As I made my way to the Polytechnic school, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the sea of green uniforms and kids shouting as I walked past the social hall. Peering in I realized the entire primary school was packed into the social hall along with the teachers. Curiosity getting the better of me, I made my way to the front of the hall where I saw members of the sustainability staff with a wheelbarrow of mangos and one case of soda. I couldn’t help but liken this situation to the story of Jesus sharing three loaves and two fish among the crowds that came to hear him preach.
I soon realized today was fruit distribution day for the children. Why did the sustainability department plan this? Well, we’re on to phase four of our Trees for Children project. This project coordinates the planting of fifty acres of melia trees every year. Melia trees are indigenous to the arid climate of eastern Kenya and is a valuable hardwood tree used for timber. With these trees Nyumbani hopes to be self-sustainable in the future (possibly by the year 2018, when the first harvest of melia trees is ready). With phase four of planting, the sustainability department would like to integrate fruit trees into its farms to intercrop with the melia. This way, we don’t hedge all our bets on the melia trees, we don’t put as much strain on the nutrients in the soil that the melia trees require and we have a food source for the village.
The plan was to teach the kids about fruits and the Trees for Children project, distribute the mangos then collect the seeds to be propagated in the tree nursery. Sounds pretty easy in theory. Now throw in the fact that you have one room filled with four hundred hyper-active kids ranging from ages 4 to 12 and it’s a hot afternoon in the dry season aaand you have no microphone so the kids can’t hear you in the back of the room. Bewildering isn’t it? That’s exactly how I felt when my boss asked me on the spur of the moment to speak about fruits to the kids. Not wanting to cop out even though I knew that more than half these kids don’t understand a thing I’m saying when I speak (they grow up speaking the local kamba language and learn Swahili and English in school) I went to the front of the room.
“Jambo, habari yako?” (Hello, How are you?) I asked as loudly as possible.
“NAH-ZOO-REE SAH-NAH!” (We are fine) Was shouted back to me in the long, drawn out syllable-by-syllable way a group of children usually respond in.
“How many of you helped in the farms to plant trees?” I asked. They were given a schedule last month to spend some time over the holiday helping plant trees during the rains.
I couldn’t help but laugh. At least they were honest that they skipped out on their duties.
“Do you know why we plant trees?” I asked.
An exuberant “No!” was shouted back to me. Surprised that they’ve understood me so far I’m also not surprised that they have no idea why they need to plant trees. After giving them the explanation as to why we plant trees, the benefits environmentally and financially, and how good fruits are for you, I realize half way through that their eyes have shifted from the muzungu (myself) at the front of the hall to the wheelbarrow full of mangos next to me. Do I blame them? Not really, those mangos smelled delicious!
We finally get to the distribution segment of the ceremony and I take a step back from the front as I ready myself for the stampede that’s about to happen. Fortunately the fear of punishment from the teachers is enough to hold the masses at bay. The kids lined up in a fairly straight line and each got one mango (they were,to my surprise, enough to go around). As they sat outside gorging themselves with the mangos I stood at the side door to the front of the hall and watched their entertaining expressions.
Slowly a crowd of nursery school kids started to form around the door, watching to see if there were any seconds being distributed. Next thing I know, there’s a mob of kids trying to move towards the wheelbarrow of mangos and I’m being swept up around the knees by messy, mango covered 5 year olds. Ever been in a mob of munchkins? It’s totally normal from the head down, then you reach the knees and it’s just chaos. While trying to reach for the doorframe to maintain my balance I was rescued by one of the staff members who was able to stop the wave of children. Hearing crying we parted the crowd to reveal a little boy who had fallen on the ground when the stampede backed up. Tears in his eyes and dazed as ever, he clutched his mango seed protectively. After getting him cleaned up and trying to cheer him up with a pack of biscuits we sent him, still a bit dazed, on his way back to his friends. I’m probably not meant to have kids because I totally chuckled to myself as I saw him walking in a very crooked line back to his friends, still clutching his mango seed.
So that’s just a glimpse of the many random things I end up doing in the village on a daily basis. Hopefully at our next fruit day I can grab a delicious mango for myself!