I wrapped up the previous blog entry, which briefly described our search for the Kenyan girls who best fit the Daraja mold by saying; “tomorrow we will head north to Isiolo and look for more potential students.” We did head north, we did look for more potential students and speaking only for myself, my soul is now different.
Peter Wathitu, Andy Harley, Jenni and I left for Isiolo early in the morning. Isiolo literally is the town that is known as the gateway to the region of Kenya called the “Northern Frontier.” Much like the frontier of the American Old West there are cattle raids, land disputes, skirmishes over water rights and huge herds of buffalo. Unlike the American Old West there are camel caravans and leopards, the buffalo are if the tough, African variety and the warriors aren’t from the Sioux but the Samburu tribe. (Please note that the portions of the Northern Frontier that are this rugged are FAR from the Daraja Academy campus, so we do not experience its drama. However, some of the girls we intend to serve reside there and do.)
To the average passer through, Isiolo is an extremely dry town, when compared to the other towns in Northern Kenya; it is a lush Garden of Eden. There are cities in the northern part of the country that receive less than 10 inches of rain per year. One of these received a total of .5 inches during the 3-year span of La Nina (just after El Nino.),
We drove past the town mosque just as mid day prayers commenced, which was an amazing site. It was Friday, the Muslim holy day and the mosque and adjoining courtyards were so full that worshipers actually knelt on the walls of the courtyard praying as the imam read from the Koran.
Our meeting with the students was to be held at one of their former teacher’s homes, which was removed from the typical tourist thoroughfare. After creeping over scarred streets for about 10 minutes we spotted their former teacher, Isene. At one point or another, she’d taught all of the students we were to meet, over the past 10 years. Even in the 90-degree (+) heat she was regal looking. She wore rows of tiny, tingling, silver beads around her wrists and ankles and wore a traditionally colorful silk head covering.
Isene lead us up three flights of stairs, through inner courtyards to her apartment, which was on the top floor of the building. The stifling heat, flocks of starlings and sounds of the mosque in the distance made it easy to imagine the apartment belonging to Damascus 500 years ago or to Babylon much, much earlier. The breeze was cooler on the top level and it blew through the dim living room, lightly waving the linen curtains.
We spoke to Isene about each of the girls for 20 minutes, learning about their home lives. It turned out that none of the girl’s families would have been able to send them on to secondary school. In fact, she told us that the teachers used to pool their money to buy bread for two of them. Most of the tribes of the Northern Frontier marry their daughters off early and Isene guessed that would probably be the fate of the young ladies we were about to interview. Frankly, learning this made me a little bit nervous. I was unsure if knowing this information might cloud my judgment when it came to deciding whether to admit them or not?
My worries were for naught. The three interviews were absolutely incredible! All four of us were completely blown away by how composed these young ladies were. Sitting before a panel of foreigners they’d never met who essentially held the fate of their education in their grasp, hardly seemed to faze them. They all listened thoughtfully to each question and maintained eye contact throughout their responses.
Though the girls were similar in their poise and dress (all three wore dark, long sk