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.