Summer Timbrel :: Education + Miseducation :: The Problems of the Urban Poor Are Everybody’s Problems :: Ellie Roscher

This is an excerpt from Ellie Roscher’s forthcoming book Slowly by Slowly, Spring 2017, Viva Editions, which chronicles a girls school started by Abdul in Kibera, a slum in Kenya.

Ellie Roscher is the Director of Youth and Story Development at Bethlehem Lutheran Church Twin Cities. Author of How Coffee Saved My Life and forthcoming Slowly by Slowly, she is also an editor, blogger, speaker and teacher. Ellie earned her MA in Theology from Luther Seminary and her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Minneapolis with her spouse and son, and you can find more of her work at ellieroscher.com.

 

If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.

–African Proverb

When Asha’s father, Jaffar, was ten years old, his grandmother made him promise to name his first daughter after her. He lived up to his promise. Asha’s great-grandmother was a stern, independent woman who never had a husband. She didn’t give into societal pressure to marry, and instead raised her children and grandchildren on her own. Asha’s dad tells her she looks like her great-grandmother. “I even share some of her mannerisms and habits,” Asha said. “Like I caught her spirit. I am proud to be her namesake.”

Asha’s mother, Zubeda, was born in Uganda, the granddaughter of a parliament member. At age ten, she was forced to come to Kenya as a refugee during the Idi Amin era. Zubeda’s mother was very educated, but lost all her documents in the war and could not prove her status in Kenya. They lived in a tent provided by the UN in a refugee camp on the border of Uganda and Kenya for a few years where Khadijah taught her daughter Zubeda to plait hair and cook samosas to make money. Zubeda stopped going to school in the eighth grade. Khadijah opened a restaurant while her husband worked as a driver for the Saudi Arabian embassy. They sent Zubeda to Kibera to stay with relatives. There she met Jaffar and has stayed with him ever since. She never went back to school, but Asha remembers thinking her mother was very smart because she spoke English.

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Asha asked, “Why did you leave school in the eighth grade?”

Zubeda said, “I don’t like talking about my past. Maybe you will look down on me because I am not educated.”

The war was hard on Asha’s mother. Zubeda says the sounds of bombs and gunshots are still in her head thirty years later. Asha worries about her.

“The life she lived, I understand,” Asha said. “She didn’t go to school. She was so young when she married my dad and had me. I think I trapped her in a life she didn’t want.”

 

Asha’s family, like many families in Kibera, did not have a toilet. Continue reading