Can a simple compliment lead to rashes and bleeding from the eyes?

It is almost February and my school is getting ready for the form one students to report. I am anxious for them to come so I can begin teaching. I am currently only teaching one class and am afraid I am getting relaxed and used to my light schedule. I also think it is not the best practice to have students show up to school more than a month after opening day. I am actually not looking forward to the first few weeks of teaching the form one students. It will take them a few weeks to understand my accent and a few more weeks after that for them to get and trust my method of teaching. I expect I will do better this year than last year, since I know what to expect but I am still wary of those “what, is she crazy?” looks I am going to get for the next month or so. I am working with an all male staff these days. Our deputy principal, who I loved, moved to Nairobi to go back to school for her Master’s degree. Our other female teacher moved to be with her husband and have babies (she’s pregnant with twins!) in down Kenya. I actually enjoy being with all men. I think it teaches them to be less sexist. They had to pick a man to be in charge of the weekly shopping for food, they take turns serving lunch each day, and for meetings they have to have a male secretary to take minutes. It is good for them. My school has recently acquired a new administration block. It includes a staffroom, some offices, and (my favorite addition) a WC or water closet. When I first saw it, it was being used to store books because the construction guys never built a space for the waste to go. Yesterday, though, the workers were digging a nice, big, cement- lined hole for the facilities. I excitedly asked if that meant we could soon use it. I hate using the choo at school. It is a good 5 minute walk away from the staffroom, a terrible situation if you are sick. The door doesn’t close all the way or latch so you have to pray, as you are approaching, that no one is currently using it or you will walk in on them. Worse is making awkward conversation as they leave or you cross paths. They know what you are going to do, you know what they did. “Oh, hello Mr. Principal. How was your… um, day?” Even if you don’t meet someone at the choo, it is still a dirty, fly- clouded, smelly hole with (for some odd reason) raised footrests that only serve to impair proper aim. Needless to say, I was looking forward to an indoor bathroom that had an actual door and an ability to be cleaned. But when I asked if we could use it, I was told that we COULD but that no one WOULD. I think these Kenyans find going to the bathroom indoors to be a foreign and needless endeavor. Weirdos. During counseling this week, I had one girl who wanted to ask a teacher if she could move to the front of the class because she had poor vision and was having trouble seeing the board. She recounted the story of how she got this poor vision issue and it totally baffled me. Apparently, way out in the rural villages there are people who say things that can cause rashes on the face. They say things like, “Oh, little girl, you are beautiful! You will be so beautiful when you grow up!” Then the girl will get a red rash on her neck and face. I stopped the student to clarify, “you mean like a blush? They compliment you and your face gets red, that’s called a blush.” She nodded and continued her story, “Oh, well this happened to me and the redness went up my cheeks and into my eyes and they started to bleed. This gave me bad vision. Have you seen this?” I told her that words could not cause her eyes to bleed and she replied, “not in towns, but waaaay, way out there,” gesturing behind her to the desert with both hands. “Out there, there are… certain people … who can do this with words. Aiee!” With a full body shudder, she paused to cross herself. I attempted to explain that it was not possible to cause injury with just a phrase, but without a medical reason to explain bleeding eyes, I am afraid I did not convince her.



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.