I awake early (5 a.m.), as usual, and to all the usual sounds: roosters crowing nearby, dogs barking in the hotel yard, a TV blaring somewhere, trucks and cars and cycles loudly driving past on the road that is a few steps away, all manner of horn honking near and far, loud speakers blaring from town with music or prayers or preaching, a motorcycle cranking up just outside my window, oh, and birds making all sorts of sounds I don’t recognize. Just another day in rural Kenya where the day starts early. (“Monte’s not at the Hilton any more!”)
It’s Saturday—no school, no plans, just a relaxed day in rural Africa. So I take a walk down the road toward Kisumu, which soon turns from tarmac to dirt to mud. I still cannot believe the beauty of the lush green landscape. It reminds me of Kauai in its vivid green vegetation, the huts beside banana trees and corn fields. A man catches up with me and tells me how hard he’s working on his fish farm but he needs some capital and I explain that I’m working for Achungo, trying to get help for the orphans and their school and currently don’t even have any funds for that. Partly to avoid any more of that conversation, I quickly turn into the compound of a government school: Nderu Primary.
What a mistake that is! I immediately turn envious – Nderu is on acres of flat land with enough buildings for a full primary and then some, and a huge, grass soccer field and play area –maybe 150 yards of flat grass. By comparison, Achungo is on a tiny, cramped, sloping stretch of dirt and the nearby land is also on a slope unfit for a soccer field. Oh if only Nderu Primary were falling out of use and looking for a buyer! Some of the class rooms are in serious disrepair, but it looks like other buildings are under construction. And then there’s that latrine that is sinking into its pit! Oh well, the best I can do is turn my visit into a study of latrine and classroom construction methods. One latrine building is very unusual – built up about 4 feet with metal doors that lead underneath – I guess for cleanouts!!? I also notice the classrooms have their blackboards painted onto the cement walls. Hmm – that does make for a much smoother blackboard than the very rough plywood in use at Achungo.
A while after my return, Michael comes to my room, we cover some of my latest research questions, and then go down to the hotel restaurant for lunch. (It’s the only thing one could call a restaurant anywhere in the area) We order and then he disappears for a few minutes and returns with another man who joins us (Who is he? I know I’ve met him before, but….). I ask if he also wants to order some food and he does so. The two of them talk for a while in Luo and although I can’t understand anything else, I do hear them mention the word “Board” and it slowly dawns on me that this is Lawrence, the chairman of Michael’s local Board. OK, he’s an old friend and I just didn’t remember. Then Michael reverts to English and mentions that Lawrence had provided posts to help with the construction of the temporary schoolhouse. (And at that point I sincerely hope Michael hasn’t been reading my mind as I wondered who he was and why he had joined our lunch! This man helps Michael regularly and is his primary supporter. Glad to be able to share lunch with him. Glad I kept my mouth shut)
After lunch we head down to the school. Saturdays at 2pm is computer lab for the 3rd and 4th graders and Richard had invited me to join him if I could. We get there at almost 2:30 and I’m a little anxious at being late, but, nothing we could do about it, we had waited almost an hour to be served our lunch. No worries, turns out we’re all on Africa time! When we get there, there’s no Richard and kids are just playing in the yard. After a while I ask Michael if I should just get started (although I have no clue what they’re covering in “computer lab”) and he agrees. So I set up in the Teacher’s Lounge with my laptop on the desk and about 10 students in plastic chairs and a bench jammed in front of the screen trying to see. And some 5 more join us over the next 20 minutes. I talk about the parts of the computer but give up after a vain attempt to describe the tiny wiring inside – how do I describe a motherboard to children who have little experience of electricity? I know Richard has shown them cut/paste in Word so I start with “what is a word processor…what is a spreadsheet” and then we try a little cut and paste and basic formatting (bold, underline, italics). This is so far out of the realm of their experience and having no hands-on opportunities, they have so little sense of it, that it just doesn’t seem productive. I bring up a game that might help—it’s a simple memory game, and I invite them to take turns selecting 2 cards on the screen by clicking on them to find matches. At least it gets them excited about computers and getting a brief feel for cursor and mouse. Finally, I show them my promotional movie of Achungo and some of the pictures I’ve taken and we wrap just as a rainstorm hits. Maybe someday we will bring out a handful of outdated desktops so they can have a real computer lab!
We hang out a bit longer before they head for home and some of the students teach me a few more words in “matha tongue” (Luo) and I note that they are becoming more familiar with me, especially the girls and the younger boys. They feel my hair (it is so different from theirs) and are fascinated with the skin on my arms (seems translucent to them). I am essentially an albino in terms of how strange I appear to them. I am “mzungu” (“the white guy”).