Into Africa: Day Seven: Back to School

Thursday, Sept. 16

NAROK, KENYA – Cows just passed. I barely take notice, there are just four of them, and they’re not doing anything all that dramatic like heading down a steep embankment, avoiding crocodiles and swimming across a river — the stuff of the great migration.

I’m on a patio of a hotel in Nairobi, and have seven hours to go until the flight to Amsterdam. A security alarm just went off, and after days of very mellow, very friendly people, and hippos groaning as the ambient sound, the security alarm is jarring, and a good reminder that I am in transition, on the way home.

This sleek hotel feels like many people could have artillery ready at a moment’s notice. You have to walk through metal detectors to enter; security is obvious. The other journalists are reading, talking, relaxing and we are already tired.

The night before ended late for a few of us, around a table in the bar. The Australian journalists are hilarious to drink with, and I now know that “arc up” means to stand at attention. I learned plenty more, but I know to keep this clean.

This diary’s a little out of order because electricity and connection to Internet are not givens. There’s a bit more from yesterday, Wednesday.

NAROK, KENYA — I will learn how to spell that without looking because I will be addressing boxes there. The need for school supplies and books here is staggering, and there is so much we can do to help.

Mara Rianda Primary School is a collection of buildings off a dusty road, not far from the Maasai village we visited.  Goats hang out in a fenced off area, laundry dries on lines. The school, built in 1988, has 777 students, all in uniform.

The kids come out to greet us. Lots of “jambo!” calls and the bolder children pose for the cameras, while the shy hide behind their pals. No different from any school in any of the hundreds of classrooms I’ve been in, in America.

A school in Narok, however, is not going to be like a school in a suburb. I’m no stranger to poor schools, as the product of some, and having covered many when I was an education reporter, I know many schools don’t have computer labs, high-tech gym equipment and new textbooks.

Here, though, 43 children crowd into a fairly dark room. Some walk 10 kilometers to school, each way, which sounds like the jokes American grandparents say to kids. There are no buses.

The teacher, Metrine Muluya, teaches Swahili, English, science — whatever group seven needs, and the age range would basically cover our middle through high schools — in this one classroom.

When asked, the students reveal they want to be engineers, doctors and one wants to be a pilot. No one said basketball player, singer or TV star, the most common answers I get at home.

Their textbooks are shared and have the dog-eared look of pages turned so often they’re velvety and about to fall apart. The teacher looks mystified when I ask about behavior problems.

Of course all of these kids can’t be perfect, but when we went into the classroom, she said one word in Swahili and they filed in quietly. With 43 in her class, (some classes have 60 students) she explained what would happen if there were a behavioral incident, but it felt as if she were reaching for an answer to something that hadn’t happened much.

These kids want to be here. They need basics — pencils, pens, and notebooks. Given that Americans, who could, just bought school supplies for their kids and usually have a lot left over, I am going to conduct a drive when I get home. It does not seem like all that much to send, and though I realize some basic implements will hardly change their lives, it certainly can’t hurt.

I hope to explain this at home before my husband reads this. He wound up lugging thousands of books the last time I was so moved, when Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans’ library shelves bare. He asked my next collection be for orphans in need of feather pillows. I hate to disappoint him, but it’s books and supplies.

Photos courtesy Jacqueline Cutler

1 Comment

  1. Sign us up. Meg’s GS troop would love to help, Jackie. I have loved every word you’ve written. Thanks for taking us on the journey.

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