June 20, 2012
By Alleah Salone, Atlanta Girls School
(Alleah is in Kenya with St. Gregory students from Tucson)
Today was no ordinary Wednesday. We didn’t have to wake up early for school nor hurry for the showers. This was a relaxed morning, which has been rare for us so far. Today was the first day of mid-term exams, which would have meant a day of proctoring and grading tests. Instead of experiencing this side of the Kenyan education system, which didn’t sound too exciting, we had other plans. The first was to have another delicious breakfast, which was totally different from our normal fare of pancakes, french toast and fruit. Today Ngigi surprised us with fruit salad, eggs, and samosas (Yum J). Samosas are a spicy meat pie, which really got us going this morning.
We left Batian’s View at 9:45 with our first stop being Manyatta Primary to finish the painting we began last Saturday. The plan was to finish the black paint on the bottom of the first classroom, stencil and paint the letters around the classroom, and finish the cream and black painting for the second classroom. We knew it was a lot of work, but we also knew we could get it done. We started at 10 o’clock and went straight through until 2, everyone working diligently. The best part of the work was the finished product. Both classrooms, especially the room with the alphabet painted on the wall, were spectacular. I would have never thought that it would have looked good, considering what it looked like when we began. Once we finished we returned to Batian’s View where we had we had a short respite to wash off the paint from our hands, legs, and arms. Sawyer and Allie made us a large kettle of chai, which we all needed. Our rest was short because we needed to head out to our next destination, Gitinga Primary.
Yesterday one of my teachers from AGS, Corinne Dedini, who had at one time taught at St. Gregory, arrived to spend the rest of our time in Kenya with us. In addition, Mr. Roberts’ son, Jake, had also arrived the previous day and was with us. Our little van was now totally full, and to say that we were cramped was an understatement. Imagine a van filled with five duffle bags of shoes occupying much of the floor space and two seats, and all of the other seats taken with two more people sitting on others’ laps. It was one packed van.
You may be wondering why we had five duffle bags of shoes. This past spring, a St. Gregory senior who had been at Gitinga last June, Athena Roesler, held a shoe drive with the goal of providing each student at Gitinga with a new or gently used pair of shoes. Not only did she find the necessary 196 pairs of shoes for each student, she rounded up another 50 pairs to be on the safe side. The shoes have accompanied us all the way from America and finally they were going to find the feet of many happy Gitinga students. Our task today was to fit the shoes on the Standard 3 and 4 students, and label the shoes with the student’s name in preparation for the big shoe presentation on Saturday.
Mr. Nelson Maina, Gitinga’s head teacher, greeted us upon our arrival and we were anxious to begin. We knew that it wouldn’t be a straightforward task for a few reasons. One, the young students knew no English and only a bit of Kiswahili. Two, we had five large bags of shoes with no quick way to tell the sizes of the shoes. While Athena had labeled each pair with its size, Mr. Maina gave us a list of each student’s name and their shoe size using the European system, which is totally different from the American! Three, for the few students who did know some English or Kiswahili, Mr. Maina told us that they might not know their shoe size.
We began with the Standard 3 class and when the students came to our sizing area, their smiles stretched from ear to ear. We had the students sit in a row and take off their shoes, many of which were falling apart or without a bottom sole. We then took two different sizes of shoes and went from child to child trying on the shoes. A couple of times we had a perfect fit on the first try, but a few other students took the efforts of several of us to find the right shoe. Once we had a good fit we labeled the shoe with the student’s name and class. I did learn some of the Kikuyu language today, that being “Witagwo atia?” Which means “What is your name?” The funny thing is that when the student answered, I was so unfamiliar with names like Wanjiko, Wangari, Mathenge, or Kimathi that I couldn’t spell them! After a few tries I got smart and handed the pen and label to the student to write it themselves. It was a bittersweet moment to see a child’s face when a pair of shoes fit them. They were so anxious to take them home, and it was so hard to tell them they had to wait until Saturday.
The same procedure took place with Standard 4, their smiles so huge that we all had smiles on our faces, too. Again we had a few students who were easy to fit and a few others who were more challenging, but in the end every child had a new pair of shoes.
Now it was time for the teachers. This was much easier because they knew their American shoe sizes and we had selected shoes for them in advance. We went to the faculty room where we first had chai. We then gave each teacher his or her new pair of shoes, for which they were very grateful. The deputy head teacher, Fred Gichane, exclaimed that his shoes were giving out slowly but surely, and Athena’s gift was greatly appreciated. He went on to read the note that Athena had attached to each pair of shoes, which read;
Hello Gitinga Primary! This pair of shoes was collected from people inTucson, Arizona. Many hands worked hard to get them to you. I hope that they not only protect your feet, but also help your learning experience. I miss all of you and send my regards. Love, Teacher Athena.
Our next stop was Naro Moru, to shop and look around. As soon as we got there Becca, Olivia, Allie and I went to the Nice and Spice café for chips (french fries) and sodas. It was so yummy! We spent an hour looking in the various shops, which are so different from those in America. There isn’t the equivalent of a Wal-Mart of Safeway here, but rather many, many small shops selling a particular variety of goods. While this means completing one’s shopping list may take more time, it does appear that it would be much more interesting than going to the big box stores we are used to in America. After the market, we headed back to Batian’s View for some R&R.
Tonight we had dinner at Mr. Maina’s house. As soon as we arrived he took us on a tour to see his two-acre farm, his many goats and his tilapia pond, in which he estimated there were 50,000 fish! For dinner we had irio (a mixture of potatoes, corn and spinach), rice, beef stew, cabbage, and an endless platter of chapatti. It was delicious! For desert we had chai and watermelon, the latter freshly harvested from Nelson’s farm. Finally it was time to go, but before we could get up, Nelson stopped us. He said that according to Kikuyu tradition, the man of the house allows visitors in and the woman of the house is the one to give permission to leave. Nelson’s wife, Josephine, then said a short prayer to insure our safe journey home that night and back to America. We thanked her for her kind hospitality and we departed.
All I can say was that it was a packed day! Looking back on it I’m not sure how we fit it all in, but we did. And we even ‘packed’ all of us in the van once again for our short drive from Nelson’s to Batian’s View and our waiting beds.