Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss you´ll land amongst the stars.
In Africa its more like shoot for the moon and you will miss. But don´t worry because you will land on a star. And this is how Friday began.
Sammy and I were so well prepared for the talent show. My day pack was heavy on my shoulders, piercing my back with akward objects like highlighter nail polish, acryllic face paint and cheap orange candy and under my arm, firmly lodged, was a 50cmx50cm, slightly mouldy mirror.
We arrived at the rescue home safely at about 8.45am as did the mirror, surprisingly, after enduring over four speed bumps at 20km/hr in a jam packed but only 20ksh matatu ride.
Then began the face painting. I never thought I would attempt a spider man or more revelating, I never thought these cartoon-educated boys would appreciate it! But after butterflys, tigers, dogs and leopards, it was the red and blue paints running low by the end of the two hour session!
Unfortunately they were unable to see these Van Gough master pieces because although it weathered a violent drive, the borrowed-from-GVN mirror decided to commit suicide and jump down the side of the table in order to escape the innocent curiosity of the kids.
After running a little over schedule (as often happens in Kenya) we decided to save the nail painting for after the show and instead we began setting up the back yard for this very famous, apparently monthly event.
Four chairs and two blankets later we were all set to go.
I should probably let you know that at this point, Regina, the Kenyan volunteer who had been the backbone of this whole operation with her ability to speak the language, had gone home with typhoid fever. That left the two mzungu´s (white people) alone to control the troops and without realising quick enough, the teachers had migrated to their designated seats leaving no time for a much needed rehearsal. So there I was, talking to 30 or so nervous kids who, for the most of it, had no idea what I was saying. Perfect!
Everyone seemed pretty relaxed, as if it was another ordinary day, and despite constant efforts to liven up the mood, I got the sinking feeling this was not going to be what I had expected. After failing miserably to start off the singing the head teacher Victorine swiftly moved in. She, in front of our car-load audience, got the children to run through the first song a few times instantaneously. Just like that. After two weeks of practise without her, she decided to jump up on the day and work her magic. Don´t get me wrong, I appréciated her help in my hour of need, but where was she in the lead up? These ¨teachers¨literally sit around all day and let those enthusiastic few do what is required and can´t be screwed lifting a finger to go that extra mile for the kids.
Although I already know what to expect of people like Victorine, it is a constant let down when opportunities like this talent show are not wasted but definitely not capitalised on because of sheer laziness. This could have been a day full of laughter and really showcased the talent these kids have, but no. Minimum is good enough for them.
Regardless of my whining the show must go on! And this is where I get to the part about landing amongst the stars.
I wanted it so badly to be just like a show at home. I wanted the kids to know their songs and feel special because of it. I wanted all the workers to attend, perhaps even the manager. And I wanted the kids to be excited and nervous but most of all happy. But this orthodox ideal is what I call shooting for the moon.
I needed to open my eyes and see that what I thought a good show was didn´t correlate with the kids. They were all dressed in bright yellow and red soccer uniforms, an exciting change from pee smelling, stained uniforms. Soccer is the number one sport here and football jerseys are considered top of the range fashion. They were engrossed by their face paint and were thoroughly enjoying being the centre of attention. These little soccer fanatic spider men were not even remotely concerned with the singing! Still, they sang.. or mimed and made everyone cheer with delight.
Next on the list was the boys martial arts display. This was news to me as I never realised there was more on the program! So up got the five oldest boys who started pulling hilarious karate poses at the command of teacher Victorine and it was all smiles for the ninjas and the onlookers. Then something strange happened.
Suddenly, all but two of the boys were told to sit down. With a few words from the teacher, the remaining boys looked at each other with eyes of death. They reminded me a little of Scottish soldiers right befote battle with their Spiderman faces on. I felt a little nervous. Surely not? But to my horror, the teacher clapped and said ¨go!¨.
They start roundhousing each other and within seconds it was a full blown kick boxing match. I looked at Sammy with a smile, because I didn´t want to look as disgusted as I was feeling. This is a talent show and here we had an organised fight on our hands! By the end of it the six year old winner sat down with a look of mere confusion, as if seeking a look of approval. Meanwhile the loser stood facing away from the crowd of teachers and students quietly sobbing which I could only tell by the slight racking of his shoulders and the fact that his hands were rubbing his eyes. The teachers were telling him to sit down and I was thinking, are you people crazy? This kid is a boy. This kid is six and he just got an approved hiding. He is embarrassed and can´t even turn to face everyone let alone join the crowd who were, only moments ago, cheering the fight along.
But apparently, the show still must go on.
Fortunately things took a turn for the better. The three eldest girls were called up and all put on a flax skirt and newspaper top in which we had all helped make the day before. Down the cat walk they went! The first two were very sassy and looked so adorable as they seriously strutted their stuff to the cheers from the crowd. Then came Washeke. She was sooo cute! Unlike the others who had swayed their hips in true cat walk style, Sheke rolled her shoulders like an American gangster and it was most entertaining. She then proceeded to transform into quite the minx, performing a little booty-shaking tribal dance that involved the old ¨your dinner´s on the table¨ head movement (a little family joke there).
The only thing that really reminded me of home was the way the children sat up bright eyed as the lollies went around indicating the show was finally over!
After a delicious (cough cough) lunch of rice and beans I finished up the day with flourescent, green and pink nail polish and a smiley face balloon for everyone. It was all cheerful banter and laughter as we left dusty, exhausted and more than a little disturbed by the days strange turn of events.
All in all though, it was a success because we made it through with almost no tears and the children happily performed and enjoyed the little indulgences like sweets, balloons and football jerseys. I was the proud teacher grinning as they struggled to pronounce their english and sing loud enough for the audience to actually hear them and I´m glad I had the opportunity to share such a special day with these kids I have come to love so much.
And the kids are not the only ones I have come to love! I mentioned Regina earlier, the Kenyan volunteer who went home with Typhoid, but let me tell you a little more.
Over the past two weeks we have become extremely close and I consider her a very good friend. She invited me to spend the night with her family in her village, about 20 minutes out of the city. So on Saturday her father Joseph and her picked me up and drove me to their rental apartment where I met the five of them; her father Joseph, mother Maree, sister Paris and brother Moses, who all live under the roof of a cosy, two bedroom unit.
As soon as I arrived I was feed a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise with saucy carrots and beef pieces. Then Regina´s mother aka mumma Sheko arrived home and I was greeted with a big hug, a very big smile and a kiss to each cheek.
We fluffed around, chatted and laughed so much I felt more at home than I have my whole time in Kenya. Regina, Paris and I went for a walk and they showed me where they grew up, the local schools and the empty quarry with its fantastic rock walls that look like hundreds of ginormous bamboo sticks lined up alongside one another.
Children appeared from nowhere yelling ¨muzongo¨ and then scurrying away giggling. The girls told me children are not the only ones excited by the presence of a white person. I laughed when they told me they would become quite popular with a muzongo at their side. After a while her cousin turned up in his ute to drive us home which I wasn´t going to argue with considering the distance we had walked under the 3pm African sun.
When we finally arrived back home it was almost time to leave and so we sat down for a few family photos. And this is truly how it felt. Mumma Sheko told me she was so excited to finally have a white daughter and Bubba Sheko (Joseph) told me that whenever I next visited Kenya he would be dissapointed if I stayed anywhere else but at home with the family. ¨This is your second home now¨ he told me in his heavily accented english.
Of all the adventures I have encountered during my stay so far, nothing has given me more pleasure than spending time with Regina´s family. I have never felt so comfortable with people within moments of meeting them and I am what you would call an extrovert if ever there was. I have ridden a bike through a Ñational Park and come within metres of giraffes, zebras and antílopes. I have floated in a boat so close to a family of hippos that the dominant male´s nostrils were flaring at me and I have stayed in a five star resort with a pub on the beach just across the road. I have experienced what tourists like to call the Kenyan culture but only now, after spending time in Regina´s world, do I feel that when I board that plane on Thursday night can I truely say I know a little of Kenya. I met a family who opened their home and arms to me and showed me how they lived. I met their landlord, their neighbours, their neighbour´s children and the locals. The people is what this country is all about. They showed me why they love their country not what sells it.
I must admit after this blurb, that visiting Regina´s family was the one event I was least excited about. I thought it would be uncomfortable and awkward and I would be pining for home. How very wrong was I. How very wrong have I been about so many things over here.
I know now that this trip was the best because nothing was riding on it. I had no deadlines, no expectations, no preconceptions, just a little anxiety. This is not to say we shouldn´t look forward to anything, just that we, the werstern world, often forget the value of my opening line. We are so well trained at recognising our failures that we don´t see when we land amongst the stars.
Until next time, Kwaheri!!