Courageous questions

I was perusing slices today and came across a slice by Darin Johnston about brave questions.  Check it out here!

The question that he reflected on today really resonated with me.

What experience or interaction have you had with another culture that has affected you?

For much of my life, I was fairly sheltered.  Living in a small to medium-sized town with very little ethnic or racial diversity and going to a private school did not give me opportunities to interact with other cultures.  I went to Tijuana for a mission trip when I was in middle school, and that experience altered the way I thought about poverty and contentment and diversity.

But it wasn’t until I graduated from college and went to teach in Kenya for the summer that I encountered another culture in a transformative way.  I taught in the slum of Kibera, the largest slum in East Africa, and it was both challenging and rewarding and such an amazing learning experience.  I blogged while I was there, and Darin’s post compelled me to go back to my blog posts and re-read my reflections from my time in Kenya.

Here were a few snippets that stood out to me (read more here):

  • The vehicles—I have experienced traffic, and I have even experienced some crazy driving before. Nairobi brings this to a whole new level! Even when there are lines on the roads, people drive on the wrong side to pass slower drivers, matatus (buses) stop and pull out everywhere, cars turn through traffic to go the other way, five cars try to merge into two lanes—and all without an accident, though there are plenty of accidents in Kenya, according to the newspapers. It reminded me of a game of chicken at times, and I was astounded by the drivers’ ability to navigate and communicate without a scrape! Drivers were good-natured despite the chaos.
  • Kibera.  Completely different than Nairobi.  We had driven by some of the commercial business and government buildings, and I immediately noticed the dichotomy between the big buildings, paved roads, and city skyline and the dirt roads—almost impassable by cars in places—and shacks.  A huge pile of burning trash was on the side of the road as we entered.  Aluminum shanties or scrap-wood shacks crowded close together to form the landscape of the area.  People sold things on the side of the road as in the city, but many more people were simply sitting around.  It seemed less purposeful, and I learned that over half of Kenya’s adult population is unemployed.  The biggest thing I noted about the clothing was not the clothing itself, as Nairobi seems like a place where diverse styles coexist peacefully, but the shoes.  Shoes were mismatched or threadbare or incongruous with the clothing.
  • After my sugarcane experience, washed down with some fresh mango juice (I love living on the equator), I went to Headteacher Peter’s office, where he asked me some questions about my teaching experience and areas of expertise.  I told him that I could teach all subjects but that I am especially knowledgeable in mathematics and English (language arts); so of course he proceeded to hand me the science textbook and a blank notebook for my “preparations.”  What preparations?  He said that I should be familiar with the book because he wasn’t sure where the different classes were in the material.  A panicked thought crossed my mind, but I reminded myself that flexibility is one of the marks of a great teacher and smiled politely…what had I gotten myself into?
  • “Good morning, Teacher Jenna.  How are you?”  This question is asked in unison by the students who stand each time I enter the classroom.  The slight inflection on “you” makes me smile every time.  After I answer, they respond, “We are fine, thank you.”  This ceremony is a little strange for me, and I think that the students are catching onto my more relaxed teaching style, but the respect they show to every teacher is commendable!  I can tell that the students truly want to be in class and are even excited when I assign homework (I only wish that was always true in the U.S.).
  • I joined the football (soccer) game that was taking place in the middle of the field between two goals made from tires.  As the only girl, I quickly learned that playing soccer in a skirt and flats that fell off every time I kicked the ball is not a simple feat.  I ended up taking my shoes and socks off and playing barefoot.  Who am I to complain about my shoes falling off when many of the children have shoes that are falling apart?  The game was fun, and I loved the look on the boys’ faces when I stole the ball from them…a girl and a teacher? 

As I read back on my writing and think back on my time in Kenya, there is so much I have already forgotten.  But there is more that has stayed with me…the relationships formed and life lessons learned were incredible.  I hope to go back to Kenya in the next year or two to see the students and families and country again.  And who knows?  Maybe I’ll end up there for longer than a summer!

Slice of LifeThanks to Two Writing Teachers for creating a place for writers to share their work and hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

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