The Scale of the Difference

Kitui, Kenya

Thing are on the cusp of settling in the village. I have met with the chaplain twice. He seems excited that I am here, and we have a rough outline of what I will be doing. I will be introduced to the community at Mass tomorrow morning, and from there, I will start making home visits in the evening talking and praying with the residents. It has not yet begun in earnest, and there are still some logistical matters to attend to (such as translation). However, for two days work, it is not a bad start. The most important thing is that the chaplain seems excited about my presence and seems to trust me. On the life outside work front, I currently spend a lot of time resting. Since my work has not yet started for real, I am able to spend a fair amount of time recovering. I have watched through the beginning of season 5 of Mad Men, read Top Gear Magazine, and taken naps (when I am not being chased out of my room by wasps). I hope to have pictures up on my Flicker page soon (link to the right of the post). However, I have lost the cable that connects my camera to my computer, and I cannot just nip down to the store to by another one. Hopefully, someone else around here will have one, or I will have to head into Kitui next weekend to try and track one down there. Tech failure has been a general theme of these first few days in the village. My solar battery does not charge enough during the day and has trouble charging my laptop if my laptop is on. The solar batteries in the Guest House can charge my laptop, but only if no one else is trying to charge something. This is definitely the Kenyan version of “first world problems,” but anyone who knows me well enough also knows that this is quietly driving me insane.

The idea of first world problems has also come up in my rambling conversations with the chaplain. In order to go to high school in Kenya, each student must pay a school fee. There is no such thing as a free high school education in Kenya. The chaplain lives on the small income that his poor parish is able to provide for him. A young woman came to him needing help with school fees, and he agreed to help her. It has taken her until the age of 26 to reach the equivalent to a junior because she has not always been able to raise the school fees. These fees are actually a huge barrier to students, particular female students, who are often viewed as not worth the expenditure. The chaplain has been struggling to support the girl who came to him because of his limited means. The way that I tell this story, it sound similar to the story that many American families come through when it comes to college tuition. There is one stark difference. The schools fees are around 200,000 Kenyan Shillings per year, which sounds like a lot, but is in fact, about $250. This is half an iPad, 1-3 fancy meals out, or about what I will spend on the next iPhone when it gets released. For that amount of money, a Kenyan student can go to high school for a year. Even to me, a grad student living on a teacher’s salary, it seems like a nominal fee, but here, it can be the reason that many students will not complete high school. This Sunday, we will be holding a community collection to try and help a student remain in high school. The chaplain is uncertain whether we will be able to raise enough since the community is poor. When I was travelling for Worship Team at William and Mary, even the smallest Methodist Church would be able to give us $250 from the offering. This more than anything has shown me a stark difference between the places. For $1,000 over four years, a future could be altered.

I will get off my soapbox now and sign off. It is a quiet Saturday here, and my main task for the rest of the evening is to try to find a way to hook my camera up to my computer.  Pray to God, light a candle to the patron saint of lost things, or something, but here is hoping that I find one.

Mungu Akubariki,