The African Dream

6/13/08

Today my host dad, or Baba, came home. He works in a different area during the week so he only comes home on the weekends. This is common in Kenya, men go to where the jobs are and as there aren’t many jobs, they often have to go far away. Peter, my program coordinator, works in Kakamega but his family is in Nairobi, a nine hour bus ride away. The schools are better in Nairobi, the capital city, and so his children are able to get a better education. The difference is evident; in Nairobi, all of the kids spoke English whereas in Kakamega, many of the kids only know “How are you” (which they say to me on a daily basis).

However, this is not to say that children in Kakamega aren’t very educated. On the contrary, a lot of them are very highly educated and work way harder than students do in America. For example, today is Friday. You would think that my host siblings would be relaxing, seeing as though it’s the weekend. Nope, instead they are doing homework, not because they’re massive overachievers but rather because they have school tomorrow at 6:00 am. That’s later than some days, some days they have to be there at 5 am. Although tomorrow is a half-day, they will come home at 12:00 a.m. instead of 4:00 for Jackie and 8:45 p.m. for Allen. The fun doesn’t stop then, even though Allen doesn’t come home till almost 9, he still has lots of homework to do.

Granted the case of my siblings is a bit extreme, they go to a private school that is absolutely ridiculous. They had visiting day last Sunday and so I went with the rest of the family to visit Mark and talk to his teachers about his progress. They told him his status in the class, showing him the grades of other students and saying that he needed to try harder and beat Joel etc. They told him that if he didn’t, he would get a thrashing.

This competitive, grueling school life doesn’t stop with summer. My whole host family was shocked when I told them that almost all of the schools in America get around 3 months off for summer and ample breaks for holidays.

“But what do you do for so long?” asked my host mom.

“Well, a lot of students get summer jobs. It’s nice if you get home early cause then you can get a good one,” I replied.

“A good one…” She shook her head in amazement. “There are so many jobs in America even the young ones can be picky. If our schools let out for 3 months it would be chaos, the students would have nothing to do.”

Many Kenyans will work as hard as my host siblings, all the way through university, some even to graduate school and will still have trouble finding a job. I met a woman the other day who was a trained clinician but had been looking for a job for two years. Two years.

It strikes me as a little ironic that a lot of American college graduates travel or do something else because they “don’t want a job right away” when there are people here that would do anything to be able to work.

I think I’m beginning to understand the appeal of the “American Dream;” as I understand it, it’s the idea that if you work hard in America, it will pay off. There are many countries in this world where hard work does not pay, try as though you might, it is nearly impossible to get ahead. This may be why, according to my host mom, the “African Dream” is to go to America.