Kenyan lessons in lifeby kenya on Jun. 28, 2011, under Life
June 28, 2011
Dispatch from Kenya
By Fred Roberts, St. Gregory Dean of Students
The last four days have been a whirlwind of adventure for us, and quite suddenly I find myself without the company of the students, my friends, with whom I have shared a wonderful and very meaningful last three weeks. I am in a hotel in Nairobi, the last place I want to be, having just dropped off the students at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for their departure to London and onward flight to Phoenix. I stayed at the airport long enough to see the final students check their bags, enter security, and that was as far as I could go. This is, without a doubt, the most bittersweet part of the trip, but one that comes regardless how badly the students, and I, would like our time together to continue.
We returned from Samburu late yesterday afternoon and everyone made a fast track to the available showers. It was dry and dusty in Samburu, and a fine patina of brown covered our bodies, clothing and bags when we reached Batian’s View. A small price to pay for the wonderful time we had camping along with Ewaso Nigro River, watching giraffe saunter by as we sipped our morning chai, and seeing the animals for which this region is so famous. Lion, elephant, oryx, Grevys zebra, baboon, vervet monkey, common zebra, dik-dik (the smallest of Africa’s antelope) and warthog were seen on almost every game drive. Try as we might, the leopard eluded us, which is not uncommon. I trust, however, that at one point or another a leopard was watching us from a secluded spot, waiting until darkness until beginning another night’s work of hunting.
Last night we had another wonderful meal together and to top off the day the students rode the zip line in the dark. We then retired to the library for hot chocolate and our final debriefing of the day, and of the trip. As the students shared their feelings, one common theme was that the experience was nothing that they had expected. Several of the students said that they have been pushed out of their comfort zones, and were quite unsettled in the beginning. But with time and a realization that the Kenyan teachers and students welcomed them with open arms, the feelings of hesitation and nervousness dissolved into that of feeling part of a larger community. I must admit that one of my goals is to make the students feel pushed, to enter situations they are uncomfortable with, and to find the resources to expand their comfort zones to include stepping into a new culture and into a new role of teaching in a rural Kenyan classroom. They all passed my challenge with flying colors, and I bet that any one of them would be just as happy to leave the departure lounge in which they are now sitting and return to Batian’s View for another round of teaching and experiencing life in Kenya. I truly hope that one day they can return and to pick up where they left off.
This morning many of the students made quick trips to their respective schools for a final farewell. Then back at Batian’s View they quickly packed their bags and had one final lunch of ugali (maize meal), sukumu wiki (spinach), and goat stew. And of course, a few cups of chai. On the way to Nairobi we stopped in the town of Karatina, which has one of the largest open air markets in East Africa. This is not a tourist market selling carvings or bags, but one where fruit, vegetables and beans of all shapes and sizes are purchased by buyers from Nairobi to sell elsewhere. The market covers several football fields, and is abuzz with activity. A few of the students found one corner where Kenyan fabrics were sold, and returned to the vehicles wrapped in colorful cloths of different sizes and patterns. I have a feeling that some of these will be the new fashion statement on the St. Gregory campus when school resumes in August. The remainder of our trip was uneventful and we dodged the Nairobi traffic with a new bypass going directly from the outskirts of town to the airport.
It is hard for me to find words to describe this year’s Kenya trip. The experiences, adventures and surprises have been plentiful, and when it seemed like we would fall into a routine, a new opportunity would present itself. This has been an exceptional group of young women and men to work with.
As the days passed they became more independent, and took advantage of the opportunities before them. This included visiting Lipela Children’s Home after their day at school, walking up the road to purchase mandazi (Kenyan doughnuts) from a local chai house, and feeling quite at home in the Naro Moru market as they looked at the different shops and ate roasted corn on the roadside. These are not activities I organized or initiated, but rather that of the students. As an educator this is a very gratifying experience. I had done my job of helping the students become acclimatized to their new surroundings, realizing that it is OK to take risks in speaking Kiswahili, dressing according to cultural norms, understanding that it is normal for 50 children to want to touch you at once, and knowing how far to push beyond one’s comfort zone. It is at this point my role as a teacher or chaperone of the trip ends, as I know the students are more than capable of taking care of themselves, and of each other. I have become obsolete, and I couldn’t be happier.
I would like to thank the parents of these students for allowing me the opportunity to take their child half way around the world and show them a part of Kenya that few visitors ever see. It is a rare pleasure for me to get to know my students so well, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. They have done an excellent job of sharing their time and energy with their Kenyan students, and in ways that are immeasurable they have made a difference in the lives of these young boys and girls.
I would also like to thank the St. Gregory community and many others for the contributions made to our fundraising efforts. We had the resources to build a new classroom at Gitinga Primary School, purchase textbooks and repaint all of the black boards at another primary school. The new stone and cement classroom at Gitinga still needs a couple of weeks to complete, but the difference this will make in creating a more positive learning environment will be significant.
To my colleagues at St. Gregory, I appreciate your support of the Kenya trip and the encouragement you have provided the last seven years. To Ms. Heintz and Mr. Martin, your support of this program has been extremely important and given me the confidence to think far into the future in how we can take the learning out of the classroom, and allow the students do the teaching for themselves. The lessons they have learned are not found in a textbook or in a lecture, but through their own initiative and hard work. Last but not least, I thank Amanda Rutherford (St. Gregory Class of ‘05) who did as much as I in guiding and assisting the students in this wonderful adventure.
Our dispatches do not end here, however. Given the short time we had from returning from Samburu and our departure to Nairobi, our adventures of Samburu will be coming soon, as well as many photos. And likely one or two more dispatches as I reflect on what has been a very special experience for my students and me.