I hear Kylie Kylie echoing in the roads. The kids in my class recognize me! Probably because I told lots of stories in class this morning. All eyes 18 pairs of eyes rested on me as I stood in front of the long rectangular classroom with sunlight streaming in the three windows on the right-hand side. My bui bui matched that of 6 of the girls seated at rickety old wooden desks in front of me. Quick. Think on my feet I thought as they asked me to tell stories. I felt frozen. Then, snow came to my mind. I told a tale of skiing. I explained teaching a friend how to ski. I acted it out: bending at my hips to show my friend falling over when attempting to ski down the mountain. Using chalk and the blackboard to show the elevation of the mountain. I was getting more confident as they laughed. Laughter unites. After the story, however, the teacher did not come back. I was left alone. To teach. So I picked up one of their English books and did a reading comprehension lesson with them. I chose students to read the story outloud. Incorporated some acting into it. Made up questions about th story that I had them answer. It went pretty well. They were patient with me.
PE time came quickly. This meant they go outside to play in the ‘field’ covered in trash, contained by a cement wall, smelling of donkey poop with the donkey sanctuary right next door. On the whole, an unpleasant place from my perspective. But, my perspective really doesn’t matter: the bubbly nature of Fuad’s cheeks, Muhammad’s squeeling voice, Joy’s elevated eyebrows showed their genuine contentment. After doing a few exercises with the teacher – banana jumps, frog leaps, and dancing fingers – I was, once again, left with the students. So, we played wonderball. And telephone. The heat, intense as ever, didn’t cease. Under my bui bui and hijab sweat covered my body. Starting to trip at the corners of my eyes. I suppose you’ve gotta accept the sweat in return for the fulfillment I get out of wearing the outfit. The kids love it, the women love it. Finally, PE came to and end. I sat with the teachers, a sack of red flavored ice and talked about the Swahili language and their teaching profession. The teachers were all women. This is interesting for my study of Muslim women. These women are dedicated to teaching and, they are young. Women have not always been the majority amongst the teacher population in Lamu, they explain. But as these women become teachers they are gaining a new confidence which is allowing them to be more comfortable in the public sphere of Lamu: the waterfront streets. It is these streets where these women walk to get to work because the school is located on the waterfront. And, while the women are not all Muslim they are mostly Muslim and these women proudly wear their bui buis.
I am sad that my work in the school was short lived. The children are now on their month-long break. But it was a week well worth my time. And I am new here so the hustle bustle of Lamu Town’s donkeys, grilled corn street vendors, and aggressive store owners can be overwhelming. Thus, the joy that comes from a child stopping me in these streets just to say hello is invaluable. A precious moment.