Wednesday, February 18, 2009


"We adapt our voice and phrase to the distance and character of the ear we speak to"
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Signed conversation with my students:

Student: So you flew in a plane from America?
Me: yes
Multiple Students: Were you scared?
Me: No, it’s safe.
Student: But the hippos!
Me: Sign again, did you just sign hippo?
Multiple Students: Yes, yes, hippo!
Me: Why would I be scared of a hippo on a plane?
Student : Because when your sitting on the plane, you look out the window and you fall out and a hippo eats you.
Me: Maybe I should be scared of flying!

This conversation is ten times better in sign form, because Deaf students use so much imagination, and facial expressions, their stories are just better signed!

I was once told that as a volunteer I would experience the highest highs, and the lowest lows. I couldn’t really understand what this meant until now. Some days I feel so engulfed with happiness, I think I even sleep with a smile, other days the challenges here can be overwhelming. There is the constant loneliness, the need for acceptance, and the extreme amount of patience with people. My school is quite isolated, so I do not have a “village” to integrate into. All the teacher speak English but prefer to use “mother tongue”, which is not a written language, leaving me in silence most of the time.

It is not the easiest when people are constantly seeing you as an outsider; although this concept is not a foreign one to me it was never as outwardly spoken. Even my town visits are not without screams of “mzungu” “sister, marry me” “give me money” “buy me sweets” and my favorite “ hey white”. I can feel this constant gnaw of irritation, and when I feel it begin to bubble up, I just can’t help but laugh. I’m sorry, “hey white” that is funny to me, and ultimately I know (most) of these people do not know they are annoying me, in fact they are just amused by my presence. Who knows if my I was born in Embu, Kenya and rarely saw a person with a different skin color, I too may want to yell and try to get their attention--then again maybe not, but I can see where they come from.

I think what I am realizing about my experience is not what I experience here, but rather how I choose to experience it. I could turn inward, and think every Kenyan who talks to me wants something, or I can go out there every time having hope that people are mostly good. I have to say for every time I’ve had someone ask for money, I’ve had someone show me great kindness. I try to hold onto those moments in my head when I feel so much like an outsider that I would like to run and hide! Ultimately I have to choose the person I want to be, and I want to be a person who thinks the best of people and who can laugh (instead of hiding).

This week a girl came to school, she is around 9 –years-old, she recently contracted meningitis and became Deaf. She is far from her family and friends, adapting to a whole new and scary world. She must adjust and find her “new normal”. I know eventually she will make great friends here, they will become like family, and she will be happy. I think somewhere deep inside she knows it too. At sports time, she sat alone against a tree--I walked up slowly and tried to sign how are you, but stopped when I realized she wouldn’t understand me. She looked up at me her eyes deep pools of black, tears welled in her eyes, and for some reason mine did the same, I smiled—she reached up and held my hand. I know we will be ok.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Carry this for luck

During our life skills class, I made my ( now famous) mango salsa, I think it is an important life skill!
These two are my precious little sisters, doing there favorite Masai jump dance!

One of my class 7 students making our snare!

One of the teachers setting the bait( corn and flour) for our trap.

Closing the sides for our trap!

My home, it extends to the white line, next door is another teachers house. The big tank is for collecting rain so I can have water!

The pigs that live outside my house and the boys dorm in the background!

These are my little sisters running toward me as I return from school!

My first full week of teaching has finished, and I cannot stop smiling, I truly love my job! Nairobi is wonderful, and packages from home are even better. I have started planning a project that I am very excited about, I don't want to speak to soon in case it doesn't work out, but I am obscenely excited.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Everything is Everything

"No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."
Helen Keller

The strike has been called off, and classes resumed this week. It has come as a huge relief to myself and all the children—being cooped up with plenty of ideas can sometimes be frustrating, so this week I am putting them into practice. I’ve been trying to use locally available resources to teach such as balloons to represent a globe, drawing maps, and creating journals. Some of these have worked other have not.

I am teaching a stand alone class on HIV/AIDS to class 8(one of my favorite things to teach), the ideas I had was to have a journal where students could express their thoughts, and feelings regarding the topic. I told them they could write questions they had, write poems, or draw—by the end of the class I received all drawings of myself --teaching. So I missed the mark on that one, but I still feel like I want to stick with the idea, because the within 2 years the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among Kenyan has rises nearly 2 percentage points. I strongly believe in open communication regarding the subject, and I know the future of HIV/AIDS in Africa really lies in the hands of the youth. A journal also provides an avenue to improve upon writing skill (which is desperately needed, some students struggle just to write a complete sentence in class 8) and the journal is for my eyes only reinforcing open communication.

My other idea was to use balloons as globes to explain the revolution of the earth around the sun! I drew the different continents on the balloon and had one student hold a yellow balloon and act as if they were the sun. I explained what an axis is and demonstrated a revolution. My students eagerly looked at the world as a balloon, but one signed "so in your home( America) it is night, now?" I wanted to hug her, it worked-- they filled out all my questions on the board correctly. I smile every time I think about it!

This week I was also informed that I was to help with the running activities, equivalent to track team. Imagine the irony: myself teaching Kenyans to run—I know! Truth be told, I am excited because I can put those three years on my high school the track team to use, and at least out dole out some challenging drills. For right now “track practice” consists of running in circles around a field, but maybe I can work in some hills or relay races, and then who knows maybe I have New York marathon runner on my hands?

I am trying to explore the idea of using video as a tool for learning. The students love anything visual and video just seems like an invaluable learning tool. I only wish I had the foresight to bring a projector or printer, but I guess I’ll have to make due with what I have. I have been learning from my fellow teachers as well. Today I had the opportunity to make my first snare or animal trap. One teacher intended to make one, to trap a bird to dissect for his science class. I decided to join because I teach the same class social studies; we walked around the school ground with machetes chopping small tree branches. We bent each stick and weaved other sticks through it, then we collected a leaf from a plant scratched it until I became a rope like fiber. We finished weaving tied the structure together and put the bait inside our trap—flour and corn. We will see tomorrow what we catch; I just hope it is not a snake! I promise to try to add pictures (maybe even videos) this weekend when I go to Nairobi; my connection is too slow and inconsistent to try to support that type of upload.

I’m really starting to feel at home here at Saint Luke’s, hard to believe that it has been almost one month since I’ve arrived! Although the strike threw a wrench into many things, but it feels good to interact with the students and staff again. My counterpart helped me choose a bicycle, and another helped me get it “serviced”, so I finally took to the road this evening. Many people know I am very scared of getting hit by a car which kept me from using a bike in college, but who has time to be afraid? The feeling of riding on the dirt paths and exploring new places; that has to be bigger then any fear. I live about 10 kilometers from town and I would like to start riding to town to avoid expensive and cramped matatus (mini buses used as transport here).

Everything feels as if it is falling into place. I have made quite a few Deaf friends in town ( who insist on giving me a mango every time I see them), I enjoy signing and getting to know them better. I want so badly to succeed in teaching these children, and helping my community. With every greeting, game and signed I love you, I am overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to my students. I believe so much in the potential they possess. My only hope is that my imagination and ambition could create something useful and sustainable here.