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Bruce and Kate Dahlman, serving with Africa Inland Mission
February 10, 2016 2:24 pm
Published in: Ugali

I read my students the riot act yesterday.

Reading the Riot Act: “To give someone a severe scolding; to reprimand rowdy characters and warn them to stop behaving badly”.

Not that I was worried that my students were actually thinking about or preparing to riot or anything like that…

However, they were indeed deserving of at least a gentle scolding, using the Kenyan approach, saying what needed to be said to them without sounding too “kali” (harsh/fierce).

For me, it was sort of the “last straw”, or perhaps a “last ditch effort” on my part to try and get them to see the importance of coming to class…on time (as, attendance is required by the University, with records to be kept and turned in by me).

You see, here at Kabarak (as in many other universities across Kenya), there is this culture of coming fashionably late to class. For example, if class is scheduled to begin at 8:00 a.m., most students will arrive somewhere around 8:10 or 8:15; while one or two will routinely show up 30 minutes late.

In fact, I have one student who seems to relish coming to class about 30-45 minutes late each week. Here she comes, waltzing through the door on her 3-4-inch heels, sashaying her way slowly across the room to take the last remaining/available seat in the class, which is usually in the front row.

No one bats an eye as she does this.

Since classes here are scheduled in large (3-4 hours) blocks of time (another thing that is not exactly ideal), for students to come “a bit late” to class seems like no big deal to them.

And, in defense of the students, they are quite used to many of their (usually part-time) lecturers not showing up for class until 20-30 minutes after the scheduled hour to begin. This is because the part-timers are coming from off campus and, if they have no car of their own, are at the mercy of the erratic schedule of the matatu buses/drivers to get here.

Or so they say.

But I am not a “part-time lecturer”; I actually live here on campus (which they know).

I arrive at the classroom at least 15-20 minutes early, in order to heft all of my equipment into the room to set up:

  • the projector;
  • the computer;
  • the speakers;
  • the extension cord to hook them all up (and pray that the power is “on”);
  • all of my notes and handouts;
  • my water bottle (needed when one is speaking for 3 hours at a time);
  • and my phone (to keep time).

I also usually need to erase the whiteboard from the previous class and/or re-arrange or collect the needed number of chairs ….

This all takes about 15-20 minutes. And this, only if the classroom we normally meet in has not been “hijacked”/occupied by another teacher/class (a whole ‘nuther topic, folks; it’s been a bit “dog eat dog” around here for classroom space. This will hopefully change when our new, large Health Sciences classroom block is ready for us in a month or so).


And my students know this, having met with me now for almost a month.

Yes, of course I am a “mzungu” (ex-patriot/white) teacher, from a culture where “time-keeping” is of the utmost importance; where if students are late they may or may not be admitted, or at least feel a bit ashamed of walking in late; and would never do it so casually or blithely or routinely as happens here.

But….quite frankly, I don’t “buy” the excuse that “this is a cultural issue” and one that I must adapt to. Not after teaching at Kijabe School of Nursing for five years, where
students had no trouble or issue with coming to class on time, either for me or for any of my Kenyan colleagues.

Plus, my students all have iPhones or some kind of smart phone device, which, believe me, they know how to use, and to their advantage (including being able to read the time).

So….back to the “riot act”:

I talked about their expectations of me; and then my expectations of them. I talked about professionalism and what that means in the context of becoming a BScN educated nurse. I talked about the issues of respect, accountability, integrity, courtesy, and how these concepts are important here at Kabarak, at this Christian University, in this Christian context….

Blah, blah, blah….

Was this effective? Hard to know, as with most Kenyan classes I’ve taught or seen, the teacher has the floor. No one will make comments or say anything, or even betray any sign or flicker of emotion while the teacher is speaking to (or haranguing at) them.

They will sit there, like stones, like statues…

Which is what they did.

Which has been a bit discouraging for me.  I had expected so much more of them.

More importantly, I had expected so much more of myself in being here to teach them.

You see, my main goal, my primary raison d’etre for being here in Kenya at all, is not to help educate more Kenyan nurses (although this is important).

With all the nurse training schools and the proliferation of more and more BScN programmes popping up in this country, some could justifiably argue (and I would tend to agree) that Kenya does not really need me to help educate more nurses.

Rather, my whole hope and goal in coming here once again to Kenya as an AIM missionary is to “come alongside” Christian nursing students in this Christian University, in order to help them see their future lives and work in terms of their Christianity first; and in terms of their future nursing profession, second.

My dream for my students here is for them to see their lives through the lens of the Gospel, so that they are truly transformed by its power. So that they, in turn, can take this Good News (and yes, take it alongside their newly earned competencies in nursing) out into the communities and clinics where they will eventually live and work.

Where this message of the transforming power of Christ is still so urgently, so desperately, needed.

That is what I am doing here.

So, if you are praying for me, please say a little prayer that I can get through to my students; that I can somehow connect with them; and that, perhaps in some small way, they will be able to see the Light of Christ leaking out through me here and there in how I communicate with them, in what I say, in how I teach, in what I do.

In how I live out my life in front of them.

Pray that I can “get out of the way” so that He will be seen.  So that He will matter most to them.

So that they will realize that their passion for nursing needs to be fueled by their passion for Christ.

So that, some day, this passion will also become their raison d’etre.