St. Gregory Students Learn Lessons in Life in Kenyaby kenya on Jun. 14, 2012, under Life
June 12, 2012
By Daphne Mattille, St. Gregory Class of ‘13
Waking up to go to school is getting easier each day as we are all eager to rejoin our schools and students. Somehow the burden of getting up at 6 a.m. doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I’m sure that if I were in Tucson I would not be saying the same thing, but I am not in Tucson, I’m in Kenya, and every day is an opportunity for something new.
Emily and I arrived at our school, Irigithathi Primary, in the middle of an all-school celebration for the most improved 8th graders. As the ceremony continued, the teachers brought out cupcakes and distributed one to each student. Their faces filled with joy, bringing smiles to everyone who watched. As soon as the ceremony ended the kids rushed over to us to say hello. Along with that they grabbed our arms, played with our hair, and shook our hands again and again – a typical greeting for our arrival at school. The first class I taught today was Creative Arts, and Emily taught with me. They already knew parts of the song Do Re Mi from The Sound of Music, so we taught them a dance to go with it.
By now we are falling into a nice routine at Irigithathi. My initial feelings of amazement and being a bit overwhelmed have passed, and now I am able to focus on my lesson plans and teaching. Our day consists of teaching, working on our lessons in the staff room, leisurely lunches with our fellow teachers, playing outside with the students during breaks, and several cups of chai. If Kenya has a national beverage, it has to be chai!
A highlight of my day is walking the 1.5 miles from school to Batian’s View. We walk slowly with a group of kids, and I always have someone’s hand in mine. Emily and I practice our Kiswahili and the kids laugh at our efforts, but in a kind way that is more encouraging than anything else. Today’s walk home was different. On previous days the kids would walk with us until they reached their homes, where they would say goodbye, give us hugs, and we would go our separate ways. Today the kids accompanied us all the way to Batian’s View and only decided to tell us of their plans as we reached the main entrance. Emily and I arrived to Batian’s View, a typically quiet and peaceful place, with at least 20 kids all hovering around us pointing at all the new discoveries they made as soon as they entered the compound. After a few minutes of looking around we walked with them out to the main road and they proceeded on home.
Tonight an elderly Kikuyu woman named Mama Waweru, who lives just next door to Batian’s View, visited us. We greeted her in Kikuyu, “Wakiachocho,” which means ‘hello, grandmother’ and is a very respectful way to greet an elderly woman. She told us about her life during the colonial era and the beginning of Kenya’s State of Emergency, otherwise known as the Mau Mau. Mau Mau was an armed struggle by the Kenyans, mostly Kikuyu, to force out the British who had taken their land in the early 1900s. Kenyans were only allowed to live in small reserves set up by the British and were not allowed to own land in the area known as the White Highlands, which the Kikuyu considered their ancestral land.
Mama Waweru was 18 when she married, during the time that the Mau Mau movement was very active. Many Kikuyu men went to the forest of Mt. Kenya and fought a guerilla-type war with the British Army. The British also rounded up and detained many Kikuyu they felt were Mau Mau or sympathetic to the cause. Mama Waweru’s husband was detained only three months after their marriage. By then Mama Waweru was pregnant, and had to move in with her in-laws. After Mr. Waweru was taken away, the family was forced to move to a village surrounded by barbed wire, which the British said was for the protection of the Kikuyu not involved in Mau Mau. The real motive was for the British to control all the Kikuyu until they could put down the uprising. Five families had to live in one hut, which they had to build themselves.
While living in the village the British allowed the families to leave for one day a week to tend to their farms, which were up to six miles away. They were accompanied by armed guards to prevent any interaction with the Mau Mau, but the villagers were smarter than the guards. Through a series of messengers word would reach the fighters in the forest of when this would happen. Information was then relayed back to the village of what the fighters needed and where the supplies could be left. This included medicine, bullets, food and information on what the British were doing. Despite the risks, which included death, Mama Waweru participated in the effort. After four years in detention, her husband was released and they moved to the town of Nanyuki. After independence the Wawerus purchased their 15 acre farm on the western slopes of Mt. Kenya and raised eight children. Mama Waweru still lives there today with two of her sons and many grandchildren.
In closing, Mama Waweru was asked what advice she would have for us. She said that life will always be difficult and that we must accept this, but that we can’t let this get in the way of working hard and being successful. She added that nothing comes easy, and if it does, it probably isn’t worth having. She quoted Kenya’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta: “Hakuna cha bure,” which translates to “Nothing comes free.” His point was that all Kenyans would have to work hard and not expect any handouts. I think that all of us at St. Gregory have a clear understanding of this, but to hear it from Mama Waweru, whose life is so different from mine but with similar ideals, it was a very memorable lesson.