This morning I was greeted by our resident assistant, Naomi, and one of the centre girls at 7:30am on my front porch. They reminded me that today was a graduation ceremony at the vocational training program a few of our girls attend. All the girls had been up since 5am getting ready and they wanted a ride and I remembered I’d agreed to attend. After 20 min or so we loaded into the centre van and headed out. I got a call just when we were pulling out, my social worker asking for a ride. No problem, we swing by, pick her up, and head over to Golden Top, it’s a 5 minute trip. As I’m pulling in Naomi asks where I’m going and tells me that the ceremony is being held elsewhere so we proceed to the new destination which is 20 minutes away. We’ll call this surprise # 1 of the day.
Now I’ve decided already that I don’t want to stay any longer than necessary and I tell Karen (my friend and the director of the Golden Top rehabilitation program) this right when I arrive. She puts up a big fight, insisting that I stay. I tell her I have people to meet with at Karibu Centre and we agree that I’ll come back once the ceremony actually starts. She accepts this compromise and says she flash me when they’re ready (no, not flash as in lift up her shirt, but flashing is when they call and hang up really quick so they don’t get charged phone credits for the call). Side note, this is also what pretty much everyone does here and you are expected to call back on your dime. Not fair, just the way it is.
So I’m relieved, I head back to the centre and wait for my flash. Kenyan events can take a LONG time so I was glad I was shortening the time I know I’d spend at this particular event. At 10:20 I get a call from my social worker saying I need to come immediately, the ceremony has begun and they are waiting for me. I beg her, can she please just represent the centre on my behalf and she explains: That’s not possible, You are giving the graduation speech. surprise #2. Wow, really, I wish I knew that ahead of time. So, I head over and am greeted by excited, nervous folks who rush me into a crammed room with about 120 people inside and another 100 or so outside. I am seated at the very front, on the stage, facing the crowd. There’s a program in front of me and what do you know, there’s my name printed right there, I’m speaker 5 ot of 11 (5 of which showed up btw). It’s about 10:45 and I realize I am in for a very long ceremony. Back home graduation ceremonies really bore me, now multiply that times 5, at least.
So, the MC announces me, I give a speech to the graduating class, families, and other "distinguished" guests which seemed to go over fine, especially for making it all up as I went along. Then I sit down and survive two more hours of poems, songs, and Kenyan ceremony madness. Finally we get to passing out the diplomas to the 75 graduating students and along comes surprise #3. I get to hand them out, shake hand, snap a picture with the students…. you know, like the college president usually does. Wow, awkward is all I can say about that.
Then after the ceremony ends I spend an hour outside trying to round up my people and get the heck out of there, it’s 2pm by now. I take pictures with about 50 people I’ve never met who just came up out of the blue. I did make some great connections with more local program directors and leaders and when I get in the centre van to leave I notice that the 7 people I came with has multiplied into 12. Now this doesn’t even surprise me anymore because people here are extreemely good at filling up your car when you’re not looking and getting you to give them rides places. No problem, as long as it’s somewhat on the way I’m usually OK with it, the van is a real luxury here and I figure it’s good program promotion being seen all around town with the centre vehicle.
So I go to drop the extra riders off at their home and surprise #4, I’m told they have prepared lunch and a party for me. This time I drew the line. I really had some stuff to do at the office and I respectfully, but firmly declined, promising to come another time. It was almost 3pm by now and I was tired, hungry, and just plain done. Well, not to waste the opportunity, all my staff and the girls asked if they could go in and celebrate so I unloaded that van and headed home alone.
Right when I got back, I ate a big bowl of Githeri and then got word that there was some serious momma drama in Umoja slum. I headed right over and spent the next two hours talking to women, children, and the village elders trying to solve some silly problems that were impacting the children who come to our learning centre. Made some progress, but mostly just uncovered more problems that I’ll have to solve another day.
Not exactly how I envisioned the day playing out, but I suppose I did make some good connections and gave Karibu centre some good publicity in the community. For the first time in my life I think I’m getting more excitement than I would like. I’d take a boring, predictable day or two about now. Ian