Monthly Archives: January 2009

On Teaching

Oh, I forgot to mention, I am teaching finally. At first there was concern (or actually there was a complete lack of concern, but I would like to think people were concerned… i think the concern was all on my part) about me possibly not teaching until may. This is because the two computer instructors at my particular NYS are in Nairobi right now, and in good Kenyan fashion, no one knows when they are coming back. I have created a nerd-appropriate analogy for this phenomenon of Kenyan Time. Kenyan Time is like the “Time Remaining,” indicator on an Internet Explorer download dialog. It’s completely relative to so many factors out of your control, that why bother including it in the first place?

So anyways, in accordance with Kenyan Time and other factors of Kenyan culture that have to do with task completion and whatnot, I was informed that in fact I would be teaching a class… in one hour. Now this may be testament to how not-serious NYS takes the computer classes offered here, probably because they are supplementary electives to the students’ craft courses. But still, one hour to prepare? Needless to say I did no such thing. Yesterday, a roomful of Kenyans were introduced to the American cultural tradition of “Winging it.” Needless to say, I will be doing the same thing again today, but this time not because I was caught off-guard, but more because it’s friday. Maybe I will write up a brief class outline so I know what to talk about….

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A Post on Posting…

Fellow blog readers, this post is a meta-post (in the words of a certain AKG). It is a meta-post on posting. Whenever you tack meta in front of something in the world of technology, it usually means its a reflexive entity, or maybe a recursive entity or something to that affect (or is it effect?). For example, in the field of information systems, meta-data is data about data. So here is my post about post.

As you all know, I love to communicate. Sometimes it takes the form of conversations, sometimes arguments, sometimes jokes, letters, emails, you name it and I will communicate by it. I wanted to throw in a funny anecdote about communicating through bee-dancing or tapping on the stomach’s of camels so the reverberations could carry through the sahara, but the only extreme means of communication I have conducted is one time where Owen and I Windows File Shared a PuTTY exe and subsequently SSH’d into a box at Conn so that we could Wall each other during a CELS workshop. And only about 2 people who read this will understand the Rube Golberg-esque nature of such an endeavor.

Given my loquacious nature, the opportunity to opine about Kenya for two years filled me to no end with immense joy. There would be Livingston-esque treks through the jungles, epic battles with lions over the fate of the pride, and maybe even a Disney sing-a-long or two. I would regale all of you Americans with such tales and make you wonder, “What am I doing with my ho-hum life here. I want to go on an adventure.”

And yet here I am, poised to disappoint. Life in Kenya is routine. Or it is to me at least. Which is a problem because I only tend to write when I feel there are things that must be shared, and normally the routine is far from top of that list. But I know that someone must find something I am doing interesting, because according to my stats page, this blog has been looked at enough times.

Therefore, I will try to overcome my own apathy towards my routine-life as is, and continue to write about my time in Kenya. I will not post every day, and I warn you: do not expect any epic battles with lions or the like. A certain AKG was also commenting that many of my posts are long. Expect that to end, unless I go for long periods of time without posting, at which point a long catch-up post may be in order.

I don’t really know the purpose of this post except to warn you that I tend to go into writing dry-spells when I feel that life is routine and not worth reporting. I am going to try and fix that, but at the same time, expect the contents of my blog posts to be silly, random, and short. Also, do not expect exciting things. Also, because there are many similarities between the life I lead here and the life I led in America, I will try to highlight the differences.

This post was drivel and I will publish it, but boy was it drivel. Maybe I should start outlining my thoughts before writing about them. Or maybe I need a desk where I can do real work! Or any table would be nice. Next week they say. I hope so, considering I already paid…

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Mr. Dai Kato

So I have a friend here (yes, I am up to one now). His name is Dai Kato and he is working with JICA (Japanese International Cooperation Agency), which is in his own words an “imitation of Peace Corps,” but from Japan. Dai is great and is totally making this whole transition to a new site thing bearable.

Tonight I cooked for us, in reciprocation for Dai having cooked me a meal earlier this week. I wanted to cook a meat and stir fry, but turned into a meat and spaghetti when I realized I did not have enough ingredients to make a proper stir-fry sauce. Who knew it was more than just soy sauce. Not me!

The spaghetti was great, and the spaghetti sauce was a testament to the fact that Blue Band can in fact make everything in Africa taste better. Thanks mom for the good ‘ole carrots, onions and peppers combo.

The meat on the other hand was way spicy. So spicy in fact that it made a grown japanese man run from my house! Dai had to go get a cloth to wipe the sweat from his forehead! Yes. It was very spicy. Too much cumin and cayenne pepper. Now I know better for next time.

Dai, aside from knowing a little kiswahili and a little english, speaks the international language of “Volunteer.” With such a language we are able to swap photos, commiserate about the deficiencies and achievements of Kenyan Culture, and drink beer. It’s a good language, one forged over hardships and bonding, and wholly suited to getting the message across no matter the circumstances.

This was an odd post, but it what I felt like writing and how I felt like writing it. Im going to bed now. Goodnight all!

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Fact

If there is one certainty I have gained since my time in Africa it is this:

I abhor having to hand was my clothes. Americans, be grateful that we have plumbing in abundance enough for washing machines.

That is all.

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Some quick thoughts before heading off to bed

1) There was a leopard in my front yard today. Apparently this is unusual. I did not see it because, well, leopards are good at hiding, but I was assured it was there. Mama’s don’t lie (often) in Kenya, and the Mama’s next door seemed awfully concerned about the leopard.

2) Have I mentioned that I have monkeys running around the NYS compound? There are as prolific as grey squirrels are back home. They are also grey. One of them left me a present my first morning in Mutungwe: a rotting banana on my front step.

3) Mr. Dai Kato, my Japanese neighbor is a really cool guy. He led me around Mombasa today, and then made me dinner and we talked about life in Kenya. It’s reassuring to know that volunteer perceptions of kenya can stay the same no matter what nationality you are, what program you are with or what language you speak.

4) After today Mombasa has gotten my thumbs up approval as my home town for the next two years. It has character, amenities, culture and language enough to keep me busy.

5) Getting lost in Mombasa’s Old Town is an interesting experience. As much as it’s a “Tourist Desitnation,” there are no tourists, and being the muzungu with the backpack and sunglasses certainly makes you stick out amongst a bunch of traditionally-garbed Muslim men and women

6) Going to the barbershop and getting your haircut by a local is the first sign that you have moved into a new town and mean to stay (at least that was it for me).

7) Kiswahili words that have integrated themselves into my everyday speech, replacing their english equivalents: sawa (ok), pole (sorry), assante sana (thank you very much), habari yako (how are you; lit: your news), kwa nini (why), lakini (but) na na (and).

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My First Day as a PCV

So welcome one and all again to The Wonderful World of Jon! On tonight’s episode we will explore Jon’s first full day as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) at site: the people he’s met, the observations he’s made, and the hasty conclusions drawn in typical fashion!

So let’s begin. I woke up this morning after a pretty rough night’s sleep due to a) the humidity b)the weird noises and c) the Peace Corps instilled fear that your going to get robbed at any time, all the time, and especially when you sleep (instilled so deeply that I fear even though I am living on a pseudo military complex, guards, gates and all) and d) the new sounds. I don’t like new sounds. They take getting used to.

Breakfast was non existent. This is actually a good thing, as I am on medication until tomorrow that is fixing my stomach. However one of the side effects is that it has reduced my appetite. Whatever. I would rather have a fixed stomach. I wanted to take a shower this morning but the water wasn’t working so I filled my bucket from my sink and had a cold bucket bath. One good thing about being in Mombasa, I won’t ever need to heath bath water. Mama did it in Loitokitok for me, and the humidity makes cold baths amazing!

I was brought food because I had none but I told the gentleman that I wouldn’t mind if he got my supervisor, the principal, Mr. Kamau because I had no means of contacting him, and did not want to be on swahili time for my first day alive. I needed food and water and as quickly as possible because I had neither.

So Mr. Kamau came, and as we waited for the private car to come get us, I met a whole bunch of people whose names I have now forgotten. But I did learn that I can receive mail through the school. The new address will be posted as soon as I get an email from mom with it, because I lost the sheet I had written it on (i.e. I am too lazy to walk to the kitchen to get it, but that may change after writing this, so check the “Contact Me” page for updates).

So into town we drove and stumbled upon some bold letters…

Nakumatt
Nakumatt is the original department store of Kenya. Now let me inform you of a general rule of description when I am talking about Kenya. If I say a word such as super market, or store, or restaurant, assume that they are similar to their american equivalents, but not quite the same… There’s always something just slightly different about things in kenya. Maybe it’s the bars across all the serving counters, or the refusals of the waiters in the restaurants to write down your order (but don’t you dare get mad if they get it wrong…which they will… 99% of the time).

However, when I say that Nakumatt is department store, it is. It is 100% western-style through and through. It’s organizational layout is western, it’s brands are western, it’s pricing is fixed like western, it sells alcohol like in western civ. It was basically heaven. And it’s close by. I take a matatu to the ferry, take the free ferry ride over to Mombasa Town and it’s right near the ferry landing.

So at Nakumatt I successfully (though almost not-so) spent my money on the essentials. Now because I have electricity and outlets in my kitchen, I bough a two-burner electric stove top which will save me the hassle of worrying about gas or charcoal or firewood for cooking. And it’s fast, even heat, easily controllable.

Also splurged and got a percolator. Totally worth it. Coffee is a godsend after going without it in Loitokitok. Also bought my water filter. I may go back tomorrow just for the air conditioning and western-feel. There was none of this in Loitokitok, which is good because I guess it prepares us for the worst

After Nakumatt
So then I spent the next three or four hours cleaning. I cleaned dishes with my newly acquired soap. I cleaned countertops and cubbards (to no avail as termites just make the wood flake off all the time) and anything I could get my hands on. However, the water shut off. Apparently pipe water is turned on only at certain times of the day, and no one decided to mention this to me. But I know now and can plan accordingly.

Continuing on water, did you know the water around mombasa is salinated? Guess who was drinking it because he thought that the levels of salt were not high enough to cause problems? Guess who actually did all that and became dehydrated even more?! MEE!!!!

So this was not a good time because I was getting frustrated about the clean water (or lack there of) and the high salinity in the ground water, which makes it great for cooking at least.

I guess the next question might be so where do you get drinking water (because even kenyans don’t drink water with high salinity). Well you get it from the water man. Bring an empty jerry can and he will swap out the empty for a filled one for only 3 bob (smallest unit of currency i a 1 bob but they are phasing out). Of course, hauling the 20L Jerry can the 1km from the matatu stop to my house was not fun, but Karibou Kenya!

Then it was chilling time with the neighbors who live like 5 meters from me. One of the mama’s brought my half of a watermelon and I shared it with them. I love watermelon and Coast watermelon is the best in Kenya.

And then it was back to regular old chores and prepping for dinner. I had Spaghetti with pre made pasta sauce because I was too lazy to make my own and hadn’t had time to get fresh veggies and without a fridge veggies do not last long in this climate. I invited one of my neighbor’s brother Justice over because he is visiting and I met him yesterday and he’s a really smart guy and helped me out a lot the first night. Also made some coffee and some lemon cordial and cut up a mango (also provided by me other neighbor. It was a good dinner. My water pipe burst during it and started flooding my kitchen, but I got Mugo, Justice’s brother and head of the Physical Plant here, to come over with his wrench. As a thank you I let him have an Atomic Fireball. It’s always fun watching Kenyans eat Atomic Fireballs, as their diets are not nearly spicy enough to handle them and most usually spit them out. Hilarious!

So yeah, I am sure I Forgot somethings. Like my fourth neighbor is Mr. Dai Kato, a japanese volunteer who has been here a little under 2 years and is sadly leaving in March. He came with me to get water, and may come with me into the city on Sunday. He wants to learn as much english as possible before going home. I am impressed because he came to Kenya knowing almost no english and no kiswahili and he’s picked up quite a bit in two years. It takes a lot of guts to do that.

So yeah. After writing this I realized that maybe long posts are good. I don’t really like this narrative format much, so I might stop with it. Who knows what next post will be. In the meantime though, I got my address, so head over to the contact me page to send your letters!

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I am alive

Hello All!

So I am alive yet again and this time I am at site. I was posted to the village of Mtungwe, about 12 km south of Mombasa Town (which is Kenya’s second largest city, and East Africa’s largest port). I will be teaching computer systems with the National Youth Service Technical College here in Mtungwe (I think I am spelling it correctly…)

I will update more once I am a bit more settled in. Sadly I am back on my own for internet, but was able to snag a Safaricom modem which is within my means for affordability, but is slow and I cannot do fun things like Skype and whatnot. I do have my own house on the college compound (which is huge!) and I have running water and eletricity. I also have three bedrooms, an entrance room, living room and kitchen. I think I may fall on the Posh Corps side of Peace Corps. But I won’t really complain. So I am going to go an continue settling in. Feel free to call my cell still, as it works here no worries. Larger Update later, once I write it!

Cheers!

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I am alive

Hello All!

So I am alive yet again and this time I am at site. I was posted to the village of Mtungwe, about 12 km south of Mombasa Town (which is Kenya’s second largest city, and East Africa’s largest port). I will be teaching computer systems with the National Youth Service Technical College here in Mtungwe (I think I am spelling it correctly…)

I will update more once I am a bit more settled in. Sadly I am back on my own for internet, but was able to snag a Safaricom modem which is within my means for affordability, but is slow and I cannot do fun things like Skype and whatnot. I do have my own house on the college compound (which is huge!) and I have running water and eletricity. I also have three bedrooms, an entrance room, living room and kitchen. I think I may fall on the Posh Corps side of Peace Corps. But I won’t really complain. So I am going to go an continue settling in. Feel free to call my cell still, as it works here no worries. Larger Update later, once I write it!

Cheers!

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Updated my contact page

Last post for the night, then I am off to bed to give my stomach some much needed sleep.  I updated my “How to Contact Me,” page with my mobile number and a couple other minor things.  I will not have my permanent address until I get to site and buy a P.O. box at the post office, but I wouldn’t send anything to the Peace Corps address because now that I am no longer in training, there will not be semi-regular mail delivery from them.  So please hold off on any letter/parcel sending until I get my new address.  Thanks.  And thanks so much to everyone who has sent me letters, I love getting them and reading and re-reading them all that time!  Goodnight all!

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Pictures, finally!

So here are some pictures that I promised I would get you all.

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