Today makes day 7 in Africa and I'm not even sure where to start. The first few weeks in a new place are always a roller coaster of emotions and this week has been no different. On the one hand, this place is completely new and absurdly strange. But it doesn't really feel like it. It just feels like, of course it's this way, how could it be any other? And my presence here feels completely natural. How could I possibly be anywhwere else? I'm already having deja vu, which I have been told means you are in the right place in your life. Which is kind of an amazing feeling. I'm probably getting ahead of myself, though.
Let's start with my arrival. 38 hours is way too long to get anywhere. I thought the 14 hour flight to China was bad. That is nothing compared to getting to Africa. From Omaha, it took 4 flights, totalling 19 hours in flight, with another 19 hours in layovers to get to Mombasa. By the time I got in, all I wanted was a shower and a bed.
I spent the first night at a pretty nice hotel in Mombasa with most of the other volunteers for GVI's projects in and around Mombasa. There are a bunch working on my program and also a bunch doing conservation work with monkeys and marine life on an island south of Mombasa. Saturday morning we were picked up ridiculously early by the program coordinators and taken to our home. We live in a suburb of Mombasa, literally just around the corner from Bombolulu Villaged, the slum where our students live. It is bizarrely nestled in the midst of a fairly nice suburb. If you walk 5 minutes in any direction from the edge of the village (and it does feel more like a rural village than a city slum), you are suddenly surrounded by posh gated communities. It's very strage to have such a blatant contrast in wealth.
The project has 2 houses in Salama Estates, each with 4 dorm style bedrooms housing about 4 people each, along with a living room, dining room, kitchen and 2 bathrooms. We all take turns cleaning our own house and cooking for both houses on weeknights. I haven't had to cook yet, but they put us right to work cleaning. The majority of volunteers are from somewhere in the UK. We actually have a fair amount of Americans right now and a couple from other places in Europe. (When I come home with a bizarre British-Irish-Kenyan accent, you'll know why.)
The staff on my project here don't waste any time getting us into the swing of things. On Saturday and Sundy they took us into town to see what it's like, gave us a tour of one of the schools, fed us lots of local cuisine, introduced us to all of the forms of local transport and sent us to the beach nearby. Monday we had some training and visited our schools and by Tuesday we were teaching classes. With the turnover of volunteers here, there really isn't class time to waste.
The project works with 2 "schools" here in Mombasa. Technically they are not certified schools yet, though they are essentially run as such and certification is the end goal. The school where I am working is called Olive's Rehabilitation Centre. It is incredibly basic. The building is stones and cement with a corrugated tin roof. Each class has a chalkboard and several bench/desk combos that seat 3 or so kids. The classes are 30-50 kids each. The school employs local teachers for each class to teach Kiswahili, religion, social studies, etc., while the GVI volunteers are responsible for most of the English curriculum. Most volunteers are not certified teachers and work in groups of 2 or 3 to a class.
I am teaching Standard 6 on my own. The students are around 12-13 years old, I think. I'm still unclear about how the grade levels compare to American grades. I'm teaching English, reading, science, library and a creative arts class to 34 students. So far, I love my class. They are a pretty good bunch. They will definitely keep me on my toes but mostly they are mature enough to manage themselves. Hopefully, once we get things established, we will be able to have a good time. It's only been a couple days, but so far I feel really good about it. I'm actually excited to go to school.
Like I said, being here feels good. It's such a strange place but somehow being here doesn't seem srange at all. There are definitely a lot of things that I will have to get used to. Like living with 11 other people. (Say goodbye to privacy.) And I am quickly learning that getting anything done here takes 3 times as long as it does back home, with at least twice as much frustration. Not to mention all of the things that just don't work consistently the way I am used to them working. On the flip side, just being here has been an incredible experience so far. I think that teaching and working with these kids is going to more than compensate for the inconveniences of life here.