Monthly Archives: February 2009

An Update on Teaching Part I

Ok, so here’s my long-awaited update on teaching.  So let’s backpeddle a few weeks now and describe what has been happening.

A few weeks ago I noticed a critical deficiency in the ability of my students to think critically about a given situation.  If a task was not spelled out for them word for word, they would have much difficulty completing it. In my opinion, this will make it very hard to use computers.  Modern day computing is all about being able to read new instructions, mostly ill-written and ill-conceived, and follow them using known computer-interaction paradigms and whatnot. 

For people in the West, these interaction paradigms are drilled into us early and almost as much as learning how to breathe and walk.  We live with computers, we use them every day, it is obvious that we would be able to learn new things on them quite quickly.  This is not the case for most Kenyans, who most likely are coming from a life in a very rural area; where living at NYS is probably their first encounter with consistent electricity, running water and maybe even food.  And no, I am not trying to be dramatic.  That’s simply life here.

Combine this unfamiliarity with computers with a learning style completely alien to the learning style of the society that developed modern computers in the first place.  The notion of interacting with learning is a foreign concept.  I think it’s even more foreign than the concept of a white guy from America trying to teach it.  At least they can see people like me on TV.  For so long they have been drilled that wrong answers are unaccpetable, that experimenting is pointless, and that whatever a teacher tells you is absolute truth.  Computers were invented by people who were wrong a lot, were experimenting in their basements and garages, and were certainly not cut from any “normal,” mold.  And I would bet most of them were arrogant and cocky enough to argue with their teachers… a lot.

But you cannot lecture computers.  It is impossible. Sure, you can lecture computer theory and more abstract concepts, but this requires two things: 1) a basic understanding of the fundamentals of computers in order to understand the more abstract, theoretical concepts and 2) a brain that has been trained to analyze, deconstruct, and apply theory to practice.  My students have neither, sadly.  It is no fault of their own, they are simply products of their education system.

So what do I do?  Hand hold them through every word of a research paper or number in an accounting spreadsheet.  I’ve reconciled that I will have to teach them more specifically than I first desired, but still, how?  It doesn’t help that some of the kids have the fundamentals of computer interaction down and others don’t.  Some know how to click and type fairly well, others don’t even know how to hold a mouse.  It also doesn’t help that I only get about half attendance per class, and that it’s a random attendance.  I don’t even know who’s dedicated!  Frustrating in its own right.  Heck, I had an entire class not show up yesterday.  An entire class!

It also doesn’t help that the Kenyan computer instructor, who I was hoping could be my Kenyan-Thought-Process translator, has been recalled to Nairobi and may not come back, ever.  Or that his replacement, who is of an unknown teaching-stock (the first, Mr. Mutuli, being known and well-liked by Dai Kato), has an indetermined ETA.  So I am on my own effectively.  Even Dai Kato is leaving in two weeks.  Oh Boi.

So we played solitaire two weeks ago.  It’s a game that is installed on every computer we have.  It requires a decent understanding of mouse control, click, drag and drop, and a constant reevaluation of the play area.  It forces my students to think critically, but within a time frame that they control because they control the flow of the game.  I stood up and gave directions, which Mr. Dai Kato, who has never played Solitaire before himself was able to follow and learn how to play.  And he’s not even fluent in English!  I walked around and helped the individual students after explaining the directions.  They didn’t get it.  Despite repeatedly showing them that they could uncover new cards after moving top cards from the piles, they would still require my prompting to do so.  I would make a circuit of the class and come back to see the same cards flipped over on a student’s screen.  And don’t even get me started about the concept of moving King Cards to empty spaces.  Needless to say I was frustrated.  I had failed again.  How do I teach these kids?

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Monkeys

For the wikipedia/google/encyclopedia-inclined, I have a troop of Vervet Monkeys living around my house and several troops living on the compound of NYS.

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An update on my diet

I have gotten a couple comments about my cooking entry.  Just in case anyone was worried, I make sure to eat out every day for lunch.  This way I get to have a guaranteed good meal, and I make sure to eat the appropriate protein, vitamins and whatnot.  All peace corps volunteers are drilled with proper dietary habits, and I willingly follow them.  It’s also simply cheaper to eat out, and unlike America where you have to worry about preservatives and whatnot, eating out in Kenya grantees you a home cooked meal, even if it’s not cooked in your home.

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What I ate tonight

Ok, so to be honest, I have been meaning to write two entries: one on my current teaching status and another opinion piece on why tri-lingualism is the downfall of modern Kenya.  But when I sat down, honestly, all I wanted to write was about my adventure in the kitchen tonight.  So that’s what you are getting.  Pole.  To compensate I put some new photos up on my Photostream. Check it out at the right —->

Most nights all I eat is either Ramen, Spaghetti with pre-canned pasta sauce or peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  I go out to eat at a local restaurant every day to make myself known in the community (people are starting to realize I may actually be staying…) and because, well, they are far better cooks than me.  And it’s also economical.  I end up spending the same eating there that I would if I prepared myself the same meal at my own place.  Funny how that works out, but kweli kabisa (totally true).

Tonight however, I was feeling a tad guilty.  I don’t know, my situation is so posh that sometimes I feel guilty, so I decided to cook for myself more than my usual.  This requires a stop by Mama Edith’s for some vegetables (mboga).  Tonight was carrots, garlic and onions.  You cannot just keep these things around because in the Mombasa heat everything goes bad after a day or two, with the exception of garlic and onions.  But carrots, they are a daily purchase if you are cooking with them.

I decided to do a stir fry.  So I heated up my wok and started the water boiling for the noodles.  Made a haphazard stir fry sauce, the contents of which I will not disclose because some people might assume they then know the reason why I get sick.  I assure you, it was… safe.  The rest of the experience was a failure.  I burned all my vegetables, and the noodles I was using, vermicelli, are a pain to cook with and I messed them up.  They are thin noodles, and now every time I order angel pasta at a restaurant in the States I will respect the chef that much more.

So to compensate, I was like, fine, Ill make a butter sauce for the rest of the carrots.  So I make a sauce of butter, garlic powder, basil and parsely.  Good so far.  But steaming the carrots takes way to long, so I take them out of the pot and just throw them into the sauce while it’s still cooking/melting/whatever butter does on a hotplate.  And then I decide, instead of making it a sauce, i’ll just use it to fry the carrots.  I am so lazy when it comes to cooking.  The result, a half steam, half fried batch of carrots that actually tasted pretty good.

As if this mess wasn’t enough, I notice the bananas I purchased from Mama edith (who doesn’t actually have children but, as is respectful for a woman above the age of 23 in Kenya, I call her Mama) were going bad.  I have lost far too many bananas to the mombasa heat, and I was determined to not waste these.  What do I do, start mashing them up with a fork until I have a nice gooey (and slightly chunky) paste.  Mixed it up with some water, some sugar and some powdered milk and I had quite the milkshake-type banana drink.

I am a mess in the kitchen.  Whoever let me have a kitchen is going to regret this later when one day my intestines just explode from too much basil or something.  I looooove adding basil to everything!  I am pretty sure that if I could put basil on basil and make basil-squared or something, I would.  Basil was added to the vegetables before stir frying.  I don’t actually know how to use basil, I just put it on everything.  Except the banana shake.  I didn’t add basil there.

Now you know why I eat ramen or sandwiches.  Needless to say, my pots and pans are a mess.

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Photo Blog —->

So I finally gave up and created a Flickr account. It seems to be the best compromise between storage, upload-ability and blog integration. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress offers plenty of storage and whatnot, but it was just so darn slow on my connection. I have oftentimes, *cough*thismorning*cough* spent hours, yes hours, trying to upload photos to either WordPress or Facebook, only for my connection to die. I get charged for all the megs, but nothing gets upload. Uneconomical. Flickr lets me do batch uploading and has a decent mechanism in place for interrupted connections. So I use Flickr. So to recap, if there are going to be new photos, they will be there. Enjoy.

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Home

Today I had a “home,” moment. In fact, my first. And not a, “missing home,” moment, but the much more crucial, “This is my home for the next two years and I am ok with it,” moment:

I was sitting by myself in the matatu coming home from a successful trip into Mombasa with Jeff. The matatu was practically empty, and I was sitting in my favorite spot: passenger side, farthest back, next to an open window, getting a breeze. It seemed like all sound just stopped except the breeze coming in the window. The matatu kept going, making no stops along the final stretch to NYS. I was looking out the window, elbow propped on it, watching people. People were working, people were talking with each other, children were walking home from school, life was just happening and for once I felt a part of the rhythm and not just on the outside trying to get a feel for it. It’s a good feeling.

Other things I did today:

1) Purchased some handmade woven african grass mats for my house (pictures when my connection is more reliable)

2) Told some touts (matatu conductors) that they fought over me like cats, eliciting laughs from the whole matatu

3) Made another matatu laugh when I bought water from a vendor and then successfully told him to get lost and stop annoying me when he became obnoxious.

4) Mailed some overdue letters, finally.

I wish I could add, “Take a shower” to that list, but sadly my water has decided to stop working today.

Pictures later, I promise!

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A human again

So, not gonna lie, the past few weeks I have again felt something less than a person. It’s always been, “New teacher,” or “Mzungu,” or any other of the nomenclature I must respond to. Very rarely is it my name, and always is it something associated with a sense of otherness.

Today was a bit different. I had three experiences which made me feel like I can just be a person here in Mombasa, which will again be presented in my favorite information formatting technique, the list:

1) I signed “Good Morning,” to the deaf Kenyans who run a candy table near the Mombasa Posta. I was unable to stop and chat, which is good because I am unable to sign much more than “Good Morning,” and my sign name (which is sign for “Die Hard,”), but they smiled and I felt like I added something positive to their day.

2) I helped push one of the big human-pulled carts off the ferry. I need to get a picture of one of these on the site so you can see them. Basically Kenyans pull them instead of horses or donkeys. They needed help getting momentum to get it off the ferry and asked me, so I said sure. When I had finished and was walking off they gave me a simple thumbs up. Didn’t ask for money or anything. Didn’t even call me mzgunu. Just a thumbs up.

3) The touts (matatu conductors) have been more persistent recently about trying to charge 25 bob for the trip home from the ferry. It’s supposed to be 20. So I helped with a kenyan mama to argue that its supposed to be 20. They heeded what I contributed, and we paid 20. Again, no mzungu, just thanks.

I’m finding my groove. It’s good.

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A human again

So, not gonna lie, the past few weeks I have again felt something less than a person. It’s always been, “New teacher,” or “Mzungu,” or any other of the nomenclature I must respond to. Very rarely is it my name, and always is it something associated with a sense of otherness.

Today was a bit different. I had three experiences which made me feel like I can just be a person here in Mombasa, which will again be presented in my favorite information formatting technique, the list:

1) I signed “Good Morning,” to the deaf Kenyans who run a candy table near the Mombasa Posta. I was unable to stop and chat, which is good because I am unable to sign much more than “Good Morning,” and my sign name (which is sign for “Die Hard,”), but they smiled and I felt like I added something positive to their day.

2) I helped push one of the big human-pulled carts off the ferry. I need to get a picture of one of these on the site so you can see them. Basically Kenyans pull them instead of horses or donkeys. They needed help getting momentum to get it off the ferry and asked me, so I said sure. When I had finished and was walking off they gave me a simple thumbs up. Didn’t ask for money or anything. Didn’t even call me mzgunu. Just a thumbs up.

3) The touts (matatu conductors) have been more persistent recently about trying to charge 25 bob for the trip home from the ferry. It’s supposed to be 20. So I helped with a kenyan mama to argue that its supposed to be 20. They heeded what I contributed, and we paid 20. Again, no mzungu, just thanks.

I’m finding my groove. It’s good.

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A human again

So, not gonna lie, the past few weeks I have again felt something less than a person. It’s always been, “New teacher,” or “Mzungu,” or any other of the nomenclature I must respond to. Very rarely is it my name, and always is it something associated with a sense of otherness.

Today was a bit different. I had three experiences which made me feel like I can just be a person here in Mombasa, which will again be presented in my favorite information formatting technique, the list:

1) I signed “Good Morning,” to the deaf Kenyans who run a candy table near the Mombasa Posta. I was unable to stop and chat, which is good because I am unable to sign much more than “Good Morning,” and my sign name (which is sign for “Die Hard,”), but they smiled and I felt like I added something positive to their day.

2) I helped push one of the big human-pulled carts off the ferry. I need to get a picture of one of these on the site so you can see them. Basically Kenyans pull them instead of horses or donkeys. They needed help getting momentum to get it off the ferry and asked me, so I said sure. When I had finished and was walking off they gave me a simple thumbs up. Didn’t ask for money or anything. Didn’t even call me mzgunu. Just a thumbs up.

3) The touts (matatu conductors) have been more persistent recently about trying to charge 25 bob for the trip home from the ferry. It’s supposed to be 20. So I helped with a kenyan mama to argue that its supposed to be 20. They heeded what I contributed, and we paid 20. Again, no mzungu, just thanks.

I’m finding my groove. It’s good.

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