#1 On the Road Again

Sorry this is out of order

#1  June 19, 2010  On the road (air) again.

And so the trip begins again.  This is my 6th visit to Naivasha.  Each time it’s a zoo getting out of the house.  Make sure there is enough food for the cat.  Did her potty pan get cleaned out? Did I cancel Netflix and newspaper?  Get house ready for renters.  Packing, packing, packing, books for little kids, books for big kids, books for me to read, calculators and of course stuff for me for 2 months.  This year I decided to indulge my chocolate habit—four of those 1# Trader Joes chocolate bars, the 72% cocoa, the real stuff.  It’s like mainlining it!  I permit myself 3 squares per day.

No wonder my bags are so heavy!  Yesterday I came to the sorry conclusion that I wasn’t going to make it with only 2 suitcases.  Trying to be efficient I decided to stop by Sears on my way back from San Jose, from picking up Victoria Bohin, my 17-year old traveling companion from Portland.  Of course I’m looking for the biggest and the cheapest, which wasn’t what they had on sale, but I thought maybe one would do.  As I approached the checkout I suddenly remembered I had done the same thing last year, had gone to Marshall’s and bought a crappy, cheap bag, which had gone with me to Kenya and back and was now residing in a back closet!  ACH!  Again I am reminded of the vagaries of aging.

This morning, thinking I had all the space in the world, I’m happily stuffing books and shoes.  I call upon Victoria, who does crew and is very strong.  “Weigh yourself with and without this suitcase.”  Uh oh.  The permitted 22 kgs is equivalent to about about 48 #.  RATS!!!  “Can you weigh this suitcase”  OK, a few #’s under, transfer, repack, reweigh.  It’s crazy, but in the end, I managed to get in virtually everything, plus packing up my backpack and purse.  With 10 minutes to departure time, I hopped into the shower!  Yup!  It’s last-minute-Margo again.  I always manage to make it, but I do manage to make it exciting for myself.

#2 On line at last

Oh, the glory of easy email access!  How I missed that this week!  I had been told by Safaricom I’d need to go to an Apple shop in Nairobi to get a down load.  Who knew Apple even had a presence in Kenya?   Didn’t know when I would get there.  But angels show up in the most unexpected ways.  This one appeared last night, when Fr Kiriti invited me to dinner at the rectory.  Staying here in the parish is Thomas, 6’2” or more, blond, a young volunteer from the Netherlands.  It came up in conversation that I had this problem, b/c I use a mac.  He said, “I use a mac and I am connected with a Safaricom modem.”  Oh, music to my ears!  Right after dinner he came up to the orphanage with me and in no time at all had me up and running!  Bliss!!

There is so much to tell, so many little things and I know I won’t remember them all.

Victoria and I spent Tuesday doing errands in town (mostly at Safaricom, where I now have frequent-visitor status) and settling in.  Wednesday, Fr Kiriti had to be in Nakuru, so Ben, the accountant and good friend, took us to St Francis Girls (SFG) in the old, dusty, rattling, no-shocks truck.  About ½-way there, the engine stumbled, coughed and died.  Oh RATS!  We could have walked from there, maybe 2 miles, but we had all of Victoria’s stuff, 2 suitcases, mostly full of stuff she had brought to the girls.  My backpack was full of calculators and heavy.  Ben, ever resourceful, called Fr Kiriti’s assistant, Fr Morage (I think that’s it).  While we waited, various men from across the street wandered over to see whether they could help and to investigate what had occurred, and see the 2 mzungus.  Africans are very curious by nature.  They pushed the truck over further to the side and, as men will do, peered under the hood, shook their heads and drifted off.  Shortly Fr Morage arrived with Paul, a seminarian also here in the parish and we quickly arrived at SFG, just in time for tea break.  Proceeding to the dining hall, I greeted the girls and introduced Victoria.

We were told over and over again, how excited the girls were to have a visitor, and true enough, they immediately took Victoria over.  Every one, all 200 of them, want to be her new best friend, but I note now that she and her penpal, Theresia, are now fast friends.

Later that day I taught the Form 4’s in math, and Victoria was there, being just another student.  It was heartwarming, but not surprising, that it took all of perhaps 30 seconds for her to be comfortable here.  I hadn’t known her well, but just on the trip over could see she adapts easily and can handle unexpected situations with aplomb.

Thursday, when I arrived, Esther, the matron, and Jecinta, the principal, were discussing getting Victoria a uniform.  She and I had considered it and she had indicated she’d like to wear her own clothes, but they assured me that now she wanted a uniform.  We agreed that Kenya Help would purchase it and it would be left for use of any new girl who needed, but could not afford one.

Later that day I saw Victoria and Esther, loaded with parcels, on their way back to school.  They had come to town via matatu and I was disappointed that I didn’t get to introduce her to the matatu experience, but Esther is wonderful and I’m glad Victoria had a chance to get to know her.

Friday, there she was, all togged out in black sweater, white shirt, black tie, plaid trousers and clunky black shoes (which will get dusty and muddy, and must be kept shined)  Already the teachers were happy with her and her adaptability.  I hardly saw her, as she was now happily hanging out with the girls.

The final construction of classrooms and the “sanitorium”, which we might know as the infirmary, are now complete, forming a quadrangle.  The 4th side was still under construction when I left last summer.  The school looks so beautiful and I think again of the pasture I saw when leaving in 2005, with cows, sheep, goats and a few zebras grazing.  Now there is a school with 200 girls and a capacity for 320.  The 18 form 4’s will graduate in November, to be replaced by 80 new form 1’s in January.  When the 2nd and 3rd classes, which were not quite full, move on and are replaced with full classes, the school will be bulging.  Two hundred girls are a lot!  Can’t imagine what 320 will look like, but you can be sure I will never learn all their names.

Now I want to write about Friday, on which SFG celebrated the first ever cultural day.  They had scheduled it to occur when Victoria was here, which was so great for her (and for me).  The format was a competition among the 3 (eventually to be 4) houses, Kenya Help, Longenott and a name I can’t remember, but will tell you later.  Each house had a number of “items”, choral verse recitations, tribal dances, singing, skits and plays, speeches and even an eating contest!  Competition is a big part of school traditions here, but I think this was a fairly original idea.

I arrived just in time for the beginning and was seated among the dignitaries in the front row, facing the stage at one end of the dining hall (see www.kenyahelp.us if you want to see pictures of it).  At a table in front of us were the judges, English teacher Patricia, Kiswhahili teacher, and the timer, a history teacher whose names I don’t know.  To the right at a table were 5 student MC’s.  I could feel the energy in the room—those girls were pumped!

One incredible performance followed another.  The dancing was amazing, and in many cases remarkably sexy, combining traditional tribal dancing with American dancing they’ve seen on TV.  Among the most moving performances were 3 speeches, in which girls described the conditions of women in Kenya and why it is vital that women be educated.  They are definitely aware of why they are there!  One girl recited an original poem describing being violated by her own father!  I was in tears.  I have no idea whether she had experienced that herself, but I rather doubt it, as it would be too shameful for her to speak about.  Jecinta, sitting next to me, said that rape of daughters by fathers and uncles is become even more of a problem.  Later it occurred to me that a course in self defense would be a valuable addition to the SFG curriculum.  She readily agreed and I think that will happen, as she knows of a group in Nairobi which provides that training.  But what struck me is that the girls are under no illusions.  They know that they must be ever-vigilant.  These 4 years in high school provide them with a welcome respite from always having to look over their shoulders.  The school is surrounded by high walls and thorn hedges.  There are guards at the gate and strong locks on dorm doors.  An alarm system has been installed and the nearby police are readily responsive.

At the end of the day I was told the girls had 1 week to prepare for this event.  Unbelievable!  I had imagined they had been preparing for months.  The dance groups and choral recitations were so together!  However, performance and various kinds of competitions are a big form of entertainment here.  Students memorize long recitations seemingly with ease.  Yesterday there were virtually no “flubs” as far as I could tell.

The eating contest pitted one representative from each house.  They gulped down 2 buns about the size of a small hamburger bun and a bottle of orange soda.  UGH!  It was pretty gross and not surprisingly, Margery, a form 3 girl I remembered well from the past, was the winner.  She is someone who will be noticed wherever she goes, strong, outspoken, huge energy, tall and bright.  One of the other contestants didn’t fare too well and was last seen running from the dining hall in great distress.  (she was fine)

The last competition was for Miss St Francis Xavier of 2010.  The girls had fashioned gowns from lengths of pink cloth, from leaves in a traditional dress and even from fan folded newspaper—very original.  Their parade would rival the fanciest of Paris fashion houses!  They were sultry, sexy and beautiful.  Each was given a question to answer.  The winner, 4th former, Effie, wore a traditional African dress and head wrap, fashioned from lessos (lengths of fabric wound around the waist to keep clothes clean).  Her question was “How do you plan to use your education to benefit Kenya?”  Her impromptu reply was that the future belongs to the women, who carry the culture and the education, wherever they go.”  It was more than that, but that’s what I remember.

Unfortunately by that time the battery of Fr Kiriti’s video camera had exhausted and I missed some really good “items”.  The school had hired Paul, a young cameraman to record the event.  He promised to give me a copy after he edits the material.  I hope it will be of the quality to put on our website.  I think anyone would be impressed.  I was.

Paul was a personable young man who helped me figure out the basics of the camera.  I had used it once or twice, but couldn’t remember which buttons to push and didn’t think to read the manual the night before.  In return I gave him an extra tape when his store ran out.

There is much more to tell, but this is already too long.  Thanks for hanging in this far.

I will try to post this on a blog that was set up before I left home.  The name is Margo in Kenya.  Hope I can get it to work.

Love to all,


ps  I will write another post shortly, explaining to new readers who some of the players are (including me) and some of the terms.  right now I have to go to school to tutor the form 4’s.