Monday, July 8.
First, apologies. We’ve been so busy doing things that I haven’t taken very many photos. I’m just a lousy photojournalist.
Great start to the week. Michelle has a cold and feels miserable. Hot baths, ginger, and sleep have not cured it, so she’s staying in bed today — although she will try to make the meeting of her Latin club in the afternoon.
David P’s wife Julie arrived last night after several weeks in Washington state and is already hard at work in the Kenyatta House catching up. Nathan his been drafted to fill out a Kenyan tax form that is due today. Eric in the office actually did it last week, but the government issued a new form today on the due date, so it all has to be done again. Is it comforting to know that bureaucracies are just as senseless anywhere in the world?
Over the weekend, I wrote stories about two RICE students for the Rafiki home office. They’re both in the diploma program and both from “upcountry.”
Fredrick grew up speaking and being schooled in his tribal language. He was introduced to English and Swahili (the two national languages) in seventh grade. In ninth grade, school was all in English. He struggled, but with the help of one teacher, he developed his ability to read English well enough that he got through and graduated. There was little work in his home county and he scraped by for three year doing odd jobs like digging ditches and hauling water on donkeys, trying to save enough money for a trade school. One night a visiting pastor told him about Rafiki. He emailed the school on a Thursday and was in Nairobi the next Monday for tests and interviews. Now, a year later, he’s thriving. He’s discovered a love for books — the Iliad and the Odyssey are near the top. He had no access to books before and has taken full advantage of the RICE library. And he’s acquired a nice collection of bow ties, including a bright orange one.
After spending her childhood on the family tea farm, Susan came to Nairobi when her father opened a grocery in the city. She went to secondary school at a new, Catholic affiliated school. The building were made of metal sheets, there was no library, no science lab, and minimal other facilities. Faculty came and went rapidly. Nevertheless, she sang in the choir and graduated with decent grades. For several years she worked at various jobs. She was selling second hand shoes when she heard about Rafiki at a local Anglican church. She, too, has discovered a love of literature and is looking forward to sharing it with future students.
Both love the daily Bible study and the Christian worldview of the Rafiki curriculum. It’s exciting to see the radical changes they’ve experienced in just a year.
While Nathan worked on data entry, Salome taught music and Michelle lounged in bed reading Crime and Punishment, I went all over campus reading to various groups.
Last week I had a long chat with Lois, a Rafiki school and RICE graduate, who now teaches kindergarten at the school. She asked me to come read in the morning to the kindergarten class. So at 8:30 in the morning, there I was. If you’re not a celebrity, but want to feel like one, go read out loud to kindergartners. We read a story about a hare who is mean to a baby elephant, the son of the King of the animals. Of course, the hare did not get away with it — but the ending had none of the blood and gore of the RICE students’ stories.
I was supposed to be over at the RICE building by 9 to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to the 2 and 3 lever RICE students. They were feeling left out because I was only reading to the 1B level. I got waylaid on the way over and was 20 minutes late, so we only got to read a little bit of it. Later that afternoon, Jihan, one of the students, asked me if it would be okay if she made fun of me. I said that of course it was.
“You keep time like an African,” she said to howls of laughter from the rest of the class. It’s truer than she knows.
I spent the morning proctoring exams at RICE, then went back to check on Michelle. She still felt miserable, but had made a lot of progress on Crime and Punishment. She did manage to make it down to the school for her 2:45 Latin club — the kids are having a great time and can ask and answer questions about objects, talk about what they want, have, give, or take as well as greet each other in Latin. Not bad for a couple of weeks. Salome is going to continue the club once we’re gone for the three additional weeks she’ll be here. We’ll see if this sparks a blossoming of Latin in Nairobi.
When she got back, she collapsed into bed again, leaving Nathan and me to eat ugali and have devotions with the girls of Ebenezer.
Tuesday, July 9.
Tuesday found Michelle feeling better and me back reading The Hungry Coyote to the kindergartners. I took a few minutes to talk about some of the animals in the story they didn’t know about: coyotes, skunks, and prairie dogs. When the story was over, I asked if there were any questions. One boy, Gabriel, had become obsessed with skunks, asking at least three different questions about them. An actual encounter with a skunk might lessen his enthusiasm — I’m not sure much else will.
Back to RICE to read the next installment of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We sat outside with a game of ultimate frisbee going on in the background. I strategically placed a bush between me and the somewhat out of control frisbee.
I stopped by the Wageni House where Michelle informed us that we’d be eating dinner with Paul and Elin in the evening in honor of Julie’s return. The faces of the ugali “lovers” in our group instantly brightened.
Then Nathan and I began work on the senior secondary library. They’re starting to use the Dewey Decimal System to catalogue and track books. We had several boxes of books with DDS tags on them that needed to be shelved and organized. But first we had to remove the untagged books from the shelves and scan the ISBN barcodes for each so the home office can print tags for these books, too.
By the end of the day Nathan had the old books scanned and boxed up. I left him to go read the next to last installment of Charlotte’s Web.
It was a good thing we were eating “out.” We discovered that Nathan had consumed most of the food we’d bought for the week.
We arrived to the wonderful smells of Elin’s savory chicken dish, mashed pototoes, broccoli, and carrots. About that time David and Julie P. texted to say that they were held up dealing with a personnel matter. We thought about waiting, but didn’t. Seating arrangements were to be determined by spelling words from one the sixth grade spelling tests. Every one of us got our words wrong: words like “bougainvillea.” Humiliated, we sat down to eat. Perhaps they will send us one of the sixth graders to tutor us.
After dinner we began a game of “Five Crowns” — a card game where the lowest point total wins. David and Julie arrived ate warmed up food and joined the game. We paused to eat a delicious brownie fudge cake topped with iced cream and then resumed the game. When we finally quit, I managed the highest score, Nathan the lowest.
Wednesday, July 10.
Morning Bible study with the RICE students. Then the next installment of The Best Christmas Pageant — and a discussion of how teachers are trained and tested in the U.S. It’s quite different.
Nathan went off to organize the DDS books while I proctored tests for two students.
Since he’d eaten the week’s supply of bread, I threw together a green salad (they’re growing lettuce in the garden and it was quite good) for lunch, headed back to RICE for the final installment of Charlotte’s Web, then returned to Wageni, determined to start catching up on the blog. On the way back, I was greeted by the parent of a day student who was here picking up his children.
“Are you the great writing teacher?” he said.
I managed to keep a straight face at the “great” part and resisted the temptation to reply, “Of course.”
He’d learned this amazing fact from his son who was about third grade age. He asked me what he could do to help his children become writers.
I told him to read to them and have them read to him. He said might try that on the weekends.
“No. Every day,” I replied.
One of the challenges of education here is that so many parents were brought up in a system that had limited access to books and didn’t encourage reading. It’s easy to forget what a revelation something simple like that is.
And establishing a reading culture is something Rafiki is working very hard to do, both with students and their parents.
I do think I’ll add a bullet point about “great writing teacher” to my resume. I’ll just have to not show the resume to anyone who actually knows me.
I stayed back from dinner and devotions that evening, typing furiously on the blog. Nathan picked up the baton and led devotions for the young girls in the Shalom cottage. I don’t think he preached too many heresies…
Thursday, July 11.
RICE Bible class. Michelle off to tutor. Me off to read The Best Christmas Pageant. Nathan off to finish organizing books and start work on organizing the curriculum cabinet.
After helping a couple of students with how to outline, I returned to Wageni hungry. There were two dessicated pieces of bread in the freezer and a small amount of cheddar left in the fridge. I put the bread in the microwave to thaw, but it wasn’t working. Finally, I realized the power was out all over the Village. I actually had to light the stove and make a grilled cheese sandwich the old fashioned way.
About that time Nathan came along. He’d finished organizing books, but couldn’t see to organize the closet. Pretty poor excuse just because there was no light.
We did some chores and then went back to the library to scan some more books to convert to the DDS system. We were almost through when the scanner stopped working. I assumed it need to be charged, but we couldn’t charge it because there was no power. So we went back, met Michelle and went for a lively dinner and devotions with the girls of Nazareth. They had lots of questions for Nathan so he kept us out late.
Back at Wageni, everyone except me went to bed. As I sat up doing some work, I got a text from Paul: did we have any popcorn. Salome had just told us she bought some, so I said yes. He then asked if I’d make a batch in the morning so one of the preschool classes could taste something salty. It was only then that I realized Salome had bought real kernels, not a bag of microwave popcorn. I’d never made actual popcorn before.
I went to bed praying either Salome or Michelle would wake up early.
Friday, July 12.
Finally I googled how to cook popcorn. First problem: We have only one small saucepan with a lid, plus skillets of various sizes without lids.
I decided to improvise with the largest skillet. Following a YouTube video, I put oil and one kernel in. As soon as that kernel popped, I put the rest in. I soon discovered why the directions called for a pot with a lid as kernels began exploding and flying all over the room.
Quickly, I grabbed one of the cutting boards and slapped it on top of the skillet. That still left some kernels uncovered, and, of course those were the ones that popped and flew out. (This would have been good as a replacement for July 4 fireworks.) I grabbed the other cutting board and managed to contain the rest of the kernels.
Just about the time I finished, Michelle and Salome appeared. I did burn a few, but we got the popcorn to the preschool on time.
I went over to read Hop on Pop to the kindergarten. Did I say what a great audience they are? One of them rubbed my arm and asked me what happened to my skin…
Nathan went off with Salome who was planning on teaching the Virginia Reel to the seventh grade. Good thing he went: they needed an extra and he gamely stepped in.
I adminstered a series of spelling and vocabulary tests to the RICE students. As we were getting ready to start the 1B test, Winnie raised her hand and asked me, “Would you mind using less twang today when you call out the words?’
After lunch we got ready for the final teacher training of our visit. Michelle talked about story structure using the Freytag Pyramid model, then asked the teachers to pair and apply the model to the Bible. The discussion was lively and interesting and we could have gone on much longer, but we needed to get to Old Yeller. Since we’d read the exposition last week, we talked about the inciting incident and the climax. Once we came to a consensus, I read the part where Old Yeller appears — we were all laughing — and then the part where Travis has to shoot him — I tried not to, but I kind of choked up because I could tell the teachers were caught up in the moment, too. God willing, it was a small step towards getting more people excited about reading.
And we had a bonus, David P., Paul, Michelle, and I found ourselves having a very satisfying discussion of the themes of the book after everyone left. In fact, we nearly missed dinner. Some texts over the next day or so indicated that the book had made a real impression on a number of people — and reading it had spread beyond the circle of teachers.
Just before dinner we gave Elin our last two eggs. She was in the middle of baking a birthday cake for one of the residents, when she discovered that Paul had eaten the eggs she planned to use.
That night we ate with the high school guys in Moriah House and attended devotions with them. They sing the hymns lustily and with musical accompaniment. By popular demand Nathan and I led the devotions. And that led to them insisting that Nathan join them for the Saturday night dodgeball game.
Saturday, July 13.
Our original plan for Saturday was to meet Grace, David P’s assistant, downtown to go to the Masai Market. Unfortunately, she went home not feeling well on Friday, so we got a day off.
No one objected. We’ve been going pretty much non stop since two weeks before we left as had Salome.
So we sat around the Wageni house. I spent most of the day updating the blog. Julie stopped by for a long chat and brought us a few replacement eggs.
Michelle made us spaghetti carbonara for lunch with just about the last food we had.
Dinner was with the high school girls who found Nathan quite entertaining and wanted to know about the journalism classes I teach. I told them I’d bring a couple of yearbooks to show them later in the evening.
Nathan went off with David P. for dodgeball. Michelle and I followed a few minutes later to find a gym full of guys gleefully throwing softish balls at each other. The people laughing the hardest were the ones who got hit. They play a variation where they quickly rotated back in after going out, so it turned out to be an hour and a half of sweat and mayhem.
Michelle and I left for devotions with the girls. They did a nice job. Then I handed them the yearbooks. We finally went out for a pleasant conversation with Jihan who is one of the house mothers as the girls devoured the books.
Sunday, July 14.
Off to the local Anglican parish with David and Julie P. St. Matthias Njiru is where the high school boys worship on Sunday. It’s not the cathedral.
After driving through the back streets of Njiru — a district near the Rafiki Village — we arrived at the church, greeted by a number of charming children who solemnly shook our hands, one by one.
The church is a small, stone building, definitely Anglican in layout.
The vicar, Rev. Edward Kihang’a, actually has four churches in his charge. His mother was a house mother at the Rafiki Village and he worked there from a time. He learned about Bible Study Fellowship there and began attending which ultimately led to a call to ministry.
The Holy Communion Service followed the Anglican Church in Kenya pattern. Before the sermon we clapped along with the singing and movement of the worship band. Rev. Edward preached a powerful sermon addressing the return of polygamy in some quarters of Kenyan society. The sermons here leave one in little doubt of where the preacher stands.
After the service we headed for the Wawa mall — on Sundays there is a Masai Market on the roof. Michelle, Salome, and Julie went up to bargain, while David P., Nathan and I sat at a Java coffee shop for a pre lunch snack and coffee.
We were next door to the Ethiopian restaurant we tried a few weeks ago, so we went back there for another leisurely and enjoyable lunch.
Then we toured Rosslyn Academy, the international school David and Julie’s daughter Olivia attends. It’s next door to the US embassy with beautiful grounds and classrooms. Nathan is not yet convinced he wants to transfer, although the fact they don’t wear uniforms is tempting.
A final stop at the Carrefour Market to buy supplies for our last few days completed the trip and we’re back relaxing.
Amazingly, a month has sped by. We leave Tuesday night. Too soon.