Saturday, March 13, 2010

“He stole my ink.”

Said Alii as he pointed at Apolinary.  With raised eyebrows, I looked at Apolinary and said, “C’mon, give Alii back his pen.”  I was preparing to begin my English lesson and proceed to write some words on the blackboard.  Corrugated.  Expedition.  Triumph.  Unparalleled.  Exhilaration.  Alii waved his hand and caught my eye.

“No, no,” Alii signed excitedly, “He stole my INK, not my PEN.” Alii held up his pen and I looked at Apolinary to see him smiling a wicked grin.

“Huh? What?  How?” I asked to laughter from the class, especially from Monica and Josephine, joined at the hip like always.

“C’mon, can’t you take a joke?” Apolinary said as he shrugged. 

Francis came to Alii’s defense as he said, “Oh please!  Apolinary was too lazy to walk to the store and buy a pen so he just sucked the ink out of Alii’s pen.”

“What? Sucked the ink out of the pen?!” I said with a shocked expression on my face. Immediately after I said that, I realized that I might have opened a can of worms as the class began to clamor and provide instruction on how to steal ink. 

“You know, you need to first find the right kind of pen…” Francis began in his prefect mode, only to be interrupted by Mercy.

“No, if you’re good you can suck out ink of any pen.” Mercy retorts. I realize I now have to throw out the lesson plan I had designed for that class, a vocabulary list to supplement the reading I was prepared to give them for their homework assignment that night – and secretly I was hooked.  I wanted to know how these kids steal ink.

Mercy continues, “If you’re really good you can get it out of the fancy pens, but the Speedo pens are easy.” holding up an example.

Samuel adds, “Oh, make sure that you pick a pen that has enough ink to makes it worthwhile.”  The class all started talking at the same time about how important that was. 

Josephine picked up the process and explained the process of pulling out the ink tube from the pen without damaging or raising suspiciousness of the pens’ owner while Monica nodded. 

“You have really thought this out, haven’t you?” I said.  “Maybe you have too much time on your hands!” Another round of laughter from the class and five people started to sign at the same time, making the finish of the ink transfer process something that, to me, apparently only rocket scientists or Pwani Secondary students are able to do. 

“You then hold the other pen like this …” Said Salome, holding a pen under another pen, after hypothetically sucking the ink out of the other plastic tube almost to the point where it’s ready to come out.

“No!  Like this!” Osman cries, showing a different position.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, like that, or maybe like this …” Stephen sagely added as Stephen’s neighbor, Chengo demonstrated.  Mwavu also provided his hypothetical version of ink theft accompanied by commentary from Thomas.  Tall and skinny, Abdullahi captured our attention with his long arms picking up the same thread that Salome started.

I mused, have accidents ever happened? Students with ink-stained faces getting in trouble with the house parents? Poisoning by swallowing ink? I shared those thoughts with the students.

“Oh, that doesn’t happen much,” Shukurani responds with a carefree shrug as is her nature, “We practice.  We’re good.”

Indeed.  They’re good.  

Monday, March 8, 2010

Baby O

Its time again ... for baby Olivia!  next month (woah!) she'll turn 1, so just wanted to post a few photos that was uploaded to Facebook or sent by my godfather, Ron.  

Olivia and Melissa.  The sushi bib is da bomb, yo!

Olivia with Nate.  Not only the sushi bib da bomb, it also is delicious!

Oivia with great-goddaddy Ron.  

Dude - while you have very cool parents, I'm not quite sure if you should trust them that much! Love you!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Peace Corps Experience

Happy Peace Corps Week!  I know I am a little late with this sentiment as the week is more than half way over, but over this week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Peace Corps Experience, in my case, as it compares to the experience of the volunteers ten, twenty, thirty, even forty years ago. 

In 1961, almost half a century ago, Peace Corps was established, with the idea of providing service to other countries adding a positive aspect of the American doing good for others.  It became a romantic sort of image, the young American, just out of college trudging along in the random village across the world, helping build water systems, schools, teaching people how to better themselves.  This image also has the poor young American walking five kilometers to the local phone booth for a five minute conversation with dear ole mom and dad on a line filled with static, sitting on a hard wooden chair, writing letters and hoping for letters from home.  This was indeed the case for many years in the history of Peace Corps, and frankly what I expected out of my service.  Needless to say, my service is not as romantic or isolated.  I’m writing this blog on a computer that I have seen numerous movies over the past year (granted, half of ‘em was really bad), with internet access via Bluetooth on my cell phone.  I have been in a volunteer’s house that has high-speed internet access.  I speak with my mom at least twice every month for quite some time via IM, as well as a few of my close friends.  I’m sitting in a decent house, with cement floors, electricity that works three quarters of the time, on a sofa with foam cushions, I have a gas stove (much like the Coleman camping stove), and I am able to cook decent and enjoyable meals. I have been to dance parties in Mombasa and Nairobi, visited animal parks, and hung out with numerous volunteers and their friends.

For a long time, I wondered if I was denying myself the romantic image of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I wondered if I was not suffering enough to get the authentic Peace Corps Experience.  I felt slightly guilty every time I signed into gchat or AIM, wondering if I was not getting everything I should get out of my life in Kenya.  Even if half of my group has a blog, almost all of them check e-mail and facebook on a weekly basis, if not daily basis, I still wondered if some things should not change (at least twittering hasn’t reached too many of us … yet).

Should the Peace Corps that was established in the 60’s not change into something different almost fifty years later?

I have come to realize that I AM having the Peace Corps Experience - that it has just changed over the fifty years that it has been in existence.  The world is becoming smaller due to the internet access, globalization and numerous other factors.  In order to help our communities we have to expose them to these kinds of things.  We have to access the internet, show our teachers, our students how to tap that wonderful resource.  There are several volunteers who work specifically in IT, setting up various systems and other things related to computer usage.  The romantic image of the ‘lone ranger’ of a PCV does not accurately represent the Peace Corps Experience today.  Is our experience any less authentic because of what we have available at our fingertips?

Issues that PCVs face in the local communities are much the same issues we are facing in our communities – local leadership, cultural differences, various other things that has not changed in over forty years, as evident in the cartoons drawn by a PCV in 1965, which can be found here.  I can relate completely to the cartoons drawn by that PCV, as well as almost every PCV I have met who have seen these, and I can imagine, probably almost every PCV that has served.  

In the Fall 2009 issue of the Worldview, a magazine published by the National Peace Corps Association, Kevin Quigley, the president of the National Peace Corps Association wrote an open letter to Aaron S. William, the new Peace Corps Director. 

Quigley wrote, “When it started, the Peace Corps was perhaps one of the most innovative government programs in the 20th century, and the agency and its world was widely known and admired around the world.  Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.  While recognizing that the world in 2009 is vastly different from the world in 1961, a major challenge would to be revitalize the culture at the Peace Corps so that it once again has a willingness to innovate and develop new approaches and programs that truly advance its timeless mission of making a more peaceful and prosperous world.” 

While we celebrate the Peace Corps Week this week, we are also thinking about ways to revamp and, in Quigley’s words, revitalize the Peace Corps culture – work has been done in the country to discuss IT solutions to various aspects of information sharing, access to IT, and various other things. 

It’s true that it’s not the Peace Corps of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or even the 90’s, but it’s still Peace Corps, and every time I think, hmm, is this truly the Peace Corps Experience, the three toads, a couple of baby mice, a bat, and numerous spiders remind me that they’re living with me.  Sure, I have internet and gchat access more often than not, I still have to deal with the faucet that gives off electric shocks, the bats flying around the house, the ducks and chickens decorating my front porch with their droppings, and nosy kids standing at my window trying to peek into my living room.

In midst of all that chaos, think of your local Peace Corps Volunteer and send some good vibes to celebrate the Peace Corps Week!  


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.