A day in the life of Maggie Miranda

4th July 2014 at 01:00
Crime and terrorism are constant threats for this head of creative arts at a private school in Nairobi, but fear is far outweighed by the joy she takes in the optimism of her bright, energetic pupils

I live and work in Nairobi, a place that cynics would sum up as "hassle, potholes, traffic and barbed wire". At least my school is a few kilometres away from the central business district, which is notorious for its street crime and most likely the inspiration for the city's nickname, "Nairobbery".

When I arrive at the Aga Khan Academy - an independent secondary school in a leafy but busy suburb of the Kenyan capital - the first person I greet is the askari, or guard. Every gate in the city has one. Security is on everyone's mind here.

I recall watching the impala, or African antelope, on a recent game drive in Meru National Park. They reminded me of us. We, too, bask in the sun. We have fleeting moments of real relaxation. But like the impala, we are on high alert most of the time. After the terrorist attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre last year, I have found myself sitting in coffee shops quickly ascertaining my best exit route "just in case". We cannot leave a car window wound down or a door unlocked. Lives are spent in gated compounds.

I grew up in London, went to university in Wales and I've worked in New Zealand, Zambia, Japan, the Middle East and now Kenya. One thing you see with each and every move is that people are more similar than they are different. And we are usually proud of the place we call home.

As with all jobs, this one has routines. My first task of the day is to check emails, but it's a lottery because sometimes the internet doesn't work. Power cuts are another frequent challenge but you learn to adapt and the students are rarely fazed by any of it. They are bright, determined and ambitious - they're not going to let power cuts get in their way.

The working day is punctuated by registration, house events, tea breaks, assemblies and, of course, lessons, as well as weekly canteen treats of chips or mandazis - a type of Kenyan doughnut.

There is a timetable - and then there is "African time". This is often elastic and our routine is easily disrupted by anything out of the ordinary. Last week, that came in the shape of rehearsals and preparations for a celebration of Kenya at 50 - the country gained independence in 1963. Our creative arts department hosted two days of visual arts, film, music and drama events to mark the occasion. The school was transformed, decorated with many Kenyan flags, while students and teachers dressed in the flag's colours: red, green, black and white. People were invited to splat and drizzle paint on a canvas, Jackson Pollock-style.

There was also a screening of student films on Kenya at 50 that had premiered at the Africa World Documentary Film Festival. And the celebration continued with talented singing and other performances. Over two days, we profiled many examples of students' work, creating a platform to showcase their achievements. As the head of creative arts, I felt proud of them and shared in their pride for the country.

Every day I get a further insight into Kenya and its people. This vast country and the whole of Africa shouldn't be repeatedly defined by its social issues. The true character of this vibrant continent is in the wildlife, the breathtaking scenery, and the energy, talent and resilience of its people. Kenya is a young country, many people have an entrepreneurial spirit, and our students are part of its bright future.

Your day

Do you want to tell the world's teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email richard.vaughan@tes.co.uk

We will give your school pound;100 if your story is published.


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