Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Quite Moments

" I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream"- Van Gogh

The teachers in Kenya are striking for better wages, we are on week two, therefore not much has been occurring. My role as a Peace Corps volunteer is to not teach or participate in any protest, so I clean. I know some people know my extreme aversion to anything having to do with cleaning, but for some reason now I find it very rewarding. Besides cleaning, I have been reading, writing, cooking, planning lessons, and just thinking in general. I find it so interesting how when removed from television, internet, and things in general, I am able to get my best thinking done. I can literally sit, writing, thinking, revising--for hours. My mind fumbling through ideas for the school, Africa, my life. I can remember being so busy, not being able to just enjoy my mind.

I really hope the strike does end soon. I teach at a boarding school, so all the students are still here, and they are desperate to learn. Last week I walked by the classroom and saw the older students teaching the younger ones, when I approached their faces lit up, and asked if I would teach, I had to say no and I could see the sadness in their eyes.

After hours of reading textbooks and teacher's manuals I think the biggest challenge is the lack of resources. Deaf children really need a lot of visual stimulation, and it seems the main avenue for this is a chalkboard, but writing on the board means you don’t face the students, and leaves my hands full and unable to sign. I want to try to use resources available locally (therefore sustainable) and able to be used by teachers in the future. Some ideas include paper machete for globes, play dough for mountain on maps, boxes for drawing, and more.

In addition to research, I have also been doing quite a bit of traveling. This weekend I visited two friends north of Embu and enjoyed seeing Kenya. This country it is beautiful, just off the road I could see hills that dive into the ground, waterfalls, and markets. There is something special about taking to the open road, alone. It is a unique way to see the world through your own filter - uninterrupted. I have also visited three different Deaf schools, which has given me some real perspective on improvements I can make here at Saint Luke’s.

I am settling in slowly, trying to cook inventive food and keep it from going bad. It is quite a challenge trying to cook without microwave, oven, or fridge—but it makes things interesting that’s for sure. I have made some great fresh food dishes and some things I would never eat again.

On another note for those interested my new address is:

Saint Lukes special school for the Deaf
P.O. Box 1297-60100 Embu, Kenya.

Just a note that I have to pay duty on all items I receive, (meaning bargain with the mail clerk for the things you send) so when filling out paper work say it is educational materials, even if it is not! Also, I have heard if you write some sort of religious message on the package itself they will charge less or not steal things from the box. Also, ask the post office about the flat rate box, it is much cheaper, and therefore do not give this information readily.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, this strike will end soon!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Stars Fell

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. " Barack Obama

The mystery revealed and my site is Embu, Kenya! Technically I live right outside Embu, located in the Eastern Province of Kenya. The school is Saint Luke’s School for the Deaf—my home is within the school grounds. The school is very large, about 10 acres. Many of the classrooms are new, as well as few old classrooms made of wood with missing walls. The students are very clever and hard working; the school was ranked third amongst Deaf school in Kenya. Embu town is sizeable (compared to Loitokitok standards). It boasts 3 different “supermarkets” and the open-air market runs everyday.
The land is scorched by the sun, and it intensity has only caused despair here- many people are suffering because of the international food shortages, as well as an unproductive rainy season. The school’s own farm has produced very little, but since the school is public it receives funds from the government, which seems to be enough. The hills roll over the land and are only shadowed by the great Mount Kenya, which was once Africa’s largest mountain (The culprit: global warming. Some of it’s glaciers have melted so now my old neighbor Kilimanjaro takes that prize), but now stands as second highest mountain. The Kikuyu people believe their God Ngai lives atop the remaining jagged glaciers. They call the mountain “Kirinyaga” which I understand to mean mountain of brightness.
The Kikuyu are the most populous tribe in all of Kenya, and the area by Mount Kenya is their heartland. So far I have been given a Kikuyu name (in Kikuyu if a word starts with Gi it usually has a negative connotation explaining my name is spelled G-i-n-n-i-e gets weird looks), so now my name is Mumbi, which means “ one who creates”. I like it better then my Akamba name my home stay Mama gave me, Mwendy meaning “visitor”.
My home is quite large; I have two bedrooms, a sitting room, indoor bathroom, and kitchen. I also have electricity, I have been like a child in toy store filled with excitement every time I am able to charge something! Right now the house is quite empty except for the many creatures that populate my home--among them are ants, mosquitoes, spiders (some as large as my hand) and lizards. I painstaking try to kill all of them, although I found out that the lizards eat the rest of the bugs so I have accepted them as my ally. I spent the first day afraid to step out from under my mosquito net, but now I have perfected the art of “shoe throwing”, and I have become quite precise in my aim. I have added a collage of different pictures and cards people have sent me to my kitchen, so keep them coming! (side note my address will be the same for a few months, but that address can be used throughout my two years here). I have spoken with the head teacher and she has allowed me to use some land to start my own shamba (farm), the housemother has also agreed to help me buy a chicken, so I can have eggs. Everyone seems happy that I want to try to farm and call me a “real African”.
I have not yet started teaching, this week we are waiting for more children to arrive and having meeting to discuss whom will take each class. I was asked to teach class four KSL, and a stand-alone class on HIV/AIDS. I have a huge challenge ahead of me but I am trying to sort out creative lesson plans and activities for the school. Today I meet prominent community members, including the Chief, two Sub-Chiefs, Police Commissioner, and leaders of the Ministry of Education. I was graciously greeted, and I have high hopes for my secondary projects to support the community.
The children here are so amazing, every morning they assemble for a “parade” which includes a story from a teacher, and then a series of “songs” lead by older girls. At first they approached me with caution, but now it is as if I cannot keep track of number of taps I get from different children trying to get my attention. They also gave me a new sign name; the sign letter G at my dimple that moves back and fourth. I am trying to learn 81 new sign names, but so far I have enjoyed just playing Frisbee and chatting. I have also arranged to meet with deaf adults in Embu town. I am eager to make friends and see if I can assist with any community development activities.
At times I feel this is the most exciting time of my life, but I also believe it is the loneliest as well. Adjusting to a new environment, community and lifestyle (imagine having to live where you work!) will be challenging. Despite the hardships, I feel as if I have come alive with creativity and passion. The only matter is identifying with the positive and holding on to hope—hope that I can have confidence in my ability, hope that I can make a difference in the lives of these children, and finally hope that my shoe hits the large spider!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

We live in a beautiful world

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”


The time has come once again to leave the familiar and venture out unto the unknown. Tomorrow I will leave Loitokitok for Nairobi; I will then meet my supervisor and head to my site, which remains nameless. I trust the Peace Corps once again to decide my fate.

I will leave Loitokitok with a heavy heart, but with many astonishing memories. Today in the market I wanted to feel the buzz of whole town--alive. I stood in the middle hearing the hum of bargaining, the back and fourth drama, the friendly greetings. I breathe in deeply the fresh breeze from Kilimanjaro, hoping I will never forget what it was like to stand here, in the middle of it all. On my walk home I greeted all my favorite neighbors and hugged them, trying desperately to memorize the contours of their smiles as they wished me luck. I approach the small red house on top of a hill, I see three familiar faces running toward me, as I run toward them. My sisters all giggle as I chase and tickle them; I hold the smallest one in my arms and toss her up into the sky. She squeals with delight as I remember, this may be the last time for it all. The sun setting in the distance and the world is showing off—the most brilliant blues and greens dance in the sky, as the sun’s rays hit the hills and plateaus reflecting bits of orange and reds, all painted across the canvas of green rolling shambas.

Change visits once again, and only demands flexibility and courage. This time, I will begin my work as a teacher and although nervous, I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be involved in work I truly believe in.