Holeyness is Unholy
January 6, 2006, Friday, 9:45pm.
Kenyan women are amazing, and not just because they put up with Kenyan men.
Peninnah, the headmaster's neice, offered to help me wash my clothes today.
I guess she had a little gap in her busy schedule of washing, cooking,
cleaning, going to the market, fetching water, chopping firewood and
polishign shoes for twelve people, and took pity on my because I had been
sitting there scrubbing my socks for an hour. In twenty minutes she had
washed a stack of clothes that usually takes me four hours. And all the
stains were gone!
She starts her senior year of high school on Monday. If she does well on her
KCSE, a standardized exam that determines whether seniors will qualify to go
on to university, she wants to study to be a doctor. I can't imagine any of
the girls at my school stuck on their husband's farm taking care of seven
kids and a drunk. They are all so bright, so ambitious and talented, but
sometimes when I look at them I wonder how many of them will end up getting
pregnant, getting and STD, or just getting married after graduation because
their test scores weren't high enough for them to continue their education.
The KCSE is the main determinant of whether a high school graduate can go on
to college or university. As students get more competitive, and more
students score at or above the cutoff (it used to be a B+, now I think it's
an A-) the universitities keep raising their minimum requirements. I keep
wondering why the government, or someone int he private sector, doesn't just
open more universities. The demand is there. Kenya is full of smart,
educated students. As more of them graduate with high test scores, more of
them start applying to universities outside Kenya. This country will soon
become brain drain city.
And student loans in Kenya are a joke. The government loans out money that
covers only a fraction of the cost of university. The public universities
get the top students because these institutions are the cheapest and best
funded. The lucky few who can afford private universities will attend, but
private universities are also considered second tier. Students who don't
qualify for university can attend a college, or enroll in a diploma or
certificate program (in decreasing order of academic rigor). After all this
time and expense, most students can't find a decent job, because the
unemployment rate in Kenya is, uh, I don't know...60 percent? Seventy
percent? Eighty percent? Depends who you ask.
Once again the government could create tons of opportunities for its
citizens in the form of student loans and more universities, which would
employ more people and create a more educated masses. Why don't they? Oh
yeah, corruption. Only primary education is free in Kenya. A huge number of
students drop out of school after the eighth grade because they just don't
have money to attend high school. Or girls who want to continue their
education prostitute themselves so they can pay for school fees.
I was telling someone in my village that right now while his kids are still
young is a good time to start planning ways to generate income and start
saving for high school fees. He just looked at me like I was crazy. Kenyans
barely think as far as next week, much less next year or next decade. I
guess when putting ugali on the table is a daily challenge, you're not
thinking much about the long term. It makes for frustrating work here,
because everyone is like, "Give me money now," and can't understand why
you're wasting their time talking about planning and skills and
I noticed the other day that a Kenyan friend had a huge hole in the crotch
of his pants, so I pointed it out to him. "You might want to ment that," I
"Thanks for telling me," he said. "A Kenyan woman would never tell a man
that kind of thing. She would have just looked at the hole in my pants, and
then gone to tell all the other women in the village so they could laugh
Whereas an American woman would tell you about the hole in your pants, then
go and tell all her friends and family about it by writing about it on a