Friday, February 25, 2011

Making Plans

I have added a new member to my family!!

(No, I haven't eloped with a Kenyan. Not yet, anyway.)

It all started on a Monday, on Valentine's Day. I had stopped by the little roadside duka to buy some small candies for my fellow teachers in order to share a little bit of an American holiday tradition, and arrived to school early. My week as the teacher on duty was just starting, so I helped the kids with their morning chores and attempted to explain Valentine's Day to my students (I think they mostly just caught "love day" and were underwhelmed, even when I told them they were ALL my Valentines, and the best Valentines I could hope for... some things are just lost in language/culture translation). After my first block of classes, I returned to the staff room where most of the other teachers were assembled. They thanked me for the sweets, and we talked briefly about the differences between Kenyan/American Valentine's Day (I'll give you a hint - Americans tend to take it way too far, spend too much money, and Kenyan's don't understand why. That seems to be a common theme in the difference between Kenyan/American anything) until the head teacher came into the room and requested my presence in his office. I was confused when he pulled an empty potato sack out from under his desk, even more confused when I realized there was something small inside, and downright baffled when the small object in the bag moved. Most of my experiences in Kenya with living creatures given as gifts have been confined to chickens in the collection plate at church, which made me nervous. I have no idea how to take care of a chicken, and don't really want one. But when I looked inside the bag, I was thrilled - there was a tiny grey and black striped kitten sitting at the bottom, looking up at me. I saved him from his burlap confinement immediately, and we've been best of friends ever since. (Note: I know I have previously referred to my kitten as a girl, but some... evidence has proven that she is, in fact, a he). He still doesn't know that fingers are not for biting, but that's one of the last lessons that kittens learn, so we're working on that one slowly. I'm otherwise pleased with his company and antics.

Of course this can't be an entirely pleasant blog post. Another event that really knocked me off my feet (but not in an I-just-got-an-adorable-kitten kind of way) was a recent bout of giardia. I had been so careful with my water treatment and general cleanliness that I thought I had nothing to worry about. But parasites have a way of finding you despite your best efforts, so I was stuck dealing with the first real episode of serious sickness since I've been here. Luckily the medication worked quickly, and the family on my compound helped me out a lot. They gave me fresh pineapple when I regained my appetite, and even offered to wash all my clothes. I didn't let them do that, but still. They were total life savers. Now I'm healthy, I've doused my house in bleach and replaced all my drinking water containers (I am my father's daughter, after all) and hope to stay healthy because of it.

Teaching continues to make me incredibly happy and drive me totally crazy. I'm brainstorming ideas for helping improve the situation at our school to make it more learner-centered and nurturing, (and, by selfish extension, a little easier on the teachers) but we're really starting from scratch. So far I've thought of
  • Readjusting the classes (and the students therein) to actually reflect the level of learning that's appropriate in each case. We currently place students in a class based on age rather than ability, so the older man who can't write his name is in class eight while the boy-genius who works on long division and spells names of Kenyan cities for fun is in class five.
  • Expanding the garden to include more nutritious options to supplement the githeri/ugali/porridge diet that the students get (and actually serve the produce to the STUDENTS instead of the teachers), maybe including a small nursery for baby fruit trees that we can keep for the community (thanks for the nursery idea, Tim!)
  • Building a resource room/library that can house books, posters, games and other educational resources that the students don't have now. Also, making the posters, getting donated kids' books and games, etc.
  • Starting a girls' group to promote health, self-esteem and friendship between the girls (we're having a bit of a problem with the ladies and the way they interact with one another).
There are other ideas, but these are the most pressing, and most feasible. I can start the girls' group this term, but the others will take some planning. I hope to get the other teachers on board, provided they agree with my analysis!

Other than those updates, there isn't a lot that has changed. I'm already getting excited for In-Service Training in Nairobi at the end of this first term. I'm becoming more and more used to living in a village, and have become a bit out of touch with modern conveniences. This is a good thing for the most part (it's nice to not miss running water when it's not an option), but when Nyahururu looks like a bustling metropolis to me (and I can vividly remember, upon first sight, considering it a very small town), I think it's time to reacquaint myself with a real city. And of course I'll have a chance to see the other Volunteers and "be American" for a little while. I like becoming Kenyan, but there's something rehabilitative about being myself for some time.

In the meantime, if you city slickers think your life is a little boring and could be spiced up by taking on a bit of a challenge, I have one for you! The 50-year anniversary of John F. Kennedy's creation of the Peace Corps is coming up in March, and Peace Corps is doing all kinds of things to raise awareness not only of the anniversary but of the organization as a whole. One of the events is a challenge to US citizens living in the states to "Live like a PCV." LinkYou can choose a country from the available participants (Kenya is one of them!) and there are guidelines (of varying difficulty) that you follow to simulate life as a PCV for a week in the country you've selected. If you're considering service as a PCV, it's a great taste of life in-country. Or if it just sounds like fun, check out the rules, photos and other information here.

I'd also like to extend an invitation for anyone following this blog to post a comment with a request for what they'd like to read about. Since I've been here for a while, I have a hard time determining what is exciting, or what people may be left wondering at the end of each post. I will post a summary of daily life (with pictures!) once I reach Nairobi and have picture-uploading ability, and of course I will keep everyone updated on what happens in my school/life (those two things are slowly becoming the SAME thing). But, any specific requests are encouraged!

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