Monday, October 7, 2013

It's Okay

In 2008, President Obama was nationally celebrated as a hero in Kenya.  He was possibly  the most popular person in the country.  By 2013, his popularity is gone, and many even disapprove of him.  What happened?  More on this later.  

My current assignment for graduate school is to attend and observe a board meeting and interview some board members.  Naivasha Childrens Shelter does have a board of five, but they rarely meet, and some live outside of Naivasha.  Hmmmmmm...  Instead, I’m just going to interview myself about observations from my first day.

Hi Dan, what is the setting like at the shelter?

Magnificent question!  The facility is fenced and along the side of a mountain, offering a natural barrier.  The isolation provides a safe, home-like environment and inhibits smuggling anything into school.  The facilities include one large dormitory, a classroom building with four classrooms and a small library, a cafeteria, a workshop, a soccer/football field, a small greenhouse, a small tilapia pond, a rabbit house and a cow shed. 
A cow shed?  What a mooooooooooooving description.  Do the boys go to public school or stay at the shelter?

The shelter hosts daily classes, but the goal is prepare these boys to attend public primary (1st through 8th) or secondary (high) school.  Currently, fifteen of the boys attend schools outside of the shelter and return at night.  The remaining boys are taught to pass government tests required for acceptance into public schools and universities.  However, 10-12 years olds enter the shelter without any educational background and struggle to pass the tests.  For these boys, the shelter offers instruction in carpentry, welding and beading to teach them a trade.  The boys sell their goods at local craft fairs, providing them with a sense of accomplishment and ownership.  

Craftily said.  Are their extracurricular activities?

The boys are in charge of almost everything at the shelter.  The boys clean their barracks, do their own laundry, plant and harvest the crops, manage the cows, chickens and farm animals, manage the small tilapia pond, and clean the classrooms.  They are even responsible for bringing their own spoon for meals.  After school, there is always an arranged afternoon activity, such as volleyball, counseling, gardening, cross country running, and, of course, soccer.  Team and group activities further teach the importance of teamwork and community bonding.  

Yes, yes, I value teamwork, as long as no one tells me what to do.  Speaking of “barracks,” didn’t you mention that president Obama is losing popularity with Kenyans?

That’s right.  I was speaking with a few teachers about America.  Although they praised America, they were upset with Obama for two reasons.  First, Obama refuses to visit Kenya despite his family connection.  Second, the U.S. is initiating attacks in Syria without full United Nations support.  Let’s address them both:

1.      The current President of Kenya is Uhuru Kenyatta.  Despite winning by less than a percentage point, Kenyatta is quite popular.  Everyone I ask claims he is a good man and good president.  In December 2010, Uhuru Kenyatta was named as a suspect for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.  He is accused of organizing post 2007 election violence that killed 1,300 people.  He is the first sitting president to be on trial for crimes against humanity by the ICC.  Obama has understandably not visited Kenya to avoid bringing credibility to Kenyatta.
2.      Kenyans do not think America and Obama should interfere in other country’s political affairs.  They see our involvement in Syria as another Iraq, and just a continuation of Bush’s unilateral military interventions. 

Thank you for clarifying.  Can we pause see some pictures of Eric eating spaghetti? 


Wait, are you documenting this?

Will you share some more observations from your first day, kind sir?

Yes.  Yes, I will.   

I observed a visit from the two largest donors to the shelter.  They visit twice a year.  Interestingly, the shelter director had the boys perform and sing songs for the donors, rather than have the two men observe classroom teaching.  I guess most children’s shelters train their children to perform, thinking it will help raise money.  

I observed the younger boys eagerly approaching me, asking about America, movies, foods, trying to take my watch, and asking if I knew Rhianna (I do not).  They asked me if Rhianna is very beautiful.  I said she is beautiful, but not as beautiful as my wife.  Hi Camille.

I observed one enthusiastic, dedicated teacher, and one who never left his desk during class. 

I observed polite, respectful, sweet but cunning boys who truly cared for each other.  Most were focused, but quiet, and possibly lost during class.  A small number of students answered most of the questions.  Each boy comes from a different tribe, and teacher was joking with them about stereotypes associated with each tribe.  I asked them what tribe I was from.  They looked at me silently, until I told them I came from the Mzungu Tribe.  I am very funny.

I observed everyone speaking Kiswahili, thus I understood very little.  Kidogo. 
A donkey walked halfway into my classroom.  Yes, I observed that.  The boys hardly noticed. We did not beat the donkey.  

I observed a 53 black boys singing for two rich white men so they would continue giving the shelter money.  

I observed endless camaraderie, laughter and trash talking during three hours of outdoor volleyball.  They are good!  Although everyone laughs and enjoys the game, nobody says “good try” or “nice effort” on the court.  If you mess up, you’ll hear about it.  This is just natural banter.  I couldn’t understand anything anyway, so I’m sure they were just complimenting my play throughout.  

I observed cows, chickens, dogs, donkeys, tilapia, rabbits, geese and a bull walking around campus (ok, one of those was not walking.)  At one point during our volleyball game, we noticed a group of boys running towards the fence.  The bull had trampled through the fence and was charging towards something in the distance.  We couldn’t tell at first, but then we saw the target: a woman walking her sheep wearing bright red.  The bull charged at the woman, and all we could do was watch.  What did she do?  Instead of running, screaming, or passing out, she grabbed a big stick, yelled and launched herself at the bull.  Whoa.  The bull stopped dead in his tracks, turned around, and trotted back to the boys.  This woman is my new hero.  A moment passed, we looked at each other, awkwardly laughed, everyone said something in Kiswahili, and we just went back to playing.  I don’t think I’m going to wear red to school tomorrow.

I observed a group of resilient, bright and gentle boys walking me out at the end of the day and asking how soon I would return.  

I observed a wonderful opportunity to meet some extraordinary boys and hopefully provide some guidance and friendship.  This is going to be one enriching, challenging and life changing experience.   

Top animal pics of the week:

We found a hippo.

Munch munch munch
Go away.  Okay. 

Other notes from the week:

  • I had a nightmare about speed bumps.  Since no one really enforces the speed limit, and everyone drives as if their wife is in labor, Naivasha needed some way to slow down traffic.  Thus, there are random camouflaged speed bumps all over the roads that launch out and devour cars.  Our Duet never had a chance (we now have a new car).  But, I evolved.  I now have speed bump radar, and I devour the speed bumps!  Or, I have just driven on the roads long enough to know where the speed bumps are. 
  • A little girl at preschool LOVES Eric.  She always runs up to see him, insists he sit next to her at the table, and plays all her games with him.  She is the sweetest, and I feel bad because Eric is so young and sometimes fussy, and she doesn’t understand why.  She turns four this weekend, and we’re going to her party. 
We drove to Nakuru and went shopping.  This was the perfect babysitter.
Wait, is that Mommy?

Run away!

  • Kenyans have many different English sayings that don't quite translate, but I am “getting used.”  I was at the club house yesterday (pictures below) talking with the chef, Collins.  Upon seeing me, he said, “You’re lost!”  Huh?  I visit this club house probably four days a week.  Collins said again, “You’re lost, you’re lost.”  We looked at each blankly, and I said, “Am I supposed to be somewhere else right now?”  Awkward stare, awkward silence, crickets…. Apparently, saying “you’re lost” in Kenya means you haven’t been around for a while, or “where have you been?”    Also, “it’s okay,” means “yes.”  I learned that one quickly.
View from the clubhouse.

Flower farms

Eric!  Kick in the pool!  Kick kick kick kick kick kick....
Not the clubhouse, but a restaurant in Nakuru. 

Do I want you to follow my blog?  It’s okay!  Thanks, everyone.    


  1. Your blog is simply awesome. Your book regarding the difference in Education in rural Kenya and at a rich American prep school has potential.

    1. Ha, any publishers reading this? Thanks for the comments, Dad!

  2. So interesting to read about the environment that these children live in - sounds very nurturing but also one which helps the boys become self sufficient in a healthier way than when they were living on the streets, so to speak. How much fun the questions are they have about America! Of course, seeing Eric eat spaghetti is my to all of you.