On Becoming a Cultural Spongeby kenya on Jun. 22, 2012, under Life
June 21, 2012
By Emily Hansen, St. Gregory Class of ‘12
This trip to Kenya has been incredible! Every single day there are opportunities to have meaningful cultural exchanges and to experience snippets of the Kenyan lifestyle. Throughout each day I stop to reflect on the Kikuyu sayings our teachers share with us and marvel at the balanced, calm rhythm of life that allows time for appreciation and contemplation. I am eager to absorb as many new outlooks and wisdoms as I can during our trip, so like my sister Liz once said, “I am just going to be a sponge!’’
Our day started out with proctoring and grading the midterm examinations for grades 1-8. The Kenyan students began testing on Tuesday or Wednesday and will have had testing for a total of two and a half days by the end of the week. Irigithathi and a couple other schools began Wednesday morning and are scheduled to continue through tomorrow afternoon.
Daphne and I proctored the Kiswahili and science exams but then were excused for the rest of the day to visit the home of one of our “mother’’ teachers, Ms. Loise Maina. Mrs. Josephine Maina, the wife of Nelson (headmaster at Gitinga) also came with us since she and Loise are good friends. Ms. Maina gathered her sweater and teaching materials in her shiny Winnie the Pooh bag, and we were off! Just as we left the teachers’ room, another teacher, Ms. Githaiga, jokingly told us that we should remove our belts before getting to the house to maximize our comfort later on (little did we know, Ms. Maina had a delicious lunch prepared for us as soon as we arrived!)
Ms. Maina lives about 45 minutes walking distance away from Irigithathi in a small village called Kambi. To get there we followed a smaller road that wound past the Disabled Children’s Home and four private primary/secondary schools behind Irigithathi. My favorite part of the walk was when we followed a worn footpath nestled into the banks above the Naro Moru River and crossed a dusty concrete bridge to get to the other side. She took us to a higher point where we could see the tall eucalyptus trees of Batian’s View in the distance and showed us how to find the way home if we ever needed to. Along the way she explained the methods of grazing livestock, getting around on foot, and shared details of her life with us that we would not have known otherwise. She told us about her three sons and her background before coming to Irigithathi, and in turn, we told her about our families, aspirations, and impressions of Kenya.
At around 1:30 we arrived at her shamba (farm in Kiswahili) and were invited into her sitting room for lunch. She had a meal of chapati (bread) and lentil stew (with carrots from her own garden, might I add) already warmed. Here, it is part of the culture to eat until you are full. They say that eating more helps keep you stay warmer, so in Kenya’s cool weather it is important to remain insulated by consuming hearty servings, and we were more than happy to oblige. A platter of watermelon, bananas and oranges followed our meal. Last but not least, chai, made from fresh milk from her cow named Shisho. Sipping chai in the morning and after meals is a traditional ritual that I have come to love. Taking a few minutes every couple of hours to warm up and silently sip tea seems like such a luxury in theU.S., but here it comes naturally. Ms. Maina brought out her family photo albums and showed us pictures of her childhood, married life,and then husband’s funeral. She was so open, giving and caring that we were all content to just sit quietly, sometimes talking, but otherwise just enjoying each other’s company.
Emily, Loise, Josephine and Daphne
Ms. Josephine Maina shared a fun Kikuyu saying with me as we drank tea. I explained to her that for our dinner Jaxon and Sawyer were planning to slaughter a couple of chickens that would be our meal. She told me to be sure that the boys hung on to the bird properly after cutting the head off, or the bird could still fly away and whoosh! No more supper. The Kikuyu saying goes – if you cut the head off of a chicken, be sure to keep a firm grasp on the feet! If someone believes that their dream is so close or they are so close to attaining something, it is likely they will finish without following through completely, thus letting their chicken (or hope/goal) slip through their fingers at the last moment. Be sure this doesn’t happen to you – you’ve been warned!
Our visit came to a close around 4 p.m., and Ms. Maina called one of her neighbors over to escort us back to Batian’s View. He was named Peter Muthee, and was the brother of Judy, one of the ropes course facilitators at Batian’s View. Peter had also done a few wilderness leadership courses with Mr. Roberts in the past. Peter and Ms. Maina walked us all the way back home and deposited us safely with Mr. Roberts before leaving. She said, “I had to make sure my daughters made it back safely,’’ with a wink and a smile.
Daphne and I quickly jumped into the activity in the kitchen to help with dinner; tonight it was the students turn to cook. Hanfei and Vicki made delicious fried rice and Alleah made fried chicken from the chicken that Jaxon and Sawyer had prepared. We were also taught to make chapati and had a great time kneading the dough and then cooking it on the special blackened skillet.
Today has been phenomenal! I feel so fortunate to be able interact so closely with people of a very different culture from my own, and share so much. This is the type of interaction that truly forms close intercultural bonds. Ninapenda Kenya! (I loveKenya!)