Patience and perseverance: lessons learned in Kenyaby kenya on Jun. 17, 2013, under Life
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.
June 14, 2013
By Meg Aliffi
Atlanta Girls School
I would say that today started off as any other day, but it didn’t because this morning I woke up outside. We didn’t go camping last night, as it was a school night and we still had to get up early, but Quinelle, Lish and I decided to sleep outside in the chairs and couches outside our house, which, I might add, have the softest cushions I have ever felt. There was something very soothing about sleeping outside. The air was pleasantly cool and the blankets were warm and inviting. It was quite easily the best sleep I’ve had since arriving.
After waking up to the fresh air I immediately started into my morning routine: bathe, get dressed, get my teaching supplies ready, eat breakfast and make lunch – not only for me but also for my teaching partner, Finian.
The van dropped us off at Irigithathi, the school we are teaching at, and our day really began as we entered the school. We passed by the 200 or so students gathered in the main courtyard for an assembly and prayer, and entered the teachers’ lounge where we greeted everyone by going ’round and shaking each teacher’s hand. Over a cup of warm, sweet chai, we exchanged our morning greetings of “Habari yako?” (How are you?) or “Habari ya asubuhi?” (How is the morning?)
Later on in the day before lunch we discussed the different handshakes and greetings here. In America we might shake hands or give someone a hug. In Kenya the handshake depends on your marital status, your preferences or that of another person, and the country you hail from. The more familiar you are with a person, or if that person is from your home area, the handshake and greetings are much more involved. Even if someone greets another person in a far away town, like Nairobi, when names are exchanged each person gives a clue as to where they are from. If the names happen to be somewhat familiar to a certain area, the greetings give way to questions about one’s home area. It is not uncommon for there to be a distant, or sometimes very close, connection. If on the other hand the name is not familiar, the greetings end after a handshake.
After learning about the different handshakes and their meanings, the teachers then taught us about the different foods that we were eating. We learned that we are being fed so many avocados to help build our immunity. Another food we often have at school is ugali, which reminds me of very, very firm grits. This is the ‘filler’ part of the meal, which is eaten with some type of vegetable stew or meat dish. They then shared with us their concerns on the obesity rate in Kenya, especially, their children taking for granted the things that the past generation worked so hard to get. Processed and packaged foods are more common today than with the last generation, and as with any processed food, there are more empty calories than with more traditional food items.
In my last class of the day I taught the kids how to play hangman, which I found difficult to explain. But eventually after much persistence they understood and enjoyed the game greatly. After arriving back at Batian’s View, the American students sat down together and drank chai and exchanged our news of the day.
The final great event of the day took place down by the river. Not too long ago, a huge cedar tree that fell many years ago served as the perfect bridge over the Naro Moru River which runs along Batian’s View’s property. During the recent rainy season the river crested the banks and one side of the tree was washed back into the river, making the log useless as a bridge. Since this was the only way across the river and to an area that is wonderful for hiking, the staff at Batian’s View wanted to return the tree to its original place. The tree, however, which had a diameter of about three feet in the middle, must have weighed several tons. Even with fifteen people trying to lift the log with the aid of a pulley system, we only manage to move it a couple of feet, much shorter than the six or seven feet needed to resurrect the bridge. We finally realized that we were no match for the log or the river, and had to give up.
While defeated today, the men helping offered their opinions as to how we could improve the pulley system and we are determined to return another day. This was another reflection of the Kenyan spirit I have learned – with patience and perseverance any goal, however far, is attainable.
So in the final analysis it was another amazing day in Kenya. As teachers we taught, but more importantly, we learned. We learned from our experiences of what we saw, what we did, and what we were told. We learned from the teachers, from our students and from each other. We came to this country rather clueless and naïve and now I would like to think we have learned and adapted. And while we most certainly don’t know everything there is to know about the world, the box of knowledge that is now before us is being filled with our many experiences in Kenya.