Claire McAdie: Claire McAdie’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Regina, a student from Kokwa island, and Claire
Hello everyone,

I am working with the English teachers within Talent Academy, assisting them in teaching English. They have particular trouble with the pronunciation of words and with grammar. Several have asked me for other ways of teaching these as they teach from a text book, so I have been able to introduce them to several other ways that will assist the children with their English whilst also providing them with learning activities that they enjoy.

Liam and I arrive at school at 7.30am. Liam heads to his classroom and I head to the staffroom for the daily devotion and staff briefings. School begins at 8am. The sessions run for 35 minutes each with a break at 9.25-9.45am. There is another break at 11.00-11.25am where students have something to eat and staff have Kenyan tea (very milky and sweet) and Mandazi (a semi-sweet doughnut like food which is triangle in shape). Lunch begins at 12.40-1.40pm and students are given lunch at school. This consists of ugali (I like to compare this to playdough minus the salt – it is prepared in the same way and is used to pick up food such as stew), some days students have rice, or chapatti, stew made from beef or goat. On Mondays and Tuesdays I assist in taking students home on the school bus around the Lang’ata area. We leave at 4pm and return back to school at 5.20pm. On Fridays I attend the local swimming pool with the students and teach them how to swim – an essential survival skill.

I came here with a view of teaching. I didn’t expect that I would become the learner.

Liam and some girls from Kokwa Island school
I went to visit a school in Kibera run by the Missionaries of Charity (Sisters of Mother Theresa). I was taken to the school there. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from my house. There are no roads to drive to Kibera. As we walked, we had to watch for ditches, rivers of ‘water’ coming from houses, rivers of people’s waste. The smell is horrible. I found myself close to being sick so many times. I didn’t realize people lived this way. There is no running water, no toilets (people use flying toilets – go in a plastic bag which is flung out of the door as far as you can throw it – beware that they don’t hit you).

I saw kids whose clothes were so torn they barely stayed on them. They called out… Mzungu, mzungu (white person) how are you? How are you? How are you? One little boy was so excited to see me and I said Habari to him. This means how are you? His sister replied Mzuri which means fine. And as I was walking away the little boy cried and was yelling out to me, Mzungu, mzungu, mzungu. He wanted me to stay. I got to the school with my escort. It is not safe to go alone to some places. There is a movie recently released called ‘The Constant Gardener’. In this movie there is a view of the path I had to take through Kibera and also of children saying How are you? How are you?

I came here with the view of teaching. I was going to be teaching skills to people with the view of reducing poverty. I didn’t expect that I would also become the learner. I am learning so much here in Kenya. Even though I am giving new ideas for teachers to use in their classroom I am also picking up a great deal myself about being a teacher. The children that I have met on the streets, and in Kibera especially, have taught me so much. Every person in Kibera lives in absolute poverty; being born in Kibera has been compared to being born in a prison, with no way out and no end to the sentence.

Yet in the midst of this you meet the children, with big smiles and bright eyes, optimistic about the future. These children face more challenges to survive in a day than many of us face in a lifetime. But they will always give you a smile and welcome you with ‘how are you? How are you? How are you?’ I used to complain about money in Australia – as we all do – but now I have no reason to complain. We are very lucky in Australia and often take what we have for granted. But here, what you have can easily disappear until your only option is a ‘house’ in Kibera.

Teaching is uphill work here as getting the students to respond I have to practically turn myself inside out and do somersaults. They are terrified of making fools of themselves. The sisters here are all I-Kiribati. One has just come to me to check her exam questions, some of which were way off beam. She had a book of questions on Francis Bacon, Gallileo, Descartes, Einstein and Voltaire but she couldn’t understand her own questions, let alone the answers. It took me an hour to decipher what she meant.

I get on really well with two of the nuns here. Sister Christina saves me toddy every morning, so at least I get vitamins that way. She also took me on a picnic last week with her kitchen helpers which was lovely of her as I am not a helper, but just appear every morning for my toddy. Toddy is coconut sap and goes alcoholic, but when it is fresh it is lovely.

I’m going south tomorrow as it’s the first chance I have had for weeks. That’s why I’m writing now as I don’t trust the local delivery. There is a fax number here, but the fax only works from 7 until 9 pm and the power is so often off in any case that I don’t think there is much point. The Sisters in South Tarawa have been absolutely lovely to me. Sister Margaret came over last week with a bag of fruit because she had heard I had been a bit sick.

These children face more challenges in a day than many of us face in a lifetime.

Liam before a fun-run which raised 15 million shillings for life-saving heart surgery.
It is hard to make girlfriends here as I am looked upon by many as an outsider. I do get along well with the women that I work with, however, and my landlady’s house girl Mweni is also very nice to me – but unfortunately communication is a huge barrier between us as she has very limited English and I have very limited Kiswahili. She once came to visit and I thought she was telling me that she would like to braid my hair but it turns out that she wanted to use my gel. They have gel here to make their hair straighter and Mweni had run out. After realizing this is what she wanted I tried to explain that my hair is naturally this way.

I have had to adapt to a whole new way of cooking – from scratch. Here there is no such thing as a fast meal or meal from a jar. You get your raw ingredients (if you can find all that you need) and spend a long time in the kitchen preparing it. So I am learning local dishes, and am becoming much better at cooking. When I have mastered the preparation and cooking of Sukuma Wiki (Kale in Australia) I will be on my way to being Kenyan. And when I have finally worked out how to eat with ugali then I will be Kenyan (laughs!). With ugali you have to get some and make it in to a ball, (all of this is using one hand), then make a indent in the centre and use it almost like a spoon to pick up food. I, however, can’t do it with one hand and end up dropping the entire lot and making a big mess. It is a skill to eat with ugali.

But no matter how different it is here, I love it. It feels like a second home to me. The friends that I have made here are great and are my Kenyan family. I do miss my family and friends back in Australia, but I know when I leave Kenya in 2 years I will miss my Kenyan family.


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Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer. - Unknown