Monday, February 1, 2010

January News- Jambo from Nairobi

Jambo! Habari gani? Greetings from Nairobi from J&S…

2010 began peacefully for us as we spent the last week of December in Perugia and Rocca D’Orcia, Tuscany, Italy- visiting ‘il nostro amico gentile’ G and his friends and family. On New Year’s Day, we helped to celebrate his grandfather’s 81st birthday with champagne and a delicious home cooked meal by his grandmother, before flying back to London briefly for a pit-stop and bag change, then returning to an airport to fly ‘home’ to Nairobi.

We have a new two-floor, two bedroom apartment on the school grounds with a lovely balcony which overlooks some green gardens and flowers in vibrant pinks and burnt orange. Each day our flat is refreshed by Jackie, our maid, who we are eternally grateful for, as she does all our washing and ironing! In the evenings, we can hear the rhythmic sounds of crickets and the croaking of frogs which play in the river that flows alongside our building (more about that later). The school compound is a lovely place to live with tennis courts, an expansive outdoor pool and lots and lots of blue sky! Nature surrounds us, even here, with plentiful beautiful birds- ibises, marabou, Egyptian geese, cranes, kites, weavers and sunbirds- and the odd gecko scaling the school walls.

S’s Year 5/6 class is growing with four new students this week, and he has been sticking to his new, improved and more organised work schedule (no work after 6pm or at weekends!) which has left us free to enjoy our free time together. Until September, I am working as Learning Support for two students with special educational needs.

Our school newly opened in the North of Nairobi in September and educates from primary right through to college. Every day at lunch time, we get a free meal- and we sit on tables with students from different year groups- it is a real family atmosphere and often doesn’t feel like a school.

The lunches we are served range from Western dishes like pizza to traditional Kenyan fare such as ugali and sikomawiki (spinach and kale- its delicious!)

S has restarted playing football. He is part of a football team called the Railway Wanderers. The team was founded when the railway was built between Mombassa and Nairobi. On Friday night, he returned home covered in deep red mud from playing in the wet field!

S and I heard heavy rains throughout the night, accompanied with an impressive thunder and lightening storm. Kenya has been without a good rain for about two years and the water is welcomed. However, ‘El Nino’ a warm current bringing the rain from the oceans has been quite unusual and this morning, S and I woke up to see a fast flowing reddish brown river where our road and path normally is- so deep it came midway up my calves! The river has burst and the campus turned into one great big watery playground for the ibis! January is ordinarily the hottest month of the year! However, we have had plenty of warm sunshine with temperatures every day of over 20 degrees.

Despite the river road, we were able to wade out with our driver to explore Ngara market- a haven for fresh fruit and veg of many varieties so that we can try to shop locally rather than support the richer and richer supermarket chain Nakumatt. We then went to Bomas, a Swahili word mean ‘enclosed homestead’. It’s a cultural centre which features representational villages of traditional homes of Kenya’s major ethnic groups, including Mijkenda, Taita, Kuria, Luo, Kisii, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kikuyu, Meru, Maasai and Embu. The tribes come from varying parts of Kenya ranging from the coast to the mountains, to the lakes, from the North, East and Central Kenya as well as the Rift Valley. We also got to watch some traditional dances and see the ‘Jambo Mambo’ an acrobatic troupe who wowed us with somersaults, and limbo-ing underneath a fire blazing pole! Whilst at Bomas, we witnessed four Sykes monkeys playing in the trees and as we explored the site we were surrounded by many varieties of colourful butterflies. We were excited to see buffalo as we drove along the peripheries of the National Park- wildlife is abundant in Kenya!

Yesterday, we went to Dandora. Dandora is an area of Nairobi where a large and toxic rubbish dump is situated. It is seen as one of the most polluted places on the planet. Sadly, many poor Kenyans end up working and even living on the dump and in its surrounding slums, as they can earn a few pennies in collecting bits of rubbish with value. S has been volunteering at Dandora since September- teaching some of the children games on a Saturday. Generously, S’s old primary school in England, recently fundraised over £410 for his work there- and the money has been used to purchase uniforms for some of the children. Even though there is ‘free education’ there are many barriers to their schooling. Many families cannot afford the shoes and uniforms needed to send their children to school, there is also a lot of hidden costs like enforced lessons on a Saturday- it means that many children miss out on school at all. Even if they do get to go, there are often up to 100 in a classroom – which has no furniture- they have to sit on mats on the floor. Needless to say, they don’t learn much! S and I were invited into the home of two women who are mothers of a girl who was one of the girls to receive a uniform. They spoke candidly about their experiences and it was very humbling. S and I are going to continue to work at Dandora- offering some teacher training to some volunteers who help the children there. We are also considering building/equipping a safe play area for the local kids.

In the afternoon, we went to buy essentials such as mosquito nets and our groceries- and visited the cinema to see Avatar. It was a far cry from the life of the people at Dandora- but S and I realise how lucky we are.

We have many plans for the next few weeks and months- we are currently trying to find a second hand vehicle so that we can be more mobile, and we are starting Swahili lessons together from next Friday. We are helping to deliver the Presidents Award at school which is the local equivalent to the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and I am organising a staff and parents quiz- with proceeds for entry hopefully going towards our work at Dandora. S is restarting Taekwondo- following his successfully obtaining a yellow belt before Christmas.

So that’s all our news so far and only one week has passed us by! We are looking forward to hearing from you and hopefully we may even get a visit!

Habari ya Mwaka Mpya! (Happy New Year!)

January 2010

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