The International Writers Magazine
: Africa

My final day at school in Kitengela
Josephine Green

Last September I spent three months teaching in a primary school in the heart of rural Kenya. I was trying to write of the sensory feelings I was experiencing while I lived in this breathtaking country.

A beautiful smell of sunflowers and fresh air filled the staff room first thing in the morning. All the ladies were perfectly dressed and ready for a busy day at school. 'Jambo!' 'Jambo,' 'Jambo, habari ' 'Nzuri sana.' The typical chatter of morning greetings echoed around the room on our last day teaching these Maasai children.To celebrate the end of Class 8's exams all the children were preparing a tremendous meal.

We watched as the boys ran back with a dead goat hanging off a splintered branch. They had captured it and sliced its throat, ready for the girls to start crafting this food for our plates. It was a sight that, a month earlier, I would have been so shocked to see, but now it seemed all in a day's work. I began wandering into the classrooms to see what all the children were doing while this food was being prepared. The younger classes were running around catching each other and tripping over their football. I went to watch the older girls baking chapattis and rice. Their hands were covered in blood as I saw that they were chopping up raw pieces of goats meat ready to cook in the tin kitchen outside.

A little lady of about 50 years old would come into the staff room everyday to give us all our lunch of maize and beans. Rather than the smell of hard, uncooked corn that I first expected I was fired with an entire smoke-filled room all in the one person. She seemed to have quite a demeaning attitude to those around her but when I watched her helping the girls I saw such kindness in her nature. I could see these young ladies working together; they were like mothers rather than school children. They were taking so much pleasure in what they were producing and I saw such contentment in their eyes.

A whiff of half baked bread dough wafted into the staff room as we sat and waited for our lunch to be served. I felt the teachers were getting hungry as I noticed them becoming more and more agitated by children coming in and out of the school. We were soon summoned into the damp classroom where the dusty aroma stiffened in your nostrils. I was given a seat right at the front of the room next to the school governors and opposite the Maasai parents. The daunting prospect of having to eat in front of everyone lay before me. I didn't just have a couple of bodies in front of me, I had about 50! As I sat there taking in this cultural display of celebration I noticed an immense array of bright colours surrounding me. The parents of the children all had their traditional Maasai robes draped around them, full of reds and blues and oranges and yellows. The sound of bracelets falling down their arms rattled around the room as well as faint murmurings as the parents spoke of the faces that lay in front of them. Something I was now used to was their stares but they still seemed to go straight through me, their big white eyes focused only on me. The boys never looked right at me, or at least they didn't like to be caught. The girls, however, seemed fascinated by my features. Every chance they got they would stand and stare. If ever I took my hair down they would crowd around me stoking each and every strand, enjoying the softness and lightness of the substance. I was flattered now, that familiar frightened feeling seemed to disappear after a few weeks. It now seemed natural for them to be so interesed.

Everyone was finally seated so the meal began. The girls filed into the room and carefully stood behind each of the large saucepans. They set up a system whereby every dish could be piled onto each plate one by one. They then began by handing the food out to their parents, then came myself along with the teachers and governors, then the boys in their class and finally themselves. Once I'd started eating I suddenly noticed that all the girls were sitting outside the room. This obvious display of culture difference that I was becoming so used to stuck with me this time. It felt so wrong. These girls had spent hours producing an incredible meal only to be rejected from the celebration as they were girls, the cooks. Culture seemed to have taught them that they had to look after their family, but in silence.
Josephine Green, December 15th 2005

Jo is a Creative Writing student at the University of Portsmouth

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