Day 3 in Enoosaen, we finally got to meet the students of EnKakenya for Excellence (KCE)!
After getting some quick breakfast (chapati with fried eggs) near the guest house, we did our usual walk to school to conduct our first interview with the girls.
By the time we got there, we were told by Madam Gladys, the head teacher, that the girls would be out of class from 1:00-1:30pm and 3:30pm after. With three hours to kill, we decided to start party planning for the feast tomorrow. Remember Nik and I talked about buying a goat or two to throw a feast for the entire school on our way to Enoosaen? Oh yes, it is happening 😀 and in Kenya/Maasai style!
Madam Gladys wrote up the shopping list (rice, Irish potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and some spices etc.) and the deputy head teacher Madam Serena volunteered to take us on a shopping trip at the market back in town. Speaking of Madam Serena, she is quite a character – warm, energetic, speaking with a loud coarse voice, and a little bossy at times, a person that somehow reminds me of my grandma. I think it was the voice.
They say markets are great ways to see the local way of life, and we got to experience it with the guidance from a true Maasai woman. Everything sold at the market were locally produced. Given that Enoosaen is not a big town, it comes at no surprise that everyone knows everyone, in particular Madam Serena, who was apparently well respected by the locals. Not much bargaining happened at the market, we got everything at the Maasai price. We got a giant bag of potatoes and went to a convenient shop for some rice, but the goat, we would have to wait until tomorrow morning. School staff Unice would arrange someone to pick up a goat by motorcycle from a town 30 mins from Enoosaen.
In the middle of our shopping, something wicked happened – a mini tornado formed nearby and swept across the market!! Dusts, plastic bags, and other trash were swept up to the sky, shop keepers and farmers were scrambling to cover themselves and their goodies, but after the twister passed, everyone went back to normal like nothing happened – day in the life of an Enoonsaenian.
After a brief lunch, we went back to the school to meet with four students from class 6 – Topisia, Karen, Joy Line, and Mary. Most of the students at KCE come from the surrounding rural area. Given their cultural upbringing, they tend to be very shy and reserved. The school admits students based on academic potential as well as social/economic needs. Currently the school haa 183 students almost evenly split from class (grade) 4 to 8. Out of the 183, 30+ students are orphans rescued from villages and are enjoying full financial support (~$90 per year), who otherwise would have been at severe risk of dropping out school or exposed to FGM and early pregnancy. For instance, there is one girl from class 4, Ann Kukubi (10 years old) whose parents both passed away when she was nine. Little Ann had to take care of her younger siblings and as a result constantly missing school. Upon receiving a call from Ann’s aunt, Dr. Kakenya went to the village and took Ann back to school. In a sense, KCE is truly a safe haven for girls.
Among the four girls, Karen and Mary were clearly more comfortable with speaking up and voicing their opinions. But Joyline and Topisia were very quiet, sometimes almost spoke underneath their breath. We tried to use games and candies to loosen up the atmosphere, but 10 mins into the interview with the girls, we quickly realized that our initial approach, a laundry list of questions to gauge confidence etc., would not work. Many of the questions were too open-ended that even an adult would have difficulty articulating, furthermore the list of questions were just too long. It’s hard and unfair for girls at their age to go through a 40-min of dry questionaries. We need to quickly devise a simpler way. As a result, we cancelled interviews with other classes for the day.
Nik decided to continue working on developing a different approach, while Julie and I decided to sit through a class. Julie went to grade 8 and I went to a science class with grade 6, where our first four girls come from. It is in the classroom where I saw a different side of the girls. The teacher, George, was a very passionate teacher and the girls eager learners. Sitting in the back of the classroom, I received a lot of curious stares from the students, but it is after the teacher left the room that the girls became more lively and engaging, starting to ask questions about me and my family etc. 5 mins into an intense Q&A where the girls learned about where I come from “, my parents and grandparents’ names, I gave everyone a white rabbit (my favorite candy growing up in China), that certainly helped loosen up the atmosphere. Then someone in the crowd asked “can you sing for us?” Though I was a little surprised by the request, I instantly realized that this could be a great opportunity to truly engage and connect with the students. So I asked “can you sing a song first?” To my surprise, they happily consented on the spot (hmm, I thought they were shy) and bursted into a perfectly chorused Maasai song. The purity and harmony in the song took my breath away. This is exactly the experience that I was seeking, intimate interaction and exchange with the locals! After their song, I sung a Chinese love song. Apparently that was not enough and they wanted more tunes from the Mzungu they just met. So I requested another song from the girls and they happily obligated. At this time, all the shyness was gone and all I saw was a group of outgoing and genuinely happy children. After another well choreographed song from the girls, I did a English (Starry Starry Night) and a Hindi Song (Tum Hi Ho) that I performed at Columbia Business School’s open mic night.
At this time, the students have put down their guards against me as a stranger and began me into their community. I was even invited to their after-school games in the play ground. Instead of being a Mzungu, everyone in class 6 now addressees me by my nickname Ice :).
Walking back to the guest house, I felt exhilarated by what I have experienced. It reminds me again the joy that human connection gives me, especially when that connection is cross the barrier of culture and skin color.
Internet, running water, reliable power supply, and clean toilet, none of that seem to matter much now. I am starting to get used to and liking the rhythm of life here.