Mama Kelsey

Like most days in this term thus far, today was wonderful. Every day here at Nina has been awesome lately for no particular reason at all. I’m enjoying my kids so much this term, I feel kinda crazy. I remember when I started my Peace Corps experience, I heard all of the volunteers say that the kids make it worthwhile. Seriously, I mean every single volunteer I contacted before coming to Kenya and all those whom assisted with training and helped prepare us for the challenges ahead – every single person said that the kids were the best part of the job. “You don’t know me!” came to mind, but it turns out, perhaps they did.

I have never really been a kid person, as most of my family would adamantly agree. Generally I don’t particularly enjoy the company or energy of children, and therefore they have never particularly gravitated towards me. It has always been a mutual understanding: don’t bother Kelsey and Kelsey (usually) won’t bother you. Even during my first two terms, while I did find the kids here cute and often charming, I generally considered them to be tolerable – part of the job; part of the Peace Corps experience. Something changed though – I’m assuming in me, because kids are just kids, but at some point I started liking my kids. Liking them to the point that I think I really do love some of the kids here, like a mom would love her child. It is the most unusual feeling I can honestly say I have ever experienced, but let me try to elaborate a bit.

I think the first time I vaguely experienced the “mom” feeling was my first term, when they were constantly knocking on my door, showing me fresh wounds, ancient scars and birthmarks trying to earn a band-aid. For the first few days it was cute, followed by a few weeks of “go show Anjeline” and then finally just caving in and passing them out like candy. Somewhere in there I realized that I rely on their dependence on me – I crave it. When they aren’t knocking on the door begging for band-aids, I start to wonder why they are afraid to come to my door. Despite the annoyance of getting up 500 times to answer the door (a simple “come in!” doesn’t work here), I need to know that they need me. Otherwise, I feel useless.

Second term, I began mending their old clothes. The kids each have two school uniforms and two play outfits. Every single day they wash a school uniform and change into one of the play outfits immediately after school. Needless to say, the clothes get worn very quickly and often sport tears and holes. After stitching up one of the small girls uniforms during class one day, nearly half of the students brought me an article of clothing in need of repair. At one point I had over thirty garments to stitch sitting in a chair in my living room. Some were beyond repair, and some probably looked better before I sewed in the mismatched patch, but by the end of the term everyone had their turn being “mothered.”

This term, I have yet to discover exactly what the defining motherly trend will be, but I can truly say that I think I now know what it means to unconditionally love a kid, just like being a parent. The other day I was sitting out in the sun while I was on duty and my class 3 Calvin joined me in the heat. Because there is normally a small swarm of kids around me whenever I remain stationery for any extended period of time, I initially didn’t find it unusual. I had my ipod out, playing some River City and drawing in my notebook. Calvin picked up my speakers and held them to his ear. Many of the kids like to pretend to be singers or celebrities they have seen on TV/magazines and do goofy things, posing with any of my belongings. I really didn’t pay any attention to Calvin at first, but after a minute or so he was still holding the speaker to his ear. The song changed and Black Eyed Peas “Imma Be” came on and a smile cracked across his face. He started bobbing his head with a jack-o-lantern grin across his face. I asked him if he could hear it and he enthusiastically nodded his head, then stood up and started moving with the music. I know it sounds so ridiculously sappy, but I actually teared up and had to go inside. I have NEVER in my life wanted to share something so bad, and all I could think was I can hear this and he can’t, he never will… at that moment there was nothing in this world I wanted more than to give him the ability to really hear that song, his own voice, the birds or a car. It was so strange.

Similar situation – I teach Class 3 science. Calvin is my little smart pants and learns way faster than I ever could. Sometimes I like to show movies that knock their socks off, like “Blue Planet” documentary. There is nothing in this world like seeing their faces when a whale comes across the screen, or the first time they saw a dolphin emerge from the water and spout water into the air. It’s so precious. So this week I was showing one of the documentaries and pausing it frequently to explain what was happening, give them some new vocabulary or ask them what they predict will happen. The predictions are always entertaining. One time a cheetahs were chasing an ostrich, which, mind you, I thought was terribly sad. It was obvious that the ostrich was the underdog. I was glued to the screen, hoping that this time (unlike the previous 9842 times I’ve watched it) the ostrich would spread it’s wings and fly to safety. Before reaching the climax, my wishful thinking was interrupted by an eruption of laughter. Puzzled, I looked at all of my kids, who were impersonating the ostrich. It really isn’t the most graceful animal on the planet, but at such a stressful moment you can hardly blame it for looking so frenzied. Shocked by their insensitivity, I paused it and asked them what was going to happen. They had rather graphic, disturbing predictions (which turned out to be correct) and I had them do a skit in front of the class to share with the others. It was cute.

We continued the series and spent quite a bit of time discussing the arctic. Ice. How in the world do you really capture the concept of ice and accurately depict it to kids who have NEVER experienced it before? Like in this documentary, seals are swimming under the ice and there is just a tiny hole where they can come up to jump out (seals are a whole other topic – we have spent days discussing seals). I just can’t really convey the concept of this huge, land-like mass of ice to kids who haven’t even had ice in their drinks before. It’s just so challenging. And then my mom moment came, where I was randomly blindsided with the thought of going home unexpectedly (elections) and I briefly panicked – how in the world can I just abandon these kids? I have this weird feeling in my heart where I just want to bring Calvin with me, I want to share ice with him, let him sit in a movie theatre, take him to a park to play with other kids, sit on a swing or go down a slide. I want him to go to school every day and have a teacher teach. I want him to have a family that cares and comes to school on parent day. I want him to be surrounded by people who support him and encourage him and believe in him. I want him to have that, to have a chance. Gah. I choke up thinking about it.

Anyways, I guess now I’m just like everyone else – like all those other people I met when I first came to Kenya… the kids really are the best part of the job; the best part of the Peace Corps. They are the reason I came here, and when I leave, that’s what I’m going to remember most. That’s what I’m going to miss the most.

One thought on “Mama Kelsey

  1. So happy for you Kelsey! I serioiusly tear up almost every time I read your posts, which is rather embarassing with a group of students in the room 🙂 Miss you!

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