My Last Day In Africa

Eight days.

Six cities around North Dakota and Minnesota.

Six awesome audiences with which to present about Africa and China, discuss about the ways of life there and here, and all of it to grow in our understanding.

Thanks again–all who came out and all who offered support–for making my recent book/speaking tour such a wonderful experience.

Now that I’m finished talking about Africa, it’s time I finish writing about it. Today, we wrap up my East Africa blogs with my final stop.

***

Three weeks ago, I shared about meeting the sons of the Ugandan-Minneapolis man. I had met the father in Minneapolis before I left for Tanzania. I had then met his sons eight months later in the mid-sized city of Jinja, Uganda, where they showed me their fish farming operation.

The following day, I hopped on one last tardy, long, bumpy, cramped bus ride–a 12 hour journey from dawn to past dusk into Nairobi.

They tell me we drove right through the region that Barack Obama's dad was from.
They tell me we drove right through the region that Barack Obama’s dad was from.

Picked up by my host, I was driven out to his home 20 minutes outside city center. The next day I would fly home–but that wasn’t until the afternoon. In the morning, my host was eager to take me to the school he had founded in the Kayole slum.

I had met Douglas Monene on that same travel community website, Couchsurfing.

He was a large, muscular man, but though he looked like a rugby player, he was gentle and academic. We hopped in his grey van my final morning in Africa and rode out to Kayole slum in Nairobi, Kenya.

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We arrived to the street his school was on:

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The school was to the left, but to the right was another site: an open pit mine.

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Mine ahead, polluted river below, heavy machinery was off to the right

This scene was significant not just because it was an odd feature to have across the street from a school, but because people lived in the mine to work, and the residents of this literal mining town was where Douglas recruited some of his students.

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Like my rural village school on Tanzania, children in the slums of Nairobi are limited in education due to the need for them to work.

Douglas is working to change that.

He started INGRID Primary School just a few years earlier. He started it privately or else the local children would have no real education options. He takes in the miner kids without charge.

We entered his school.

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INGRID is an acronym.

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I visited the classes of these young Developers.

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The youngest students

And for a few of the classes, I taught a lesson or two.

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After an impromptu math lesson for this class, Douglas took me to the school roof.

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He showed me the chicken coop and described plans for expansion atop the school. He wants to add high school classes. This roof may not look like much, but it offered a perspective of our physical surroundings–as well as on the relative nature of wealth.

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This actually wasn’t garbage strewn across these residents’ adjacent roofs. This was their belongings in storage.

We went back down, and I took a class of 9-10 year olds who impressed the heck out me with their questions.

One boy and I talked like this:

“Can you have guns in America?” he asked in perfect English. (Schools are English medium in Kenya.)

“Yeah, you can,” I said.

“Where do you get them?”

“There are places just for buying guns.”

“Will you get in trouble for shooting someone?”

“Yes, you will.”

“Unless it’s for self defense,” he clarified.

I raised my eyebrows.

“Well, yes.”

Another girl starting asking about “IC in Hagy.”

I surmised what she may have been referring to, but I didn’t think it was likely she was talking about the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Holland.

She was.

The Kenyan president had been there being questioned about his role in ethnic violence in the country. This topic went above my head, and Douglas happened to step foot into the concrete-walled classroom. So I asked him to come forward to explain it to the girl.

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Not all students were so eager about their education. There are many difficult domestic situations in Kayole. And despite the fact that students can live here at the school–albeit in humble conditions–one may still think that children would favor a sleeping bag and hot meals over a life on the streets. Yet that isn’t always the case.

One missing boy had been retrieved to the school, where Douglas questioned the raggedy, hungry, defeated lad.

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At recess children went outside to play.

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And it was time for me to leave.

not just the school,

not just the city or country,

but Africa.

It was time for me to fly home.

Douglas and I hopped into his van–as did a few of the older students who hadn’t ever seen an airport.

***

We approached Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. We parked, they all walked me to my gate, and we took my final picture in Africa.

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I didn’t even know all their names. Our relationship was but a mere few hours old. Yet it was fitting to part ways with East Africa not just with a goodbye from students (my whole reason to come to Africa was to teach) but to do so after a morning of this unexpected, interactive surprise.

My 8 1/2 months in East Africa was punctuated with such occurrences frequent enough to have me question how much one can pack under the umbrella of coincidence.

From the experiences surrounding the computer program in my Tanzanian village school to the acquisition of electricity in that village to the meeting of other volunteers that I brought out to the school;

From the political rally to the church services to the hospital room to the town jail;

From the medicine man to the Parliament member to the Native American;

From the waterfalls to the white sand beaches to the rock bridges to the hippo, giraffe, and elephant;

From the inner city to the village to the skyscraper to the nightclub;

And within all these settings and experiences were the emotions: the ingredients of life.

From the camaraderie to the loneliness; from the pleasant surprises to the disappointing shocks; from the hectic concerns to the quiet, humble calms; this was eight months in East Africa.

I thank you for following along.

I look forward to sharing it with you when I complete my book.

I look forward to taking you on my next adventure.

For now, we go home next week.

2 Responses

  1. I’ve been working with Douglas since 2012, with my most recent trip to Kenya in Jan this year. I love the photo of Douglas in the red and white stripped shirt talking to the girl with a piece of chalk in his hand. May I use it in one of my blogs, crediting you, of course? Many of my blogs are about him and the work he is doing, as you can see if you take a look at my website.

    I’m so glad you had this experience. I took my son in 2013, and he got to teach math and social studies while we were there.

    Shalom,
    Jean Bons

  2. Hello Jean,

    It is a pleasure to have you chime in with your experiences at Douglas’s school. I’m happy to hear that he is getting help from others.

    Yes, please, do use the photograph. I look forward to reading your blog.

    -Brandon

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