20 Things I’ve found in Kenyan Cassrooms but probably won’t in Canadian Ones

1. I’ve taught an entire PE lesson with a small baby in my arms. Did I have to? No, but I couldn’t leave her crying!

The chick named, Dude in our staffroom at Olives.

The chick named, Dude in our staffroom at Olives.

2. While prepping my lessons on the staff room floor, a little chick (I’ve ironically named, ‘Dude’) decided to hop into my lap, later to peck my arm while I was writing.

3. Kids play with any means necessary and without complaint. No football? Hakuna Matata! A dirt filled water bottle works just the same.

A tire 'Hoola Hoop' can provide lots of fun!

A tire ‘Hoola Hoop’ can provide lots of fun!

4. There’s a huge amount of pride in how well and how big you can shake your hips and bum during school performances. Especially with the teachers!

5. Local punishment for fighting in class: knees on the concrete, hands on your head while being scolded. You must hold that position for close to an hour. It is uncomfortably reminiscent of a firing squad.

6. At the slight sight of rain all of my students would run for cover and look at you bewildered as you shout “Oh come on, it’s only a bit of rain!” – they would never survive Vancouver weather

7. Children, even the little kindergartners, will fall flat on their face on the rough coral just to dust themselves off, smile and continue running around.

Check out the assortment of footwear and jumpers for this PE lesson. We only had old tires and rope, but we made it work!

Check out the assortment of footwear and jumpers for this PE lesson. We only had old tires and rope, but we made it work!

8. PE classes see an assortment of footwear: flip flops, crocks, dress shoes, trainers, mismatched shoes or (mostly) bare feet. No ‘non marking soles’ required.

9. Your chalk duster isn’t what you’d expect. It can come in various forms: a stuffed animal (which, if  it has a hole in it, doubles as a chalk holder), pieces of scrap foam, scrap fabrics or even an old, broken bra!

10. A lizard was on the ground in a Standard 4 classroom which oddly caused the students to panic (they’re quite common) – in trying to save the little thing from being squashed I shooed the children away, just to have it climb up my leg. He stayed there until I went to the bush and coaxed him off.

The Nyota Kitten

The Nyota Kitten

11. We have a kitten that has decided to make one of our schools it’s new home. Kitten Class Monitor, Kelvin, has to escort her out when she comes into our classroom as she is a huge distraction.

12. Punishment for elaborate lies and schemes? Digging the rubbish pit in the peak of heat. This was reminiscent of ‘Holes‘ and when I called one of the students, ‘Stanley Yelnats,’ he just called me ‘Silly’.

13. Need your pencil sharpened? Don’t be alarmed when a Standard One pulls out a bare razor blade and sharpens it for you.

14. 30 degree heat and 90 percent humidity? You’ll still find students wearing their favourite thick wool jumpers for PE

On the way to the staffroom

On the way to the staffroom

15. “Oh Madam, we can help” As the students take your stack of textbooks out of your hands and onto their heads, walking you to the staffroom

16. If you drop anything in the classroom (which me, being as clumsy as I am, is all the time) you will hear a resounding “Pole” (po-lay) from the class (meaning sorry). But if someone sneezes and you say ‘Bless You’ that’s considered weird and not normal.

17. A child disappointingly became an entrepreneur when she took the free Hospital food rations and flipped them on the playground for a 30 shilling profit.

18. “Joyce stop chewing your eraser/stick/plastic bag” – on second thought you would find this in Canada too!

19. As I was writing this list on break at one of my schools, I was called by my Project Manager warning me that an explosion had gone off at a nearby popular junction, to be on alert and take care of volunteers while we awaited further confirmation. This can happen in Canadian classrooms but the sad reality of the fragility of security in Mombasa is evident.*

Playing a game with a ball  (dirt/rocks tied with fabric) - I'm evidently not very good at it!

Playing a game with a ball (dirt/rocks tied with fabric) – I’m evidently not very good at it!

20. I know it was a list of things you might find in one versus the other but I can’t resist highlighting how both countries have students that have pieces of my heart. Their willingness to learn and to grow together in school fills me with such hope for the future. Children here and there have changed and continue to change my life for the better.

*While the 19th note is alarming, I must explain that while the event was still sad, it ended up being less severe than previously expected: it turned out to be a robbery gone wrong with 2 deaths and a car accident. Unfortunately, you would easily find this in Canada too. I know that Kenya is not the safest place to be – with the recent attacks and riots – but it is still a place I happily and proudly call home for reasons that outweigh these other intimidating forces.


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