Last weekend we ended our time at Sister Freda's. We had an all around great experience there and it was hard to leave (Zavion mostly missing Luke McNaughty Maker.) Before leaving, we had a fun evening with all the kids - Zavion leading them in an impromptu dance party that included much hip wiggling and booty shaking. And me without my camera. I'm hardly EVER without my camera! Sister Freda, the ever gracious hostess, showered us with hugs and gifts (maasai blankets, bracelets, beads) before we left. I never wrote enough about Sister Freda herself and all of her efforts to help the surrounding poor community (campaigns for mosquito nets, etc.) Perhaps I will write a little more whenever I get around to posting those pictures. As usual, goodbyes are always a little sad... 'Mom, why do we always leave? When are we going to stay in one place?' But leave, we did...
Me and sister Freda - a remarkable woman!
Next Stop - Common Ground for Africa. Not far from Sister Freda's place, but very different. It is owned and run by Joshua Machinga who never seems to rest and has his hands in so many successful projects, I have no idea how he does it. Common Ground was the very first program to partner with Village Volunteers and Joshua's hilarious, cheeky seven year old daughter, Shana, is named after VV's founder and director (and a personal friend :)) CG is a huge compound including all sorts of projects - a bio-intensive farm, a ceramic water filter project, the Pathfinder Academy (boarding and day school for grades Pre-K through eight) and more. He is currently planning the building of a new high school which he hopes to open next January. (You can sponsor a child's tuition by going to www.sponsorshipkenya.org , by the way.) I was looking forward to doing some farming, but, alas, not much is growing this late in the dry season. I do plan to try my hand at making a filter before I leave, though. The filter project is really cool - affordable ceramic filters that clean all parasites out of the water, are locally made/sold and diminish the need for bottled or treated water. I'm a fan.:) So is Zavion - he's fascinated by the construction and the science behind the filters.
Zavion and Shana
We are staying in another simple room ('with a BLUE mosquito net, mommy - how cool is that?') in a shared house (kind of like a dormitory.) Apparently, mirrors are not standard in this part of Kenya and I have now not looked into one for over two weeks. Nor have I had a decent shower. Oh well, without a mirror, at least I can convince myself that I look great, despite the unkempt, stringy hair plastered to my face, the constant layer of dust over my entire body, the puffy, insomniatic eyes thanks, in no small part, to that bloody loud, but seemingy invisible, mosquito that buzzes around the room all night with the sole purpose of keeping me awake, and the delightful smell of bug spray mixed with sweat... Miss me now?
We have, once again, met a great group of people. The place is full of animals and full of kids. Though Zavion is still occassionally swarmed by the kids, ("Uh, Mom, a little help here!) they are less pushy and give him more space than at Sister Freda's - he seems to be having a blast with them. Joshua is the patriarch and living also on the compound are his family (6 kids,) some other local families and two other American volunteers who have been here for awhile. Zavion has definitely taken a liking to this place - the dogs (who he has christened Mook McNaughty Maker, Zook McNaughty Maker and Joe,) the sheep, the chickens, the aforementioned kids (including two of the cutest 2-year olds I've ever met - Emmanuel and Iman) and 'the girls' - Lindsey and Krystina - the other volunteers. They're 20s and beautiful - just the way he likes them :) (they're also really cool.) Joshua also happens to have the best cook in Kenya and I can now add expanding belly to my long list of attributes ;). So much for the level of fitness I achieved in Zimbabwe... Zavion's current favorite dinner is chapati (YUM!), wrapped up around beans and rice and eaten like a burrito. That, and all of the fresh fruit.
Iman, Emmanuel and Zavion
Chewin' on some sugar cane just like the locals
Swarm of kids at the school
Zavion thought this was hilarious!
Afternoons and evenings are our favorite time around the compound - when things start to cool off and the end of the day breezes through on the everchanging moods and colors of daylight, dusk, sunset, twilight and moonrise. This is the time of toddler chases (Zavion being the target of the giggly, two year old set,) chicken tormenting (chickens have the run of the place and have even been found on our beds,) monster truck races, ballgames (seven-up, soccer and basketball,) moonshadow dancing and battling, karate lessons (Z is teaching us and fancies himself an expert despite the fact that he has never had a lesson,) dance parties, dirt pile sliding, card games, Legos, Madlibs & other word games, reading, and good food & conversation shared by all at the communal dinner table. The fact that the electricity has been intermittant at best doesn't deter this crowd! Nights are often capped by a little stargazing - here where the northern and southern hemisphere skys meet, the stars are quite amazing - especially now that the moon is waning. Zavion is usually first to spot Venus.
Making donuts with Lindsey
The nearby small, yet bustling, village of Kiminini is about a 20 minute walk along a dirt road and we make the trek into town most days. Usually buying some fresh mangoes or pineapple on the way and sometimes taking a pikipiki (bike taxi) back 'home' if Z is tired. He loves wandering through the town, captivated by the frenzied market, the donkey carts, the men welding with blowtorches and the women sewing with old manual sewing machines 'Mom, can we get one of those when we get home?' Usually several local kids fall in line with us. The surroundings are lovely - multi-colored rolling hills dotted with farmland and Mt Elgon standing sentinel beyond. It must be even prettier during the wet season. The riverbeds are pretty much dry right now and I haven't seen a raindrop (or barely even a cloud,) since I've been in Kenya.
L and K are very involved with some women's groups, so I went with them to some small villages where people live in one room, mud homes and the kids are so unacustomed to mzungus that they hide in the banana trees. The girls are helping the local women with small business ventures such as crepe making and selling. Margaret, one such woman, is the kind that you fall in love with on sight. She enters the room singing and dancing, a smile never leaves her face and her eyes shine brightly through tough, wrinkled, septegenarian skin. She has been living on about $1 per day which she earns from cleaning and babysitting for long shifts. The hope is that she can make more while working fewer hours selling crepes (they're delicious, by the way.) We sat and cooked crepes with her for a couple of hours - warmed by Margaret's constant smile and under the watchful eyes of several kiddos who joined us and even became our eager taste-testers. Lindsey has been with this project for years now (even did her Master's thesis here) and is working with many such women.
What a smile!
My main 'job' here has been teaching a daily class on health and nutrition to the grade 7s and 8s at the Pathfinder Academy. Armed with nothing but a small piece of chalk, I have to admit that I was initially nervous about teaching 12 and 13 year olds - I'm used to a more, uh, mature, audience. The kids were great, though - very well behaved, funny and responsive. The pedagogy of the whole system here is quite different from home - here it is mostly straight lecture and rote recall. True, the kids are very knowledgeable and obedient, but I wonder how many of the kids who are more creative, kinesthetic learners have been lost. And how much creativity and critical thinking have been stifled. It's a system-wide philosophy and there are many standardized tests that ensure schools are falling in line, so even if there are teachers and administrators who favor a more varied approach to teaching/learning, there isn't much room for change. That said, we had a lot of fun - the kids seemed to really enjoy having a guest lecturer, asked some great questions (and some pretty funny ones,) participated when asked and laughed when appropriate. It's interesting talking about health issues across cultures. For example, none of them have ever heard of depression or anxiety disorders and couldn't even fathom such a thing (the same reaction I had when describing eating disorders last week.)
Zavion has been attending school here in the mornings - with the pre-unit class. He was pretty resistant the first day - 'But, Mom, I don't want to go. There's some white blood cells that are busy fighting germs and they're too busy for me to go class.' 'Well, your brain needs to tell them that it's classtime.' 'All right, now most of them are ok with it, but there is still one white blood cell that does NOT want to go - I think we should listen to him.' He eventually, though reluctantly, entered the classroom. The kids sang a loud welcome song to him and he responded by putting his hands over his ears and hiding behind my skirt. The classroom is a step up from the feeding program at Sister Freda's - they even have a blackboard - but pretty bare by American pre-school standards. The kids sit at shared desks, do work in their notebooks, repeat what the teacher says and are perfectly behaved. Most of them, that is. There IS that crazy-haired, tall kid in American clothes that tends to leave class early most days.... ('How was class, Zavion?' 'Uh, not so good.' 'why not?' 'The teacher just kept telling us what to do.' 'Well, that's what teachers are supposed to do!' 'Well, I got a little bored.') Each day, though, he stayed longer than the day before, filled up his notebook with letters, numbers, words and pictures and progressively enjoyed it more and more- even walking in and plopping down at his desk without me escorting him. I'm hoping he'll be happy to go back on Monday and Tuesday. One thing is for sure - I appreciate how adaptable he is - imagine going to a new school every week or so - in situations where there is no way you will blend in - and remaining positive and happy. He's definitely earning his birthday trip to Zanzibar later this month...
Let's see, what else? The resident ladies have tought us the PROPER way to handwash our clothes (my attempt wasn't cutting it...) and, because the water pressure in the showers here amounts to little more than a trickle, they threw Zavion into a basin and hand-washed him, too. You can only imagine how dirty he gets here - playing in the dirt all day!
Post bath (he asked that I not include the actual bath picture)
Yesterday we decided to take a Saturday trip to the local nature conservancy with Lindsey and Krystina. We took a shared car and then a tuktuk to get there - Zavion loving the different modes of transportation. The conservancy itself is also known as the 'freak farm' because of it's odd arrangement of deformed animals. I wasn't planning on devoting much writing to a simple daytrip, but this place is so, ummmm, unique, that it demands at least a couple of paragraphs. The weirdness of the place starts long before you even leave the parking lot. A hodge-podge of buildings resembling a Flinstones episode on acid - brandishing anti-globalwarming slogans and bizarre diaramas depicting the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine...) To demonstrate just a modicum of the bizarre - a quote from a sign on one of the buildings reads, 'Urinating the fear of the knife.' ???
After paying (too much,) we officially entered the park - the grounds of which would make a perfect set for a Friday the 13th-type horror film, a David Lynch movie or an episode of Scooby Doo. Much of the park feels totally abandoned. Trails to nowhere. Empty, overgrown, half-finished but never used animal enclosures. A series of rickety bridges and old treehouses that are 'to be used solely for meditation or a tete a tete,' but that have mostly fallen into states of extreme disrepair. A completely dried up riverbed and 'wetlands' area. A dilapidated sign haphazardly directing us to 'Obama Falls.' A lonely baboon reaching for us longingly from his inadequate cage...
Zavion loved every minute of exploring this weird place - running ahead 'looking for clues,' having us read every sign to him (ie. Nature Walking is Good For Family Bonding; Forests are the Lungs of the Earth; Bend Your Skull, etc.), negotiating the jumble of bridges and vertiginous ladders and laughing it up with me and the girls. 'Hey, this place looks like Africa!' Suffice it to say, he had a blast :)
With Krystina and Lindsey
After winding around a bit on the trails, we finally made it to the affectionately nicknamed 'field of freaks'- with such residents as 2, 3 and 5 legged sheep, cats & dogs, dwarf cows, tail-less donkeys, hermaphrodite livestock, cows with unusually large (and uncomfortable looking) horns, sheep with 'distended and enlarged vulvae,' and our buddy - the four-horned, three-eyed, sideways mouthed bull - the picture of whom graced my Facebook page yesterday and generated several interesting comments from the lot of you. Zavion named the bull Kooky McSpooky, but later changed it to Kooky McNice.We had a picnic of sorts in the gazebo in the rundown playground, played on the should-be-condemned equipment, attempted to pet the donkeys and played roles in Z's imaginary world (he was the brave knight, I was the queen, Krystina the princess and Lindsey the servent.) Alas, it was eventually time to leave this land of the strange...
No caption necessary...
After the park, we wandered through Kitale (all hot and tired,) had a late lunch, internetted and headed back to Common Ground (via matatu, shared car and pikipiki) for another enjoyable evening at 'home.' Sundays are usually pretty quiet and we've been relaxing much of today. Headed into town for a bit, had some lunch, played some games... After sending this out, I'll take Z on a tour of the filter project and perhaps we'll both make one. We have two more days here and then we'll leave for another project (in the Maasai region) on Wednesday. I will probably teach again tomorrow and Tuesday and maybe we'll start prepping the garden for growing season. I will also, hopefully, take one more trip with Lindsey to a women's program.
There is much to do here, but you really need to spend more time than we did to get the most out of it. The girls are building a website to find sponsors for the high school students, helping design the high school itself, running a basketball 'league,' participating in the women's groups, etc. We've been brainstorming ideas for fundraisers including a Kenyan cookbook (inspired by the aforementioned wonder-cook, I'm sure,) 'selling' named bricks, commemorative trees and classrooms at the new school, etc. There would also be more manual labor to do during planting or harvest seasons. At least I got to do some teaching and, of course, continue to learn and see a lot. I think Zavion has enjoyed his time here, as well. Thank you, Joshua and Village Volunteers for another great experience!
After a week + on our next volunteer project (where we definitely won't have electricity or water,) we'll do a one day game drive in the Masai Mara, followed by a week in Zanzibar and a few weeks in Ethiopia. We'll be home in late March (a mere six weeks away...)
I will leave you with a couple of Zavion anecdotes before I go:
A couple of days ago, he had a slightly sore tummy (though he's remained remarkably healthy.) "Mom, my intestines kind of hurt a little. The esophagus slide and stomach pool are still open, but the intestine roller coaster is definitely closed for the day. There are some white blood cells in there that have closed it down until I feel better."
In school, the kids were asked to draw their houses. He did. They were then asked to draw their church. Zavi was confused and mentioned not having a church (or not knowing what a church was, I'm not sure which,) so the teacher asked him to draw any building that is important to him. So, what does my little guy draw? Wait for it.... wait for it... he drew the REI store in Seattle. Go, Z!
Until next time... (with photos, I hope...)