A Saturday Campaign for Water Conservation and a Maasai Welcome (and more)

Today there was no teaching for me, but I learned so much about the women of Daraja and about Kenya.

The day started early.  As has become usual, I awoke early.  The girls were already practicing for Kubamba as they would be most of the day in stages.  I checked email, did some reading (as noted in my previous post) with chai tea and a bread roll, made the discovery that for some reason Kenyan wheat does not send me into abdominal crisis, went back to the volunteer office to meet up with Stephen and find out the schedule for the day, which was to essentially go with the flow.

At around 9:45, Anita and I were to meet Jason to head to Naibo Primary School.  They have a huge facility with at least 8 different classrooms, a number of trees (important when it comes to soil erosion/retention), and a playground built recently by the British Army.  He arrived at the Volunteer Office ready to go, comped us two Daraja T-shirts from the store (once it opened) to wear to the campaign, and eventually decided to head back up to the house and wait for the students to really be ready.  The campaign to be responsible in river water usage for the good of all was initiated by the Transitioners, those students who have completed Form 4 (Senior year of high school), have taken the local Kenyan exams, have completed Transitioner programming/training in preparation for college or careers, and also done two month internships.  They are currently at the start of their internships.  As Transitioners, they also have a number of projects, including the establishment and maintenance of their own plot of land and a community initiative.  This campaign has been in the works, it seems, for several months, with this latest effort the result of successfully applying for a grant from the Laikipia Wildlife Foundation (LWF), a governmental agency.  They were to receive 52,000 Kenyan shillings, though most recently their budget was halved through no fault of their own, which taught the girls lessons about what could be done with less funds.  They had to strategize.

To gather people together, they employed a road show, enlisting a truck with amplification to go to the local school area by Ogirigiri (sp?) and then the opposite way down to the Naibo center and back again to the primary and secondary school area.  In the truck, one side had a steel railing and a campaign sign; the other had a twisted rope on which the students held and spoke from the mic to gather people.  All in all, about 100-120 people were there, the majority of whom were children from the local primary and secondary schools.  The Daraja transitioners hyped up the crowd with popular music.  There were a dance from Daraja Academy (the Bwesi Girls), dance and a song from Ogirigiri students choreographed by one of the transitioners who is serving as a teacher intern there, a dance and song from Naibo primary school, and a song from Naibo secondary school.  There was a dance contest among attendees, including some of the Simama children, with the reward of candy for the best dancers.  Mary, if I remember correctly, was the one who then delivered a lecture on water quality, using banners painted by Jessica, another one of the transitioners, who is an amazing artist.  The event closed with speakers, including one of the principals (Sammy from Naibo Primary, if I remember correctly), a colleague of his who does wildlife/conservation tours for students, and others.  The Transitioners then continued the program with music and food (bread rolls and bananas) for all of the attendees.

It started at 11:30 or so, and we left (Titus, Jason, Anita, Sara, and me) around 2pm.  It was supposed to start at 10am, but I am learning that Kenyan time is a little different.  At Daraja, classes may start a minute or two behind schedule, but they are generally right on time, signaled for their beginnings and endings with the ring of a bell from the central yard … but most of things here in Kenya, from my short experience and from hearing others, well, time is more flexible.  If the students had actually started at 10 as planned, I wonder if there would have been as many attendees who heard the entirety of the message; that said, the ending lecture, arguably the most important part of the program, happened at the hottest part of the day.  Several of the attendees drifted off to seek shelter in nearby shade, still listening, but from a distance.  Others went to seek shade and then drifted off to another endeavor or interest.

All in all, it was a phenomenal program with strong successes.  The Daraja students really showed the culmination of all that they have learned as well as the progression towards that learning.  Students from all levels, Form 1 through Transition, were present.  A number of schools could learn from the concept of promoting intensive community engagement and service learning.

After the campaign, we went off with Titus, local teacher at the Ogirigiri Primary School.  He’s a friend of Jason’s from the local community and comes from the Maasai tribe.  His mother was recently ill, had had an operation, and was recovering at home.  In her time at home, she had made Jason a gift, a metal cane beaded in the Maasai way.  She wanted him to come to sit and receive it, and he brought us along.

To find the way to Titus’s home, the roads blend in with the surrounding ground cover.  Only a little extra peak of the orange soil shows the road.  The terrain is expansive, sparsely filled with acacia trees and low ground cover, speckled over, too, with small settlements.  In the traditional way, there is a home for the women and their children and a smaller home for the father.  His father is an elder, around 80 years old, and Titus is the youngest of his children, the first of them to go to school.  I would imagine that he may be the only to have graduated high school and he is now preparing to go to university, though he currently works as a teacher at the local primary school.  His nephew and niece, both must be younger than 10, are now in school, and they are doing quite well.

To enter into the Maasai home, Jason, who is tall and broad, had to bend down and turn sideways.  There was an entrance space with a ledge for a bed, a wall, and two semi-enclosed rooms, at the end of which there was another bed.  All in all there were three bedding spaces, one of which Titus once used for a desk when doing his studies, and a small kitchen area that included a small hearth.  His aunt, Esther, immediately heated chai to receive us.  We were made to sit and drink chai; to do otherwise would have been profoundly rude.  There was some conversation about schooling, the health of his mother (Margaret, if I remember correctly), the schooling of his nephew and niece, what it is that Titus wants to do (attend university, be a community leader, give speeches as his friend, Peter does, to school children to inspire them).  In the smokey haze of that darkened space – my eyes had to adjust to having little lights other than the half crescents, the size of a palm, in the sides of the walls, only two or three, for windows –  I couldn’t help but feel incredibly awed to be in a house of such love and dedication.  “Soba”, if I remember correctly, was the Maasai greeting as we entered onto the land, with each member of the family, shaking hands, and in parting, we spoke Kiswahili, “Asante sana” or thank you very much.  I don’t think it was strong enough a phrase to express my gratitude for just being in that space.

When we left, on the first road from Titus’s house, we passed his nephew with the cows.  His hands were perched at his back.  He looked curious at the car, and I looked curious out.  

After returning and a quick lunch with my family (we are assigned families, I believe I wrote in a previous post), I checked email and then headed to the room for a nap.  Two and a half hours later, I awoke to more singing.  The students were practicing and the Kubamba staff was also playing music with a DJ to get the students hyped up.  When I walked over, I walked into a dance party!   It was so much fun!  I had missed some of it, but everyone was dancing:  teachers, students, guests.  The campus is filled with folk:  the Daraja girls, the students from Simama, the staff from the Kubamba show, us volunteers.  Everyone in the area is excited for this experience!

After the dancing, Sean, one of the Kubamba staff members, came to share a religious message, quoting from the Book of Timothy, the passage where Paul speaks of having run the race and lived his life fully.  Sean then spoke to us about what we are chasing, pushing us to consider chasing a calling, chasing the ideal person (and not the desire for a passing romantic relationship), and chasing a relationship with God.  It was a good talk that came after the students were hyped up.  For some reason, the attention was all on him.  In my experience with young people, after a dance party, few would give polite attention to a speaker.  Another cultural difference?

After that, dinner, and chatting and learning Kiswahili from one of my family members.  I have to practice tonight.  I’ve been learning the elements of sentences, key words and phrases, things that one would commonly need.

After that, email and writing this blog post.  Each of these takes about an hour, at least, when it is this long.  More things happened, too (flirting of the drama teacher, a little annoyance at the desire for dominance of one man at an event developed and presented by women, the discovery that the girls really like Empire as a show, all the amazing music from the dance party, etc)!  But these are some of the most significant that I can see for now.

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