Day 270: Taken on School Trip Detour
Geoffrey showed me true Kenyan hospitality while hosting me. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Geoffrey, my Couch Surfing host pours water over my hands, catch it in a small basin as I wash them before lunch. He's just returned from picking up a few books for the school center he's started.
“I'll get him a spoon,” offers Nancy, his wife.
“No, it's okay. I can eat with my hands just fine. I lived in West Africa for six months,” I say.
“Yes, we use natural utensils,” Geoffrey chimes in.
After lunch, Geoffrey is glowing with pride as we pull up to the gate of the learning center he's founded.
It's a simple start to a big dream. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
A child-sized door leads into the garden. There are two small buildings on the plot of land. Tall, light green stalks of kale grow beyond the staffs' living quarters, which comprise two separate bedrooms and a kitchen. Geoffrey plastered over the mud-brick building as part of the renovation of the site. He also painted the two-room schoolhouse and set up the barbwire fences that run along the garden area.
“It's our land all the way down to the river,” he says.
The learning center, complete with a micro-flush toilet, is his vision. It's set up to eventually be self-sustaining, the children will eat the foods grown in the garden, while the tobacco, a cash crop, will be a source of income for the school.
At the moment, eight children are enrolled in the school, including Geoffrey's son. Each pays 2,000 Shilling a semester – that's about 20 bucks.
Not much is happening when we walk into the small wooden classroom. The young teacher, Ann, is staring at the back wall, covered with English-language educational posters. The kids are dead silent, a couple of them have their heads down, most likely asleep.
Meet teacher Ann. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
I get the same dead-pan stares from these kids that I got last night and this morning from Geoffrey's son and daughter. Their big eyes, blank faces looking up at me, their little bodies in their little chairs appear frail in their dirty clothes.
The children are waiting for lunch, which is why there are no lessons being taught right now, only waiting. The help is cooking a big bowel of githeri, boiled corn and beans, over a pile of coals in the other building. She serves all the children big plastic plates of it, putting a plate of food in front of Geoffrey, me and Ann.
Having packed away a pile of eggs, kale and ugali less than thirty minutes ago, the best I can do is pick at the dish. And, to be fair, it's not the most inciting cuisines.
The kids faces lighten up as I start snapping photos. I show the child closes to me his picture. He giggles and laughs, his face splitting open with pure happiness. I work my way down both rows of the classroom, snapping photos and sharing them. Each kid's face is at first unsure how to behave in front of the camera. So I laugh, and then they laugh, and then there is that perfect moment of genuine happiness written in their eyes.
Once they got back to lessons, there was sing, dancing and some learning -- I think. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Geoffrey paints his vision of the learning center: a classroom with tablets and laptops and a big screen that the teacher can use for her lessons. A picture where wealthier kids pay for extra lessons and those from poorer families can come for free. At the moment, the building doesn't have electricity.
“It will cost about 500 dollars to get electricity here and all the wiring done,” he explains.
However, with the support of US Aid and his boss, as well as his own determination, this tech-heavy dream doesn't seem as far fetched an idea as a man traveling the world at the whim of a small cube.
After visiting Geoffrey's mother, up the dirt road from the school, we load the kids up into the car and start taking them home. It turns out that among the many hats Geoffrey wears, he is also the bus driver.
His second-hand car coughs to life and we're off.
Outside of Lebanon Bar and Restaurant, above a chemist and a saloon across the main road from the turnoff to Geoffrey's house, we get out. He rolls down the windows, as his son is staying the car while he opens the bar for the day. Ann, the teacher, works for him part time as a bartender in the evening. It's the easiest way to subsidize her monthly salary of 80 dollars.
“When you come back tonight, we can come up with the plan for tomorrow. Ann can draw you a map and give you the contact for her father,” Geoffrey says.
Ann's from Mount Elgon, our newest dice dictated destination. Her father, a retired soldier, has agreed to take me around to see the sites. It's hard to imagine a better guide.