#10 – This & That

Lots going on, but nothing that would make a good story, or that I’ve wanted to write about. 

I think I’ve mentioned that during the 50 minutes students have after lunch before classes recommence I make myself available to anyone who wants help. Yesterday I had just one customer, at least in the beginning.  A form 1, she brought me a totally unsuitable question for form 1’s and was terrified her teacher would give her that question on an exam.  “If he gives us a question like that, I won’t be able to do it and I’ll fail.”  “Your teacher would never give you such a complicated question. No one would get it. The whole class would fail.”  (later the teacher confirmed it). But nonetheless I mapped out how to proceed with such a question, finding the surface area of a certain solid. After I finished a fairly lengthy discourse, I asked, “Could you answer a question like that now?”  Very dubious expression.  “Shall we walk through that again?”  nod. But after the second time through she thought she might be able.  She told me her mother really wants her to learn math, but it’s very hard for her. I explained the math camp we’ll hold an Mji for 2 weeks in August.  When I mentioned it was free, her face lit up.  But…she lives in Nairobi.  Too far away. Did she have any relatives living in Naivasha who would keep her for 2 weeks?  No.  Did she have a classmate whose family might let her stay?  Maybe.  Later it occurred to me perhaps she could stay at Mji.  There are rooms here and it’s quite safe.  Had to run it by Fr. Ngaruiya.  His stock answer.  No problem. Now we just have to convince the mother that her daughter will be OK.  Her teacher tells me she is a pretty weak student, not just in math, so maybe mom will jump at the chance.  If she stays here I can help her at night too and the other Mji kids will be her and willing to help her as well.

Today (Friday) I had perhaps 10 form 1’s.  They gathered around, some having to read my sloppy writing upside down, but we nailed 4 or 5 questions in that 50 minutes.  They went away very happy, so I think I’ve made some headway. I’m glad the form 1’s are coming. If we can address their issues early on, maybe they’ll be able to understand what their form 2, 3, and 4 teachers are trying to tell them.  All the math teachers tell me the same thing (and it is definitely not news) “The kids fear math!!!!”  I don’t see my job so much as leading them through a certain topic or question, but to convince them that math is doable, necessary and FUN!  Definitely uphill work!

Fr. Ngaruiya goes to school, either St. Francis or Ndingi, 3 evenings a week for 1 ½ to 2 hour sessions, working with both forms 3 and 4.  One of the teachers who lives on campus is often in the classroom, 7:30 to 9.  Yet they fear.  But when I slow it down and make sure each part is clear, they get it.  I see it in the smiles, the more relaxed body language. I know they can understand.  If we could just convince them of it! 

Principal Lydia doesn’t have an easy job.  Every day, new fires to put out.  One girl with typhoid has to be sent home, several with major cramps and no hot water bottle (I’ll get 2 for them), some inconsiderate behavior in the staff room, parents bring their daughters late after midterm break—can’t pay the school fees, another girl who seems to suffer from major hypochondria. Lydia has to be an expert in everything. Truly, she has to be Solomon. 

Saturday morning

11:01 and I am still in bed, answering emails, texts, talking on the phone and just being a lazy lunk.  Need to get cracking soon, as we are invited to lunch at David Mungai’s house.  You may recall he’s one of the oldest of the Mji kids.  He’s a very sweet guy, full of laughter.  Right now he uses his 5 years of medical training at the Naivasha Water Company, doing water testing.  It’s not nearly challenging enough, but has allowed him to make that move from student to independent adult, able to support himself and be a responsible citizen. Of course, that is our goal for all the Mji kids.  Several are there, but most are still moving along.  Mungai’s future plan is to put himself through the final year (s??) of medical school to become an MD, his great dream.

David Wekesa, another Mji boy, who has had more of a rough go of that big step into adulthood, came to see me a few nights ago.  Last summer he was not in a good place at all and had done some things that were hard to accept.  But the young man who walked in my door 2 nights ago was a different person, clear-faced and open, settled and truly repentant.  He had come to apologize for all he has done and to tell me his just wants to get his life together, to decide where he can best be of service and to see what training he might need.  We have sent him to 2 different 2-year courses, neither of which was a success. In fact he never finished his second one.  We talked about his being a volunteer in a street boys home I heard about some years ago. I’m not even sure it still exists, but I’m impressed that he wants to share how he sank to the bottom and is now coming back up.  He wants to help other boys who have lost their way, to find something in their lives worth living for.  What a gift! It makes me cry.  I cried last year in despair for him, and now my tears are of joy.

There are others who have not made that teen to adult transition yet, but Gregg Boyle of Tattoos on the Heartfame keeps me going.  I can now see they will come around with patience and love.  I hope I last to see them all as adults.  Now is just the beginning.

#9 – Problems & Visitors

Having taken my time this morning, I left here about noon, but had to see Mwangi, the mechanic who keeps the car running, to pay him for doing that important job, then stopped to see Joyce, the seamstress to order 50 more African shopping bags.  She has a small shop, right next door to a jewelry/clothing shop owned by her friend, Milka.  This is my first time to see them both this summer, so I couldn’t run off immediately. Consequently I arrived at school very late, almost 1.  They had assumed I wasn’t coming, and Millicent, one of the math teachers had to chastise me, which she loves to do—a big tease.  My practice has been to work on math with individuals or small groups of students from 1:10 to 2, during a free time.  Sat down with a form 3 girl who asked me about a “relative rates” question. Generally these are questions about 2 vehicles moving at different rates—you know the dumb questions that are so hard for kids, “If train A leaves the station at ….. and train B…..”. These are the questions cited to show math is complicated, hard and irrelevant.  True on all counts for this kind of question—-except it does help kids learn to think and reason.  The very first question she asked me about, I couldn’t see—just couldn’t figure it out. I asked could I have time later to think about it and I’d answer it tomorrow.  Yes, of course.  After careful analysis, a drawing of the situation, I confidently performed the required calculations and…..got an answer that I didn’t believe.  Math teacher A comes along and I say, “Can you see what’s wrong with my reasoning?”  He reads the question, then, instead of correcting my reasoning, tells me how they do it in Kenya.  While I can understand what he did, I couldn’t see at all why that would work. Teacher B comes along and does the same thing.  Soon I find myself giving my Teacher Philosophy 1A lecture, about teaching is worthwhile onlyif it conveys understanding of a concept.  I didn’t get the concept.  Finally teacher B listens to my reasoning.  She doesn’t find a flaw.  In fact, she sees there is an analysis and a concept, but she doesn’t quite get it.  We agree we’ll discuss it again (she has to go to class).  Later she tells me she teaches it according to the way the books says to do it (no explanation of why), but admits it never made sense to her either.  AHA! Progress.  Just FYI, we looked up the answer in the teacher’s key (which is about 80% reliable).  I didn’t get the correct answer doing my way, nor did teacher’s A and B, doing it the Kenyan way.  For anyone who is interested, I’ll write the question at the end of this.  Anyone who can explain how to solve it and sends me the solution will receive my undying gratitude!!

Not long after I get back home, a knock at the door.  It’s David Mungai, one of the Mji kids who completed a 5 year medical studies degree (doesn’t confer an MD).  I had expected him to come last week, but he didn’t show and no call/text.  Actually I was delighted to see him.  He looks so good at age 26, wearing a nice fitting suit to his job in the Naivasha Water Department.  He seems happy, and is very open with me about some issues we had discussed last year. He seems to have resolved them very well.  We had a long talk, he stayed for dinner, and the 4 of us chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes and carrots which we added to some browned stew meat.  John added herbs and spices while we all joked and laughed.  These kids, who have lived together as siblings for many years, love to tease and challenge, just like any other siblings.  Such a fun evening.  He has invited us to his house for lunch next Saturday. 

Wednesday July 3

About the problem.  It wasn’t hard at all, and my answer was, in fact, correct.  I hate it when the answer in the key is wrong!!!  Turns out teacher A had forgotten the Kenyan method, which I had discovered, reading the book.  Imagine that!  I had a harder time convincing them of the method, than I did the student later on. But both methods yielded the same answer, so I think mine is valid.  I still did include the question at the end of this, but you’ll wonder why it stumped me. 

Diana, studying to be a preschool teacher, had told me about the wonderful school where she teaches, not far from SFG.  It’s run under the auspices of a US foundation, Oasis for Orphans, which seems to be a very big organization, running schools and orphanages all over Kenya and perhaps other countries.  Diana praised Ann Smith, the director, so much that I went to see the school and meet Ann.  What I met was a slender blonde woman, probably in her 40’s, judging from the ages of her children, intense, totally devoted to her school and the children and showing her Kenyan teachers it’s possible to have an orderly classroom without beating the children.  Her particular school includes a home for children who either have no home or have abusive parents.  Many of the children have been traumatized and act out accordingly, but the school has a counseling staff and a policy of love, not punish.  Those I saw were probably 3 to 4 and were sitting, lying on the floor, carefully coloring in the typical US coloring books.  They giggled and played like contented kids.  Diana had told me when she began with her class 10 4-yar olds, she despaired they would ever settle.  She said they hit and scratched each other, even biting. Sometimes she was the victim.  She cried at night from frustration, questioning her choice of vocations.  But over time her gentle ways have prevailed.  She loves her class and can now see how love works better than beating kids into submission. 

Ann and I spoke for some time about everything—made a real connection. She and her family, husband and 4 children came to Kenya 9 years ago (I think I have that right).  Her children attended international schools, the Kenyan schools being far behind US education and very harsh.  Their foundation supports school fees, like we do, but on a much larger scale, and they actually run orphanages and schools themselves.  The backers are evangelicals.  She told me they’d had big problems finding high schools for the children they take in, and were considering starting a high school themselves.  When I told her about SFG she was perked right up.  They already have one girl with us, but she has never been there, nor did she know much about it.  She wants to visit next week, meet Lydia and see whether they want to send more kids to us.  If they find that Archbishop Ndingi is a good fit for the boys, it would ease their issues greatly.  It might be the beginning of a good partnership. 

While we spoke, it began to rain, so loudly I could hardly hear her.  The way up from the main road was the usual dirt road, pot-holed and rutted, full of jutting rocks and very steep.  I began to wonder whether my car could make it.  So, when the rain began, I suddenly thought about the steep dirt road turning to mud.  ARGH!!!!  In truth it was a bit of a nightmare going back down.  I drove so slowly it didn’t register on the odometer, but even at that I could feel the tires slipping sideways.  It was scary and I was greatly relieved to finally get to the tarmacked main road.

Back home in main Naivasha, 10 minutes later, I found it had not rained at all.  Amazing mini-climates all over this area.

I also found a refrigerator and cupboard as bare as Mother Hubbard’s. RATS!  We managed to scrounge up a meal of rice, with onions, bits of sausage and some egg scrambled in and spiced with soy sauce—my version of fried rice, but no Asian would ever recognize it, though it was tasty enough.  Fortunately neither John nor Mary has ever eaten anything non-Kenyan other than what Judy and I have fed them over the years, so to them, it was fried rice.

Later, Tylon, another of the Mji kids, called to say he wanted to come visit for a few days.  I suspect that food during his break from engineering school may be a bit short and he wants to come home.  It seems the universities are on a long break right now and some of our older Mji kids are scrambling a bit for living.  I could be hosting 10 or 12 before long.  That’s fine, except my tiny kitchen has space for 4 to sit, 6 is a squeeze.  We’ll need to open the Mji dining room and cook in their kitchen if too many more appear, but I love it that as they learn I am here, they call, drop by or text, checking in.  We’re planning our annual Mji reunion for August 12, the day after the ETW reunion.  I have been here 3 weeks, 1/3 of my visit.  Where has it gone.  It feels like I’ve just arrived.


Problem:  How long will it take a car to overtake a truck under the following conditions.

At t = 0, the car is 10 meters behind the truck and is traveling at 100 km/hr. The truck is 10 meters long and traveling at 50 km/hr.  The car is 3 meters long.  Essentially, what is t when the car’s back bumper passes the truck’s front bumper? (answer from teacher’s key:  24 sec).  My incorrect answer 1.656 seconds (not at all reasonable). 

#8 – Big Doins and Not so Big

As I wrote in #7, I did not attend the ordination but even my lone mzunguface was not missed among the many people who flocked to the church.  There were 3 to be confirmed, but Fr. Paul I think was the most well-known around here. I hadn’t realized who it was, as there are manyFrs. Paul and John. 

I never got to the market, having enjoyed my free day too long.  When I finally got myself showered and shampooed, dressed and chores prioritized the 4-hour event was over.  I was “caught” in my grubby jeans, the most comfortable, but frayed at the cuff and faded (perfectly cool for the younger set).  I had taken my laundry to the rectory machine, for which I am so, so grateful, but as I came back, people were boiling out of the church, hungry and heading for the nearest loo.  Many eyed me curiously, but I just smiled as if I were in my best finery and walked on.  Soon Sr. Irene came (to use my loo) and to chat.  When her fellow sisters were ready to leave, I walked down with her, but as we passed the old church, filled with folks greeting Fr. Paul, she pulled me in so I could see who he was.  Grubbies and all, she we wove passed the crowd, down to the front, where the new Fr was giving someone a blessing.  When he looked up and spotted me he gave me a big hug and a blessing.  So sweet!  And I think my being escorted by a nun and blessed the father gave me sufficient credibility, I was forgiven my shabby appearance.

By then the way out was jammed with people, cars and piki-piki’s.  Later I sent John to the Naivas with the list of “must haves” for our dinner. 

As Irene and I ambled down the driveway, side-stepping a big bus, it suddenly stopped and I heard, MARGO!!.  Out of the bus rushed a lady and I’m thinking, “Ach! I don’t know who this is!” But just as she gave me a huge hug, I realized it was Regina, just in time for me to say, REGINA, totally covering my initial confusion. She is one of the very first teachers I met on my first visit to Ndingi in 2005, a top-drawer math and physics teacher, alas, no longer at Ndingi.  The best teachers get hired by the TSC (govt) and the private schools are left with the newly minted to train and then lose to the TSC.  We “how are you”d and agreed she would come visit soon.  Before she climbed back on the bus, I greeted the students, telling them “You have the best math and physics teacher in all of Kenya”, which may well be true.  She beamed and the kids all clapped and yelled. Then off they went in the dust.                                                                    

Slowly by slowly, old friends are dropping by, Mji kids all grown up, teachers, friends, old and new.  I love seeing them all, though sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed—still needing down time to rest. 

As dusk was settling, Mary came back from the rectory with my laundry, but when I began to hang my undies on my “pants hanger”, an ingenious device I discovered some years ago, I realized they’d not been washed.  Hmmm!  I know they’d had some water problems earlier in the day, but thought is was just that so many people were using so many spigots the tanks had run dry and had to be pumped full again.  Next day one of the Fr. John’s explained it was actually a pump failure, right in the middle of a huge crowd of people here to celebrate.  “It was TERRIBLE!!”, he told me, but with a big smile.  I was reminded of the Christmas eve when I had a houseful of family and one of the 2 toilets clogged.  My old “Plumber’s Friend” had deteriorated beyond use and Mark sped to the hardware store, arriving just at closing time.  Home he came with my Christmas present, a new, top-quality “friend” complete with a big red bow!  Best gift ever!

Sunday (yesterday) at mass, I was again able to access in my usual pew, dedicated to my late husband, where I often have a chat with him as I sit, listening to something I can’t understand.  I began to feel light-headed during a long standing-up part, and sat down, head in my lap.  Later I noticed the fans were not on.  Over 1000 people in the huge church, each inhaling his/her share of the oxygen, exhaling a similar amount of CO2 and no fan to bring in fresh air.  No Wonder!!!

Once I got outside I was fine. 

Big Esther, the older of the 2 Esthers at Mji, came to visit, bringing her 5-year old son, Johnson, a darling kid who, the first time he saw me at age 1, screamed in terror, and 1-year old Alvie, a placid child who looked at me as if to say, “Whatever”.  Esther didn’t want to go to high school, so we sent her for salon training, by which she supports herself and the 2 boys, no husband being evidenced.  She has promised to come Tuesday afternoon, bringing a selection of pink polish with which she will decorate my bare toenails. No proper Kenyan lady would be seen with unpainted toes, and while I’m not often accused of being a proper lady, Kenyan or otherwise, I do enjoy a pink toe.  Maybe I’ll be so daring as to have a daisy on the large ones!  WooWoo!  Margo, you’re really going over the top!

In the late afternoon Fr. Ngaruiya dropped by, ostensibly to visit, but I suspect a secondary mission to discover why I wasn’t at the ordination, since I’d earlier told him I would be.  My plea of being too old and decrepit to sit and stand for over 4 hours, with no potty breaks was accepted and we moved on to our usual discussion of math and teaching.  I say discussion, but discussions often morph into debates, which we both enjoy, but never resolve.  I finally challenged him to observe me teaching, pointing out that virtually every Kenyan teacher who has done so was nice enough to claim they’d learned some things about simplifying processes and even how to make math more fun.  Stay tuned for further reports.

It’s now Monday morning, 10:56 am and I am still in my jammies, having been writing emails, writing this post, eating my breakfast and unsuccessfully trying the sudoku.  Often I must let it rest, (fester?) in my brain until later, when I notice the one clue I missed earlier.

I’ve just finished repairing all the typos.  Now 11:10. Maybe it’s time to dress and get on with the day.

#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.