Wednesday, July 6, 2011
#8 A Day of Small Adventures
It didn’t begin well. I was sleepless last night, so was late to school to teach a class in FOIL/Factor. I had quickly tossed down some toast, as there was no milk for cereal and rushed off to school. I beeped the horn for the gateman, as is the custom, but he looked somewhat flummoxed as he suddenly realized that the night man, who had just left, had not turned over the key. RATS! Couldn’t drive in and didn’t feel comfortable leaving the car on the road. I sat for almost ½ hour, while the night man biked back, by which time the class was over. Since the form 4’s have begun their mock national exam today, I didn’t have much else to do until another class I was to teach at 3.
As it turned out, Jecinta (p) needed to go to town (about 6-8 miles away) and I needed to buy milk + a few other items, we left to do our errands.
In the supermarket I found many things I couldn’t live without, but having come with only 3 things on my mental list—one of which I forgot to buy! I love to roam that supermarket just to see what they have. Unlike American SM’s where you often can’t find someone to direct you to an item, here every aisle has 1 or 2 employees lounging about, there to prevent pilfering. They chat and lean against the shelves, often blocking the way—cushy but BORING job! As we shopped, Ben called Jecinta to say he was coming to SFG, so they agreed he would take her back.
And when I got outside, there he was sitting in the truck filled with big bags of flour for the kitchen. I asked him whether the butchery I was headed for was a good one. He assured me it was the best in town. Waiting for the hamburger (aka mince meat) I questioned the young butcher. “I’ve been told this is the best butchery in town. Is that true?” He looked at me oddly, as he tried to figure out what I had said, then, as he got it, his face lighted up. “It’s not for me to say, Madam, it’s for you to tell me.” “Well, I haven’t had any of your meat, yet, but Ben the Catholic parish accountant has just told me you are the best.” Again a moment to interpret and them a grin. “There was another mzungu lady here a few days ago,” studying me to be sure I wasn’t that particular mzungu. “Yes, she has gone back to the US.” Joined by the young woman who worked with him, we chatted about why I’m here. I’m sure he will remember me and be sure to give me good meat. The more disreputable butcheries will sell old, tough meat to unsuspecting tourist types, so I made sure he knew I wasn’t of that sort.
As I emerged, I remembered I’d wanted to get some school supplies. I am constantly irked by students who don’t have their own equipment and thought I could save myself that irritation by supplying. There is no store nearby SFG, so my growling at them doesn’t help. Off I headed to the Catholic bookstore, where Jecinta had assured me I would find the best prices. What I needed was some rulers and some rubbers—no, not what you are thinking, this is the term for eraser. You can imagine it’s hard for me to tell the girls to buy their own “rubbers” and not borrow! Jecinta collapsed in laughter when I told her what that means in the US.
This is the first time I’ve walked the streets here, having been at school so much and also wanting to allow my knee to repair. I love looking at the people, the small shops, the street vendors—the general ambiance here. So my head was in the clouds and I didn’t register, “Hello” and again, “Hello” behind me until Jecinta caught up with me, on her way to the bookshop too, to buy new pens for the girls for their exams.
I wish I had a picture of this crowded, somewhat
dingy shop, which does a brisk trade in copying documents. Three men filled most of the aisle, waiting for the ancient copier to complete their job. As we waited, I remembered that Mithlet, whom I know from 2006 when she was a student at Ndingi, now works there. Where was she? Not in, we’re told. Just then Ben arrives to pick up Jecinta. Since he is the boss of the bookshop, he goes behind the counter, but can’t find the erasers, determines they don’t have the pens Jecinta wants, and after they are both found, can’t find the prices, because nothing is marked. It’s so typical—everything moving at a pace that is hard for westerners like me to understand. Just as Ben is saying I can take my purchases and he will inform me of the cost later, Mithlet arrives. Immediately things move. She knows all the prices and where things are kept. She’s clearly an efficient and responsible employee and I think again what a waste. She was a great math student, far and away the strongest of the 12 kids I tutored during the August break that year. She is trying to save her money so she can go on to school, but the shop can’t pay very well.
My next stop was the big market, held only on Wednesday and Saturday. It’s off the main streets, in an enclosed area, chock-a-block with stalls and wares.
I bought tomatoes, onions, mangos, peas (from a lady named Agnes who used to do my laundry for me. Saw a beautiful watermelon I wanted to get for the children, then realized it was too heavy to carry. Already my bags were full. The sellers mostly quoted me fair prices and were very grateful for my business. I love shopping there b/c the (mostly) women are living on subsistence earnings, just trying to eke out a living to feed their children.
As I approached the market I met Dominic, an Archbishop Ndingi graduate. I had interviewed him in 2005 b/c he was going to be sent home for non-payment of fees. Now I know why. He is #6 in a family of 10 children, 7 boys, 3 girls. When I met him the family had 3 students high school and couldn’t pay the fees for all. I remember him well as an earnest, somewhat naïve boy, so sweet. He told me then he wanted to be a priest, but later, when he took the national exam his score was too low. Undeterred, he repeated form 4 and took the exam again. He has now completed his first 3 years in the seminary and has taken his first vows, still earnest, sweet and a bit naïve. After all my errands he came to visit and have tea in my modest kitchen.
I’m now experiencing the “fruits of my labors” as it were. Young people I met as students keep showing up, each with a story of her/his journey since we met last. I even encountered Joyce, one of my math students in Life Bloom in 2006. I was shopping in the small street market across the road from the parish compound on Saturday when suddenly there she was. It’s so cool! More about Life Bloom in a later email.
All for now, Margo