Life Skills with Kelsey

School is officially back in business here in Kenya! The teachers’ strike has come to a close and children are slowly trickling back to Nina. Today, Saturday, about half of the kids have arrived (even though the strike was declared settled last Monday). We expect most of the others to arrive this weekend. Like renters avoiding the landlord, the parents avoid the headteacher.

In the meantime, I’m spending the days reading outside under our shade trees, storying with the kids or organizing my house. This term has been off to a great start, and even though I thought I was integrated and settled last term, this term proves to be off to an even better start. I just feel comfortable here. I was a bit concerned about coming home after spending so much time at Claire’s, but it has been so satisfying to be here, at Nina, with my “family.” And I’m sure my kids missed me, especially Valary.

On Friday, we had a routine, start-of-the-term BOG meeting here at the school. This means that we have several important visitors, importance signified by the presence of personal vehicles carrying them this far into the village. These meetings are a bit of an occasion – meaning bread is served with tea and chickens are massacred for our special guests. The meeting generally starts around 10 or 11 am, with the first guests arriving with Ambalo at 7 and the last ones always manage to find their way just in time for lunch. While the meeting takes place around tables crowded under shade trees on the far end of the compound, we teachers gather under the usual trees outside of my house and wait. We are expected to be present despite the fact teaching is absent.

So on this particular day, I was sitting with George outside under the shade trees enjoying the company of the early birds who arrived to school only 3 days late. We had about 15 kids, 2 of which are new little girls, about 6 years old. One of these girls has cognitive impairments and carries a mark much like a scarlet letter to announce her condition to the world – an oversized bib around her neck to catch the constant stream of drool flowing from her open mouth. Were it not for the bib though, she would appear to be a typical “toddler” and is possibly the most cheerful child I have ever met. This being only her third day at school, we are still gauging her level of independence. Having witnessed her peeing next to the handwashing station earlier in the day, we were aware that she would need some assistance with “choo” training.

In the afternoon, right before the meeting dismissed for lunch, baby girl surprisingly approached the choo, which George and I were sitting in front of. George took note of this and instructed my Valary of class 2 to assist her. Valary grudgingly obliged and took baby girl by the hand and escorted her to the choo and hurried off in the other direction. Since Valary is in my class and was clearly disregarding George’s instructions, I saw this as an opportunity for Valary to learn about helping the little ones while possibly helping with baby girl’s toileting training. I caught Valary and explained that even though it isn’t fun, it’s important for her to help teach these skills to baby girl, yada yada yada. Valary was not enjoying this lesson at all. Little did she know it was going to get worse. She grabbed baby girl by the hand and jerked her to the choo, which was occupied, then looked at me like “oh well, I tried.”

Not willing to let it go so easily, I told her to lead her to the bushes behind the dormitory, signing “hide” to get the point across that this wasn’t exactly acceptable, but you know, there are always exceptions. Baby girl already had her pants down, so it wasn’t exactly in the location I had in mind, far from hiding… but when you gotta go. Slightly embarrassed, but glad that I at least explained the importance of helping baby girl to Valary, I returned to my seat beside of George. Just moments later, Valary started shouting to get my attention. George and I both looked back to see baby girl still squatting with her pants down and Valary signing “poop.” Great. Now George sees what I just consented to.

Slightly panicked because not only did George just witness mzungu insanity, but the meeting would be letting out any minute, I made a valiant effort to maintain my composure as though it’s totally normal to poop publicly in the school yard. I told Valary to supervise the wiping. Unamused, Valary said there was no toilet paper. I should have known, that’s a valuable asset here, which is not freely available in the choo, let alone in the bushes beside of the dormitory. Trying to hurry the process, I told Valary to use her own tissue to wipe baby girl and I would go get some of mine to replace it then made a dash for my house to get the tissue.

When I returned to the scene, I found Valary bent over vomiting and baby girl moseying towards the kitchen. I stupidly asked Valary, “problem what?” to which she responded with a gesture towards a mound of poop and more vomiting. I gave her the tissue and sent a bystander (by now there were several, but at least they were all children) to go fetch baby girl to wash her hands. Baby girl put up a fight about the handwashing thing, so I had to go get her myself and carry her back to the handwashing station. While trying to scrub my embarrassment out of the screaming toddler’s hands, I heard more retching behind me. Poor, responsible, miserable Valary was attempting to pick up the poops with the tissue I had just given her to move it out of the yard while heaving violently.

I frantically gestured for her to stop, keep the tissue (yes, it is that valued here) and I started searching for a better means for relocating the poop. I found an empty Vaseline jar and handed it to her, motioning to hurry up. In one fell swoop, Valary scooped the remaining mound and hurdled it high into the air, over the bushes, into the neighbor’s yard. Mission accomplished. And that’s what I do in Kenya.

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