Of Ice Cream & Elephants: Intern Post by Ben Hilton
It’s been a month since I returned from Kenya. I’m in Wal-Mart, standing in the ice cream aisle disappointed by the limited selection of Blue Bell ice cream—more specifically by the lack of Moo-llennium Crunch. For those of you not in-the-know, Blue Bell is an ice cream company based in Texas and sold primarily in the South. Last year, following the discovery of Listeria in some of its ice cream, Blue Bell pulled all of its ice cream off the shelves. Since then, Blue Bell has begun reintroducing ice cream. Slowly. And just the basics—chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, etc.—you know, kids’ birthday stuff. For some reason this makes me think about Kenya, about how I am here and they are there, about how I am troubled by ice cream choices on a Thursday night and they are troubled by… I don’t really know what word to insert here. Elephants?
During my time in Kenya, I spent several weeks teaching in the new all-girls high school in Taru. At my first meeting with the headmaster of the school, I suggested that in addition to teaching I could also work with the students during their evening study hours. The headmaster told me that while she appreciated my willingness to help the students, she did not think it was a good idea because she did not think it was safe for me to be walking home after dark because of the elephants. She explained that because of the drought, the elephants have been coming closer to the villages in search of water. The headmaster said that several elephants had been sighted down the road from the school on the night before we arrived. While the prospect of seeing an elephant in the wild seemed very exciting to me, it was definitely not good news for the school.
Roughly two years ago the Kenyan government decided to start segregating high schools based on gender. Without getting into a same-sex-versus-mixed-sex debate about education, what this has meant for young girls in Kenya is that instead of being able to attend the better-funded, established high schools, girls are being placed into new startup schools like Taru Girls, while the boys get to remain in the formerly mixed high schools. Unfortunately, newer is not always better. At Taru Girls for example, the school consists of a four-classroom block and a single dormitory. Both of which are overcrowded. One of the classrooms has had to be converted into a makeshift administrative office for the headmaster and teachers and another classroom is currently undergoing repairs. The dorm is simply bursting at the seams. There is no library, chemistry lab, or computer lab, and no fence to keep out elephants and other dangers—all things left behind at what is now Taru Boys.
Still, there is a resilience here, born somewhere deep. It’s in the teachers and in the students, these girls. They are special and breathtaking in the way they somehow manage to flourish. They exist beautifully at odds with their surroundings, like antelope in a junkyard, to borrow someone else’s phrase. I don’t know if I have that kind of resilience. I am, at times, easily beset. Look at that line! I guess we’re not eating at Chipotle. This item is backordered? Cancel. The 7:20 showing is sold out? Never mind, I’ll just wait until it comes out on video, and by video I mean Netflix. No Moo-llennium Crunch? Why bother eating ice cream at all, I say. I’m being facetious of course. Well, sort of. It’s just that you have to see these young girls, sitting in a dusty classroom raising their hands and asking me a question about finding the area of the segments formed by two intersecting circles, doing their polite best to stump me, and often succeeding—forcing me to go home and spend all night thinking about their question. They make me nervous in this way. And just for the record, I’m pretty good at math. I’m not exactly a savant, but I have a science degree that required two semesters of calculus and two semesters of physics and my job requires to me to do basic trigonometry on an almost daily basis, so I’m better than average. Maybe. Probably.
It’s been a month since I left Kenya. And I can’t stop thinking about those kids. Sometimes I even try to avoid it. I try to avoid it because they are there and I am here, standing in a clean, brightly-lit and wonderfully air-conditioned Wal-Mart. To make matters worse, waiting for me just outside is a warm breeze coming in from the Gulf of Mexico—this Wal-Mart is beachfront, people. It is, in a word, idyllic. There is something fundamentally unfair about this that nags at me, about the fact that neither of us chose to be in these places. Not really. And I don’t know how to feel about that. I don’t really even know what it means. What I think it means is that organizations like Kenya Keys are important. They remind us to look up from the busyness of our lives, from the monotony, and even at times from the happiness. They remind us not only to be grateful for what we’ve been given but also to share it with someone else. Share it with your family, with your neighbor, with a student in Kenya. Share your education, share your money, share your happiness, share your time. In this way, Kenya Keys helps us to better our own lives by reminding us to always strive to better the lives of those around us.