Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mama Said There'll Be Days Like This

I am having a rough week. On my way to school Wednesday, my bicycle broke. I was riding downhill when I heard a loud SNAP and knew I was in trouble. I know what you are thinking, “Ryan, you already told us this story”. Unfortunately, and frustratingly, I am not repeating myself. My bicycle broke AGAIN. For the third time in two weeks. I spend most of my time pushing the damn thing to and from school. It is really starting to annoy me. I fixed the brakes last week, rode the thing for a day before the chain stopped engaging the gears. I left the bike at school over the weekend where it miraculously fixed itself. Rode it to school Monday and on Wednesday the new brakes snapped off. Grrr. I am running out of ways to fix it. I suppose that’s what I get for off-roading with a bike that is old enough to be in high school.

Also, I think something is seriously wrong with my feet because I keep falling. I don’t mean that I trip a lot, though I do stumble four or five times a day. I mean that in the last week I have sprawled on my face not once, not twice, but an unbelievable three times. All three have been in front of an embarrassing number of people. I don’t trip and land on my knees, I don’t catch myself with my hands in a downward dog yoga position. Nope, I just lose my balance for no reason and fall, hitting the ground with every part of my body. The first time was Monday at school. I slipped on some loose dirt outside the staff room and landed flat on my back. It was like a cartoon character with a banana peel. The second fall was Monday afternoon. I was pushing my bike home and got to the top of this hill. I was at a complete standstill and attempted to swing my right leg over the bike and mount. It is a move I have only done about a million times in my life. I got my leg over and then I just fell. My left leg just gave out. I landed hard with the bike on top of me. The group of Borana women loaded with water on their backs ran to help me. They insisted that I do not ride anymore and made me walk the bike the rest of the way. The third fall was by far the most embarrassing and funny. I was in the center of town on Tuesday for District education day. I was walking in a straight line, not distracted in any way, when I just tripped over absolutely nothing and collapsed in a heap. I got all dirty, tangled in my skirt, and even lost a shoe. I fell in the doorway of a shop. All my students saw, all my teachers saw, half the town saw. And those who didn’t see will probably have heard about it by now. I picked myself up from the dirt repeating “Niko sawa! Niko sawa!” (“I am okay!”) and giggling like a lunatic. I thought about calling the PC medical personnel and asking for help but I couldn’t think of what to say. “Hi, this is Ryan, I am calling because I am slowly losing my mental faculties and have lost the ability to stand…” I don’t know what is wrong with me. I am not losing my balance, I don’t get vertigo or anything; it’s like I was born with three legs and recently got one removed and now have to re-learn how to walk. It is very awkward.
I do not know how to cleverly segue from my personal difficulties to issues that are actually important so I am going to use this sentence to do it for me.
I recently met a teacher from the primary school while walking home. He was asking all about America and telling me about his life. He was an IDP, an Internally Displaced Person. He used to live in the Chalabi desert with his family but during a crisis in 2005, he and his whole community was moved here to Diribgombo. The fifty families were given only a white plastic dome hut to live in. The move was supposed to be temporary but the IDPs, which are all over the country, are afraid that the government has forgotten about them. There are no plans to move them back home, they have no money, no jobs, and no land. The man I met said that most just sit around all day but he felt that “idle hands are the devil’s playground” and so he is a volunteer teacher at the primary school. He teaches a few classes a day for a very reduced pay, just enough to buy a little food for his family. He is a very nice man; you would expect someone who has had their life uprooted to be angry or bitter, but he was friendly and kind. Again, I wished I had something to offer for help but all he asked of me was to walk with him to school sometimes and talk to him about America.

I have been thinking about this man for a few days now, and I was surprised that I had had no idea there were IDPs living so close to me. I can see their small white huts from my house and never knew what they were. I felt bad when I realized how little I knew about my community. I googled my village and found out some data about it. The international poverty rate is $1 USD per day. Kenya as a whole has 50% of its population below that rate. Kenya also has its own “extreme poverty rate” which is $0.50 USD per day and in my village, Diribgombo, over 80% of people live below that line. To give you a comparison, the American poverty rate is $60 per day and 17% of Americans are below that. It really puts things in perspective for me. And yet, Kenyans are the most generous people I have ever met. Some ask for money when they first meet me, but once they know me, they will give me anything. I have gotten food, money, and help, without asking, from Kenyans who don’t even understand my language and all they want in return is to shake my hand or give me a hug. Yesterday, I was sitting on a rock reading a book when a little girl from the village came up and sat next to me. After she shyly said hello she gave me a piece of candy then ran away. At education day, I was sitting under a tree by myself trying not to get sunburned when one of my favorite students, Robe, came over and brought me two packages of ginger cookies and a soda. She thought I looked hungry. And my young neighbor, Lokho, came over last night and she said “I will remember you for my whole life because you are like my mother”, and then she gave me a small hair clip with a flower on it that she had purchased with her own money and a letter telling me how much she loves having me as a friend. You just can’t imagine how sad and grateful and lucky I feel to be living here and seeing all this.

PS. I am spending a lot of time with the group from Minnesota, and I just love them. They gave me a bag of granola bars and candy and also gave me a coloring book and real Crayola markers. When they saw how unimaginably happy the gifts made me, they laughed in a “wow, poor thing” kind of way. That’s okay, they are also going to give me an old hat, some new (to me) flip flops that are only one size too big, and any Ziploc bags they have left over. It’s like Christmas! I know, I know… I’m pathetic.

I think I’ll stop there and end this blog on a high note. I will save for next time the story about the disappearing scorpion and the camel that tried to kick me in the head.

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