Mumbuni Boys School is a Provincial Boarding School and one of the top secondary schools in the Eastern Province of Kenya. We were therefore thrilled to learn that one our members at Light and Power, Geofrey, had been accepted to join. The only problem was that February 12, 2008 was the last possible day to report for admission. We had received the admission letter at 11 a.m. the same day and knew that the school would close before dark. Thus began an all day adventure of preparing forms, purchasing required books, linens, and materials, and traveling to Machakos (one of the areas largely unaffected by the post-election violence).
In Kenya, the number of public secondary schools is very limited. Nearly half of all primary school graduates are unable to attend high school because of a lack of space and a lack of fees. Therefore, most high schools in Kenya operate on a first come, first serve basis, and it can be quite challenging to find space in a good school.
Tim and I had been searching for boarding schools for about one month and knew that Geofrey needed to join a school as soon as possible. He had received other offers from less reputable schools, but Geofrey is very bright and we were holding out for the best. When Tim received the letter on the 12th, we immediately notified Geofrey and told him to prepare all his things, say goodbye to his family and friends, and get a quick haircut. Geofrey showed up with the clothes on his back and said he was ready to go. His hair was conspicuously long. Tim and I encouraged him to go back to Gatina slum, collect any belongings or books or borrowed clothes he could bring and make sure he got a haircut (Secondary School Headmasters are notorious for rejecting students with an unkempt appearance). Meanwhile, Tim and I rushed around in a borrowed car trying to find everything on Mumbuni Boys’ list of required items.
Our first stop was the metal works Jua Kali District of Nairobi’s Industrial Area. All boarding schools in Kenya require students to report with a large, lockable metal box for storing their clothes, personal items, and school supplies in the dorms. Tim and I headed for Jua Kali and worked our way through the City Centre, the bus depot, and snarling pedestrian and vehicle traffic to Nairobi’s East Side. The Industrial Area is characterized by huge piles of scrap metal, hundreds of open air workers, and stall after stall of vendors selling metal drums, boxes, and wheelbarrows. After finding a mound of dirt to park on, Tim and I were immediately surrounded by 20 metal box middle-men. All of them were vying for our business and trying to convince us why we should buy a metal box from their shop instead of one of their competitors. At one point a shoving match broke out between two of the middle-men, but eventually Tim worked his way to one particularly dusty stall and all but five of the middle-men disappeared. I stood to the side and tried to pretend I had no interest in buying anything while Tim negotiated for 30 minutes in Swahili and Sheng.
After purchasing the metal lock box, our next stop was the local Tusker Market and the City Hawkers. We had a limited budget for school supplies, so instead of purchasing everything at Tusker’s (a South African chain of small scale Wall-Marts) we decided to head for the sidewalk hawkers market. During the lead up to the elections in November, the Nairobi City Council decided to stop enforcing any laws relating to street vendors. For some reason, they thought this would endear them to the thousands of poor businessmen and women in the city and help them win more votes. The result is that now every sidewalk and street in the centre of Nairobi is overflowing with vendors offering everything from fresh fruit to tea kettles and pirated dvds. At certain times of the day it makes it nearly impossible to pass (even on foot) and each morning many of the streets are ankle deep in corn husks, mango peels, and other ungainly trash and rubbish. Tim and I searched around the hundreds of cardboard tables and displays laid out on the streets and were able to find a mathematical set, English dictionary, athletic shoes, socks, mirror, and other needed items for just a few dollars.
We rushed back to meet Geofrey. He had been able to collect a small bagful of belongings and school books but still couldn’t get a haircut (there was a power outage in Kawangware and the barbers had all closed). We still needed a signature from the Head Mistress at Geofrey’s Primary School before we could begin the journey to Machakos. It was already 3 p.m. When we arrived at Kileleshwa Primary School, the Head Mistress was holding a staff meeting in her office, the secretary asked us to have a seat and wait until she was finished. But this was no time for dilly-dallying. Geofrey and I burst through the door, interrupted the meeting, and pleaded with the Head Mistress to sign a form acknowledging the Geofrey had indeed been a student in their school. Considering the circumstances, she was actually quite cordial and proud of her former student. She signed the form, wished us well, and we sprinted out of her office and back to the car. It was 4 p.m. and we were just getting on the road to Machakos. We didn’t have directions to the school, and Tim was driving a borrowed car that was low on petrol.
The roads were bad. Very bad. Under ideal conditions, the journey from Nairobi to Machakos can be done in around 1 hour. It took us two and half. The rocky, bumpy, dusty roads lacked any markers or signs and at one point seemed to diverge in all directions. Tim stopped the car and made a friend on the side of the road who happened to live right next to Mumbuni Boy’s School. He piled into the car with us and we set off again. . .After 20 more minutes of driving, we were stuck. The 4-door Toyota couldn’t overcome a particularly pothole ridden stretch and was stuck trying to ascend a three foot mound of dust. We all got out and pushed while a passenger matatu also struggled nearby. I slipped and was covered in dust, but thankfully the car lurched forward. Within forty minutes we were in Machakos. Our side of the road friend took us to a kinyozi (barber), and we waited while Geofrey had his head shaved.
We then rushed to Mumbuni Boys School, just five minutes way. We arrived to find the gate closed and school business finished for the day. . .Thankfully, the guard decided to let us in anyway, and the deputy principal agreed to return to the school from his nearby home. The bursar (treasurer) also came back to the school to help us. We filled out more forms and paid the school fees in cash. The Deputy Principal assured us, “we’re glad you came, if you hadn’t arrived today it would have been impossible for him to join.” It was dark by this time, but we could see that the school had a very nice compound. Geofrey was a bit nervous, but eager to begin his studies in one of the best schools in Eastern Province, his new home.
Tim and I arrived back in Nairobi at 9 p.m. with a dented rim and punctured tire. We thank God because despite the challenges, everything came together and worked out for good. Please pray for Geofrey as he adjusts to life at Mumbuni Boys School.