Is it mid-May already?! With all the excitement of April break and a problem with internet availability, I haven’t written in a very long time. But plenty of things have happened in the past month or so, so this promises to be an extra long entry with all kinds of updates.
To pick up where I left off, the conclusion to the “games” story is a disappointment. Many of you have heard the story, since I was pretty distraught when it happened, but I’ll give the abridged version to catch the rest of you up to speed. One day after my last post I was still in Nakuru, excitedly anticipating the students’ arrival. They were supposed to arrive sometime in the afternoon, but when 4 o’clock passed, I started to wonder where they were. Finally I got a text message from my headmaster saying they weren’t coming. I remained optimistic, hoping it meant they hadn’t left when they had planned, and would be coming a few hours or, at worst, a day late. But when I called him, those hopes were dashed. Apparently there was no money available for the bus, and the kids were waiting at school for a vehicle that was never coming. There wouldn’t be a chance for them to compete at all, and they all had to go home instead. I was heartbroken, as were the other teachers. We had all worked so hard with the kids to get them ready for competition in Nakuru, that a failure to even participate was a huge blow. It was a tough lesson for me, but it was important nonetheless. I felt like I should do something, cause a fuss and confront whoever was responsible for paying the fees, and try to “save the day.” But I had to remember I’m a teacher, not too high on the totem pole, and that kind of response would burn bridges (which is kind of the opposite of my goal here). So, I had to suck up my disappointment, and focus on cheering the kids up. I rushed back to Sipili, and although most of the kids had gone home for break, I tried to do something fun for the ones who remained.
Since games didn’t happen, I stayed in Sipili instead of going to Mombasa. I could have taken some vacation days and traveled to the coast, but I’m trying to save my vacation days for December, when my FAMILY VISITS! That’s right, the Wooley family is packing up and making the long journey to Kenya to stay for almost a month in December/early January, and I’m beyond excited. It’s still ages away, but the plane tickets were recently booked, so I reserve the right to start getting antsy. It will be a completely different experience to see Kenya from the “tourist” point of view, but I bet I’ll have a really good time. Considering the company, I think that’s a fair conclusion.
After about a week and a half at home in Sipili (which was pleasant and surprisingly productive), I left again. This time I was headed to In-Service Training (IST) in Nairobi with all the rest of the Education volunteers who arrived to Kenya in October with me. I decided to spend a few days in Machakos first, to visit my host family. It was really great to see them – my host brother had grown taller, my host sister was home from secondary school (she’d just finished her first term of form one, equivalent to freshman year in high school) and she’d gotten more mature, and my host Mama hadn’t changed a bit. It felt like I was “home” for break, too. The town was familiar, as was the house, my bed and the cooking. It was very comforting and it was great to catch up with the family. We went to my “grandma’s” house one of the days I was there, and she loaded me up with a bag full of fresh, ripe mangoes, so I was set for Nairobi. It was sad to say goodbye, but I promised I’d visit again as soon as possible.
A few other volunteers were in Machakos visiting their host families, so we all traveled to Nairobi together. It’s only about an hour away from Machakos, so it was an easy trip, but I was definitely awe-struck when I arrived in the city. The traffic is crazy, the air is polluted, and there are people everywhere. Luckily I know how to get from the matatu stage to the hotel where we had our training, but the layout of the city is confusing, and the whole place is sprawling. Coming from three months in the village, I was overwhelmed. Luckily I’d been to Nakuru and Machakos and had a chance to acclimate to city life a little bit, but it was an adjustment nonetheless. All the stress melted away when I saw my fellow volunteers. I hadn’t seen many of them since our swearing-in ceremony in December, so it was so awesome to catch up with all of them. We had all kinds of experiences at our sites that we were anxious to share, and we learned a lot from one another over the course of the two weeks. We also learned a thing or two from the training sessions, but it’s no secret that the most beneficial aspect of the trainings is the opportunity to catch up with fellow volunteers. That being said, we did have one notable session at International School of Kenya (ISK), which follows a North American curriculum... and has an IB program! I got to observe an HL English class (hands down my favorite class I took in high school), which made me strangely nostalgic for West High. Aside from providing a trip down memory lane, the experience helped inspire me to try and emulate past teachers I've had. I also met a teacher who was originally from Juneau, and the school gave us volunteers a bunch of old resources. I picked up some kids' books: "The Little Red Hen," "The Gingerbread Man," "Blueberries for Sal," and "The Velveteen Rabbit." Seeing those old books was like seeing old friends, and it's awesome to watch my pupils read them and marvel at the illustrations. Man, do they love books. Needless to say, I gained a lot from our ISK visit.
Another exciting outcome of IST was the establishment of a new committee within our Deaf Education Sector of Peace Corps Kenya. It’s largely focused on advocating for the needs of the Deaf community (especially Deaf children) in Kenya, and will do so by working with existing groups (public and private) to come up with goals and objectives for enhancing Deaf education/KSL. We have lofty goals, but that’s part of the excitement. Getting involved in a committee like this makes me feel like I’m really a volunteer, not a beginner on the periphery. Although, to be honest, I still am a beginner. Until I know Kiswahili and Gikuyu, I’ll feel like a total novice. I can understand a bit of Kiswahili, but don’t have much luck speaking it yet (except for the basics). And my Gikuyu is even more limited – I can say a few greetings, a few nouns, “come,” “go,” “I’m going to school” and “I’m going home.” Past that, I’m lost. But I’m working at it. Let me just say, learning three languages (KSL, Kiswahili, Gikuyu) at the same time is a challenge.
Despite all the ups and downs, the highlight of the past month was my run-in with Kenyan wildlife. Within the first couple months of arriving in Kenya, I’d seen most of the animals I’d expected to see along the road – zebra, giraffes, camels, buffalo, gazelles, warthogs, ostrich, baboons, etc. But I hadn’t seen an elephant. Laikipia has a lot of elephants, so my neighbors and coworkers were surprised that I hadn’t seen them yet. Even Jessica saw one last term, so I’d been getting impatient. Finally, I was lucky – I saw four elephants in one day! I went with the teachers last weekend to Nanyuki for their teachers’ union elections, and the route we took went through the back-country. I’d been through Nanyuki before (on my way to Meru for New Year celebrations), but that time I was on paved roads, which was much less direct and took a long time. Anyway, on the way to Nanyuki, we saw the first elephant, just munching away on the side of the road. When we passed in the matatu, it slowly sauntered further back into the brush, but not before I had a good chance to look at it. It was huge! I had only seen elephants in a zoo before, and there was something peaceful and soothing about seeing it in the wild. Then, after a long day of excitement in Nanyuki surrounding the elections (and a lot of introductions to other teachers from all around Laikipia), we saw three more elephants on the way home! This time it was a momma with two babies. The baby elephants were adorable. Of course I didn’t have a camera, but that’s alright. If you Google “African elephant,” you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I saw.
Other than that, life back in Sipili has been normal. Readjusting to village life after Nairobi took some effort, but it’s not so bad when there’s a goal in mind. This term I’m really focusing on developing the resources at school. We have great teachers and great kids, but we’re desperately lacking visual aids. I’m working with the other teachers on making posters that we can laminate and reuse. Since there’s no lamination in town, any posters we make are destroyed by the end of the term. Something as simple as going into Nyahururu, Nakuru or even Nairobi and laminating posters will greatly enhance our available resources, and if the kids help us make them, they’ll be more inclined to respect them and keep them in good condition. We also have some local donors who want to help us add resources, so hopefully we can get a science kit, arts and craft supplies, etc. My long-term plan is to turn this all into a resource room, where we keep the classroom resources together with picture books, games, computers (REALLY eventual), interactive DVDs and other visual resources that can enhance learning for Deaf kids. But, baby steps are required. First step, posters.
Thank you to everyone who continues to send letters and stay in touch. I've now passed the seven-month mark here in Kenya, and while I feel more at home here, I feel far away from my American home. I miss all my American friends and family dearly, and I think of you all constantly. Please never hesitate to write, call, or send an electronic message. Just hearing a “hello” and a bit of news from home inevitably makes my week. I also want to congratulate the class of 2011! I can’t believe it’s been a year since my own graduation – gosh I’m getting old. I hope everyone has a beautiful beginning to their summer, and I’ll write another update soon. Kwaheri!