Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Issa the Artist

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today we had an unexpected and unbelievably wonderful day. We spent the entire morning with the boys who stay at the centre while the others attend school (Henry, Tony, Mohammed, Kevin, among others). We just talked for a while, enjoying the beautiful weather outside. We ended up heading down to the field to just lie in the grass, continue talking, and just hang out. The weather was beautiful out today. Mohammed shared a bit more about his past, explaining that he was on the streets from the time he was six until he was ten years old, when he came to the CYEC for the first time. He clarified that he returned to the streets in 2009 because the centre’s teachers at the time spoke negatively about his family, insulted him, and simply put him down. He told us that he returned again in 2010 when Jane came and rid the centre of the staff that had been mistreating the kids. He said that things have been much better since then. Kevin, who had been on the streets for two years with Mohammed, expressed how much better it is to be at the centre. It was great to hear a bit more about their lives and that they seem to be happy here. I’m glad we got to spend such a nice, uninterrupted morning just hanging out with the boys we have come to know during our time here.

After we spent a relaxing morning with the boys, enjoying each others company under the sun, we went on an adventure. Issa (runner Issa) is an artist, which we learned when he took us on that amazing run so long ago. We had promised to come see his paintings and were so pleased when he followed up with us yesterday, making plans to go to his studio this afternoon. Issa is a genuinely wise 22 year old soul. He is very hard to explain. He just really appreciates everything around him from nature (from the grass to the tree tops) to good company. He is very religious, but it is very subtle. He speaks of his faith and sometimes inserts inspirational religious quotes, values, or lessons into his conversation. Explaining that he would rather walk through nature than to walk along the road, avoiding the sound of traffic, he led us on an unmarked path through lush plant life to his studio. Issa should be a Kenyan tour guide as he seems to know almost everything. We learned that he was born in Nyeri and wants to attend university in Maryland (why MD? I’m not quite sure) to study art.

We walked through tall grasses along paths no wider than our feet one in front of the other. We tried some yellow native fruit, somewhat resembling a mixture between a miniature peach and plum. It was delicious. We spotted a hawk residing in an enormous and intricately interwoven tree… the kind of tree one might expect to see in Pocahontas or, more timely perhaps, Avatar. We leapt over small rivers and trekked up and down pathless hills. Soon enough, we found ourselves knocking on the door of his mother’s home (his father passed away several years ago). When we expressed our sympathies for the loss of his father, Issa explained that no apologies were necessary because there is too much negative emphasis on death, as he believes it is far from the enemy.
Couldn't you see this in Avatar?
Upon being so warmly welcomed into Issa’s mother (Ann)’s home, Andi and I realized that we were in for a major culture shock upon our return to the United States. We were in shock when we stepped into their beautiful house, feeling no dirt beneath our shoeless feet. We could only spot one fly… total. There was relaxing, instrumental music playing on a stereo that passively filled the warm and welcoming air. There were clocks on the walls, utensils, and a second story! We were in awe. Clearly we are in for a major wake up call, even when we make our way to Nairobi. Ann was absolutely wonderful. Well learned, expressive, insightful, interested, and eager to converse, it was easy to admire and immediately respect her. In my short time with her, I can say that she is one of the most warm, admirable people I have met throughout my entire experience in Kenya. As she force fed us until we were full of delectable rice and assorted vegetables, she spoke of her father’s farm just outside Aberdare (where we went for our first day of safari!).

She spoke of the importance of education, of our work at the centre, of meeting new people and making friends wherever you go, of appreciating one another. We spoke of how funny it is that people who are native to an area rarely marvel in its assets. For example, she said that hardly any Kenyans visit the national parks to see the animals as they figure it is something they can see any time they choose. I thought about how many New Yorkers have probably never visited the Statue of Liberty. It is true that the more familiar you are with a place, it is easy to postpone visiting places as the assumption is that they will always be there awaiting your arrival. While this may be true… our time is limited. However morbid that may sound, it inspired me not to forget or underestimate the many adventures that wait just outside the door of my own home. I wish we would have met Ann and her family sooner as we could have visited for tea every so often. I loved her company. Needless to say, it was easy to see where Issa learned his wisdom.

After a lovely lunch with coffee to follow, Issa took us upstairs to show us his art studio. Having never been in an art studio, I reveled in the perfection of its artistic chaos. Sketches lay strewn over his desk, while unfinished works lined the floor.
Issa's work desk.
In many instances, he prefaced the explanation of his paintings with “this one is far from finished, but…” In many such instances, I found myself telling him how much I loved the painting exactly how it was. The majority of his works were of safari animals; however, he did also have a few landscapes, and various abstract pieces. He used different mediums such as paper made from banana leaf, file paper, and sometimes wood for some of his works. They were all beautiful in their own way. His attention to detail is miraculous and I could not get over the opportunity I was being granted to look through the many works he had created. Some had wonderful stories, while others were just beautiful accounts of natural history in the making. Andi and I each bought a piece of his, mine I had to remind him to sign as it is one of those which he deemed unfinished. He told me he was not putting a date on it as he wanted it to be timeless. Typical Issa ;). How lucky of us to know the artist! It was a wonderful afternoon and I am so thankful for the experience.
Issa's art studio... just some of his many paintings.
Once we returned back to the centre, we spent some time with the kids while we waited for Issa (the original) to join us for a walk. We have wanted to hike the run that runner/artist Issa took us on in the beginning of our trip (he is also taking us on a run tomorrow, can’t wait) to take pictures of the beautiful landscape. Finally we set out in search of that perfect route. Since our memories were failing us, we took a while to find the entrance to the very beginning of the route. As we began down the path, it started to pour. Since the sun would soon be setting, and the rain was making us quite chilly, we decided to head back to the centre… maybe we will try again tomorrow. If not, I will just have to accept that it was meant to be a memory of the most beautiful run I have ever run… thus far.

Lesson 7: Leadership. I had a great concluding class today. We had two fantastic activities… one of which included the creation of a web (using string) of positive leadership characteristics; another was an old fashioned game of “telephone” to drive home the importance of effective communication and active listening. I think my class really enjoyed these activities and it helped to visualize some of these important concepts. So many students participated, which was really inspiring. We identified the leaders we had in our classroom (those who had already held a leadership position), agreed that every person has the potential to be a leader, identified good versus bad leadership qualities, discussed examples of good versus bad leaders, along with the equal importance of the fulfillment of the “follower” role. One student said that he believed all leaders to be bad, especially in regards to the participation in war as leading to death. He believed that the only good/positive leader was Jesus Christ. Others believed that there could be other good leaders, but that it was easy to misuse power. To follow up, we discussed the importance of being responsible when granted the power that sometimes accompanies leadership. We talked about what kinds of responsibilities these included. It was a really fulfilling class and I couldn’t be happier with how our classes ended up. One student requested to borrow my Lesson 7 lesson plan until tomorrow to look it over more closely. She then asked me if a teacher could be a leader to which I responded, “what do you think?” She believed a teacher could be a leader. I agreed.  

Tomorrow we will be meeting one last time to collect evaluations and exchange email addresses to keep in touch. We took about a million class pictures which was naturally a huge hit. I am going to have to go through them all to see which ones are viable :). I am really going to miss the kids. How could I not?? We are getting up early tomorrow to maximize our last full day at the centre, so I am going to head to sleep. Lala salama.
One half of my class (and me).

The other half of my class (and me).

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