Friday, May 27, 2011

Until next time

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What a wonderful end to an incredible experience. Today was great in so many ways. We woke up early to maximize our last day at the CYEC. We spent the morning hanging around with our group of boys. Issa came to grab us to head to the YMCA to, along with Jane, sit in on a meeting they would be having there. When we saw Jane for the first time once we arrived at the YMCA, she told us how “scary” we looked. Our skin has been regularly under the organized (and unorganized) attack of mosquitoes. I have come to feel bad for it. My entire left arm looks like a battle field… clearly I lost. She exaggerated and told us she didn’t have to see a horror film now because she had seen us. We joked about how she no longer had to go on safari, because she had her fix just laying eyes on us. Okay lady… we haven’t seen ourselves in a mirror in over a week. Let’s not get carried away ;). Andi and I have been relying on one another to report when either of us really did fit the description of scary… so far we’re alright. However, the response to “how is my hair” is always “It’s African.”

In other news, at the YMCA, a group of about four street boys had been recruited to do some work in exchange for meals and they were discussing the potential for housing opportunities. They were doing some landscaping while we arrived and we had some fun (and provided some unintentional entertainment) cutting some grass with the scythes they use. Things got a little scary when Jane took a whack at it… no pun intended.
Look at that form...
After making some fun out of work, we gathered in a room adjacent to a classroom occupied by a large group of nursery school children. As laughter and little kid chatter filled the air, Andi and I zoned out as the entire meeting was conducted in Kiswahili/kikuyu (the native tongue of the kikuyu tribe, predominant in this area of Kenya). We gathered that they were going to commence this program as of today and introduced all the staff to the boys. Otherwise, we were lost. Following the meeting, feeling bewildered and a bit in the dark, we hurried home to the centre as we had a very special date with Henry and the boys.

When we went to visit Henry’s family on Monday, he had brought some Arrowroot with him back to the CYEC for us to try! We made a lunch date, bought some potatoes, tomatoes, and onions for Henry to create his masterpiece. The six of us (Henry, Mohammed, Samuel, Kevin, Andi, and myself) crammed in our little kitchen, all contributing in some way to our collaboration of a lunch.
From front to back: Henry, Samuel, and Kevin. Cooking away!
Henry was clearly the head chef and cooked with ease and apparent experience. While we waited for the doma (kikuyu for Arrowroot) to boil with the rest of our ingredients, I helped the boys set up email accounts and a Facebook for Mohammed (upon special request). They are a bit slow on the computer and tell me that I type entirely too fast. They’ll get there :). Henry’s first email to me was…
“hy erica

… and indeed he is ;). We all ate in happy silence, reveling in Henry’s excellent culinary skills. The lunch was delicious, mostly because of all the happiness that went into it, but to avoid getting emotional and sappy, it just tasted really good.

After lunch we told the boys we had to get some work done and that we would be down to see them again later. This “work” was some letter writing. We decided that in response to the familiar question “when you leave, you give me what?” we would write our closest little rafikis (friends) letters. I wrote letters to Henry, Mohammed, Charles, Kevin, Samuel, Laban, Margaret, and Judy. Phew. It took a lot out of me. I hope they find comfort in what I wrote, or at least crack a smile ;). I left each of them my email so hopefully we will be able to keep in touch every once and a while! I will miss them and all the kids at the centre.

So, in time for our final day at the centre, Andi and I came up with a brilliant solution to the children’s infatuation with our cameras (camera craze), which is guaranteed to elicit pure chaos within moments of revealing this technology. We switched cameras for the afternoon, explaining to the kids that we could not share the camera because it was not ours. This also allowed us to take pictures of each other. Brilliant, I know. Only brain surgeons like we are could have come up with this solution. After three and a half weeks…
Diana was making some strange noises and making us laugh :).

From left to right: Gesinta, Diana, and Vincent!

After our somewhat successful photo shoot, we decided it was too nice of an afternoon to just sit around. We threw on our sneakers and gym shorts and set out with our recruits to the field. For a while sprinting from one side of the field to the other was the game of choice (upon little Gesinta’s request). However, after we got out our initial excitement (included with yelling the whole way while running), we got settled for a good old game of duck, duck, goose! The kids had never heard of this game and thought it was the greatest (isn’t it?!). We played for a long while, expanding our game continuously as new children became curious in our antics. It was a wonderfully carefree afternoon with the kids and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend our last afternoon at the CYEC. Pretty soon it was time for dinner and we headed up the hill to eat with the kids.

As a parting gift, we purchased 20 kilograms of meat for all the kids and staff to have a delicious meal of beef, ugali, tomatoes, onions, and sukumawiki (kale). I think all the children really appreciated as we watched them rip every last piece of meat off the bone. Andi and I shared a portion. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but their portions are HUGE. So huge, that Andi and I (who I must add are both capable eaters) could not finish ONE combined. After dinner, we were asked to say a few words to the kids. It was difficult to summarize the magnitude of their presence in my life this past month, or the impact they have had on me, or the overall extraordinarily moving experience this has been in general.

Somehow, I managed to summarize in a sincere thanks, an expression of my caring for each of them, and a word of advice to smile at least once a day… just because. I hope that although my words were few, they were able to feel to an extent what I feel for them and the time we had together. Andi said a few words as well. Then two students were called upon (no one volunteered which made me laugh because I have been all too familiar this in my past classes) to share a few words of thanks and good wishes. This was concluded by a “gift of clapping.” The entire room of staff and 150+ children and youth erupted into rhythmic clapping, something they had done when they said goodbye to Caroline and Ida weeks ago. I felt overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions as my chest vibrated with the enthusiastic clapping that continued to ensue. Songs followed, as did many, many hand shakes. It was a fantastic goodbye.

We then headed to class, where we simply collected evaluations. We had initially created this hand out as a part of our Lesson 10 (Concluding lesson), however, we decided to give it early to evaluate the curriculum through Lesson 7: Leadership. I will have to share another time, as I have only briefly read through, but it appears, at first glance, that the majority of the problems were with communication/understanding. The language barrier was by far the most prominent issue with our curriculum. Otherwise, I did not see one negative comment, which was wonderful. I have to read closer to give you more specific feedback, so bear with me ;).

As I waited for the last of my students to complete their evaluations, Titus (one of the staff members who visited my class to be sure everyone understood the directions) asked me if I had planned to talk about anything today. Since we had not, he expressed that the students wanted to have some sort of discussion and if I could talk about anything at all, they would be grateful. Caught somewhat off guard, I began to give them a bit of background on myself, thinking that I should have done that initially! I felt bad that I hadn’t. I explained various parts of where I come from, that I am studying nursing at University and have one more year to go, that I have loved teaching them and I thank them for coming class after class. They were very anxious to hear about me! Questions erupted. Did I have a boyfriend (this question was number one)? Where was he from? How old was he? Do I have both my parents? Where do they live? If I am studying nursing why am I teaching? I explained that teaching is a very large component of nursing, that aside from it being a hobby of mine (easiest way to explain it), it is very important to begin learning healthy behaviors in order to influence good health and avoid illness due to poor decision making.

One student asked me what I would like them to change at the CYEC. I was very adamant in telling them that it was not up to me by any means. That this was their centre, their home, their responsibility. I told them that it was up to them, as a group, to talk amongst themselves about improvements that could be made, then perhaps shared in a meeting with the staff. Little did I know, this would become a full on discussion following our Q&A session (between the students and Titus as the staff representative). The questions then turned to cultural differences. I clarified a few very skewed perceptions of both America and white people in general. Do all white people not believe in God and only believe in science? Are there homeless people in your country? Are there street boys? What kind of music do white people listen to? Why do white people only have one name instead of two or three? I clarified that we only introduce as one, but many actually do have three! What are challenges that I personally face? The questions went on and on… I wish I could remember more! It was fun and I was so happy to be able to clarify some issues with them, especially about the umbrella group of “white people.”

Following a second round of my expression of gratitude for their participation and my hope that they got something out of what we had learned, something amazing happened. One of the most participative female students in my class (I am omitting her name to respect her privacy), asked to speak with me outside. Initially anticipating she wanted to discuss the potential for me to sponsor her, as I had received several other such requests tonight, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. After returning my lesson plan on leadership (she borrowed it after last class to read it over again) and finding the right words, she eloquently articulated that she needed “to know how to be happy with my life. I need to know how to best deal with all the frustration I feel and how to be the happiest I can be.” She explained that until these past few classes, she had kind of been okay with how things were in her life. She had failed her exams multiple times, so found herself taking a class on welding here at the centre. She didn’t mind welding, but after class, she realized she wasn’t as happy as she knows she could be. She wants to teach; only the change in her facial expression when she mentioned it could tell you how much. Issue number one.

Issue number two was that she was feeling immeasurable frustration regarding the way some things in the centre were run. She felt that bad behavior was not addressed properly, especially when it came to the younger children. She felt that poor behavior in these instances was simply ignored and that these children were not being taught proper manners and thus, having poor leadership in their upbringing. As head girl (there is a head girl and head boy who are responsible for overseeing the children and act as support role, working as a liaison between the kids and the staff), she felt that in supporting the staff’s response to bad behavior made her a bad leader as she felt she was condoning such poor behavior. How aware and well articulated! I felt so many things. I was so impressed. I felt much respect for her as she took the initiative to come to me and address her most personal issues. I felt proud that our curriculum had inspired someone who had almost settled into a life she could “manage” to strive for more. Lastly, I felt touched that she had chosen me, had found me capable enough to confide in. I had to pause before I responded.

Realizing I was about to embark on a mini counseling session, in my own head, I experienced a moment where I questioned whether I was qualified to be spewing out such important advice. I quickly told myself to get over it and that I was more than qualified (I’m hoping my advice was professional enough to validate that statement… I’m such a nerd). Again, out of respect for this student’s privacy, I will simply say that we came up with a plan for conquering each issue. She shared fears, concerns, hopes, and uncertainties. We addressed each and I hope she felt a bit of relief following our talk. I gave her my email and I very much hope she emails me. I don’t know if I will ever have this kind of talk again, but I found myself hoping more than most things that she gets exactly what she wants. I hope she doesn’t stop seeking that happiness she deserves until she has harnessed it.

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