I am currently sitting cross-legged at the back of the plane, with a black coffee on the table, my thick shuka wrapped around my shoulders and a beautiful view of what now might be North Carolina to my right. With my initial flight from Nairobi to Frankfurt smooth, I only encountered trouble trying to get on my Frankfurt to Chicago flight. With an apparent glitch in the system and a slight incompetence of the staff regarding Canadian student visas, I was not allowed on board. Sitting for hours in Frankfurt airport, I was finally given a waitlisted ticket on a direct flight to Vancouver (the same flight as Yuki, Leah, and Doris). Unfortunately, their flight was fully booked, so instead, I had to head over to Untied Airways customer service to get a rebooking. My misfortune continued as I was unhappily greeted by a woman by the name of Lourdes, who was just about to finish her shift so my mere presence was already an annoyance. She basically told me I wasn’t her problem, so I politely asked her how I will get to Vancouver if everyone I have spoken to thus far has told me to speak to her. She grumpily made a few phone calls in German, and as she did I considered explaining to her a concept we had taught in class about correct customer service practice named GUEST.
G: Greet the customer
U: Understand the issue
T: Thank/ Tell them to buy
I chose not to, and instead focused on remembering her name for when I formally complain to the airline. Thanks, Lourdes!!!! Eventually, realizing I was, in fact, her problem, she booked me on a super inconvenient flight first to Washington DC that would arrive that evening, then a subsequent flight the next morning to San Fransisco, followed by a short layover and then a final flight to Vancouver. I begrudgingly agreed, seeing no other real option, and with little success asked the next lady if they will pay for my hotel in Washington DC. Sleeping the entire flight there, I arrived feeling a lot better and ready for my hotel stay in the Hyatt (it’s important to treat yourself in times like these right?), with a short delay in getting my bags, I finally arrived, dumped my stuff right by the door, and searched online for food options. By a process of elimination (everything was closed), I settled on Dominoes. Like I said, treat yourself. Eating until I was more than full, I settled down for basically a long nap of about 3 and a half hours until it was time to head back to the airport. Running on two cups of coffee I am finishing off my blog posts for this trip. It has been amazing. I will hold these memories dearly for life. I am almost happy that the delay in my trip home as occurred as I had such a beautiful morning watching the sun rise over the amazingly green Washington D.C. as we took off and I’ve had much more time to reflect on the trip before normal life gets in the way. As we soar above the clouds I count my blessings… what a month.
Special thanks to Kait, Allison, Val, Elaine, Ben, VJ, Hayden, Paul, Leah, Yuki, Doris, Janet, Nicole, Quinn, and Aggie for the memories, laughter, kindness, and love.
Guys, it’s been great.
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.
Day 1 of presentations went successfully for the most part. Both VJ and Hayden stayed home sick, so it was just the six of us. We split the class up into two groups of 30, and each day had roughly 15 presentations in each room. It was almost nice to see that the students were nervous… to me it meant that they were taking the class and assignment seriously. The presentations went decently well, with some people speaking less than others, but each person putting in effort to ensure they had something to say. The other students asked great questions and pushed their peers to really challenge their ideas and think about what they were saying. Towards the end, however, the students were getting restless and started to tease the presenters. When the Kennedy brothers stood up, it hit a peak. The class kept laughing and jeering until Joseph (or Simon… I honestly still can’t tell them apart) sat down and put his head in his hands from being so embarrassed. Paul told them to be quiet and stop laughing, but as soon as Esther stood up to present the same thing happened. I felt upset with the students, so once Esther concluded, I went up to the front of the class and told them how disappointed I was. As soon as I mentioned how nerve-racking coming and presenting to the class was, they all replied with lots of nods and yes’s, but I continued and told them it is a big sign of disrespect, and it’s not okay, and that I want more from them next time. After class, I felt slightly awkward, but this quickly subsided as chapatti was served and I started chatting with the students again, including Joshua who I asked to make matching shirts for all of us instructors. That night after another successful dinner at Ceders, we sat around as Quinn created the template design and we tried to agree on a common style of shirt that we’d all like.
Day 2 of present went well, with the presentations starting off really strong and continuing with strong speakers throughout the day. After school, we said our goodbyes and head over to the Masaai market to bargain for some final souvenir shopping. I wasn’t entirely sure what to buy, and hate bargaining, but ended up settling on a thick shuka for the mini reunion party I will being throwing at my place in a few weeks time, and a handcrafted chess set that I saw at the previous market and loved the look of. We grabbed some iced-coffee and a snack, and head back for a quick shower before mystic gardens. Mystic Gardens is a restaurant that SSE Kenya attends every year as a final dinner all together (including the donors and other staff from organizations such as ACCESS), and is supposed to be a highlight of the trip. While it was nice to all be together, the vibes were slightly strange. With two separate round tables, there was a physical divide between us instructors and the organizers/donors, in the centre, a table with complementary whiskey, vodka and wine (yay) and a make-shift stage area for our host to speak on his microphone. Before dinner was served, we mingled and had a chance to stir the food before sitting down to eat. The event cost us 2000KES, yet I think I ate about 500KES worth of food. Anyhow, drinks were paid for and I sat and spoke with Hayden and Dennis (one of the drivers) about relationships and jealousy after Ben had spoken with me about the five languages of love and what they mean. With dinner having been consumed, our host came up to speak a few words. He ended with a thank you to the organization for their hard work and dedication, and asked for others to speak. Of course, VJ was first to come up followed by Ben, and they both said some kind words towards the organization and our team in the inspiring way that they talk. As I sat trying to not make eye contact with anyone to avoid being called up, Doris and Janet were ushered to the stage to sing the Chinese song they had sung just a few days ago in class. With a mix of relief and admiration, I watched as they sang and then spoke about their experience on the trip. It was wonderful to see two girls that had initially been quite shy to come up and have no trouble singing and speaking in front of such a relatively large audience. A few others came up to speak, including Kait and Nicole who spent time individually thanking all of the instructors which was so sweet, but the host started to get restless. As Yuki and Leah tried to hand over the thank you gifts we had bought for Colleen and Frances, he snatched the microphone. Yuki told him they weren’t done, but he was already impatient and as Frances tried to speak a few words of thanks, he came and snatched the microphone again. After this, the vibes of the night changed, and I felt a sense of dislike towards this man who had swung in, charged us large amounts of money, and didn’t even let our organizer speak. Finally wrapping up, we head back to the apartments and sorted out tomorrows events organizing the yearbooks and who would get which gift. I have mixed feelings about tomorrow. I’m excited for everyone to graduate, but upset that this will be our final goodbye, I’m happy that we get to spend such a nice day together, but sad that is has ended so quickly.
Day 24 pretty consisted of me talking about my bowel movements way too much and eating, napping, and reading.
Day 25, however, was a lot more eventful. I started the day with a strong coffee and chocolate Weetabix (totally forgot about this product, it’s amazing), and then we head out to Mathare. A number of students that asked how I was feeling was so adorable, and apparently, they all prayed for me in the morning which was the sweetest thing ever. The energy was pretty low, but we managed to get through until about 11:30 when Hayden started to look really sick. Immediately after teaching his section, he slipped out of the classroom followed by VJ to check up on him. Paul pulled me aside and told me he thinks he has malaria, so the next step was to call a driver so he could go to the hospital. I joined him in that, as I felt I would rather not be alone if I were in his position.
The hospital was pretty nice, and five hours later we were back at Woodmere with no malaria and antibiotics for his stomach infection. While the past few days have been pretty uneventful, it’s been nice to relax after such a hectic weekend. Tomorrow and Friday are presentations and I am actually really excited to see what our students have to offer and to see how far they come.
The agenda left for tonight is Paul cooking us Nigerian food and us sorting out the order of our students.
I think I’m getting ready to go home… I’m still excited for the next few days of business presentations, final dinner, and then graduation on Saturday, but I’m also excited to get back to school and gym and my normal routine.
Thursday felt a lot like a Friday, we knew we had the day off the next day, and the teaching was minimal with activities taking up most of the day. Henry didn’t come to class, but Moore still sat near the back and participated a lot more than usual, even coming up to the front of the class to explain some numbers (to be fair, I did almost force him into it, but he loved it). We conducted some class feedback, which included the fact that this course was for them, and they got out of it what they put into it. It was received with copious nods and a few “mhmm’s,” and there was the sense that people were really trying to learn, we even had to force them to go on their first break.
Later on that day, a man named Justice came to speak about an organization that provides loans and grants to start-ups that directly target the slums in one of three areas; health, education, environment. All the students were clearly really interested, and it sparked an idea in Erick’s head which he discussed with me over lunch. Essentially, he had created an energy device in high school for a science fair. Once the judges saw the blueprint, he said he could see that they wanted to copy it, so he snatched it away and never showed anyone after that… until me. I didn’t 100% understand the physics behind it, but it seemed pretty legitimate, so I got him to speak to Paul about making it a reality which Paul gladly agreed to do. During this conversation, the Mandazis were given out, which were awful. Erick agreed they weren’t great and came back after lunch with two chapati’s; one for me and one for himself. I tried to give him money, but he refused. It was an adorable gesture, but I felt very uncomfortable about the fact that he had paid for my lunch when he is from the slums of Kenya.
VJ had brought his laptop to share some photographs we had uploaded of Canada, and while the students went through those, I spoke with Joshua outside about the importance of doing extracurricular activities throughout your life, and challenges of the Kenyan slums. Our conversation was cut short by multiple selfies before the girls left, and then a hurried usher away from the classroom and into the slums of Mathare.
This was our first time actually delving into Mathare and… wow. I’m not sure I have visited an area in the world so objectively bad. The smell was nauseating, with rubbish scattered around on the floors, river banks, and houses mixed in with mud and sand. We crossed a semi-decent bridge and saw two large pigs covered in mud eating some plastic bottles, and the proceeded up a hill past all of the insanely drunk residents lolling by the side of the road. Paul explained that alcohol abuse was a huge issue in the slums, which was evident with every corner we turned on our Mathare tour. Arriving back to the car we drove home quietly, with the smell and sights still sharp in our memories and our hearts heavy as we left our students behind in their home.
How can two worlds be so different? How did I deserve such a life, when others were born into this? How can I even begin to comprehend the hardships they must face? How are they so happy and so clean?
Deep meaningful conversations were the background music to my morning today. Looking out onto the rolling hills of tin houses and burning rubbish, Hayden and I questioned what makes people happy. The children looked up to the balcony we were on and waved with big shining smiles as adults rushed by starting their day of work. We discussed the hardships of their lives but thought about the fact that we also find “hardships” in our lives, that seem just as big at the time we are experiencing it. Yet, in the developed world we lead a much lonelier life, with introversion the new hipster, we have lost our sense of community and family. Taking the first step into class, we agreed that the essence of happiness is human connection.
Class went well, with a lot of activities and little lecturing, the energy was quite high. Again, the quieter students started to speak up more and again, the guys in the back seemed to be putting in real effort which was lovely to see. Henry arrived 5 minutes late and was definitely drunk, it seemed obvious today as he was mumbling to himself, jumped up in the middle of class to volunteer for the talent show, and tried to answer all of the questions with life stories. After the second break, Lilian sang a church song which was really good vibes as people started singing along and clapping and dancing. I sat with Erick and Lucky, and VJ told me about 30 minutes in to move as they were speaking to me and it was distracting the class and the teachers lecturing, which I felt quite guilty about after as I told myself I wouldn’t do that.
After class, we had some one-on-one time, where Ayub asked me what “1/2” and “1/4” means, which was the cutest. Dianna then came to speak to me and told me her life story, which was one of the saddest stories I have heard. She explained her inspiration for creating a rehabilitation center which was essentially; her dad was alcoholic, who would come home in the middle of the night and aggressively kicked out her and her mom so they would have to sleep on the streets. This started when she was 6 years old.
Proceeding that solemn afternoon, my mood was lifted over coffee with Paul (the Strathmore University student) where we spoke about my business idea and came up with a great starting business model. I left really excited and came home to relax and submit my courses while everyone went to visit a start up.
We have now just finished lesson planning, so now it’s time for lala.