To the ends of the earth…and back!

A transformation for all

Thursday, July 16…

Before I left school on Wednesday, Teacher Massawe asked me to arrive at school by 8am in order to help teach her

 classes. I awoke extra early and headed to the school, flanked by neighborhood children for the duration of my walk.

The brave ones walked next to me while the rest, 4 or so, walked behind me for the 10 minute walk. Upon arriving at the school, a chorus of “Good Morning” filled the air, along with some whispers of “Mzungu!” I heard the occasional “Eliza!” or “Elizabeti!” as some of the children from Shalom recognized me walking toward the teachers’ room.

The children were assembled in the courtyard between buildings, preparing to go to homeroom. The children in the back rows were beating drums and each child marched in place. It was the most interesting pre-homeroom assembly I’ve seen. Some of the other professors saw me and greeted me as I found Teacher Massawe. After a brief chat with some of the professors, TM and I headed to the first class. The same whispers greeted me as I walked to the room and the audience was quite captivated with the mzungu who would teach them English.

After writing lessons on the board and the children repeating the words after me, I walked around with more confidence to check on their work.  TM insisted on my taking photos of one of the classes, then she proceeded to take one of me with the children as they busily wrote down prepositions. (The camera was unable to capture the 40+ students in the room.) Some purposely didn’t make eye contact so as to avoid my imminent approach. Suddenly, as I approached a little boy towards the back who held my gaze as I gently smiled at him, I realized he wasn’t writing, rather just staring at the blank desk before him. As I said “andika” write, and mimicked writing with a pen, Charles, one of the boys from Shalom told me his buddy had no paper. As previously mentioned, if children come sans paper/pen to school, they sit at the desk empty-handed because of such lacking funds. I gave out some extra pieces of paper I had and one pen as the child had no writing utensil. He smiled shyly before furiously beginning to copy down the lessons his classmates were just finishing up. I continued walked up the aisle and another little boy’s pen had run out of ink so he was scribbling upon his paper trying his best for the pen to work. I remember I had one more pen so handed it out. Again, the recipient was more than pleased to be able to copy down the lessons.

Just as the students copied the lessons, I watched TM copy down my phrases and exercises. After the forty minutes quickly passed, it was on to the next class. Another 40 minutes flew by with the children half staring/half writing down their lessons. The last class was one of the same ones from Tuesday’s visit. The children were a bit older, aged 13-16 and very eager to learn and speak English. Because I had been quite hands on with them the previous day, going from desk to desk and checking work as each student shoved their notebooks into my hands, the air was a bit more relaxed. Furthermore, the back corner of girls who had been too shy/too cool to participate in Wednesday’s lessons until I walked back to them and corrected their work as they shyly reached for my blond, braided hair, now excitedly greeted me with broad smiles and waves. A few giggles could also be heard.

I particularly enjoyed teaching them. The teens seemed more confident so I gave them turns in coming up to the board to complete the phrases I had created. Again, the 40 minutes flew and soon the school bell rang, signaling the end of the period. No one really budged though, rather they continue shoving their work upon me.

 I walked out of the classroom with mixed feelings as I knew that I would head back to Shalom. Though I felt as though I would return again soon, I was reluctant to allow myself to believe it and I didn’t dare verbalize my thoughts for fear of making an empty promise.

The days had actually been passing by so quickly I had somehow managed to convince myself it was on Tuesday…

I headed back to Shalom just before lunch time. I worked on the poster and made sure to get the last few photos I needed. Ezekial joined me again and shut the door after he entered, so as to spend time with me uninterrupted by his brothers and sisters. Though we couldn’t really communicate beyond sign language, as his English comprehension was similar to my Kiswahili abilities, he just loved to watch me glue the stars and letters onto the poster, continually looking at the photos. He particularly liked the photo printer (Polaroid Pogo) and each time one of the other children would come in, he’d immediately beckon them to the printer and explain the process between giggles of excitement. It was priceless.

The floor was receiving final touches of cement before being painted. *A few days earlier, Yusuf asked me what color I thought would be best. In thinking about how dusty Karatu is, I recommended a rusty/red color. The men purchased a few barrels of white and one red and proceeded to mix the two together for the floor and steps–of course these would have to be completed before painting anything else. They both ended up being a deeper red color.

The family visited the Elephant Caves today so I was again on my own in the afternoon. It was crunch time for the posters so I was hard at work, yet managed some breaks to go run around with the children or read some books. Whilst working on the welcome poster, Mama and two US visitors entered the office, aka my makeshift workspace.

As we got talking, the daughter (mid 20’s) mentioned she lived in Brooklyn Heights. Much to her surprise, I admitted living in Park Slope—imagine going across the world only to meet a neighbor! It was wild. We continue speaking for a few more minutes then Mama continued giving the tour to the young girl and her mom. Shalom was very quiet as it was during the mid-afternoon quiet/nap time.

I walked out a few minutes later where Kate and I chatted for a bit about Brooklyn and what we do. Oddly enough we’re both musicians, she a bass player, I a singer/songwriter with piano and guitar. We were both shocked by the incessant similarities, unable to control our laughter at realizing how much we had in common. Before Kate and her mom departed, I shared some brief inside information on Shalom and exchanged email address with Kate with the promise of getting in touch once back in the US.

Also this afternoon, the paint was being applied to the newly finished ceiling so the stench of paint could be smelled from various rooms within Shalom. I sort of wandered around today much like my emotions were, going from room to room and playing with the children, singing songs, reading or rocking them to sleep.

Before long, the family returned to Shalom so Yusuf could check on the roof’s progress. The family got out of the car and we chatted for a bit, marveling at the roof’s unbelievable transformation! In just a few short days, the veranda had been transformed.  The family ventured back up to Highview for dinner and I stayed to teach some more English to my students. Yusuf returned in about an hour and he, Mama Warra, and I had an extensive conversation about the most essential priorities. Because we had raised nearly $7,000 for the roof project and had not spent nearly that much, we knew there were other ways for us to help out.

After speaking into the dark of night, we decided to go to the market on Friday in order to purchase some food and other staples for the children. As I collected my things: my purse, the Welcome poster, scissors and some extra yellow construction paper for the stars, I had trouble wrapping my mind around the feat we had accomplished: a roof, and the feat of tomorrow: purchasing food for the children.

Dinner wasn’t ready when I got back home so I cut some start while talking with Daniel. Soon Joyce and Anna found what I was doing particularly enthralling so the three of us sat there communicating with simple one word exchanges, or tickles! Once they got tired of watching me cut the stars, they began to take them and crumble some up in attempts for attention. Even that could not be lost in translation!

I put the stars, yellow construction paper and scissors back in my room and two girls and I enjoyed a game of  laughter and joking. I would feign sleeping while snoring, just before abruptly waking up and ticking them. After ten minutes of this, they were still quite intrigued! Ah, the joy of childhood. It was adorable. We played a sort of hide and seek, which included them hiding behind the couch (even though I could clearly see them). I love how children think they are invisible if they close their eyes or if you are out of their eyesight.  We then proceeded to make forts out of cushions, blankets and pillows, a favorite pastime from my own childhood. It was incredible to realize the transformation that had occurred since I first arrived at Shalom. Upon my initial arrival and introduction with these two adorable children, they couldn’t give me the time of day. In fact, they purposely would walk the other way or leave the room if they saw me coming. To suddenly find BOTH of them on my lap attempting to shut my eyes with their tiny fingers, I knew something had changed.

After dinner, I stayed up for a bit watching the show my hosts favored night after night. As I began nodding off, I returned to my room and  attempted to finish the poster we had begun…not with much luck though, as I fell asleep shortly after sitting upon my bed.

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