Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Welcome once again! These past few weeks have had a quite a few highlights. Every time I think I’ll send this email I remember something I should include! One of the highlights has been the sewing machines. I have known about the existence of sewing machines in this center for quite some time but only recently did I discover which store they were in. As part of my spring cleaning drive (I’m fed up of spiders) I’ve decided to tidy up all the stores and when I got round to the mysteriously marked ‘Utility Store’ I came across 7 very dusty sewing machines and 3 bags full of buttons. I was beginning to get quite het up about this terrible waste of resources when a lady turned up to replace all the broken parts and give things a good oil! One of them will hopefully be going to CCM, which will be a godsend for the girls doing tailoring courses.

Another hightlight arrived a few days ago at night, in two very loud and very large lorries. At first we thought the mango trees had arrived, then we thought it was some more supplies for the building work. Various other theories were put forward but in my opinion Kevin came up with the best one – that is that a gang of armed bandits had come to steal all the cows. In actual fact they were the guys who are now digging a borehole. Extreme noise seems to be a prominent feature of their stay - not only do their lorries sound like 3 herds of elephants but the drill thing to dig the hole is also deafeningly loud. Should be good when it’s finished though. It’ll be a lot cheaper for this place. Especially now the new Budget has been read and natural water is zero rated - whatever that means.

On a more serious note, one of the lads here has caused quite a bit of worry recently by running away. It seems there were some problems with secondary school he’s attending (or was), the upshot being that he was sent home. After a few days here he decided to disappear and stayed away until the end of last week. Thankfully he decided to return but the air is full of ‘issues’ at the moment.

Otherwise, the rest of my life is overly full of sport. First we had the school athletics then we landed straight into the World Cup. Alas! I missed the most entertaining day of athletics because I didn’t feel like having 101 people staring at me. Apparently one of the young and trendy teachers decided to team up with one of the not so young and trendy teachers and do the relay. The kids couldn’t decide if Miss Nabea flying down the track, with hair streaming out behind her was more entertaining than the other teacher trying to fly down the track and, well, failing. As far as our lot were concerned Mwiti and Mugambi were the stars. Mwiti, in particular, can finish before the others have left the starting line.

We have now moved onto football, football and (you guessed it) football. Not only do we have the World Cup on the TV from 4pm every day but we also have the secondary school footie matches on the field behind us. If I ever fancy a change from football I have to walk around with my eyes closed and my discman on full blast. Why can’t they have knitting competitions? Or at least a range of different sports. It doesn’t help when people keep asking me if I think England will win. How should I know?! I haven’t got a clue how good our own team is, let alone the people they’re playing against!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It’s been a bit humdrum these past couple of weeks. Well it was until Monday, when everything started getting a bit dramatic. I think I’ve mentioned that there are currently some new buildings under construction on site. They are beautiful and white with very nice timber ceilings. There are even some stairs inside (not something you usually come across in this neck of the woods). Well, the Big Boss from Nairobi decided to visit, just to see that everything’s going smoothly. Unfortunately, things did not go at all smoothly and he ended up discovering that 3 of the guys here have been helping themselves to supplies! They have now been arrested and we are awaiting events with baited breath. Last month we also had a visit from an irate father who came to collect his runaway son who’d nicked off with the school fees. Those builders certainly stop life becoming boring! Maybe I could put the book on hold so I can write a comic drama/ soap opera based on these real life events!?

The building work also means our running water is extremely erratic so I’m getting into the swing of carrying buckets of water around the place (although not too much cos most of it ends up on the ground).

Now for a proper paragraph on food. As I recall the food feature played an important role in my emails last year and I’d like to introduce it once again. I’m sorry to say that cabbages have taken a back seat due to the fact that my stomach is now accustomed to eating it at least once a day. Goats, on the other hand, are still incredibly significant. Mainly because I always walk into them when they’re hanging in the store. On Tuesday I got the shock of my life when I thought I was reaching for a plate and instead my hand came across the bloody rid cage of a former flower terrorist. The staff decided to kill one of the goats because nobody can be bothered to feed them so they might as well feed us! So, the flowers are safe once again and I’m learning 101 ways to prepare a goat, even the parts I thought you couldn’t eat. I’m not sure why but it seems that everything has to involve garlic. Good job there’s no vampires around.

We are also mourning the loss of porridge in the early morning routine. Due to rising prices in maize flour it has temporarily been taken off the menu. This smells because now I’m forced to drink tea or else put up with 3000 questions about why I’m not. Eggs, however, have made a comeback and are once again making Sunday morning a bright, happy and fun filled moment in the week.

And with that I bid you goodbye
Siobhan

Friday, May 12, 2006

I’ve finally finished the second round of swimming trips! The sense of release is almost overpowering! Actually, that’s a lie. I’m getting into the swing of being a bossy sod and organizing 32 kids and adolescents so this time things went relatively smoothly. They have finally drummed into me the fact that girls and boys don’t swim together. Also, small boys and big boys don’t swim together. Also, parents and children don’t swim together. I’m beginning to wonder why they enjoy going swimming at all. Apparently it’s a Meru thing. The lifeguard at the swimming pool was explaining to me (in a painstaking manner) how it’s ok to swim with any random person you meet there but if you live with them you might as well go home. I’m finding it hard to get my head round, seeing as the girls swim practically fully dressed and seeing a guy in shorts isn’t unusual. However, I managed to sort out groups where everyone was happyish, the sun shone, etc etc and all went well.

This treat was in honour of the Easter holidays, which might as well not exist. It seems as though when school is supposed to be going they spend half the time out of class practicing for games or drama or music etc. But when it's the holidays everyone starts working hard having extra tuition. Eh? Perhaps they should swap the names of term time and holiday. Things might make a bit more sense then.

May Day (or Labour Day, as it is here) was spent in cutting grass. Is it me or does the whole world start doing spring cleaning type jobs on May bank holiday? One of the down sides to rain is that everything grows, not just your crops. So the air was filled with the sweet aroma of freshly cut grass and the singing of slashers swinging through the air. Apparently slashing grass is really fun work, so Maureen tells me anyway. Despite high toe fatalities and blister acquisition she still likes it. Personally I think it's because it's a great way to release stress. Just imagine your worst enemy is a clump of grass then swing a sharp piece of metal at it at high speed. Sorted.

On a more national scale things aren't so benign. We seem to be going through a series of disasters recently. A few weeks back there was a plane crash in Marsabit. I can never quite figure out what's going on but Marsabit has not been too peaceful lately and a load of people were flying out for talks. So when most of them died some people were gutted and others said they got what the deserved. Then there was a gas cylinder explosion in a block of flats the other day. Rajab then chose the day after to leave the gas on without lighting it. His timing could not have been better (or worse). Then, what with the measles outbreak, the news has suddenly become rather depressing instead of the light hearted entertainment that it used to be. I’m just waiting for the day when we have another story about an American marrying a dolphin or beer drinking cows in Makutano. Then I’ll know the country’s back to normal.

I might not have had news of any cows drinking beer but they have been playing football. I went to CCM and for once I was not asked to be goalie. This is because there was a rather large cow grazing in between the goal posts, who actually made a pretty good goal keeper. Well, she did until she’d finished all the grass – then she abandoned her team mates for greener pastures.

I’ve had another ‘experience’ recently, of going to a wedding. The kids here were asked to sing for a local couple that got married the other weekend and I decided to tag along. The service was pretty much like Britain (except in Kimeru) but there were a few differences such as: the number of bridesmaids (12! A little excessive methinks); a (live) sheep among the pressies (bit disappointed there was no goat); and the traditional Kimeru dance. Imagine very, very old women in large floral print clothes with enormous headgear. Now imagine side step, double clap, side step, double clap etc. Finally add in some kind of song that is written on 3 notes with 5 words. There you have it!

I’ve also had a brief visit to Nairobi to sort out my plane ticket home. So guys, I’ll be back again around the 21st August so long as someone cancels a ticket. The joys of traveling peak season! If not, you might not see me till sometime in 2219.
Siobhan

Friday, April 21, 2006

This week I come to the end of telling you all about the kids I live with. Now I’ll have to think of something else to fill the space. Eek!

Room 4 has 12 (yes 12!) boys, well, teenagers. Lewis Murithi is our resident fish, one of the few Kenyans I’ve met who isn’t scared of water above his ankles and can actually swim more than 5m. Patrick Gituma is noteworthy for his odd eating habits, namely eating vocab for breakfast. Suppose it’s a better excuse than, ‘the dog ate it’. Mark Mwenda is scarily clever (he got the highest marks in his school) and also likes pink and playing footie. Patrick Riungu is fond of doing rabbit impressions and, in fact, any other type of drama. At the moment he’s in Mombasa taking part in a national school drama festival. Douglas Koome is my self appointed body guard (which is both sweet and useful) and the best bass in the place. He has also become my maths student. It’s quite nice to know I haven’t forgotten everything. David Mugambi and I keep each other entertained with an ongoing saga of adventures from the moon. It has now become so involved and confusing that half the time I can’t remember why something is funny. Felix Kinyua likes collecting stamps and thinks it’s great to have someone around who gets letters from exotic places like Germany! Jeremiah Mwiti (David’s bro) is a goalie extraordinaire. John Kaberia has apparently been an English teacher in over 17 countries. John Karani is like a dancing Dicken – all the animals love him and he can move. Patrick Kairemia loves to laugh (though I’m never sure if it’s at me or with me) and Chris Maore hardly ever wears his own clothes because he thinks he looks better if they belong to someone else.

The school games have finally come to an end and hopefully I will never have to resume my role as pretend footie Mum. The boys were out at provincial level, that’s one level above the girls who only made it to the districts. It would have been better if I could have taken my knitting but in Meru a white girl who knows a skill like that is 1000 times more noteworthy than a white girl watching football. The later is just interesting, the former is a tourist attraction and I would have been mobbed.

It’s the Easter holidays! Which means there’s a lot of kids complaining they’re bored and absolute mayhem most of the time. I’ve just come from making sand and glue pictures so I’ll probably end up with red sand in between the keys. That’s this week’s excuse for bad typing. I’m beginning to wish I’d paid more attention in art lessons then I might be able to come up with some more ideas. Any suggestions? If it involves toilet roll tubes, newspaper, pipe cleaners and felt tips then I can do it. I’d also be really grateful to anyone who can tell me different games to play with a frisbee. We have about 15 but no one knows how to play with them!

Easter day was rather low key, as in nothing happened! I kind of missed eggs for breakfast, chocolate eggs the rest of the day. It seems unusual to me that Christian festivals aren’t more, well, festive here because it’s much more overtly Christian the rest of the time. Christmas fizzled by and no one noticed it was coming until 24th, then the same thing happened with Easter. On Good Friday I decided it was time to do something eastery so I made pancakes. As I didn’t eat any before Lent I felt justified in eating them at the end instead! Then we made pop up Easter cards on Sunday. I never realized how valuble blue tac is until I came here. I’ve been compromising with sellotape, PVA and drawing pins but they just aren’t the same when you want to put pictures on a notice board.

God bless

Siobhan

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Doesn’t time fly? Since the last time I mailed I’ve aged a whole year. Amazing really. Only one more year of being a teen, suppose I better make the most of it and be as moody as possible and make a great many fashion disasters. The celebrations here were unforgettable (in a good way, I promise). Highlights included:
a) A bottle of bubbles I found under the wax crayons.
b) Several squillion balloons.
c) The Kenyan alternative to birthday beats, getting completely soaked with water.
d) A meal without goat or cabbage (score!) and a birthday cake that actually had a whole 19 candles.
e) Lots of dancing in which no one tried to get me to take part.

I was a bit gobsmacked to realize how much at home I feel here. When I come back home in August be prepared for me to feel homesick! Only downside is that I don’t think the last highlight is going to last very long. David has told me that he really, really wants to see me dance before I leave and I think he’ll wear me down after a few more weeks. Ah well, I suppose life would be no fun if nobody ever made a fool of themselves

Now for Room 3. This has 4 boys. James Gikundi is probably the person I know the best here and was very useful when I first came because I got an informal (and unintentional) briefing from him. He’s been very patient with my crazy British attitudes, not something you’d generally expect from a 15 yr old boy! When he’s not explaining what someone has just said to me, James is the one who comes up with half my nicknames. His younger brother Kevin Mwiti is an aspiring engineer and I’ve recently gained his eternal affection by giving him a broken phone to take to pieces. When he’s not building something he’s taking it apart and any other spare seconds he uses to look for sugar. I thought my Christmas Day chocolate breakfasts were bad enough but Kevin’s capacity to consume anything sweet is awe inspiring. The other 2 are their cousin Samuel Kimathi (the most sane member of the family) and Joel Mutembei who can do pretty impressive fine pencil drawings. All round their room is an enjoyable one to be in although I think they could do with a mute button on the door.

The big news this time though is that the rains have started! Everyone is very relieved and also very muddy. The bits of land that aren’t a lovely, vibrant green are a yucky, muddy red. It’s been predicted that there won’t be very much but some is definitely better than none. A few people have asked me if there’s anything they could do for MCH and several of the children have suggested that you share the rain with us (first of all Kevin asked for a snowball – no kidding). I’m not sure how the postal service would cope with it though, any suggestions on how to send rain? Besides, from what I’ve heard there isn’t that much to share around at the moment.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Righto folks! Suppose I better get back onto my room descriptions. You may have forgotten but this is what I was doing before the phone went dodo. This week it’s time for Room 2. This is the only room that has a proper mix of boys and girls as there’s 4 of each. Catherine Kinya and Purity Kathambi are cousins and behave like sisters apart from the fact that they don’t try to kill each other.Then there’s Sharon (can’t remember the other name, it’s Luo and even more unpronounceable than Kimeru) who enjoys gurning in the middle of meals in order to make everyone laugh and choke. Terry Kathambi is 9 and already has boys at school fighting over who holds her hand – she’s a bit of a stunner.

Three of the boys are small and then there’s Zachary Ntongai who is very quiet so unfortunately I don’t know him very well. Recently I’ve made a breakthrough though and he is willing to crush my hand whenever he greets me. He has also spoken two whole and consecutive sentences to me. Kenneth Mwenda is my particular friend despite the fact that he insists on saying nitakuvunja pua lako (I will break your nose) every time he sees me and I get a crick in my neck if I talk to him standing up (he’s short, not tall). Wycliffe Omondi fancies himself as the world’s strongest man even though he’s class 3 and Joseph Murithi has a talent for almost breaking his head (once because of his own clumsiness in a football game and once because some kind soul decided it would be nice to smash his head into a door handle, aren’t kids great?!). This tendency is deplored among the house mothers (Leah for R1 and Zipporah for R2) but I reckon everyone at school will think the scars are cool.

I’m starting to find general news a bit hard these days. Everything’s becoming too normal. Like a few weeks ago I did a jigsaw underneath a tree with a cow about 3 meters away and it didn’t feel at all unusual. I’ll do my humble best though.

Maureen has been sent home from school for a mysterious reason that may or may not be to do with a radio. What is most mysterious is that she was meant to come home on Saturday and didn’t turn up till Monday…

It’s the week of the roasted maize. Or, for that matter, boiled, fried, marinated, barbequed, grilled, steamed etc (guess the lies). Our crop is ripe and is being used up in a variety of ways including, thankfully, being processed at our posho mill and stored for future use.

I’ve been giving Patrick lessons on the proportions of the human body so he doesn’t draw a person with legs half the size of the head. It’s a rather weird experience for the least artistic member of my family but I suppose with an experience like this, it’s the skills you don’t think you’ll use that end up being the most useful.

I’ve had my first experience of a Kenyan doctor’s surgery. No, I’m not ill, but after spending 7 hours waiting with Kathambi and Fridah I almost was. I haven’t been that bored in ages. The worst thing was the lack of any queue or appointment system. It upset my ordered soul, as I had no way of figuring out how near to finished we were. You have to learn to just ‘be’ in that kind of situation otherwise you go bonkers.

Recently I’ve not had any additions to my name collection and I was starting to miss the confusing sensation of never knowing when someone was talking to me. However, the boys of rooms 3 and 4 have rescued me and these days I’m known as Can-you-help-me-with-a-needle. Which has a vaguely Native American ring, I think. I’m starting to really appreciate why my Granma says her middle name is where’s-me. And of course the ways people attempt to pronounce Siobhan never fail to keep me entertained.

Now for this week’s special feature, ‘the weird direct translations that never fail to confuse me’. Catchy title, huh?

Kimeru directly translated: Proper English

You are talking leaves: You are talking a lot of rubbish and don’t make any sense.

Stop planting on me: Desist in slandering my good name and tarnishing my reputation with evil rumours.

You’ve swallowed a panga: You’re getting your mords wuddled and, maybe, lisping

My God doesn’t eat ugali: This one’s a bit tricky but it’s my favourite. It’s something along the lines of sod’s law and quite similar to ‘Typical!’

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Phew! I bet you were all starting to worry that I was dead or something. Never fear, I’ve not been eaten by lions or fallen down a long drop, but the phone line was dead and going to an internet café seemed far too much like hard work. I’ve got a bit of a cushy placement, I admit it! Not only do we have the internet but I have 3 swings in my back yard. Anyway, to business!

Also if you’re in some far flung place and only read emails once every 4 months please feel free to tell me to stop cluttering your inbox. I promise I won’t be offended.

Just after my last update we had a visit from the infamous Bill and Joy. They run the Karibuni Trust, which supports various Kenyan projects working with children, of which MCH is one. Ever since I arrived people have been asking me if I knew them so it was good to finally meet them. They were doing their annual 5 week dash round Kenya making sure everything’s OK. It was very good to hear some English voices (even if they are southerners) and I quite enjoyed talking to someone who has known this place right from the beginning. If I ask the staff here questions I generally get the answer to something else which is still interesting but occasionally frustrating. They also brought their granddaughter, Ria, who’s spending her gap year deciding what she wants to do. I very much appreciated a conversation about uni applications and A Levels. It’s funny what you miss but UCAS was such a big part of my life and in Kenya I suddenly lost it, sniff.

Naomi’s come back from her time in Marsabit and then in Sudan and Jeana is also back from the coast so all of a sudden the British population of Kaaga has doubled. Naomi has been checking out a job in Sudan (also for FHI ) and has decided to take it. So about the time I’m going home to pizzas, ice cream and street lamps she’ll be going to a mud hut (literally apparently) where she fetches water from the river, has to sleep outside because inside the building it’s like an oven and has to come to Nairobi every six weeks just for the good of her health (it’s part of the job requirements). Everyone thinks she’s crazy (herself included) but this seems to be the way God’s leading her.

I’ve had another trip to Nairobi which was less frantic than December thankfully. So now I’m officially an alien! (As in proper resident but not citizen – not the little green men) However I’m unable to prove it as my purse was stolen two days after I picked up my card. Bloomin typical! I spent just under a week there with the Moffoots so I recovered my accent, got my hair cut and did lots of shopping for things like cheese, Hobnobs, and facial scrub. I even had a tuna sandwich and ate broccoli! Was almost like being in Britain.

Back at home I’ve taken on the mammoth task of sorting the book store. I’ve just about finished now but it’s taken over a week! Some of the children now hate for suggesting throwing away books that are completely broken and were never read even when they were new, which was about 60 years ago. For example:

Siobhan: Felix help me sort these books. I want to get rid of the old ones.

Felix: Akia Mungu! (Oh my God!) Sivon, you are really going to burn these books?!?! You can’t do that!

Ann Joy: What!?! You want to get rid of old, tatty, out of date books that are only being used as a nest for spiders? You heretic! How can you do something so terrible?

Made me laugh, as I saw my own reaction the time Mum got ‘scream-lined and efficient’ by ‘getting focused’ on the book boxes in our house. Seriously think I’m turning into my Mum – prayer required. I also started doing crafts and games with the kids after school so sorting out the store has been very useful. Now I actually know where to find crayons and I’ve got tons of stuff for junk modeling!

In between making a ludo board, sorting out science text books circa 1950 and flying kites I’ve been practicing my role as parent-spectator at the school games. This is like sports day times a million. Firstly, they play within school, then against other schools locally, then other divisions, then other districts, then other provinces, then nationally. If ever there was an incentive to lose this is it! The thought of having to do all those games makes me shudder. From MCH we’ve got 2 girls on the football team and the boys team is almost entirely made up of the boys here. This Tuesday they both trounced the other teams, which made me feel all proud and big sisterly. There’s also handball, volleyball and some other stuff going on but no athletics, that’ll be next term.

Going to The Games has been an interesting experience. I got quite stressed the first time round because every other child had to come and stare at me. The ones who didn’t stare came and poked, scratched, pushed, laughed etc. The longer I stay here the more annoying it gets, you’d think that in a relatively large town where people are used to white skin they would have learnt better manners - but apparently not. In addition I got very sunburnt due to sheer absentmindedness. All round, it wasn’t a very successful trip. However, the second time round was much more enjoyable. I changed my tactics and went on the offensive against snotty, giggling girls and irriating street boys. This does not mean I resorted to violence but I did shout at a few people, after that the rest of them got the idea and left me alone. I was then at liberty to observe all the hawkers round and about. In Britain, as I recall, you might get an ice cream van but certainly not ice lollies, cakes, weird fried potato things, biscuits, sweets, sausages and, of course, sugar cane in wheelbarrows. I’m going to miss wheelbarrows a lot. There’s something about them that I just like. The other day I even saw a bloke carrying a sofa on one, they’re so versatile it’s amazing really.

Anyway, enough for now.

God bless

Siobhan