One of my favorite ways of catching up with friends after being away for a long time is playing a round of “highs and lows”. It’s been just over a week of life back at site full-time, and even though I’ve been living here for almost two years, I find myself having fresh, surprising and challenging experiences every day. I figure the best way to share them this time is through a round of highs and lows. As tradition dictates, I’ll start with the lows, so I can end on a high note.
- A nation-wide teacher’s strike started at the beginning of the term, and lasted for three weeks. Considering it’s only a nine-week term to begin with, the strike cut out a huge chunk of learning. We'll have to make up the weeks at the end of the term, so I'll be teaching pretty much up until the day I get on the plane. Plus, it was mind-numbingly boring to sit around in Sipili without being allowed to teach. I probably cleaned my house ten times, just because there wasn’t anything else to do.
- Bats have moved into my choo. If I haven’t explained it before, a choo is like an outhouse, but with no toilet seat. It’s essentially a shack with a hole in it. I guess it wouldn’t be so gross if the bats just hung out on the ceiling of the choo and flew away when I opened the door, but I’m not so lucky. Instead, when I open the choo door in the afternoon, I’m greeted with 4-5 little bats hanging upside down from the ceiling, who all briefly point their little bat faces and little bat ears in my direction before swooping down INTO THE HOLE. Yeah. They live IN the hole. Maybe this is too much information, but it’s hard to bring oneself to use the facilities with the knowledge that there’s a family of bats living inside the hole that could fly out at any minute.
- The other day, while reading in my bed with my headlamp, I saw one of the most gigantic, hairy spiders I’ve ever seen with these weird pincers – scurrying across my bed sheets. Now, I’m usually pretty mellow when it comes to bugs. I don’t usually kill spiders, because I know they feed on mosquitoes and other pests. But that guy elicited an embarrassingly shrill scream, and an immediate smackdown from the book I was reading. That experience paired with some suspicious-looking bug bites on my legs prompted an immediate disassembly of my bed and a dousing of all the parts with bleach water (in the middle of the night).
- Also recently, while cooking breakfast, I cracked an egg into the pan. However, instead of the usual egg I was expecting, there was a partially formed chicken embryo. That prompted another scream, mostly from surprise, but also because it was just as gross as it sounds. (All this recent screaming has got to have my neighbors wondering what is going on at my house.) I think the most humorous aspect of the experience was my reaction after the initial shock wore off. I turned off the stove, set down the spatula and just stared at it in the pan for a good few minutes thinking to myself, “well… now what?”
- I’m starting to realize that my goodbyes have already started. There are people here who I see only every few months, or who are moving somewhere new for a job and won’t be back to Sipili until the holidays. By then, I’ll be back home. It’s draining to think I’ll be feeling this deep sense of loss, pretty much constantly, until I leave.
- I left the house the other day wearing an ankle-length skirt, a long-sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket and a scarf. It’s currently about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Based on this overcompensation of my adaptation to the weather here, I am genuinely concerned for my health and ability to function at sub-zero temperatures within a couple of months.
- One of my closest friends in my village, Dorine, passed away during the August holiday. She taught at Jessica’s school, and it was because of her encouragement, knowledge and friendship that I started coaching drama at my school. She invited went with me to the drama workshops, and talked me through my frustrations and questions I had as I put our drama performance together. I stayed with her family in Nakuru one night when we were there for a workshop, and she was always so generous and giving. I never felt like a foreigner with her, she took the time to know the real me, past my nationality. It was a total shock to hear she had passed, and it was even more bitter when I thought about her very young daughter back at her home. It still hasn’t completely sunk in – I will really, really miss her.
- Two of my students from last year, who are now in secondary school, came to visit Sipili School for the Deaf yesterday. They both had rocky starts at their new school, but now they’re almost finished with their first year and are excited for the second one to start. They’ve matured in their attitudes, behaviors, breadth of expression, and abilities to dream and plan. I spent a good few hours with them chatting about life at school and home, until we walked over to the classroom map and talked about traveling. Some of the younger kids were there too (the older students who are back visiting are always surrounded by younger admirers) were asking questions like “how is it night in America right now, but it’s day in Kenya?” and “are there Deaf people in Canada?” It was heartwarming to watch the two older students answer their questions confidently and correctly. Although I don’t see myself working as a teacher in the future, it’s those kind of moments that make teaching the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I don’t know if I’ll see those old students again before I leave Kenya, but I have a feeling our paths will cross someday in the future.
- I started packing up a few things in my house, just to see what kind of room I’ll have in my bags, and because there wasn’t anything else to do (told you, the strike was SO boring). I came across a whole folder of papers from staging, which was our one-day orientation in Philadelphia back in 2010 before we all flew to Kenya. It was the first time I met my fellow volunteers, and it was the true beginning of this adventure. One of the items in the folder was a workbook we’d filled out during staging, full of questions about our hopes and dreams for our service. It was humorous to go back and revisit the expectations I had before I left, but there was one question, and my written answer, that really struck me. It read “I will feel successful as a Volunteer when…” and I wrote “I see my students use a skill outside the classroom that I taught them, or when I feel like Kenya is home.” That reminded me of all the moments I’ve nearly burst with pride while watching a student mature in their actions, and the feelings of comfort and safety I have here, at home in Kenya. It seemed like such a distant hope in Philadelphia, but it’s somehow, slowly and imperceptibly, become a reality.
- I'm attempting to download the new Mumford and Son's album. I've been waiting months for it's release. Of course, since I'm in the village with terrible internet access it may take multiple days, multiple swears, and a few failures and restarts, but I have faith it'll happen. I'm really, really excited about it.
- Remember that KSL class I was teaching for community members? All nine of the students took their exam at the beginning of August, and we’d been waiting for the results ever since. So, during my last trip to Nairobi, I met up with the examiner who delivered the certificates to me – and everyone passed!! All nine people are certified proficient in basic sign language. I’m so glad the project was successful, and I’m really proud of the effort put forth by my coworkers to show solidarity with my students by learning their language and getting certified. It makes it easier to leave, knowing there are people outside of the school who genuinely love the students and their language.
- The toddler daughter of the storekeeper at my school has always been afraid of me, ever since I got here. I think my skin color scares her (it wouldn’t be the first time in Kenya). I’ve tried to talk to her and pick her up, but she always ends up crying. Yesterday, she walked up to me, and held out her hand to greet me. Then she smiled. I tried to play it cool and shake her hand her like it was no big deal, but I felt pretty triumphant inside.
- The pineapples are ripening in the garden, and they seriously taste like candy. I’m afraid I’ll dissolve my teeth from the acid exposure that I fear may come from overdosing on pineapples.
- I visited my coworker and her baby twins on Saturday, and they are still adorable with their little nails and soft, curly hair – I almost agreed when she asked me if I wanted to take one home with me when I go.
Now that the strike is over, it's time to get back into the classroom and get everyone ready for exams. I know there's not much time left for me over here, but I bet there are still lessons to learn, failures, successes, and probably some ridiculous anecdotes bound to play out that I can't begin to imagine now. So, stay tuned for all that.