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.
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.
Class today was pretty normal. We’ve started to see the quieter students start to shine, gain confidence, and get really enthusiastic about their ideas. People were volunteering to come up left right and center, and it was great to see them understand the more difficult concepts. About half way through the class, I noticed Moore, who usually sits with Erick and Lucky in the second row, move to the back, and take Henrys (our eldest student) chair. I decided to pull Erick aside at the break and ask what was going on if they were bullying Henry, and if so if they could stop. What he said next, however, was a huge surprise. He told me Moore had moved to the back because he couldn’t stand the smell of alcohol excreting from Henry and encouraged him to move to the back because he was distracting other students. It was surprising how wrong we had all read the situation, and I felt very proud of Moore for taking initiative and actually caring enough to try and do something about it.
After class, we took a bunch of photos as usual, and Josinta came up to me and asked me how much it costs for her to get to Canada. I told her it would cost around KES120,000 (USD$1200), and she immediately said Mzungo, you’re colour of your skin tells me you’re rich, buy me and my friend a ticket to Canada to make it fair. I laughed it off, but she got more aggressive, saying these things about my appearance and money that just made me feel uncomfortable. Rueben stepped in and said some things in Swahili that made her leave, and then told me about when he went to Italy, and he was the only black guy so felt like all of the eyes were on him. He told me that he understands how I must feel, but he will help translate for me whenever needed and told me not to worry, they are just envious and mostly joking around. I found that really sweet and it definitely made me feel more at ease having him around.
We gave feedback to each other once all of the students had left, which included suggestions for me to engage the students more, but mostly that I was doing okay and explained difficult concepts well. Then, we head home and lesson planned and ate yesterday’s leftovers before heading to church.
The church was… wow. Firstly, it was a large room with a stage and rock band type vibe. Electric guitars, big amplifiers, and a full set of drums, the preachers and choir sang song after song about the Lord and Jesus. The people were all in their own world, there was absolutely zero judgment, and you could see the energy radiating through everybody. To my left, a mom, crouched over her smallest child rocking back and forth murmuring under her breath prayers to the Lord, the father of her child next to her taking small steps back and forth while speaking his prayers. In front, an older woman in tears with both hands towards the sky, begging through her sobs to God. Another woman, sitting quietly with her head on the chair in front of her, just behind a man singing loudly with his hands thrown up palms towards the sky. I stood in the center, trying to absorb all the views without drawing attention to myself. The preacher told us to sit, collect our thoughts, and pray for something from God in any way that we sit fit. I bowed my head and intertwined my palms getting ready to try to pray. As I did so, I noticed my chapati bracelet bought for me by VJ, and smiled. I didn’t have anything to pray for, I was damn blessed and very content. Instead, I prayed for the students in my class. I don’t believe, but I know they do, so my thoughts were with them. I prayed for Diana’s financial burden and stress at home to be lifted, for Lucky’s illness to pass, for Moore’s well-being, for Erick’s business to prosper, for Audrey’s home situation to improve, for food on everyone’s tables and for general good luck in their lives.
What an amazing evening. Now we are relaxing because tomorrow is a busy day… again!