Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gaining Momentum

Although Sipili is back to its usual dustbowl climate, on Monday morning I awoke to thick clouds hiding the sun, and trees swaying in a cool breeze. That weather was certainly a pleasant change from the usual scorching heat. These arid areas have been experiencing a bit of drought lately, but Sunday night we got a good dose of rain. I didn’t even mind that I heard each and every raindrop that hit my tin roof from 4-5:30 AM, because I knew we’d have water in the well and the crops wouldn’t fail. It’s comforting to feel such a connection to rain, to feel genuinely excited about water. Back in the US, rain just promises clean streets, a fresh smell and maybe some crazy drivers. But here it’s critical for survival.

Some time has passed since the bright, new beginning of the term, and life has settled into a bit of a routine. As I was discussing with my Mom during a much-needed phone call back home, this is the first time I’ve actually had time to settle down since before college. I’ve always been on the move, with a new town, a new home or a new room just a few months away. Now the reality of “2 years” is sinking in, and I still haven’t decided how I feel about that reality. It’s undeniably exciting, but it seems like a long time to be settled in one place.

The upside of settling (or “nesting,” as I like to call it) is that my house is becoming more and more like a home. Although the little girl next door recently broke my only chair by standing on it to see the spaghetti I was cooking for dinner, I have gained a small coffee table and a couch. My couch doesn’t have cushions yet, but I’m hopeful that I can find some in town within the next week. On one wall in my room I’ve hung cards and pictures from home on a piece of twine (Brutus Buckeye is featured twice already), a framed bible verse to remind me of my college community group days (I love and miss you girls!) and some Buddhist prayer beads that a dear friend gave to me before I boarded the plane in Anchorage. These things from home help me feel connected, the importance of which can’t be overstated.

School is increasingly rewarding and frustrating (I’m finding such contradictions to be common). The students are having a hard time grasping simple concepts, but they’re making every effort and at least are comfortable with me as their teacher. Some days when there are no other teachers around (another frustration altogether, explained later), I just sit with the classes and “story” with them. We talk about school, home life, their likes and dislikes, and whatever is on their mind. It helps me learn their signs, and also gives them a chance to freely express themselves. There’s not much of an opportunity for that otherwise. They’re particularly fascinated with airplanes. They see them occasionally in the sky and have seen them on TV, but have never been close enough to one to really know what they’re like. So, we talk about airplanes. A lot.

When the term began in early January, I was very excited to hit the ground running and teach as much as I could. I’m still excited about teaching, but I’m starting to encounter a problem that I already anticipate will be a constant battle over the next couple of years. During training we were warned that the other teachers may not share our enthusiasm for the job, so I thought I was prepared for that kind of attitude. At the beginning, I saw a little bit of that in my fellow teachers, but I was actually pleasantly surprised; they spoke a lot about their dedication to the job and displayed a mature understanding of the obstacles Deaf children face and what techniques should be employed to overcome them. However, while everyone is good at identifying issues and explaining how deal with them, actions ultimately speak louder than words. And inaction speaks the loudest. It’s not at all uncommon for me to go to the class I’m teaching, and to see my lesson from the previous day still on the board (meaning that a whole day has gone by without another lesson, even though they are supposed to have eight lessons per day). And it’s not terribly diplomatic for me, the young, foreign lady teacher with no previous experience, to call attention to the absence of other teachers for their lessons. Additionally, we have staff meetings during the school day, which prevents ANY of us from teaching during those times. On Monday, the headmaster called a staff meeting that was to last “5 minutes.” Over three hours later, we were finished, but we weren’t back to teaching – the headmaster sent the teachers out to deliver invitations to community members for a “Day of Thanksgiving” (for donations) on Friday (also to take place during scheduled class time). I politely refused and went to class, which is just about as forward as I can be about the lack of structured instruction time. And when visitors come to the school, all bets are off, too. The students “entertain” them and then go play until the visitors leave. There hasn’t yet been a day when every teacher has attended every class from the beginning until the end of the day. And during the times the teachers aren’t in class, the kids are running around, hitting each other with sticks because they don’t have a playground, toys or books. There’s nothing I want more than to help redirect time and money that the school has into resources for the kids, but it’s a struggle that has to start slowly. In the meantime, the best I can do is show up to all of MY scheduled classes, and, if I’m feeling brave, make a comment or two if I notice other people aren’t in their classes (or aren’t there on time).

Overall, my spirits are still high (most of the time), and the family next door to me is still SO supportive and helpful. I still have fresh fruit every day, and mango season is coming up! For those of you who sent mail/packages to the Nairobi address that I still haven’t received, I should be getting them by mid-February at the latest (when the APCD comes to visit my site). I’ll be sure to let people know when I get something from them so they know it wasn’t lost. And be patient with my replies – it’s been over a month since I’ve seen an OPEN post office… as we say over here, This Is Africa, or TIA for short :)


  1. "Tsamina mina Zangalewa
    Cause this is Africa"

    Love you darling! I have a letter for you that's like many stages but at least a month old. I'll send that soon? GOODNESS I LOVE YOU even if i fail at letter sending.


  2. Love you so much. Praying for you!

  3. Love you, Sweetie. Hope you find some nice fluffy, comfortable cushions for your couch. Think of me when you eat your Mango. You and the kids are in my prayers.

  4. Jennie - your Mom sent this link to me in September, and this is my first chance to get to it. I just read your blogs and am SO PROUD OF YOU. You have the right instincts, just always go with what feels right in the next situation. This time will go very quickly if you can believe and later on when you look back, you will never regret it. And you are making a difference, just by being there and talking about airplanes. Love - Aunt Cathy

  5. Hi Jenny. It's Heather Handyside. You're mom just sent me your beautiful newsletter story. I'm soooo proud of you! You rock girl! You rock!