Saturday, November 27, 2010

"People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway."
- Mother Teresa

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Goodbyes

Signed conversation

Rhoda: You are going to America?

Me: Yes in month 1( January) I will go to America,

Rhoda: What color is the plane?

Me: White, why?

Rhoda: So I will see you in the sky.

I watch as they tumble on each other, cartwheels, flips, and high kicks--their laughs, I want to always remember. I enter the compound to 20 little hands, wanting to assist with my things, I want to always remember these hands. I leave my house every morning, and walk toward the school, I am greeted with "good morning teacher" and 97 little smiles, I always want to remember these smiles.

These past few weeks have been full of different events. I had some newbies stay with me for one week and shadow my work, and I even made them teach a bit, and they did great, I am sure they'll make lovely Volunteers. I was also fortunate that their visit coincided with a “field day/ life skills day” that I had planned for the kids, so the newbie’s and another Health Volunteer were extra wranglers for the day.

I wanted to do something nice for my kids before they left; I considered re-painting the dinning hall a source of ire, as of recently; but I decided to go with my strengths, which is not art, but rather playing! The day started with face paint, sack race, three-legged race, and football tournament. In the afternoon we played Frisbee, and had a water balloon toss, which my kids have never seen before! Needless to say it was very entertaining, and the kids had a blast. We finished the evening with arts ( all the kids made pipe cleaner glasses--adorable) and crafts and some HIV/AIDS games.

It was great to see the kids having so much fun, and to see the newbie’s and the Volunteer fall in love with my kids! They really are the cutest kids, ever. I was proud to see everything fall into place, and mostly to see my smiling kids and hearing their squeals of delight. I would update adorable pictures, but my flash drive was destroyed, so no pictures until I return home I suppose.

I guess with 1 week and half left; I should be introspective about my experience but I won’t; not right now. I am doing everything the same as I always do at site, refusing to let the ticking clock distract me. Perhaps I am just in denial that the fact that my whole world for the past two years is coming to a close, or that I fear I will leave the best part of me in this little village, in this little school, in these 97 little people. No, for now I will sit on my stoop let the kids crowd around until dinner, and I will remain seated, without a care, in admiration. Goodbyes; not now.

I will head out at the end of this month to Mombasa to finish up a project; a video about HIV/AIDS counseling and testing. Then I will attend a farewell weekend with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in my group, and make my way to Nairobi, where I officially “close my service”. After that I’ll make my way to Lake Turkana in the most remote part of the country, Northern Kenya. I will then fly to Ethiopia for a 10-day trip with one of my favorite people in the world! I will spend Christmas with some hostel buddies, and Boxing Day with my Kenyan Mama in Embu. Afterwards I will head out to the massive Mount Kenya; the mountain the country is named after; and the mountain I have stared at for two years. I will ring in the New Year 17,000 ft above sea level, staring out onto the land I have called home for two years. Then I will make my way back to Embu and spend a few quite days with my Kenyan Mama and visit my school-for the last time. I’ll fly to Egypt for a quick trip to the pyramids, and eventually to the U.K. for a week with old friends. Finally, after being away for over two years, I will fly to the United States. Inshalla.

No goodbye for now, let the adventure begin.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


These past few months have turned to weeks, and days—it hard to comprehend rational of time. Peace Corps is ephemeral by nature; two years is what you have, and as you experience highs, it is a ticking time bomb—a set of amount of time to accomplish something. During your lows, it is a sentence—a fixed time to when you can be “home” again. Yet they co-exist, somehow, to my vexation.

Mid-term exams were taken and all the students anxiously awaited the results; to their surprise, so did I. I have worked with my class 8 for 2 years now, in social studies—the most despised subject in the school. Every year the results from exam show that social studies always have the lowest average of all subjects. For students who struggle with English, social studies can be very—wordy. I didn’t know all this when I first began teaching 2 years ago, in fact I had no idea that the class I was taking on currently had a failing class average in the subject, I just knew my best subject was always social studies and history, so I eagerly choose this class.

Before I knew it I was thrown into the teaching gauntlet. I have had so many highs and lows teaching this class. There were days when I wanted to just walk out and cry; cry for the system that had failed these kids, and at time is feels as if it is almost designed for them to be unsuccessful. Yet, in small ways my students encouraged me, everyday. I could see them growing mentally, becoming curious, asking questions, and demonstrating concepts. Even when I felt beat down, I tried to enter the classroom with the same enthusiasm, and patience, I had the first day. My students brought their energy, and curiosity. Some days they brought their attitudes, hormones, and general teenage behavior, and I brought my frustrations, and exasperation, yet someone we preserved together.

The midterms are the last exam results I will see, in two weeks my class eight will seat for the national exams; the results won’t be released until January, after I have left the school. So as the teachers posted the results for the exams I anxiously waited until classes begun and the children left. I watched each minute pass with a vigilant stare. Finally when all the children ran to class, I approached the bulletin board and traced the lines of subjects with my finger. Social studies; all of my students had improved, tremendously. If I look at the results from when I first began teaching this class they began with a failing average; to this exam, in which they now have a C+ average as a class—with none of them failing. My heart busted into a million little pieces, I was so overwhelmed with unadulterated joy! Later, I met my class; told them how proud I was of them, their eyes swelled with pride, and their smiles were so genuine. I signed “ I told you if you work hard, you will improve” they responded “yes teacher, thank you”. We have a few weeks until they seat for the national exam, and there is something different in all of them, a passion, a confidence, a new life breathed in them. We are not missing a beat, continuing until the national exam, where I will be a wreck, hoping, wishing, crossing my fingers for them!

I thought as a nice reward would be a field trip to Embu, as part of our life skills class. Our main event was getting a tour of the Post Office ( pictured above), which they all enjoyed, especially when they were able to stamp some of the letters. They were so excited, to see a new and different place, to understand something new, I was proud.

I think about the two years I have spent in the classroom, I think of everything I will take away, and leave behind. Even though I am beyond proud of my classes because of the improvements they have made academically, I hope I taught them more. I hope I taught them how to be curious, to ask questions, to know their rights, to challenge themselves, to see a person for who he or she is not what they look like, to be more human. When I think of everything that I will take away—well that list could consist of a whole book. It was best of times, it was the worst of times, I think that one has been taken.... I will say I have seen great warmth in people, I have seen charity, and honesty, but I have also seen corruption, apathy, and even violence. Yet the juxtaposition, and the emotion that comes with living a in world with both, well, often leaves me vexed. I know that every time I am discouraged by the world, I throw my energy into my students; they are my hope. I’ll put it this way, a phrase I hear often from people at home is that I am changing the world, but the way I really see it, for better or worse, the world has changed me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Like a Rolling Stone

Every year the jacaranda blooms in October. All year it sits in silence- amongst the trees, just waiting for its time to shine, patient.
Then like a red headed stepchild, it blooms- and there it is exposed to the world, all the green leaves fall, all thats left is a smear of electric purple, that rains on all of Embu.
I love jacaranda season.

I recently finished my COS ( close of service) conference at a nice hotel not so far from me. Its hard to describe what I am feeling these days--part nostalgia, fear, excitement, curiosity, happiness, and a longing. There are million things I love about living in Kenya, I have become so accustomed to life here, I actually find it hard to remember a different life.

I love the excitement I feel every morning, the quite cups of tea, the line of children who run to help me carry me books, the greeting from the other teachers, the time spent alone. I get so much joy from the smallest gestures of kindness, the small hands signing- big ideas, the time, time to read, to think, make the world go silent--and to just be.

For all the these months, time has slowed me down to a snails pace, like a donkey dragging its feet, now it taunts me with its change of pace! These next few weeks will include helping with the new groups training, finishing up some projects, taking the GRE, applying to grad school, finalizing my travel plans, tying up lose ends here, finishing strong with my class 8 who are seating for national exams next month, saying goodbye to fellow volunteers, friends, and my students.

I feel almost the same way I did 2 years ago! Everything I have known for 2 years will be turned upside down, I'll be thrown into a different culture ( well is it different, or am I?), but I am strangely excited by the next adventure. This experience has taught me so much-- equivalent to my 4-years at university. My teachers Emerson, Hemingway, Marquez, Eggars, and the hundreds of other authors I have read--along with all my co-workers, community members, and my students- who teach me something new everyday.

I'll finish up these next few months, trying to soak everything up, trying to absorb all the happiness here, so I can use it for a rainy day when things may not be so bright in the future.

Whatever the next adventure brings--I am ready to jump, without hesitation.

Monday, September 13, 2010

100 days

100 day ( give or take) until I am done with Peace Corps service. I have taken stock on a lot of past memories and things I have written, it feels like a whole life wrapped up in 21 months. I feel as if I left for Kenya 10 years ago, so much has changed.

Behind the purple prose of this blog, are my experiences here, which literally full of dramatic highs and desperate lows. I sit here with a mere 100 days left its hard to encompass, the magnitude of it all that has happened and everything that will come.

I have started my third and last term at St. Luke's. I try to count how many pots of water I warmed for my bucket baths, how many bowls of oatmeal I've eaten, how many times I have seen the morning parade performed by class 4, how many books I've read at my desk, how many lesson plans I have prepared, how many children I have taught, how many letters I've received and written, how many chickens I've chased from my house, how many times I laughed so hard I cried, or how many times I cried so hard I had to laugh, how many times my students thanked me for teaching, how many times they've understood concepts, how many conversations I had with my neighbors,how many lessons I've learned in the silence of the evenings on my stoop, how many times I've just appreciated life. Its an eternity.

For now I'll let Christine sit on my lap, Caroline play with my hair, Patrick carry my books, Jackline practice finger spelling my name, Consolata hold my hand. 100 more times.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

South Africa

I sway back and fourth in the frigid, restless, Atlantic Ocean, as the rain preserves, I hold my breath, ready. I am not safely nestled in front of my TV, for shark week; in fact I am not even on the boat, I am in the water, surrounded by great white sharks.

I calmly grab the bars of my cage, and think how did I end up here? As shark bait none the less? The waves crash and the captain orders the boat back- we only have 20 minutes. The squall has snuck upon us, and the white-capped waves are growing stronger by the minute. This is the most dangerous part of the trip; an impending capsized boat. Yet here I am, in the unforgiving Ocean where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic, and battle it out, where seals migrate every year, and where Great Whites come to feast on their blubber, in South Africa; this is shark alley.

This is one of my last days in South Africa; a trip that proved to be as magical as it was memorable. Since landing in Jo’burg, South Africa has left me something to think about. After traveling to West Africa and living in East, I never thought a place like this existed. Paved roads, stop lights, Mcdonalds? Where was I? Huge cities, even bigger townships, and a history as torn as a Shakespearean tale. South Africa was quite the anomaly.

I swallowed everything Capetown had to offer—diversity, charm, edge, history, beauty, a Big Mac. The mysterious table mountain frames the whole city, and striking cliffs the hug the coastline. Everyone is still alive from the buzz of the World Cup, proud of their accomplishments, and rightfully so. I wander the streets wide-eyed taking it all in with awe. People singing on the street, gives me the chills, the hum of the curio market, and the solemn moments inside a church turned museum, telling the tales of apartheid’s cruel conjecture. Capetown; it is what I needed.

Any trip is only as good as the company you keep; and I was in luck. Two of my fellow Volunteers, were my partners in crime, confidants, lenders, moms, sisters, photographers, co-pilots, captains, interpreters, wine tasters, and more than anything friends; the best one could ask for. We left Kenya together and clung to each other in heat of Cape Point, and the chills of an Atlantic squall.

We rented a car; the smallest, little white car you could think of, but it was a nice break from the oversized matatu’s filled to the brim with chickens, people, and goats. We headed out south, the Cape of Good Hope where the Portuguese stumbled in hundreds of years ago, and somehow they were not enamored by the juxtaposed landscape, and continued on. The three of us were much more captivated. The fold mountains that pushed their way out of plates shifting; raised above the wild Atlantic waves, so pristinely blue; and windswept vegetation, fight to survive, the gentle greenery that beckons. We hiked to the Cape Point lighthouse, taking in views of cliffs and waves, and a kind sun above. Then to the most South Western point on the Continent—the Cape of Good Hope. I sat watching the waves crashing, and said a prayer of Good Hope to my baby nephew whom I have never met, my hope-- that he sees this with his own eyes one day, I hope he is always curious. We leave as the sun chases us down. Off to wine country—Stellenbosch, where some of the best wine in the world is created.

In Stellenbosch we walked the white washed streets and old buildings tucked in the valleys of rolling hills. The next morning we began a tour of 5 local wineries—after interpreting up a storm for my friend, I was rewarded with …several glasses of wine. We pooled our money together and splurged on a cheese sampler, perhaps the best purchase of my life. We took in the warm sun, the smells of good wine, and peaceful valleys dotted with vineyards. That night feasted on load of cheese, good bread, apples, and of coarse another bottle of Stellenbosch’s finest, with plenty of laughs, and signing until our hands ached.

The next day we headed out to Hermanus—the best place for land based whale watching; home to the enormous Southern Right Whale. Every year they make their way here to bask in the bay, for the month, before they’re off again. We walked the edge of cliffs spotting a few out on the distance; we watched random fins slap the water, puff from blowholes. As we moved further down the shore I spotted two whales not 100 meters from where we were. I ran for a better look on top of a cliff, found myself a comfortable rock, and just sat, feeling hopelessly small to this gentle giant. We consumed the ocean air, the setting sun, and the peacefulness of the moment; quite the contrast to the next day.

Back in the cage the water crashes, the skipper nervously watching the cage as we sway with Atlantic. The sky is gray and the rain is vindictive, the white seagulls swarm, attracted to the chum churning at the back of the boat, the air is thick with its stench, mixed with the salty sea. My feet dangle within the cage and I look to my right, and smile bright to my friend, my hands to cold to sign, we both read each others faces; excitement! When I hear the call—“ DOWN DOWN DOWN” I clench the metal in my fists, push myself down into the ocean, and assess my surroundings. I am in a green world, astonishingly calm compared to the scene above, holding my breath, waiting for what feels like an eternity, and then I see it—in a flash, the flip of a tail darting side to side, and in an instant, gone. I hold myself down looking in each direction for the shark, in awe of how fast it can move, but this is not my world, I am a foreigner and must come up for air.

I look to my friend, we give eachother toothy grins as I push my bangs out of my goggles view, I grab her hand- how awesome is this?! We sit in the cage scanning the water for another movement, yet from this point of view I am helpless, I am at the will of the ocean. The waves crash and the cage raises for a moment then clings once again to the boat. I calm myself , and wait for the call “ DOWN DOWN DOWN” again I quickly duck in the water, only to come nose to nose with a great white shark. It swims inches from my face, with a precision unknown to me, it's black eye passing my brown, and just like that its gone, into the depths of the sea. I go up for air and I can’t contain myself, I sign “cool” to my friend, “ I know” she signs. Then once again DOWN DOWN DOWN, we sink once again and she comes in dodging the cage, I can count the scars on her skin, she turns with such care, so powerful in her domain. I watch as she effortlessly glided into the green depths.

This is not the killer from Jaws I knew; she is beautiful, graceful, and powerful. Never once did I think the shark was “after” me, in fact inside the cage, I doubt she even knew anything but a boat was in front of her. This is not a bloodthirsty animal, but rather an animal that should be protected, and revered the same as other great predators, lions, leopard, bears, etc. Sharks, especially the great white sharks, are just misunderstood.

The last shark gave quite a show to those on the boat, getting out of the water, and showing her teeth. From bellow the water I could just see the flashes of fin in the water, zooming like lighting in a zig zag motion, towards the boat and in an instant away again. Then we were called in, the swells were growing rapidly, and because the weather is prone to change on the drop of hat, we were safer going back to shore. The waves crashed, and water was flying everywhere, I was still high off my shark sighting I welcomed each wave, the crashing of water in my face, my lips soaked in salt, the jump of the boat, I was alive. We stopped briefly next to an island full of seals, they covered the island like a fur coat, feasting on fish and trying to avoid the great whites. Then quickly headed back to violent waves, and eventually to land. I thought I would never be warm again. I shook uncontrollably in the horrid claws of hypothermia, and made my way to the car, where the three of us huddled in the small white car clinging to the heater. My shark experience was over, but the moments I spend among the great whites, I will take with me for the rest of my life.

We took an afternoon drive amongst the farms and rolling hills, to the jutting cliffs of Cape Algunas the Southern most point of the African continent; where many wayward ships rest among the Indian and Atlantic ocean malicious meeting point, and a light house shines like a beacon of hope, or like a tricky siren. I am struck my the wind and cold outside our car, and I take off in a sprint down the boardwalk, to the southern most tip of Africa, I run to the ends of the continent, alive.

Friday, August 6, 2010


Time for a vacation again! This is my last vacation as a Peace Corps Volunteer! The rules state you cannot take vacation in the last three months of your service and this is the last month off of school before it is time to close, so here it goes!

Right now I am in Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya, visiting my good friend for a week.

Next week I will head to SOUTH AFRICA!!!

Then I will head back to Mombasa for some more training.

Then it will be time for school again!

I am sure my next post will be full of adventure stories but for now enjoy some pictures from this last term.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Peace Corps is Hard

I’ve wanted to say this for quite some time now, but never felt like I really could. I try to write about things that have shaped me, the positive moments that enlighten, but I am realizing, some time the shades of grey lead to a more, real experience, so here is it the moment of truth…

Peace Corps is hard.

Peace Corps is the hardest thing I have ever done. Being isolated from people from my culture, and thrown into another, which some cases have views that are poles apart from my core beliefs, like the treatment of women, or children with special needs, and trying to navigate through both these world, while staying healthy and more importantly…sane…it is hard!

So why do it? I have been asking myself this question for the past few months when the difficulties seemed too much, and I think I found the answer; those few fleeting moments of grace.

I experience a mess of emotions tangled within each other; loneliness, independence, anger, joy, disillusion, satisfaction but within all of this are the moments of absolute calmness and clarity, and near benediction, and that makes everything ok again.

The other day I had the one of roughest night of my life; dysentery, once again( I’ll spare you the detail I am sure you don’t want to know). I woke up unable to do anything for myself. One call to my mama, and she was by my side the whole day. She cleaned my house from top to bottom; scouring the floors as if the fiercer she cleaned the faster I’d get better. The whole day people flooded my house, helping cook, or to just say, “pole” (sorry). It was genuine humanity.

I also find moments like these with my students all the time. After finishing interpreting the constitution (which is being voted on August 4th in Kenya) to my class eight students, we finally had our election day. We had been learning about the how elections work in Kenya, the constitution and about the government. It all culminated in our mock election; I told them that it was going to be a secret ballot that not even I would know what they voted for, but that I wanted them to think for themselves. I made them pretend ID’s, had their names on lists, and had a voting box ready. All of them voted and I announced the winner. They were all very excited, and I could see them actually making connections to the material, current events, and their lives in the future. It was one of those rare moments teachers always hope for. After I was done with my lesson, my students thanked me for teaching them, asked me to stay, to continue teaching, which was a huge compliment.

While these moments are rare; they are very powerful, and are able to reenergize against insurmountable odds, ( culture, religion, gender, poverty) and are able to enlighten.

My Peace Corps service is coming to an end in the next few months; next term will be my last at Saint Luke’s. I will remember those moments with burning precision.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Term Two

A small photo update. We just finished mid-term exams, so half of this term left! Things are moving along, I feel very confident with my teaching now, and its great to see all the progress we've made in the past year and a half. It is "winter" now and since I live in the highland it is actually cold! I have to wear a jacket, and socks! Everyone is really excited about the World Cup, the school only uses the T.V. on the weekends so that is the only time I am able to watch the games, but its still exciting! I make the kids cheer for all my favorite teams ( Ghana,U.S., and Agentina), but I think they enjoy it!

My clothes line and Mount Kenya in the back ground.

My babies practicing their dances.

Cristine and Jackline, they come to my house to read books in the afternoon.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On The Cusp

The crowd anxiously sits, shifting in their chairs, as a local politician speaks about the Kenyan holiday—yet their eyes are focused on one thing; boxes. Now these boxes sit at the front of the stage, as an ever present reminder of their importance and everyone knows what is inside—the constitution. The proposed constitution is a document that has been in the works for quite some time, and upon its completion is being distributed to Kenyans who will vote in August a simple choice—yes or no.

Kenya has had constitutions before, which began with a Majimbo Constitution, constructed at the time of independence in 1964, with help of the British (former colonizers), and another revision was made, yet their was need to create a constitution independent from British influence. The process began years ago and the first draft ultimately received a no vote. They began drafting a new constitution and finally completed it in May.

The speeches finally ends as people, pounce the boxes, each hastily trying to grab a constitution. A police officer has to step in the control the crowd but eventually everyone gets one. I make a bee line for the boxes—yet back off when I see the crowd grow, a friend of my snags me two, one for my teachers, the other for my students.

The idea of a government being so malleable is exhilarating too me. As a student and lover of history, you always imagine what it took to form a nation; I wished to be a fly on the wall James Madison (father of the U.S. constitution, nerd alert) when he was carefully crafting the constitution. Everything has a feeling of being “set in stone”, stories of our forefathers feel unreasonably foreign, from a different time, almost given folklore status. Yet here I am in Kenya witnessing history- and everything feels so obtainable, so tangible.

Everyday the break room at the school is filled with the buzz constitution talk. We engage in all sorts of political debates about the nature of a Constitution and I am asked many questions about my own. Which somewhere from the dark spaces in my mind I recall—I still somehow remember the whole preamble ( thanks Mr. Skeen). It seems all of Kenya is filled with the excitement, or opposition.

I plan on interpreting the whole constitution to my students in class 8. I teach social studies, and I feel it is imperative for them to know. Most of my students are left in the dark—in fact ¾ of my class had no idea what a constitution even was, yet I remain determined to finish all 500 plus pages. One teacher suggested I was wasting my time trying to explain the constitution to them, at times I feel like many people believe the Deaf should remain in this other world, outside of the hearing—this attitude of “why should they be bothered”. At times I admit it is difficult to press on; because they have very little understanding of the world outside their school and their village; and are denied access to the buzz I so enjoy; they are lost amongst the movement of lips that reveal so little. Regardless I want them to feel included, to feel apart of this country that bore them, I want them to know that this is their Kenya.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oh the hazards of aid

“We will be lost.” Nelson, an HIV counselor, recounts about the recent news that funding for antiretroviral drugs or ARVs for HIV positive patients-may slow or stop, from the United States. In the early 2000’s the Bush administration began the PEPFAR program, ( President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief ) which provides relief in many different ways ranging from funding projects, paying directly for medicine, and even funding individual Peace Corps Volunteers. Yet with the world feeling the pinch from the recession, the PEPFAR and other aid organization may not have the resources to continue.

Nelson sits in his office within a testing clinic, which provides testing services to Kenyans for free. He has managed the office for 4 years now, and has counseled HIV positive patients who have survived from the life-saving ARV’s. The afternoon light trickles in as a group of teenagers come waltzing in- for a prevention drama they are preparing.

“It seems the trend of helping people with AIDS has passed,” he says eyeing as the teens walk by. Grants that provide 200,000 people with the ARV’s will expire soon, and Nelson and the rest of his staff wait for the news on whether or not the program will continue.

He stares at the palm of his hand, when asked about the future of the patients who may be refused medicine due to cut backs “we could change this,” he says still staring into his answerless hand.

“ We rely too heavily on aid, we thought that the funding would never end, so we never planned for how to help these people ourselves, and now what will happen?”

The power and influence of aid is undeniable, when former President Bush established PEPFAR, he chose to fund mostly faith based organizations, in particular ones that stressed abstinence above all else. The press also regarded the establishment of PEPFAR as a response to an approval rating gone sour, whether or not that was the case, the influence of aid is undeniable.

“ In Kenya we have some money, we could of set-aside money for funding, and make our own policies.” With the world reeling from a recession HIV/AIDS is becoming an expensive disease, comparatively to water sanitation, or malaria. The future of HIV/AIDS is yet to be seen, but for Nelson has one request for the future “ I want Kenyans to start thinking of Kenyans.”


One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my many months here is just how complicated aid can be. As a volunteer it is something I come across daily; many people believe because I am a mzungu that I am a walking ATM; whether it be in the form of trying to charge me triple the price that they would charge a Kenyan, or demanding that I give them money, it stems from the belief about aid. It’s easy to get irritated with the constant demands for money; especially since I make the same wages as a Kenyans teacher, it easy to say to people that they should help themselves; but my time as a teacher has taught me, never assume anything—everything is learned, in one way or another. I have read several books about the topic (if you are especially interested read Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo a Zambian economist believes that the thought of aid working is a myth), and yet I have this resounding feeling that aid must continue. HIV/AIDS continues to ravage this continent; and the alternative (ceasing aid); well it is just too grim to imagine.

I am always reminded of the parable about the man throwing star fish into the ocean, when one man suggests that he could never save them all, he replies how the one thrown back in feels. I do feel aid should continue, but it needs to be responsible; and more then anything—sustainable! I believe more then anything that education is sustainable; by helping one person you can help a whole population, small change does not make the news; but it is the most powerful. I see many projects with donors wanting to see computer labs, or libraries, they want to see tangible results instantly; but I’ve seen libraries that are never touched, computers that are locked away, deemed too nice to be used, or lack of personnel who know how to use or maintain equipment. Yet the one who gives; is the ones that decide what happens—regardless of the results.

Aid is complicated; quite like most things in life, and I was quite na├»ve to think otherwise; yet I still think aid is respectable. I choose to help one of my students to go to secondary school; but after careful thought and reflection. I believed in him, in his ability, and ultimately I believe his education would be a make sustainable impact on Deaf Kenyan community; one child at a time. He is now number two in his class, and I have faith that he will continue to succeed. I know I will not build any buildings, or have any statues erected in my honor, but I do believe I have had an impact on some of these students. Besides, growing up I don’t remember the computers I used, or the libraries I was in, I remember the people who believed in me. And sometimes I can go to bed with smile.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ginnie Seger: Official Baby Holder of Kenya

Once again life at Saint Lukes begins again—term 2, here we are! I had a very interesting month off which included a visit from my parents, a girls empowerment camp, diversity and peer support training, and a Behavior Change Communication workshop/Deaf NGO Fair.

When I sit back and think about April, it feels like a weird dream where my parents showed up, and I cannot tell the difference from one day to another, but predominant theme is a feeling of accomplishment. Many of these projects I was a part of from start to finish. I remember multiple times this month sitting back, proud of all the work and ideas going around. So no crazy rafting, or avoiding baboons, or matatu doors falling off, but a quite pride—that is perpetual.

Today was the first day of school; everyday I prepare for this day the same as I did as a kid, but with a bit more excitement rather than dread. Every term I am up and ready at 8 only to find no one; every term. I always seem to forget that no one else really looks forward to the first day of school, and therefore doesn’t show up until 10 or not at all. So when the teachers show up we always wait for the kids to trickle in which takes days, weeks, even for a few; months. No real work actually happens so I normally wander around the school—trying to avoid just going to my house to read, in order to get in precious “face time” ( in my experience if people can’t see you they always believe you are sleeping), yet I really have nothing to do, and I wonder if I look more weird just wandering aimlessly yet today I have found my niche! Ginnie Seger: BABY HOLDER OF KENYA, I just gave myself that title, but it doesn’t make it less real.

We have very small children coming to this school, which is a boarding school. As you can probably imagine separating a 3-year-old from their home, and their mothers is not very pleasant. Some are more buoyant than others, but some try to run away, kick, scream, and even bite. It’s all very dramatic and my heart breaks every time I see this happen. Yet my school has found a solution to all the distress—me! Instead of wandering around trying to look busy, I do this with a crying toddler. Most of the kids here are familiar with me from last term or last year so they allow me to hold them. When their mother leaves the baby is given to me—as I try to smile them into submission—but it works. These babies just cry until they are tried and I rock them back and fourth, until we can move onto just holding hands, then standing side by side, and by the end of the day they are free as a bird! Once in awhile there are the stranglers who don’t want to let go and instead follow me to my house crying at my door, which makes me want to adopt them right then and there, but I encourage them to play with the other kids, who will be their family in no time.

I look forward to holding more babies tomorrow, and seeing some of my older students. This is my second to last term and I feel an impending sense to hold on to them for a little longer, to write just a little more about my experience, and be fully present in these moments—perhaps it will make the time go just a bit more slowly. Yet I know my attempts to control time is futile, I can still hold on—literally.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Signing Times

In Nairobi for my Behavior Change Communication Workshop today so I am taking advantage of the awesome internet here!

This is a video my mom took of my students and myself.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

In a hurry because so much is going on this month,( off to help run a girl's empowerment camp then BCC NGO fair) but here are some photos of my parents visit to Kenya, hopefully more to come later!

In other news Silas was number 2 in his class!!! I am so proud of him and of everyone who has helped by donating. If you're interested in donating please see previous post for details!

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Term one has come to end! I have the month off where I will spend a week with my parents, and the rest of the month I will be working. I am very excited about both projects so I don't mind having a working holiday!
Here are pictures of my lovely students, can't wait until they return!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

All things know, All things know

"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give" -
Winston Churchill

Sometimes I feel like life is a movie, and I am introduced to different characters, sets, even special effects along the way. The set is even more idyllic lately since the rains have begun. It rains at night and sometimes in the mornings, breathing life into the dry red cracks and sprouting life. The rain usually ends by mid-morning and the sky stretches out its blue expanse, dotted with friendly white clouds. This does not last very long, because the sun becomes harsh, bearing down and drinking most of the water left. Its taps our shoulder as we run, bears down on our heads, seeking the sweat from our brows- then finally ceases. This is my favorite time of the day. The sun starts to set and Mount Kenya is visible- the air is clean and fresh—I wish out of all the things here I could take a bottle and bring the air back with me. There is a gentle breeze and you forget the agony of the sun. The sky morphs until it finds it’s color—black. When there is no electricity the sky has millions of holes poked into it and the stars dance in the night. I have never seen so many stars.

There are plenty of characters in my life; and I am lucky to have found them. I love to travel, I love back packing whizzing through countries, in fact; my passport has only 1 page left. Yet I always wanted more. I sat or trains, planes, vans, donkeys, motorbikes, watching everything pass by, I always wondered what lay around the corners- the lives from behind the glass. Now when I sit waiting for transport outside my school—I smile at the uncommon Mzungu riding by in their private car, I know what’s beyond that corner J.

One of the main characters is my Kenyan mother, I am her namesake; Mumbi, one who attracts or creates. She lives next door to me, and has 3 other children. It took a few months to us to “feel” each other out, but now we are family. She loves to feed me! If I even mention anything about food, 2 hours later I hear a knock at my door and its her with a plate of food; normally too much for me to finish. If I am sick, she wants to wash all of my clothes, clean my whole house, make me food, and give me various “home remedies”. The only thing I accept is the liter of uji (porridge) she makes me drink and the occasional meal. She calls me her daughter, and I think she actually believes it, at the assembly one morning I came in and greeted all the teachers, she noticed something on my face (probably tooth paste), she began rubbing my face, just when I thought it had stopped, she then pulled out her handkerchief and started all over again—just like I am sure my American mother would do. Another thing I love about my Kenyan mama is she loves to read! Literacy is not huge here, and I read A LOT, most people ask we why, how I had the focus to just sit and read; but my Mama understands. I finish a book and give it to her; then we talk about our favorite parts, and if we liked the ending, and compare it to others. I can’t really explain how happy this makes me; she is just someone who understands!

The other character is my best friend the watchman Kariuki, pronounced just like karaoke, I laughed so hard when I first heard this name, ( and no one has ever heard of karaoke so trying to explain why I was laughing probably made me sound crazy “it’s like singing in Japan with your friends“ )but now I realize it is every other males name, the effect has worn off. He is the schools watchman, and works nights. He is loves UK club football (or soccer), and I think is disappointed every time I tell him I still know nothing about it. Nevertheless we are friends, we go on hikes, go on bike rides, which are always an adventure ( as I have recounted on previous blog entries). Kariuki guards the school with a bow and poison arrows, and was shocked that I didn’t believe him, until he showed me all his tools—bow and arrow, some poison arrows, a sling shot, a machete, and rocks. He really carries all of these around when guarding the school. When the school is closed sometimes we practice bow and arrow and shoot the choo ( the pit latrine) don’t worry we don’t use the poison ones! Kariuki loves to “teach” me Kiembu which consists of him speaking Kiembu then saying “ What, you don’t know what I am saying”. He is a very patient man, and puts up with my foul moods after our “2 hour walk” turns in to a 7 hour adventure. He is always dressed in a suit regardless of how hot it can get, and seems to know everyone in the area. Kariuki also tries to convince me to go to his “karate class”, how he knows karate, he will not disclose, but I have hunch its from Bruce Lee movies (which people LOVE here). One day I walked in on this “class” in the cafeteria when the school was closed, and the class consisted of 2 wazee (old people) and one small child about 3, I’d guess, I walked right out. Kariuki makes life here, fun and funny; I always end up laughing around him and for that I am very grateful.

There are a few other characters, but the major characters are 91 kids who fill my life with everything! These days I hardly leave the school ground, why would I? I have my own little community here. There is no way I could even start to describe all these little characters, all their stories, all their extraordinary strengths, all their smiles, or giggles, or grunts. So I won’t even try, I kind of like the thought of a million secret stories in my head (of coarse I will probably reveal some if asked once I am back). I love them something fierce, and feel rapt happiness, seeing them grow, learn, and develop—nothing is more honest than that.

My parents are traveling to Kenya in the coming weeks. I am very excited to introduce them to all the characters Kenya has to offer, and to show them the continent with has kept me from them for so long (first 6 months in West Africa and now in East). It will be nearly 17 months since I have seen them or anyone from home, which should be interesting; I have imagined them and other family and friends in Kenya many times. Always thinking, “I wish my Mom could see this” or “ I wonder what my friend would think about this”, I am really happy I’ll be able to share this with them.

Friday, February 26, 2010

For the windows in paradise

Faith and Cristine pretending to be old people.Faith and her baby this is the style that mothers carry around their children, interesting to see young minds socialization

Silas and I ( with the Kenyan serious face)

Silas' first day of secondary school!

A small photo update on like here at St. Lukes school for the Deaf! I've had an interesting past few weeks at the school and beyond. Recently we gave mid-term exams, I was asked to administer the exams for class 1, normally I teach the upper primary class 4-8 but they needed someone to fill in. The exam here are written on the board and each child is given a sheet of paper, they must copy the exam and then complete it. The exams were sometimes less then 10 questions and consisted of mostly "circle the correct answer" type question. I thought how easy this would be and that I would be done in no time--I was wrong. Most of the students didn't know how to copy and others could copy but couldn't read or understand what was happening. It was marathon day for me trying to explain each part of the exam, for others I had to copy the exam for them. I admire those who teach early education because near the end of the week I was exhausted. The end of the last day one student decided he had enough, I saw him walk out of the classroom with his test and then he ate it, I understood the feeling. Although stressful I am glad I got to spend more time with them, the cuteness factor is off the charts, but I was happy to return to my students in upper primary.

Oh what a difference a year can make! I feel like I've hit my stride this year with teaching and with the students. Last year was filled with confusion, loneliness, and adapting, this year I am able to fine tune my techniques and adjust accordingly. Not that there are not days that I am not confused and I am constantly adapting, I guess I am used to be being alone now, but Peace Corps is the best 2 year roller coaster out there, and this year the highs are more intense.

I teach classes 4-8 on HIV/AIDS and this year the kids are more receptive, instead of just nodding their heads we engage in very open discussions about HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and gender issues. Recently I have started using another volunteer's educational software program the kids love it, even a few teachers are interested in learning the programs, and teaching them as well. I am also in charge of the whole sports program now, which is sometimes daunting, but also a lot of fun. These days I hardly step off the school grounds, nearly everything I do is for the school.

I was able to break away to Nairobi recently because a few Volunteers and myself are currently organizing a behavior change communication (BCC) "create-a thon" for Deaf organizations and Volunteers. The idea is to meet and discuss gaps in behavior change materials, and figure out where we can help, whether it be creating posters, changing current ones to be more Deaf friendly, or making educational videos. I am really excited about the event, and what projects will come up after the workshop.

After the workshop another Volunteer who is Deaf came to visit my school. My school has no Deaf employees so the children barely interact with other Deaf adults. I wanted my friend to come to discuss her background, and how she completed her education. I wanted them to understand the possibility that lies ahead of them. It was also good for the teachers to see a Deaf woman who has completed her masters, and has a good job, because despite working with the Deaf many of them have never interacted with Deaf adults. The results were a bit shocking, many of the employees didn't believe that she was truly Deaf, others just stared opened- jawed at her, but the kids loved her. The teachers asked questions about Deaf culture and I think everyone learned from her visit. I also enjoyed "storying" (slang for signing together) with her into the late hours of the night. Hopefully we can continue these exchanged in the future.

I am still raising funds for Silas' education so if you are interested in donating please see the post below! I hear Silas is doing very well in school!