Monday, July 1.

Nathan returned to Houston from two weeks in the mountains of New Mexico at Philmont Scout Ranch. He leaves tomorrow to join us in Kenya. David P’s daughter admires him for traveling alone at 16. We have visions of him winding up in Moscow instead of Nairobi. Michelle wrote him a two-page instruction manual. I revised it when it became obvious that she sleep-walked through Heathrow, boarding a non-existent train and several other fantasy events. It may not matter, he’s probably going to ignore the whole thing anyway.

Salome was up early to accompany soloists to the regional music contest. Michelle and I split up: she went to tutor and observe classes in the lower school while I went over to RICE again.

A class playing Ultimate Frisbee outside the RICE building.

Monday morning is weekly exam time for the RICE students and I wound up proctoring the exams. Not too onerous other than having to find pens or pencils for those whose writing implements failed — or retrieving “foolscap” for those who needed extra space. As the 1B students turned their papers in, we discovered that we’d accidentally given them the next week’s exam — no one complained, even though they hadn’t seen any of the material.

Michelle came over in the afternoon and offered to grade exams while I was reading the next installment of Charlotte’s Web to the 1B class. We accidentally left the room door open. Michelle told me I was a distraction to everyone else (including her trying to grade) and to be sure to shut the door. However, the 2 and 3 level students liked the distraction and began lobbying me to read something to them.

About 4 or so, Salome got back from the music contest. She thought the organization left something to be desired (she nobly refrained from trying to reorganize things) — one of the Rafiki soloists spent most of the day sitting around waiting to be called. By the time he was, he was exhausted. The singers stood right by a door, and there was a constant stream of people in and out as they sang.

Dinner (more ugali!) and devotions with one of the younger contingents, then sleep.

Tuesday, July 2.

Salome was up early again to head off to the second day of the choir contest with the boys choir — once the bus actually showed up.

Michelle was drafted at the last minute to substitute in the fourth grade instead of tutoring. It gave her a chance to really use the Rafiki curriculum. It’s so thorough and well-done, that she was able to pick it up in minutes and have a productive day.

Kindergartners working on cursive handwriting. One of the RICE graduates just got a job at church school because she knows how to teach cursive. The new Kenyan curriculum is going to require introducing cursive to 5-year-old students and very few teachers other than RICE graduates know cursive or how to teach it.

I was back at RICE, administering spelling and vocabulary tests and retesting 1B with the correct exam. Only a few stumbling blocks as I called out words: the American pronunciation of “schedule” threw them for a minute, until I realized that British English heavily influences pronunciation here and gave them the alternative.

David P., who has been out here in Africa for some years, talked to me about the challenges and rewards of what Rafiki is working to accomplish. Kenya is in the midst of making major reforms in the way education is done. There is a lot of uncertainty as they work on the new standards, but it appears that the Rafiki curriculum is ahead of the curve, and will be a huge benefit to those who are taking it now.

One of the things he and Paul are trying to establish is a school-wide culture of reading. Many of the teachers and RICE students had limited access to books as they grew up and went to school. So, for the next two Friday teacher trainings, we asked the school faculty to read Old Yeller, which all Rafiki students read in sixth grade. We grabbed the DVD of the Disney version and hid it in the Wageni House…

Salome and the boys choir returned late from another chaotic day of competition — but the boys won first place in the Nairobi region and will go on to the national contest in early August.

Michelle spent the afternoon and the evening finishing writing thank you notes on our sixty Aerogrammes, leaving me to handle dinner and devotions on my own. I wonder if any of them have actually arrived…

As we went to bed, we received word that Nathan’s uncle successfully dropped him at the airport after feeding him a hamburger and fries (he was worried that it might be Nathan’s last good meal for a couple of weeks).

Wednesday, July 3.

In the morning, Nathan reported by WhatsApp his arrival in London and his progress to Heathrow to his gate. We did forget to ask if that was the gate for the Nairobi flight, but now news is good news, right?

We’re on our own for breakfast in the Wageni House. In order of complexity, that has been: Michelle, nothing; David, orange juice (don’t know why it tastes so good here); Salome: eggs, arugula, and other healthy ingredients.

Salome has been taking Rachel’s music classes which includes teaching music history (the Renaissance, at the moment) to RICE students and music and dancing (Greek and American square dancing) to school students. Plus she has about 20 beginning piano students.

Michelle was back to tutoring and observing while I sat down and went over their Beatrix Potter-style naughty animal stores with each 1B student. Swahili has no articles and does not distinguish gender in pronouns, so it’s difficult for students to remember when to use them in English. And often, they will mix masculine and feminine pronouns for the same person in a sentence. The stories themselves appeared to be drawn more from African folk tales than an English country garden. One involved eating the livers of the animals’ mothers to see if they tasted sweet. Very naughty animals indeed. But the students actually did a decent job of writing comprehensible stories, sometimes a little short on dialogue, but you have to start somewhere.

This is JaneJoy, one of the younger resident students and her plate of ugali, greens and chicken. Ugali is the staple food of Kenya. It’s basically white maize flour cooked in oil to a thick, dry consistency. That’s what it tastes like: thick and dry. This is actually a fairly small portion: the students dish it out with plates into huge heaping mounds of the stuff. They eat it all (Nathan has, too.) White maize came to Africa in the 1500s from Latin America. By various different names it has become the staple food throughout a large portion of the continent. Most (but not quite all) of the students think it’s great. They look at me quizzically as I half-heartedly attempt to grow to like it.

After more ugali for dinner and devotions with the younger girls, we met Calisters to drive to Jomo Kenyatta airport to meet Nathan (assuming he was coming to Nairobi and was not on his way to Moscow).

Security is everywhere in Nairobi. Before you actually get to the airport, you reach a security area. All passengers must get out of whatever vehicle they are in and walk through a checkpoint and metal detectors. Meanwhile, the driver and vehicle are inspected for bombs or other contraband. When the driver gets through, you get back in the vehicle and drive to the parking garage. We wound up parking on the second floor.

The waiting area for Terminal E where British Airlines arrives, is outdoors — but it was a beautiful, cool night, so that wasn’t a problem. The plane arrived 15 or 20 minutes late.

We’d hoped Nathan would be able to text us after the plane landed, but nothing came. After about 45 minutes, Michelle was beginning to think he actually had taken the flight to Moscow. Then, someone who looked just like Daniel appeared at the top of the ramp — and we realized it was Nathan.

According to the Kenyan government website at which one can obtain electronic visas in advance, people 16 years and younger do not need — and should not apply for — visas. When Nathan got up to the immigration officer the guy said that was only true for those younger than 16. At the same time a father was arguing with another officer about the same issue. Nathan’s officer said it would be $50 for a visa (that’s the actual price). Nathan pulled out a $50 bill, handed it to the guy, and was waved through into the country. Of course, he also didn’t fill out the visa application paperwork, so our suspicion is that the $50 went straight into the officer’s pocket. Nevertheless, Nathan’s passport got stamped and he emerged.

We walked with Calisters and Nathan’s luggage to the garage. There was a line for the elevators, so we started to walk up the ramp. Calisters told us to wait on the ramp and he’d go get the car. When he came down, we loaded the luggage and ourselves into the car and were about to set off when a security officer stopped us and demanded Calisters’ driving license. A rapid conversation in Swahili ensued. Then he directed Calister to pull into a parking space. Calisters got out again and continued the conversation. We sat in the car wondering if we would have call the US Embassy to help get us out of jail. Finally, Calisters got back in the car and we drove off.

“Never give them your license,” he said, “or you’ll be there for hours.”

Evidently, you’re not supposed to load passengers on the ramp. I’m not sure what he said to the officer, but talking worked.

Fortunately, the road to the village was not blocked this time and we were in bed by 11:30.

Thursday, July 4.

Two shocking things about this July 4: it’s not a holiday in Kenya and Nathan was the first one up in the morning.

We took him to the teachers’ meeting at 7:30, then to the assembly. Paul introduced him to the school, and Nathan hopped up on the stage and said a few words.

He came with me over to RICE as I finished reviewing 1B compositions. Then I introduced him to the 1B class. When I first met them they sat there with stony faces. Not so for Nathan. They treated him like a long-lost colleague. And they wanted to talk to him, but insisted that I leave the room. I’m not sure what they talked about, but the upshot was that they wanted him, not me, to read the day’s installment of Charlotte’s Web.

Eating watermelon on the Kenyatta House balcony on July 4.

After school, the Americans (and one Norwegian) gathered on the second floor balcony of the Kenyatta House to celebrate the Fourth with hamburgers, hot dogs (actually two varieties of sausage), watermelon, salad, and strawberry shortcake. The closest we got to fireworks was our attempts to get the charcoal lit — we went through an entire newspaper before it finally caught. After the meat was done, Paul grilled watermelon slices — they were surprisingly tasty. We played a card game that was kind of similar to Scrabble, but lost track of who was ahead. Elin decorated the balcony with American flag fabric she’d found at one of the local markets. There was not a bit of ugali in sight, which made it a great holiday in my opinion.

Friday, July 5.

Today, we put Nathan to work, setting him up with an antique Dell laptop to enter the resident student reports the teachers had written for their sponsors. He complained that the teacher training we did the first week resulted in long reports.

Meanwhile, Michelle was back and forth doing more math and reading tutoring. Ominously, several of her students were sniffling and blowing their noses…

I administered the week’s spelling and vocabulary tests. As I graded them, it became obvious that the 1B students had the same love for studying vocabulary as many American students of my acquaintance. This resulted in Grace discussing with them the fact that knowing how to spell a word wasn’t enough.

The Aerogrammes that Michelle finished on Tuesday actually got mailed today. We’re hoping they are delivered before we return.

That afternoon, we sat down with the teachers for their afternoon training session. Most of them had at least started Old Yeller. We started off talking about the setting of the book (in case you’ve forgotten it’s in the Texas hill country), showing them photos from the area, plus longhorn cattle, skunks, javelinas, ’coons, skunks and more. Then we read aloud the first chapter and promised more next week.

Ugali, devotions, bed, because we had an early start planned for Saturday.

Saturday, July 6.

Here’s what happens when you tell people you’re going to Kenya: they ask you about the safari you’re going on. They look at you funny when you tell them, “Well, actually, we aren’t.”

We decided to remedy this lack, and hired a driver and a vehicle to pick us up at 6 a.m. and take us through Nairobi National Park. David, our driver, arrived right on time, and Michelle, Nathan, Salome and I boarded our van. The Park is in the city of Nairobi and it took us less than an hour to reach the east gate, although the last bit of road may be the worst I’ve ever ridden on: giant potholes and large swathes of slippery mud.

The top of the van popped up so we could stand and take photos without being eaten. Here’s Nathan, almost woken up at about 7 a.m.

As we drove into the park, we left the city behind for an open savanna, with the skyline of the city to the right and, to the left, the elevated tracks of the newish, Chinese built railway that is an extension of the Nairobi to Mombasa line.

Lionesses. Nairobi in the background

Soon we saw a giraffe off in the distance. Sadly, my camera with the zoom lens went on the fritz the day after we got here, so we only had our phones to take photos with. Our driver did get us close to many animals, including two young lionesses by the side of the road. They didn’t appear interested in eating us: they yawned and went back to sleep. We wound past cape buffalo and various different bird species as we approached an intersection. Between us and the next road was an apparently moderate sized hump. David accelerated as we approached, the front wheels went over and then we stopped, wheels spinning.


We got out. And pushed. Nothing. We were stuck right on top of the hump. Finally, a Kenyan man taking his two children through the park stopped and helped us push again. He gave just enough extra that the truck came off the hump. In return, David told him where to find the lions (he’d promised his kids lions), and he drove off.


We got back in the van, David backed up. And we were stuck again in two large ruts. We jacked the van up and put rocks and sticks under the wheels trying to get them some traction. Nothing worked. Then a Land Cruiser pulled up with four guys in camouflage, two of them with automatic weapons slung across their backs.

Cape buffalo.

Fortunately they were part of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, not terrorists. One of them laughingly asked me if we just weren’t strong enough to push it out. Then they all four tried and the van didn’t budge. Since he had a rifle, I decided not to point this out to him. However, David had a towing strap which he attached to their Land Cruiser. A few moments later we were unstuck, and with an admonition to stay on the main roads (directed to me, not to David our driver) they left.

That blob in the water is a hippo.

We continued through the park, seeing more giraffes, monkeys, a hippo, zebras, impala, sleeping crocodiles, more and more tourist buses plus many birds.

Ostrich and Nairobi.

At the main gate, we got out and toured their animal orphanage where the KWS keeps lions, leopards and other animals. There were busloads of uniformed students from various Nairobi schools wandering around looking at the animals.

By this time, we were getting hungry. Our next stop was the Karen Blixen museum in the area known as Karen — a much higher rent area than the one in which the Rafiki Village is situated. But before the museum, we stopped at the Karen Restaurant, an elegant spot with beautifully landscaped grounds. We sat outside. One of us got chicken masala, three of us got hamburgers and chips. They were good. The complexion of the other diners was somewhat lighter than the other places we’ve eaten.

Michelle at the entrance to the Karen Restaurant. It was chilly until the sun came out.
Food. Note the three adventurous eaters with hamburgers.

Then we visited the museum. Salome was content just to sit in the grounds of what had been Karen Blixen’s house and coffee plantation. Michelle, Nathan and I took the tour. Our guide sat us down in chairs on the lawn facing the house and recited the history of Blixen’s time in Kenya. We looked at old farm implements and then went through the house, restored with much of her furniture to its look in the 1920s and 1930s. She earned fame as a novelist after she left Kenya, but she was also an accomplished painter, and several of her portraits hang on the walls of the house.

Nathan in front of the Blixen house.
Our guide talking to Michelle and Nathan about the old farming equipment.
Our guide and Michelle looking at an arabica coffee plant.
Karen Blixen painted this portrait of a young boy she helped educate. He was smart and regularly beat her paramour at chess.
Dining room of the Blixen house where she entertained the Prince of Wales. I don’t think I was supposed to be taking photos.
Fireplace in the dining room.
Old coffee drying equipment on the site where Blixen’s brother built a coffee drying factory for her. It burned shortly after it was finished, contributing to the financial problem that led to her returning to Denmark.

By this time it was late afternoon and we headed back through Nairobi traffic to the Village and promptly went to bed.

Sunday, July 7.

Michelle woke up with the beginnings of a cold (Remember those sniffly boys?)

Salome got up early to go to the Anglican Cathedral with Paul and Elin.

David P. took the rest of us off (with a stop on the way for a very gingery lemon tea with which Michelle attempted to combat her cold) to Trinity Baptist Church, the home church of a number of the nationals who work and go to school at Rafiki. It’s been around for more than forty years and is a simple stone building with whitewashed walls inside, a stage with a small lectern (baptismal pool underneath) and a dynamic preacher. They projected the hymns and Bible passages on the walls. We started with couple hymns, read a Bible chapter, listened to the pastor expound on the passage, listened to announcements, sang more hymns, sat for a sermon, prayed, and closed with another hymn. It seemed pretty Baptist to this Anglican. (I forgot to take photos. Sorry.) After the service, we chatted with the various folks we’d met at Rafiki, then headed off for lunch and grocery shopping.

More Nairobi traffic. It’s worse than Houston’s West Loop.

We went to a Java coffee house/restaurant so Michelle could get another of those ginger teas (the Kenyans call them Dawa, meaning medicine). Their menu included a number of Tex Mex items so Nathan got a chicken burrito that he thought was pretty authentic — and the guacamole was good.

We bought some food items to get us through the week — including ginger and lemon for Michelle — and returned to the Village where Michelle promptly pulled a hot bath, then went to bed, leaving Nathan and me to join the girls of Canaan for dinner and devotions.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: