I’d brought a bunch of art supplies from home to donate and was excited that I’d found a place to use them. (Public schools in Kenya don’t typically have art classes.) I almost took a few things with me to the school but decided at the last minute to wait until I’d seen what supplies they already had and how many kids there were.
In true Kenyan fashion, right as I was about to leave the office to arrive slightly early for the 3:00 pm class, Dorcas walked in and told me the class was moved to 3:30 pm. I thought that was strange since I’d first found out about the class when I saw it blocked off on a hand-written, but very permanent-looking, schedule on the wall of the head teacher’s office. I was slightly skeptical and worried that I would arrive just as it was ending but decided to just go with it.
I walked into the classroom expecting to see some art supplies sitting out on the tables in front of eager students. The room was empty save for the teacher who greeted us. I asked a few times if the class had already ended before she understood what I was asking and replied that it was about to start. She grabbed a couple of chairs and began walking them outside. That should have been my first clue that things weren’t what I was expecting them to be…I just figured we’d be doing some crafts outside.
Before we stepped out of the classroom, Dorcas turned to me and said, “What are you most interested in doing with the students?”
“Help with the art classes.” I thought that much was obvious. Wasn’t that why I was there and what we’d been talking about for weeks?
“But what aspect of art?”
Starting to feel the usual disconnect, “Making crafts, painting.”
Then something I was completely unprepared for…
“You know, art means outdoor activities.”
Say what? Since when? “What? Then why is it called art?”
“I don’t know, that’s just what it’s called.”
Outside the students were doing calisthenics led by one of the kids. Jumping jacks and lunges aren’t exactly what I envision when I think of art. A group of 12 teachers sat in clumps of chairs watching the kids play. One teacher approached me and asked what activities I’d prepared.
I tried to explain that there was a misunderstanding and I was there to help out at an “arts and crafts or painting class” I carefully said.
She looked at me with a wholly confused look on her face, “We were told you were coming to help with outdoor games and activities.”
“I’m sorry, there was a misunderstanding. I was hoping to help teach crafts, but if that isn’t an option, I’m happy to come and play outdoor games with the students once a week.”
She walked off to talk to the other teachers behind me in Kiswahili. A long conversation ensued which I’d assume started with, “She wants to do what?!”
I was asked twice whether I wanted to run indoor or outdoor activities and when I had confirmed indoor because “it would be easier to work on the desks.” She returned for further discussion with the teachers.
They must think I’m totally crazy but maybe not entirely since they’ve agreed to let me come in Tuesdays for a half hour and teach (my version of) art classes to the students during their free time. I start tomorrow!
For a funny video about the meaning of art, check this out. The voices are from random interviews with Americans.