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I May Never See These Girls Again

Retired Menlo-Atherton High School Teacher Margo McAuliffe says kwaheri (goodbye) to Kenya, after spending her summer volunteering at the St. Francis Xavier Secondary School for Girls.

Tomorrow I leave Naivasha to attend Sister Magdalene’s profession of final vows in Thika, then on to East Pokot to visit for a few days.  I get back to Naivasha August 20 long enough to shower and pick my bags, then off to the airport and US. 

So today I said kwaheri to the form 4’s.  I had hoped to speak to the whole school, but it didn’t work out.  It’s very hard for me to say good-bye to the form 4’s, whom I’ve taught more than any others.  I may never see many of them again.  Some will come back to visit and I may see them.  Some live in Naivasha and I may see them, but others live far away. 

This is a time of reflection and assessment of what I may have accomplished.  Always I think about whether my presence has had an impact.  I think it has for the form 4’s, if only to know that someone cared about them enough to come teach them math.  I had two sessions with each class this morning to tie up loose ends and to talk about 3-D geometry, which we hadn’t touched.  Last year I spent a lot of time on it, but this year it was other topics. 

When I made my reservations I didn’t know when the tuitioning would be over and would have stayed an extra week if I had known.  It wasn’t enough time, but I know they are more comfortable with the topics we worked on those evenings when I was able to be in the classroom.  They are wonderful girls and I am proud to have had some small part of their lives. 

I also had to say kwaheri to Peris.  I had lent her my iPod to keep her company while Peter is gone.  I briefly thought about giving it to her, but know I would go nuts for that 15-hour ride coming home without having my books read to me.  It’s such a long ride to begin with, even with every entertainment/comfort device I can think of.  So Peris didn’t get my iPod. 

However, when I went to school today I took my computer down to her so she could watch Midnight in Paris, which I downloaded at some point.  I don’t even remember why I have it, but I thought she might enjoy watching it — she did.  She said she wanted to see it again and again and again.  Peter has it on his computer, so they can watch it together when he gets home. 

I think it’s very hard to find good movies, although there are some for rental here.  As much as I don’t believe in copying movies, I may find a few for SFG.  I’m thinking of Nelson Mandela’s story, Gandhi and other inspirational films.  I would love to have suggestions from my readers of films you think they might enjoy.  You can also write to tell me I’m wrong to copy them.  I know it, but….

I wrote about Mary, one of the guests at the dinner with Peter and Peris.  She’s a fun and funny person who loves to tease me.  Early on in my stay, I had brought a mug from home to use for tea.  The mugs at school aren’t washed too well and I wanted to use my own.  In fact I had suggested that everyone bring a personal mug, “I don’t want to share your ‘germies’ and I suspect you don’t want to share mine.” 

But I was the only one.  The mug I brought was a big tall one, because the only others I had were tiny. 

When I brought it out the first day, Mary was “outraged”. 

“Margo, you’ll be taking twice as much tea as the rest of us.”

Oh, dear, have I done the wrong thing?  Only briefly did I think she was serious, but she was just teasing.  Nonetheless it was the topic of many pointed comments from her, so today I ceremoniously presented her with the mug.  She was a bit abashed, I think, but loved getting it.  It’s so fun to have that kind of friendship with teachers here.  I makes me feel like part of the group, even though they often speak Kiswahili in the staff room.  It’s their mother tongue and while all are proficient in English, they are more comfortable in Kiswahili. 

My desk is empty, and I thought I wouldn’t be back until next June, until I got home to discover my computer was still charging at school.  I had given Ruth Kahiga a ride down so she could shop and intended to let her return by matatu, but she was happy to have a ride back with her heavy purchases. 

I just remembered I didn’t write about the dinner with Teresia Hinga, Pacificah Okemwa, and Catherine on Sunday. 

Just as a reminder, Teresia (left) teaches at Santa Clara U, religion, ethics and gender.  She is here pursuing her research on religion and gender.  (You can see her in the photo.)  Pacificah (center) was Teresia’s teacher when she was in University.  She’s now at Kenyatta U, where she has developed the Gender Studies program and Catherine (right) is her student. 

Our conversation was wide ranging, as you can imagine. We discussed  the work that each of them does  the candidacy of Martha Karau (I think that’s right) for president and whether women will support her sufficiently to win.  I

was the one who brought it up and Pacificah challenged me, “Why are you talking about Martha as a candidate?” 

“Because she is a woman and will be more sensitive to women’s issues.” 

Then they took me to task, arguing that Martha presents herself in a very assertive manner.  We discussed why and we all know the Hillary story.  I suggested that regardless, the mere fact that she is a woman makes her more aware.  We discussed the feminine principle and how it manifests itself in both men and women.  We would still be talking, Catherine has her 4 children at home and had intended to stay only shortly, but couldn’t tear herself away until is became late. 

It was a powerful time for all of us.  The room fairly vibrated with energy!

The next day they spent the morning with women in the Naivasha prison — a rich and troubling experience.  Catherine says most of the inmates are sex workers who have been arrested, some for other crimes, but often just for working, while, of course, the men go scot-free. 

In the afternoon Teresia and Pacificah visited SFG and I think I can safely say they were impressed with the quality of our school.  Each is a product of the Kenyan school system and was remembering her own days in high school.  When they walked in to the science labs they remembered having no lab at all.  Just a teacher demonstrating at the desk in front of the room. 

We walked all around, meeting Esther, the matron, who took them through one of the dorms and proudly showed them our baking facility.  At each step they commented on how well the school was planned.  In Ruth’s office it was like a retake of the evening before.  Ruth, too, is a powerful and dedicated educator.  I loved listening to these 3 Kenyan women discussing the “girl-child” and all the issues needing to be addressed. 

Again I am humbled and thrilled to be here as Kenya moves from it’s beginnings as an independent nation (1965) to the modern world.  In some ways they are experiencing what has taken the US 200 years to achieve and squeezed it into 50 years.  It’s because of women like Catherine, Teresai, Pacificah and Ruth that it is succeeding as well as it is.  I feel incredibly lucky to be some small part of it here in Naivasha.

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A. Lee August 20, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Margo, Thanks much for sharing your summer experiences! Your stories expand and extend our worlds.... A. Lee

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