So what has happened to them, you’re wondering? Sorry it’s taken so long to update the blog. Excuses: intermittent wifi at the Rafiki Village, they actually expect us to work, “missionary midnight” is either 8 or 9 p.m. depending on who you ask, most nights we don’t get back to the cottage until 8 p.m., … I could keep going, but instead let me tell you what we’ve been doing.
Monday, June 24.
The first day of the second half of this term. Day students are back and school is in session. The Kenyan school year consists of two 14-week terms (with a one-week break in the middle) and one 10-week term. They’re off most of November and December.
The primary and secondary school day starts with a teacher’s meeting at 7:30 a.m. while students are eating breakfast in the dining hall. A hymn (these teachers even sing in harmony), a Bible passage and a prayer followed by announcements. Then we walk over to the flag pole in front of the Kenyatta House for assembly. The students gather for the Kenyan national anthem — led on Mondays and Fridays by the Scouts — and an inspirational talk by one of the teachers. Then it’s off to class.
We determined that Michelle would spend some time tutoring children who were having trouble with reading and math while I headed over to the R.I.C.E. (Rafiki Institute of Classical Education) building to help with teacher training while their Dean was out of town.
Rachel, the Music Dean, led the morning Bible study — about 25 people in a big circle. It was the first day back, and a struggle to get responses from anyone.
She then took me around to introduce to the classes: about 10 students in 1B — just starting their second term. They were very quiet. Next the three student in 1D — they actually asked me to come back after lunch to help them with a book on children’s literature. Then the second and third level students.
RICE has a very well thought-out curriculum. The students do a lot of work on their own, turning to the Dean — or each other — when they need help. As they advance, they spend part of each day observing and assisting in the school.
After the first year, they earn a certificate that allows them to teach in primary and preprimary grades. If they complete the second and third years, they earn a diploma that allows them to teach up to 7th grade.
I hung around helping with problems, looking over papers, helping to solve word problems (had to brush off a little rust there) — and reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to 1B.
Most of the 1B students are only 18 or 19. They’re grappling with a curriculum that is very different than anything they’ve encountered, so they tend to be a little shy at first. My first breakthrough with them came while reading the story — as soon as I gave voice to the goose, they finally laughed.
Meanwhile, Michelle spent her time diagnosing reading problems and trying to help one boy remember his multiplication facts.
Around 4, the school day was over and we met back at the Wageni House — the guest quarters. We were tired. But 45 minutes later we were walking to the dining hall for dinner — most nights a piece of chicken (they raise and slaughter their own chickens, so it was fresh), cooked greens, and ugali. More on ugali later.
Back to Wageni for another 45 minutes, then we set out to do evening devotions with the resident students in Ebenezer cottage. These are 5th and 6th grade girls. Each of the cottages is overseen by a “Mama” or “Auntie.” Their Mama — Mary — runs a tight ship and made sure each girl — and the guests — contributed. After devotions, we stayed for another 20 or 30 minutes answering their questions. It was after 8 when we got back.
Should I take the computer out of the closet and update the blog? No. Straight to bed.
Tuesday, June 25.
Oh. I forgot. Yesterday we were joined by Salome Palmer, a college student and prodigy, who started the summer with two weeks visiting Christian schools in Nepal, then spent three weeks at the Rafiki village in Rwanda before joining us in Kenya. She’s a musician, Greek and Latin scholar — and more.
We’re settling into a pattern on the second day: teachers meeting at 7:30, morning assembly, Bible study with the RICE students. They’re still pretty quiet in Bible study.
Afterwards, Rachel and I talked about that and decided to do Harkness groups for the Thursday and Friday Bible studies — we hoped to get them talking more and introduce them to a technique that would help them get their future students talking as well.
I spent a good bit of the morning reviewing the extensive RICE curriculum — these guys learn an incredible amount in just three years.
I helped one student with haikus — a couple of days later she had distilled five pages of attempts down to three really nice ones.
In the afternoon, another couple of chapters of Charlotte’s Web. Adding in the voices of Templeton and the gander helped keep them amused.
Michelle kept tutoring. Some of the kids just need help — a couple may have learning disabilities.
After dinner that evening, Michelle agreed to tutor two kids from 6 to 7. I took a walk around the grounds and met her for devotions. By the time we got back to the cottage we were exhausted. I didn’t even think about the blog.
Wednesday, June 26.
Here’s the thing. Most of what we’re doing here is teaching and helping students in their classes. It’s time consuming and fulfilling, but it doesn’t always make for the most exciting reading.
But the students are impressive. The RICE students learned under the Kenyan education system. Many of them are from “upcountry” where they had no access to books or labs or facilities. Most of them first spoke a tribal language and were only introduced to the two official languages, English and Swahili, later. In some schools education consisted of the teacher writing things on the blackboard and the students reciting them back verbatim.
Now, being introduced to Christian Classical education, they’re thriving. Many have discovered a love of books, particularly classics. The library is small, but for many of them there are more books than they’ve ever seen. It’s thrilling to see their enthusiasm and work ethic.
The 1B class has two weeks to write a naughty animal story in the from of a Beatrix Potter story. One of them finally came and asked me for help. He had a good start, although the story was a bit bloodier than Peter Rabbit.
More Charlotte’s Web. I couldn’t tell if they’re beginning to warm up or not.
I volunteered to help Michelle with the 6-7 p.m. tutoring, figuring if each of us took one student we could all be through sooner. Great idea, except six of the showed up. And one boy had just caught a hedgehog and placed it in his book bag. I told him he could not bring it into the dining hall. He protested that he’d just rescued it from a larger animal. I said that was too bad. No hedgehogs in the dining hall. Reluctantly, he pulled a bedraggled and listless hedgehog out of his bag and set it on the ground. And that sort of set the tone for the tutoring. Most came because it was something new to do, not because they needed help. When we returned to Wageni after devotions, we decided no more 6-7 tutoring. And we went to bed with no thought of the blog.
Thursday, June 27.
This morning at RICE Bible study, we had our first Harkness table discussion. We divided the group into two sections: one section sat at the table and discussed, the other kept track. I led the first one — it was a little slow at first, but after only a few minutes we had a real discussion going and I just kept my mouth shut. These future teachers are pretty amazing.
At some point in the morning, my Charlotte’s Web group indicated — very shyly — that they were having trouble following the story, so we recapped the first few chapters — and got some extra copies so they could follow along. We talked about seasons. That’s strange to Kenyans who have only two: wet and dry.
Michelle was working on organizing a Latin club. A letter went home and there were dozens who wanted to do it. Ultimately, they picked a small group of seventh graders to give it a try starting the next week.
Rachel, the music dean, was planning on leaving on Friday for her sister’s wedding back in the states, so was glad to have Salome to fill in. And Salome was drafted to help the choirs prepare for a big contest the following week.
We weren’t quite as tired that night without the 6-7 p.m. tutoring, but we still just kind of fell into bed.
Friday, June 28.
A big day. Rachel was leaving about midnight and David Pederson, the RICE dean was returning from the states after numerous delays and reroutings.
The morning started off with Rachel leading the Harkness table Bible discussion. It was fantastic — everyone participated and the depth of the discussion was impressive.
More tutoring in the morning. David arrived, jet lagged, but ready to get back into the swing of things. In the afternoon, the RICE students had art, then cleaned up.
At Elin’s suggestion, Michelle and I made reservations to spend Saturday night at the Hotel Stanley — the oldest hotel in town, rated 5 stars. She felt we needed to celebrate our anniversary since we’d been busy packing and getting ready on the actual day.
That evening we had a delightful dinner at the Klauke’s house to say goodbye to Rachel and to welcome David back. We prayed for a safe journey for Rachel and turned her over to Calisters for the ride to the airport.
It was late, and we went straight to sleep.
Saturday, June 29.
A beautiful morning with the sun shining. Most of the days until now had been cloudy and cool. Before setting off for downtown Nairobi, we took a walk around the grounds and went to listen to the choirs practice for their forthcoming completion. They sounded pretty good.
Around 9 a.m., we called an Uber. Yes, they have Uber in Nairobi. According to the app, he was six minutes away. He remained six minutes away for at least 30 minutes. One of the challenges of Nairobi is that the street numbering scheme is almost nonexistent, particularly outside the city center. After several texts, we stepped outside the gate to see our Uber go right past. A quick text and he turned around.
An hour later (and only $8.40 in fare) we pulled up to the security gate in front of the Hotel Stanley. As soon as they determined we had no bombs and passed our luggage through the metal detectors, we were warmly greeted at the front desk with cold orange juice and broad smiles. The lobby had dark wood paneling and many photos of the hotel through the years.
Even though we were early, they quickly took us to our room — a comfortable, modern room. TV choices were just as bad as in the states, but we just sat there for a while reading books and working crossword puzzles. Then we meandered up to the fifth floor pool area and had lunch al fresco. No swimsuits, but we did take our books to the lounge chairs by the pool and just sat for several hours.
Having worked up an appetite by that strenuous exercise, we descended to the Thorn Tree restaurant for dinner. There’s an acacia tree growing in the middle of the restaurant — where people have left messages for others for decades.
They had a dish with ugali, so Michelle decided she had to find out if it tasted like the ugali in the dining hall. It did, but the stew with it was delicious. Have I gone into detail about ugali yet? I will at some point. I had a nice pasta bolognese.
After a good nights sleep, we got up, gorged at the breakfast buffet, checked out and ubered to the Anglican Cathedral to meet Elin and Paul, Salome, and David for church. After a rousing sermon on cults and the occult (not a typical American sermon), we got lost several times trying to find an Ethiopian restaurant that is supposed to be one of the best in the city.
It was. I’m not sure exactly what we had, but it was served on a large platter covered with a gigantic piece of soft bread. The proprietress came and told us about it and vouched for its authenticity. It was only about $40 for all six of us — and we had leftovers.
We stopped at a grocery on the way back to stock up for the week. After fighting the traffic on the Kasarani Road, we got back too late for dinner. Once again, we crashed.