Chapter 7-Finding Myself in Africa

Chapter 7

On my fourth day in this poor, third-world country I wake up to realize I enjoy the rooster crowing at 6 a.m. It’s like a nifty alarm clock I don’t have to set; he goes off at 15-minute intervals like clockwork, snooze button included!

Going to the school is becoming easier for me. I’m finally getting into the swing of things and I know my way around, although I am admittedly a little quieter than I usually am. I’m waiting to come into my own out here, in fairness, it’s only been four days.

Mila (the mom at the house I stay at and the teacher I work with) was out today, she had to have a checkup since she is due to have her baby at the end of this month. She didn’t want me to teach her class because she thinks I am too quiet. I almost laughed at that, I am the furthest thing from quiet. So instead I spent the day with Lydia and Virginia (the two German volunteers).

I’m getting more comfortable with the kids. Today we can spend the majority of the day playing games and practicing for their graduation. Graduation occurs every two years in the school and in 2 weeks I will get to watch the kids walk in front of their families and receive their little diplomas.

It is becoming easier to relate to the children this way; Lydia, Virginia and myself taught the kids how to walk on a catwalk and strike a pose at the end. It is so cute watching the girls walk like supermodels. They shake their cute little hiney’s and place a hand softly on their hip and walk like they own the runway.

Finally, after much practicing we watched teacher Tyson walk out of the building to watch our progress. The boys and girls were beginning to get tired of posing for the “runway” and Teacher Tyson stopped us to play some games. One or two were so familiar I had to laugh, including red light/green light and shark which is essentially a game of tag but once you get tagged you become a shark too and have to tag the other kids. They giggled and ran with so much joy and happiness it was infectious.

After several games, with the 8-10-year-olds giggling and out of breath we once again begin to practice for graduation.

Each class has their own announcement. The baby class and pre-unit are first up as they thank their “teachers and parents and fellow people” for their education, class 1 showed how they can count in English and class two showed how they can spell in English.

As the class practices, I sit on an old, beat up car that has been deserted for what looks like years. I look down at the kids and try to keep them quiet, in line, and keep them from jumping up on the car since I am being a bad influence. The rehearsal takes about an hour which is cause for a little complaint from me since I am beginning to bake in the sun and my nose is turning into a poorly represented Rudolph’s nose.

When we finally take a break for lunch I can’t help but opt out of eating. I take one look at the flies covering my food and I can’t do it. I think maybe I’ll have some watermelon, but as I look over and see the 20 some-odd flies covering it I think to myself, maybe not.

Everyone sits in their chairs, which are more children’s chairs you’d normally see in a pre-school, and the begin to talk. Not having any food myself I mostly sit and listen to the conversations around me until I am, for the first time, included.

Teacher Winnie who teaches the baby class looks fondly at my hair as she asks “Do you put oils in your hair after the shower?” I reply with a tentative “no” and smile saying I don’t put anything in my hair. Her mouth opens in an astonished gasp and says, “Do you just get out of the shower and your hair looks like that?!” I begin laughing, I don’t know what to say. This is a completely different type of lifestyle and we are still talking beauty products as if I were back home. There is a momentary pause before Teacher Winnie starts commenting on how smooth it is and asks me to take it out of the ponytail I have it put up in haphazardly to see how long it is. “Your hair is so pretty and long,” she says, “and the color looks perfect with your skin!”

It kind of makes me feel bad. In the States, we are so consumed with being the picture of perfection. We are constantly comparing ourselves to each other, it’s always a competition. Yet here I am, in mud-splattered jeans, dirt-encrusted sneakers, a grungy pullover sweater, my hair pulled back in a haphazard bun and no make-up and I STILL get complimented because my hair is smooth and my hair color is pretty. It makes me wonder, why do we try so hard instead of being proud of the qualities we already possess that don’t have a label?

As lunch ends it is time to round the kids up, and since Teacher Tyson is practicing the graduation with our students I go to the kitchen to help Leonard was the dishes. As he scrubs the plates and I rinse the soap off in the bucket of clean water we begin talking about what it’s like in America.

The conversation makes me feel increasingly like an entitled American as he asks me if we wash dishes by hand in America. I tell him sometimes, but we have a machine that washes dishes for us. He then asks me what about clothes. I say “we have a machine to wash clothes too.” He thinks the concept is funny and asks how a dishwasher works. I explain that there is a machine that we place the dishes into and pour soap into a small hole. When we close the door of the machine and press start the machine begins to wash the dishes for us. A smile breaks across his face as he says he wants to visit America so he can see the machine that washes dishes.

Eventually the conversation turns to where I work and I tell him I work in a restaurant. He asks if there is a machine there that washes dishes too? I smile and kindly tell him there is, it is at this point that he suggests that when I go back I should teach the dishwashers to wash the plates by hand like we do in Kenya. Laughter escapes from my mouth before I can stop it and I tell him that the dishwashers wouldn’t be okay with that, he looks at me confused and wanted to know why. I kindly explain that there are too many dishes to wash by hand, it wouldn’t be fast enough.

At that point he stops washing dishes and looks as me seriously and says, “In Kenya we don’t mind hard work and it is important to work for everything. You should teach that to your dishwashers.”

It continues to amaze me how much we take for granted. At home, I complain about loading the dishwasher when it does the work for me and here they are proud of a little hard work.

As the school day comes to an end I gather up my things and walk the kids across the street so they can run home to their families before I rush to the house to take a much needed nap. These days seem to be taking a lot out of me, but with the time change and the rooster waking me up at 6 a.m. I can hardly be surprised.

Rose wakes me up for my nap to tell me it’s time for dinner, so I slowly walk to the kitchen to find, much to my delight that we are having a real treat for dinner. On the table I see pasta with broccoli and carrots! My face instantly lights up like it’s Christmas morning, causing the other volunteers (Tim, Lydia and Virginia) to laugh at my excitement.

Yesterday when we went to the Nakumat (grocery story) I saw Heinz ketchup. Anyone who knows me knows I had to buy it. With that in mind I jump up from the table to run to my bedroom to grab my ketchup. It is honestly the best dinner I’ve had since I arrived. After my first helping I ask if anyone else wants more before I dig in for seconds, which would have been the remainder of the food. I receive funny looks all around and quickly try to tell them that I don’t want to take the rest if someone wants more, but no one says anything and just continues to look at me as if I have two heads, so I shrug my shoulders and dig in. I guess down here it is survival of the fittest and ’86 the manners.

I have begun to make it a ritual of sitting at the dinner table after we have all cleaned up and put the dishes away to write in my journal. I later post everything I write online and I find it very therapeutic and a way to share my life with loved ones back home. As I write tonight’s journal entry I notice that Joseph (Barnabas and Mila’s son) is watching Disney channel. It’s the same Princess Sophia show my nephew watches back home and all I can think it how amazing it is that halfway across the world, I am still finding ways that culture doesn’t matter. We are all inherently the same.

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