Laughter

The end of week two has already caught up with me. It’s absolutely unbelievable that I have been away from home for almost three weeks and spent two of them in Kenya, living with completely foreign people whom I know as my family.
This week has been a bit more difficult than the last, but at the same time, it has been far better than the last. The “low’s” make the “high’s” euphoric. My group has a session every week to evaluate our “high’s and low’s” which has been really beneficial to all of us, and helps us put our feelings into perspective and relate to everyone else.

Today was a roller coaster day, as most of the days this week have been. It started out good; I woke up at 5:50, got dressed & breakfast was ready. I had “white porridge” which is essentially cream of wheats, but Jen, our new house-help mixes in a little lemon zest, which was slightly shocking at first but very good. I was greeted by an amazing clear blue sky when I set out on my walk to Machakos School for the Deaf with my friends. The walk takes about 45 minutes along the paved road, and when the weather is cooperating it makes the mornings much more bearable.

The children at the school have an assembly (which they call a parade) every morning at 8 where announcements are made by the principal and teachers and the flag is raised. The kids are all lined up in a mud/dirt courtyard at the entrance of the school grounds wearing their red or orange wool sweaters and matching plaid skirts/shorts in Burberry plaid fashion. The youngest kids are distractedly standing and wandering in the front rows while the older children stay lined up in the back. There are 176 kids in this school, all of whom are deaf or hard of hearing. Some have partial hearing, but most are profoundly deaf.

A routine skit or song is performed by the students, led by a few prefects from the older children. Three boys and a girl stand in front of the group and begin by stepping side to side and clapping their hands with the beat and most of the children join. There are motions and gestures in KSL to give the song meaning, but most of the young children stare at the white strangers rather than the prefects, and one small boy prefers to keep his fingers up his nose most of the time anyways. Every once in a while you see a youngster smack his or her neighbor to try and get them to pay attention to the prefect’s.

After the assembly, the students are dismissed to their classes and we go to one of the empty classrooms to begin our session. It always starts with “debriefing” about our homestays. It gives us all an opportunity to share our experiences and any problems about our homestay with the group. Today we weren’t allowed to talk and had to sign the entire thing, one by one, in front of our group and trainers. At this point, my day took a downward turn. Just not feeling it today. I know I can do better, but just not really in the mood to do it today. Plus, I was pretty discouraged due to a silent lunch yesterday. We decided to use only sign language, no voices at all, for the entire lunch at the nearby hotel. It is a great idea, and we are going to continue doing it at least once a week for the rest of training – but it made me aware of how horrible I am at connecting my thoughts using my hands. I left the lunch feeling pretty defeated, to say the least.

Anyways, after our debriefing, we break into clusters for language session – which is now only KSL, no KiSwahili. My KSL cluster is the same as my KiSwahili cluster though, and we sit in a tiny room on a long bench behind a teacher’s desk. Our teacher, Isabel, stands on the other side of the desk and writes on large blank pages, which she tapes to the wall with masking tape. A huge window is behind us, overlooking an open field with a garden on the other side and a lumberyard in the distance. The room cannot be bigger than 10×10. We usually spend about an hour, but today we spent two, which was miserable. The sun was glaring through the window, begging us to come outside, while birds sang and the wind snuck through the window into the room. The lesson was on signs for cities in Kenya and tribes in Kenya – not exactly the type of thing I’m going to be using in upcoming casual conversations. I want to learn things to help me communicate with people in my group, or young kids on the playground – not the cities and tribes in Kenya. Maybe later, but not important to me right now. So, when we went on break, I was irritable. It was a “low.”

We went to the playground to bask in the sun while we had the chance and a few young kids were jumping rope. Literally, a rope, as in a collection of baling twine with knots and tangles. Some volunteers took turns jumping in and holding the end, and then we decided to do limbo, followed by a big round of “copy-cat” since the kids poured out when they realized we were on the playground. We all stand in a big circle and one person starts by jumping on one leg or something, then everyone immediately hops on one foot. Then another person starts hopping in a circle or whatever and then everyone is spinning in circles.

This is when my day turned around. It’s absolutely priceless to see the kids play and interact, and imitate everything you do. They don’t talk. The playground is almost completely silent, despite having 20-30 kids playing and interacting. Occasionally, a kid shouts, grunts or whines, but the laughter is the most amazing sound in the world. It’s absolutely indescribable. When we laugh, it can be for a variety of reasons – because something is funny, embarrassing, awkward, or because everyone else is laughing or maybe you feel obligated to laugh at a stupid joke. But in this case, it’s totally different. It’s such a strange, indescribable thing to hear, because you know they can’t hear themselves laugh and they do it because it’s from the heart. Something inside of them is provoking the laughter that they aren’t even aware of..It’s so pure.

On the way home from session earlier this week, Claire – my friend who happens to live right next to me – and I had a long talk about our feelings and emotions associated with the kids at the school and our time in Kenya. Even though it’s only been a few weeks, this experience has impacted me way more than I ever could have prepared for. In the book “A Million Little Pieces” the author describes this feeling of rage and anger that consumes him occasionally and overpowers him and controls him. He calls it “The Fury.” Here in Kenya, I have this indescribable feeling of appreciation, acceptance, content. I can’t even think of words to accurately gesture the magnitude, but it’s just a very warm, satisfied, peaceful sensation. Not necessarily “happy,” but just accepting. This is how it is. These people are happy, and don’t feel sorrow or shame for the way they live. This is life in Kenya, not America, and the two cannot be compared. It’s just different. I think of this feeling or state as “The Soul.” I can’t accurately describe it, and until you come to Kenya, I don’t think anyone would experience or recognize it. But it’s definitely here, and it’s my fuel. When I have these bad moments, the moments when I feel inadequate, and out of my element and can’t really grasp why I’m doing this, I just see these kids and hear them laugh and I know why I’m here. It’s taking forever for me to type this out, and I know it probably doesn’t make much sense, but it’s real and I hope I never forget it.

Anyways, we played with the kids, and it totally turned my day around. I know why I’m here, and it makes every single second – rain, shine, cold, sunburn, & no toilet paper – worthwhile.

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4 thoughts on “Laughter

  1. You are such an incredible writer, Kelsey! Keep it up, I look forward to the weekly update. The story about the laughter was precious and I’m sure it will be something you remember forever.

  2. Wow, Kelsey….quite an experience you are having…..life changing, no doubt…..love to read your blogs. Lots of lives you will touch over there just as you have back here in the good ol’ USA. Love ya…..keep up the good work.

  3. Excited that you are working with Deaf children didnt know that! Dont get discouraged i know that having silent dinners and such is frustrating at first and makes you feel not so smart but you will be greatful for them as im sure you well know it will help you learn faster! I cant wait to hear some of your interactions to come as you get more comfortable with the language. Very interested to see any similarities with working with Deaf children here. Im sure they are but there is still a culture factor that may play a difference! I cant wait to read them!

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