Gaichanjiru: Could This Be It?
// February 6th, 2012 // Kenya
I have been writing about searching for a secondary boarding school for someone who is like my little brother in Kenya. If you’ve missed them, you might want to catch up on the previous posts first:
John was three days into the tenth grade; the clock was ticking. Two matatus and a long, scenic motorbike ride later through the lush, green rolling hills that typify Kenya in my mind, Onesmus (John’s older brother) and I peeled ourselves off the bike and dusted off our shoes in front of the gates of Gaichanjiru High School. A provincial (ie good) boarding school in a rural setting only an hour from our village, I was excited about our prospects here. The principal of Kirwara had not only phoned the principal of this school, but also sent me with a recommendation letter. While I knew anything was possible (like the fact that I might be turned down again), I had a renewed sense of hope. We walked through the gates, I teased the handsome young security guard, and we walked towards the office. The grounds were spacious and the school was building a new administrative building that was really nice (it even had large, nice looking tile as opposed to the heinous tile that is present in most Kenyan buildings. And yes, I used to work in tile so I can assure that I notice it everywhere I go). We stopped at the school’s message board and reviewed students’ school performance for the last three terms as well as KCSE results. They were really good.
I sat in another line for parents waiting to see the principal. Finally, the secretary called me up to find out my reason for visiting. I explained that I came in search of a Form 2 (1oth grade) opening. She had me sit back down, then called me up only a few minutes later and told me that she spoke with the deputy principal, and he said they had no openings. I smiled and told her that the principal was expecting me (not completely untrue), and I wanted to discuss the matter with him. That satisfied her, and she stopped trying to shoo me away. After what seemed like an hour, it was finally my turn. I greeted the principal once again in Swahili, and he said, “Oh I was expecting you.” (I’m pretty sure I’m the only muzungu that’s walked in that school in a decade, so it’s easy to recognize me!). He continued, “I received a call from the principal at Kirwara, but we must’ve gotten disconnected, so I didn’t get to finish the conversation.” That wasn’t exactly true, as the principal at Kirwara hung up as soon as this principal agreed to see me… before he had time to say anything else that might negate the possibility of an opening at his school.
My meeting at Gaichanjiru was very brief. The principal had only had this job for a week, so the school was pretty behind on setting policies for transfer students and figuring out how many positions were available. He was okay with John’s KCPE score and told me to call him by Monday (it was Thursday) if I didn’t hear from him to see if he would be able to interview John. We made small talk for a minute, and he took notice of my effort at speaking Swahili. Score one for Laura! I left the meeting still not knowing what would happen, but with hope.
The next few days were tough. I couldn’t decide whether to continue visiting schools (in case I waited a week into the school year and found out the school wouldn’t interview John) or if I should hang tight and have faith. Knowing that the principal at Kirwara told me he would help me in any way he could until I found a school, I decided to wait and take care of some other things for a few days.
Monday morning came and no phone call. At 12:30, then again at 1:30, I rang the principal’s cell. He told me to come tomorrow morning at 8:30 and John would have an interview. Yes! Then, he told me John would be sitting for three exams: Math, Chemistry, and English, followed by the interview. Slight deflation. John is weak in math, and his school in the village is behind on the material, so he probably would suffer a bit there. But, I also knew that Chemistry was one of John’s best subjects. I watched the clock until I thought John would be out of school and then called him. No answer. Hello, this is important! I dropped what I was doing and headed over to his house. I sat outside on a concrete block and waited. Onesmus came home, and we decided to visit my friend Margaret, which means we could pass the school on the way and hopefully see John. We saw him just a few minutes up the road, and I can’t help myself. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you and it’s almost 6 o’clock!” He loosened his school tie and told me he had stayed after school to study Biology, his least favorite subject. “Well, okay, that’s a perfectly good excuse, but you have an interview tomorrow at Gaichanjiru!!!” That evening we reviewed some of the Form 1 (9th grade) math topics that his school didn’t get to on last year’s syllabus, and I sent him home to go to bed early.
Part 1 of our interview at Gaichanjiru as copied from my journal:
10 January 2012
Gaichanjiru Interview Day
My alarm was set for 5:55 but I found myself wide awake at 5:40. We received word yesterday that John had an interview with Gaichanjiru High School, a provincial boys’ boarding school not terribly far from our village. I quickly brushed my teeth, got dressed, and tried to pull my hair up in the dark. The kids had already begun preparing for school, and I waved goodbye to the cook. Arriving at John’s house a few minutes early to see Onesmus standing there in his boxer-briefs brushing his teeth, I yell, “Hodi hodi” (knock knock) in a high pitched voice- the same voice that Onesmus uses sometimes that always make me laugh. When I hear the motorbike pull up behind me, I must admit I was surprised. I told Onesmus to make sure whatever person he scheduled to pick us up did not run on African time (ie come late) but I honestly didn’t expect him to be right on time, let alone a few minutes early. John and Onesmus quickly finished getting dressed, and we hopped on the motorbike to go to the main road. At 6:30, as we bump along the dirt road, washed away in places from the rainy season, I watch the sun rise over the ridge. It was amazing. We come into the next village, and instead of the usual dust and sweat smell during these hot summer days, I smell fried bread waft from all the little hotels (village cafes) that line the road. I begin to think that the crisp, quiet morning is a beautiful premonition for the day ahead of us- that John will be admitted to an excellent boys’ boarding school where 50 out of 162 graduates were eligible to attend public university in 2010.
To be continued in tomorrow’s post!