Monthly Archives: March 2009

More Adventures in the Kitchen

Anyone who has been following this blog should have picked up by now that one of the greatest challenges I face on a regular basis living in Kenya has nothing to do with the leopard outside my door (it’s actually a serval), nor the rampant corruption, nor the lack of motivation, but instead is found in the kitchen (and not coincidentally not in my stomach): FOOD! I am a terrible cook, and was never forced through the last-few-years-of-college-living-on-my-own-need-to-learn-to-cook period of life that many people my age have been subjected to (incidentally, I have noticed a love for hyphenated descriptors and ending sentences with prepositions; Missler and Vosburgh tear me a new one), and thus never learned to cook even simple things. Don’t get me wrong, I am not so rock-bottom as to be unable to whip up a delicious packet of ramen or whatnot, but beyond pre-prepared food, I am sorely lacking.

Hence my “Adventures in the Kitchen,” series, which may or may not have been going by a different title (or several) in other blog posts. No matter, they shall henceforth be known as “Adventures in the Kitchen,” possibly with funny tack-ons and slight adjustments (think: “Chicken Soup…” series of books). For the latest adventures, continue reading!

I started a grease fire! Doesn’t that scream adventure?! I was thankfully allowed to enjoy the humor of the situation much more than if I had been in America, where instead of laughing while my pot explodes, I would have been fretting about ADT or Brinks or any other home security system would have been blasting some alarm and sending over some overpriced duty police, only to have my next months bill itself explode due to a false alarm. False alarms are funny people. It’s like a false positive on a TB test. “You have TB. Wait, no you don’t. Just kidding.” I successfully smothered the grease fire (which was actually an oil fire… who knew heating up oil caused it to ignite?) and continued cooking. Fun times!

I am also becoming quite the pro at cooking stir fry. I have had about 10 screw ups and 1 success on about 6 attempts. When I screw up, I screw up bad. Haven’t died though. Stomach hasn’t been happy for about 2 months though either. The only adjustment I would make to the last recipe, my only success, is that I don’t need so much sauce for one person. Also, ginger and cumin are good complements for one another? Did anyone else know that? I didn’t?

And my final update involves eggs. Medical did a pretty good job of scaring me away from eggs. Seemed like every one I cracked open was going to contain a chick. This is not actually the case, and if you add Mchuzi mix (the name of some random soy sauce and other stuff mixed together and put in everything) to the eggs it’s actually quite delicious. Though usually i must wait until the next hour to judge the complete effect of a “successful,” meal, so a future update might have me recanting my first success with eggs. Such is life. I deal. Maybe I’ll get a pet chicken out of my new found fondness for the incredible edible egg, but until then, I’m gonna keep eating them.

Besides, if I get a chick out of one of them, then I can make my own eggs! Chickens are practically egg factories! Did you know that? It’s amazing! They’re like the rabbits of the egg world!



Filed under Uncategorized

Updates, non-sequential

So my life seems to have forked in many different directions, and I guess I am now a multi-threaded application. Heck I might even be multi-process. I don’t know.  Pole sana (very sorry) for the computer nerdom. As a result, I will update you all in discrete blocks, as to the happenings of the last week.

National Youth Service

Being my primary project, I feel like this gets top bid. The semester has come to a close here at National Youth Service Technical College – Mombasa. Of course, my fellow readers will remember that due to a certain independence streak that gripped all of my students, my semester ended quite abruptly, without the happy-go-lucky musical sing-a-long or even a bang. There was the mutiny, and then there was a lot of free time to be had. Such is life. Students are all leaving today for holiday and so are most of the teachers it seems. It’s going to be me and neighbors and the baboons. Such is life.

My project with keeping the lab open also has ended in what can only be explained as confuzzlement. I would like to blame the Kenyan culture for producing individuals that lack the initiative to get in contact with teacher to help keep him informed, but that would only be half the truth. One must also consider my own personal apathy towards pretty much anything NYS. As far as their treatment of me leaves, I am not even really a teacher here, just the token volunteer. I get bitter sometimes. Sometimes they deserve it.

And yet they found a purpose for me in this past week! They received four brand-spanking-new gorgeous HP computers from the mysterious computer-dispensing HQ in Nairobi, which I was initially told were for me. Well, that lasted about ten minutes. Soon enough they found homes on the desks of various secretaries around the offices. I snagged one at least, which will be put to use as my new dedicated server once the classroom is up and running. Exciting!

Problem is, these boxes don’t have any software. So I attempted a Linux install. I set it up to act just like Windows, but that wasn’t enough. The change was too much. Cries of, “Bring back the simpler Word and Excel,” rang down the halls, and I was forced to find pirated-copies of Office to install. Actually, the principal put out phone calls, but he kept asking to find “Windows,” despite my correcting him to say, “Office,” and I have not actually seen the end result of the search, though one was proffered. Monday morning may be full of epic-failure. I enjoy the notion that the Kenyan Government is willingly using pirated-copies of Microsoft. I also find no moral qualms about posting this fact on a public blog. Enjoy the tasty morsel, web-crawlers.

Hatua Likoni

This is a new organization I was introduced to through a friend about a week ago now. They are actually an umbrella group for three organizations: Twaayf Childrens’ Home, Likoni Scholarship Fund and Madaraka Nursery School, all based in neighboring Likoni (also home to the infamous Likoni Ferry). My first experience with the group was when they asked me to help fundraise at the Likoni Ferry. The end result: me standing in front of crowds gathering to get on the ferry, asking in kiswa-english (the kenyan combination of kiswahili and english that occurs in every day speech) to please donate funds to help the children of Likoni. The cognitive dissonance caused by seeing a mzungu asking kenyans for money was a bit much and often resulted in the crowds chuckling to themselves. Throw in a bit of self-deprecating humor and it was an interesting 6 hour experience. We raised a pretty-penny to boot!

After that experience I quickly became their resident techie. In turn they became my resident guinea pigs (willingingly, and aware that that is what they are), and find themselves with a brand new install of openSUSE 11.0. I will install Linux on every computer in this country, even if its only one computer at a time! I think the results have been ok so far. The biggest selling point for Linux so far seems to be, “It gets no viruses.” (paraphrased below)

Me: This is linux.

Matto: What’s good about it?

Me: It gets no viruses.

Matto: Oh, that’s cool. But what do we do when it gets a virus?

Me: No, it doesn’t get any viruses, at all.

Matto: Oh… wow. (Kenyans love to say wow)

Voices of Africa

Another organization I was introduced to through mzungu channels. It is currently organized by Crystle, a American expat living in Kenya. She’s a public-health worker with a penchant for geekiness and is currently trying to set up a computer center at the Likoni Young Women Christian Association (YWCA). She also have a love of Linux, and plans on trying to teach the seven packages (Kenyas widely-accepted, and ultimately flawed, preferred method of teaching computers), but using Linux and not Windows. She likes Ubuntu. I don’t but I give it due credit, and work with her. As long as she doesn’t get deported on me.

She also has a crazy notion for a tuk-tuk, which we are calling “Pimp My Tuk-Tuk,” involving solar-powered tuk-tuks and computers. Could be interesting, to say the least. Also has one of the cutest four-year-olds I have ever met, named Phoenix, who loves Pochahontas.


These are the guys trying to make music. They also constitute Kenya-Linux-Subversion-Project (KLSP) #3 (though actually they were #1). They run a production studio which was having the usual windows problems and I suggested switching over to Ubuntu Studio, which would get them all the legal production software their hearts could desire. I made sure to lay out the skinny: pros, cons, learning curve, everything. I am lucky with these guys though, because they are computer literate, and willing to try (knowing they can switch back to windows if they have to). I wasn’t able to do a check up on these guys after installing, and hope to get to them on Tuesday of this week. We shall see.

The Mzungu Factor

None of the above would have been possible (except for NYOTA), without the Mzungu Factor. I find myself in a land abundant with other development workers. VSO, FSD, i2i, Germans, Dutch, Japanese, Scandanavian, British, American, everything. It seems Likoni is ripe with development potential. That, or maybe because it offers some of both wealthiest and poorest regions juxtaposed, and rivaled in such juxtaposition only by Nairobi, but without all the crime, and far enough away from overly annoying government-types. Also, everyone in Nairobi wants to pretend they aren’t in Kenya, or are only there because that’s where the best infrastructure is, which is critical if running an international NGO. Of course, both of those statements are extremely broad generalizations, partially fueled by my disdain for that pathetic train-stop-wannabe-city. I only envy its climate.

On the flipside of the mzungu factor, I find myself feeling less integrated in Kenyan culture, but more so in development-worker culture. The problem is, technically in Peace Corps we are supposed to integrate more into Kenyan Culture to truly assess long-term, sustainable potential. Development culture is too much about taking a static perception of culture and trying to fix that. It’s all a mess, and really confusing. It also means I don’t have many Kenyan friends at all, except my neighbors. I am friendly with Kenyans, and they know me certainly, but not many are friends. I am still trying to come to grips with this whole perspective. More on it later.

The Kenyan Home Front

Home is good. I plan on getting a dog soon, after In-Service Training in April, and after I do a careful analysis of travel conflicts, budget conflicts and commitment. I would like to think I know how big of a commitment getting a dog is having lived with them my whole life (though my parents might argue how much an actual impact they had on my life beyond playing with them 😛 ), but over-preparation can never hurt.

I have also discovered, upon realizing I don’t mind hand-washing my clothes, that I am no good at it. There’s still that ever-so-slight smell of, “Nice try, but not good enough.” I have devised a possible solution. I will get someone to do it for me!

The easiest person to choose is one based on proximity. That would leave either Mama Frida or Marcy, next door. Mama Frida has her baby to care about, and also that creates a situation I don’t want to deal with. She is almost my agemate, even though she is married and has kids and whatnot, and we are just finding a good kenyan-culture/american-culture karmic balance that I don’t want to disturb. So that leaves Marcy. How do I get over the fact that I would just be perpetuating a Kenyan culture that promotes household chores over good, solid commitment to education though?

My solution: I would pay her in tutor lessons. The kenyan education system is a wreck right now, and at the very least, maybe I can break her of any Kenyan English-isms before they become too ingrained. The catch though is that the lessons would have to be undisturbed by Mama Frida and David wanting her to do some chore that they could do themselves. Thus I need to talk to David and Frida before hand, explaining the importance of uninterrupted lessons and see if it was ok.

Thus I put out a call to my friends in America, particularly teachers and tutors: Mr. Missler, Ms. Vosburgh, Andy, Adrian, Mom, and anyone else I may have missed any ideas? Access to books is limited, though my first idea is to get some text books. Any good websites for learning and tutoring. I would consider my strongest areas of teaching to be English and History. I suggested one hour a day, but Marcy said she wanted two! She’s 14, and is in Standard 7 of 8 of primary school. I don’t even know their curriculum, but can probably get it at IST in April.

I want to teach structured English, which I hear they are not even doing in American Schools anymore. I figure, for texts, I can try anything in Public Domain, though the only age-appropriate one I can think of is Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Project Gutenberg comes to mind for texts to work with as well. I also want to focus on Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking, things which are sorely missing in the current system here.

So that’s life as it stands now. Future updates will follow as usual, hopefully with updates on KLSP and other projects as they pop up. Hopefuly Pimp My Tuk-tuk takes off as well!


Filed under Uncategorized

Do You Like Kenya?

“Do you like Kenya?”  I ask this question to almost every new mzungu volunteer I run across in this country.  And every time I get and answers and they are all slightly different, and I am not going to elaborate on any of the responses because I fear crossing a line into the land of generalizations, so I guess I am only going to write about how I would respond as of today.

What part of Kenya?  At first I was almost afraid of digging into this response.  I was getting an impression, real or imaginary, that if I didn’t answer yes, I was a bad development worker.  How could you not like Kenya?  Why are you here if you don’t like Kenya?  These Kenyans are the greatest people on the planet, they’ve just been through shitty periods of colonialism which has put them in bad sorts and if you cannot appreciate that get out!  This is the greatest country on the planet.  Not to mention the time frame angle: you’ve only been here for X months, what do you know?!

Well, all those responses above be damned, I am giving an answer, and that answer is “What part?”  It’s the same answer I would give about America, and I am pretty sure it’s the same answer I will always give about any place I visit.  So let’s start with the bad.  Because there is bad.  And all of this bad is very publicly acknowledged, so any hypocritical BS I may get from any sort of authority about degrading Kenya is further proof of the bad.

Kenya’s government is, well to put it nicely, less than functional in many core areas, mostly those areas that deal with caring about the people they serve.  Oh wait, that’s because the government of kenya does not serve its people, it serves itself.  I am a firm believer now that Peace Corps partly sends volutneers abroad to see first hand that the US government actually isn’t that bad and in many great respects is still a functioning representative democracy.  Any doubters, haul your ass over here and try living under the Kenyan government.  You don’t even have to work for them or try to deal with them, just try living in this country.  You’ll go running back to the US.

The shortlist of its failings include: inability to avert famine after the government bought all of the maize during bumper crop years and then sold the stockpiles to wholesalers for ridiculously cheap prices who hoarded it until famine struck and then sold it for ridiculous prices (at leas that’s my understanding of the situation, please correct the intricacies if you know better); the largest parliament on the continent with the highest paid members of all of Africa, but guess what, the government is about ready to declare bankruptcy; an inability to police itself, as demonstrated by last years political violence and the lack of resolution, and corruption.

Corruption is not just government alone, and thus gets it’s own point in the “Bad  parts of Kenya.”  Corruption pervades everyday life here like you would not believe: from the matatu and motorcycle drivers paying off the cops, to shop owners paying off cops, to overbudgeting, to over-indulgence of government meal allowances (when there’s famine of course), and the list continues.  If there is any type of transaction of any sort, I am sure there’s a corrupt way to go about it in this country.  And people know that.  Even the NGO’s are forced to act in corrupt fashion, fudging budgets just so their workers can get paid.

Of course, all of this bad stems from a greatly uneven distribution of wealth (again, complainers in America, come here and see how good we have it!).  Can you really blame someone for their petty corruption if it means they get to eat ONE meal that day?  Because that’s about how many meals many, many, many people get in this country.  Don’t get me started on the nutritional value of that meal, it’s most likely non-existant anyway.  But go to Nairobi, and everyone there thinks the world is fine.  Well, except the students who are demonstrating and reminding the government that not everything is fine.  It’s a good thing that government has gotten very good at not listening, or else they might have to act to save their country that they are supposed to serve!

Aright, that just turned into a rant, and not nearly as object as I was hoping.  I am sorry.

What do I like about Kenya then?  I like the geography, which seems to be a very common mzungu response.  The land is as varied as the US (almost), but is only the size of Nevada.  The diversity of ecosystems is about as diverse as the Big Island of Hawaii.  It’s thoroughly impressive.  Not to mention beautiful.  The landscapes are just beautiful.

And of course the wildlife.  It’s great.  Sure I see the monkeys every day, but they never get boring!  And just the thought that there is potentially a very large leopard living outside my house that could maul me to death is very exciting (if not actually confirmed to be true).  Just waking up every day and realizing that nature still has the balls to fight back is awesome.  America has subdued its ecosystems and though they do fight back, it’s not on a daily basis as much as it is in Kenya.

The carefree nature that stems from the uncertain living conditions is also a breath of fresh air.  As stated above, many people here are lucky if they are able to eat at all in a day and I would venture to say that almost everyone here has been in that stage at some point.  This has resulted in a cultural atitude that Kenyans worry about three things: what are they going to eat today, do they have clothes to wear today and where will they sleep tonight.  Once those three questions are answered, live life, because you don’t know if you can answer them tomorrow.

This sort of in-the-moment living is great, in the moment, but the flipside of the coin is that there is less of a seriousness taken towards other aspects of life because all seriousness must first be placed in finding food and shelter.  Understanable except for those that do have the certainty in attaining the basic necessities but then choose not to help their fellow Kenyan.

As always, my post has become too long. I don’t even know if I answered the question, but at least I started.  It’s an evolving answer anyway.  Hope you have enjoyed it.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


You have frequently read the word matatu and are probably wondering by now what the heck is it.  Some of my readers may have discerned it is a mode of transport and of course, those clever ones would be correct.  But let me say, there is no mode of transport like the matatu in existance in America.  Plain and simple: matatus are part taxi, part bus, all party.

Sorry, I just paused to win a game of solitaire.  I am loving solitaire.

Ok, so back to the matatus.  Here’s how they work.  They run a fixed route every day.  They hole about 14 people (give or take depending on time of day, busy-ness, and people’s willingess to sit on each others laps.  You pay a price based on how far you want to go, and the matatu will stop anywhere along the route.  The prices are in increments of 5 shillings, and you pay based on a zone-like system.  You are able to flag down any matatu that is driving by and if they have an empty seat they will stop and if your destination is along the route, you’re good to go.  My description of the system makes it seem almost organized, but have no fear, like everything else in Kenya, it’s not.

The system works fine and I will start with the positive.  The prices are very cheap, allowing the average Kenya to traverse the entire country if he wanted for relatively little money.  The matatus themselves, though rickety, are probably some of the most loved vehicles in this country, as they are the lifebloog of the drivers and conductors that operate them.  As a result, they often get personalized and decked out with sound systems and neon lights; the works.  Hence the “all party,” comment above.  Matatus are a great way to get in to the mood to go out at night, as they are a party unto themselves and you cannot help but get energized.

But the system is not without its serious flaws.  First and foremost, prices are not fixed, which means a conductor/driver pair can decide on what to charge the passengers without talking with anyone else, though thankfully this does not happen often at all.  What happens more though is that 1) they almost always try to overcharge the mzungu (ME!) or 2) price inconsistencies occur during busier periods where some touts (conductors) try to overcharge.

Another problem is that though I speak of zones, and though some cities have “stages,” ultimately the matatu will stop whenever a passenger wishes.  Which means that due to a certain unamed attribute that I have noticed of the general population (hint, it rhymes with smaziness), a matatu will stop to let out a passenger, and then stop again literally 10 feet later to let out another, and then again 10 feet later to let out another.  I will fully admit, I have been the instigator of such action myself once, but usually I give myself a 100 feet bubble in which if the matatu has stopped, I will get out and walk.  It confuses the Kenyans.  I always confuse the Kenyans.

 On the reverse of this coin, matatus will also stop every 10 feet to pick up a passenger, or a potential passenger, or maybe will stop just to yell at people who very obviously do not want to be going anywhere but still telling them to get on the matatu.  If you are really lucky, this stopping does not overlap with letting off a passgenger and you get on a matatu that will thus stop every FIVE feet.  You are really lucky then!  It’s also the reason why when telling people where we are going and when we will meet them, we need to take into account “matatu time.”  As if Swahili time weren’t slow enough, matatu time brings travel time to a crawl.  It takes me anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to travel what I would say is roughly 5 miles from where i get on the matatu to the Likoni Ferry, heading into mombasa.  Ridiculous.

It also doesn’t help that the conductors when asking for money are almost always dicks (pardon the french).  They just are.  And sometimes so are the drivers.  In fact, a friend of mine was on a matatu where the driver was in a bad mood, so he decided to run down a group of women who had flagged down the matatu.  There is a very good chance one of the women died.

Today, I was on a matatu coming home from town when two of the passengers started getting angry at the tout.  There was a fare hike about a month and a half ago, where it now costs five shillings more to come home from the ferry, but only if you get on at the ferry.  Whatever.  Five shillings is about the cost of a big banana.  But for people who don’t take the matatu often, this is a shock.  It’s supposed to be only 20 shillings not 25!  Of course, because no tout/driver pair advertises their rates, the Kenyan passengers default to thinking the tout is trying to screw them, which is actually a legitimate default position to take, and I myself take it when traveling in unknown parts.

Finally, because I see this same argument every time I come home from the ferry, I speak up.  So everyone shuts up because what the heck is this mzungu doing talking.  And for once I defend the dick tout, and kindly inform the complaining customers that in fact the tout is not trying to screw them and that the rate was changed weeks ago and also throw in an opinion line about how the the matatus should post their rates.

The tout thanks me for helping and the fighting continues.

Matatus are fun, and they legitimately are a great way to get around Kenya, but you never really know quite the experience you are going to get when you get into that van and sit down.


Filed under Uncategorized

On Flies

I don’t mind them, until they crawl over my eyeball or up my nose.

Comments Off on On Flies

Filed under Uncategorized

Adventures in kenya-land

Ok, so I am alive.  Sorry for no updates in a while, but I have been off adventuring and working out in central province for the past few days.  Starting on Thursday, PCV Krystle and I headed via train from Mombasa to Nairobi.  The train is an overnight ride, leaving Mombasa around 7:40pm and rucking up to Nairobi mid-morning the next day.  Now let me preface this post with a note: this weekend was a dual-purpose event.  1) To meet and chat with PCV Leah about designing a website for her coffee co-op and 2) to celebtrate the 23rd birthday of yours truly :).  Back to the story!

Now, considering point two above, Krystle and I decided to go all out on the train, first class with dinner and breakfest!  Woo!  We got a compartment to ourselves complete with bunk beds and bedding and a little sink.  Emphasis on little.  See pictures on my Flickr feed.  I claimed top bunk, which comes equipped with a crash net to prevent the occupant from falling off during the night should there be any unexpected stops… there were and I was grateful for the net.

We met this really nice German-Australian couple, V and Jess, who were running around the country for a couple months before heading home to Perth, Western Australia.  Our cabins were adjoined and so we opened the doors and just chilled that night and the next morning.

The food was splendid.  The first of many great meals that weekend.  They even had cold beer on the train!  The tables were set with white table cloths and everything was served on china.  There were even some remnant pieces of original silver: a knife here, fork there, gravy boat, etc, back from when the train was run by the British and was a major holiday-goers experience.

Sleeping was an adventure, and to say the least, I got little of it.  The train would make some of the most horrendous noises when coming to a complete and sudden stop, which it did about four times.  I never learned the reasons for them, though I would not be suprised if the list included: lion on the tracks, zebra on the tracks, lion and zebra on the tracks (performing broadway musicals of course!) or the random, errant Kenya who had just a tad too much Simba Cane.

Breakfest included bacon! ‘Nuff said.  Thankfully, when traveling from mombasa to nairobi, you get some good animals spotting oppurtunities as you climb the central plateau, just as the weather is cooling off.  The last leg of the journey is through the slums of Nairobi which surround the city.  They are unavoidable and make some of the very-obvious tourists stomachs knot up.  That’s life.

We got out of Nairobi as fast as we could.  And got to Karitina, where we met Leah and ate at a place called Starbucks.  Karitina is this up and coming town in Central that proves a decentralized-from-Nairobi Kenyan state is possible.  As an aside, it is of my opinion that heavy-centraliziation based around Nairobi is part of the three-balled leg weight holding back this country (the other two being tri-lingualism and lack of infrastructure of course).

Spent the night at Leah’s discussing the website and playing general peace corps catch up.

And then it was off to Nyeri and Aberdare that saturday.  After securring park passes for Aberdare National Park, we checked into Outspan Hotel, the launchpad to get to our final destination for the night: Treetops Lodge.  You must understand, when Peace Corps Volunteers get together to discuss such urgent matters as website development for coffee co-ops, it is of utmost importance that the discussions take place in only the most conducive of environments for facilitating creative thought: thirty feet in the air surrounded by elephants, warthogs, buffalo and hyena while sipping the first glass of wine imbibed in over four months.  Only by following this formula will desireable results be achieved.

The lunch at Outspan was fantastic.  It was a buffet of Western-food goodness, with strawberry mousse at the end.  Again, ’nuff said.

Treetops is an old hotel, the original being built in the 1930’s.  It started as a two room lodge built up in a tree (who would’ve guessed!) and the original is most famous for being the location Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II of The British Empire (or whatever they were officially calling it in the 1950’s).  “She climbed up on day a princess, and climbed down the next day a Queen,” is how the saying goes.

That place burned down a few years later.

But don’t worry, they built it up again.  This time bigger and better, and MODULAR!  It’s like the International Space Station, but in a tree!  They have expanded it three times, and its current configuration includes occupancy of 53 people (I believe), in little, smaller-than-cruise-ship sized rooms; lounge with bar, communal dining room and top-deck observational platform.

It’s location is right next to a watering hole, which is the real attraction of this place.  True to the mzungu mindset: why go looking for something when you can just bait it and make it come to you.  Also true to mzungu fashion, the plan actually works.  It helps that they sometimes add to the bait by placing salt licks.  I’m not complaining, I saw some cool stuff.

Before settling in for the night though, we went on a true and true safari drive through Abderdare.  I even got to stand up in the 4×4 (Landcruiser of course) and take pictures from a hole in the roof.  If only I had my Hawaiian shirt.  The development worker in me threw-up lunch a little, but the feeling was quickly overcome when the first animals were spotted.  There’s a reason people go on safari: it’s fun.  It’s also rib-bruising, back-aching and probably not a good trip for anyone suffering from osteoperosis, but hey, mom always made me drink milk, so I got my kicks out of it.

I saw warthogs, elephants, buffalo, waterbuck, bushbuck, and, for a fleeting moment, a tried and true LEOPARD!  That’s right readers, now I have both the imaginary leopard living outside my house (though after some noises last night I think he’s moved into my ceiling, though it might just be the mephaquin), and a real leopard at aberdare.  Best birthday present! Sorry to those who sent me parcels.  None contained leopards, so this one takes the top spot.

That night we ate yet another fantastic meal.  There was even cake.  Not birthday cake.  And no andy, there was no stuffed moose head to sing happy birthday to me.  But I did treat myself to some real wine, and to this day am still shocked that I was able to get better wine in the middle of nowhere kenya than in Mombasa.  I think I need to explore more of Mombasa.  Spent the night chatting and watching animals in the lounge and meeting the other tourists there, most of them British.  They enjoyed my youthful charisma, and I am pretty sure I was the youngest person in the entire place.

I forgot one of the most interesting parts of the Treetops experience.  Each room is equipped with a buzzer which you have the option of turning on.  If turned on, you will be informed during the night of the presence of animals of interest.  One buzz is for a hyena, two buzzed for a leopard, three for a rhino and four for an elephant.

At first we were skeptical about the buzzer, but we were soon being buzzed to announce the presence of a hyena.  We woke up and rushed to the observation deck (ok, I rushed… Leah and Krystle slowly made their way there).  Sure enough we got a nice site of a hyena stalking a deer-type thingie, only to be scared off by the elephants who had moved in while we were eating dinner earlier.  Watched this show for a few minutes and then went off to bed.

Of course, literally as I close my eyes to fall back asleep, we get one buzz, two buzzes, THREE BUZZES.  HOLY CRAP A RHINO!  I rushed again, Krystle moped how she wasn’t waking up again, and I think Leah expressed agreement.  I don’t care.  I got to see a rhino.  He walked around the waterhole a couple times and then walked off.  He’s a rhino, he doesn’t care if you are disappointed in his show, he could run you down.  Luckily I was thirty feet in the air and happy to have seen a rhino at all.  That completed my Big Five sightings for Africa (the “Big Five”
 being: Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Buffalo).

We kept the buzzer on, but nothing else came.  As an aside, of the roughly forty guests at Treetops with us, only about 5 of us woke up for the animals.  I’m just excitable when it comes to animals I guess.

That sunday you get whisked away from Treetops for an all you can eat buffet breakfast at Outspan.  Yet another great meal.  And boy did we put the “all you can eat” portion to the test.  The waiters appreciated us a bit though because we were speaking Kiswahili instead of English.  I make it a point of speaking Kiswahili whenever I can, which is still in limited circumstances, but always produces better results.

We spent Sunday night in Nairobi decompressing in a really nice hostel, which is nice because it is a comfort to me to know there is at least one nice place in nairobi.  Also ate at the western-style foodcourt in the Sarit center (the first real mall in Kenya, built in the 80’s).  Played Taki with a group of Israeli backpackers, which was fun.  It’s basically Uno with some different rules.  I asked them if Taki meant anything in Hebrew and they said it meant “Uno,” and then proceeded to laugh.  Smart-allecks, but I like em.  Nice people.

Monday was a tedious bus ride back to Mombasa.  I greatly dislike the Mombasa-Nairobi highway and pity anyone who has to ride it.  I prefer the train, and if you don’t go all out on accomodations and can schedule in the extra time, the train is a far better way to travel and can be comparably priced.  If you can fly, fly, though sorry for having to get to Jomo Kenyatta airport.

All in all it was a great weekend, and a great way to think about desiging a website for a coffee plantation.  Also, I discovered the weather in Central is far more agreeable to my New England upbringing than the Coast.  It’s still in the 80’s and humid as anything here while I was weaering a fleece in the mornings in Central Province.  I still prefer the swahili culture though, and Mombasa is a pretty hopping city.

So yeah, this was, as usual, a long update.  Hope you enjoyed it for those who stayed with me through it, and look to my Flickr account for a photo update of the weekends adventures.


Filed under Uncategorized

Some progress!

Last week in teaching classes was a normal week.  Some classes showed up, some did not.  I think I taught maybe 1 class, but it doesn’t really count because I took Thursday and Friday off to host a language immersion workshop.

But last week did affirm something that I find hopeful.  There are kids who care about learning computers on this compound.  Mostly, there are three kids who seem to care about learning computers.

I opened up the lab every day from Monday-Friday from 4pm to 6pm.  This is dead time for me at home, and also rest time for the students before something else begins.  I don’t know what.  Haven’t gotten a straight answer.  So I specifically told my students, all who show up to class, that regardless of whether or not they are my student, they can use the computers, and I will even give personal instruction to them, if they want to.  Don’t even care if they want to just play games, watch movies, or listen to music, I just want people using these computers.

It worked.  So now I am instructing three students who regularly show up to class, and one so eager, that when I did not show up this past thursday or friday because of the workshop, he came to my house to ask specifically if there was class or not.  It’s one of the worst feelings in the world for a teacher to tell a student that for reasons outside of their control, they cannot learn today.  I told him I would see him again tuesday and wednesday of this week, but had to leave again for thursday.  He was distraught by this, thinking I was leaving for good, but I explained in my kis-wa-english that this was not the case and that I would return after next weekend.  I might have to teach this kid Google Calendar so he can stay synced up with my frantic weekends from now until IST in April.

I have also noticed that Mutuli’s staff friends like to come to the computer lab as well.  None of them ever asked me to use the computers, except when absolutely necessary, and they often just come in and socialize over the computers while learning some new things here or there.  If I am there, they ask me questions as well.  It seems like it might be a good in with some of the teachers here, the ones not apparently afraid of technology.

I just wish this week I could put to test some of experiences of last week, but I am starting this week late because of the workshop and leaving early because of weekend plans.  Such is life.  And either way, I am still here for two more years.


Filed under Uncategorized

Photo Update

Some pictures of the baboon invasion and some monkeys are new to my photo stream, so check it out at the right!

Comments Off on Photo Update

Filed under Uncategorized

Last Week in… Teaching!

Continuing in my series, last week was a tough week for a teacher.  Certainly, as described below, I deemed my lesson planning a personal success.  The catch is that if you count ’em up, I only taught three classes last week.  Normally I teach six.

The first class that did not show up was my Tuesday afternoon.  This was the same class that a week earlier had not shown up, but after consulting with other teachers, I realized this could be attributed to there not having been any electricity (stima in Kiswahili).  But after a second week of not showing I go talk to the principal.  He is shocked and immediately calls the classes head teacher or something.  He is told by the teacher that the entire class has deemed my class unnecessary.  And he supports it! So not only am I fighting cultural atitudes towards changing, im fighting teachers who are supposed to be educating the ignorance out of these students!  Tuesday was a low day for me in teaching.

There was a high point though.  The fabled Mr. Mutuli that Dai Kato keeps talking about has returned from Nairobi!  The deputy director of National Youth Service for Technical or computers or something to that effect, who is also the one who requested a Peace Corps volunteer in the first place (as is my understanding at least), released Mutuli from his duties in Nairobi for an indefinite amount of time and allowed him to come back to Mombasa.  Mutuli was able to meet with me, give me pointers, help out in class.  He even liked my lesson plan with the music.  It was a good sign.

Wednesday rolled around and I was supposed to start teaching the teachers, but I got wrapped up in an adventure in Mombasa instead.  What adventure you ask?  Why the adventure of picking up all my networking equipment.  That is correct.  About two weeks ago I submitted a written proposal to the Principal and Commanding Officer requesting funds to set up a small intranet LAN here in the NYS computer lab.  They granted it with almost no hesitation and no questions asked.  And last wednesday we went to pick up the equipment.  Of course now the retailer dropped the ball and 4 hours of mucking around Mombasa in the NYS vehicle for a myriad of reasons had zero pay off except the assurance that the retailer would have the equipment on friday.  But still, there was real money, real equipment, and real intention to get it all put together.  For Kenya, this is operating at light speed!

Thursday was a repeat of Tuesday.  No afternoon class showed up.  In talking to Mutuli about this, and also why the students don’t interact with me during class, he said it was because they were afraid of me.  He says there is a reserved atitutde held towards anyone in Kenya who knows IT, a pseduo fear-reverance.  Compound that with the fact that I am a Mzungu, an American, and someone who speaks fluent English, and I guess it equals non-interactive students.  That sucks.  I am slowly trying to change it, and Mutuli basically yells at the kids to talk to me.  Seeing kids interact with him and seeing how they interact with me is the difference between night and day.  It’s ridonkulous.  But hey, as long as they are learning.

Fridays class did not show up at all either.  So I taught Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.  I wish I had known Friday was not showing up because I could have visited friends or whatnot.  But on Friday we did get our hands on the network equipment!  Woohoo.  So now all we need is the new classroom and some software which I need to acquire from a peace corps friend in mombasa town and we are good to go.  More on the “Distributing Edubuntu in Kenya,” project later.

Comments Off on Last Week in… Teaching!

Filed under Uncategorized

Last week in… lesson planning!

Ok, so this in one part in my “Last week in…” series.  I may or may not type the other parts.  It all depends on how much I really want to go cook my dinner.  So here we go.

Last week in lesson planning I  had a brilliant idea to try and combine teaching, cultural exchange, and showing the students that I am not a scary, polysyllabic-english-speaking monster.  I also had decided to continue the “Word Processor,” lessons into typing and wanted to introduce the students to a new word processor, hoping to show them they could easily adapt and that Microsoft Word is not the end all be all.  So here’s what I did:

I went around and installed the PortableApps version of AbiWord.  Then I came up with a song playlist.  It included “Swing Life Away,” by Rise Against, “Imagine,” by John Lennon and “Rhapsody in Blue,” by Gershwin.  The hypothesis behind it was that the first song might be hard for a Kenyan to connect with, the second would blatantly provide concepts radically different from what most Kenyans grow up hearing and the third would just be noise.  I also printed out lyrics so that they could follow along with the words, because heck, even I cannot sometimes understand lyrics when sung, and I am a native speaker of the language!

The exercise was split into two parts, each to encourage typing.  The first part included writing your name, serial number, song title (copied from lyrics sheet) and song artist (also from lyrics sheet).  The second part was total free association.  I wanted the students to just type whatever words came to mind as they listened to the song.  This would help with multitasking and typing skills. I even told them they could type in whatever language they felt.  Ultimately, as long as they were hitting deliberate keys, I didn’t care.  We also would listen to each song three times.  The first time without even looking at the computer just to get a feel for the song, the second and third times typing along.  They did not have to write sentences, only single words.

Here are the results:

My first class had some trouble getting through the explicit writing part.  It tooks much more time than expected trying to get them to properly type and format their names, serial numbers, song titles and artist names.  Once they did get through that they thoroughly enjoyed the music, though ultimately they ended up not meshing with the instructions, instead mostly preferring sentences to single words.  Ultimately though I did not care because they were typing either way.  There was also some confusion because many in the class thought I wanted them to use one word only to describe the whole song.  I cleared that up and typing soon commenced.

My second class had less difficulty than the first with the explicit instructions, but I believe this in part is due to some advice given to me by another volunteer, Ari.  He said that when he is teaching computers he makes sure to show everybody first.  This was something that was out of my mind.  I was too annoyed that I didn’t have a projector to demonstrate to everyone that I forgot I could just make everyone get up and watch me do it on one of the computers. 

So I did.  I wasn’t even following my own rules of learning, which I have explicitly written on the board: Hear it, See it, Do it.  I was completely forgetting to implement step two!  Writing things on the board like this was thanks to comments from Andy. Though I am unsure if anyone ultimately reads them the objectives for each lesson are now on the board.  After that, their free association was about as on par as the first group.

Finally, my third group.  At this point, far too much time had gone into the explicit instructions section of typing and far too little into the free association section.  In the first two classes I had not even gotten to play “Rhapsody,” and was thus determined to expedite the process.  I forgoed the explicit section completely, and opted to ensure they kids were typing words.  It worked.  I also explicity stated I did not want to see sentences, but just a list of words.  This worked wonders.  People were writing down words which I could easily attribute to at least a pseudo free associate exercise.  As free as a Kenyan mind can get perhaps when under the eye of a teacher.  Gah, why do they fear teachers so much (that’s a rhetorical question completely)?!  I considered class three my biggest success.

I also discovered that to my suprise, the song best receieved was “Swing Life Away,” by Rise Against.  So much did the students like the lyrics, they took my sheets! And I only had limited copies!  I had to sneak into the principal’s office to make more.  Shhh, don’t tell…  Also, there was not so much outcry against “Imagine,” but honestly I don’t know how much there should have/would have been anyway, so I am not going to make any generalizations there.

By the end of the third class, I had considered the lesson planning a success, with a few tweaks in the middle.  But what good is teaching if you’re not learning at the same time?

Comments Off on Last week in… lesson planning!

Filed under Uncategorized