Sunday, February 28, 2010

In a blink of an eye ….

Three weeks have passed since my last blog entry.  When that RPCV told me that my last eighteen months will feel like six months (after my first six feeling like eighteen), I was not sure if I believed her, but now I harbor no doubts.  I literally felt as if I blinked and then we were whisked into mid-terms, then another blink and I’m in Nairobi for the meeting about the BCC create-a-thon, a third blink, and I’m in Embu (or to some people, Fun-bu), and then a final one and I’m back home typing this entry on the last day of February. 

February, historically, has not been one of my favorite months for numerous reasons, regardless of being short and being the month that hosts my brother and sister-in-law’s birthdays.  This year, February surprised me this year by being a fairly good month.  Last February we were dealing with the effects of the teacher’s strike, I was having some doubts about my service, and the Februarys beforehand for some reason had always an aura that I would much rather avoid. 

While the low point was saying good-bye to one of the Deaf Eds – a very good friend of mine and a part of my support system – there were several high points.  Firstly, I spent some time with the new volunteers, introducing them to the Mombasa scene (and quite a few other volunteers who just happened to be in town). 

Nairobi then beckoned me yet again with a meeting in Peace Corps-Kenya’s offices regarding the BCC (Behavior Change Communication) create-a-thon. A couple of the Deaf Ed volunteers had developed the idea of the BCC create-a-thon in where we would invite various organizations of and working with the Deaf together for a two day workshop with all the current Deaf Ed volunteers and work together on creating new Deaf-friendly HIV/AIDS materials.  The meeting in Nairobi was with three other volunteers (who were specifically tapped because of their film/graphic design/technological backgrounds to work with BCC materials), and we worked hard all day to hash out ideas – bringing our ideas and working with what PC-K wanted or expected.  In the end of the day, I felt good about the meeting – I think it was the first time in a long time that PC-K and the volunteers really came together and worked something out that would work on both sides.  I also think that PC-K understood some of the concerns that we had about the BCC program, and steps have been made to address these concerns.  While not everything went perfectly, it was a good first step.

The next day, after finishing up a few things at the office, Ginnie and I headed to her school in Mbeere, about 15 minutes outside of Embu.  I had a blast there staying for a few days, talking with her students and teachers about my life experiences.  I especially loved the students – who obviously loved and trusted Ginnie. I also had a wonderful time talking all evening with Ginnie, who I don’t get to spend much time with because of the geographical distance.  It was with well wishes from the teachers, and promises extracted from me to the students to greet my students for them, when I finally pried myself from the vise of St. Luke’s and headed back to my own neck of woods. 

All that was on top of everything that is happening in Kibarani and Pwani Secondary.  I started teaching the Form One students, which this year has come from not only the Coast province, but the Eastern as well, and I realized that one year really does make a huge difference in my confidence in teaching these kids.  The kids also have started practicing for the Deaf Games, which will be happening in Kibarani this year, and the midterms have come and gone, with several weeks left in the term.  Being back home, like always is a relief, but I found myself - less than 24 hours back home - eager and ready to research for a couple of trips for the break this April after the end of the term. 

Recently I have been thinking of a line from Shawshank Redemption that I thought fit pretty well with everything that have been happening around here - “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.”  

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ten Seconds

A few nights ago, I was on night duty, and after I made my rounds, I ended up in the dining hall with the KG-1, KG-2, KG-3, and Class 1-3 students.  I played with the little ones, taught the trick of separating the index finger by using the thumb on the other hand - terrifying half of the kids before I told them the secret, and spent some time chatting with the older ones who were excited about the Provincial Deaf Games happening here in the end of March.  

All was going smoothly and well, then all of sudden the mood in the dining hall was transformed.  Completely transformed.  The blaring television has captured the attention of all one hundred odd kids.  Bewildered, I turned to the television and became even more confused.  I saw an advertisement for a candy, a mint, or something of the like, and then I looked around to the students with raised eyebrows, looking for an explanation.  An explanation was not forthcoming as the eyes of every kid were riveted on the television, waiting for something to happen. 

The little ones were standing on the dining tables, poised, the older ones were standing on the benches or the concrete floor waiting.... for something.  I could feel the anticipation in the air.  Suddenly the main character, who was somebody like a traffic policeman, in the ad popped a candy, mint, whatever it was, and became all energetic and started doing his job with crazy enthusiasm, which basically consists of directing traffic doing a Luhya sort of dance where stands on one leg, and the other leg is up and waving around, and using a windmill motion with one arm, supposedly to keep the traffic moving.  

As I watch the guy do this for five or ten seconds, I became aware of moving legs and arms, and then realized that every kid in the dining hall was copying his movements.  I started watching in amazement at the perfectly choreographed ten seconds of kids on tables, benches and stage moving almost in unison.  

As fast as it started, it was soon over and forgotten.  In one corner of the dining hall, six years old Emmanuel went back to his favorite pastime, chasing six years old girls, more specifically Fatuma and Elina; on a table in the middle of the hall, Christine, Riziki, and their friends went back to braiding their hair, and Jumaa, Stephen, Liwali and Kazungu went back to their eternal argument about whether Manchester United or Arsenal is the better football team as they stood lazily by the windows.  The only sign left of this ten seconds window of amazement is my gaping mouth and my mind racing with wonderment.  

The crazy ass random things that kids do!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Motivation & Inspiration

Apparently I went through a sort of motivation crisis four or five months early as I wrote in the entry Legacy of the Peace Corps.  Several of my fellow volunteers from my group are having brainstorming sessions and discussions on how to keep going.  We suddenly found ourselves in the peculiar position of being the longest serving volunteers (aside from the two who have extended for a third year), and how to motivate ourselves was a frequent topic of conversation. 

After two months of training and a year of service, we have reached a lull.  The first two months in the country is spent in training, learning the language, the culture, getting over part of the culture shock, and just basically figuring out if this is truly what we wanted.  The first three months in site is spent moving in, developing friendships and relationships with counterparts / other staff people, and basically what Peace Corps calls community integration and continuing trying to figure out if this is what we want to do. During the months afterwards, teaching techniques were tried and perfected, niches in business and public health organization were found, or other major assignments were found, new ideas and thoughts for our assignments were implemented.

After a year, now that we know how to live here, that we have called this country our home, these communities our community, we also learn much of what goes on in a community that is not obvious to the casual observer. Our mental energy is spent looking at various things of Kenya that originally did not bother us, but now that the “honeymoon” period is over, drives us absolutely bonkers. 

We learned about corruption in almost every organization, from small scale “borrowing pencils and never returning” to taking school food and selling for an individual’s profit, and to fudging of documents for travel reimbursement.  This can and does cause some disillusionment in quite a few volunteers, and they asked the same questions that I asked back in September – what am I doing here in Kenya?  Is it helping any?

One volunteer is of the opinion that all foreign aid should be removed, that the only way to resolve the dependence that Kenya has on foreign aid was to completely cut everything off, and have them figure out how to manage their country.  I believe that the solution lies somewhere in the middle.  Foreign aid should come with accountability and strict guidelines, and some aid should be cut off, most definitely, but I found myself becoming less of a cynic here than I was in the United States, which surprised myself, and I believe that some foreign aid does good here.  It is not my intention to got off on a tangent, and more on foreign aid might be written at another time.  This played a huge part in how she felt about her job, and what happens with and in her school administration. 

Another volunteer found out that there were major problems with the accounting at her project, and this forced her to question whether providing the services she provides as a volunteer to that organization is truly in the best interest of her organization.  A few other volunteers started to see the fellow teachers at their school with new eyes – possibly really seeing who would benefit what they are trying to teach.  Many volunteers have started to really miss the comforts of their homes and lives in the United States, and in order to keep going and ignore what is pulling us back to the States we have to find something. 

We have to find inspiration.  One way or another, we have to find something that would inspire us to remain here and manage our cynicism, to continue working with the students, to continue working with our community, it all boils down to finding things that inspires us, and enough inspiration that it makes all the headaches and frustrations worth it. 

So, yeah, inspiration. 

I found inspiration at almost every major Deaf community event or organization when I talk with Deaf individuals sharing stories about their PCV teachers who taught them fifteen, twelve, seven years ago.  I find myself being inspired by Deaf Kenyans wanting to aim higher, becoming teachers because of teachers who inspired them.

I was inspired at Global Reach Out when I saw participants interested in paying for the program (albeit still at a discounted rate), rather than asking for handouts and passing on the torch to the secondary school students.

I am continuously inspired by my students; the laughter when they understand a play on words, the shining eyes when they finally understand the difference in meaning when you use different prepositions with the same nouns, the sheepish grins when I told them I was once a high school student, and that I was not born just yesterday when I see that they have copied homework from another student, and excitement in sharing and trading stories.  I am inspired by the one who wants to become a nurse, the one with aspirations for electric work, the one who wants to work with interpreters, and several who want to be teachers.

I am inspired by three or four teachers that I work with that works tirelessly, eager to learn as much as they can about KSL and Deaf culture, asking me about ways and ideas in order to communicate best with their students.  I am inspired by their stories, by their lives, and their families. 

I am also inspired by the new group of Math/Science and Deaf Education volunteers. That people continues to want to go abroad to help a group of people that they do not even begin to know or understand, to experience new things, to broaden their horizons, and just basically spend two years of their lives doing something that most of the people in the United States would never even think of doing.  I am inspired by their new energy and motivation. 

Lastly, but not least, I am definitely inspired by the other members of my group, those who seek out and work on secondary projects that provides them with great motivation, those who continues to work with administration that puts obstacles and problems everywhere, the ones that continues to want to teach, and the ones who became such members of their community that it is virtually impossible to walk through town in ten minutes.

Here’s to another crazy year of service!    


This blog consists of my personal thoughts and opinions. It does not in any way reflect the position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.