The International Writers Magazine: Africa
final day at school in Kitengela
Last September I spent three months teaching
in a primary school in the heart of rural Kenya. I was trying
to write of the sensory feelings I was experiencing while I lived
in this breathtaking country.
A beautiful smell
of sunflowers and fresh air filled the staff room first thing in the
morning. All the ladies were perfectly dressed and ready for a busy
day at school. 'Jambo!' 'Jambo,' 'Jambo, habari ' 'Nzuri sana.' The
typical chatter of morning greetings echoed around the room on our last
day teaching these Maasai children.To celebrate the end of Class 8's
exams all the children were preparing a tremendous meal.
We watched as the boys ran back with a dead goat hanging off a splintered
branch. They had captured it and sliced its throat, ready for the girls
to start crafting this food for our plates. It was a sight that, a month
earlier, I would have been so shocked to see, but now it seemed all
in a day's work. I began wandering into the classrooms to see what all
the children were doing while this food was being prepared. The younger
classes were running around catching each other and tripping over their
football. I went to watch the older girls baking chapattis and rice.
Their hands were covered in blood as I saw that they were chopping up
raw pieces of goats meat ready to cook in the tin kitchen outside.
A little lady of about 50 years old would come into the staff room everyday
to give us all our lunch of maize and beans. Rather than the smell of
hard, uncooked corn that I first expected I was fired with an entire
smoke-filled room all in the one person. She seemed to have quite a
demeaning attitude to those around her but when I watched her helping
the girls I saw such kindness in her nature. I could see these young
ladies working together; they were like mothers rather than school children.
They were taking so much pleasure in what they were producing and I
saw such contentment in their eyes.
A whiff of half baked bread dough wafted into the staff room as we sat
and waited for our lunch to be served. I felt the teachers were getting
hungry as I noticed them becoming more and more agitated by children
coming in and out of the school. We were soon summoned into the damp
classroom where the dusty aroma stiffened in your nostrils. I was given
a seat right at the front of the room next to the school governors and
opposite the Maasai parents. The daunting prospect of having to eat
in front of everyone lay before me. I didn't just have a couple of bodies
in front of me, I had about 50! As I sat there taking in this cultural
display of celebration I noticed an immense array of bright colours
surrounding me. The parents of the children all had their traditional
Maasai robes draped around them, full of reds and blues and oranges
and yellows. The sound of bracelets falling down their arms rattled
around the room as well as faint murmurings as the parents spoke of
the faces that lay in front of them. Something I was now used to was
their stares but they still seemed to go straight through me, their
big white eyes focused only on me. The boys never looked right at me,
or at least they didn't like to be caught. The girls, however, seemed
fascinated by my features. Every chance they got they would stand and
stare. If ever I took my hair down they would crowd around me stoking
each and every strand, enjoying the softness and lightness of the substance.
I was flattered now, that familiar frightened feeling seemed to disappear
after a few weeks. It now seemed natural for them to be so interesed.
Everyone was finally seated so the meal began. The girls filed into
the room and carefully stood behind each of the large saucepans. They
set up a system whereby every dish could be piled onto each plate one
by one. They then began by handing the food out to their parents, then
came myself along with the teachers and governors, then the boys in
their class and finally themselves. Once I'd started eating I suddenly
noticed that all the girls were sitting outside the room. This obvious
display of culture difference that I was becoming so used to stuck with
me this time. It felt so wrong. These girls had spent hours producing
an incredible meal only to be rejected from the celebration as they
were girls, the cooks. Culture seemed to have taught them that they
had to look after their family, but in silence.
Green, December 15th 2005
Jo is a Creative Writing student at the University of Portsmouth
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