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We Discovered Why Our House Smelled Like Gas

Volunteer math teacher Margo McAuliffe takes us to Naivasha, Kenya where she is teaching students this summer.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I wonder sometimes why I take on some projects.  I’ve spent all my spare time writing up solutions to some very hairy problems.  Two weekends ago a team of 10 girls went to a very prestigious girls high school for a math competition. 

They came back very low, having met such hard questions and not doing well at all.  As I read over the questions I wondered how many of them I could solve.  But in true Margo fashion, I decided they needed to see them worked out, as many as I could do, because even though some of them were inappropriately hard, it would possibly provide them with some ideas. 

Well--have I sweated over those damned problems!!!!  I finally finished the form 4 questions yesterday, having found at least one that was impossible with the tools they have, and several others with answers that clearly didn’t work.  I also saw that they put a number of the worst problems at the beginning.  Our girls were not savvy enough to read through to find the easy ones, but slavishly struggled with just a couple and got virtually no points.  So sad.  Now I’m working on the form 3 questions and just realized this afternoon I have misinterpreted the information.  I’d really spent a lot of time on it, only to see I hadn’t read carefully.  ACH!!!  Why do I do this to myself? 

Yesterday Judy and I went to Nairobi with Joyce, the woman who has sewn so many of the bags I’ve brought back.  We wanted to choose the fabrics and besides, it’s fun to go.  I recalled how exotic it sounded to me when I came those first few years.  Wow!  Going to Nairobi!  Now it has become kind of old hat.  It’s not so bad if I ride with , although the way he hurtles down the hair-pin curves on his favorite mountain road turns what few brown hairs I have left a standing-straight up gray.  With Joyce, we have to take a matatu.  How I always end up in the back seat is a mystery, but they are the worst. 

Our driver was very good and we made it in about 1 ½ hours, a good pace.  Joyce took off with Judy and me trailing behind like a couple of housegirls.  We had to keep her in view, because we were lost two minutes after leaving the matatu.  We searched through five or six fabric shops, all run by people from India, who have cornered the fabrics market here.  Some are very welcoming and some are very sour and need to take some classes in customer service and making the clientele feel welcome. 

The choices were hard.  We saw so many wonderful patterns, I could have bought 3 times as much as I did.  We got some really pretty ones.  I hope all of you will agree.  Be thinking about those folks on your gift list who have not yet received an African shopping bag.  Even here we get comments about how beautiful they are.  We never let them put our purchases in plastic bags.  Some just don’t get it, but one young man said, “I like you guys.”  

I was wearing my sweater of Kenyan colors and a flag on the front.  Lots of people noticed and some commented, Habari Kenya (Welcome to Kenya).  But it didn’t cut any ice with the matatu riders coming back--rear seats again.  Only this time the roof was so low I banged my head on in. 

I knew that 1 ½ hours would leave my neck permanently crinked.  I actually complained, like the ugly American.  The man in front of me, got up and switched.  The only solace I felt for being so selfish is that he was much younger than I am.  Sometimes the gray hair and wrinkles are an advantage, as generally the sho sho (grandmother) is treated with great respect here.

Upon returning, we remembered we had to get a new gas canister from the supermarket, as ours was empty.  We trudged down to get the car, completely forgetting we had to take the empty canister back. 

“Oh well, I’ll just pay the deposit.  They’ll refund it when I return the canister in a day or 2”. 

Oops!  The deposit was over $35!  Yes, I will get it back, but I shelled out a lot that day.  Julia, the matron here at , installed it for us and later the “gas expert” showed up to try to discover why our house smelled like gas.  It turned out the oven knob had been turned slightly, but there is no pilot light.  Father Kiriti had always told me the oven had never been connected to the gas and gave me some poppycock about how it was hard or couldn’t be done or something.  Well, it is connected and we leaked out a lot of gas, which was why our cylinder was empty.  So now maybe we can bake once in awhile.  AND our house doesn’t smell like gas any more. 

Today was very special--made so by the visit of Heather James, whom I first met when she and my son Mark were 3–year olds in the same nursery school class.  Her mother and I have been good friends for more than 40 years and I have loved following Heather’s adventures, which include spending two years in the Tibetan Plateau of western China.  There she worked with an agency promoting health and education.  She is also the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Tacoma, WA, and is in Kenya awaiting finalization of her adoption of an Ethiopian 2-year old. 

We arranged for her to speak to the students, who were rapt.  Heather’s pastoral experience were clearly in evidence.  She speaks so well, funny, serious, deep but never boring.  

Heather is a guest in Nairobi of her Grinnell College friend Njeri Gakonyo who also accompanied her to Addis Ababa and drove her to Naivasha.  They joined Judy and me for chicken marsala, beautifully prepared by Judy, who loves to cook.  Lucky me.  It was so good to catch up with Heather and to get to know Njeri, who works for the UN agency headed by Kofi Annan (can’t remember the name), but it focuses on conservation and the environment.  She is also chair of the board of the Green Belt Movement, begun by Wangari Maathai.  She’s a pretty high-powered lady, you can believe.  

After they left, Simon came in to complete a project he and several of the other boys began last night--building a periscope for a school assignment.  They came to borrow our floor, as the one in their dining hall is being replaced, thanks to Judy’s good efforts. 

The other guys evidently had given up, but Simon is one of those special kids.  Even at an early age it was clear that this boy would go far.  Here he is last night, at the beginning of the project.  It couldn’t proceed to the end until Judy bought some mirrors for them today.  Tonight he completed is and it works great!   You can see Simon, with Evans in the background--another great kid-- in the photos attached to these words.

 

Enough for now.

 

Margo


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