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Kenya TIP: important moments, realizations and emotions

Sam Corbett

So much time has passed since my last blog post, so rather than talk about each and every event I would prefer to summarize some important moments, realizations, and the emotions attatched to those experience. I hope this information can be used to improve the program even more in the future. In this email I would like to discuss four topics; Kwirenyi Secondary School, my host family, Geno, and myself.

It didn’t take long for me to notice the friendliness of my fellow teachers, principal, and staff members. After meeting The teacher’s office is often filled with laughter as the teachers tell eachother jokes. Much of the time they are talking to eachother in Kiswahili so I don’t understand the joke, but the laughter is contagious. The teacher’s are frequently joking around, but when a student walks into
the office everyone becomes very serious. It seems the teachers react much differently to eachother than to the students. They dont appear to plan lessons very far in advance, but I still believe all the teachers work hard. Our school seems to have a slightly disorganized timetable. Classes dont always start when they are supposed to and sometimes teachers don’t show up. When certain teachers don’t show up the students are left with a free period since no one covers. Even though this is much different than the United States I’m not so much angered as encouraged to propose a more effective way of scheduling. I think the teachers have the student’s best interest at heart and I believe they would be willing to change their ways for efficiency purposes, but they need to be pushed in the right direction.

James (the principal) is a very kind man and appears to be highly educated in western methods of schooling. He doesn’t believe in caning the students, but in order to appease some parents he disciplines the students at the end of the term. Honestly, I expected the principal to be much more strict. Since our school has not been around long enough it does not recieve government assistance. I thought James would push the students so they might achieve better marks and the school might recieve help from the state. Even though he wants each and every student to succeed, he does not push them past their limits. Rachel and I have given James more than $300 for the new secondary school project that we have taken on, and he has been more helpful than I could have ever imagined. He comes with us to the hardware store each and every time we need to pick up supplies, bargains with the salesperson, and then documents the cost quickly and accurately. I really truely believe that James cares about his teachers, staff, and students. He has treated me and Rachel exceptionally well. He has taken us out to eat many times and even treated us to a sleepover at his house in Kakamega. I consider James one of my best friends in Kenya and I would highly reccomend Kwirenyi Secondary School as a destination for future Global Routes Kenya TIP.

My host family is truly amazing. Their generosity and friendliness never ceases to impress me. At first it was tough getting over the language barrier. Sometimes it was only my host mother and her hired helper Mike (a 19 year old from Uganda).I understood that Mike spoke mostly Kiswahili, but I was worried because it appeared my host mother did not know much English either. However after a few days of interaction I learned that communication would be possible as long as I reworded and my sentences. For example, instead of saying “How old are you?” I would say “What is your age?” The question, “does he live close?” became “does he live far?” Often times I would even use improper English in order to get my point across. Soon I adapted to my host mother’s sentence structure and would say things like “I am having much ugali”. My host father knows much more English and is equally friendly. Some days he isn’t around because of work, but we get along fine without him. My host family is clearly very protective of me and I am greatful for that. There was one occasion where I came home after dark and everyone seemed angry when I got home. I soon learned that they weren’t angry, just terribly nervous . This last week the house will be much more energetic since my host brothers and sisters will be coming back from boarding school. There will be four more people to meet and four more opportunities to learn!

Our leader Geno is one of the best teacher I have had. Her experience traveling to many countries all across the world has given her insight into all kinds of situations. Her advice on traveling and interacting with the community has been extraordinarily helpful. She tells us how to deal with the toughest situations without feeling negatively. What I like most is that she always has always has a different take on certain events. For example, she has taught us the importance of giving gifts, but also the importance of witholding gifts. It’s easy to hand out 100 shillings to a hungry child without understanding the consequences. It is much more difficult to keep that money while knowing that you made the best decision with the future in mind. What happens if you give money to a child – others will flock to you expecting the same kind of treatment. When you refuse to give them money it is as if you are holding that one child above the rest, queue the jealousy. While the child might be satisfied in the short-term, you cannot insure they will continuously have food so they might feel even worse when they run out. Also, by giving a child money you are teaching them that begging is acceptable. It is better to have the child do a small task for you in exchange for that money.

Geno gives great advice, but equally importantly she listens to each and everything the interns might say. Whatever emotional issues might arise, she deals with them extraordinarily well. I feel blessed to have such a great teacher.

As I have become more comfortable in my surroundings I am finding it increasingly important to check myself every day. I’m not talking about checking myself for fleas or ticks (which is also important), but checking to make sure that I am equally respectful and greatful for each and every day. I remember when I first arrived in Kenya I greeted everyone with a smile and managed to say, “Thank You” after every favor. Since then the favors and good deeds have been so numerous that sometimes I don’t even say, “Please” or “Thank You”. At this point I am trying to revert my mindset while remembering what it was like during those first few weeks. I want to appreciate each and every person who walks by. I want to appreciate the cows, goats, and the ugali. I want to appreciate each and every tree of this beautiful scenery. Sometimes I find this difficult because it seems I am caught in a bubble. Going from the leader Geno’s house (complete with running water and electricity) to Nakumat and back to Geno’s on weekends it is easy to forget about the poverty surrounding the country. I’m not saying that we are being naive, but it takes effort to think about these things and it often seems to be an unnecessary effort. Many would argue that this mindset would paint Nakumat in a negative light, but for me it does the opposite. I only appreciate every trip to the supermarket that much more. Going from my house to school and back to my house is becoming a routine during the weekdays. As Geno says it is easy to start out at point A and head to point B, but it is more difficult to appreciate the journey in between each and every day.

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