OK so I will start with describing my future school. It’s probably about 10 kilometers out a dirt road that carries mostly dirtbikes, but equipped for cars as well. The road is lined by golden daisies, like small sunflowers and thick, dense patches of vibrant green bushes. There are a variety of other flowers poking out of the bushes; many more flowers than in home or even Machakos. It’s gorgeous. There are small herds of cattle crossing the road and men on bikes amble along the road as well. Round mud huts with thatched roofs are dotting the open areas and small lean-to’s are here and there, selling fruits, vegetables, and little stinky fish. I forget what they’re called, but you can smell them for miles.
So, eventually you arrive at my gate. It’s on the right, and since it is a newer establishment, the paint is still in tact and extremely bright. It is called Nina School for the Deaf. Mr. Ambalo drove Sara, Whitney and I from town to the school on Monday morning and some children were out in the yard, but most were in class. Once you enter the gate, you see a water pump to the right and a large, open yard with two brick buildings (classrooms) along the left edge and two white ones ahead, making an L shape of buildings. My house is the junction of the L. There is a small building made from what looks like dad’s underpinning directly ahead, at the end of the row with the white buildings, and this is the kitchen. The entire thing is wrapped in shiny metal sheets, with a roof, and there is smoke rolling out of the two windows. Later we went inside and the cooking takes place over jico’s, which are kerosene cooking stoves.. I can’t really say much else, but I will try to get a picture of one because this is what my house has as well. There is electricity along the road, but it has yet to enter our gate to supply the school. Mr. Ambalo says he is hoping to be “hooked up” in January, which means my house will have electricity as well.
On the other side of the L, a cluster of trees sits behind the kitchen with long, single board benches in an arc underneath. The ground is completely worn here, unlike the rest of the yard. This is where the kids have all meals and tea (at 10 am precisely). Past this, the long white dormitory building sits. The only thing separating my house from the dormitory is a little shed divided into three compartments: a bathing room, and two separate choo’s (bathrooms). The floor of all three is concrete, and all three have a hole in the floor – bigger hole in the choo’s, but it all goes to the same place. And the smell is pretty terrible, and the flies swarm in a thick black, buzzing cloud. One of the choo’s is mine (and currently the staff’s, but I am planning on locking it when I get there) and the other is for the female students. The boys is at the far end of the plot, past the dormitory.
OK, now the dormitory is really the main building of campus. It’s not very big, but very nice and new. It is stark white and I forgot to mention that the color for the school is apparently aquamarine, and doors/trim are painted this color on the white buildings. Mr. Ambalo’s office is in the dormitory and separates the boys from the girls. The kids all have metal bunk beds that are wrapped in mosquito nets, and they have small trunks lining one wall in the large sleeping room. There is a bathing area that does not have water hooked up yet, but as soon as it is hooked up the kids will have showers. Until then, they have bathing rooms similar to mine, but inside of the dormitory.
Opposite of the L, there is a fence. This fence is just a strand of wire and a bunch of bushes, but it separates Nina School for the Deaf from Nina (normal, as most people refer to it) School. This school seems to be huge, I think it may have about 200 kids. Our kids go to that side for PE and games in the morning, after tea and before lunch. We don’t interact with the other kids, but we share that large common area. Nina used to be a “unit” within that school until it grew so much it was able to branch into it’s own school for deaf children. I’ll come back to that.
Now, for my house, which is pretty awesome. I have a big metal, aquamarine door that opens into the large sitting room. LARGE. It’s the entire length of the house and half of the width. The floor is plain concrete, but stained the color of red clay from all of the mud. You walk into the house on the far right end, and directly ahead is the doorway into the kitchen. It is small, but sufficient, and has a table, sink with a huge window above and a shelf with cutting board on top/storage underneath. Back into the sitting room – other end, there is a doorway open to my bedroom. It’s the same size as the kitchen, plenty big, and has a full size bed and an equally large window. There is a huge window in the sitting room facing the school yard, and on the two outer walls of the sitting room there are chalkboards. The structure was initially intended to be a classroom, but for volunteers they converted it to a house. Whitney has written poetry and made calendars on them, which seems to be a pretty awesome way to give your house a little personality. There is also a large bulletin board in the sitting room that will be perfect for pictures, letters, and cards (hint hint!).
Whitney will leave her furniture for me once she goes home, so I won’t even need to buy anything for the house! There is a small wooden couch with 2 matching sitting chairs with the cushions upholstered in an awesome olive/jungle green velvet. There is also a wooden coffee table and a long desk/table in the sitting room, and her bicycle. The sitting room is huge, it looks empty even with all of this.
So that’s my house, and my campus. It’s great, I can’t even begin to how you how blessed I feel and fortunate to have such a great accommodation. Not only do I have an awesome house, and an awesome school, but the staff (especially Mr. Ambalo) are amazing. Whitney said she has been incredibly supported and appreciated for her two years at Nina.
The kids are another thing. I think that I could type for ages, maybe it’s from Grandma Ruth, but I just like to ramble so bear with me. So, as I mentioned, Nina School for the Deaf broke off from Nina “Normal.” There are currently 46 kids at NSD. I would say that over half are deaf, although there really isn’t any documentation on some of the kids. Most of them don’t know how old they are. This is the part that is hard for me to talk about because it sounds a lot worse than it is, mainly because I don’t want you to feel sorry for this or be sad about it, because this is typical. It’s different from America, and that’s OK. So, parents realize that their kids are deaf and try to find a school to take them. Right now, deaf rights are on the rise and schools are popping up throughout Kenya to accommodate for kids with hearing problems. Parents come to Nina, get free primary education (plus boarding, fees, etc.) and drop their deaf kid off. Here, school is divided into terms. Three months in school, one month off, repeat. The kids get really excited about time to go home, but they are always ready to come back (so I hear). I have been told that it is not uncommon for parents to bring their child to Nina, then when break rolls around, mom and dad don’t show up. I’m not sure the number, but I know there are a few at Nina who have had this experience. For those who go home, they usually are unable to communicate with their family at all and are very ready to come back when term resumes.
Nina accepts kids who need a school. A family. There are several kids at Nina who are not deaf, or not only deaf. For instance, there is a kid in Whitney’s class 1 (first grade) who is probably 16 years old, and he isn’t passing. She has ~6 kids, and 2 of them are your average first grader. One of those children isn’t deaf, but slightly hard of hearing. Most are about 10 years old, I think. In the nursery (kindergarten) class, there is a boy who is alledgedly 10 years old, but the same size as the nursery children, if not slightly shorter. His name is Blasters. He is not toilet trained and doesn’t communicate. He barely walks, and is led by other children after they put his shoes on his feet for him. He makes a whining noise constantly, repetitively. The mother said that she didn’t want anyone to know she was pregnant, so she tied a rope around her belly throughout the entire pregnancy. I didn’t meet her.
There are more stories similar to this one, but not as extreme. I know there are a few with autism. One signs to an invisible person very intensely and argues with the invisible person frequently (in sign language). There are no official diagnoses, just kids who need a place to learn and someone to take care of them.
While I was at the school, I was able to shadow the teachers and Whitney. She works hard, and is great with the kids. They love her. They respect her. Even though her house is on the campus, in the middle of the classrooms/dormitory, she can leave her front door open all afternoon and no one comes in or bothers her. When she’s outside, they come to visit with her, but they know that her house is hers and private. It’s a great set up, and a great little community. I’m definitely looking forward to December so I can get started on the next phase of my Peace Corps experience.