My visit to Florence

I decided to adopt a Kenyan child after X-mass 2012, thanks to the article about Petr Kostka's visit to his adopted child in Uganda.

Because the school year in Kenya starts in January, things had to be speed up, which we managed together with a Czech coordinator. All papers were ready in a few days, so Florence could start school after the New Year.

I have to admit that I was chosing the child considering her or his place of living, since I knew that we were going for holiday to the coast south of Mombasa in February and I was already thinking about a personal meeting.

The organization of the meeting was a bit more difficult, since we found out that Florence wasn't living with the family of her late mother's sister anymore but she had moved to her grandmother into a village near town Voi, about 200 km from Mombasa. Because it wasn't our first visit of Kenya, I refused the proposed option of Florence's visit in our hotel, and we decided to rent a car and visit her in the village where she lived - Mwatate.

We bought some presents in the Czech Republic, mainly stationery, colored pencils, simple English books with pictures, a pencil box, a school bag, a T-shirt. I was afraid that the level of English in books would be too low for Florence, but later we found out that she could hardly understand us and even her aunt's language skills were barely enough for basic communication.

I bought some tiny hair accessories as well but school children were not allowed to have long hair, therefore she could wear the fancy butterflies only pinned to her dress. In Kenya, we also bought some basic food for Florence's family and some ballpoints for her schoolmates. Before our departure I had the idea to print the letter which I had sent to Florence at the beginning of January which contained some basic information about our family with plenty of pictures of the family, the place where we live, and Prague.

And the idea was a good one since Florence didn't have the letter yet and she liked it a lot. Thanks to this letter we started our mutual communication.

On the appointed day and time the Kenyan coordinator for Mombasa, Dorice, waited at the hotel (since she was not allowed in). The journey to the town Voi took nearly four hours. Just to get to the ferry took an hour, delay on the ferry, then the passage through the overcrowded streets of Mombasa, which were full of buses and trucks.

Finally, we got to the main road connecting Mambasa with the capitol Nairobi.

There is only one lane in each direction and plenty of trucks, which transport supplies from Mombasa harbor to the inland.

In Voi, we had lunch and refreshed ourselves a bit. We turned off from the main road to the west to Tanzania borders. The asphalt road soon changed into a dirty one and our guide started calling hectically.
We found out that she didn't know where exactly the village was and that she called Florence's aunt. It was around midday, children were on their way home for lunch and we understood that she was trying to find out whether we were on the right place according to colors of their school uniforms.

Finally, we found out that Mwatate is a pretty big village which we wouldn't have missed. Lydia in her white dress stood in the center of the village with a cell phone in her hand. She got into the car and we went to school.

A huge football field in a moderate hill (with a hole every here and there), on the top of the hill two buildings. Each doors represent a class, the fifth is ours. Children are at home for lunch, there are only few of them at school. Florence is at home too. We peep into the headmaster's office, the deputy is chatting with us for a while, I notice a bookcase full of used textbooks covered with the same tawny dust which is everywhere around. Later, we go to the class.

We guessed that each class was for about forty children but when it has filled and we can see that there were four children at each desk, we have to double this number.

After a while there comes Florence in her school uniform, which is a bit bigger then would fit her, most likely to fit her longer. She is tall for her age, and slim. We get acquainted in front of the blackboard, it's rather embarrassing

I took out the letter with pictures; she loses her shyness watching the pictures. But we have to hand out sweets; Florence happily takes care about it. Meanwhile the class filled in, other children are in windows.
We say goodbye, all of us walk to the car and we go to Florence's place. The house is about 4 km from the school, through the whole village.

It stands in the middle of a corn field, according to local standards it is rather luxurious, built from blocks, with a roof from corrugated plate, electricity and a tank for rainwater standing in the tidy yard.
We park the car in the field under a tree, the grandma greets us heartily, we give her the box with food immediately. 

She leads us to the tidy living room, decorated with Christmas cards, calendars and election posters. We sit on the sofa; the conversation is a bit difficult since the grandma can't speak English.

I give Florence the presents; it seems to me that she is happiest for pencils and clothes.
We view the book and I show her how to glue English words and pictures. There comes her cousin, about 20-year-old boy who brings water which he offers to us. We are rather happy that we don't get any food as we probably would be a bit afraid of eating it.

Florence at least tells us that she wants to be a police officer, she likes learning English and she likes cats. Then the adult's conversation switched to coming election and candidates. At the end of our visit we take pictures of all of us in the yard next to a pile of dry corn and the tank for rainwater.

Just before taking pictures, Lydia polishes Florence's school shoes and her grandma holds a bag full of corn from the field. Everybody comes with us to the car, there we chat for a while and then we have to say goodbye. We hope that we return to Kenya the next year again and meet Florence and her family again.

In Voi we give Dorice money for the bus ticket back to Mombasa, since we want to extend our trip for a visit of the near National park Tsavo. The bus leaves in a couple of minutes, we are happy that she doesn't have to wait too long.

The visit of Florence, her school and her family belongs among the strongest experiences of our holiday. It is possible that Florence wouldn't be able to attend school without my help and without her; I wouldn't see life in Kenya so close. We enriched each other and I hope we will continue it.

Jitka Pokorná