School is over, break has begun, and I haven't felt this relaxed in months.
But since I haven't written in a while, I'll give some updates before talking about break. Most notably, the rains came! They started one afternoon shortly after my last post, and didn't let up for a few days. It was incredible how the environment of the whole town switched from drought to flood in a matter of days. The rain sparked a flurry of planting in all the shambas in Sipili, and drew a sigh of relief from most of the families in town. There have been a few showers since the initial thunderstorms, but we're hoping there will be some more heavy rains again this season. Another byproduct of the first rain is the emergence of flying termites. I didn't pay them much attention when I saw them flying around the first morning after the rains came, but when I got to school I DID notice my students running and jumping in the air to catch the termites. At first I thought they were playing like kids do, and then I saw them EAT the termites. I was surprised and asked the kids about it, and they just grinned and assured me the bugs are "VERY sweet!" Even some of the teachers were surprised I didn't want to try some freshly-caught termites, but others understood why I was wary. They insisted they were MUCH better lightly fried.
Last weekend, I took a trip up North to see some other volunteers in Maralal (a small town in Samburu, home to the tribe of the same name). I really fell in love with the place. Although the town is about 100 km from Sipili, it takes about 3 hours to get there since the road is unpaved. I was happy to meander slowly, since the grasslands we traveled through were full of zebra, gazelles, camels and a few giraffe. In fact, we came across one particularly stubborn giraffe standing in the middle of the road who reluctantly allowed us to pass only after we yelled, honked and otherwise expressed our desire for it to move for a few minutes. I couldn't help comparing it to the moose in Alaska - it gave us passengers the same unamused look that moose give as it lumbered off the road.
Arriving in Maralal reminded me of what I had expected to find when I first landed in Kenya. The first things I saw were groups of Samburu people, and I found myself staring, transfixed. The Samburu tribe is one of the tribes in Kenya that has maintained a large degree of its traditional culture, which is immediately obvious in their appearance. Their dress is characterized by bright colors, elaborate beadwork, ear piercings (I've been asked if I'm Samburu because of my multiple piercings), and the unique ochre-dyed braids of the murran (warriors). They are quite stunning. The Samburu are nomadic pastoralists, so it's common to see a Samburu man wrapped only in a shukka (cloth around his waist), holding a staff and walking with his large herd of goats or cows. It's an interesting contrast to the Kikuyu people in my region, who rely heavily on agriculture, and who have completely embraced a more "Western" way of life. The Samburu have even managed to retain a large amount of their traditional religion, although there is a strong Christian contingency in Maralal specifically. Seeing the other volunteers was great, too. We were able to share stories from our sites, and work on ideas for our secondary projects. It only made me more excited to see ALL the volunteers in Nairobi in mid-April!
After returning to Sipili, I worked hard on marking exams and filling out report cards, while preparing my house for an extended absence. Exams were frustrating, but I was SO proud of my class 8 English class. We've been working tirelessly all term to translate signed KSL into written English, including all the grammatical nuances that are integral to English and irrelevant to KSL. All our work paid off when I saw their English compositions. Although they were admittedly full of errors, there were a few COMPLETE SENTENCES in the compositions! It was really encouraging, and I told the kids they should be REALLY proud of themselves, because I was certainly proud of them. It was a highlight in the middle of the largely irrelevant testing.
After a seemingly eternal week of exams, practicing for games and cleaning the classrooms, we closed the school on Friday, and the kids who aren't coming to Nakuru were picked up by their parents/guardians. However, there are a few kids who are staying at the school for the rest of break because their parents can't (or won't) travel to Sipili to pick them up. It's always a strong dose of reality when I encounter those kinds of things. All my life I've not only been lucky to HAVE parents, but I've had parents who support me and welcome me into their home whenever I want or need, no matter how old I am. Some of the kids who will stay alone at school are younger than I was the first time I stayed away from my parents for more than one night. It's not about placing blame - the parents do what they can. But it does put my "troubles" in perspective.
Friday afternoon, I left with Jessica for Nakuru. It used to be known as "the cleanest town in East Africa," and although that superlative no longer holds, it is certainly more organized and charming than other cities I've visited. Over the past couple of days, Jessica and I have re-acquainted ourselves with many of the amenities we've become accustomed to living without in Sipili. When we checked into our hotel room, we gazed lovingly at the switch on the wall that controls the hot water heater for the shower, and immediately plugged in all our chargeable gadgets to the electrical outlet. We went out for COLD drinks and American food, and wasted a couple of hours on high-speed internet. We even spotted a laundromat in town. It's fun to be surrounded by some of the comforts of home, but even after just a couple of days I feel as though my craving for familiarity has been sated. Who knows, maybe by the end of this break I'll start missing doing all my chores (including washing clothes and bathing) with a bucket.
The kids will arrive sometime tomorrow to start games. I'm already missing them, so it will be great to see their smiling faces, especially in this context. As much as I enjoy teaching, it's a lot of fun to just spend time with them informally and get to know their personalities better. They've been looking forward to this for such a long time, so I know they'll have a blast no matter how they do in games. But of course I hope they do well so we can all go to Mombasa in a week!
Travel to Mombasa and Nairobi is exciting for one particular reason: access to wi-fi. I'll hopefully be able to access Skype, so let me know if you'd like to video chat sometime in mid-late April! I can't imagine how incredible it will be to see faces that I haven't seen in six months.