Week One: A Recap - Sydney

[August 2, 2019]

There are crickets singing as the sky slides into a deep, deep blue out our bedroom window. Not even an hour earlier, the same window was being battered by the banana tree that stands beside our home here in Bungoma; the drumming sound of sturdy leaves on glass accompanied by thunder, signifying the coming of a heavy rainstorm. We haven’t had running water here for a couple days, and after 5 days and 3 workshops with roughly 200 schoolgirls playing with my hair, I was delighted at the opportunity to run outside and use some shampoo in the downpour as the sun set over Nancy’s beautiful garden.

It’s hard to believe we have been in Kenya for only one week, and that within that week we have already taught our curriculum to students from four different schools. And not only that, but that each workshop was COMPLETELY adjusted and reformatted to best meet the needs of the three very different groups that we taught – much of this reworking taking place late into the night between long and exhausting teaching days. I don’t remember which night it was (the days are already blurring together), but we were all gathered in a room together, sitting in a cramped circle, stress mounting, troubleshooting and organizing our materials and talking through our updated game plan for the next day’s session, when the power suddenly went out and left us in pitch blackness. Without a second’s hesitation, Sam had grabbed a flashlight and a couple others had turned on their phone lights, and we continued our meeting like nothing had happened.

That said, much of our workshop adjustments don’t happen in late-night meetings at all, but rather on the spot as we are teaching. While our Diva Day handbooks and major teaching points remain unchanged, we are constantly feeling out the specific needs of the girls in our groupings in each moment: will this group learn most effectively about the phases of the menstrual cycle through a movement exercise, or through a more traditional lesson? Would this group benefit from learning how to use a menstrual cup immediately following Internal and External Anatomy, or should I wait to introduce the Diva Cup until after we discuss menstruation and period tracking? My group is eager to ask me questions about Canada and about my life – perhaps I can put off talking about cramps and discharge until after lunch so I can take this time to connect, laugh, and bond with them, so when we talk about shame and self-care later they feel safe enough with me to share their feelings and their stories? We have had to be incredibly flexible and ready to improvise at any moment – and so far, I feel we have done so successfully. We’ve been working so hard. I can’t begin to put into words how proud I am of everyone on this team.

Some facts, snapshots, and some of my personal highlights from the first three workshops of Diva Day 2019:

WORKSHOP 1: Shikunga Primary School - Butere, Kenya

·       The facts: Approximately 60 girls ages 12-17, the majority of them between the ages of 12 – 14. Each of us had our own group of between 8 and 10 girls. The “normal” two-day version of the workshop, working around the obstacle of not having our handbooks and cups. The majority of these workshops took place sitting outside in the schoolyard.

·       Some snapshots: My group asking me if Canadian women menstruate (!!!). A huge circle of girls in a field interpreting what it means to “dance like the wind”, spinning in circles and charging at each other and laughing and falling over. My girls and I sitting in a circle in the grass, shaded by trees, Yvonne resting her arm on Selfa’s back, heads resting on shoulders, eyes gathered around handbooks, shy giggles and hushed whispers in Kiluhya or Kiswahili followed by uninhibited schoolgirl laughter when I repeated back the words that they taught me in my mzungu accent (my favourite word my girls taught me was mrembo, meaning beautiful. We adopted that as our group name, and after our second workshop day I found the words “Sydney mrembo” graffiti-ed onto my hymen model. Happy-grateful tears)

·       My highlights (bear in mind that it pains me to have to pick highlights when every day brings so much joy and insight – picking only a couple and keeping this a readable length is HARD): My girls initiating the creation of a chant with actions using the different pre-menstrual symptoms we learned about – in particular, the once-shy Selfa’s enthusiastic offer of DIARRHEA, dropping low and making a sound reminiscent of machine-gun fire.  My girls telling me to come back to Kenya on my birthday so they could make me a cake. I admired this group for their playfulness, their willingness to be silly and loud and authentic with me.

WORKSHOP 2: Eshisisia Primary School & Ebuboko Primary School - Butere, Kenya

·       The facts: Approximately 120 girls ages 11 - 16. Because we had over 100 students from two different schools combined, we opted to pair up as leaders and lead 3 larger groups of approximately 40 girls each (a very different teaching environment from our first group!) Two-day workshop format. The majority of this workshop was done in classrooms, with the big group physical activities taking place outside in the field.

·       Some snapshots: Sierra dancing in the middle of a circle of girls alongside one of the tiniest and most impressive dancers I HAVE EVER SEEN. Her name was Christeen and her dance shoes of choice were bright pink crocs. Melissa and I trying our best to jump over hurdles of desks and benches in a cramped classroom to make sure the girls at the back of the class could try the different Diva Cup folds for us. Girls melodramatically recreating what essentially resembled a harrowing wartime scene when asked to “move like you have menstrual cramps”.

·       My highlights: Watching my co-teacher Melissa command such a large class with the utmost confidence and kindness, and feeling so taken care of by her when I felt nervous teaching a larger group. Entering the very first day of our workshop to a wall of sound – singing and screaming and the purest joy. One of our girls telling us that her favourite part of her body is her brain, because “it allows her to be clever”. I admired this group for their ability to work together – teaching with only 3 blank handbooks and 4 example Diva Cups shared between nearly 40 girls was a challenge, but it was comforting to see girls from two different schools share the materials and work together to answer questions.

WORKSHOP 3: Shikunga Secondary School - Butere, Kenya

·       The facts: Approximately 35 girls ages 14- 21. Each of us had a small group of 5 to 7 students. Because of some scheduling surprises and the advanced level of our girls, we were able to edit our workshop so it fit neatly into one day rather than two. We worked outside in their schoolyard.

·       Some snapshots: Sam’s circle of girls being joined first by a cow wandering in the school field, and later by a group of young boys from the village who wanted to see what was up. Nicole and Shikunga’s main counselor Kristabel sitting in dappled sunlight and discussing the difference in school systems in Canada and Kenya as two members of the global teaching community who share in the same work a world away. The six of us as leaders giddy with excitement when we got to share our skit on Shame, Guilt, and Empathy with a semblance of a set for the first time!

·       My highlights: After my first demonstration of how to insert a Diva Cup, my group began murmuring to each other, and I couldn’t gauge what the general feeling was. I asked my group how they were feeling, and they all agreed on “excited”. Later, after a writing exercise called “Dear Body”, Daissy shared that it had taken her a long time to accept her body – the first time I had heard any sort of struggle with body image expressed so honestly and vulnerably in any of my groups.  At the end of the workshop, Sam and I had both made it through all the material and all our girls’ questions with some time to spare, so we merged groups and sat together and offered some songs to our girls – I got to sing a song that I wrote for my beautiful group as Sam played her guitar. It felt special to share some of my own writing about my journey with healing to my girls after asking them to share their own feelings with me in the workshop. I admired this group for their grace, maturity, and intelligence – although they weren’t the most vocal, I could always feel their engagement and that they were working through my questions in the privacy of their own minds.

 

I will leave this here for now. I’m finishing this reflection sitting on our purple-and-white striped mats with my incredible, resilient, powerful sisters in the yard, under the shade of a tree. Occasionally we are visited by a gaggle of tiny, fluffy chicks who venture to us through pools of sunlight. It is morning. The sun is warm on my back. I wish all of you could see Malindi, Caroline, Sierra, Sam, and Melissa right now. I admire this group for new reasons every single day that we spend here.

Sydney

Malindi Ayienga