Friday, August 28, 2015

End of the Kenyan road

Sooooo, what I expected to come to pass, came to pass. Today, we went to the Real Wood school about 11:30 because I had to pay the lady for some fabric I bought. Then we stayed and taught in the school and then went to the field for sports. We didn’t leave their until 4:30. 

Every Friday, a bunch of schools go to this field to do sports!

Then we headed over to the other place. Justus said he had a photography class to teach. We sat there and had prayers with the kids first. Then sat some more. Then he finally taught the class, all about the parts of a camera. Took maybe, 30 minutes. 

I had the kids take photo’s with my camera cus how could you have a photography class and not take pictures?! Then we played jump rope and monkey in the middle. It was fun!

Justus' photography class

I let the kids use my camera and take some "ecletic" shots!

Then we watched some news about Obama’s arrival. Then I told Justus we were ready to leave when he was and he said we were waiting for the lady. So, we played more games. Then he grabbed his stuff and snuck out the door! About 6:30 I called and asked where he was and said I was ready to go. He said he was coming back, just wait. At 6:57 I called him again and said I didn’t know the way home, where was he. Again, he said he was coming. 7:15 I finally heard him talking and came outside and said bye to everyone.

Making the fire for dinner

On the walk home I said, so, we’re leaving tomorrow, what time can you give me my money? So he started. Basically he said something about the landlord, he had to have a proper place for us. And kept repeating that. I called him a liar and said I wanted my money. Eventually, I made him shut it and listen to me. 

I told him to put himself in my place: traveling 6,000 kilometers with my child, to a place I’ve never been and don’t know anyone trusting only his word. This place has diseases and is dangerous for us and I am placing my life and my child’s life in his hands. He of course said why did I come if it is so dangerous and basically accepted no responsibility for anything. He said I’ve been complaining since I got here and then he said that he wished I had never come!

Then I just threatened him. I know, that’s low of me and I should be above that but I really want/need my money! I said if I don’t have my money I will complain about him on workaway and try to get him taken off the site (which I am really going to do after our blow our in the streets!); and I would take all the furniture out of this apartment and sell it or trash it; and that I would go to his parents house and tell them everything he’s done. 

The only thing I will really do is report him on workaway as soon as I have internet. I knew I should not have given him all the money up front. I knew it even as we sat there on that hard ass ratty sofa and I passed over $300usd!

Now, I’d say live and learn but that’s just it with me. I never seem to learn from my mistakes! And I know that is no one’s fault but my own, but I always see the mistakes in hindsight and never while they are happening.

Anyway, we had a good last day. I taught grade 8 how to write an essay about why tourists should come to Kenya. They didn’t understand me cus they call it composition. Some of the essays were quite good and some needed help but they all worked so diligently. Then I taught grade 5 the “we are stars” lesson. They had to write 5 things they are good at and draw a star. I got the markers I brought with me for them to use and they all were so surprised and asked where I got them from. And some students from other classes came in to ask me to give their class markers!

I saw a little six year old outside of her classroom and she smiled at me and then kept fiddling with something in her hands. I looked closer and she had a razor blade and was sharpening her tiny stub of pencil with it! I just cringed but didn’t say anything. She was obviously used to using that razor and was very effective with it.

I just think of all the supplies I could have brought for them! They share chalk class to class and usually have 1 tiny little eraser between them. They have notebooks with very few blank pages in them and a handful of pens. But I have to remind myself, I am having feelings of entitlement. They don’t have a lot and need a lot but it is also something they are used to. They are not begging or unduly unhappy with their lives. It is me, looking in that is feeling so bad. And I can’t do everything for them. I have responsibilities of my own to take care of. Everyone’s situation looks better or worse than yours but you can’t know until you know that person. Would I like to give them a ton of supplies? Yes. But do I have money to use that way? Not really. I would really like to give Ms. Emily some money for the kids, but I don’t think Justus would give it to her if I gave it to him. I will have to call her and figure something else out.

The best thing about this trip has been the kids. They have been a ray of joy from beginning to end! I'm so grateful for them!

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Ungrateful Guest

So, yesterday I decided that this weekend, we will be leaving our workaway with Justus. There is just too much that was not true and Ajenai really really hates where we are staying. Part of me feels like crap for being such stereotypical westerners. 

Caroline (Justus' sister) and Ms. Emily (the director of the school) both said how nice this crap hole is. They had no complaints about no kitchen to speak of, no hot water, a bed that sags so far in the middle it’s deeper than the Great Rift valley, a toilet that does not flush, a broken window where mosquito's poor in desperate for our blood. And I looked under the covers of the bed, it’s not even a mattress, it’s like some foam thing wrapped in smelly, holey blankets! I quickly covered it back up.

It’s not just where we are staying, it is that this whole thing is completely unorganized. I do truly think what Justus is trying to do is wonderful. He’s trying to give back to his community. But he has just plunged in head first without any thought and I am not doing well as his first guinea pig! 

I, am a poor guest. I had to do it. I had to tell Justus what is wrong with his program and I do mean everything that is wrong. (which is where I found Justus) is a website where travelers and people in need can come together for a mutually beneficial period of time and work together. The traveler finds free room and board (at least 1 meal a day) in a city, country, continent, they have never set foot on before. 

The homeowner receives free services in their home, farm, camper, whatever. When I signed up for the workaway with Justus, I was aware that he was going to charge me 5 euros/day. His profile stated that as some small amount to help the family we would be staying with as well as provide some much needed program fees. I didn’t have a problem with that. His email told me I would be staying with a trusted family who he was very close with and had used before. Also he had had other volunteers, not many, but some others.

None of that was true. It turns out, the host family was going to be his own parents and sister, however, they are currently living in a home with only 2 rooms complete and I told you about my bathroom experience there! I have no idea how they cook! Justus wisely decided we would not be living there. 

Instead, he put us up in a teeny tiny ½ apartment which I still firmly believe is his, even though he refuses to answer my question. His program has had 1 previous volunteer, and she was with another program that provided her with room and board, and I believe she just came once or twice to see Justus and the children he represents. So, he basically has no experience in hosting foreigners. Today, on the walk back from the program, I told him that he must be truthful in his online profile. That I had planned a certain budget based on information he gave me and it is not right or fair that he mislead me in his profile and emails. I said I don’t have too big of an issue with things as they stand (except for the food issue!) but he has to be trustworthy from the start.

I think he is mad at me. I am being obstinate and difficult, but, damn it, this is not what I signed up for! Me and the kid only had 2 shared crossiants and a bag of fries all day today! And the croissants were at 10am and the fries at 5! The next day Justus cooked us dinner somewhere and brought it to us, almost freezing cold and about 10pm! 

He said in the future, he would bring food to the school. I said fine, however…. I would not feel comfortable eating in front of the kids and we have nothing to warm the food up in! after thinking a moment, he decided that we would go to his parents house after school to eat. I’m definitely fine with that.

I made a hotel reservation for this weekend and, if it is a nice place, I will go there next weekend as well. Maybe even the whole last week of my stay!

I think because I am volunteering at a school, I’m kind of getting the laundry list of what is needed in the hopes that I will give money, but the kids are happy and are so smart! They are grateful and happy to be in school. There are not enough teachers for all the classes and they can tell one class what to do, leave the class, and the kids sit there and actually do the work the teacher gave them! Then after play time, some kids get rags and go to the water spigot and start cleaning all the benches in the classrooms as well as the walls and the floor! Without any direction or instructions from an adult. They told me they know their jobs and they are getting ready for tomorrow. This is at 5pm by the way, and school starts at 8am. And Ms. Emily told me that some of the students don’t even have food. So that is all day (and maybe the night as well) studying and learning on an empty stomach.

Justus said that his future plans are to get computers so the kids can edit their photos. Computers?! Almost every child I saw had holes in some part of their clothing. In a class of 10 there were only 3 books. A child was writing with a stub of pencil so small I couldn’t even see it in her hand. And there are 200 kids in the school and less than 50 lunch boxes on the lunch table. Where do you start? I understand wanting to bring some arts and wonder into their lives, but what about the basics? And who can help with that? I’m sure no one can buy every kid a new shirt, or a whole set of encyclopedias. But how can you help? 

I commend Justus for trying to do something, to give back to his community. Although I think his timing is not right. A lot needs to be done before he can bring volunteers from other countries to help out, cus this is not working. But the kernel of an idea and the drive and the will is there. I so wish I could do something! But I don’t even know how to get money or items to them once I leave here. Justus said the mail would probably be opened by the government and the bank accounts are not international or something. If I sent resources electronically, they wouldn’t be able to print them out. Sigh…

The kid said one great thing about all the people she has met so far is that they all look towards a bright future. Justus' parents and sister’s house is terrible but she talks about how they are building and one day it will be remarkable. And Justus sees a future with a full scale photography program. These people look to their future with positivity and hope and ain’t nothing wrong with that!

I told Justus we are leaving on Saturday, that I’m sorry but this isn’t working out. He was very shocked. He kept saying, “oh wow”. I also told him I would be needing my money back. He just looked at me and rubbed his face. I’m betting most of it is spent already. And not on the “feeding program” he said he was trying to do for the schools. He also kept asking me when I was leaving the country. That is none of his business and I don’t know what he could have been asking that for but I just reiterated, Saturday. 

If I was really in the classrooms and felt that I was working with the kids and that they wanted my help more than my money, I would stay. But that is not the case, unfortunately.  But how can I tell him everything I think is wrong in this situation? 

How can I complain to the man about a bathroom with an un-flushing toilet with no toilet seat, when his parents and his sister live in a place where the toilet is a hole in the ground? How can I complain about only cold water in the “shower” tap when they have one spigot in the floor that provides all the water for the house? How can I complain about the sagging foam “mattress” when they are sleeping on pallets on the floor? If it was just the apartment, I would stay. But I am not helping here. I’m doing absolutely no work and I think they just are seeing me as a gold mine instead of a font of knowledge.

Ugh, 2 more nights in this bed! I think I will be permanently crippled!


I am enlightened! Ms. Emily and I had a talk... Justus lied way more than I ever thought! Now I know why the kids and Ms. Emily were asking me for gifts and things!

Basically, Justus has only been working with Ms. Emily for a little over 2 months, and he only came to her school 2 or 3 times to teach the kids. She said he told her he had a western "sponsor" coming to the school and if I was impressed by the school, I would give money and I was bringing gifts for all the kids. He said nothing about me volunteering in the classes! Only that I would be giving lots and lots of money and gifts!

We are definitely leaving at the end of this week, and I hope I never have to lay eyes on Justus again!

But here are some pictures of the school, at least I got to meet some wonderful kids!

He was sangin'!

They were focused!

What beautiful smiles!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Volunteering in Kenya!

So, finally…we went to the school to volunteer. Well, I thought to volunteer, but I’m not sure the schools knew what we were there for!

In his email and website, Justus said he had a program with about 50 kids that he taught photography to. In actuality, he splits his time between two organizations.

One is a school, grades K-8 run by a director, Ms. Emily. She started the school herself, and only funds the school through student tuition.

She has about 200 students, some paying and some are homeless students or very poor that she drags in off the street to educate. she really believes that all children need help if we can give it. She also doesn’t turn away children if their parents can’t pay or are late with payments. We took a tour of her very small campus and the kids sang for us and all of them (yes, all 200!) introduced themselves by name.
Looking at the children in the school almost broke my heart. So many had huge holes in their clothes and shoes. I mean their whole arm and elbow out, gapping holes in the knees. One boys shoes, the whole front toe section was missing and his foot was out. But they were so clean! And I remark on this because I looked like a rag-a-muffin! There are only dirt roads in this town and the bottom of my pants legs and shoes were covered in red dirt and sludge! They stood there, in rows from littlest to biggest, singing songs about how happy they are with Jesus and how Jesus has saved their lives, and it was everything I could do not to burst into tears.


After the introductions, we went back to Ms. Emily’s office and she talked a lot about how you have to help children and do whatever you can for them. I don’t know, call me cynical, but it seemed like she was prepping to ask me for money! Which I barely have enough of for this trip so I ain’t coughing up much more!

I was expecting to into the classrooms, but after talking in her office, it was 5pm and the kids started to go home and then we also left.

A woman who heard I was going to Kenya messaged me that she had a ton of brand new reading books that her school wasn’t going to use any more and that she would love to donate to my trip. I was just too busy running around and to lazy before I left to meet her and go pick them up. I feel like such an a_ _. I keep thinking how needed those books are here and how very grateful those kids would be to have them. Sigh …

The second part of his program is a bit different. The woman is sort of like foster care. She collects children from various places, some are given to her from the authorities, and she is responsible for their daily up keep and food clothes, etc. There were about 29 kids in this little complex.

The first time we went to her home, the kids all filed into the room, shook our hands, and then gave us their names and said they were born again. Then they recited a completely sad poem about having no food or shelter or water and what could they do. I was smiling at first but after hearing the words I was like, a smile is completely inappropriate at this point! 

Then they each recited a verse from the bible. Then we all sat there staring at each other. I was like, I don’t know what the heck is going on so I’m not saying anything! Justus was looking at his phone, the lady was staring straight ahead. Finally I started to blather on about loving Kenya and I don’t know what else I said. Then we sat for a longer bit, with small elements of conversation thrown in. Finally, I stood up and said it’s been real, peace out! (not literally!) And we left.

I’m supposed to work in the school 3 days a week and in the foster care 2 days. None of the women have ever had a volunteer before so they don’t know what to expect and neither do I! Tonight Justus was saying they are very excited and the expectation level ls high. Then he said that I am to further the kids along in all of their reading, writing, and English speaking. Then he said I am to assist the current teacher in the classroom. Then he said I am to teach the students lessons on my own. When I asked him which I was supposed to do, he said, yea, yea. Sooooo, I guess we’ll see what the day brings!

We scheduled to return to the foster care home at 4:30 the next afternoon.  So today Justus came and took us to eat at his sister Caroline’s house around 2:45. We were supposed to be at the school at 4:30. He didn’t come back to pick us up until 5! He was so lackadaisical aobut it! I really hate being late but I didn’t say anything this time.

We walked the 10 minutes to Ms. Rose’s school (which, btw, is not her name! Justus didn’t even know her name and now I can’t remember it! That should have been the first sign to me that he really had never worked with these people before even though he told me he had been doing this for 3 years!). We sat in the same room we did when we first visited there. And sat, and sat. Then 2 kids came in and shook our hands and sat down. We sat some more. More kids came in and shook our hands and the first kids left. We sat some more. New kids came in and shook our hnads….. you get the picture.

Finally, my impatient self had had enough. I went outside where all the kids were and just walked around. I saw a little girl, about 6, with a notebook and pencil doing her homework. So I sat with her and helped her write her numbers up to 50 for about 15 minutes. While we worked, other kids surrounded us and some helped out. I caught Justus taking some pictures and I thought, he’s going to put this up on his website and act like he’s really doing something! Then I just stood around talking to the kids. Asking them about school and then I told them to ask me some questions. They were really shy and sweet. Then we were sitting down and the kids came out with huge bowls of beans and corn for us to eat. The corn here is really hard, like the corn in S. Korea and doesn’t taste great, so I was dismayed at this huge bowl of food! They gave one to Ajenai and I said we could share. Then they gave a bowl to Justus and his friend as well. I asked Justus if we were eating their dinner, and he said no, but I know we ate there food! I felt terrible! And no one else was eating, the kids were just running around and then watching us eat!

After that, Ms. Rose came back, and we went into the little room again. For like 5 minutes. Justus spoke in swahilli for a bit and then he asked me to say something. I was like, say something about what?! And he said about how today went.

I just looked at him. This dude is real slick. How today went? What, me stepping outside, helping 1 child with her homework and then just asking the others questions for an hour and a half? I wondered what he said to Ms. Rose. Did he tell her we really did something?! I said, today was fine. Then they talked some more about me and the kids supposed “schedule”. He already told me we would be coming to Ms. Rose’s Wednesday and Friday. But obviously he hadn’t cleared that with her. She said Sunday. And he looked at me and said, Sunday ok? Knowing full well he told me I would have weekends off. Since I’m not planning on being here Sunday I said, sure.

So yesterday, we were at Ms. Emily’s school. I already said how all the grade levels sang Christian songs for us and then they went back to their classrooms. Then there was a lot of sitting around in Ms. Emily’s office. After about 20 minutes of her saying she’s trying to take a trip with the kids next week, but they all can’t go cus she doesn’t have enough money…I stood up and said, ok, what about us going into the classrooms. And she looked surprised and said right now? I said yup! And she said let her go speak to her teachers. Justus took this opportunity to mysteriously disappear.

I ended up going into a grade 8 math lesson and Ajenai went into a grade 4 english lesson. They were doing algebra which I am completely rusty on. I vaguely remember that I’m searching for x, but that’s about it! The teacher was young and totally nervous that I was in there. I have to say, I enjoyed freaking him out a bit! Hey, I get my kicks where I can! There were about 6 students and they had 3 books between them. The teacher read the problem (ugh, algebra and word problems!) and then he did them on the board and just asked the kids if they understood. Of course they said a desultory, yes, and he went on to the next problem. After he did 2 he asked me to teach. I said ok. I assigned 2 kids each 1 problem to solve and then had them write the answer on the board 1 at a time as they only had 1 tiny sliver of chalk! Then I had the students explain how they arrived at their answer. The teacher said, wow, I have learned something of your methods that I will use already, thank you. I just smiled prettily as I preened my tail feathers!

Then class was over, and we went back into the office to sit some more. Sigh, I have no idea what the heck Justus expects us to do! Then after another 30 minutes of talking with Ms. Emily, where she made me again feel horrible because her school has no money, she offered to walk me and the kid home. And she walked us all the way to our place, came in, took off her shoes and coat and stayed about 30 minutes! Talking the whole time while offering to wash our dishes! I’m definitely learning something about Kenyan hospitality!

I’m not exactly sure how this experience will unfold, but I’m considering going to a hotel for the weekend. And maybe, bowing out. Ajenai is having a hard time roughing it in our humble abode, and I’m not sure what the volunteering is going to shape up to look like…hmmmm. We shall see what’s next!

*Note: I have to say internet was really spotty in Kenya, I've taken this blog posts from my journal this summer, but now I'm back in the UAE!