In Kenya, we stayed in the Ngong hills, outside Nairobi. Our job while we were there was to teach at the local public school. We were staying on a small farm, surrounded by other small farms. So we saw lots of goats, cows, sheep and shepherds. The shepherds often had the tribal ear plug earrings (note to hipsters: when you don't have the huge ear bolts in, you can wrap your ear lobes around your upper cartilage. Clever), walking sticks and cell phones.
It was a 45-minute hike to school each day. The only thing is, all the cattle paths looked the same. Even if you knew the general vicinity you were heading, one wrong cow path and you'd add 20 minutes to your trip.
Luckily, the local kids were happy to escort us. Apparently, two white ladies huffing across the hills was unusual enough that the kids from school tracked down where we were staying. Kids would hide in the bushes and giggle and watch us. If they were brave, they would answer back 'How are YOU?'
Because clocks were in short supply this was handy in the morning.
A steady stream of kids meant we were probably late to take a 'shower' (aka sponge bath al fresco).
We did a homestay with a local family. One night the six-year-old grandson Alex spontaneously busted out a Maasai song and dance for us while we waited for dinner. We were so floored, we tried to think of a song to sing for him. We couldn't think of anything to capture the essence of America, of our spirit. So we sang 'If you're happy and you know it...' Which was even a little bit disappointing to the kids.
* * *
The hikes to school became such a beautiful part of the day - being outside and saying hello to cows and goats and birds and shepherds and flowers and trees. And the kid crowds began to swell, fighting over who got to hold our hands.
The first time it happened, I hoped that no one would look at me because I'd started to cry.
The kids would usually carry walking sticks to school, just like the men.
One morning, we noticed one little dude carrying a little plug of a stump. 'Oahhh' we said, 'he got stuck with a bad walking stick,'
No no, one of our hosts explained. It's polite to bring firewood to someone's house if they are going to feed you. Since the kids got fed at lunch, they were bringing wood for the fire. So little dude was sharper than we were.
There was one little guy, Paul, couldn't have been more than a first grader.
The kids would use the English words they knew with us. So we'd go through 'eyes', 'nose', 'mouth'. After saying 'mouth' I'd make a 'mwah!' noise for exaggeration.
I felt like the most gifted comedienne ever to walk the planet, the way that Paul would laugh. And we'd do it over and over, his grubby, lunchy hand in mine as we sweated our way home.
A few days after the 'Happy and You Know It' misfire, I thought of the right song to sing on the walk to school. And this video (while grainy) sums up the feeling beautifully.