Monthly Archives: April 2010

What Is A Blog?

What is a blog? This is not a rhetorical question. Instead, I am hoping to dive in and answer this question in regards to at least my own blog, with the hopes that my readers can take something away from this post and apply it other blogs they may read on the web so that we can all move forward into this new realm of self-publishing with a clearer perspective on the role blogging is to play as a new information source for humanity.

The Short Dive: Prepping For The Long Dive

I know many people have a problem with my longer posts (which is actually a bigger problem than one might assume). Therefore, I want to try and give a short answer before I dive into a much longer analysis of what my blog is to me and how it adjusts my perception of other blogs and in general helps me define what a blog should be.

To me, my blog is a place where as a US Peace Corps Volunteer living in Kenya and teaching at the Kenyan National Youth Service in Mtongwe, Kenya, just south of Mombasa and located on the South Coast of Kenya where I interact with Kenyans of many different economic and tribal backgrounds, can share my experiences and perceptions of life and work here with people around the world, mostly targeting friends and family back home but also well aware that many other people from all backgrounds read this blog and from it gain an impression of me as an individual. Phew. Try saying that in one breath! I typed the phrase that way because there really is no short way to describe a blog and truly satisfy every readers expectations. Instead, we face a bigger cultural problem of coming to terms with blogging as a new source of information and opinion in the world, and as information consumers we need to learn about the medium and understand it so as to properly evaluate the information we take from it.

I know I can be pedagogic, but I intend only towards expository without aggrandizement. This is a long post and hopefully thought provoking, and though you may disagree with parts, that is the point! Share your disagreement and let’s continue this refinement of a new culture!

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Teaching Parents?

I have a dilemma on my hand. Now, before I go into the specific dilemma, let me get some personal beliefs out in the open. The most important of these is that violent video games can negatively impact a child’s thought process when virtual violence and the associated messages are not being properly put in perspective by good parenting. I also feel the same way about violent movies, music, heck even books. It takes a solid family foundation with attentive parents who not only properly filter content as they see fit, but more importantly, understand the content and the medium upon which it is delivered so as to best help their child gain a proper perspective on subject. Those are my beliefs on the subject.

Why has this come up? And in Kenya of all places? I have a very smart kid who comes to the computer lab and uses it during open lab hours because the lab is open to anyone at NYS. Being a smart kid (and he’s only 10 by the way) and coming from a better off family, he is able to get his hands on video games for the computers that even I myself could not get because I don’t have the proper personal connections in the country, nor do I have the Internet capacity to download them. I let him install his games for a couple reasons: first, my belief that games are a great lure to bring kids in and have them engage in the computer and possibly generate interest in the most abstract concept of computing; secondly, he plays them on the Windows partition, which is a completely separate entity from the Linux side of the computer that I need for teaching, and if he messes something up, it won’t negatively affect the primary operations of the lab.

Recently he brought a copy of Grand Theft Auto III (GTA) and installed it and this is what has caused concern. Whereas before they were playing football (soccer) games, now all of a sudden things have become a lot more realistic and violent. In GTA you are able to control a character who runs around, wields weapons, kills both innocents and targets in a variety of fashions, hijacks cars, has sex with prostitutes, performs drug deals for the mafia and gets rewarded for doing so. With a proper parental foundation back home I would have no problem with such behavior, as all things exist in life and all people need their own escapisms.

My concern however lies with the fact that in my opinion a parent needs to understand this content and the medium as well, which I am not sure his do. In order for this kid’s parents to be truly effective while not stifling their child’s creative potential, they need to understand why he likes running around blowing cars up and whatnot. So the question is, where does the responsibility lie in my part? Being the computer, “expert,” in the situation and understanding what the kid is doing, is it my job to inform the parents of their child’s behavior? Is it my job to sit them down and explain that letting a kid come to a computer lab is very different from letting him play in other ways in Kenya? He’s not playing football with his friends here, he’s killing virtual people and causing virtual destruction and havoc all over the world.

Considering the low level of computer education in this country, is it the job of the expert to also inform parents of what they should be doing. Or is it the job of the parents to know what their child is doing and if concerned, consult experts. It’s actually not even a fear of mine that this particular child might be negatively impacted I am still not 100% sure he comprehends everything that is happening, or better yet, has not made the connection that virtual reality is sometimes a metaphor for reality. The problem is that he is an enabler. He has enabled older, more aggressive people to play this game and teaches it to them. I don’t want to stifle them, and I try my hardest to see my role as more the knowledge-infrastructure maintainer, explaining the possibilities of computers while letting individuals develop their own realities and perspectives, such as a librarian may see their role with books. But in this case, in this country, with violence on the television and now in the hands of the youth (albeit virtually), it takes good parenting to keep everyone on a good course. Oh how the weights of life can be so confusing.

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Of Fridays and Furbies, Ferries and Fools

This is just a hodgepodge post, but it includes pictures, so I hope you enjoy. The first thing I want to do is inform all my readers that my previous post regarding a Peace Corps withdrawal from Kenya was an April Fools joke. If I must say so myself, it was my most successful joke of all times. The post has been edited so that all readers who make it to the bottom will know for sure that it is a spoof article. I was truly hoping that such items as the, “Friend-o-meter,” and the CDs quote stating development was failed in Kenya, and that I was the only person being ad sepped, would clue people in. For most it did, for those who were fooled, thank you for making my day fun, and for those who didn’t read the entire article but responded to me as if you had, thank you for showing yet again the downside of this mass media, 30 second sound byte information culture we live in.

Many have asked, do they celebrate April Fools here. The answer is a vehement, “yes!” In fact, I would say more Kenyans on average seem aware of the day than most Americans. The jokes they play are similar, concocting stories of visiting but never showing, the need to urgently come somewhere under false pretenses and so on. One of the logistics officers here told me he refused to eat his lunch, though he did not tell his wife the reason, so I feel like that just comes off as mean, but to each their own. So yes, they do celebrate here and I was just embracing the culture.

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Peace Corps Announces Immediate Withdrawal From Kenya

Peace Corps HQ in Washington today announced an immediate withdrawal of all resources (they call us volunteers, “resources,”) from Kenya. In a move that shocked that Peace Corps community, as well as development efforts in Kenya, Peace Corps has stated that all volunteers, US national staff, and even the Host Country national staff will be immediately withdrawn, us volunteers having been notified over night. I was a bit confused at first by withdrawing the Host Country staff, considering they are Kenyans and their families are here, but when I asked the Country Director about this, he just said, “They are Peace Corps too! Where we go, they go!”

Other volunteers and I were talking about this amongst ourselves and were just befuddled. Most of us had expected either getting pulled out sometime in early 2009 as tensions from the previous year’s violence possibly escalated, but once all of that fizzled we figured we would easily be here until the end of our service in December 2010/January 2011. The program as a whole probably would not face another hurdle until the election of 2012, so we just didn’t know what was going on.

Gathering up the courage, we finally asked the office the question we were all wondering: “Why?” “We’re done,” our Country Director said. How could we be done? We just got here. Look all around, there are still things that need developing! To these comments, the CD simply replied:

“For the last time guys, we are not a development agency. We are a ‘soft diplomacy,’ group. We aren’t here to make things work, that’s impossible. We are in it for the friendships. It’s our goal to cultivate international friendships, good feelings, drinking buddies. You have all done that, and miraculously well. Kenya, in the past year alone, has shot up from position 62 on the official Peace Corps Friend-o-meter to #2, right behind Fiji. Now in Fiji, there are still some chances of accomplishing goal number 1, ‘to offer profession assistance,’ but because we wrote that goal off as impossible in Kenya years ago, our mission is done here.”

Astounded, myself and the other volunteers just looked at one another. Had we really done it? Had we really made all the friends we could make? And what the heck was this Friend-o-meter? We had heard about some of the metrics used to report Peace Corps activity to Congress, but this one certainly took the cake.

Of course, then the real doosie hit. The CD pulled me aside alone and told me some startling news. I would not be Completing my Service (COS) officially, instead I am being Administratively Separated (Ad Sepped). The reason? Even though Kenya as a whole successfully achieved its arbitrary friendship level, I did not. In fact, the CD informed me that people at my site considered me, “too serious,” “…didn’t socialize well,” “He didn’t laugh enough,” and I think one or two of them may have actually used expletives I taught them. As a result, I would not be COSing and instead I would be Ad Sepped based on some arbitrary metric that I had no control over nor did I ever know existed in the first place. Gah. Typical Peace Corps end to a typical Peace Corps service. Well, guess I will be seeing all of you on April 2nd.

EDIT: This story was posted as an April Fools Joke. No part of this story is true, nor should it be considered true in any way. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a laugh out of it though. I hope you have enjoyed reading it. Cheers! -Jonathan

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