Saturday, May 28, 2011

Master of the market

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Last day in Africa? Could that be? It doesn’t quite seem possible. Although, at the same time, it feels forever since I crammed in my finals before boarding a plane nearly a month ago. What an incredible experience this has been, I can’t quite describe how I feel about it, other than I am incredibly lucky to have been able to live it! Before I get too deep into my gratefulness of this experience, let me tell you about our very last day in Kenya.

This morning, as I mentioned yesterday, the Church Army hosted a children’s program in the middle of Gettina (one of the 60 some slums in Nairobi alone) at a place called the “Light and Power Center.” It made me miss the CYEC and the kids there very much. This center had a similar idea, but was totally different. We met the Christian mission group Dave has been working with for the past two weeks. They all seemed very nice and had prepared various activities for the kids. These included a puppet show of David and Goliath as well as a skit portraying Daniel and the Lion’s Den. They were very creative. Staff members of the center played various games with the children, which of course we participated in. I wish the staff/older students at the CYEC would play games like this for even an hour or so on the weekends. The kids would absolutely love it! Following the games, puppet show, and skit, some professional dancers arrived with their full set of bongo drums. It was so fun to watch and the music was quite catchy. At points they had everyone up and dancing, it was lots of fun. Lastly, each child was provided with a cup full of Kenyan porridge before they headed back out to their homes or residences elsewhere in the slum. It was a great morning and I’m glad we went to participate!

We took our first matatu in Nairobi downtown to meet up with two of Andi’s brother’s close friends, Lillian and Suzette, to brave Masai (sp?) Market. We first stopped to grab a quick bite to keep us going. First, let me preface our market experience by saying it was not nearly as traumatic as some had made it out to be. To me, it seemed extraordinarily tame and totally manageable… aside from the slightly overwhelming size of the selection. Hardly anyone followed us around or really called for us. Mostly, the art was in bargaining. Apparently, I have the gift. Lillian thought I was hysterical and couldn’t get over my bargaining tactics. She said I am a Kenyan. Just call me Muthoni ;). Needless to say, we killed it at the market and got some great deals. It was more fun than stressful and I’m so happy we went! We were each able to buy a few things to remind us of our trip to Kenya… mission accomplished.

Finding ourselves hungry yet again, Lillian and Suzette took us to Andi’s brother’s favorite restaurant called The Big Chicken Inn. It was essentially fried chicken and fries. Healthy? No, but greasy and delish! As the sun set and Nairobi transitioned into a Saturday night, Suzette kindly offered to accompany us on the matatu back to Dave and Lucy’s place on the other side of town. Thankfully she did, as we experienced some travel complications along the way. All is well, we just ended up having to exit our initial matatu to navigate through some questionable areas of Nairobi to locate another transport. I was not afraid, but I did find myself rehearsing my plan of action should I get into any trouble. It was full proof – no way was anyone going to mess with all 5’4” of me! They would have been in major trouble. Lucky for them, I never had to whip out my master plan ;).

So, safe and sound at Dave and Lucy’s… all packed and ready to head to the airport early in the morning, we head to bed for the last time in Kenya. What an unreal experience this has been. I find myself unsure as to whether or not it actually happened the way everything worked out so beautifully. What an incredibly lucky girl I am. Lala salama Nairobi. See you tomorrow, NYC!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Christian Confusion

Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Friday Nairobi! Today got off to an interesting start. We got to know a bit more about what Dave does here in Nairobi. He works at Church Army on the East side of Nairobi. From what I understand, Church Army is comprised of a variety of different facilities. There is an academy which serves to educate children from very young ages through grade eight, a university, a dental clinic, and soon to come a medical clinic. We tagged along with him to work to check out the facility. Andi was especially interested, as her brother worked there for six months last year as an intern. We met this year’s interns, who were either just out of secondary school or just graduated from university. All of them were very friendly. We sat in on their morning routine, which I understand consists of discussing issues as pertaining to the bible or various readings they have been working on. Today, we were in the audience of two of their powerpoint presentations on various parts of a book they have been reading and analyzing for about two months. So, being fully aware of the intensity of religious belief and practice at the Church Army (hence the name), I was almost ready for anything.

I am going to try to stay neutral here when discussing what occurred this morning. Two powerpoint presentations were conducted, regarding what I internalized as a rather one-sided account of religious view. Since having discussed this morning’s presentations and following discussions with Andi (an Episcopalian), I know that my opinions of what we heard/saw were not because I am not a Christian. In several instances, I was tempted to question what had been said, or pose a different view. However, I felt it was inappropriate, especially because I wanted to be sure I wasn’t just questioning these concepts because I do not belong to that religion/am simply misunderstanding. Following these presentations, when Dave had gone to do a bit of work elsewhere, Andi, myself, and the interns engaged in a variety of interesting topics of discussion.

These topics ranged from cultural differences in dating, social life, music, and then ultimately it came back to religion. One of the interns was very realistic in her balance of religion and how she applied it to her own life. Another was quite set in his ways, for lack of a better description. When Andi, has a rather religious background, offered her point of view on several topics also sharing her background, he asked her “what happened??” regarding her religiousness. He contradicted various points he had made in his powerpoint presentation when discussing what he thinks is right versus wrong, etc. There is no need to get into the details, just know that I found myself frustrated with the lack of open-mindedness. Andi later asked me why I had not revealed that I was not Christian to offer an alternate perspective to which I responded that I didn’t want my points to be void or dismissed. I didn’t want him to think that because I am not a Christian, of course I would disagree. I hope that makes sense.

After a very eye opening and increasingly intense discussion with some of the interns, we headed home with Dave and Andi and I recounted several of the discussion points once back in privacy. We ate a bit of lunch and headed out again to see the Giraffe Center! We were in traffic for a very long time. I haven’t seen traffic in a while, and I’m telling you I haven’t been missing it. We slowly, but surely arrived at the Giraffe Center which was so fun! They house an endangered species of giraffe to assist in safe breeding, later to be released into the wild. So… we fed them. They gave us little pellets as we walked up the stairs of a small building (so we could be level with their heads) and the giraffes who had come to visit very politely accepted our offerings. They were so gentle! And their tongues are absurdly long. It was so cool! We were visited by three females – Helen, Lynn, and Kelly. No, I did not name them… but I know you think I did. We spent a little time there, thoroughly enjoying giraffe slobber and then headed back with Dave, Lucy, and Joshua (their 11 month old son).
They are so tall!! We walked up to the platform seen in this picture to get a chance to feed them.
Feeding a giraffe!
On the way, we stopped to take in the view of arguably the largest slum in Africa. The name escapes me (sorry). It was astounding. Dave explained that in some instances, a slum could be safer than downtown Nairobi because of the incredible sense of community that dwells there. I hadn’t considered that as a factor and thought it was very interesting. However, I wonder how safe I could really feel in the middle of this slum, despite my optimistic hopes.
Overlooking the slum.
A closer look, you can see how close together the roofs are!
Dave also told us about how the first ever Kenyan Registered Nurse, trained in-country around 40 years ago, began a clinic some time ago in the midst of a slum to help underprivileged children and provide maternity as well as labor and delivery care. It was inspiring and a part of me became excited at the prospect of working overseas. You never know… the beauty of nursing is that you could essentially work anywhere.

Anyway, after yet another fantastic meal upon our return, we are getting ready for our day tomorrow. The Church Army holds a children’s program on Saturday mornings and tomorrow there will be professional dancers, local artists, and lunch! Sounds pretty exciting, I’ll let you know. In the afternoon plan is to visit Masai Market. We have been warned that we have to become master bargainers, so we have been mentally preparing. Tomorrow is our last day in Africa… I can’t believe it. Until tomorrow!

Goodbye CYEC, hello Nairobi!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Savoring our last morning waking up to the sound of Henry the rooster and greeting Eleanor just beyond our front door, I realized that this morning was the last time I would wake up at the CYEC (at least for a while). As we started to organize some packing, Jane called us with an order to meet her at the Ivory Hotel for a breakfast on her… she fondly orders us around a lot – we don’t mind ;). She may or may not have once told us she liked us because we were obedient, oh Jane I will miss you.

We enjoyed a delicious breakfast with Jane, complete with her very familiar disapproval if our food was not finished (Insert Kenyan accent… “Imagine! Gosh! What is wrong with you?? Finish your food!”). We hung around for a while before heading back to the centre to pack up our things, say our goodbyes to the boys and staff, and head into town. We had a cup of coffee at Julie’s Coffee Shop with Issa before grabbing Ray Bell’s infamous vegetable burgers after which, we jumped on a matatu destined to reach Nairobi. Phew. The ride was quite nice, I think we were graced with a newer matatu – it was the nicest one I’ve seen! Aside for some traffic, three-ish hours later, we were in the big city! Confused as to why there was no green in sight, we waited (sticking out like sore thumbs with our monstrosities of backpacks) for Andi’s brother’s friend to pick us up (they will very kindly be hosting us until we head out on Sunday morning for the United States).

We waited a while (longer than anticipated due to traffic), and finally plopped into the car with Lucy. Now, let me just take a moment to say that I took pride in my ability to successfully drive in New York City. I thought that if I could drive in NYC, I could drive anywhere. False. Maybe anywhere in the USA. New development – if you can drive successfully in Nairobi, you can drive anywhere in the WORLD. It is absolutely terrifying. If you can, it’s probably best to just close your eyes… save yourself the worry ;). Soon enough, we safely (don’t worry mom) arrived at Dave and Lucy’s lovely home in “South B.” Hello culture shock. I will list all of the things that excited us immensely. A mirror, carpet, toilet with a seat (!), microwave, refrigerator, no flies (does that happen?)… I’m at a loss for the rest. The take home message is that we are happy to have taken some time here in Nairobi to avoid ultimate culture shock when we head back home to the US. After a quick grocery shop and a very tasty dinner we are headed to sleep for the night. Then, on to explore Nairobi a bit tomorrow!

Until next time

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What a wonderful end to an incredible experience. Today was great in so many ways. We woke up early to maximize our last day at the CYEC. We spent the morning hanging around with our group of boys. Issa came to grab us to head to the YMCA to, along with Jane, sit in on a meeting they would be having there. When we saw Jane for the first time once we arrived at the YMCA, she told us how “scary” we looked. Our skin has been regularly under the organized (and unorganized) attack of mosquitoes. I have come to feel bad for it. My entire left arm looks like a battle field… clearly I lost. She exaggerated and told us she didn’t have to see a horror film now because she had seen us. We joked about how she no longer had to go on safari, because she had her fix just laying eyes on us. Okay lady… we haven’t seen ourselves in a mirror in over a week. Let’s not get carried away ;). Andi and I have been relying on one another to report when either of us really did fit the description of scary… so far we’re alright. However, the response to “how is my hair” is always “It’s African.”

In other news, at the YMCA, a group of about four street boys had been recruited to do some work in exchange for meals and they were discussing the potential for housing opportunities. They were doing some landscaping while we arrived and we had some fun (and provided some unintentional entertainment) cutting some grass with the scythes they use. Things got a little scary when Jane took a whack at it… no pun intended.
Look at that form...
After making some fun out of work, we gathered in a room adjacent to a classroom occupied by a large group of nursery school children. As laughter and little kid chatter filled the air, Andi and I zoned out as the entire meeting was conducted in Kiswahili/kikuyu (the native tongue of the kikuyu tribe, predominant in this area of Kenya). We gathered that they were going to commence this program as of today and introduced all the staff to the boys. Otherwise, we were lost. Following the meeting, feeling bewildered and a bit in the dark, we hurried home to the centre as we had a very special date with Henry and the boys.

When we went to visit Henry’s family on Monday, he had brought some Arrowroot with him back to the CYEC for us to try! We made a lunch date, bought some potatoes, tomatoes, and onions for Henry to create his masterpiece. The six of us (Henry, Mohammed, Samuel, Kevin, Andi, and myself) crammed in our little kitchen, all contributing in some way to our collaboration of a lunch.
From front to back: Henry, Samuel, and Kevin. Cooking away!
Henry was clearly the head chef and cooked with ease and apparent experience. While we waited for the doma (kikuyu for Arrowroot) to boil with the rest of our ingredients, I helped the boys set up email accounts and a Facebook for Mohammed (upon special request). They are a bit slow on the computer and tell me that I type entirely too fast. They’ll get there :). Henry’s first email to me was…
“hy erica

… and indeed he is ;). We all ate in happy silence, reveling in Henry’s excellent culinary skills. The lunch was delicious, mostly because of all the happiness that went into it, but to avoid getting emotional and sappy, it just tasted really good.

After lunch we told the boys we had to get some work done and that we would be down to see them again later. This “work” was some letter writing. We decided that in response to the familiar question “when you leave, you give me what?” we would write our closest little rafikis (friends) letters. I wrote letters to Henry, Mohammed, Charles, Kevin, Samuel, Laban, Margaret, and Judy. Phew. It took a lot out of me. I hope they find comfort in what I wrote, or at least crack a smile ;). I left each of them my email so hopefully we will be able to keep in touch every once and a while! I will miss them and all the kids at the centre.

So, in time for our final day at the centre, Andi and I came up with a brilliant solution to the children’s infatuation with our cameras (camera craze), which is guaranteed to elicit pure chaos within moments of revealing this technology. We switched cameras for the afternoon, explaining to the kids that we could not share the camera because it was not ours. This also allowed us to take pictures of each other. Brilliant, I know. Only brain surgeons like we are could have come up with this solution. After three and a half weeks…
Diana was making some strange noises and making us laugh :).

From left to right: Gesinta, Diana, and Vincent!

After our somewhat successful photo shoot, we decided it was too nice of an afternoon to just sit around. We threw on our sneakers and gym shorts and set out with our recruits to the field. For a while sprinting from one side of the field to the other was the game of choice (upon little Gesinta’s request). However, after we got out our initial excitement (included with yelling the whole way while running), we got settled for a good old game of duck, duck, goose! The kids had never heard of this game and thought it was the greatest (isn’t it?!). We played for a long while, expanding our game continuously as new children became curious in our antics. It was a wonderfully carefree afternoon with the kids and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend our last afternoon at the CYEC. Pretty soon it was time for dinner and we headed up the hill to eat with the kids.

As a parting gift, we purchased 20 kilograms of meat for all the kids and staff to have a delicious meal of beef, ugali, tomatoes, onions, and sukumawiki (kale). I think all the children really appreciated as we watched them rip every last piece of meat off the bone. Andi and I shared a portion. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but their portions are HUGE. So huge, that Andi and I (who I must add are both capable eaters) could not finish ONE combined. After dinner, we were asked to say a few words to the kids. It was difficult to summarize the magnitude of their presence in my life this past month, or the impact they have had on me, or the overall extraordinarily moving experience this has been in general.

Somehow, I managed to summarize in a sincere thanks, an expression of my caring for each of them, and a word of advice to smile at least once a day… just because. I hope that although my words were few, they were able to feel to an extent what I feel for them and the time we had together. Andi said a few words as well. Then two students were called upon (no one volunteered which made me laugh because I have been all too familiar this in my past classes) to share a few words of thanks and good wishes. This was concluded by a “gift of clapping.” The entire room of staff and 150+ children and youth erupted into rhythmic clapping, something they had done when they said goodbye to Caroline and Ida weeks ago. I felt overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions as my chest vibrated with the enthusiastic clapping that continued to ensue. Songs followed, as did many, many hand shakes. It was a fantastic goodbye.

We then headed to class, where we simply collected evaluations. We had initially created this hand out as a part of our Lesson 10 (Concluding lesson), however, we decided to give it early to evaluate the curriculum through Lesson 7: Leadership. I will have to share another time, as I have only briefly read through, but it appears, at first glance, that the majority of the problems were with communication/understanding. The language barrier was by far the most prominent issue with our curriculum. Otherwise, I did not see one negative comment, which was wonderful. I have to read closer to give you more specific feedback, so bear with me ;).

As I waited for the last of my students to complete their evaluations, Titus (one of the staff members who visited my class to be sure everyone understood the directions) asked me if I had planned to talk about anything today. Since we had not, he expressed that the students wanted to have some sort of discussion and if I could talk about anything at all, they would be grateful. Caught somewhat off guard, I began to give them a bit of background on myself, thinking that I should have done that initially! I felt bad that I hadn’t. I explained various parts of where I come from, that I am studying nursing at University and have one more year to go, that I have loved teaching them and I thank them for coming class after class. They were very anxious to hear about me! Questions erupted. Did I have a boyfriend (this question was number one)? Where was he from? How old was he? Do I have both my parents? Where do they live? If I am studying nursing why am I teaching? I explained that teaching is a very large component of nursing, that aside from it being a hobby of mine (easiest way to explain it), it is very important to begin learning healthy behaviors in order to influence good health and avoid illness due to poor decision making.

One student asked me what I would like them to change at the CYEC. I was very adamant in telling them that it was not up to me by any means. That this was their centre, their home, their responsibility. I told them that it was up to them, as a group, to talk amongst themselves about improvements that could be made, then perhaps shared in a meeting with the staff. Little did I know, this would become a full on discussion following our Q&A session (between the students and Titus as the staff representative). The questions then turned to cultural differences. I clarified a few very skewed perceptions of both America and white people in general. Do all white people not believe in God and only believe in science? Are there homeless people in your country? Are there street boys? What kind of music do white people listen to? Why do white people only have one name instead of two or three? I clarified that we only introduce as one, but many actually do have three! What are challenges that I personally face? The questions went on and on… I wish I could remember more! It was fun and I was so happy to be able to clarify some issues with them, especially about the umbrella group of “white people.”

Following a second round of my expression of gratitude for their participation and my hope that they got something out of what we had learned, something amazing happened. One of the most participative female students in my class (I am omitting her name to respect her privacy), asked to speak with me outside. Initially anticipating she wanted to discuss the potential for me to sponsor her, as I had received several other such requests tonight, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed. After returning my lesson plan on leadership (she borrowed it after last class to read it over again) and finding the right words, she eloquently articulated that she needed “to know how to be happy with my life. I need to know how to best deal with all the frustration I feel and how to be the happiest I can be.” She explained that until these past few classes, she had kind of been okay with how things were in her life. She had failed her exams multiple times, so found herself taking a class on welding here at the centre. She didn’t mind welding, but after class, she realized she wasn’t as happy as she knows she could be. She wants to teach; only the change in her facial expression when she mentioned it could tell you how much. Issue number one.

Issue number two was that she was feeling immeasurable frustration regarding the way some things in the centre were run. She felt that bad behavior was not addressed properly, especially when it came to the younger children. She felt that poor behavior in these instances was simply ignored and that these children were not being taught proper manners and thus, having poor leadership in their upbringing. As head girl (there is a head girl and head boy who are responsible for overseeing the children and act as support role, working as a liaison between the kids and the staff), she felt that in supporting the staff’s response to bad behavior made her a bad leader as she felt she was condoning such poor behavior. How aware and well articulated! I felt so many things. I was so impressed. I felt much respect for her as she took the initiative to come to me and address her most personal issues. I felt proud that our curriculum had inspired someone who had almost settled into a life she could “manage” to strive for more. Lastly, I felt touched that she had chosen me, had found me capable enough to confide in. I had to pause before I responded.

Realizing I was about to embark on a mini counseling session, in my own head, I experienced a moment where I questioned whether I was qualified to be spewing out such important advice. I quickly told myself to get over it and that I was more than qualified (I’m hoping my advice was professional enough to validate that statement… I’m such a nerd). Again, out of respect for this student’s privacy, I will simply say that we came up with a plan for conquering each issue. She shared fears, concerns, hopes, and uncertainties. We addressed each and I hope she felt a bit of relief following our talk. I gave her my email and I very much hope she emails me. I don’t know if I will ever have this kind of talk again, but I found myself hoping more than most things that she gets exactly what she wants. I hope she doesn’t stop seeking that happiness she deserves until she has harnessed it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Issa the Artist

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Today we had an unexpected and unbelievably wonderful day. We spent the entire morning with the boys who stay at the centre while the others attend school (Henry, Tony, Mohammed, Kevin, among others). We just talked for a while, enjoying the beautiful weather outside. We ended up heading down to the field to just lie in the grass, continue talking, and just hang out. The weather was beautiful out today. Mohammed shared a bit more about his past, explaining that he was on the streets from the time he was six until he was ten years old, when he came to the CYEC for the first time. He clarified that he returned to the streets in 2009 because the centre’s teachers at the time spoke negatively about his family, insulted him, and simply put him down. He told us that he returned again in 2010 when Jane came and rid the centre of the staff that had been mistreating the kids. He said that things have been much better since then. Kevin, who had been on the streets for two years with Mohammed, expressed how much better it is to be at the centre. It was great to hear a bit more about their lives and that they seem to be happy here. I’m glad we got to spend such a nice, uninterrupted morning just hanging out with the boys we have come to know during our time here.

After we spent a relaxing morning with the boys, enjoying each others company under the sun, we went on an adventure. Issa (runner Issa) is an artist, which we learned when he took us on that amazing run so long ago. We had promised to come see his paintings and were so pleased when he followed up with us yesterday, making plans to go to his studio this afternoon. Issa is a genuinely wise 22 year old soul. He is very hard to explain. He just really appreciates everything around him from nature (from the grass to the tree tops) to good company. He is very religious, but it is very subtle. He speaks of his faith and sometimes inserts inspirational religious quotes, values, or lessons into his conversation. Explaining that he would rather walk through nature than to walk along the road, avoiding the sound of traffic, he led us on an unmarked path through lush plant life to his studio. Issa should be a Kenyan tour guide as he seems to know almost everything. We learned that he was born in Nyeri and wants to attend university in Maryland (why MD? I’m not quite sure) to study art.

We walked through tall grasses along paths no wider than our feet one in front of the other. We tried some yellow native fruit, somewhat resembling a mixture between a miniature peach and plum. It was delicious. We spotted a hawk residing in an enormous and intricately interwoven tree… the kind of tree one might expect to see in Pocahontas or, more timely perhaps, Avatar. We leapt over small rivers and trekked up and down pathless hills. Soon enough, we found ourselves knocking on the door of his mother’s home (his father passed away several years ago). When we expressed our sympathies for the loss of his father, Issa explained that no apologies were necessary because there is too much negative emphasis on death, as he believes it is far from the enemy.
Couldn't you see this in Avatar?
Upon being so warmly welcomed into Issa’s mother (Ann)’s home, Andi and I realized that we were in for a major culture shock upon our return to the United States. We were in shock when we stepped into their beautiful house, feeling no dirt beneath our shoeless feet. We could only spot one fly… total. There was relaxing, instrumental music playing on a stereo that passively filled the warm and welcoming air. There were clocks on the walls, utensils, and a second story! We were in awe. Clearly we are in for a major wake up call, even when we make our way to Nairobi. Ann was absolutely wonderful. Well learned, expressive, insightful, interested, and eager to converse, it was easy to admire and immediately respect her. In my short time with her, I can say that she is one of the most warm, admirable people I have met throughout my entire experience in Kenya. As she force fed us until we were full of delectable rice and assorted vegetables, she spoke of her father’s farm just outside Aberdare (where we went for our first day of safari!).

She spoke of the importance of education, of our work at the centre, of meeting new people and making friends wherever you go, of appreciating one another. We spoke of how funny it is that people who are native to an area rarely marvel in its assets. For example, she said that hardly any Kenyans visit the national parks to see the animals as they figure it is something they can see any time they choose. I thought about how many New Yorkers have probably never visited the Statue of Liberty. It is true that the more familiar you are with a place, it is easy to postpone visiting places as the assumption is that they will always be there awaiting your arrival. While this may be true… our time is limited. However morbid that may sound, it inspired me not to forget or underestimate the many adventures that wait just outside the door of my own home. I wish we would have met Ann and her family sooner as we could have visited for tea every so often. I loved her company. Needless to say, it was easy to see where Issa learned his wisdom.

After a lovely lunch with coffee to follow, Issa took us upstairs to show us his art studio. Having never been in an art studio, I reveled in the perfection of its artistic chaos. Sketches lay strewn over his desk, while unfinished works lined the floor.
Issa's work desk.
In many instances, he prefaced the explanation of his paintings with “this one is far from finished, but…” In many such instances, I found myself telling him how much I loved the painting exactly how it was. The majority of his works were of safari animals; however, he did also have a few landscapes, and various abstract pieces. He used different mediums such as paper made from banana leaf, file paper, and sometimes wood for some of his works. They were all beautiful in their own way. His attention to detail is miraculous and I could not get over the opportunity I was being granted to look through the many works he had created. Some had wonderful stories, while others were just beautiful accounts of natural history in the making. Andi and I each bought a piece of his, mine I had to remind him to sign as it is one of those which he deemed unfinished. He told me he was not putting a date on it as he wanted it to be timeless. Typical Issa ;). How lucky of us to know the artist! It was a wonderful afternoon and I am so thankful for the experience.
Issa's art studio... just some of his many paintings.
Once we returned back to the centre, we spent some time with the kids while we waited for Issa (the original) to join us for a walk. We have wanted to hike the run that runner/artist Issa took us on in the beginning of our trip (he is also taking us on a run tomorrow, can’t wait) to take pictures of the beautiful landscape. Finally we set out in search of that perfect route. Since our memories were failing us, we took a while to find the entrance to the very beginning of the route. As we began down the path, it started to pour. Since the sun would soon be setting, and the rain was making us quite chilly, we decided to head back to the centre… maybe we will try again tomorrow. If not, I will just have to accept that it was meant to be a memory of the most beautiful run I have ever run… thus far.

Lesson 7: Leadership. I had a great concluding class today. We had two fantastic activities… one of which included the creation of a web (using string) of positive leadership characteristics; another was an old fashioned game of “telephone” to drive home the importance of effective communication and active listening. I think my class really enjoyed these activities and it helped to visualize some of these important concepts. So many students participated, which was really inspiring. We identified the leaders we had in our classroom (those who had already held a leadership position), agreed that every person has the potential to be a leader, identified good versus bad leadership qualities, discussed examples of good versus bad leaders, along with the equal importance of the fulfillment of the “follower” role. One student said that he believed all leaders to be bad, especially in regards to the participation in war as leading to death. He believed that the only good/positive leader was Jesus Christ. Others believed that there could be other good leaders, but that it was easy to misuse power. To follow up, we discussed the importance of being responsible when granted the power that sometimes accompanies leadership. We talked about what kinds of responsibilities these included. It was a really fulfilling class and I couldn’t be happier with how our classes ended up. One student requested to borrow my Lesson 7 lesson plan until tomorrow to look it over more closely. She then asked me if a teacher could be a leader to which I responded, “what do you think?” She believed a teacher could be a leader. I agreed.  

Tomorrow we will be meeting one last time to collect evaluations and exchange email addresses to keep in touch. We took about a million class pictures which was naturally a huge hit. I am going to have to go through them all to see which ones are viable :). I am really going to miss the kids. How could I not?? We are getting up early tomorrow to maximize our last full day at the centre, so I am going to head to sleep. Lala salama.
One half of my class (and me).

The other half of my class (and me).

Monday, May 23, 2011

A trip to Karurumo

Monday, May 23, 2011

Happy Monday! Today turned out to be a great day. Andi and I were invited to go with Jane, Henry, and Peter (Henry was allowed to choose one friend to come) to visit Henry’s family in his home town of Karurumo, not too far away from Nyeri. As we waited for a matatu to arrive, Andi and I reviewed tonight’s lesson, Lesson 6: Appreciating Other People: Understanding our Uniqueness so we would be prepared for later. After finally jumping on a matatu, we headed into town to catch a second ride that would take us in the direction of Henry’s town. In town, we had some particularly unique offers. One gentleman asked me if I was “sexable,” while another made it clear that he did not yet have a wife and could make me one. I politely said “hapana” (no) and continued on my way without looking back.

After about a 15 minute matatu ride from town, we stopped on the side of the road. It was so ambiguous, I wondered how anyone would know where to stop along the road. There were no markers or identifying factors that I could pick up on to recognize this stop and am sure, if challenged to find it again, I wouldn’t be able to. Led by an excited Henry (he hasn’t seen his family in at least a month as he had run away from home to live on the streets of Nyeri prior to coming to the centre about a month ago), we followed a small dirt path just off the main road. This short path led us directly to a wooden house about the size of a small tool shed, surrounded by lush green plant life.

Henry entered the house and woke his mother who had been sleeping (we believe one of the reasons he left home was because his mother has a history with alcohol abuse). She was very friendly and was accompanied by two little girls (Henry’s nieces). She did not speak any English, but Jane later translated that she told us all about how Henry was an excellent student and that he was at the top of this class, often the recipient of various prizes. She showed us his grade 7 report card which had a note from the teacher explaining what a bright pupil Henry was, going on to say that he would be even better if his attendance improved. Henry only had one more year of primary school to complete when he ran away and stopped attending. Henry’s family lived in extreme poverty. I can’t adequately describe what we saw, but essentially an entire family lived in a shack no larger than a small college dorm room. There was no visible outhouse, and clearly no electricity or running water. It was astounding.
Henry and his mother in front of their home.
Henry's mom and her youngest granddaughter.
She took us on a tour of her family’s beautiful shamba (garden), which was overwhelmingly green and flourishing. Shoeless, she and her two granddaughters showed us all around the shamba. The two little girls constantly played with each other, holding hands frequently. It reminded me of how my sister and I were when we were little girls :). We were soon accompanied by other members of the family… aunts, an uncle, an older sister, and some cousins. We shook everyone’s hand and expressed that it was a pleasure to meet them.
Part of the beautiful shamba.
After trekking up the hill from the shamba to return to their home, we walked a bit down the road to visit the very small and quiet town of Karurumo. It consisted of a small strip of stores, all quite run down. The shops were either boarded up or without customers. We continued to walk for a while as Jane and Henry’s mother spoke mostly in Kiswahili. We visited another family who has a daughter at the centre. She was very welcoming and spoke some English so we could understand a bit. We toured her shamba and were welcomed into her home to chat (her house was only slightly larger than Henry’s, but was at least divided by a sheet into a sitting room and what I assume to be a sleeping area). This family was also clearly poverty stricken; however, they did have a cow who I assume was at least able to provide them with milk. Her house walls were decorated with unrelated magazine clippings, posters, wrappers, and plastic bags… assorted wall paper if you will. Another house we were invited into this afternoon was papered completely with “pampers” wrappers.

Certainly eye-opening, the experience made me appreciate the simplicity and wholesomeness of the lives they live. The women we met today were in no means looking for pity. Instead of dwelling on all of the hardships, struggles, and daily challenges they face in their lives, they find happiness in the most simple of occurrences… things that I anticipate many Americans would overlook. A smile appears unlabored and a hand is always immediately extended with no other expectation than to learn your name. It was inspiring.

After saying “kwaheri” (goodbye) to the two families we met, a matatu conveniently drove in our direction and, to our delighted surprise we didn’t have to wait very long at all to head back to Nyeri. Henry, Peter, and Jane headed back to the centre while Andi and I stayed to run a few errands and grab a bite to eat in town. Finally back at the centre after a long day out and about, we organized for tonight’s lesson.

I cannot tell you how relieved I feel after the class I had tonight. I have no idea what happened or why it happened, but I’m so glad it did. My students participated. Not just one or two, but maybe FIVE. Different students too! I was SO happy I had to contain myself. We had a fantastic class. Today we talked about identity, uniqueness (they didn’t know what “unique” meant), and the importance of respecting and understanding conflicting perspectives. One of the activities in understanding alternative perspectives asked the students to think about the challenges a teacher faces, a farmer faces, and a friend may face. Interestingly, it was much easier for them to share challenges a teacher or a farmer might face than it was to volunteer potential challenges of a friend. Perhaps that example was too personal. When they came up with challenges for a teacher, they said “when no one participates,” “when students laugh at the teacher,” and “when students just sit there and don’t listen to what the teacher is saying.” Amen. I took the opportunity to explain that understanding different perspectives may help to be more aware of our own behaviors and how our actions may be affecting someone else. I’m hoping I subtly got the point across ;). I know… I’m slick that way.

I went on to stress the importance of positive thinking versus negative thinking, which I think was really well received by my class. Everyone I looked at seemed to be really paying attention, engaged, and actually interested… am I in the right class? Okay, no I’m exaggerating, but it was really apparent today, which was AWESOME. I am hoping tonight was not an isolated event and that the participation/engagement will carry over to tomorrow’s lesson on leadership. Tomorrow will be our last lesson, as we will be leaving lessons 8, 9, and 10 to be taught by the CYEC staff (hopefully). These lessons are primarily based on leisure, beating boredom, and developing interests – all of which have been attempted in some fashion by the staff in the past (they have used the corresponding lessons from the HealthWise curriculum).

After the conclusion of our lesson in each of our respective classes, we spent some time with the kids, just joking and playing around. They are starting to get sad about us leaving so soon and frequently ask if they can come in our backpacks, drive with us to the airport, if we can just stay a while longer, or when we are coming back. Many of them have also asked what we are leaving as gifts for them… to which I respond, “well… what are you sending me with??” I think Andi and I will write those who inquired about said gifts a personalized letter, as unfortunately, all the items we brought with us must return with us to the United States. We decided we will also be buying meat for the cooks to prepare for all the children on Wednesday night (our last night here) as a parting gift. They rarely get meat/protein in their meals as it is expensive compared to ugali (flour and water) and produce that is grown in the CYEC’s own shamba (garden). I think they will both enjoy and appreciate this treat and I am excited for Wednesday night! My Kenyan dugu (brother), Mohammed, insists that we spend every waking moment we have left together. When I told him I may have to run to town at some point to get some things we need to cook our meals to which he responded, “you are only allowed 30 minutes.” Clearly, he has me on a tight rope as our time here comes to a close.

As I write, it is pouring outside… the rainy season is definitely living up to its name. It has consistently rained overnight and briefly into the morning until about 9:30/10:00AM, when it clears up and the sun shines for the remainder of the day. It has become quite predictable and its consistency continues to surprise me. Tomorrow Andi and I are HOPING to finally hike that beautiful route we ran a few weeks ago with Issa so we can take pictures/actually enjoy the sights. I also need to sit Jane down for her interview (my fifth and final staff interview) on happiness. Otherwise, we will let the day unfold. Until then!

Continuing the trend of uneventful Sundays

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Today was pretty uneventful. We slept the first night in our new room, with surprisingly little fly disturbance considering the absurdity of the size of their population in this residence. Apparently, someone decided the slaughtering and preparation of a goat directly outside this apartment was a fantastic idea (not to be graphic). Unfortunately, this opened the door to an extended family of flies and their never ending offspring. The boys (Jeff and Steve) have made it a point to kill the flies, leaving them as trophies/examples for the others plastered against the wall. Needless to say, the walls have a unique design nowadays.

After making our favorite breakfast of spit in the eye and Kenyan tea, Andi and I caught up on our journaling/blogging and just hung out for a while. We went down to spend some time with the kids and meet the new group of Penn State students who are all really nice and seem excited to be here. It felt good to be able to pass on some insight into the centre, how to get around, etc. I realized how much I have learned since I’ve been here! I can’t believe I have been here for over three weeks and only have a week left. However, at the same time, it feels like I have been here far longer. It is hard to explain, but it is a very strange feeling.

Andi and I hitched a ride with the group who was heading into town for the first time to get some supplies, locate an internet cafĂ©, etc. We continued our Sunday routine (we repeated last Sunday) of having a vegetable burger lunch at Ray Bells in town. It was as delicious as it was last Sunday. Afterward, we met up with the group at a coffee shop we didn’t know existed. We have only had instant coffee here, and only one time. Naturally, we had to try a cup. It was good!! We had a cup of coffee and waited for Mwangila to come pick up the group so we could grab a ride back to the centre. It was one of those times where you continue to wait as your patience dwindles, but you know that the second you get up to find some other form of transportation to reach your destination, you know the initial one would arrive. Andi and I continuously contemplated paying the 20 shillings to take a matatu back to the centre, but the longer we waited, the more we anticipated Mwangila’s arrival. Just as predicted, not two minutes after we began walking in search of a matatu, we spotted Mwangila driving down the road. After running back to hitch a ride, we finally made it back to the CYEC.

We went on a much needed run, racing against the clock as we needed to make it back before sunset (avoiding those machetes…). Upon our return, we were welcomed by a power outage, which was actually quite nice. I have come to enjoy when the power goes out here. It only lasted a short while, and we were cooking dinner with power again before we knew it. I helped with dinner, while Andi went down to spend some time with the kids before they headed off to sleep. They don’t have school tomorrow due to “teacher meetings,” so we will get to spend some more time with them tomorrow, which will be nice since we are leaving so soon for Nairobi (we are leaving the centre on Thursday so we can spend two full days in Nairobi before we head out).

We ended up just enjoying having nothing to do tonight and caught up on some reading and relaxing. I apologize for a lack of an exciting report as today was a pretty quiet Sunday. I’m sure more will come tomorrow with Lesson 6 (Appreciating Other People: Understanding our Uniqueness). Sweet dreams.