After breakfast and lunch, on their way back to the classroom blocks, the girls walk past a huge island of vegetation. Orange, purple and coral colored bougainvilleas adorn an enormous section of cacti. Whether it is one or 20 is hard to know since they have been growing together for years. About 15 feet above the ground beautiful white flowers about the size of a child’s hand begin to dot the stovepipe-shaped cactus stalks.
After ringing the bell that releases the students from 6th period, I met up with several of the teachers to discuss the morning’s lessons. Usually our students rush to the dining hall in an attempt to commandeer one of the front spots in the lunch line. One student was not in a rush.
Benedictor is a young lady who grew up in the Nairobi slum of Kibera. She has a quick sense of humor and innate leadership skills. On this day, she had rooted herself right in the middle of our route to the dining hall. Timing is everything and Benedictor timed her question well, waiting just a little longer than most of the semi-nervous students would have, staring up at the cactus, she asked her query.
“Where did the flowers go? They were there this morning, but now they have gone. Why?” She contorted her face into a questioning knot after releasing that last ‘why.’
Teachers often speak of turning the students into life long learners, which is basically “education speak” for curious. Growing up in the clutch of humanity that is the slum of Kibera, Benny hadn’t had the opportunity to be curious about surrounding plants or animals. But now, she was curious.
Our resident biology teacher and plant expert, Mr. Charles nearly broke into a run to cover the remaining five feet between him and our student. “What a wonderful question!”
He proceeded to explain to Benedictor that in the early part of the day, the flowers open allowing insects the chance to eat and thusly pollinate the cactus and surrounding cacti. However, in very dry areas as the day grows hotter, the flowers close so that they do not lose extra moisture.
The answer sunk in and seemed to make sense to the budding naturalist, who then turned to me, smiled and said, “Mr. D, your shoe is not tied.”
Though classes have only been going for a week, there are some girls at Daraja who are WELL on their way to being life long learners.