Sunday, January 22, 2012


We are already in the fourth week of classes and this is off to a good start. The biggest change from last year is that I am the school counselor now and I absolutely love it. I never really thought I would enjoy listening to a bunch of teenage girls’ problems but it has been truly great. I am getting to know the students and I feel like I am actually helping them more than by being front of them in class as a teacher. The problems I hear cover the whole spectrum including boy troubles, falling asleep in class, whether to convert from Islam to Christianity, need tutoring in math, and even medical issues. Not to say that I am qualified to treat medical problems, but I can do a lot better just using common sense than a lot of the treatment given at the local medical clinic. For example, on girl had a cut on the heel of her foot caused by wearing uncomfortable shoes. After a few days it got very swollen, painful, and infected. She went to the local dispensary and got 5 injections. Two days later, the foot was getting worse, a sick looking open wound, so she went back and was given 5 more shots. She came to me after another day of pain and I offered the only advice I could. I asked her if they washed the wound at all. She said no, they hadn’t touched it. I put on lab gloves and scrubbed the wound clean. I rinsed it well, put on some first aid cream, and covered it with a bandaid. The next day the swelling was down and she could walk without limping. Now I am not a nurse, and I am not sure what was in the injections, but I think that basic first aid for any wound should be to clean it and I would hope that the only medical facility in the area would know that. In my first biology lesson of the term, I was talking about the importance of proper nutrition and one of the students asked “are there any nutrients in soil?” Whenever I get questions like that I cringe because I just know what they are going to say. “Soil? As in dirt? Why do you want to know?” The student’s reply “because people eat dirt.” I was surprised and exclaimed “WHO?!” And of course, a bunch of girls started nodding, saying they often ate it by the handful. When I asked, in a strangled voice, why, one girl looked at me with a glint in her eye and said “appetizer!” I asked if they thought it tasted good and everyone agreed that it did. I can only assume that the girls, who eat only githeri (beans and maize) every meal of every day, are lacking something in their diet that gives them cravings for something else. I know that they also eat paper and chew on sticks. I had to spend the next 30 minutes trying to convince the girls that there was NO good reason to ever eat dirt. “But,” one girl said, “pregnant women do it!” And I had to tell them that pregnancy can also give you strange cravings but there was never any reason to eat soil. I don’t know if they will listen to me. I have the feeling, judging by their faces when I told them, that they will not want to give up their afternoon treat. I told them a year ago to stop eating paper, and they all continue to do it. Most of my students come from the villages in the immediate surrounding area. One girl, Doris, lives in a well made mud house next to the borehole near the school. She was a form one girl last year and so would be in form two this year. She was one of my favorite students last year because she always participated in class and had the happiest smile on her face. She is daughter of the village chief and so I was surprised when I passed her on my way to school the first day. I asked her why she had not yet reported to school and she said she was sick. I told her to get well and come the next day. The day came and she still didn’t show up; when I passed her on the road, I asked why. She said that she decided not to come back to school. The reason: she wanted to get married. How horrifying! I tried to convince her to come by telling her all the things education can bring her. Opportunity, enlightenment, a chance to go to university, travel to see the world, a good job, etc. She just looked at me with that beatific smile and shook her head no. “I want a husband,” she said. I begged, “but you are so young! Just come for one more year.” But she was convinced. And I lost one of my best students to a lifetime of marriage, babies, and fetching water. That depressed me. There is another mystery animal running around the school compound. This one is called a “wakala.” My teachers asked me to identify it and when I asked them to describe it one guy said “you know chameleon? It is like that,” and immediately another teacher said, “no, it is more like an alligator.” Then they both looked at me expectantly. An animal that is similar to both an alligator and a chameleon? They said it was “big like a small alligator, but had skin like a chameleon.” I have no idea what this creature is (allimeleon? chameligator?), but I hope I never meet it.

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