Graduation. What a day. With a later start than usual, we headed over to the grounds near Kibera. Upon arrival, Janet, Hayden and I helped by moving tables and matching swag with our awards as our MC’s prepared what they were going to say. Kibera students started to show up, and obviously, I didn’t recognize them and being the anti-social person that I am decided against trying to meet people. Instead, I sat with Aggie and waited for our students to arrive by bus. Every minivan and car that approached I hoped it was them, but as per Kenyan timing, they arrived about an hour an a half late. There is a saying regarding late arrivals that says; if you arrive up to 30 minutes late, those waiting are annoyed with your tardiness, but any longer and they are just relieved that you are here. That is exactly what happened today. As they piled off of the bus, we stood nearby and individually greeted everyone with lots of hugs and kisses. The energy was high, and the happiness and joy I felt and saw in them was a great confirmation of the connections we had made over our month here, and I don’t think I stopped smiling for a straight hour after their arrival.
Vj, our MC, started speaking at around 11, and as I expected he was great. He cracked just the right amount of jokes, and Freddy, (our driver) who sat next to me, could not stop laughing. With spirits high, Kibera class 1 and 2 started handing out their awards. “Best dressed, most likely to raise their hand in class, etc.” Watching the Kibera students and teachers interact was awesome, and also confirmed the similarity of our experiences despite working in two separate places and having completely different team dynamics. Finally, it was time for Mathare students to get their gifts. As Hayden and Paul MC’d, I helped to hand out the gifts. The students were hyped, cheering and clapping for their classmates, and I felt our awards really portrayed each student. Biggest heart? Diana of course. Best smile? Who else by Emelda. The biggest increase in confidence? Ayub by far. We went on like this until it was time for the actual graduation of the students. Starting again with Kibera, each class went up to collect their certificates as Elaine & Quinn, and then Kait & Nicole MC’d for their class trying their best not to butcher the names. Last but not least, it was Mathare’s turn. Hayden and Paul called up each person individually, as the rest of us hugged and shook the hands of the students with words of congratulations and luck for their future. With my arms wrapped around Diana, we took a big group picture to commemorate the day. At this point, I felt so proud of my students that I even gave Josinta a big hug and told her I liked her dress, despite her rudeness to me throughout the program. She smiled and held my hand and her eyes told me that even if she does hate Mzungo females, I stole a tiny piece of her heart.
Erick & Rueben presented their individual raps and freestyles, which was awesome to watch and reminded me of the talent in the individuals I had taught, and then it was time for games. VJ asked for seven volunteers, and then created a sort of amazing race type challenge. Step 1? Find a mens belt. Winnie came running up to Hayden, who unexpectedly was accidentally punched in the crotch as she whipped off his belt at an impressive speed, and then ran back to her seat at the front. As she did, she collided with Diana who fell and twisted her knee. With all the commotion going on, I didn’t realize straight away, until I saw that Diana had not got up. Ben and VJ helped her to a chair and the game continued as some of the women tried to convince her to go to the doctors. It took her a lot of persuading and pain to finally agree, and so Dennis, Prisca, Diana and I jumped in the van and head off to the clinic in Kibera. This experience was probably where I learned the most in terms of the differences between our lives. On a normal day at school, we are just teachers and students, and it’s easy to forget the vast differences in quality of life. Everyone is dressed well, full from chapati, and life is pretty good. Heading into the hole in the wall clinic, though, was a big slap in the face to my ignorance. With just two rooms, one for the dentist and one for the doctor, I helped Diana hobble in on one side as her arm reached for the dirty, broken wall for support on her other. As far as I am aware, they injected her with some sort of pain killer, and then physically twisted her knee back. She screamed out in agony through gritted teeth, as clearly the medicine had not kicked in yet. This process continued for about 20 minutes, as they kept giving her more medicine that wasn’t working and probed around. Tears rolled down her eyes and I felt so so sorry that this was life. There was no other option, and that really sucked. Her total bill came to $30USD, and Hayden, VJ and I split that three ways without a thought. As we drove back, another car containing Nicole and a few students passed us with a Kibera student who had deeply cut herself and needed some medical attention. I think I was one tone whiter when I got back, shocked at the situation and at a slight loss for words.
After food was served and everyone had eaten, it was time for us to leave. I think it took us about an hour and 400 pictures for us to finally get going. I gave each of my students a massive hug and wished them all the best of luck and really meant it. I have learned so much from these incredibly positive and inspiring people, and I wished I could give them everything they could ever want. I hoped that our time together was as meaningful to them as it was to me, and with all their kind words and gratitude, I think it was. Lilian came up shyly and handed me a bracelet that she had bought for me from Galdys, which was so heart warming. My cheeks were hurting from all of the smiling and laughter, and as Paul took yet another photo of me with an array of students, I thought to myself for the millionth time this trip: this is happiness. With a full heart but an empty stomach, we head home for food, packing, and relaxing. I had my final drink of the trip with Kait on our balcony with our left over hummus and pita, and then head to yaya with Janet to buy some Kenyan coffee to bring back. About 20 minutes after returning, we went downstairs to say goodbye to those flying home. I felt no sadness, as I know I will see them all again in Vancouver, and wished them all a ‘safiri salama’ as they drove away. Once they left, the whole apartment felt so quiet, so I head into C4 with my vodka pineapple and gossiped with Hayden about our students. Dennis then came over and we all sat up until about 2 in the morning sharing our thoughts on love and relationships until our eyes were too heavy to open and we all went to bed.
The next morning, a tad hungover, Elaine made us our final breakfast in Kenya before we packed. As promised, Paul then arrived from church, and him and I head over to yaya centre to meet with Erick. I had forgotten to give Erick my Kenyan phone, so asked him to meet me before I left instead. Over my last Java iced-coffee, we chatted about Kenyan vs. Canadian culture in all aspects of life, before heading upstairs to get some food. As we sat waiting for our food and joking around about our past relationship experiences, I took a step back in my mind and looked at the situation. Here I was, in the middle of Nairobi, ordering my “usual” from the foodcourt close to home, with a Kenyan entrepreneur/teacher and a student from Mathare who had both become my friends in such a short period of time despite the vast differences between all of our lives. What!? Not wanting the time to end, we all head back to my apartments and sat by the pool until it was time for us to leave. Midway through our conversation, Paul pulled out a pink box with a bow and handed it to me. Inside was a beautiful watch, and as I thanked him for such a nice gift, he told me it was to remember the time we had spent together. While I definitely didn’t need anything to help remind me of this month or my time with him, it was so sweet and thoughtful I didn’t even know what to say. Of course I will speak to him and hopefully see him again soon due to our business, but I was the most upset to see him go. He is the type of personality that you can find no fault in, the type of person that just makes you smile no matter what he’s saying. With our final goodbyes and all of our suitcases stuffed into the van, we drove to the airport. It’s going to be a long journey.