Petals of Africa School: Just outside Migori, but in a world all its own

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We arrived at Petals excited to have a relaxing weekend settling in, and then to see the school in action on Monday morning. However, the government had ordered all schools to close because of the elections and feeling like all children would be safer in their own homes and villages. Then, as you probably know from the news, we ended up having to wait all week just to hear the election results, which made the schools have to remain closed for longer. We were grateful for the extra down-time to get to know our hosts, Lilian and Fred Baraza (and their two younger sons Junior and Jamalek), to ask questions about Petals, to make new friends in the community, and to get used to a different pace of life. Here are some highlights so far:

– Atmosphere: When we first arrived, it was very hot, dry and dusty. It cooled off in the evenings, but the cool air wasn’t coming in the house because the windows (without screens) and doors stayed closed to keep out the bugs.  We put a mosquito net over our bedroom window and this helped a little.  Thankfully, the intense heat only lasted a few days, and now we’ve entered the rainy season, which brings a refreshing cool most afternoons and during the nights. We love sitting outside in a huge grove of trees, reading and reflecting while enjoying the breeze, the laid-back atmosphere, and the sounds of children playing, roosters crowing, and baby chicks peeping.

Lilian & Fred's Compound

Lilian & Fred’s Compound

 

– Food: Lilian has been making delicious meals for us.  Although reluctant to let us help, she has conceded to let me help (but only because I’m female) a few times with cooking, washing dishes, doing (at least my own) laundry, and setting the table. Some of our favorite meals include rice, tilapia, fresh tomatoes, avocados, chicken, pasta, pineapple, watermelon, mangoes (SO many delicious mangoes!), and “sweet bananas” which taste like regular bananas to us–they’re just mini-sized.  Also sometimes we have beans and “chapati” which is like a really thick tortilla.  Eddie decided one day to put butter and brown sugar on his chapati– that was delicious! At this point, our new Kenyan friends think that we put sugar on everything 🙂 Lilian cooks over an open fire and they also make their own charcoal, so when she let me help with dinner, I made a spaghetti sauce over the charcoal. Our favorite breakfast is called mandazi: think of the texture and density of a hush puppy combined with the sweetness of a doughnut. (If you’re not from the South or don’t know hush puppies, just think of a dense doughnut!)  We dip the mandazi in a mixture of honey and peanut butter, and eat it with delicious black tea.  Yes– we have found that we love Kenyan black tea, probably because Lilian makes it with fresh milk (that she milks from their cow every morning) and sometimes she adds a powder Masala Chai.  We’ve decided that it reminds us of Indian chai, so of course we like it 🙂 I’m especially grateful for Lilian’s graciousness as a hostess.  There have been a few types of food that were not my favorite and she has adjusted our ‘menu’ and not taken offense at all.  I feel comfortable around her because we have an understanding of one another.  She will tell me if there’s something she wants me to do a certain way, and I try to ask lots questions to make sure I’m being sensitive to the local culture.

– “Showers” outside: Every night while we’re eating dinner, we leave water in a pot on the remaining fire, so that it’s almost boiling when we’re done with the meal. Then we mix that very hot water with some cool well water in a bucket and we get to take our “shower” or splash bath outside.  It’s surprisingly refreshing! Washing my hair is not easy but I love being outside in the cool air and it’s really fun to be under the stars.  The only concern is making sure that no one is going to walk by! The ‘guard dog’ Bingo has taken to standing watch for us, which we appreciate.

– Chickens + Cows: There are lots of roosters, hens, and baby chicks running around the yard.  Eddie loves to ‘terrorize’ the chicks by following them around, trying to capture them in photos and video. As soon as I let Eddie know that I think they’re adorable, he jumped at the chance to let me know he has always secretly wanted us to own chickens! I suddenly found myself agreeing to this proposition even though I never in a million years would’ve seen chickens as something I wanted to own! I’m excited to see how the idea might pan out once we have settled down somewhere 🙂  As for the cows, at least he’s not trying to convince me to get one of them! We’re enjoying the fresh milk, although I don’t think we’d drink it without it being boiled and made into tea. Lilian has to milk the cow every morning and evening, and Eddie and I both would love to learn the skill, but the cow does not seem to think this is a good idea!

Baby Chicks

Baby Chicks!

– Motorcycles: The most common “taxi” around Migori is actually a motorcycle.  Especially considering that the route to Petals is about 9km of dirt road and the rains can make the road impassable after only 30 minutes of downpour, motorcycles are the most logical option.  Not that we leave the school all that often, but about once a week, we’ve gone into town for groceries. The first time, I went with Lilian on a Sunday afternoon. The driver is very friendly and we laughed and talked with him the whole way.  You can tell the local children are not used to seeing white people because when they saw me on the bike, they would call out “Mzungo!” (which  loosely means ‘white man’) and we would laugh some more. At one point, the driver answered his cell phone while driving (I apologize to all the mothers reading this!) but you’ll be happy to know that Lilian told him not to do that again!

 

Now that the children are back at school, we are enjoying watching their daily routines and getting to know them, though some of the little ones are very unsure about what to do with us! Even when we speak to them in Swahili (yes, we are learning bit by bit!), they just stare at us with huge wondering eyes. Many of the teachers are excited about teaching and inspiring the children to work hard and do well on their exams, so they can get into a good secondary school and go on to higher learning.  Mr. Jack, an English teacher, has sort of adopted me and I’ve been sitting in while he teaches 7th grade English. He encourages me to teach as well, so we have kind of a team effort going — it’s really fun because he has good rapport with his students and there is a fun banter going back and forth. He seems very humble and eager to help the children because he asks me for feedback and what he can be doing better.

 

 

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