many things I brought to give away.  Already I gave a young friend 2 very fancy bras that someone had given me.  She was so happy to get pretty, lacy fancy colored undies.  Slowly by slowly as I am able to match things with people, my pile of “give-aways will be pared down.  Also, I will have eaten my chocolate stash.  Yes, I have indulged my chocolate “dependence” by bringing a 2 ½ month supply of Trader Joe’s 72%, fair trade, organic chocolate.  Mathematician that I am, I carefully calculated how much I would need to carry me through the summer.  Because it isn’t very sweet, I’m not asked to share.  They all like sweethere.  Naivas has plenty of sweet, gooey, milk chocolate, right by the checkout, just like in the US, but sweet milk chocolate.  I like barely sweet and injectable strength!

Yesterday afternoon I began to deal with all the things I had left stored at Fr. Kiriti’s house (because this house is used for visitors and I’ve had things disappear or be broken when I returned), plus the contents of my 2 huge suitcases, plus all the shopping we did at my favorite Naivas yesterday.  I’m still adjusting to time and altitude changes, so not moving too fast. About 5pm Fr. Ngaruyia came to see whether the space formerly used by the matron but now vacant, had been cleaned and organized for a visitor.  He stopped in to say hi, and mentioned that Archbishop Kairo is visiting for a few days.  I remember him well from my first years here, in 2006 when there was a big confirmation, after which we had a lovely dinner in the rectory, to which Judy and I were invited.  I don’t really know how to behave in such august circles, so I was just myself. Kairo was just a bishop then, a very kindly, sweet, humble man who perhaps liked being treated like an ordinary person.  It was he who dedicated SFG, in July 2007.  Although he is now retired, he remembered me when I accompanied Fr. Ngaruiya to the rectory to greet him. He’s still a sweet, kindly and humble man who likes being treated like an ordinary person. 

It was raining while Fr. Ngaruiya stood at my door, chatting and then waiting for me to put on shoes and get my jacket, but then it really began to rain!!!  It’s like no other rains I’ve experienced, just a deluge, a true African rain!  He was carrying a huge umbrella, like the one that used to be on the Morton’s salt container.  I grabbed his arm and we sloshed through the wet, working our way around the streams of water rushing down the driveway. 

Later I prepared hamburgers for Mary and John, aka Durango.  The latter had never eatenn one and was a bit leery.  The both watched my preparation, adding cheese on top, mayo, ketchup, tomato slices and the Kenyan version of dill pickles.  John thought about it briefly and began preparing his own, first tasting the pickles, also a new taste treat for him.  To my surprise, he loved the pickles andthe HB.  We had cut extra tomato slices as well as carrot sticks—another first.  Here vegetables are definitely to be cooked.  When we finished, he carefully cut the remaining sticks, slices and a goodly bunch of the pickles into tiny, precise cubes and had his own version of salad. 

I never did know John very well after he entered his teen years.  As a boy he was the most helpful kid in Mji, coming in regularly to empty our trash, cleaning and generally making our lives I bit easier.  Then he hit the teens, became more withdrawn, secretive, quiet, finally doing something at odds with Julia and Fr. Kiriti.  He had to leave to live with an uncle.  During those years his life was a bit of a rough patch, but as he told me, he has seen the light, has really reverted to that sweet young boy we both loved and is on track to attend a technical college to become an electrician.  He loves hard physical work, loves to build and to learn how to do new things.  I’ve advised him to also learn plumbing and other construction skills with the goal of someday becoming a contractor.  I know one contractor here in Naivasha who does excellent work.  His price was too high for us to use him to build SFG, and we’ve been paying the price of inferior work ever since.  Retrofitting is more expensive than paying to do it right in the beginning!  Important lesson. 

As we talked I could see the possibilities growing in his mind.  We talked about the value and satisfaction of doing excellent work, being a person of integrity.  He smiled and his eyes were shining.  Time will tell, but he has real potential.

Mary, who was very disappointed with her KCSE results, will study with Kenya Water.  It’s not clear to me what she will do, but she has assured me that she is happy with that prospect.  Another of the Mji kids, Evans, is already doing that, so I imagine she has spoken with him.  I had urged her to retake form 4 and the KCSE, but she thought only about 30 seconds before soundly rejecting that suggestion. 

Yesterday afternoon, another Mji girl, Lucy, came to visit, bringing her 4-year old son, a real fire-ball.  Lucy had run away from Mji at 13.  She had had enough of school, punishments and lack of success.  She was pretty much lost to the streets for maybe 8 years, but now is quite settled, mother of 3 at age 24, married, at least in the Kenyan definition (living together), but seems quite happy.  She described her husband as “a good man.”  I couldn’t be happier for her.  She’s had a very hard life.  Now I’m seeing the sweet Lucy, open, wanting to talk and trying very hard to be a good wife and mom.  It gives me such hope for young people who seem lost and in a downward spiral—both she and John have come from the depths.  I’d like to think that their return is a reflection of the love they received at Mji from Julia and Fr. Kiriti in their growing up years. I’m learning a lot about the heaviness of being an orphan, not just here, but in listening to a recently published book, The Orphan Train.  I recommend it, but there are some really sad parts.  It’s a novel, but without doubt, reflects the terrible lives of orphans in the early 1900’s when children were piled onto trains, taken to rural American and given to families.  Many were abused, ill-treated and sometimes killed. 

Enough for now.  Shortly, I will be going to SFG for my first visit of the year.

Just as I wrote that, a terrible racket began at my entrance.  John is repairing my door, which is very hard to open and close.  Bless him!!!!!