Kenya Journal: 31-10-2009

This week has been a taxing one with the children fighting over water at school because only a few of them have anything to drink.  Sylvia and I bought backpacks, uniforms, pencil cases and books for Benjamin and Ndola.  We gave them to the boys in the school’s small library on Thursday; I was watching Ndola’s face as I gave him his and it was absolute shock, that somebody had given him something, and then a big grin of pure delight as it dawned on him that it WAS for him.  We also gave them exercise books and biscuits, and yesterday they came and showed me the pictures that they have been drawing since they got their new books (which only cost us about 15p).  The pump is supposed to be being mended so everybody can have water but there is no money to get it done.  The school’s pump provides water to all the surrounding houses so the families living there also have no water.

On Thursday evening Sylvia and I were invited to the headmaster’s home for supper.  We walked to Acacia – one of the two supermarkets here in Kitengela – to get picked up, and it was rush hour when we walked through the town.  There were so many big trucks, matatus, cars, motorbikes, donkey carts, hand-pulled carts and lots of people interweaving between all the traffic.  The engines here all seem to be decades old and puff out billowing black smoke.  We were picked up at half past 5 African time, which means ten past 6; as you can imagine this way of operating with time suits me perfectly!  We got in the back with Leah, the deputy head at school, and a man called James.  There were four adults squeezed into the back seat and I had so little room it actually gave me backache.  The drive to Francis’s house was brilliant, like going on safari down a dirt road right into the middle of the plain.  We saw gazelle in the grass beside the road and Nairobi on the horizon.  The sun was just setting over the plain and the distant lights of Nairobi started to twinkle and the stars started to come out as the darkness fell around us very quickly.  Francis’s home is a very nice one, right in the middle of nowhere, but it has electricity on solar power and a generator.  We ate pancakes, dried peas and crisps with sweet tea.  Francis offered that I could stay round and he take me to school in the morning on his motorbike, but I declined.  Just like at the house I visited in Narok, a lot of people turned up just to see us, a lot of Maasai friends of Francis’s.  We left after eating, talking, praying, and taking some photographs.  The drive home was even better than the drive there.  I was in the middle of the back seat this time which didn’t give me any more room but at least it was a lot more comfortable as I wasn’t crammed against the door.  I really like the African way of doing things, everyone crammed in together, music playing loudly, everyone always happily chatting and laughing together and the darkness of the African plain outside, with gazelles picked out in the headlights and the bumpy dirt track looming onwards interminably.  We drove to Leah’s house in an especially poor part of Kitengela; she lives in a small corrugated iron hut without running water, electric light, or a toilet.  And she is the school’s deputy headteacher!
We drove on through the backstreets which was really fascinating to see, normally we just walk up and down the main street, from our house behind the Tosha petrol station up the road to the matatu stand and the shops and internet cafe.  But seeing the backstreets was so interesting, more very bumpy dirt lanes and shops constructed from corrugated iron and mud.  Lots and lots of people living without heated water, electricity, or western toilets, washing machines, fridges, etc, without any hope of ever being able to travel anywhere else.  We got back home and had dinner with our family.  I played with Peter and talked to David about religion and politics, then went to bed.

Yesterday (Friday) was a fantastic day.  Sylvia, Sophie and I were late getting ready in the morning because we had a big debate about immigration policies over breakfast.  Then there was no running water so we had to wait for David to pump some more so it took a while before we could do anything.  It was Sylvia’s last day at school and she wanted to buy them a stereo so we went to Eastmatt before getting the matatu to get a big stereo, which was wrapped in a big box.  We were carrying so many things by then that Sylvia said at last she felt like a true Kenyan, who bring everything imaginable onto a matatu: long pieces of metal piping, plastic cans filled with petrol or water, large black plastic tubs that have to be strapped onto the roof with string, goats, boxes and bags of all shapes and sizes, chickens, etc.  Sylvia sat right at the front and I sat right at the back, next to a friendly man who liked my Maasai bracelet and showed me his, and another man on my left.  Then a woman got on and sat on top of both of us; there were 18 people packed into a 14-seat matatu.  The engine wouldn’t start so six or seven men pushed it out of the depot and around the corner and down the road until the driver could get the engine started.  Eventually it came to life.  The back of the matatu behind me rattled so badly it sounded like it was about to fall off.  The back was filling up with grey smoke, either from the engine or the exhaust.  The men by the windows on each side of me tried to let in fresh air by opening the windows, but it didn’t make any difference.  All this time I was being crushed by the large woman sitting on me.

I kept hitting my head on the ceiling when we drove along the un-tarmaced stretch of road.  Luckily the roof isn’t solid so it didn’t hurt, the roof just bends and dents easily.  Getting out with the stereo and another two bags was very tricky, since the aisle space is so tiny, and there were extra people sitting in the space.  Anyway I found a way to clamber out.  Everybody works together to unload a person’s belongings off a matatu, passing them forward over the rows of seats so that the person can just get themselves out.  Once you have travelled on matatus a little while, you understand how travelling on them works, and matatu etiquette.
We then walked up the road to school, which seemed to take forever, because I was tired and the stuff was heavy and it was very hot.  The past few days these mini tornadoes have been forming and they whip down the road, stirring up all the dust.  You have to stand still and close your eyes as it passes around you, like a desert storm.  It is very exciting to see one coming down the road towards you, a small tornado of dust spiralling up into the air.  This week I have seen two giraffes from the matatu on the way to school, just wandering in the grassland up to the side of the road.  And we found a tortoise after school, walking back with some of the children.
At school we went round giving sweets to all the children, sweets that Sylvia had brought with her to say goodbye.  We had a fantastic lunch in the staff room: rice, vegetables, potatoes, a kind of cabbage coleslaw, and meat that was actually edible!!  and not a bean in sight!  Normally we have plain beans, with another type of bean.  Occasionally, if you are very lucky, you might have a tiny sliver of tomato skin in your bowl.  But this is only for one or two people per day, out of all the staff room.  By the time I get home I will be sick of the sight of beans!
Everyone was in an even better mood than normal, because it was a celebration day for Sylvia and because the weather was good and it had rained for almost five whole minutes during the morning.  And also everybody, like me, was extremely excited that we weren’t having beans for lunch.
Francis held an assembly to say goodbye to Sylvia; she presented him with the radio and the footballs.  Then we went outside the front of the school building and Sylvia planted the eucalyptus tree she has donated.  Anthony and I were the photographers.  Francis shouted at me whenever I stood in the wrong place, or forgot to take a photograph.
While Sylvia was talking to people and having more photographs taken, I sat down on the steps with Benjamin and he read Jack & the Beanstalk to me from the book I had given him the day before.  As soon as I sat down, a whole pile of children came and scrambled onto me, trying to get as close as possible, stroking my hair, my arms, legs, hands.  They are especially enamoured with my watch and my Maasai bracelet.  Benjamin was sent running off by the gardener to go and herd some escapee goats away from the newly planted tree, and then I read the book to some of the younger children.  I played with them some more, picking them up, taking photographs, then trying to rescue my camera from the hoards of small grappling hands.
The most hilarious thing of the day happened on the way home.  Francis had arranged for the year 1 teacher Gladys to drive us down from the school to the main road (it’s normally a 20 minute walk, but it’s a beautiful walk).  Gladys is a reputed bad driver.  Edwin (also known as Tupet) – one of the teachers – got in the car just to accompany us; he sat in the back with Sylvia, and I sat in the front.  All was fine for a few metres until we approached the gate, which three of the boys had opened because they were waiting to walk home with us.  The gate is very wide, but Gladys aimed straight for the wall, and smashed the car into the pillar attached to the gate.  Everyone sat dazed for a moment, then I got out to tell the boys to move out of the way and to see what the damage was.  Gladys drove back and part of the car fell off as she did so.  The way she had crashed, she’d crumpled it so that the front right corner of the car integrated into the wall.  The headlight and the whole corner of the car was completely taken out.  I wanted to crack up laughing so badly, but didn’t want to be impolite.  I struggled very hard not to.  Once she had successfully navigated the gate and the boys, and me, on the second attempt, she drove extremely slowly.  We picked up Ndola, the boy who comes home on the matatu with us part of the way and I said goodbye to the others, Benjamin and David.  Ndola was very excited because it was his first time in a car.  He is ten years old.  Gladys drove very carefully all the way down, stopped before the road, and got out while Sylvia turned the car in the road for her (nobody wanted to risk Gladys doing it herself), then Gladys and Edwin went very slowly back up to the school in the disfigured car.  Then I cracked up!

I fill up a bottle of water for Ndola each day now because I know that he has none.  When I give it to him on the way home he drinks it in four seconds and hands it back to me so that I can fill it up for him again the next day.  Unlike me, he and the other Kenyans can drink the tap water.  It’s difficult to give him the water while at school because the other children would mob both him and me.

When we got home Peter gave me a big hug which was great, and Richard had arrived too.  Richard was a volunteer at Nakuru and I met him there two weeks ago when he was digging the long-drop toilet.  He came to stay with us before he flies out today, because Priscilla and David’s house is the nearest homestay to Nairobi.  He finished his placement last week and this week he has been on safari in the Masai Mara and climbing up Mount Kenya.  After dinner – which included more meat that was edible!! – four of us went out: me, Priscilla, Richard and Sylvia.  Not Sophie because she has been ill, and not David because he had to get up early to drive Sylvia and Richard to the airport.  We went to Nomads, a bar/pub/club and to the upstairs bit where I have never been.  It’s a proper club up there, with completely open air sides and a straw roof.  I had a brilliant night, the three of us didn’t feel like Mzungus there, just like people, which is a wonderful, fantastic change from normal.  The music was awesome.  Four times they played the great Nigerian song that is played everywhere all the time but which no-one knows the name of; I will have to find out what it is though as I don’t think I’ll be able to live without it when I go home. (N.B. It is ‘Yori-Yori’)  And Michael Jackson was played too!  Kenyan people, especially the men, aren’t self-conscious or afraid of getting up and dancing, and that’s really good.  David had given me brandy at home, I had two vodkas and then Priscilla said she wanted to buy me a drink.  Her idea of one drink was to buy me a whole bottle of vodka!  Richard got offered a prostitute this time, not me.  It happens all the time, everywhere, not just in clubs or bars.  I went up to dance again to the Nigerian song when it played the last time, but by then I was pretty wiped out.  I explained about fifteen times that I was just really tired, but absolutely no-one believed me.  Then we all got up at 5am to say goodbye to Sylvia and Richard, and it felt to me like the same, very long, day.  But a fantastic day.  And now there are only two volunteers left: me and Sophie, and David, Priscilla and Peter have gone to Nakuru.  But David’s sister moved in with us so there are four of us with Anne.  It’s been a good couple of days.

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