Monday, May 23, 2011

A trip to Karurumo

Monday, May 23, 2011

Happy Monday! Today turned out to be a great day. Andi and I were invited to go with Jane, Henry, and Peter (Henry was allowed to choose one friend to come) to visit Henry’s family in his home town of Karurumo, not too far away from Nyeri. As we waited for a matatu to arrive, Andi and I reviewed tonight’s lesson, Lesson 6: Appreciating Other People: Understanding our Uniqueness so we would be prepared for later. After finally jumping on a matatu, we headed into town to catch a second ride that would take us in the direction of Henry’s town. In town, we had some particularly unique offers. One gentleman asked me if I was “sexable,” while another made it clear that he did not yet have a wife and could make me one. I politely said “hapana” (no) and continued on my way without looking back.

After about a 15 minute matatu ride from town, we stopped on the side of the road. It was so ambiguous, I wondered how anyone would know where to stop along the road. There were no markers or identifying factors that I could pick up on to recognize this stop and am sure, if challenged to find it again, I wouldn’t be able to. Led by an excited Henry (he hasn’t seen his family in at least a month as he had run away from home to live on the streets of Nyeri prior to coming to the centre about a month ago), we followed a small dirt path just off the main road. This short path led us directly to a wooden house about the size of a small tool shed, surrounded by lush green plant life.

Henry entered the house and woke his mother who had been sleeping (we believe one of the reasons he left home was because his mother has a history with alcohol abuse). She was very friendly and was accompanied by two little girls (Henry’s nieces). She did not speak any English, but Jane later translated that she told us all about how Henry was an excellent student and that he was at the top of this class, often the recipient of various prizes. She showed us his grade 7 report card which had a note from the teacher explaining what a bright pupil Henry was, going on to say that he would be even better if his attendance improved. Henry only had one more year of primary school to complete when he ran away and stopped attending. Henry’s family lived in extreme poverty. I can’t adequately describe what we saw, but essentially an entire family lived in a shack no larger than a small college dorm room. There was no visible outhouse, and clearly no electricity or running water. It was astounding.
Henry and his mother in front of their home.
Henry's mom and her youngest granddaughter.
She took us on a tour of her family’s beautiful shamba (garden), which was overwhelmingly green and flourishing. Shoeless, she and her two granddaughters showed us all around the shamba. The two little girls constantly played with each other, holding hands frequently. It reminded me of how my sister and I were when we were little girls :). We were soon accompanied by other members of the family… aunts, an uncle, an older sister, and some cousins. We shook everyone’s hand and expressed that it was a pleasure to meet them.
Part of the beautiful shamba.
After trekking up the hill from the shamba to return to their home, we walked a bit down the road to visit the very small and quiet town of Karurumo. It consisted of a small strip of stores, all quite run down. The shops were either boarded up or without customers. We continued to walk for a while as Jane and Henry’s mother spoke mostly in Kiswahili. We visited another family who has a daughter at the centre. She was very welcoming and spoke some English so we could understand a bit. We toured her shamba and were welcomed into her home to chat (her house was only slightly larger than Henry’s, but was at least divided by a sheet into a sitting room and what I assume to be a sleeping area). This family was also clearly poverty stricken; however, they did have a cow who I assume was at least able to provide them with milk. Her house walls were decorated with unrelated magazine clippings, posters, wrappers, and plastic bags… assorted wall paper if you will. Another house we were invited into this afternoon was papered completely with “pampers” wrappers.

Certainly eye-opening, the experience made me appreciate the simplicity and wholesomeness of the lives they live. The women we met today were in no means looking for pity. Instead of dwelling on all of the hardships, struggles, and daily challenges they face in their lives, they find happiness in the most simple of occurrences… things that I anticipate many Americans would overlook. A smile appears unlabored and a hand is always immediately extended with no other expectation than to learn your name. It was inspiring.

After saying “kwaheri” (goodbye) to the two families we met, a matatu conveniently drove in our direction and, to our delighted surprise we didn’t have to wait very long at all to head back to Nyeri. Henry, Peter, and Jane headed back to the centre while Andi and I stayed to run a few errands and grab a bite to eat in town. Finally back at the centre after a long day out and about, we organized for tonight’s lesson.

I cannot tell you how relieved I feel after the class I had tonight. I have no idea what happened or why it happened, but I’m so glad it did. My students participated. Not just one or two, but maybe FIVE. Different students too! I was SO happy I had to contain myself. We had a fantastic class. Today we talked about identity, uniqueness (they didn’t know what “unique” meant), and the importance of respecting and understanding conflicting perspectives. One of the activities in understanding alternative perspectives asked the students to think about the challenges a teacher faces, a farmer faces, and a friend may face. Interestingly, it was much easier for them to share challenges a teacher or a farmer might face than it was to volunteer potential challenges of a friend. Perhaps that example was too personal. When they came up with challenges for a teacher, they said “when no one participates,” “when students laugh at the teacher,” and “when students just sit there and don’t listen to what the teacher is saying.” Amen. I took the opportunity to explain that understanding different perspectives may help to be more aware of our own behaviors and how our actions may be affecting someone else. I’m hoping I subtly got the point across ;). I know… I’m slick that way.

I went on to stress the importance of positive thinking versus negative thinking, which I think was really well received by my class. Everyone I looked at seemed to be really paying attention, engaged, and actually interested… am I in the right class? Okay, no I’m exaggerating, but it was really apparent today, which was AWESOME. I am hoping tonight was not an isolated event and that the participation/engagement will carry over to tomorrow’s lesson on leadership. Tomorrow will be our last lesson, as we will be leaving lessons 8, 9, and 10 to be taught by the CYEC staff (hopefully). These lessons are primarily based on leisure, beating boredom, and developing interests – all of which have been attempted in some fashion by the staff in the past (they have used the corresponding lessons from the HealthWise curriculum).

After the conclusion of our lesson in each of our respective classes, we spent some time with the kids, just joking and playing around. They are starting to get sad about us leaving so soon and frequently ask if they can come in our backpacks, drive with us to the airport, if we can just stay a while longer, or when we are coming back. Many of them have also asked what we are leaving as gifts for them… to which I respond, “well… what are you sending me with??” I think Andi and I will write those who inquired about said gifts a personalized letter, as unfortunately, all the items we brought with us must return with us to the United States. We decided we will also be buying meat for the cooks to prepare for all the children on Wednesday night (our last night here) as a parting gift. They rarely get meat/protein in their meals as it is expensive compared to ugali (flour and water) and produce that is grown in the CYEC’s own shamba (garden). I think they will both enjoy and appreciate this treat and I am excited for Wednesday night! My Kenyan dugu (brother), Mohammed, insists that we spend every waking moment we have left together. When I told him I may have to run to town at some point to get some things we need to cook our meals to which he responded, “you are only allowed 30 minutes.” Clearly, he has me on a tight rope as our time here comes to a close.

As I write, it is pouring outside… the rainy season is definitely living up to its name. It has consistently rained overnight and briefly into the morning until about 9:30/10:00AM, when it clears up and the sun shines for the remainder of the day. It has become quite predictable and its consistency continues to surprise me. Tomorrow Andi and I are HOPING to finally hike that beautiful route we ran a few weeks ago with Issa so we can take pictures/actually enjoy the sights. I also need to sit Jane down for her interview (my fifth and final staff interview) on happiness. Otherwise, we will let the day unfold. Until then!

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