Yesterday, the homeschool co-op kids and I were discussing what a developing country means, what poverty looks like in the developing world, and all things Africa.
Our two month adventure to Kenya provided much mental fodder: Do I live fully and enjoy the simple things, like easily accessible food, clean, running water, and lights after dark?
In this new-to-me culture, I was able to see how homeschooling is a possibility for the privileged living in developed countries.
I had decided before we left Canada not to bring the kids’ studies on our two month trip, ten time zones away, because I knew that we had an education in the cross culture awaiting us.
It was an immersion in the language, the food, the social faux-pas and people’s stories. We had a guest speaker every time we talked to someone. The Kenyans introduced us to chapatis, chai tea, cabbage, and beans. They introduced us to shaking hands warmly with strangers and acknowledging every child. They introduced us to sharing, even when there was almost no food in the straw hut kitchen. They taught us to slow down, see that more is not more, and appreciate what we already have.
Our kids had a solid dose of what it was like to be different. They were white. Toddlers burst into tears seeing our washed-out skin. Walking past schoolyards, swaths of uniformed kids ran toward us and yelled “muzungu, muzungu” (white person, white person) and giggled ferociously, unaware that laugh transcends language. My kids didn’t enjoy being the object of their humour, but I would stop, let them greet us, let them touch my skin, and occasionally sing to them.
Our children were introduced to new skill sets. Only in Kenya, our children would spend a day with dad on daily rounds in pediatrics and the male medical ward. One day, they all took turns putting on adult scrubs and masks and headed to the operating room. Daddy could show them what he does for patients in the OR: intubations, IVs, and anaesthetics. Our kiddos watched their first surgeries up close and personal: a thyroidectomy, an exploratory laporatomy, and orthopedic repairs. The sprawling intestines weren’t a hit.
Our kids learned about road safety in a whole new way. The surroundings were hilly, presently green, and ripe for ankle sprains. The tan brown muck stained our clothes and shoes. But no matter what puddle we stepped through, or wild chickens we climbed over, the motorcycles on this continent demanded immediate attention: get off the road if you want to live.
The kids learned about food availability and scarcity. Most Kenyans can tell you what they ate during their childhood, not a broad array of possibilities as we North Americans could not document everything we ate in our childhood. Rather, the daily menu plan of a well-fed Kenyan: chai and bread for breakfast, beans and cabbage for lunch, and ugali (maize porridge), collard greens, and if you were lucky, sheep stew for dinner.
Even for those of us with means, the grocery store was still a rough three hour ride away. It was a treat to have a bag of carrots or apples. Though unaccustomed, and not so curious to make new friends with new foods, we all tried many new foods, because we were hungry. We learned to be more thankful for our food, even if it was beans, again.
In the moutain town of Kapsowar, Kenya, we watched uniformed primary kids walk an hour for their seven a.m. school start, five year old children piggyback their baby siblings, other kids gathering firewood and water for the entire day, instead of attending school or doing educational things. Learning to read and attend high school was a privilege, not a right for most children. It was an honour to don a crisp white shirt and plaid vest and skirt then head to school.
One afternoon, our four kids, aged three to eleven, and our house helper, Agnes, went on a field trip: we went to a school. We took a Toyota-sized taxi, along with four other strangers, to an even tinier village twenty minutes away. We then walked fifteen minutes, past woven maize silos, shambas (family farms), wandering cows and sheep, and children of all sizes.
We stopped at the only private school in the area, started three years ago by the chief’s wife. She had a vision to care for the littlest children of the village while mothers were at work. Quickly, the hundred fifty person school developed on the moutainside. Two squatting latrines were available to all; a four person brick outhouse was under construction, but money had run out. The principal eagerly welcomed us, without appointment, serving us Fanta sodas. He shared his hope for each of his schoolchildren: that they would perform well as their final pre-high school exam would determine their high school placement, which would then decide their college placement, which would finally determine their place in society.
I was saddened by the hierarchy, but if those were the only options for my children, I too would want my child in school, performing well on tests, not wandering the countryside searching for spare beans for today’s only meal.
But I’m not from a developing country, and I’m privileged to harness ingenuity and ambition, because they’re usually rewarded. I’d like to believe that my children, given some direction and discipline, will chart their own path in these too.