At eight this morning, as I was preparing to head out to work, I received a call from Sister Judi. She said she was going to visit a few schools today and asked if I would like to tag along. Without hesitating, I leapt at the opportunity to spend a day "out in the field." We met at the road around 8:45 and began the drive to Kakamega. In the back of the car was a young boy with CP named Kevin and his grandmother. He was at St Julie's on Monday and I had remembered his parent saying that he was going to school for the first time this week. As it turns out, Judi was driving him to the boarding school this morning. We made the 45 minute bumpy ride into Kakamega and Judi said that Kevin told her that he needed a new pair of shoes if he was to go to school. Barefoot, Kevin was to place his tiny feet into their first pair of shoes. Once in town, we went to the shoe store. Kevin was carried in (he is unable to walk on his own) grinning the whole way into the store. I could see his mind at work, telling himself that he was not there to look any longer. He was there to get his first pair of shoes. The saleswoman came over and Judi pointed out the standard black shoes that all of the school children seem to wear. Kevin's foot was measured and the lady disappeared to get the correct shoe. With a box in hand, the lady returned and Kevin let out a glorious cry at the very sight of the container for his shoes. He beamed as the lady removed the shoes and slipped them over his toes and carefully around his feet. If you wanted to actually define happiness in a way that is real, I would say Kevin's reaction was more pure than the word itself. Feet clad with shiny new shoes, Kevin was the king of the world and ready for school. We brought him over to the school, checked in his supplies, and introduced him to his first wheelchair. A natural on wheels, Kevin was not shy to use his new method of transportation to explore the school's hallway. I spun him around a bit as he showed off his sly smile that is punctuated by his tongue, a mini Michael Jordan. We said our goodbyes and dropped of his grandmother to catch a ride home.
Next up was Mumias, which is sugar cane country. You knew that there was a large business because of the fact that the road was in great shape. That is in terms of Kenyan roads. It was not perfect, but not a single pot hole. As you can imagine, a large sugar company operates out of the area and makes sure to keep the roads for the sake of its trucks. On the other hand, sugar cane grown in Malava is placed by hand onto trucks that go over pot hole infested roads. This gives anyone with a sweet tooth the chance to grab a piece off the back and enjoy as he/she walks. In Mumias, trucks are much bigger and are loaded by machines. The roads are so well kept that the trucks can go 80 kmh, which is far too fast for anyone to steal any stalks. Sugar is the main crop, as I said already, but is so significant that everyone grows it rather than food, such as maize, that is far more practical for their needs. However, a cash crop is always hard to pass up. So fields of sugar cane it is!
30 minutes later we were at the Mumias Primary School for the Deaf. We met the headmaster of the school, Judi paid for the tuition of two Malava based students, and we got a general report on how they were doing. To enter a school full of deaf children was a riot because their reactions were wild when I entered the grounds. They violently waved their hands in rapid signs to signal that I was here. Since they could not talk, they just stared. The brave few waved, but most just stood in shock. Barely able to lift their hands to utter a single sign. I could not help but laugh at the ludicrous situation. As we left, a few ran to the gate to catch their last glimpse of me as I left. The did not wave or even move save the pushing of shrubs away from their faces to see us. Next door to the primary school is St. Angela's Girls Secondary School for the Deaf. This time Judi wanted to inquire about a girl attending the school. As we waited I was forced off into another room by a school board member at the insistence that I sit in a chair. It seems that I somehow offend people when I stand and wait. We sat in a separate room, the man and I, and made small talk about the school. The headmaster came in and swiftly ushered us into her office. Judi was still busy, so I remained with the two of them for about 10 minutes. Fortunately, they were kind enough to carry a conversation in English. They discussed the teacher's strike that began on Monday.
In Kenya there are two competing teachers unions: KNUT and KUPPET. KUPPET made a deal with the government last week, but has a very small membership. KNUT had yet to make a deal and angered by the deal with the competing union called on a strike. What this meant was that nobody was to go to teach. Kenya seems to have an us-vs-them mentality, so anyone who was to go to teach would be taken as a supporter. Private school teachers are not unionized, they are paid by their schools. However, they cannot go teach either, for it will be seen as support for the government. The headmaster was telling us that the schools teachers had been coming to work, but would hide in the library. When strikes occur for Kenyan teachers, sadly it is a regular occurrence, those on strike patrol the schools and beat up teachers who go to work. On Monday, a group came around and asked the guard if any teachers came to work. He replied with a simple no, and then was threatened to be beaten if he was proved a liar. He invited them in to look around, but the group declined. The school determined it best to keep the teachers in the library for safety reasons. If a group was to return, they would look in the classrooms and the teachers office. Meanwhile, the girls have been left to teach themselves and make trips to the library when help is needed. For the public school children, each morning they travel to school and are told there is no class. Many stay and play soccer and other games on the school grounds. Others wander the streets. Nothing bad has come of this around here, but it is not good for children to be left to their own devices during the day. After awhile, they can only begin to get in trouble.
Judi entered the room as we finished the discussion about the strike to ask about the girl. The headmaster said that she would be welcomed to the school if she wants. Having completed the days tasks we set back for the 1.5 hr or so ride back to Malava. I am glad that I was able to go with Judi today. I was able to see how else the St. Julie's center helps the children as they get older. It also gave me the chance to get a better understanding of what is needed at the center and how I can help. Hopefully, Sue and I will begin work on raising funds for the center. Little has been done so far to secure much needed money for what is a valuable resource for the greater Malava community.
We made a pit stop in Kakamega before driving home. I bought the Daily Nation to see what coverage it would have on the inauguration. To little surprise, the cover had a large picture of the Obama's as our new president was inaugurated. It is still a bit strange to see a new president. More so on the cover of a Kenyan news paper.
Rain has come for the third day in a row. Giving us more water in the rain tank and water for the crops. Last night, I awoke to pouring rain at 1am. The rain swelled as a great torrent which rose and fell like gales waves to overwhelm and comfort me as I laid peacefully in bed. I had never been awoken to a more thunderous calm that last night. I slept well after.
It is now time to make dinner. Have a great day my faithful readers!