St. Gregory students take a trip through Kenya’s historyby kenya on Jun. 12, 2013, under Life
June 11, 2013
Editor’s note: Students from St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson are joined on their journey to Kenya by students from two other schools – Catalina Foothills High School and Atlanta Girls School.
By Quinelle Bethelmie, Atlanta Girls School Class of ‘13
Last night just before dinner there was an unfamiliar roar in the distance, which after some consideration we realized was the river. In the afternoon the sky over Mount Kenya was a deep bluish black, which certainly looked like rain from where we were. But it must have been A LOT!
My classmate, Lish Earnest, went to investigate and found that the river had overflowed the banks, and the rushing water was deafening. This is the same river that for the last few afternoons we have rock-hopped across to explore on the other side. There won’t be any crossing of that river in the near future.
The morning began with a cold chill and a lukewarm shower, but the payoff this time was Spanish omelets. Our chef, Ngingi, continues to surprise us with his culinary talents. Last night he made us Kenyan pizza, which had a few slices that were adorned with small orange wedges along with the traditional tomato paste and cheese. Orange pizza was a first for me!
We all made our lunches in the morning fog, and at 7:45 sharp began our respective walks and rides to school. I spent most of my day writing lesson plans and teaching hour-long English classes. Eager children with eager minds finished their writing assignments with enthusiasm. I never once worried that I’d be lacking in volunteers for the class skits or reading out loud. The children tended to swarm at the sparkling representations of a job well done, those being the stickers I would award to them after a correct answer. Several had several colorful sheets of construction paper adorned with dozens of stickers. (Yes, I don’t mind giving our awards for participation!!)
I found myself volunteering to teach in every time slot possible, with little time for planning or catching a breath, which is fine with me. I want to get as much out of this experience as possible. I can rest when I get home! After several back-to-back lessons I was mentally exhausted, and so it was time for my physical exhaustion to begin. I led a group of about 70 fifth- and sixth-grade girls to the field where we played tag and ran relays. It was quite a task given that I didn’t have any physical education equipment or “quick fix” games to keep them engaged. And while these students are pretty good with their English, there is still a bit of a communication barrier. Nonetheless, we all had fun but I was definitely ready when the class ended and time for lunch.
We returned to Batian’s View around 3:30 and this time Ngingi surprised us with homemade doughnuts! Noah Deitch and David Cornell stopped at a little hoteli, the term for a small restaurant, and purchased 20 or so meat samosas, which they graciously shared with us. Along with hot chai, this was the best afternoon tea break one could imagine.
At 4 p.m. a visitor walked into the outside dining areas, where we all were seated. The elderly woman was stooped over at the waist and used a stout sapling for a cane. The woman was Mama Waweru, a neighbor to Batian’s View who experienced first-hand Kenya’s armed struggle for independence, also known as Mau Mau. Mama Waweru as born in 1936 and her full name is Ester Wanjiku Waweru. She is from the Kikuyu ethnic group, which dominates the area between Nairobi and Mount Kenya. She greeted us, sat down and proceeded to tell us about her life.
Mama Waweru married at the age of 15, and she and her husband lived in the town of Nanyuki, her husband working as a clerk for the East African Power and Lighting Company. This was his day job, and at night he helped the freedom fighters who lived in the forests of Mount Kenya. The Mau Mau were referred to as terrorists, trying to scare the white settlers off their farms. In response, the British government declared a State of Emergency and began arresting and detaining any Kikuyu they felt was active in the Mau Mau cause.
Mr. Waweru was arrested in November 1952 and sent to a detention camp, where he would remain for six years. Since Mama Waweru was now alone, she was taken from her home to live in a village set up by the British. The British claimed that this was done for her protection, but Mama Waweru said that in reality it was the colonial government’s way of tightening their control over the Kikuyu. At the time Mama Waweru was six-months pregnant.
Mama Waweru described that in the camp several families lived in one hut. They were not allowed to leave the village, which was surrounded by a moat and barbed wire, except for three hours each week. During that time they had to collect firewood and water, and go to their small farms to gather their crops. Mama Waweru said she had to carry her load on her back and a child strapped to her breast. What they gathered had to last for the entire week. The rule was that the children were to eat first, and the adults later. This meant that many of the older Kikuyu went hungry for much of the time.
During their sojourns from the village they were escorted by armed guards, who made sure that the Kikuyu didn’t deliver food and information to the freedom fighters. This, of course, was the lifeline for the Mau Mau who depended on others to keep their campaign alive. With each trip, however, Mama Waweru would carry food or even bullets in her baby’s clothing, undetected by the guards. At a predetermined location she would leave the goods for the Mau Mau to be collected later under the cover of darkness.
Armed with guns, planes and thousands of soldiers, the British government was too much for the Mau Mau, at least over the long haul. Eventually the freedom fighters were either captured or left the forest, and by 1959, the Mau Mau revolt was over. Through the seven-year ordeal, however, the British government knew that it could no longer maintain a colony in Kenya, and the country was granted independence in 1963.
Mama Waweru had lived through so much, and seemed to embody the idea of the human spirit. Her parting words of advice to us were that life will have its ups and downs, but one must never give up. If one tries, his or her situation will always improve, but only if one tries.
She also advised us that once we were old enough that we move out of our parents’ homes and be on our own. It is fine if we visit our parents, but she stressed that when a child is ready, it is time to leave the comfort of home and take on the world’s challenges independently. The positive outlook that she had gained from such a difficult life was inspiring, reminding me to keep pushing forward even through events that seem impossible to overcome.
I spent the rest of the day and evening surrounded by my new friends in the cooling air of sunset, sharing stories of our adventures in our different school settings and learning more about each other through our differing outlooks on the environment around us and our shared sense of humor. Tomorrow I greet a new dawn and a day that I know will leave me covered in chalk and riddled with laughter.