Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Signed Conversation:
Me: Electricity finished?
Thomas: Electricity go to Embu, lunch time. (mimics getting into a matatu and eating lunch).

Teaching is strange and wonderful thing. What is it to teach? What is it to learn? I have spent the majority of my life in a classroom—but standing on the other side I imagined would be completely different although I find that its not. As a teacher I also want to be a constant student—always looking for new and different ways to learn. I feel comfortable in front of the classroom; and that is most likely because I know my students. From sweet and shy Silas when he answers a question correctly smiles into his shoulder, class know it all Dennis, to the hilarious Pauline, this is not a mass army staring and judging ( as I imagined it would be) but rather a group of students who want to learn. I am inspired by their curiosity and wit.

My most enjoyable times I’ve had teaching have been showing them a different world outside their own. I show them pictures and books from the far reaches of earth. I can see their eyes—discovering these whole new worlds from the comfort of the classroom. Every Sunday I try to have a “lab” day where we have class, but try to do something that the 35 minutes would not allow. I had a few back issues of National Geographic sent to me, but surprisingly most of the topics I was covering were inside the covers. I can sign about what the ocean is but to children who have never seen an ocean—its the equivalent to signing about dragons or mythical lands, but with these magazines I can show them a four page spread of oceans, icebergs, and deserts! More then anything I encourage their curiosity about the world around them, because it is curiosity that has taken me to 5 different continents and here to Kenya. It is this unexplainable feeling when you can see minds at work, a deep and resounding joy that radiates. When we are done my students all sign “thank you for teaching” and at that very moment everything seems to fit.

Another step I’ve taken as a teacher is devote time to instilling confidence. Many people in Kenya believe Deaf people are dumb, even a common name for the Deaf ‘bu bu’ means dumb in Kiswahili. I know the students internalize some of these cultural thoughts, and I have been trying to change that. I made posters that say “Yes I Can” and had students write their names and draw pictures of their desired future professions. The class normally stands and signs “Hello Teacher” when I enter the room but I have changed the greeting to “Yes I Can” before we start class—and remind them when they approach a difficult task. And it has been difficult! Many of my students cannot read and very few can write. I have spoken to teachers who have alluded to the fact that they have “sort of given up, teaching writing” focusing rather on reading comprehension. I tried to jump into writing short stories and then realized we needed to start from square one, what is a noun, verb, and object? I know I am asking them to try something new, and I realize how difficult it must be, somehow through all of this I have found a patience, I never knew I had. Perhaps it comes from memories of my own struggles in school, until one day something just clicked. I’ve spent the last two months encouraging and explaining, but I do see progress! I am lucky to have such a fulfilling job. Working with children, I am guaranteed a laugh, a hug, and satisfaction in a day of work. Do I need to mention the cuteness factor—look at those faces!

I have also been busy with the Deaf adult community. In the past month I have attended two Deaf leadership seminars and unbeknownst to me was also a speaker at the events! I gave impromptu speeches about being a leader, and peace. Both I sort of rattled off things about Obama (a sure crowd pleaser), the goals of the Peace Corps, and volunteerism. My speeches were very short, but I think enjoyed! The most rewarding part is meeting some very charming and clever people, that I am happy to call friends now.

I have been working closely with the prime organizer in these events. He is a Deaf man from Embu who received a scholarship to study at Gallaudet University, he is back for a few months working on research but also organizing events. It has been a pleasure to work with someone who is enthusiastic about change. Working with him as given me an instant “in” to the community where otherwise I would be pegged as an outsider. Some of the projects include an early assessment center in Embu, where young Deaf children can be evaluated, and a Deaf beauty pageant (the goal is really to instill Deaf pride and expose the Deaf to the hearing community). It is also nice to work with someone who understands American culture, and can sympathize with being far from home.

Being here is often a rollercoaster of emotions. Born from romantic ideas of distant lands and far off places. At times I am alive with curiosity, and wonder, other times alone with just my thoughts. I am realizing there is more too it then just living here. A place or home is not anything until you invest something into it, live it completely; the pain the pleasure, and all the questions. It is bigger then the romantic ideals, or stories, or blogs I can throw together. I am far from everything I have known—but not lost, or maybe just not wanting to be found. This is my home.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Adventures in Teaching

I wrote a long entry but left it at home, so I will post more later! For now enjoy some pictures!

Crossing the river by my house.

The kids working on my farm.

Rebecca(whom everyone calls my baby) and Eunice from nursery class.

Nursery and some of class one!

Rebecca and I.

That is the Chruch and Mount Kenya in the background.

Sunset outside my door.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ashes To Ashes, Dust to Dust.

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
Genesis 3:19

Standing in the Embu mortuary, surrounded by teachers from my school my stomach fell to my feet.

We were all there for a former student; James who attended the school for 10 years and later went on to vocational school near by. Both of his parents had died when he was young and he was working in Embu as a mason to support his younger brothers. I only met him once, at the Deaf church in town, but I remember being moved by his kindness. He was struck by a van in town—despite the many speed bumps they move a dizzying pace. He was only 20-years-old. Although the remaining members of the family loved him, no one could afford to bury him.

At school my friend and fellow teacher Michael, instantly knew what he had to do. “ He is our boy” he would say again and again as he left the school to make arrangements. He worked at day and night visiting the police, insurance office, hospitals, and carpenters to “make it right” he said. All of this was done with out a second thought, or even a complaint. He hired a Deaf preacher from Nairobi to lead the service, paid for Deaf community members to travel, all in the hope to try to share James’ culture with his small village. He encouraged the teachers to chip in and pay for James’ coffin, and attended the funeral ourselves. This is a family.

At the mortuary, I shifted nervously back and forth, unsure of where to stand, what to do. We all viewed the body and I watched the preacher sign the sermon. I felt instantly calm, “ he is our boy” I said in my head, because it is the truth. The students at our school are ours, in most cases all they have for guidance, or role models. Even though James wasn’t my student in a way he was.

We all piled in the car and headed to Ishiria the home of James. We were driving into a place so unfamiliar to our lush farming town, despite only being 40 minutes away. The area was hot and dry, trees were jagged and fought one another other for life. The preacher joked that we took the wrong road and were in Mombassa. There was curious sad beauty to the landscape; deep red soil, patches of cactus, and babaou trees all placed against gently sloping hills—green. The sun was unforgiving, and challenged all those there to exist.

We finally arrived to James’ home. Many villagers watched as we entered, Michael told me that this was probably the first time seeing a mzungu (foreigner). The Deaf preacher gave his sermon and because most did not know English 2 interpreters were needed to change the sermon from KSL, to English, to Kimberre. Many people hide their Deaf children, ashamed of their Deafness and often times thinking witch craft is involved, many Deaf children are kept hidden their whole lives. Michael gave his eulogy in Kimberre and sign language and expressed the importance in accepting the Deaf, he made a point to introduce all the Deaf people and expound upon their successes.

After a quick introduction of village elders, remaining family members, and church leaders it was time to lay James to rest. Outside of his home, the red dirt, thorny plants sprawled over the land, as a sadness hung—which was all too familiar to this family. The sun was setting and changed the sky to a light purple, as the light highlighted varying parts of the hills, revealing gentle slopes. Burial songs were sung by the eldest villagers, all women. Their colorful head wraps swayed back in forth as red dirt was flew all around at rapid pace. When the burial was finished, three plants were planted on top of his gave and a cross-placed at the top. The sun had now moved beyond his grave illuminating the cross and the arresting land.

We said goodbye to our boy.