From 13 to 23 in two weeks

My experience with EPAfrica has taken me straight to my role on the 2018 summer team, a volunteer coordinator in Kakamega. Before I arrived three weeks ago, one of the main sentiments that had stuck in my mind from the website was that this, my sixth time in East Africa, was another ‘opportunity for personal development’. I did not, however, anticipate that this development would be so plainly visible in the age estimates I have been receiving from staff at our partner schools.

For as long as I can remember I have been mistaken for younger than I am – and in this part of the world, my baby face brings especially amusing assumptions.

Anna and I, supposedly we look like mother and child?

While clearly Anna was more offended by this remark than me, looking young is not always the blessing people assume it to be. I think many would agree that the fear of not being taken seriously because of the way you look; whether that be youthful, female, black or any number of intersections; is very frustrating.

As an EPAfrica newbie, my limited knowledge of the Kenyan schooling system kept me quiet on the first few school visits I attended in Kisii. On these first visits my face, and undoubtedly my silence, led to Head Teachers thinking I was 13 years old, or letting out those shocked “eh!”s when I revealed that I am almost 21 (on the 12th of August… save the date). While on each occasion I found this amusing, collectively it was beginning to stir doubt in my mind about my role on the Summer Team.

Thankfully I opened up to my fellow coordinators, project manager, and CEO/mother – all of whom motivated me to keep pushing back.

Then, 15 schools later, Head Teacher Clives was giving us a lift to the main road when to my delight he guessed my age to be a whopping 23! This was a milestone for my personal development – I knew exactly how I aged those 10 years in two weeks, and it had nothing to do with my outward appearance.

Myself, Principle Clives and Beth at Busombi school.

Of course at this point I had gained knowledge, but more important was the little push from my colleagues to articulate this knowledge with confidence. The final push I needed came from the lovely Beth, who had to take a call for the duration of our meeting with Principle Clives, leaving me to sink or swim. Luckily for us both, I swam all the way to shore, using a few bits of jargon to help keep me afloat along the way.

5 ways to age 10 years in two weeks

  1. Owning the phrase “Yes I’m on the managing team”, this took me to 15, plus 2 years.
  2. Asking “Are you worried about delocalization?” – the government initiative to relocate teachers who have been working in their home county, the incentive being to mix people and culture. Add 3 more years.
  3. When being shown a new building, or building in progress, wondering aloud “was this CDF funded?” – referring to the Constituency Development Fund; 2.5% of the governments ordinary revenue which is reserved for constituency-level development projects, including education facilities in all parts of the country. Add 2 years.
  4. When requesting to see KCSE results (A level equivalents), asking to see the sheet with breakdown by gender and subject, before enquiring about the number of streams per form (classes per year). Now I’m at 22.
  5. And finally, letting my colleagues tell the Head Teacher that I dream in Swahili because I am so fluent. This is just one more year, since no one so far has been at all impressed. I say, ‘ninajua Kiswahili kizuri’ (I speak Swahili well) and they say ‘very good’ in English and we all move on.

If like me, you are not able to fake it ‘til you make it effectively, then I suggest brushing up on your lingo, and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, and will continue to support you until everyone else does too.

The girl child. Summer Team and Josephine, our previous landlord and friend.