Monthly Archives: February 2009

Link Explosion

If anyone has been following some of the other volunteers due to their blogs being linked-to on my site, prepare to be engrossed by even more peace corps kenya bloggage!  My blog roll has been added to considerably, so feel free to now keep tabs not only on me, but also on what many other volunteers are doing in this country.  As I said before, part of my job is making connection; hopefully I have just made some more.


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PMOG – an approach at cultural exchange through play

Being an ICT Volunteer, it’s in my job description to figure out how technology can aid my country of service. The more general role of a Volunteer is to help make connections: connections between organizations within countries, connections with people in different countries, connections. But the most general, and most important role Volunteers play is that of cultural emissary. I am here to share American culture with Kenyans, and to share Kenyan culture with Americas. Initially this was done through letters written home about volunteer experiences, but with the explosion of Telecommunications infrastructure around the globe, the internet is providing a much more real time oppurtunity for exchange. I love this medium.

With these things in mind, enter the Passively Multiplayer Online Game (PMOG). PMOG is an application that turns the entire internet into one big game. This is a bit more tech oriented, so sorry if I lose some of my readers here. But for those who are internet-savvy, think StumbleUpon, but with rewards and a very strong community.

First you head on over to the PMOG website before believing what I say. Then you go ahead and download the PMOG Firefox Extension. Sorry guys, only Firefox is support for now. After that, go ahead and create your first profile on the website, and you are ready to go.

So what do you do with all this? You explore the web. Every new site you go to gets you points, and even more points if you are the first PMOG user to go to that site. You can use points to buy cool items. And what can you do with items? You can lay mines to annoy other PMOG users, or crates to reward them for possibly visiting one of your favorite sites.

But the educational component of all this, the sharing component, comes in the form of missions. With missions you are able to create a virtual tour of websites around the Internet, including little blurbs about what you are bringing someone to that site. And in the end, people who complete these missions, while not only being knowledge-enriched, are also rewarded by the PMOG system in the form of points.

This harkens back to the old system of web searching, when actual people would browse the internet and catalouge all the websites they discovered, including categorizing them for the big search engines like Yahoo! Except now, you are getting a much more specific tour of all the information out there.

I have created a first mission. It’s is a simple mission that basically takes people on a tour of some of my fellow bloggers in Kenya, but it’s a prototype for what may come. I can see this as an oppurtunity to enlighten people who want to be enlightened. I believe that many people playing PMOG are simply curious creatures, and curiosity can be one of the greatest allies of generating interest.  Interest to me is specific curiosity.  And once there is interest, there can be exchange.  So by generating curiosity about Peace Corps Kenya, I hope cultural exchange will soon follow.  Then I can comfortably say I have been doing my job here 🙂


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Below I will list the effects of rain on Kenya as I have witnessed:

  1. People are happy because it waters the crops they desperately need.
  2. In many cases it removes the humidity from the air and cools a place down. This does not always hold true on the coast where saying it lowers the humidity would be the equivalent of filling a drinking glass from the ocean and saying you lowered sea level. There are just some facts which are statistically negligible.
  3. Matatus stop running. They fear wet roads. I think this may be the one safety mechanism built into the whole matatu system: fear of wet roads. Otherwise they fear nothing else.
  4. People stop moving in general and seek shelter under the nearest buildings awning. This also gives them a good half hour break after the rain has stopped because, well, you wouldn’t want to get caught in it if it starts again, so wait it out a little and see what happens.
  5. Electricity shuts off. I don’t have either a legitimate or wise-crack answer for this one. It can just be plain annoying. Needless to say I’m supposed to be teaching computers today. The one thing in this country that needs electricity to run. And we don’t have a generator for the computer lab… though maybe I can swing one…. they do like my proposals after all…

This list may continue to grow beyond its original size if I remember anything else.

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An interesting fact

One of my classes did not show up today. This was their second time not doing so. Upon consulting my principal we both discover that they have collectively decided to no longer attend my compulsory sessions. I have never felt so inadequate in my life. But i keep on trucking. Thats what peace corps is about right? See how low low really is. We have pockets of patience and flexibility.

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Went camping with some Peace Corps and a British volunteer down in Msambweni, about an hour and a half matatu ride south of me.  The campsite is actually part of the PCV Jeff’s project (he’s from my training group), and we were helping assess the situation and prove it’s viability, and also just giving some good ole fashioned business.  Good times.  A few pictures made it up onto the photo stream.  Check them out at the right.

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Cognitive Dissonance

Can we all just think about the cognitive dissonance one must experience every day when living in a society where it is more acceptable to have a 3G cellular modem and cell phone than a refrigerator?

Also, I don’t know if cognitive dissonance is the correct phrase per se, I just like how it sounds.

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In other news today…

Monkeys stole my lunch.  And no, this is not like my knife where I just couldn’t find it, and then eventually did, and made up a story about monkeys stealing.  This actually happened.

I was sitting on my sofa just thinking (we do that a lot in Peace Corps apparently.  The Corps’ tagline should be, “Two years thinking while most likely sweating like you’ve never sweat before!”), and I hear a rustling.  It sounds an awful lot like the plastic bag my carrot and tomato (yes, one carrot and one tomato) are in.  At first though I thought I was imagining it.  Then I hear it again and again.  So I get up and walk into my kitchen.

And there are two monkeys sitting on my counter trying to open my bag.  Of course they see me and bolt out my open door (I had left it open for air flow… see the sweating comment above).  Do they leave the bag?  No, they take it and make it over the 15 foot fence like it was a nothing.  I think I heard them laughing as they went.

Needless to say, I successfully made a caramelized onion sandwich.  It was also supposed to have carrot and tomato in it, but, well, apparently I have a monkey problem.


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I wouldn’t call it toast

I attempted to make toast today.  No toaster, no oven, no broiler of any sort.  I wouldn’t really call the end result toast as anyone knows it, maybe more just burned bread.  But, given that everything in kenya is just slightly different, maybe calling it Kenyan toast would be appropriate.  Thankfully I didn’t have to light a jiko (charcoal or kerosene or wood burning oven used by kenyans to cook even when they can easily afford gas or electricity… ingrained culture) to make this and maybe that is why kenyans don’t eat toast, because if they are going to go through all the effort of building some type of cooking fire, they’d darn well better get more out of it than burned bread.

Thankfully jam still makes everything better.

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Maybe I am a bad teacher?

I kicked out my entire Thursday afternoon class.  Immediately.  They were the one class that I have ever assigned homework to.  Their assignment was to defend their answer as to why the sky was blue in the last exam.  There are over 30 people in this class, though I only run at about 2/3 attendance on any given day.  Not a single one did their assignment.  I kicked them out.  At first I said it nicely, in english and kiswahili.  Nobody moved.  Then I said it again, more sternly, nobody moved.  So finally I had to stand up and practically shout, “GO NOW!” and then they moved, but not with the expected energy I had hoped, they just sort of shuffled out.  They did not seem dejected, and they were laughing quite loudly in the hall.  The Mzungu made a spectacle.

I am not saying what I did was correct.  I was actually not even overly frustrated, half expecting this to happen, considering it’s kenya.  But at the same time, if I am to prove to these kids that I seriously want to teach them, and they should take that seriously as well, words just are not enough.  I needed an action to substantiate my claims to caring.  This is why I settled on kicking them out.  It was not a knee-jerk reaction.  I am hoping, as terrible as it may sound, that this will serve as an example.  I have had a professor do this to one of my classes in college and it worked.  For the rest of the year, us bratty, spoiled, disrespectful college kids did our reading.

Of course, in retrospect there are some things I would have done differently.  First, I would have given them a bit more reason as to why I am kicking them out.  Of course, they would not have understood most likely, and I would have been unable to convey it in kiswahili, nor would it have sunk in because I think there is still a factor of “Oh wow, he’s speaking swahili,” whenever I talk, and it overrides their actual listening-comprehension.

Second, I would have told them to do the assignment again.  I did not.  That is my mistake.  I doubt they will do it on their own volition.  I should have also made the ultimatum that class will not continue for them until they do their assignment.  But I did what I did, and I am ok with it.

I talked with Dai Kato about it and he was 100% supportive.  He said that if they were in Japan the teacher would have done the same thing.  Words we looked up in the dictionary for this conversation included: disrespectful, correct, reflect (student’s don’t reflect on their performance, he said it, not me).

I also talked with David and Frida about it.  To clarify, they have pretty good english, and are much better at at least listening and comprehending what I am saying, if not speaking with an articulated vocabularly.  At first they thought it was a bit funny, but that’s most likely because I was gesticulating wildly when describing the situation.  Afterwards though, they also agreed, saying that now the student’s will know that it I am no joke and they need to take my class seriously.

Hopefully they will.  As my second and third week experience proved, I know students want to be in class.  But I almost wonder if schooling is affected by the same appreciation for superficiality that affects many other aspects of culture.  That going through the motions is enough, but substance doesn’t really matter.  Sure it looks great to dress up an entire village of children in their uniforms and march them around, proudly proclaiming they are getting and education.  Sure an 87% literacy rate is great!  Especially for this region of the world.

At the same time though, are students being taught the value of their education.  The lifelong impact knowledge has on one’s life?  Or is the value of the education simply the cost of purchasing books and a uniform at the beginning of the year and hoping learning just falls out of the pages of the books and into your head.  What is a literacy rate of 87% if your fluency rate is nothing (an exaggeration to be sure, but an interesting study to be conducted)?



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An Update on teaching Part II

Many of my readers have raised a concern that my posts are too long to read in some free time.  Sorry.  I have a lot of time, and like to express completed thoughts, being as objective and non-ranty as possible.  This usually results in long posts.  But I took the initiative and split this one into two parts.  It’s technically one big post, but I wrote it in such a way that you can read the first part first, and then come back to the second.  I even left a cliffhanger about solitaire!  Please scroll down to read Part I before reading Part II, or just read Part II and be partially confused, if you feel partial to that method.  But before I depart on some tangent, let me impart with you the rest of the my story (did you get all that?).

I gave them a test.  I was still unbelieving about their thought
process, so I wanted to see how they would handle some random
thinking.  I posed seven questions.  The entire exam was in English and
Kiswahili, with the option to reply in either one.  I would like to
think I  had removed language as an issue (another topic for another entry for another day).  The exam was as follows
(kiswahili removed):

1) What is your name?

2) What do you like to do in your free time?

3) Why is the sky blue?

4) Why is the grass green?

5) Why do people build houses?

6) Why do you have friends?

7) Why do you fall in love?

Four out of my six classes received this exam.  I missed my monday class due to Peace Corps related travels and nobody passed me the memo that we were not having friday classes that week due to something about recruiting for the Adminsitrative Police.  They laughed and they chuckled.  Some interesting things happened though.

First of all, there was a question about the first question.  Apparently in kenyan english it is appropriate to ask for someones nameS if you want their first name and last name.  Some of my students overcame this hurdle and answered with both their names anyways, some had questions about this which I clarified, and gave them a cultural lesson that it was my fault because in America when we say Name, we mean both first and last name.  Of course, they don’t call it last name in Kenya either, but nor do surname or family name seem to work.  I’m baffled how to address that issue.  One time I tried “Father’s name,” but then people wrote both names of their father, first and last.

Question two posed no issues.  Though there was some obvious brown-nosing going on in my opinion with such responses as “play solitaire,” or “use computer.”  Whatever, I won’t hold it against them.  And heck, maybe they really do like playing solitaire in their free time.  Who knows?  They wouldn’t tell me even if I asked them.

Question three had three stock answers.  I’ll let you mull over them yourself.  Answer 1: Because it is as far as the eye can see.  Answer 2: Because it reflects the color of the ocean.  Answer 3: Because God made it that way and man hasn’t made it better.  Each student, of the almost 100 that took this exam answered question three with one of these answers.  Slightly different wording, but not significantly different.  I will come back to question three.

Question four had a similar set of responses, though they got a little more scientific.  Answer 1: Because of the chlorophyll.  Answer 2: Because they have life. Answer 3: Because God made it that way.

Question five illicited expected answers of “For protection from animals,” “for protection from people, ” and as such.

Question six did not quite reach the level of thinking I had hoped for, but apparently my students only have friends for support in times of need.  I think one or two of the 100 answered differently, but for the most part, apparently friendship in this country is only for supporting each other in times of need.  Maybe there are no times of joy, or maybe no times of fun.  Maybe there only are times of need?  I don’t know.  But I did find that response… interesting.

Question seven truly revealed the cognitive dissonance surrounding love in this country.  Some of my students answered like, “For support and someone to share my ideas with,” but others were more apparent examples that the youth in this country are fully aware they are sexual beings.  Listed below are some choice responses in my opinion.  These are not meant to mock in any way, but rather to applaud the frankness of character of my students.  For once, I got a straight answer from a Kenyan.

“I fall in love because of that inner emotion and lust for loving.”

“I fall in love because of having sex satisfaction and having good relationship with other people.”

“I do fall in love so that I can find a partner who can comfort me in good and bad time and also for sexual satisfaction.”

“I fall in love so that I can have conjugal rights (sex).”

“I fall in love so that I can satisfaction of sexual desire.”

After administering this exam for the fourth time though, the answers to question three got to me.  Too many people were saying the sky was blue because it reflects the color of the ocean.  And I’m not saying Americans know why the sky is blue (it has something to do with color dissipating from gases in the atmosphere and something called the Rayleigh effect), but at the same time, I wanted to see how they would react to me challenging their belief.  So for class four, my thursday afternoon class, I challenged them: If the sky is blue because it reflects the color of the ocean, why is it not green or brown or red or yellow over the land?  No one had a response.  So I went on a little spiel about asking “Why?”  It had nothing to do with computers really, though I tried to tie them in.  I just wanted them to start challenging accepted beliefs until they believed them for themselves and not just because someone told them to believe them.

I don’t care if your Kenyan or American, related to me or not, this is the one thing I truly believe in and want everyone in this world to do.  Don’t just blindly accept something.  Challenge it, play your own devil’s advocate, and if at the end of the day you still believe it, fine, great, but only believe it because you have convinced yourself, not because someone else told you to just believe it.  And I know that we all cannot conduct our own experiments and whatnot, so come up with a system that you trust.  If you trust and believe the BBC for providing factually correct news, fine, but why?

Be able to defend it.  And your defense does not even have to stand up against much, because ultimately trust and “the truth,” become a thing of faith, but at the same time, have some defense.  And I know there is no winning this argument.  That one can just argue back at me that this is my students’ level of trust.  That my perception is just skewed by having grown up in the West.  Why shouldn’t they trust their teachers the same way I trusted mine?  Why are they wrong and I am right?  Well, I never told my class they were wrong.  I even specifically told them that I did not say they were wrong.  I just wanted more of a defense than blank stares.  We will see if I get the homework handed in tomorrow afternoon.

So what am I teaching this week then?  It’s back to lecture and some hands on time.  This weeks topic is word processing.  I refuse to teach simply “Microsoft Word,” because it’s going to be gone in the next five years anyways, or at least as we know it, and I want to prepare them for that.  So I have abstracted and taken my lessons up a level from the top-down perspective.  Instead of Microsoft Word, I am trying to teach the concept of word processing using MS Word as an example (because at the moment it’s what I have).  I will try to do the same with spreadsheets and whatnot.  But I have also implemented some exams.  They have one review quiz at the beginning of class and one write-down-three-things-you-learned-today quiz at the end.  I need to start gauging what these kids are taking in.  Of course, the end of class exam nets me responses like, “How to word processor,” and “Solitaire,” so I may need to refine those instructions.

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