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29 November, 2001 -- Zanzibar is now a pleasant memory and we've settled back into some long days as we take in marks for the end of the school year and calculate next year's school fees for our girls. The academic year here resembles some of the "year-round school" options in North America. Beginning in January, there are three terms of three months with a complete month off in between. Of course in this climate there are no considerations of bad weather.

vignet6.gif (163357 bytes)We came back to excited accounts of a matatu riot in Kakamega. Matatus are pickups (often Toyota) with a cover and two benches inside. They zip around the countryside filled to the gills, but they are cheap, if not very reliable or safe. In Nairobi there is a tense situation between the official bus company (with fixed fares, routes and schedules) and matatus which have been allowed to proliferate. The bus company, fed up with receiving no support of its charter, just decided to withdraw from some routes, leaving passengers with little choice of transportation. However, I digress. In Kakamega the matatus were being charged an exit fee as well as parking fees and things boiled over. It was not safe to be on the streets. Four people were killed, all beaten by the police who came in to "restore order". Only one victim was actually involved in the unrest. According to a Kenyan acquaintance, the others were commuters in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, nothing will be done and there will be no inquiry about bad police behaviour because the cops are claiming the dead were troublemakers. The police dispense very rough justice, and since there is the death penalty for robbery (even of a few dollars) most people are very wary of any involvement with the law.

Other news which brought us down from our holiday high were continuing accounts of child brides marrying very old men for the bride price paid to the family, articles about three million children out of school because parents cannot pay fees, and the new brilliant idea of the government that they will make fees for primary school official. Add to that the story that South Africa is thinking of instituting rape insurance, so that women can at least get treatment and HIV testing in the few weeks after a rape.

But there were some recent pleasant incidents. Last Sunday we were invited to a church about twenty miles away and took a matatu. We left home at 08:30 and boarded the matatu at 09:15. We eventually set off at 09:45 and bumped along the red, rutted roads under the blazing sun with fourteen in the bed of the pickup and three in the driver's cab. Cosy! True to form, the driver took us to within two or three miles of our destination and declared the end of the route. He gave us back ten shillings of our fifty shilling fare and pointed to the boda boda stand. Boda bodas are bicycles with a passenger seat on the back. What else could we do? I hitched up my skirts to sit astride the carrier and off we went. We had a lovely time at the church, were so warmly welcomed and entertained to a meal.

 Everything was in Kiswahili and a charming young man (a former CHES student) translated for us. His story I'll keep for another time. The women of the church prepared ugali (maize porridge), potatoes in a tomato sauce, rice and. . . a little meat stew! We were honoured. A lady came round as usual before and after the meal with warm water in a pot with a long spout and let it flow over our hands to wash. vignet7.gif (270145 bytes) The cooking was done in a special hut with an open fire. All the ladies sat on the floor to prepare the meal–no tables or chairs. Dessert was white bread spread with "Blue Band", a margarine that requires no refrigeration. (I daren't think what's in it!) Then we had cocoa made with hot milk and water and lots of sugar.

A few days ago we received a visit from a young man running a literacy class, so today Rod and I stopped by to see him and the children. They are in an abandoned building with no windows, but it is in a quiet area and there are grass and trees where the children can play. The man and the young woman teacher are volunteers and they are hoping somehow to get some funding. At the moment, they do not have money for the rent, let alone supplies. There are seventeen children in the class, all primary students. About seven or eight have never been to school and their ages at a guess vary from six to twelve. Another five or so have been to school but had to drop out for lack of fees. One girl was working alone. She had dropped out after grade six. There were also a few little guys doing counting with bottle caps on the floor. Every one of the kids had to come and shake our hand. As the teacher said, the present education situation is a "time bomb" (his words) as a whole generation is emerging with little or no schooling. Of course this is particularly affecting the rural communities and the urban poor.

Last week we also spent some time with Carmen, an Australian woman who runs an orphanage. She has about twelve children in the home. She is supported by her church in Australia and by another in the UK. She makes sure the kids are fed and clothed and go to school. And of course they receive love and emotional support.

So there have been some uplifting and rewarding moments, including the smiles on the faces of our girls when they come with their report cards. They wait shyly, not saying a word, until we see "first of ninety" or "sixth of seventy two" (or however many are in their class group or year. Most high school classes seem to run about forty-five or so.) They dip their heads modestly, but cannot hide their pride. Considering the family situation of most of them, it is astonishing to see their grit and determination.

Some time ago I mentioned a boy, Severin, who was in a desperate situation. We were able to help him, and he has been back to see us with his report card. What a change in a child! He passed his exams, but has borrowed books from our library to work during the holiday. He didn't want to take a novel as well as text books, but I assured him that reading a novel was really working at his English. He wants Rod to teach him C++ to give him a head start on his computer classes next year. His school is one of the fortunate ones with power and a few computers.

This weekend is a big one for the CHES girls (CHES is the Canadian Harambee Education Society. Harambee means roughly "let's go" but the expression is used for any fund raising activity.). They will all attend workshops organized by former CHES agents who have come back expressly for this. There will be sessions on AIDS awareness, Study skills, Peer tutoring, Assertiveness Training and several others. We're looking forward to meeting the girls more informally and seeing the head teachers again.

And JOY! We haven't had city water for five weeks but today it trickled back on and IT RAINED!!! Our storage tanks are full and we can hear water running into the tanks in the roof! Rejoice with us.

©2002 Patricia Crossley

11 December