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.
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)
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!