Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Days Are Just Packed

It’s Julia again. I just wanted to share a quick post about our day. We’re spending the night at a friend’s place (woo, sleepover!) and I’ve just turned out the kerosene lamp in our room so I can only stay up while the computer battery lasts.

First, I should probably make a little amendment to my last post. Jacob gently reminded me as he read my rant on family planning that we’ve both noticed a significant contributing factor to family size here is the influence of mothers-in-law. Much of the pressure on ladies to have large (sometimes unmanageably large) families is due to the expectations of their mothers-in-law. I am not really sure how to go about changing that dynamic. But I believe it’s very possible. Although I have to admit, some of these Kenyan mamas are pretty formidable. I wouldn’t want to get on their bad sides…

Anyway, last time I promised to talk about the library project. In brief, we are helping to organize a community children’s library here in Vihiga County, Western Kenya. You can read more about it on the Serve-a-Village website (see the link in my last post). We’re just starting the library as a small local project: a peaceful place for local children to go to read, study, play, learn, and enjoy themselves outside of school time. It is as much an experiment as anything else. To see if such a project can be really successful here. And, if so, can it be replicated in other areas of Western Kenya.

We are currently training a group of around twelve volunteers to operate the library through a month-long Basic Library Skills Training Course. Most of the volunteers are either primary teachers or in training to become primary teachers. At the conclusion of the course, we will distribute certificates to all the students who have participated. We will also bring a few of our students to a children's librarians’ training workshop in late July being held in a town near the border of Uganda (more about that training later.) We also hope to hire one full-time librarian who may board at the library for part of their compensation.

We are really pleased with how excited the local kids are about the library project and about how receptive the local community is to the project. We are going to meet with the Assistant Chief tomorrow afternoon about the project, so hopefully that goes well! Apparently we should have met with him when we first arrived. Whoops. But our biggest concerns are finding continued funding for the library and helping the project to eventually become self-sustainable, or nearly so. We hope to fundraise enough now to start some projects over the next two years (like growing vegetables, raising rabbits, and installing solar panels) that could help the library eventually become financially self-sustaining. 

Today we had our first library training class and, in my humble opinion, it was fantastic! Twelve students were there by ten to two. And the class was supposed to start at two. That's ten minutes early. Maybe that doesn't seem like a big deal but here in rural Kenya it really, really is. I don't know if it was the students' excitement or the fact that I had sent them multiple text messages reminding them to be on time but it worked. This group of young Kenyan men and women were all sitting on the grass in front of the library just waiting for us to show up. I was so impressed and moved. It might sound really silly but I almost cried...

So once we arrived at the library at ten to two, we quickly herded everyone over to Geverstone Academy (a small school where we've been volunteering) for class since there's currently no furniture in the library. I was a little worried when we showed up at G-stone since there was evidence that the kitchen crew and one of the teachers had been spending the morning spreading fresh cow dung on the floors of the classrooms. That is how they maintain the floors. (For your information, the dung dries into a nice cement-like floor and it doesn't smell at all once it's dry. They say it keeps the kids from getting some or other bug in their feet. I cant remember what it is now.) Anyway, it turned out Teacher Paul had especially prepared one of the rooms for us earlier so the floor was already dry by the time we arrived! The first good luck of the day. 

We said a quick prayer to begin the class, since that is how all meetings begin in Western Kenya, and then we introduced ourselves and began our discussions. While the beginning of the meeting was nice, things didn't really start to pick up until it began to rain. Hard, pounding rain. As I think I may have mentioned, if you've never heard heavy rain on an iron sheet roof, you can't really imagine how loud it is. So the rain put our discussion to an end pretty quickly. We decided to break for a short snack of biscuits (cookies, you Americans) and juice but the rain kept on pouring. So, instead, we switched to a silent activity. 

We had all the students brainstorm and write their ideas on the blackboard for alternative activities that could be done at the library. Wow! They came up with so many great ideas: role-playing, story-telling, making puppets, taking naps, learning martial arts, raising poultry, and more. It was lots of fun. And since there's no electricity at the school and we had to close the windows shutters to keep the rain out, Jacob was forced to illuminate the blackboard with his little solar flashlight. But, kind of like when the power would go out at home when you were a kid, it turned out to be a really fun adventure. Much better than if we had just had a straightforward discussion the whole time. 

When we finished the activity on the blackboard, we decided to teach all the library students how to play 7-up since it's a game you can play without really speaking. They seemed to enjoy it a lot. I know we did. It's a shame adults don't play more silly games. We could tell all the students were getting into it. And at the end of class we also ended up teaching them rock, paper, scissors since we needed to decide who would get to take home the last handout. We had only printed ten since we were expecting fewer people to show.

As we walked back home, we reflected a little bit on how much we enjoy life here. Sure, there are things that we miss. Food mostly. Jacob is planning to have a nonstop eating spree when we get home. I think he's been "reducing" a bit since we got here although I only seem to be gaining more attractive African curves... Anyway, besides the somewhat unvarying diet, there's so much to love about living in Kenya. On our walk back to town, we were greeted by many choruses of "How are you?" and "Habari?" and "Jambo". And then there was some kind of revival-dance-concert going on at one of the churches on our way back. I really wanted to stop and dance, too, but we had promised to meet our friend Frances at the matatu stage to go and spend the night at his place. 

We ended up here at Frances' place a little before dark and spent maybe two hours watching music videos and Spanish soap operas while his wife and kids prepared dinner. It takes a long time to cook dinner on a tiny wood-burning stove, which is how must people do their cooking here. (We have all but abandoned cooking for ourselves at the hostel since we get invited to people's homes so often and the local hotels have cheap and filling meals. We do still use our gas cooker for the occasional meal or cup of cocoa and for boiling our drinking water, though.) Anyway, Kenyan TV seems to be pretty much news and Latin American soap operas poorly dubbed into English. It's so easy to get hooked. I'm dying to know if Rafeala and Jose Andres get back together now that he knows what happened between them before his amnesia. Or does he??

So now we are comfortably installed in one of the rooms in Frances' parents house for the night. He and his wife and kids live in another building just a few meters away. The room is pretty warm and cozy, large spiders on the walls aside, and we're comfortably nestled under our mosquito net. So, it's probably time for me to switch off the computer and try to sleep. I hope all you readers are feeling just as happy and grateful as we are tonight. Sweet dreams.

J + J

P.S. Sorry no pictures to go with this post, the internet is being too slow to upload them. But we took loads this week since we traveled around Western Kenya quite a bit so we'll add them when we get back to the hostel or sometime soon.

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