The notice to parents said to arrive at 8:30 AM. So, I showed up at 9:30 and the festivities began promptly at 10:00. (I'm getting better at this.) The school had erected and decorated some tents, placed out plastic chairs and offered tea and mandazi (doughnuts) to the waiting parents.
|The expectant parents, like parents around the world, checking their smartphones while waiting|
|See if you can spot Caleb.|
Caleb's class recited 3 poems, 2 in Kiswahili and the third in English. My Kiswahli is not terrific, but even native speakers struggled to get the gist with 20-odd three year olds stammering memorized sounds accompanied with jerky pantomimed gestures. The first was something about a tea pot, and the second about growing up, ended with a sad wisdom beyond the tellers' years about getting older: "mateso imeanza" (the struggles begin), which got a quite a few laughs from the audience.
But the English poem was the most surreal. The subject: Money. Our little darlings regaled us with a tale about how money is ... well... generally good (buys you an education), but can ultimately corrupt you, shout-citing "people DIE over it" while hand motioning death with their little faces leaned against clasped hands.
(Yes, they scream "What the Devil!" at the end. But Caleb remains true to his Jewish roots with his hand gestures.)
The older classes had equally bizarre poetry choices; the first about child labor (with the refrain "For I. Am only. A child.) imploring their parents (middle class Kenyans who are paying for a private school, mind you) not to force them to sell mangoes in the market or carry heavy loads. The second was cheerful little ditty about HIV/AIDS ("AIDS, Where have you come from? I am like a ball being kicked from all sides..."). The only thing I can figure is that some NGO is claiming credit to their donors each time school children recite their poetry no matter the relevance or audience. Their third poem was about the sky being blue. Thank goodness. I had been bracing myself for a safe sex talk.
|"For I... Am Only... A Child" (in case you heard otherwise)|
|Just when you thought it couldn't get any cuter - tiny graduation gowns and hats|
|And.... diplomas? Not sure.|
"Mama Caleb," announced the microphoned Master of Ceremonies, "Would you please come up and help us hand out the gifts."
Heck yes! I've been here long enough to know that the lone mzungu at a ceremony will at some point be appointed some such honor. So, I rose from my seat and started happily handing out the individualized gifts and shaking little hands like an American dignitary.
But then I heard some laughter slowly build from the audience. Feeling self-conscious, I adjusted my skirt, only to realized the subject of their laughter was not the awkward impromptu dignitary, but the small White boy slowly creeping over to his mother from the other side of the field, making a tenuous lone walk right in front of an amused audience. They found it cute - the little mzungu boy pulled out of his seat by the presence of his mother. But they got it wrong; it was really the presence of the shiny presents that ripped him from his seat. Argh. Parenting fail. I screamed "Sit down Caleb!!" with my eyebrows.
Wanting to stave off a scene, the school administrators, simply indulged him, found his present and he skipped off happily. But it was a short sighted strategy because once the other 3 year olds got wind that there were PRESENTS, they got out of their tiny chairs and stormed the present table.
Chaos ensued. Teachers were pulled up to help search through the well organized pile and quickly dole out individual presents to the mob of short people. I was told to sit down.
|This doesn't quite capture the scene. Just picture a mob of small children beyond the frame, frustrated administrators and an audience of parents in hysterics.|
|The triumphant little gift thieves.|
Now, one of the things you might not understand about this part of the world is the ubiquity of amateur fashion shows. Every graduation ceremony I've been to, even in more rural areas, has had one. I went to a modern dance performance, and it too started with a fashion show. Even the Liberian refugee camp I worked in held fashion shows and beauty contests. Children at the tender age of three already know how to "walk the catwalk," one hand on swaying hips, jauntily skipping forward to pose and "smile with their eyes" to a nonexistent camera at of their walk. Caleb schoolmates were no exception. Caleb, taking a cue from his friends, started his walk strong, skipping along to the music, but then saw me and took off running full steam (are you sensing a theme here?). Again, the subject of much amusement for our audience, but SO not getting to Milan Fashion Week with that kind of behavior.
But the one thing that is was not different - that is universal across the globe - was the pride and joy the parents felt watching their tiny progeny perform, strut, celebrate their accomplishments and assert themselves in their own unique and unabashed way. Heart strings were universally pulled. People smiled easily at the nascent displays of individuality and were quick to snap pictures and hug their children.I was the only mzungu, but despite the tremendous appearances and events to the contrary, I didn't really feel separate. I felt more a part of a group of parents sharing a common joy than apart as a foreigner.
|I captured the moment capturing moment.|