Saturday, July 11, 2009 Comment0 Comments

It's been a great week so far. We have finally slowed on our traveling and stuck around the Centre for an entire 7 day week. It has been awesome. It's nice to just be able to relax and hang out with the kids and not be worrying about where we are going or how we are going. The kids are really starting to open up to us and I have really been connecting with a good number of the boys. Given that my Upper Primary class is all boys and Nature Club is all boys, it only makes sense. The good thing for me is that a few of the kids overlap between class and club, so I get to see them all the time. In Social Studies I have been helping/teaching the kids African Geography. When we first started off, there was only a handful of countries that they could name off, but after a couple weeks of blank maps and word searches they can name almost every country in Africa. Now they are starting to be able to locate and label them correctly on the map as well. It's been really good to see progress from the kids as well as their enthusiasm. I can actually feel like I am contributing as a teacher. The best part about teaching this summer perhaps, is that this whole experience has cemented in my mind my career path. I love teaching and can't see myself doing anything else for a living that would make me any happier.

Clubs have been going super awesome as well. There has been one minor hiccup in Nature Club though. In honor of kindergarten classes back home, I decided to let the kids grow beans using a paper towel and plate (in place of Ziploc bags...try finding those in Kenya). My thought was that if we kept them watered and placed them in the greenhouse, all would be okay. This was not true, keeping them water wasn't the hard part, keeping them undisturbed was. So finally, when I found the plates completely turned over and the beans spilled everywhere, I decided to try something else. I just used my one and only Ziploc back and put new beans in them and placed in on our roof. Ain't no way they get knocked over there. So we are a little behind on our bean plants but they are coming along...again. The other cool thing that we did in Nature Club this week was a Virtual Safari to Samburu. I had taken the kids the river on Monday and they took a few pictures and videos (oh yeah, we saw MONKEYS!). They were all real excited to see the pics and vids so I told them I would put them on a computer so that it would be big enough for everyone to see. Well then I got the idea that maybe I should find a way to use the computer for the whole day of clubs. I settled on a Virtual Safari. I had all the pictures already so all I needed was to organize them. It was quite fun actually. I made a little PowerPoint out of the pictures with some narrations and a few slides of fact about the animals. After all, it had to be a little educational. DeAnna made little fake tickets and we piled around the laptop and pretended to drive. They may have thought we were crazy but I do know the enjoyed it. Since we finished up a little early I let them see some of the other pictures I had on my computer, pictures of America, and it was funny to see their reactions. I am not sure what they expected, and I am not sure they saw what they expected either haha.

Best story of the week:
So DeAnna and I have been walking to the river almost daily now and yesterday our friend Ciru decided to come with us. Before we departed we decided to hit up the corner shop for some Fanta (pronounced FAHNTAH). Well as we were peacefully strolling down the 100yd route, we hear some ruckus behind us. When we turned around what did we see? Not a car. Not a matatu. A camel. That's right, a camel. We've been told that there is only like 1 camel in Nyeri. Well, this must have been it. This was not an ordinary camel however, this camel was in a hurry. He (or she) was on a dead sprint right towards us. Attached to the back of it was a rope with a go-kart type cart on the end. As the camel ran, the kart would swing from side to side. All I could think was that the kart was going to come by us and swipe us right off our feet. Luckily this didn't happen and the camel eventually slowed to a walk. The funniest/strangest part, was that nobody was even chasing after the camel. God knows where it came from. Only in Africa.

So long for now,

Monday, July 06, 2009 Comment2 Comments

Saturday, July 04, 2009 Comment1 Comments

Alright so this is Part 2 of my update since it has been so long in between posts. So I said that I would fill everyone in about the safari so here is the Cliff Notes Version:

On Friday we left Nyeri for a wonderful little place called Sandai Farm. It a ranch that Petra, our guide for the weekend, lives at and operates. We were able to stay in very nice little cottages and enjoy a delicious meal of filet (pronounce the 't') and drink real wine. It was awesome. The funniest part of our stay there was horseback riding. My horse was not really a horse I don't think. I got the mini version. Go figure right, the shortest person there gets the smallest horse. It wasn't really all that fun. Me and Nick were stuck with the special needs horses and DeAnna sat back and laughed while Michelle and Caitlyn galloped off on their wild horses. Very funny actually.

Saturday after a good hearty breakfast (we had real cheese!) we set off in the Land Rover for Samburu National Reserve. It was about a 3 hour drive and at one point we passed through a gate that I am pretty sure was the portal out of civilization. Only way to do it though. When we got to Samburu we went first to our site that we were going to stay at and had lunch. The site that we stayed at actually has a really great story:

It consisted of several houses and a bar that is operated and run by the women of a nearby village. The village is not any ordinary village thought. It is called Umoja Women's Village and it is a very traditional village except that it is only women and their children. It was started by Samburu women who wanted to leave their homes and husbands for several reasons that mostly relate to the traditions of the tribe. These traditions allow husbands to abuse their wives (emotionally and physically) as they please, prohibit women from receiving formal education, and generally disregard the individual rights of the tribal women. In addition to this, female circumcisions are a long standing tradition within the tribe and despite modern medical advances and efforts to dissuade this practice it continues today. So this village has since flourished and now houses a nursery and school, cultural museum, and mini-market that allows the women to sell their beadwork and crafts in order to generate a very minuscule income. The village also asks its visitors to pay an admission fee that helps to supply the women with important goods and services like clean water. While we were visiting the village the woman greeted us with a traditional welcoming song and dance and walked us back to our camp site while singing a goodbye song. Coolest thing ever. It was so awesome to see a completely different side of Kenya and get a taste of the more traditional life and practices.

The actual safari was absolutely awesome. Here is proof:


So today is July 4th. Or was we normally say, the 4th of July. That means that in exactly a month we will be boarding a plane and heading back to the States. Michelle left yesterday for Puerto Rico and that was weird enough to see her say goodbyes, I can't imagine what it will be like when it is our turn. Speaking of Michelle, it is already weird around here now that she is gone. She was just another part of the team it seemed like and now it's a bit strange.

This last month is going to fly by I just know it. I already cant fathom that its been six weeks. It feels like last week that we were just stepping off the plane, wide-eyed and exhausted yet ready to go. I must be honest and say that when the time comes I will be very ready to get home. Yet at the same time, I already feel that I will not be spending enough time here. It is such an irony that you can only understand when your here on a trip like this.

Until next time.

Monday, June 29, 2009 Comment0 Comments

Yikes its been over a week since my last post and boy has a lot happened. This country is so wonderful and I have been lucky enough to see even more sides of it recently. Sometimes I still can't believe that this summer is real. It would take much too long to go into everything so I will just list things from two weekends ago and then talk more about this most recent weekend and events in the next post. I am going to try and actually update this more often. Promise.

Last weekend: Nairobi

  • went to Nairobi
  • kissed a giraffe
  • held a cheetah
  • fed a monkey
  • went clubbing
  • hookah
  • Masai Market and bought lots of goodies
The last week we have continued working in the classrooms as well as on our clubs. It seems that the students are used to us as teachers now and have been responding well to us. It's great to see some of the students, like Vincent and Francis in my upper primary class, take an active role in the class and put forth an effort and interest to learn. After realizing that the one social studies book that we could even find was not going to suffice, I decided to start coming up with alternative lessons. So for the last week or so the students have been learning the countries of Africa. I started off by having them list off as many countries as they could think of. They did pretty well but still not the level that I would expect of them. After we did this, the students then had to try and label a blank map with all of the countries that they named. This went decent haha. They did quite well with the border nations of Kenya, but that's due in large part to the giant mural of the countries in the classroom next door. Now for the last few days we have been having the students study maps that they had to fill in correctly in hopes that they can learn the names and locations of most African nations. Today was the first time we have evaluated how this went by having them name as many nations now that they could remember without a map and the list more than doubled from the first one. Granted, two of the kids had written a cheat sheet but whatever.

Clubs have also been going well. We finally got an actual roster of names for each club and so attendance is now possible and the kids know for sure what club they are supposed to be going to. The art and choir clubs have been getting a lot of help from local volunteers (mostly Sam Kairu and his friends) and that has been wonderful. It looks like the literature club may also be getting some help soon. Hopefully now we can find some helpers for the nature club in hopes that by the time we leave, each of these clubs have the people and resources in place to continue onward. In the mean time nature club has been doing activities with what we have. For example this past Wednesday we put beans in wet napkins and placed them in the greenhouse to grow (hopefully). We shall see in about 3 hours how that went. If all goes well we will be planting the bean sprouts in water bottles so that each of the boys (my club is all boys, guess girls don't like nature) will have their own plant to tend to.

When we aren't teaching classes or running the clubs we have been spending the majority of our time in Nyeri town. Recently we have been exploring ways to expand the Centre's contacts and hopefully bring in visitors and potential partners or volunteers. Last Thursday we were able to meet with two seperate AIDs organizations that work in and around Nyeri. The first one was called APHIA II and is a USAID sponsored program. Much of their work involves AIDS education and prevention. One program that they have is a travelling performing arts group and we have asked them to potentially come to the Centre and perform for the kids. The APHIA II people are already somewhat familiar with the Centre and the people involved with it. The second group that we met with was called SWAK (Society for Women and AIDS in Kenya). This group was also really neat and seemed to have some good things going. They focus mostly on women and children who are afflicted or affected by AIDs but have also implemented a male-based initiative. So we had some ideas about possible presentations by the group at the Centre or even introducing their services to any of the children who may wish to use them.

Ok so that is enough for now, time crunch and don't have the desire to keep going. I will update later this week about the safari and such. Should have some photos to go along with it as well.

*Tomorrow Deanna, Caitlyn, and I are going to Nairobi for a couple days to see our favorite honorary team member, Michelle, off to Puerto Rico. We are really going to miss her. She has been so great and such a help for us. It's wierd to think now that we didn't know each other before and that she wasn't an original member of the Service Team. We are already planning trips to visit each other in Kansas, Puerto Rico & DC/Boston. Can't wait.


Thursday, June 18, 2009 Comment1 Comments

Wow where do I start, so much has happened since my last post. If only I had the time and energy to write posts more frequently we wouldn't have this problem. Well I guess we will start with the big stuff:

This past weekend, the Penn State team that was still here and our K-State team plus Michelle all went to a place called Sagana to bungee jump over a river. Yikes, I know that sounds intense. The best part about it was that Paul joined us as well and even jumped. To be honest though, the worst part of it all was the climb more so then the jump. In order to make the jump, each of us had to get strapped in and climb a 65 meter crane, one at a time. As you all know the higher you climb the windier it gets and add in the shaking from the person in front of you jumping and it creates quite a climb. Once you reach the top you must then swing yourself into the basket where the British (maybe Aussie, not sure actually) man is there to talk you through it. What is funny to me is that while you're up there he informs you that if it comes down to it, he WILL push you off, so long as you give him permission. Since I am such a brave man I didnt need any extra assistance haha. And obviously I made it out alive and well. My jump did not happen without glithces however. Leave it to me to put a little scare in the bystanders. See what had happen is.....on my way down, my loosely tied tennis shoes decided to take the plunge was well and flew off mid-flight. When it smacked into the water I guess it made a loud noise (which I did not hear) and put a scare in some of the Penn State and others who could not see my jump from behind the tree line. But all in all, it was a great day and all of us were able to psyche ourselves up and make the jump. Most brave of all, DeAnna was dumb enough to be the first jumper. Actually it is probably smarter that way so that you dont see anyone else be so stupid haha. To our benefit, we were able to enjoy a Tusker or two before the jump as well as draw inspirational images and quotes on our arms to look at during the climb. My quote of choice was the always good and very cliche "Carpe Diem". Oh and by the way, I personally think the whole idea of getting a rush and such out of activities like bungee jumping is total BS. I mean once I jumped it was just a matter of waiting to be done and get unharnessed. Maybe thats just me haha. Not the adventure junkee.

This past week we have been teaching the social studies classes again as well as running the extracurricular clubs. The clubs have been coming together pretty nicely and its helped that we have had help from some local volunteers like Sam and his buddies. They have been great and have some real awesome ideas for the children, especially with art. The biggest challenges with clubs have been getting materials and resources for activities and then getting the kids rounded up each day in time. Both of those however should improve with time. In fact, Paul was telling us yesterday about a new UN initiative incolving waste management and recyclables that we should be able to implement (with funding included) soon. This is something that will fit well in Nature Club so I am excited for that. Teaching classes is something that really interests me but it is quite challenging at this point. Perhaps most frustrating is the scarce materials (i.e. textbooks). Right now I have one Social Studies textbook to use for the Upper Primary class of 10 students. This one textbook is for Standard (Grade) 8 which is the highest level of Primary school here. So obviously there is not much variety in material to cover. My hope is to use the money that the BV West students raised to buy several textbooks with varying levels in order to provide a better classroom environment for the students. I have also been thinking of some ideas that dont use the textbooks but are interesting and useful for the students.

Well last night I finally got sick here in Kenya. It was probably about time anyways and it wasn't all that bad. Towards the end of the day I just began to feel weak and ache and then got a fever. To remedy this we watched two of our last three episodes of Lost and took some ibuprofen. I dont know what we are going to do once Lost: Season 1 is over. We might have to look for a bootleg copy of Season 2 in Nairobi this weekend.

Which leads me to my final bit of news for today. This weekend we are heading to Nairobi for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Our plan is to visit an animal orphanage and giraffe house on Saturday. Paul has been given the responsibility of entertaining us at night and today he said we would go to a Folk show that features traditional songs using modern instruments. Sounds super cool to me. That is Friday night. Saturday night it sounds like we will be hitting up a club and doing some dancing, well some of us. May take some heavy encouragement to get me dancing. Finally, on Sunday we are going to the Masai Market, which is large conglomerate of souvenir and tourist goods that attracts heavy crowds each weekend. This is a place that can easily overwhelm a mzungu (white person) and often leads to them getting ripped off big time. This is why we are going to go with Paul and Rossa. Rossa is hardcore and doesnt take crap from anyone so I feel pretty comfortable with her handling my business haha. She is great. This weekend should be very fun and I am looking forward to see what kinds of goods I end up with. We met a family in Nyeri town who make some really great jewelry out of all sorts of local materials and we are hoping to track them down on Sunday and purchase some of theirs.

Kwaheri for now. Take care everybody.

*PS-next weekend (as in the one after this weekend) we are going on our Safari so stay tuned for that.

Saturday, June 06, 2009 Comment0 Comments

So we have now been at the Centre for a little over a week and a half and we are all beginning to settle into a routine. Or atleast as much of a routine that is possible here. Mostly by schedule I mean that we wake up at 830 or so every morning, eat lunch at 1245 or so, run our extracurricular clubs at 515, supper at 645, and our Lost viewing party begins at 900 each night. Everything in between is just chaos and changes by the minute. Even our club time is not very concrete as much of it depends on how quickly the children assemble. But we are starting to get a hang of everything and its all starting to fall in place quite nicely.

In addition to the after school clubs, we have been lending a hand (aka pretty much running) in the classes for the children who stay at Centre during the day. It is pretty funny because this was something that was kind of thrown on our plate when we got here and its been pretty hectic. We were under the impression that we would just be assisting in the classes but it now seems that much of the expectation is to teach the classes fully on our own. For instance, the first day that I helped out in the Social Sciences class, the teacher showed me the page for the lesson and told the students what they were doing, then left. It was actually quite exciting for me since I am a teaching nerd but I know some of the other members were a little stressed about it. My first experience teaching any sort of class was quite successful, even with some language barriers the students behaved very well and cooperated great with me. They even followed me around the Centre without running off or anything haha. Guess I just have a gift for that kind of thing. The schooling thing though seems to be settling down though and hopefully we will be able to put most of our efforts into the clubs, as is Paul's desire. (Paul is our contact here and he is the busiest/most wonderful person I have ever met. Seriously he rocks.) Two ladies from Mauritiaus (sp?) got here this week as part of an education service program so they have much more experience in classroom settings and their projects for this summer are supposed to be with the classes. That will help a lot and they are going to be here until August like us.

We have now had two days in which we have met with the individual clubs. So far I have been in charge of the Nature Club. The first meeting, on Wednesday, was a little rocky. We didnt have any activities planned and so I just asked the kids what they would want to do as a club and their attention span was all of about 10 minutes. Luckily one of the older kids has been helping me with translating and just getting the younger children to cooperate and it has been extremely helpful. Yesterday, at our second meeting, I had the children collect three different leaves so that we could shade them with crayons on some computer paper. That went super good and I really feel that they had a good time with it. My older helper even said afterwards that he liked it and while we were coloring he asked to go collect more leaves. The pictures turned out super cool and I have decided that for Monday we should make a collage out of all of them. The children would like to display their art and so in this case I decided we should make a club poster that displays everyones work. Should be fun. I think that as long as I can continue to have activities for the children then the club will be very successful and fun for the kids.

Well my eyes are hurting from all of this typing so I think I am gonna wrap this up. I just wanted try and describe our actual projects this summer as best I could. As you can see this can be difficult when things tend to change everyday.

Livin and lovin,

PS---For a more comedic and highly subjective interpretation of events please visit DeAnna's blog (link is on the right side of this page)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009 Comment1 Comments

Finally!!! I have the time and desire to sit down and make a blog post. I mean its only been a week since I've been in Kenya...oops. Its just been one crazy chaotic week with some sketchy Internet so not my fault. First of all Kenya is absolutely beautiful and everything is going great! Now I will just give a VERY short run-down of everything thats happened so far (yikes) and hopefully be updating more often so that its not so long. Here we go:

-the Megabus was sooo fun. Quite an experience and would totally do it again. You absolutely have to sit on the top level (its double-decker) and in the very front row. You get to look out the big panoramic window, its like a roller coaster.
-When we got to Chicago we rode the train with Caitlyn to her house. Public transportation makes so much sense, I dont get how people argue against it.
-While we were in Chicago for the couple days we went sightseeing. Very fun. Very cool city. (pictures on Facebook)

-Our layover was waaaaaaaaaayy toooooo freaking long. I honestly am not sure how we all made it out of that airport alive. I thought I was gonna either jump out the window myself or push somebody.

-After our 2nd overnight flight in 2 days we finally arrived in Kenya! We were all way tired but it was still super great to finally make it. We had no trouble maneuvering around Jomo Kenyatta Airport and our contact, Paul, found us almost immediately. I must say that its quite hilarious how lax customs was there. The guy just looked at us and told us to hurry up past the checkpoint haha.
-Once we met up with Paul we found out that we would be spending the next couple (turned into few) days in Nairobi. He figured it was as good a time as ever to experience the city and do some sightseeing. We stayed in a place called Terminal Hotel and that was pretty cool. The employees were all very friendly. Plus they had mosquito nets!
-Our first day in the city with Paul we went out to lunch at a place called Radalo's (i think) and the food was seriously sooo good. We ordered "samaki na ugali" which is fish. Actually it was tilapia in a coconut broth served with ugali and sukuma (kale). Paul told us that it was a very traditional meal of the Luo peoples, who live near Lake Victoria I believe (dont quote me).
-Also on our first day we met the most awesomest little lady named Rossa. She is our new best friend here. She is a riot. Fits right in with us and our crazy ways. Thanks to her we have been able to make our way around and see all sorts of things in Nairobi and Nyeri. She has been a lifesaver.
-Some of the places/things we did in Nairobi include: the National Archives, European Movie Festival, Ethiopian food, Tusker*, National Museum (home of the early hominid/australopithicene remains), more Tusker, lots of wandering and darting across traffic.

-finally late (late) Wednesday (May 27th) night we arrived at the Centre (CYEC) in Nyeri. We rode from Nairobi to Nyeri in the dark of night on these giant Safari bus thingys. Once we met up with everybody to head to Nyeri we met Janelle (Penn State prof) and her niece Michelle. Since then Michelle has become an honorary 5th Team member of our group haha. She is staying with us at the Centre and working alongside us with our project(s).
-Its taken about 5 days or so for us to FINALLY have an idea of what we will be doing and how we will be doing it. In one sentence or less this is what we will be doing: starting and running after school/extracurricular clubs that each child will join (Choir, Arts & Crafts, Nature, or Literature); AND assisting and teaching (yay) the classes that are already being taught here.
-On Sunday all five of us got up and went with some of the children to the local Catholic church. It was only about 100 yards away and some of the children were singing and dancing at the mass. It was a really cool experience and was interesting to see a mass in a completely different culture. First off, the priest did the mass in Kikuyu (the local tribal language) except for a few excerpts just for us. I was telling the group that I finally know what it was like for so many people years ago when masses were in Latin still. Its funny how similar the services are thought. Aside from the language and some more upbeat (I'd say better) music it is exactly the same. One of the teachers and the children even did a Rosary before mass. We are hoping to go with some of the other children to the Baptist service sometime and maybe one of the other local churches.
-Overall the Centre has been so great. This country is so beautiful and I love waking up to this every morning. The children are wonderful and they are really starting to open up and connect with us. That has been great. One of the older girls even gave me a bracelet that she made and I'm rockin it with style. I am excited to finally get going on our projects and become more involved with the operational side of the Centre. The first few days we mostly have been sitting around and being play buddies with the kids, but that is so much fun.

As I said I am hoping to update more frequently and this hopefully filled everyone in pretty well. I am sure that I left out some things but what can ya do.


*Tusker is a Kenyan beer and is the most popular of the country. It is very very good and we have been lucky enough to enjoy it several times so far. Especially in this high stress environment its nice to get away and enjoy a Tusker or two every so often haha. I would recommend trying to look for it in the States. I know I will be. Oh FYI, thanks to my pops I found out the name comes from a man who was killed by an elephant. Nice!