Sunday, June 16. Houston.
Packed at last, the day started at 3:30 a.m. driving Nathan to Hobby Airport to join members of his Scout Troop for a flight to Denver, drive to Philmont Scout Ranch and ten days trekking in the back country of New Mexico.
We decided to stay up when we got home, hoping that would help us sleep on our 4:10 p.m., nine hour flight to London. Hah.
After breakfast and church, Miranda drove us to Bush Intercontinental Airport. We breezed through security with the loss of only one oversized tube of shaving cream and were sitting in the waiting area in less than 20 minutes. About an hour before the flight, we heard our names called and went up to the desk wondering if we’d been bumped. Instead they upgraded us to premium economy — wider seats and more legroom. I’m not sure what we did to deserve it, but we didn’t argue.
As we waited, we watched thunderstorms blot out the view of the airport through the window, but we boarded on time and left only 30 minutes late.
Premium economy gave us a choice of meals, fancier headphones, and toothpaste, but what we really wanted to do was sleep. We didn’t really.
Monday, June 17. London and Nairobi.
Eventually, the lights came on in the cabin. The very polite young attendant brought us breakfast. Bruschetta with cheese. Absolutely vile. Michelle began to feel queasy, the fasten seat belt light came on, and there were no air sickness bags in the seat back. That last half hour before we landed was a bit tense, but we landed, on time and with stomach contents intact.
A bus ride from Terminal 5 to 3, a pass through security (much politer in Britain than in Houston), and we emerged into the shop-lined waiting area. It didn’t seem all that different from any large US airport.
A couple of hours later we were aboard the British Airways flight to Nairobi — no upgrade this time, but also no air sickness.
Finally, about 10 p.m. local time we touched down in Nairobi and descended the stairs to a bus that whisked us to immigration and customs. Within an hour we were through and met our smiling driver, Calisters.
It was dark as we drove so we didn’t get much of an impression of the area. All seemed to be going well until we were about a mile from the Rafiki Village. A front end loader blocked the road with a sign saying the road was closed until 3 a.m. Motor bikes were getting through, but not cars. Finally, Calisters gave the guard a small financial inducement and he let us through. We got to within a few hundred yards of the gate, but work crews were tearing the road up and there was no way through. So we parked and Calisters help us lug our baggage to the gate and through to the guest house.
It was not long until we were in bed.
Tuesday, June 18. Rafiki Village.
Neither of us slept particularly well, and we were up by about 7. Michelle made tea and we sat on the bench outside the Wageni guest house, admiring the grounds and the cool weather and amazed that we were in Africa at last.
Elin, one of the permanent overseas staff, came by to welcome us and take us on a tour of the village. The most prominent building is the Kenyatta house which was the weekend getaway of Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta. It’s been beatifully restored. The ground floor is used for administrative offices and meeting rooms; the upper floor for a residence for one of the permanent staff and their family.
We strolled through the grounds meeting Elin’s husband, Paul, the headmaster of the school and Rachel, the Dean of the Music Institute.
The school was on a week-long break, so the only children here are the orphans who live in the cottages on the grounds. We ate lunch and dinner with one cottage — rice, beans, and chipati (a cross between a tortilla and naan) for lunch, so it was almost Tex Mex.
During the afternoon we made a number of fruitless attempts to connect with the internet and consulted with Paul who asked us to run the Thursday and Friday morning teacher training.
At dinner we got to eat ugali for the first, but not the last, time. It looks sort of like large globs of stuck-together mashed potatoes, but is made from white maize so it is sort of like grits, but not really. The kids love it. We’re working on that.
After devotions with our charming dinner companions — mostly sixth grade girls — we made our way back to the guest house by flashlight. Things get dark and quiet in this compound when the sun goes down.
Wednesday, June 19.
Adjusting to the eight hour time difference has been challenging. We slept better, but not all night.
The internet still didn’t work, so Paul kindly arranged for Calisters to drive us to a local mall so I could buy a data sim card. That was an adventure.
The Village is walled with a front gate and guards. They opened the gate and we emerged into a different world. Kasarani Road is two lane black top with no markings or road signs. It is lined with small shops and three and four story concrete block apartments plus people, goats, dogs.
I’m not sure I can describe the traffic. My son Daniel told us that it would take longer to drive anywhere than we thought. We found out why.
The street was bumper to bumper cars and matatus (mini busses crammed with passengers jumping on and off — doors open). All of these vehicles are dodging potholes, pedestrians, goats — usually by pulling out in front of oncoming traffic. To turn or pull into a lane of traffic you just go ahead assuming other vehicles will not run into you. So far they haven’t, but driving is not for the faint of heart.
Finally we reached the Thika Road Mall and discovered another feature of Nairobi. After the mall bombings several years ago, all shopping centers and public buildings have security at the gates to inspect the cars going in. Once in and parked you go through metal detectors and another layer of security to get inside.
We passed and fairly quickly acquired a sim card. I think they may have put us at the front of the line, but I didn’t question too closely.
Then we headed to the Post Office so Michelle could purchase Aerogrammes on which to write thank you notes. Post Office clerks are similar worldwide, and this one unhelpfully informed her that he’d never heard of them despite their website saying they were available. We gave up and fought our way back to the village.
For the afternoon, we had planned to teach Latin and change ringing on handbells to some of the children, followed by dinner with Paul and Elin. Michelle managed to come down with an intestinal bug just before we were going to start, so Paul stepped in to run a game Michelle brought while I introduced several groups to change ringing with hand bells.
The bells were kind of dinky — and one note was missing, but the kids seemed to have fun being shoved into position to ring a plain hunt on six or seven. There’s a change ringing tower at Kilifi on the coast near Mombasa, but it doesn’t look like we’ll have time to get over there. Maybe next time.
As I headed back to the guest house, Elin intercepted me. She’d pulled the chicken out of the refrigerator and it had gone bad, so dinner was postponed until Thursday.
By this time, Michelle was feeling better. We ate a light dinner in our room, prepped for teacher training, and went to bed.
Thursday, June 20.
Sleeping went better, but we’re still adjusting. At 7:30 a.m. we met Paul to make copies (it’s not a teacher workshop if you don’t have handouts) then headed for the chemistry lab to meet the approximately 30 teachers on staff. Paul started the teacher training with a Bible study on the passage the kids would be studying in the coming week.
Then he turned things over to us. Since he usually does the teacher training himself, I suspect he would have been happy for us to just dance on the tables for them, but Michelle thought we actually ought to do something useful. Plus she’s seen me dance.
Our goal was to help the staff with writing student evaluations, improving essay writing skills and evaluations, and encouraging student discussions.
For our ice breaker, we asked the teachers to a pair up and interview each other about something they loved and why. It worked — the responses were thoughtful, witty and sometimes profound. And, of course, we were immediately behind schedule.
After 30 minutes for tea — noting happens here without tea — Michelle described the Harkness method of class discussion. Then Michelle, Paul and I, plus three randomly selected teachers, demonstrated a Harkness table discussion on one of Pascal’s Pensees. The rest of the teachers used evaluation forms to track our discussion and critique us. We’re hoping this technique will help the teachers develop more student-led discussions.
As we left for lunch, I began to think we may learn more from this faculty than we teach. Finding 30 people passionately dedicated to classical Christian education in Kenya is not what I would have expected a few months ago. And as we hear the stories of their personal journeys to teaching, we’re awe struck.
Of course, the photojournalism teacher who had planned to take lots of photos got so engrossed in the sessions that he forgot to take his camera out. He vowed to do better on Friday.
During the afternoon we prepped for the four hours next morning then went to dinner at Elin and Paul’s beautiful house. Dinner was great, topped off with Rachel’s delicious coconut chocolate cake. She’s now a little worried that the secret of her baking skills is out. We finished off the evening with an easy-to-master card game.
Friday, June 21.
At 8 a.m. we were back at teacher training. We handed out a student self assessment form for them to use with their students. We asked the teachers to fill this out themselves and share one of their answers with the group. I made Michelle and Paul join me in also filling it out. The sharing was inspirational — it was clear these guys are dedicated and insightful.
We discussed various methods of organizing an essay — with handouts, of course — and used the outlines we developed to write various kinds of student evaluations from long to brief — and turn them into brief, extemporaneous talks with a parent. We think it went quite well.
At least well enough that I again forgot to take photos.
The four hours (with a tea break, naturally) flew by. These folks are amazing.
In the afternoon Michelle debuted a language teaching game that uses American Sign Language as a bridge to turn learning words into a game. She now has at least 30 kids who want to learn more Latin, although the first time she did it, she almost forgot to actually teach them any Latin.
I did some more change ringing on handbells — but it’s clear that Michelle was the star. At dinner later, several of the tenth graders were conversing with the words they’d learned.
Saturday, June 22.
Saturday morning Elin invited us to accompany her to one of the fancy malls on the other side of town so she could get her hair cut. Michelle saw that the mall had a post office, so we were off in search of the elusive Aerogrammes.
Michelle got to ride in the front seat. She described the ride as being like a roller coaster, only with things coming right at you all the time. Our crowded streets gave way to forested hills lined with embassies and soon we were at the mall.
And once again, no Aerogrammes. But this time Michelle got a phone number, and Elin called it. The gentleman who answered texted us directions to the downtown post office which he said had them. So Elin postponed her haircut and drove us back past the embassies to the downtown post office.
We hopped out of the car, leaving Elin and Rachel. After a few wrong turns, we wound up at window 45 in a vast and mostly deserted hall with at least a hundred windows on both sides for drivers licenses, building permits, and virtually anything one might want to get from the government.
And window 45 had Aerogrammes. But only 50, not the 60 Michelle wanted — and the clerk did not seem to be too familiar with them. Then the branch manager, Stephen Wanjoli, walked up and introduced himself. We had a lengthy conversation about how technology was killing things like Aerogrammes, but he was fighting to keep the post office printing them. He found 10 more for us — and then took a photo of us holding them to circulate through the post offices to show there was still demand for them.
We had to buy additional stamps for mailing to the US — and they offered to bring some staff out to affix them for us. By this time, however, Elin was wondering what had happened to us, so we politely declined, and Mr Wanjoli began to escort us to the exit. Just before we got there, he ushered us up some stairs.
Michelle was getting a little worried and said, “There is someone waiting for us just outside…” He ushered us into his office, seated us and presented us with two works of art created from dried reeds collected at Lake Victoria. Much better than being arrested. With many thanks we exited to the car and headed back to the mall.
There we had a leisurely lunch al fresco, capped off with a cup of decaf cappuccino. By this time Elin decided it was too late for a haircut, so we headed back to the village.
By about 10:30, Michelle realized the decaf wasn’t.
Sunday, June 23.
Despite the non-decaf, we set out with Elin, Paul and Rachel at 6:15 a.m. for the 7 a.m. service at All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Nairobi. It seems to be a popular service at this English Gothic style building: a large congregation, orchestra, choir, and organ. Like most large public buildings our car had to pass through security and there was more at the door.
We were warmly welcomed as first time visitors with a nice bit of swag and tea (did I say there is lots of tea here?) after the service with one of their welcome team members who would not let us leave until he had prayed vigorously for us.
Leaving the Cathedral we wound up at yet another mall for breakfast and grocery shopping (we are really deprived here). Rachel discovered that the local Java coffee shop had real (we think) decaf beans, roasted only a week ago, for sale. Michelle promptly bought some metric quantity that is roughly equivalent to half a pound.
Back to the Village for a quiet afternoon of writing blog posts (half of which failed to save, hence the lateness of the posting), prep for tomorrow, and dinner and devotions with some lively boys.
This week we’ll be helping with teacher training, tutoring and who knows what else. Stay tuned.