Thursday, July 9, 2009

Playing Hokey Pokey... in Africa.

-July 9, Thursday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today, as planned, we went to Ring Road School. Whenever we ride through the slums, the children watch us with wide eyes, pointing and shouting, "Mzungu, mzungu!"

Dory, Rose, and the others were waiting excitedly for me when I arrived. When Lavin saw me, she came running and wrapped her arms around me in a tight embrace.

The children were all playing a game when we arrived at the school. I quickly joined in, asking them to teach me how to play. The game- which I have christened "Squares"- was surprisingly difficult. There were sixteen squares, and two to four players at a time. They would begin at opposite corners and begin to hop four squares right and then four squares left, and then move up one. This seems easy, but then they go backwards and sideways and add more people... it is too hard to explain. It took me a long time to figure the game out, and it was quite tiring. The children thought my poor skills were hilarious. Lavin and I played the game together, and all of the children would laugh whenever I messed up, which was quite often.

I played the squares game with the children, and then we gathered around and sang a few songs that everyone knew, such as Deep and Wide. We also sang songs that the children did not know yet, but enjoyed all the same, such as The Lord's Army.

Directly in the middle of a song, I heard a boy say, "Excuse me, madam." I turned around expectantly, and he said, "We are requesting that you take tea."

This is the Kenyan custom. No matter what you are doing or where you are doing it, you are required to stop at that exact moment, sit down, and have a cup of tea and maybe a mandazi or two. The children with whom I had been singing urged me on as if taking tea in the middle of singing a song was completely normal, and it was... for them.

I took my tea and then went back outside. We played clapping games and jump rope. I taught the children how to play Limbo, and that was a huge hit, bigger than the Hokey Pokey, even. I brought out my camera and we made "movies," talking about their sponsors and discussing the biggest needs at Ring Road School.

"What does your school need the most?" I asked seriously.

"Emily forever!" one girl shouted.

I ask them what the biggest need is for their school, and they tell me that they want me to stay with them forever. I wish I could.

The children began reciting stories. Dory stood up and recited a poem that she had written about AIDS. It was fantastic. I am astonished by the brilliance of these children- children who literally have little to no opportunity for a decent future.

For lunch, Barbie and James and I went to the Nakumatt. We ate at the upstairs version of a food court, which consisted of three or four little restaurants. Barbie chose to have Chinese food, and I ordered a pizza.

We went to various nursery schools, secondary schools, and universities to visit with sponsored children and photograph them. We even went to a medical school. Everyone here wears uniforms to school, even at college. At Ring Road, when asked if my school wears uniforms, I replied that we did not, and one little girl asked, "If you are killed, then how will they know where to take your body?" The life these children live is another world apart from our own.

Everywhere I go, I hear shouts of, "Mzungu, mzungu!" I am not simply a minority over here- I am a rarity.

We went to the hotel and rested awhile before boarding our matatus and going to Jared's house. We sat outside in lawn chairs and had a delicious meal of chipati, fish, chicken, cake, rice, and mango juice. It was the best meal I've had since I have been here.

The meal was very satisfying and we enjoyed examining the stars that quivered above us. They were so different from our own in the Northern hemisphere. It felt otherworldly to not be able to find the Big Dipper or any of the familiar paintings of the sky. We made up our own constellations, creating images of animals, such as a giant giraffe.

We finally arrived back at the hotel. It was after dark and we were exhausted, but happy, and very much ready for bed.

I must go now, because it is later at night than I thought it was, but I will write more tomorrow.

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