I don’t set my alarm this morning. I survived the seven hour bump-fest from Nairobi yesterday and my body feels like I ran a marathon. What actually wakes me is the sudden volume increase of the morning birds as the electricity cuts out and my fan shuts off.
I change into walking clothes and unlock the padlock on the large metal door that keeps me in and everyone else out. I put on the ankle brace that is saving my arch on all the uneven/slopped surfaces of Kenya and lace up my shoes. Grabbing my cellphone and ear buds, I toggle over to my audible app and continue “Beneath A Scarlet Sky” by Mark Sullivan. I’m a little over an hour in and it’s just getting good. I decide to walk by the site today because 1) Bob and Deb are still out of town so I’ll be walking alone and I want to be safe and 2) I bought a ton of books in Nairobi and I don’t want to carry them up all at once.
The air is cool and sweet and the road up to the site is steeper than I remember.
I rap on the big blue gate at 7:30am and make the rounds to all the houses. Kids are doing chores and wave excitedly to me from their porches. One of our oldest boys runs over, soapsuds clinging to the side of his head.
“Ishmael! Why are you covered in soap?” I ask after we greet each other.
“We are playing.” He responds, gesturing to two other boys similarly spotted, laughing and out of breath.
One 8-year old sees me and yells, “cake!” Thinking I’ve brought them a treat for behaving well in their English classes. I shake my head. Call it positive reinforcement or straight up bribery: it’s a slippery slope.
The girls in House Two recite the poems they are memorizing for our Christmas program on Wednesday.
The little girls in House Five are shy when I greet them. The day I left them, Judy and Florence wouldn’t leave my lap. What a difference a week makes. I wonder if their timidity is normal, or if they weren’t sure I was coming back and know they don’t know if I’ll leave them again.
I didn’t bring the keys to my office, so I leave the bag of books in House One, exit the site and finish my morning walk by traipsing down the other side of the mountain and taking the road back to my compound.
The electricity is still out so I boil water to make coffee, lighting the gas stove with a match. I’m grateful I took the time to make granola for breakfast yesterday. I stretch while the French Press soaks my coffee. While I’m waiting, Veronica arrives.
Veronica is my “house-help.” I tell myself the story I’ve been told: that the wages I pay her greatly increase her quality of life. Truthfully, having my house cleaned, dishes done, and clothing hand-washed in a tub might be increasing my quality of life more. I haven’t seen her in a week and we chat about her daughters, husband, and Christmas plans.
I eat breakfast and do my morning devotions. I refill the water purifier. Then I check and respond to email, screenshot the directions for the last grad-school assignment of the semester, and work on updating our language assessments based on feedback we’ve just received from teachers in The States. This takes the rest of the morning. I put on sun screen to give it time to soak in before I climb back up to the site in the intense heat of the day.
Lunch is a ham sandwich on the good bread from Nairobi and an apple. I pack my backpack with my sandals, the rest of the new books, and a water bottle. I give a box of loose-leaf Kenyan Tea to my landlords on the way out of the compound, I’m never going to drink it all.
The lunch bell is just ringing as I reach the site for the second time today. There is a sick child who will be taken to the hospital for treatment after lunch and the Reading Club kids want to know if we are meeting. I nod in enthusiastic affirmation. I greet employees and children I missed in my morning round. I sit in the social worker’s office with the English teacher to discuss how last week went and plan for the future. I will get to the site early tomorrow to observe all the classes and monitor progress.
I unload my backpack of the books and pick two to read on the porch of the multipurpose building. The crowd starts with five kids and swells to nearly twenty as I brace my back against a cement pillar and read. The older kids want to read it aloud with me. It’s distracting and I ask them to let me do it alone the first time.
I’m totally surrounded and I love it. Heads on my shoulders, bodies pressed into my sides. I feel hands all over my arms and lower legs. Some are just resting against my skin, some are rubbing small circles, and some are squishing the fat of my arms. They love to squish the fat of my arms and stomach. There is an almost reverent look in their faces as they pat the softness of my tummy.
Everyone wants to read the books again, especially the late comers. I promise I will read later but now it’s time for Reading Club. The six members and I retreat to my office. They open the window but insist on shutting the doors to keep the other 52 kids out. The temperature slowly rises but the kids never seem to mind the heat. I show them books bought for them in Nairobi especially excited about the junior dictionary/thesaurus. They are excited, too.
We are starting a new book today: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” We talk about synonyms and antonyms while also building on our close reading practices. We take turns reading a page to the group and then modeling our skills by either 1) making a prediction, 2) making a connection, or 3) asking a question. As it’s our first time through the book, there are a lot of questions. On the first page, Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair. I tell the story of my brother spitting gum in my hair and having to have it cut out. Another tells of a time when she was talking and felt like no one was listening to her. At the end we talk about how, as Christians, even though we have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, we also have Jesus and hope and that makes all the difference. We make synonym and antonym lists. We need to do this more. We take a trip to the reception room to look at a world map and find Australia (the land to which Alexander wants to escape). We find Kenya and America on the map, too. It takes a while. We talk about countries versus continents and they want to know how big the Atlantic Ocean is and what is this continental self I speak of? I make a mental note to work in some basic geography lessons.
After we finish our group work they stay to read the new storybooks. I look up from paperwork to see them using the new dictionary and snap a picture.
I go and sit with the kitchen staff for a bit to check in and visit. I’m shown a cake that Mama Mary has made for our Christmas celebration. It has icing flowers on it and I am impressed and hungry. We talk about cake decorating and how they are going to hide this cake from me for two whole days.
I walk back into the office hallway to see two little boys ready to reread the stories I promised. I grab a book and we quietly slink into the multipurpose room. If we are lucky, no one will find us. We are lucky. I get to sit with just two boys and read them three stories. One rests his head on my shoulder and the other keeps his hand on my arm. They want to know more about dinosaurs. I don’t think they believe me when I tell them they really used to roam the earth.
It’s four thirty and my sandwich and apple are long gone. I give the older girls, still reading in my office, a two-minute warning and they immediately start to straighten my office and all the books. I need another book shelf!
I say good night to the staff on the porch and share a laugh remembering my first day at the site in June when they “tricked” me into running a 5K while jet-lagged. We all started running together, but I’m the only one who was still running at the end! I walk down from the site with the English teacher. It’s nice to have company.
When I reach the compound my landlord is having tea and homemade chips on her porch. We have both just returned from trips and I join her to catch up. She serves me some of the Kenyan tea I dropped off in the morning and chips. She slept all day and has only just showered and dressed. She tells me she is praying for me to get a husband, a real life partner. From her lips to God’s ears.
I open my metal door at 5:30 and plug-in all my devices to charge, happy the power has come back on. I feel sticky and hop into the shower. I stretch out my legs. I am determined to not let this calf get bad again after all the rest I got in Nairobi. I sit down to write this post and check emails for replies from this morning. The light fades until it’s pitch dark. The breeze has just turned cool and I hear the sound of a motorcycle engine powering a flour mill on the hill behind our compound. Someone is scrubbing dinner plates at the landlords house and I smell the fires of both cooking and trash burning floating in the window.
It’s 7:47, time for dinner, facebook, and bed. I get to do it all again tomorrow.
Reading Club taking a picture with some of the new books so that I can send it to those who donated the money for them.
I tried to get a shot of all of us but 1) I look super white and 2) little Isaac is photobombing. He is just one of the 52 reasons Reading Club insists on shutting the door to my office during our lessons!