The last few days have been relatively calm, with half of the orchestra in Poland the other half in Kisumu. Because of that, I had Sunday and Monday off to do a bit of exploring on my own. In that time I discovered another mall, took a coffee farm tour with Avery, tried out Crossfit Kwetu, and treated myself to a fancy dinner. Not a bad couple of days!
But now back to the good stuff-- again, since many of the Ghetto Classics members (and the van that provides transportation) are gone, it's been a tricky couple of days. I was able to meet up with one of the tutors, Joseph, and journey to Dandora this afternoon for his Link Up class. Dandora is the other side of the dump site, and though it is not a slum, it is still a very low income neighborhood. When I was first trying to sort out how we would travel there, I asked if we could take a "matatu" (public transport). He said definitely not, and he only ever goes here by transportation provided by The Art of Music Foundation.
In fact, I learned that Dandora is one of the most dangerous places because there is a high percentage of the residents who are involved in cartels and gangs. This means there are also a lot of guns-- especially guns in the wrong hands. With that being said, we were on the school grounds at all times, so we never felt unsafe. I could also see a slight improvement from the schools in the slums (although it was very minimal.) I actually met the head of the school and we are going to meet again on Thursday so he can share more about the school and it's mission with me. I am looking forward to that.
Despite the danger, the students were once again wonderful. These kids are passionate. You can really feel that in their excitement towards playing and learning. Something else that really struck me was the independence of these studens (and all of the students I have interacted with at every school, really.)
When we arrived, all the teacher had to say was "get ready," and that prompted the students to do the following: (**note these are young students, 10 years old and younger**)
Get the recorders from a different room and carry them to the class.
Get the music books from a different room and carry them to the class.
Set all of the desks and stands up.
Pass out the music books.
Carry the keyboard and set it up as well.
He then taught the class in it's entirety. I also had the opportunity to do some rhythm games, recorder playing, and singing. I brought the Kookaburra song out of retirement and taught them three verses of it! They loved it and were chanting, "More, more!" when it was just about time to finish. Finally, when the hour was up we left with all of the materials and supplies not yet put away. I asked him if the students would clean up and make sure they were put away, and he confidently said, "yes, they will take care of it." I was still a bit surprised that we would just leave with the room in a bit of chaos like that, and this time he said, "It's their recorders, not mine."
I thought this was really striking-- the amount of independence even the very young students have here. The teachers don't really do much in terms of set up. In every single school I have visited, the students do everything. It's something I think is really important in terms of building ownership for what they are doing. It's also something I can do a better job at in my own classroom. Besides the idea of building ownership, I think the children are more independent from a young age in general here, especially in the slums. I see children running on the streets by themselves all of the time. They have to walk to school, take care of their siblings, and many times their parents aren't around. Because of this they seem to be able to handle responsibilities that students back home might not be used to. This has been an incredibly eye opening observation for me during my time here.
Another thought that has crossed my mind during my time here is this question that I've received many times, "Is it safe?" or "Do you feel safe?" This is a question that is prompted by travel advisories and the media portraying Africa as this dangerous land where Americans should not go, and is unfortuantely quite false. We have honestly gone to the most dangerous places in Nairobi while we were here, and the only time I felt unsafe was when one of my Uber drivers got lost at night and started asking me for directions (and of course I had no idea where we were!) Of course I haven't actually walked through the slums, (and I would never do that), but neither would the residents here!
Here's the thing-- common sense will keep you safe. Will someone snatch your phone if you are driving with your car window down and stuck in traffic? Yes. Will someone steal your wallet while you are on a matatu and not paying attention? Yes. Is there a chance you may get robbed if you are walking alone at night? Yes. BUT THIS COULD HAPPEN ANYWHERE. You wouldn't drive through a dangerous New York City neighborhood at night with the car doors unlocked. I mean-- I used to get freaked out driving around in New Haven by myself at night! You wouldn't ride a public bus with your bag wide open. You wouldn't walk through the streets of a dangerous Philadelphia neighborhood by yourself. Just because we are in Kenya, it's not any different.
When I tell my AirBNB host or my Uber drivers where I have been they all have the same reaction, "Oh my gosh! It's dangerous there!" Even the people of Kenya know where not to go-- the same way people in the United States know where not to go. So this whole notion that it's dangerous to travel here has really upset me. It upsets me because I had a preconceived idea that maybe it would be dangerous. It upsets me because I almost didn't travel here because I thought I wouldn't be safe. It upsets me because the United States media paints this picture of Africa that is completely false.
I have never met people more welcoming than the people of Kenya. Are there bad people here? Absolutely. But aren't there bad people anywhere you go in the world?
I am honored to have been selected as a 2018 Fund for Teachers Fellowship Recipient. Through this grant I will travel to Nairobi, Kenya to work the the El Sistema based music program, Ghetto Classics. This blog will share information and stories about my first journey to Africa.