Tag Archives: Kilifi

The price of Education

Last night I had the chance to contemplate two of the most primordial aspects and needs of human nature -Violence and Education.

The Education discourse is divided in Academical and non-Academial.The Academial aspect is taught in schools and its main purpose is to teach English while giving knowledge of different scientific subjects, social studies and history. The non academical takes place within the household and is transmitted from one generation to another.

I’ve had the chance to get an insight of the former while teaching at Mkombe Academy.
This primary school has 113 students from Kindergarten (KG) to class 5 (STD 5) for a total of 7 classes. Mr Kaengo is the headmaster but also a teacher and on his side he has five colleagues. Mkombe Academy is a private school, which means that the parents have to pay for children’s books and for teachers. The fee is 1600Ksh (16 Euro) each semester. If you go to a private school in Europe chances are that your family is wealthy or you are an only child with hard working parents. People don’t have much choice here, the closest primary school is some 10Kilometers away (you have to walk) and people living in this area benefited from the decision of a local to invest money in this “building” – 2huts made of wood and mud and 1 building made of blocks. They needed some help and working as a builder was harder than I thought.

I don’t know what your memories from primary school are but I believe are pretty different from the memories that these children will have once grown up. If I think  ‘primary school’ I think Pokemon Cards, Game Boy, Nike Shoes -I had the model called Shark and I was really cool, refectory, clean classrooms, big pencil cases with dozen of colors, branded backpacks, hundreds of euros of books and so on…

Here there is only one ball made of plastic bags and rope, instead of backpacks they have plastic bags (like the ones you’re given at the off licence when you buy booze in London), every student only owns one notebook per subject and 2 pens. The books are usually shared but it depends from class to class. People buy maths books but there is only few copies of Social Studies and English books available.

Since an early age they learn that Education is a precious gift, no one will pay your school fees from secondary school onwards and if you want to get a degree you have to earn it with your money. When I was in secondary school I used to joke with my friends and say “Who is the dickhead that invented schools?-I hate school!” and until I moved to London I never considered going to school something really useful for my future. I have the feeling that in Italy education is too much taken for granted. Everyone just go to school and to university because that’s what you do before getting a job and most of the people I know (including me) pay the fees with their parents money. But this is another matter.

The experience at Mkombe Academy went really well, I taught Science and English to STD5. The first few days the students in this class where very cold and not answering my questions but they opened up a lot by the time I learned their names and I got to know them really well. Hamisi,Charo, Naftha and Brieton are the boys of the class, Zawadi (Tom’s sister), Neema and Rachel the ladies. I don’t know if I’m allowed to have a favorite pupil but I felt a very good chemistry with Naftha. Such a brilliant boy…

In class 3 I was teaching maths (just additions) and I took some classes of social studies. STD 3 is more numerous: 7boys -Henry, Juma, Shaib, Amani, Yusuf, Robert and Antony- and 4 girls- Khadija, Sheila, Rehema and Grace.  They’re all great and showed real excitement for me from the first time I walked into the class. One day I was sitting on a desk correcting homework during the break and all the students where still in class surrounding me, contemplating my skin from close up and making comments on my hair. “He has blond hair, is like a simba (lion)” someone was saying… The day before I had given them seventeen additions to do, they all did pretty well a part two boys who didn’t do any and another one who did the additions during the break and gave me his notebook to be marked later. I asked them why they didn’t do their homework and I got no answer. Immediately all the classmates started complaining: “Teacher, teacher! Teacher, teacher! You have to beat them!” They told me that they are usually punished with a stick or just with the open hand when they don’t do their homework. I refused and simply noted, only on the book of the third boy “Do your homework at Home”. I’ve never been good at orchestrating punishments.

During lunchtime I expressed my disapproval for corporal punishments to the headmaster and another teacher and they were very surprised to know that in ‘Europe’ we use diplomacy and it is illegal (I think it is) to punish students. The same day, in the afternoon, I was attending a Swahili class with KG 2 students. That day I learned how to count up to 100 – Mia Moja. KG students stay in the building made of blocks and while KG2 learn how to count KG1 must be asleep on the floor. That day was a special day for them because I joined the Kiswahili class and KG1 pupils where all sitting instead of sleeping.  After a while my phone rang and I left the building to pick the call. It was Thomas, just a quick call to see if everything was fine. When I got back to class the teacher was beating each KG1 child with a stick and telling them to sleep. One boy started crying and that got him few extra shots. She was hitting precisely, coldly and with no remorse. That’s what teachers have to do. I seated again and we started counting in Swahili again, from 1 to 100.


Tom doesn’t like the seaside. He doesn’t swim a lot but yesterday I convinced him to come with me to Bofa Beach. The water was just amazing, so hot and clean. We got back late, ate fish in mango sauce with ugali and he went to sleep before 10 o’clock. I was sitting on the sofa, making some notes and being eaten by mosquitoes while enjoying the silence and peace of the village when the family who lives in a hut opposite my house decided it was time to ‘Educate’ one of their children. I counted 14 heavy slaps in few minutes and only one hiccup. After a cold and long silence someone unleashed another series of heavy slaps. I assume it was the mother, she said few sentences with firm voice in her Mijikenda mother tongue. Educating is a ritual and I was witnessing the sound of it.

These are some of the children that live opposite my house.

The day after I asked Tom about punishments and told me that is normal to be beaten by your educators, parents and teachers. “Once you make a mistake you get beaten”.

I’ve understood two things today; The first one is that one of the reasons why people are so friendly and peaceful in this village is probably because violence is taught in the household and children learn from an early age that is something to fear. The second thing is that that day I failed as a teacher. I condemned the pupil who finished his homework in class to be punished because of my note and at the same time I let the other two boys get away with it.

Learning to live

I like the fact that most of the people ask me if my parents live in Kenya and think that I was brought up here. I am learning a lot of things and I’m totally immersed in what they call ‘traditional’ lifestyle.
Everybody has something to teach, but there is nothing like learning with the children.
They are everywhere, they are many and they are playing/learning 24/7.

When I’m not teaching at school I travel from place to place with Thomas. He likes to ride his motorbike through the bushes and I just sit back enjoying the panorama. Eventually we end up in remote villages where we visit uncles, grandparents and cousins that he calls brothers and sisters . Most of them live in huts made of mud and wood and live a humble but happy life.
When a visitor arrives is always welcomed very warmly and offered a chair with the elders. After some time I’ve learned to refuse that chair and sit on the ground with the youngest members of the family. As an outsider I have also great social mobility that allows me to learn everyone’s duties and to move around the village freely.

We don’t have electricity in the house and cooking is not easy with just a torch and a jiko. Tom and I are also very lazy and I got used to the fact that the reproductive labor is considered woman’s duty. We are often invited for dinner by neighbors and friends and I never refuse.

In my village in Kilifi lives Sidi. I’ve had dinner at her house for the past week.  She’s the greatest friend and the greatest Kiswahili teacher. She lives with her father Eddie who is the breadwinner in the family, her mother MamaSidi, her sister Kazo and Aunt Salama.

Sidi goes to kindergarten and will start primary school in September. She speak fluent Swahili and I speak fluent English. She speaks kidogo – a little- English and I speak kidogo Swahili. From her I’ve learned that the spoken word is only one of the thousands channels of communication available to human interaction and not necessarily the most efficient. I’m rediscovering the pleasure of living each action as a ritual, the pleasure of enjoying the very space where the bum lies because given by unspoken laws and not always chosen. She has taught me that simplicity is not poverty and I’ve started believing that a humble life can lead to real happiness.

Salama, MamaSidi’s sister, is in charge of cooking. She doesn’t speak any English and is a good way to test my improvements with the language. Salama cooks a lot and she loves it. I’m learning to cook the local way, one of my favourite dishes is Ugali with Fish and Kachumbari.

Ugali is just maize flour cooked with boiled water. It’s the staple food of the Mijikenda people and it’s part of their identities. A local proverb tells: “Give rice to a Mijikenda and he will tell you that he has not eaten”.

Kachumbari is just an onion and tomato salad, simple and quick to prepare. Cut the onion very thinly and wash with salted water to get rid of the strong taste. Cut the tomato thinly, mix together and add lemon juice. The only thing I’m struggling with is cutting vegetable up to perfection without a chopping board. Salama is very proud of her technique and of her ability not to cut herself with the sharp knife. She holds the tomato in her left hand and the knife with the right, being moved horizontally the knife touches her palm to make a perfect slice.

Nothing has to be said about the fish. Just go to the beach, find a fisherman and buy a kilo for 200Ksh (2euro). Boil or fry and will be delicious.

Enjoy your meal, more food stories to come.


Back to primary school

Tom has nine sibilings, the youngest is called Emmanuel and is attending the fourth year of primary school.Yesterday, while taking a break from the house building works, I followed him to school.

We walked for ten minutes on this road and finally reached Tezo Primary School.

There are 113 students and 4 teachers at Tezo Primary School. The first impression was really great, the children were playing football and as I approached the field everyone stopped and looked at me astonished.

I’m so grateful to have adventured myself on this road, these people are so enthusiastic and full of joy!

Tomorrow I’m going back to school, 10 o’clock English class and 2 o’clock Science. I will teach children in the fifth year how to use reported speech and why liquid expands when warmed up! It’s going to be exciting!

I also have a lot of projects that relates to Anthropology and the headmaster, Mr. Kaengo, gave me total freedom to carry out any kind of research.

I wasn’t expecting so many things to happen in such a short time. If you read this and you know something about anthropology and ethnography please leave a comment, I need your help! I have some ideas but when it comes to make them happen it’s not always easy so, I’m open to suggestions.

Last night I was talking to Tom and I had a great idea. In order to get an insight on their lives I would like to organize a writing/anthropology workshop where the students in the fifth grade will have the chance to learn how to draw a genealogy tree (all of them have at least 7 siblings) and to tell stories of their relatives. I will gain a lot of useful information about the tribes they come from and they will get the chance to practice their writing skills. I’ll probably need to buy some pens and A4 paper.

I am also tempted to give to some of them my camera and find out more about indigenous media.

I’m going to the beach now, this afternoon we’re hiring a lorry and move a sofa to the new house. I will finally move all my stuff to Kilifi!

Few pictures of the neighborhood:


Take care,


Moving with the Mijikendas

Before you read this post I want you to take a calculator and think.

I was meant to hire a driver for a week at the price of 30.000Ksh a day (30 Euro roughly). It makes 210Euro. An average hotel with no breakfast included costs from 20.000Ksh to 40.000Ksh per night. In a month it makes 60.000 (600 Euros) if you go for the budget choice. Food is cheap but at least 1.000Ksh per day if you want to eat good stuff. In a month is 30.000Ksh (30 Euro). If you add the cost of petrol and other transports the total in a month would get up to 1.000Euros (800British Pounds).

70 Bags of cement go for 30.000Ksh (300 Euros) and you can get enough stone blocks for 20.000Ksh (200 Euro). To hire a Fundi (experienced builder) for two weeks costs 7.000Ksh (70 Euro). 600 Euro or 500 Pounds is what you need to build a house.

My friend Thomas has a plot in a village on the coast, close to Kilifi. From the town you can get a motorbike and after 40minutes driving in the wild you reach a small paradise where lives a tribe called Mijikendas. People here live a simple life with cattle, harvesting maize and fishing. I’ve just got back from a trip to the village where I have been warmly welcomed. I decided to settle here, I’m going to live with the Mijikendas for the next three weeks (26 days), help my friend build his house and find out more about their culture. I wasn’t expecting to be so lucky and what’s more there is 3G coverage in the Kilifi area (due to the high number of tourists) which means I’ll be able to upload pictures and be more precise on youposition that has been kind of a failure so far.

Some Mijikendas have moved to the city but most of them still live a rural life and have rarely got in touch with a ‘modern’ man.

When I got to Bamburi, Mombasa three days ago I was pretty much shocked. The house where I was hosted was much bigger than the one in Mlolongo but infested with cockroaches and with no electricity due to a temporary failure. Thomas had just told me some creepy stories of Wazungu being given drugs and robbed. It was night and the village looked extremely dodgy. The following day I visited the town and the beach with daylight and looked much more chilled out than Nairobui but I was still feeling a strange pressure on me and I did not know what was going on. I think Thomas did notice that and today insisted for us to go and see his village and his tribe. I can’t find any word to explain the awesomeness of what I’ve seen and I still need to digest the idea that from tomorrow I’ll be living with a tribe and do the old style anthropologist.

I’m also learning some Kiswahili because English is not used much among the Mijikendas I met today.

Kesho Tunakula Mbata – Tomorrow we’ll eat duck.

I’m still speechless, from tomorrow I will start posting pictures hopefully.