It is Wednesday, halfway through the week, halfway through the month of May. I cannot believe how time is flying. I am kinda happy about this. When I first got back from Nairobi, I was cranky for about two weeks. I was tired, overworked, stressed, and missing the nearly America life that I had while on vacation. I was frustrated with the lack of cell service, it is so hard to get used to not speaking with any friends or family, and the awful sexism I experience was, all of a sudden, intolerable. It took me a day off to recover mentally, and a few days of pampering myself, to be back to normal. And by pampering, I mean I let myself not do dishes, not do laundry, not cook. After the few days I, and my house, were filthy. But, I made it through the rough patch, and hopefully, but not likely, it was one of the last. This week I feel much better.
At school, things are going very well. My Peace Corps training has kicked in and I really feel like I know what I am doing. Looking back on last term I have to admit that I sucked as a teacher. I had no clue what I was doing, and I feel very bad for my students. Though they love me, I am sure they did not learn much. But this term, everything is different. I have new respect for every teacher I have ever had. Preparing for lessons is a lot of work! Turns out, you can’t just show up and read out of the book. I am coming up with more activities, more interactive ways of teaching, more homework, more quizzes, etc, etc. I am incredibly busy, and I think my students think I am nuts, but it is already paying off. My form ones are my trouble makers. They are angsty teens and getting them to do anything is painful for all of us. But I made a lot of changes, and they are already getting better. They have less attitude and less resistance (a very little less), though they still have no clue how to work independently. My form twos are my pride and joy. They know for certain that I am nuts and they love me for it. Yesterday, I wanted to do a lab activity, and as per usual, almost no one understood what to do. I took the five girls who did understand and had them be leaders and teach small groups of students. For the first time ever, each group got together quietly and efficiently, they all listened attentively, they all did the work, and every student did the activity. It was the first time, probably in the history of the school, that students were able to work in small groups without the teacher holding their hands. It was amazing. It really gave me hope that, however painful it is, my students are making progress and they will get there eventually.
A few days ago, on the high of my students doing well, I went home to work on my personal project of making paper mache furniture. I finished a three-shelf unit for my kitchen, and am working on a bigger spice rack. So I am sitting on my floor in the early evening, my hands covered in goo, when that darn mouse that makes a rukus all night just walks into the room. He didn’t even care that I was sitting right there! I tried to scare him away but he just ran into my bedroom. A friend of mine recently was bitten by a mouse who climbed into her bed, so I was a little freaked out by him being in my bedroom. When my 12 year old neighbor, Lokho, came over for her nightly English lesson, I complained to her about the mouse. She told me, very seriously, that she would catch it and kill it for me. So we went mouse hunting. We cornered it in the bedroom and would try to scare it from under the bed. When he ran out, we would both squeal like the girls we are and whack the poor thing with my ‘broom’, which is just a bunch of stiff grass tied together. Each time the mouse ran out, we would frantically jump around trying to hit him, and also trying to escape. I ended up on the bed, and Lokho was wedged in the corner, both of us bent over in laughter at our fear. Finally, we tired the mouse out and Lokho caught him in the bristles of the broom. She took him outside, and I asked her not to kill him, just set him free far away. Now my house is pleasantly mouse free. Now I only have cockroaches, scorpions, and ants. I can deal with those. Though I still hate those freakin’ ants.
The reason for my passionate, unwavering hatred of those tiny black ants will become clear when I tell you about last night’s debacle. I was at home, I wanted to work on my paper mache, so I slid to the floor to begin work. I checked to see if there were ants under me, and didn’t see any. Clearly, I didn’t look hard enough because as soon as I sat down I felt a sharp stab on my left buttock. I gasped and quickly leaned to the right to brush off the ant. Then I felt a sharp stab on my right butt cheek. Cursing I jumped up, but it was too late. Those damn tiny black ants! When they bite it feels like a wasp sting; it hurts way more than it should. And the bite burns for hours. The bites make the skin swell up so I had two large distinct bumps on my rear end. It hurt so bad I couldn’t sit down; I had to stand and apply cool cloths to the area for half an hour before I was able to sit without whimpering. Once the burning faded, about 4 hours later, the itching started. It is about 8,000 times as itchy as a mosquito bite. It wakes me up from a dead sleep and keeps me awake. Anti-itch cream only dulls the itch. And the best part is that the itch lasts for days. Like 5 days. So now I have a massively itchy rear that I nearly cannot keep from scratching, even in class. Its awful.
That was my night last night, so I woke up this morning feeling overtired. But I dragged myself out of bed and made coffee. Thank you, Julie, for your care package full of instant coffee and vanilla powdered creamer. After my caffeine fix, I headed to school. I was pleasantly coasting along on my bike when I saw the big hill up ahead. It is a very large hill; going top speed on my bicycle it takes a good while to get to the bottom. I was halfway down, there are lots of loose rocks and they make me nervous, so I started to apply the brakes. I slowed a teensy bit and then, SNAP, and my brakes broke off. Just broke right off. I heard them hit the dirt behind me and I had the thought, “well, that’s just wonderful” followed by a few seconds of “well, now what?” There really is only one solution I could think of, and crashing at top speed into the rocks at the bottom of the hill was not it. So I grabbed both the front and the back brakes and squeezed as hard as I could. Since there was only metal contacting the bike wheels it made a horrible screeching noise, and I like to imagine sparks flying. I only slowed a little and had to apply my heels to the dirt. I did eventually stop in a large dramatic cloud of dust. Fortunately, no one was around to laugh at me. I had to walk the rest of the way to school, riding the bike only when the ground was flat, which was never. I ended up being late to school. I ran in to my first class winded, dirty, sweaty, and unprepared. My students paid the price though, I didn’t have time to do the lesson I had prepared, so I gave them a pop quiz.
I am still in a good mood though, despite my itchy rear end and my 13 year old, no brakes, janky chained, perpetually flat tired bicycle. I think the reason is because I’ve decided that tomorrow I am inviting myself over to the Brothers of St. Paul’s house for dinner; Thursday is pizza night! They are great guys and will have cold beer, American TV, pizza, and sarcasm. I would go over every night if I didn’t feel so imposing. They tell me its okay, but its just so odd. My American upbringing tells me it is not okay to just show up at someone’s front door without notice and expect to be fed.
Last weekend the Brothers had a party, and as usual, it was great. I danced to my favorite Kenyan songs with Leah, my beautiful Kenyan friend, while the men danced terribly around us. Some of the guys showed me their dances, which made me laugh myself nearly to incontinence. None of their dances had names, so I made them up in my head. There was the ‘duck shuffle’ where you put your elbows out like wings and flap them while bobbing your head and shuffling your feet side to side. There was the ‘fainting lady’ in which you put the back of your hand on your forehead while looking dramatically at the ceiling and sway your hips downwards. I saw the ‘man with limp’ which is similar to the ‘duck shuffle’ but you have arms outstretched and lean to the side so you end up shuffling yourself in a small circle. The ‘compact boogie’ looks like you are trying to be invisible at a high school dance; you put your arms tight to your side, scrunch your shoulders, bend your knees, and groove. And lastly, the ‘butt-kick running man’ that involves drastic, seizure like movements of the body that make you appear to be running in place while kicking your heels up high enough to kick yourself in the rear. I tried all of the dances and succeeded at all but the ‘butt-kick running man’ when I was finally laughing too hard to coordinate a full body seizure and kept falling over. My friend who was teaching me said that now I was prepared to dance to any genre of music in the world. I really, vehemently disagree.
For food, there was nyama choma, grilled goat meat, which was delicious as always. I commented before eating that I was starving and one man said “you do not look like you are starving” while staring pointedly at my Kenya pudge. Darn blunt Kenyans. I ate a hyena sized portion anyway and then spent the rest of the night trying to hide the food baby growing in my belly.
While eating, a group of us got to talking about local names and I mentioned that I did not have one. So they thought about it and gave me the name Njeri. When I heard it I laughed out loud. I thought it was hilarious that my parents gave me a boy’s name at birth and now, here, I get the name “Jerry”. But they assured me it was a girl’s name and told me the story behind it. There was once a woman who was traveling while she was pregnant and she happened to give birth on the road. She named her daughter ‘Njeri’ which means ‘one who likes to travel far’. The men, my friends, sitting around me decided it was a perfect name for me, and I agree. And if pronounced correctly, with a distinct ‘N’ and a nice roll on the ‘R’, I think it is a beautiful name.
Continuing with my Kiswahili education, someone taught me a new phrase today. “Ninakupenda kama ua la bonda. It means “I love you like a flower in the desert”.
Update: Today is Thursday. Last night the mouse repaid my generosity in saving his life by sneaking back into my house. I spent another evening hunting, though without Lokho’s help I was unsuccessful. My teachers chastised me for letting him live. Now the mouse has to die. If I can catch him.