#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.

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