Monday, July 26, 2010

The Journey to Kakamega



This weekend I got to meet one of my future classmates, Shamim Okolloh.  She invited David and I to an alumni event she organized at her former high (secondary) school, Kiamosi GBS.  The event was the first of its kind for the school.  As an all-girls boarding institution, the environment was special becasue it represented a place that understood the importance of educating women.  Kenya, like most countries in the world is still a patriarchal society.  Men hold the majority of the power and women are working much harder to ensure that they are viewed as equals.




Shamim organized this event to bring the alumni, which they affectionately labeled as the "old girls," back to the school to show the current students that academic success and achievement in any career is possible.  All of the "old girls" were called to the stage, and one-by-one they stated:

1. Their name

2. The name of a memorable teacher

3. The dormitory they lived in while attending the school

4. Their current career


The impact that each "old girl's" words had on the 1200 or so students present was immeasurable.  Students would cheer as they identified with old girls based on the dorm they stayed in, or some of the more memorable teachers.  And announcement after announcement about each old girl's career created a wave of "ooohs" and "ahhhs" throughout the crowd of students.  The younger girls seemed to be very impressed by some of the positions held by the old girls.  I heard various job positions including banker, flight attendant, executive, principal, and even independent business owner.  It truly was empowering for the students to understand that they could do these things some day.

Of course when you give a microphone to an educated, successful person and ask them to talk about themselves you're bound to hear more than the required remarks; and with approximately 40 old girls on the stage, the words of encouragement and empowerment flowed like the Webuye Falls.  I tried my best to record it all, but I was only able to isolate three memorable quotes (where's my legal pad when I need it?...thanks for backing me up iPhone):

"  If you want to test the fruits of this country, you should work hard"  
                                               -Former Kiamosi student

"  The beauty of being a woman was once being a girl"

                                               -Former Kiamosi student

"  The tragedy of life is not when we die.  The tragedy is what we let die when we live"
                                                           -Principal, Kiamosi Girls School



The young ladies of Kiamosi were eager to show their appreciation for this special event.  To commemorate the occasion, the school's dance team put on a very special performance.








The dance was accompanied by singing that created a sort of dialogue between the groups on stage.  I guess you could have called it a musical.










Even though I couldn't understand a word of what was being said (because I'm still learning Kiswahili), I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and found myself amazed at how talented these young women were.






The program ended with a special awards ceremony that honored teachers and students who were performing well.  The top students in forms 3 & 4 received money to help pay their school fees.  You would have thought these girls had won the lottery when they heard this.  When I did the conversions I figured out that it costs these girls around $335 per year to attend this boarding school (that's food, a room, and school supplies).  It didn't seem like a lot to me, but I had to keep telling myself that in Kenya, that's quite a bit of money.  I think I understand now why Oprah chose to start a school in Africa.  For a lot less money you can make a much greater impact on a child's education.  The children here view an education as one of the only means of success, and so they literally give everything to ensure that success.  

I had to let Shamim know how much of an impact this day had on my life.  The ceremony was received with great appreciation and it served to empower those girls beyond any educator's wildest dreams.  Talking with the students afterward helped me to understand that seeing those older women on the stage and hearing about their successes meant much more than your average school assembly.  It helped create a beacon of hope, guiding those young ladies to the futures they now understood that they could attain through a little hard work and dedication.  When that ceremony was over, you could feel the energy in the room as if lighting had just struck the area.  There was hope, there was adoration, and there was a sense of heightened self-esteem.  It's amazing how the power of community and unity can motivate a determined generation.    





The Journey of Childbirth?!?

Well, not exactly childbirth.  Tonight as we were talking and waiting for dinner to be prepared, one of our hosts, Willeminah, ran past us with a flashlight.  I followed out of curiosity and it took me to the barn where the cows were held.  Willeminah was there and she asked me, "Have you ever seen a calf being born before?"  I said no, but now she had me hooked.  As I looked down I saw a cow laying on the ground in utter misery.  Then I looked to where the calf was starting to come out and I saw a man stooped over the cow yanking at what looked like two small legs.  Ever time he pulled, the cow's eyes would widen.  I knew she was in pain, but I also understood that this was a part of the whole labor experience. 

As time passed Willeminah started to get worried.  Apparently, the calf's nose had come out at the beginning, but then receded back into the mother's body when the man pulling let his hands slip.  Willeminah was worried that the new born might suffocate and as we have learned, cows are very valuable to this family.  Willeminah called for a second birthing specialist, who arrived shortly after.  He was an older gentleman who clearly knew more than anyone else in the room.  He started yelling orders in Kenyore (the local language) and eventually there were four men around the cow's vagina.  One man opened the birthing canal with his hands while two grabbed at the calf's legs and started rhythmically pulling.  The older man just kept yelling and it was obvious that he too was worried about the calf's life.  

After several minutes, the head emerged.  But to everyone's horror, the tongue was hanging out of the calf's mouth.  A wave of emotion hit me and others standing around me, because we feared the worst for the baby.  The older man just kept yelling to pull but there were no signs of life as the calf's head emerged.  I heard some Kenyore mixed with English and the word "miscarry" and I put the rest together myself.  The men had to get the calf out of the mother's body, or she would die, but I feared that it was too late for the baby.

The men pulled and pulled until the entire body had came out of a hole the size of my head and the older man immediately pulled the calf away from the mother.  Other people brought in buckets of water and began to wash the calf's body.  I was thinking to myself, "what are you doing?"  However, to my surprise, I heard a tiny cough and the body of the calf started to twitch.  It was alive.  The men looked relieved and we all quickly congratulated Willeminah on the new addition to her livestock.  This wasn't a human birth, but it seemed just as emotional.  It's one of those moments where you say to yourself, "Now I've seen everything."

I just experienced the journey of childbirth. 

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Journey of Youth Development

With three more weeks to go in Kenya, phase 2 of my project is almost done.  I'm performing a needs assessment to help the organization I work for, Kijana, determine some next steps for improving science education in the schools it serves in Western Kenya.  The work is tough, I'm exhausted every day, and sometimes I just want to curl up on the couch in front of the t.v. with the AC on high, holding a cold soda in my hand with a bag of chips near me.  Oh wait...I'm still in Kenya, so that form of relaxation will have to wait.

Despite all the hard work, I love what I'm doing and I'm making sure to enjoy the balance between work AND play while I'm here.  One of the new highlights of each day is that my little buddy Vincent (my "best friend" in Kenya) is learning how to walk.


One day I went to pick him up and he started crying.  So I put him down...and he reached up for me again.  I picked him up, he cried, and this time as I started to put him down he began to jerk away from me.  I had seen this once before with my god-son Armand, and I thought to myself, "Maybe it's time for you to stand."  So I put him down again, but holding his hands to brace him, I propped him up on his legs.  To my surprise he smiled, and thus began our daily routine of me teaching him how to walk!


Vincent is 8 months old now, which is about the right age, in my opinion, to begin walking.  However, our hosts Willeminah and Ann told me that most Kenyan babies walk a little after one year.  This seemed late to me, but they stated that only a few "prodigy" babies walk earlier than that.  "Well," I thought, "Who's to say that my best friend isn't a prodigy?"  So, I've been working with him a little each day to teach him to walk.  His mother, Juliet, has mixed feelings about this.  She seems excited about him learning to walk, but I get the impression that she's not quite ready to see her baby boy running around yet.  I'm trying to get her as excited about the possibility of Vincent walking as everyone else in the family is about this notion.  I've been documenting my time with Vincent through photography, so I thought I wold share some of the photos of the amazing (soon to be walking) Mr. Vincent.  My goal is to see him stand on his own (no leaning aids) before we leave.





Here is Vincent looking dapper in his "Fonzworth Bentley" (if you don't know who this is, please Google it) attire.  Notice how he nonchalantly looks away from the camera...SO COOL











Who knew that Vincent was a fan of MJ and the American south?  Sporting Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls jersey number on his shirt and wearing his seersucker shorts, he's easily the youngest southern gentlemen and MJ fan in Kenya.















Vincent and his sister Mora love to pose together for photographs.












I caught Vincent "just hanging out" on the back porch one day while Juliet was preparing our meal, so I took a couple of photos. 


















He's just too handsome!

























Here's Vincent hanging in the front yard with his peeps (the local posse of children who come to play in our host's front yard).  Notice the backwards hat and the cool jacket.


















At some point in that day, he must have thought that he was too cool for that hat, so he threw it off right before I took this picture.

















But at the end of the day, I think Mora convinced him to put it back on.  Hey, at 8 months I guess you can't make all of your own decisions.  Better luck next time my friend!


















Vincent's clothing selections never cease to amaze me.  His shirts and pants are always what I'd consider "fashion forward," but for some reason he loves those multicolored striped socks!  Get it together buddy!
















Despite the socks, I did appreciate the handshake.
























Here's Vincent in one of his Teletubbie outfits that he wears to bed...seriously, the Teletubbies are kind of big in Kenya.
























With ever passing day, it's amazing to see how Vincent needs less and less help standing on his own.  I'm sure Mora, who carries Vincent around everywhere is getting very excited about his development as well.















Teletubbie outfit #2...really Vincent!  For some reason Vincent's legs got tired on this day and Mora was lugging him around on her hip.  I had to do something about this.


















So, with a little bit of encouragement, and a couple silly faces, I got my little buddy to stand.  I told him that it would be much easier to attract women if he could look like an independent man.


















And FINALLY, after weeks of hard work I saw my friend balance himself on this water jug tonight.  He's been practicing this for a while, but tonight he stood there, leaning against this object, for the better part of 5 minutes.  The rest of the family and I just sat around the table having a conversation while the little guy just stood against the jug looking back at us.  We were all so proud, but we didn't want him to get too excited and fall, so we just smiled at him occasionally and said "Simama!" which means "stand" in Kiswahili.  Seeing this makes me want to see him walk all the sooner!


So I have a special request:
I'm trying to put together a collection of encouraging words, statements, phrases, etc. for Juliet to help her get more excited about her son's development.  If you wouldn't mind could you please leave a comment (see the "Post a Comment" link below) for Vincent encouraging him to start walking, and/or for Juliet to help her think positively about this learning experience for her son.

Thanks


P.S. I can't believe I only have 3 more weeks to enjoy this paradise.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Finding Meaning in What You Do

Finding these two statements within 12 hours of one another was no coincidence!  Below are two quotes I came across that should make all my Clinton School classmates (as well as anyone who considers themselves "lifetime learners") appreciate their experiences.


"How much do you think you really know if you've never left the shelter that your city, state, or country provides?"

                                                                                                              -Mircha Chad King




"When coasting in our comfort zones, we don't grow.  We continue to do more of the same.

Maintaining comfort zones can, paradoxically, lead to discomfort in the long run.  If by being comfortable we avoid important issues in life, internal tension accumulates.

Eventually, as both internal and external pressures for change persist, the 'comfort zone' ceases to serve us."

It takes effort to change.  What do you most want to change in your life?  Make a list of what you can do and start the process.  Try journaling, perhaps.  Read books.  Take a course.  Find a mentor.  Seek out support.  

How will you commit time to make it happen?  When are you going to start?  Your life is passing by quickly!
"Be not afraid of changing slowly; be afraid of standing still." 


                                    -Flier posted in the Essaba Secondary school staff room

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bringing a Little Bit of America to Kenya

Happy 4th of July!

I hope that wherever you are, your celebration of Independence Day has been happy and prosperous.  In our part of the world we decided to grill out to celebrate the holiday.  We cooked seasoned and marinated beef and chicken on skewers with chopped bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes.  It turned out to taste amazing, but I personally appreciated the conversations with our hosts and I enjoyed breaking the cultural norms in this part of the world.

Let me explain...

1. In some areas of Kenya, it is culturally accepted that women do most of the domestic work in the home. 

This includes cooking, cleaning, serving, etc.  This notion has bothered my classmate David and I for some time.  I don't know about David, but I consider myself to be an independent man, and so the idea of being waited on hand and foot is not comforting to me.  We literally don't have to do anything while we're here, and our hosts are perfectly okay with that.  On an average day, I do far more work outside of my Kenyan home than within.  

However, today we got the opportunity to reverse our roles.  The servants became the guests and we did most of the work.  It was odd trying to explain to everyone that we wanted to grill for them.  At first, Juliet, the lady who does most of the cooking for us, thought that she had done something wrong.  It took one of our hosts, Ann, to explain to her that we just wanted to make a special meal.  Then, even after we comforted her, she still did most of the food preparation, cutting up the meat and some of the vegetables, and making the side dishes.  She would even laugh as she occasionally passed the grill watching David and I prepare the skewers and put them on the grill.  "It's just not normal to see men cook," said Faith, the daughter of our host Wilehmina.  

We even took it a step further by asking everyone to come sit at the kitchen table with us.  Would you believe that night after night, these women prepare delicious meals for us but then sit in the kitchen area around a small table to eat while David and I sit alone at the large dinning room table?  Sadly, it's true.  But tonight we turned that system around by insisting that everyone sit with us to eat.  It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.  The atmosphere was a little awkward at first and it took some time for them to have a meaningful conversation with us.  But overall, everyone seemed to enjoy the "American" food.  By the end of the meal, Ben, one of our best Kenyan friends was encouraging us to cook more food for them "at least once a week."  This made me happy!


2. In Kenya, some women have a very different perception of what a "male" should be.


While grilling we were having a good conversation with one of our hosts, Faith.  During the conversation she informed David and I that they prefer to do most of the house work for us because "Americans live a softer lifestyle."  Actually, she didn't say "Americans," she said "whites," but then I gave her a strange look and she amended it to "Americans."  As the conversation continued she looked at David, my white classmate, and called him a "soft male."  She said that the way he carried himself and his tone of speaking made him vulnerable to the more dominant, money hungry women in society.  

(I was trying my best at this point not to laugh, but concealing the laughter was like trying to hold off an advancing mob with a squirt gun.  It just wasn't happening.)   


After I caught my breath from the initial reaction to this statement, I tried to tell Faith about how I lived in America.  I told her that I cook for myself, almost every night of the week, and clean, and do all of the other general chores to take care of myself.  David echoed that he did the same.  As Faith stared at me using my hands that were covered in grease from turning the skewers she seemed to accept my independence.  But for some reason, she would not believe that David had the ability to be a "hard male."  In her eyes he was soft, and she continued to make suggestions for his life.  She told him about the kind of women he should try to meet, even offering to help him find a good Kenyan woman.  She warned him of the kind of work that he should avoid doing, and made all sorts of jokes about what could go wrong if he wasn't careful.  Of course David just laughed it off, but it did help us both to understand the mentality of some Kenyans.  Here, males are supposed to be tough, and hard workers.  This doesn't necessarily imply that they should be the sole financial supporters of families (because that's not the case in many homes here), but it does suggest that the "emotionally sensitive" male is not as respected in this culture.  I find it amazing that even on a relaxed Sunday evening I'm still receiving a great education.


Happy 4th Everyone!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Journey through Academia

Last week, I got to go to Mwituha Secondary School (High School) to finish out the first phase of my project.  I had visited the place once before, but seeing the environment with all of the students in class got me really excited for some reason.










The campus was beautiful and reminded me more of a college experience than a high school visit.  I had designated Mwituha Secondary for my research work specifically because of the positive impression that the school left with me when I first visited.  The children I met were friendly and eager to learn, the teachers seemed well-versed in their information, and the principal was clearly a leader and someone who cared deeply about academics.  These qualities may seem like a given for every school, but as a former teacher I can attest that this combination is VERY difficult to find in the average school setting, whether it be Kenya, America, or anywhere else in the world.  Even though this school is the farthest away from where I'm living in Kenya (a good 45 min. journey one way) I knew from the first moment that I saw it that it was an environment that I needed to learn more about.  It's literally an educational gold mine.



One clear indication of this can be seen in all of the murals painted around the school.  One day I had a conversation with the principal over lunch who informed me of his ideas about education.  He believes that students should never be deprived of even the smallest opportunity to learn.  This means that students should be immersed in education from the time they enter the campus until the time they go home.  He called it a "bombardment technique," but I know it by another name used by one of my heroes, Geoffrey Canada.  In the Harlem Children's Zone it's known as "contamination theory," and it encompasses surrounding children with protective factors so that they don't have the opportunity to succumb to all of the risks surrounding them.  So, for example, when children walk into their school everyday, this mural of the school motto, mission, and vision is the first thing that they see.  It is painted on a wall facing the main road outside of the school which makes it appear to be a sort of barrier to any who would choose to remain uneducated.



On the other side of the entrance children see paintings of young scientists doing work in Chemistry, Biology, and Physics.  When I asked one of the school leaders if the school focused heavily on sciences the answer was, "No, but we want children to understand that even the most difficult and coveted jobs in Kenya ARE obtainable."  I got chills down my spine!  The entire school (teachers, administrators, etc.) seemed to be operating under a unified directive.  It wasn't about establishing teacher's unions for higher pay or arguing over how to spend government dollars.  This school simply wanted to produce students who could perform at high academic levels in order to achieve their dreams.  What a simple, and yet beautiful, idea!






The leadership and influence of the principal could be seen everywhere around the campus.  


This mural was located right next to the students' lunch area.  When I asked the two guys in this picture if they would like to visit America someday, their reply was, "Yeah, but we've got to see the rest of Africa at some point too."  Again, I got chills down my spine because these students, unlike many youth I've met here, didn't view America as their "savior."  They understood the value of their own country and the rest of the continent of Africa and they viewed America as "just another country."  That's powerful...and that's empowerment!  I wish I had this aptitude when I was their age.  It really is a rare gift.



Outside of the science lab on the campus, students walked by this giant mural of the periodic table. Although I favored biology over chemistry I still admired this massive achievement.  When I compared it to the periodic table on my phone (I used this when I taught science) it was just as accurate.  The students here may not have massive textbooks complete with periodic tables in the back of them, but they do have this painting that they pass everyday.  I can recall trying to get my students to memorize the first 20 elements on the table and saying to them, "If you just get these 20 down, all the rest will follow a pattern that is easy to understand."  However, no matter how many times I emphasized this point, there would always be some students who never quite got it down.  Now, I think to myself, "My students had access to things like a periodic table whenever they needed it.  These students only get to see it when they come to school and pass it on a wall.  So I wonder who values it more?"



Sitting in a classroom was also a very pleasurable experience.  I've never seen students who are so eager to learn the information.  I'm sure that part of this is due to the fact that the students here all pay for their education.  In case you're wondering, NO, Mwituha isn't a private school!  In Kenya the government only pays tuition fees for primary school (grades 1-8), so only children whose parents can afford to send them to secondary (high) school get a full education.  In fact, many people in Kenya still don't complete, or don't go to, secondary school because their families simply can't afford it.


However, I've sat in numerous secondary school classes since I've been in Kenya, and for some reason this set of classes just felt...different.  I don't know if it was the boy who asked the same question in 10 (not an exaggeration) different ways before he got the answer that he wanted, or the girl who held her hand up for 15 minutes as she patiently waited for her teacher to finish explaining a concept to another student.  The students just possess this hunger to absorb the information that I've never seen .  Earlier in the week I replied to an email from one of my best friends who wanted a quick comparison of the children in Kenya and America.  I composed the following list:

1. The students here know more information than we did at this age.

2. The students are doing work that I didn't begin until I reached the university level.

3. They're simply smarter than we were at that age!

None of the items on this list are an exaggeration. (Although, #3 is relative and subjective)  I ended my email to him by saying, "Man, if these kids just had computers and internet access, they could rule the world."  I've never felt more excited AND frustrated at the same time.  I kept thinking that with a few more resources at their disposal these children could perform at or beyond the levels of American children.  



So you can imagine how surprised I was when a teacher asked me to teach one of his classes!  "Why the shock" you ask?  Here's a couple of things you need to know about this teacher.

1. He teaches EVERY chemistry course at the school.

2. His students produced incredibly high marks on the mock exams taken previously.

3. He had already covered THE ENTIRE SYLLABUS in the first 2 terms of the year. 



I don't care how good of a teacher I considered myself to be in America, this dude was the real deal!  But he insisted, stating that it would be good for the students to get an "American perspective," in their science educations.  Now I've never been one to step down from a meaningful challenge, and to be honest the idea excited me quite a bit, but to say that I was intimidated was an understatement.  So I said, "Sure, what do you want me to teach?"  And without missing a beat he said, "The students need to review their Organic Chemistry molecules.  How about a review of Alkanoic Acids, including their nomenclature, structure, and lab preparation?"



(If you're reading over that last sentence and saying 'huh?' to yourself, don't worry I was thinking the same thing at the time.  I hadn't learned, let alone discussed, that material since my sophomore year of college!)



Again, my name is Patrick Banks, and I refuse to step down from meaningful challenges, so I said, "Sure, just give me a day to prepare."  With that I smiled,  grabbed a copy of the science syllabus, and headed home to start re-teaching myself this material.

The next morning (D-day as I called it) I was ready to show these advanced students what I had.  When I met the Chemistry teacher at the school he had no idea that I had stayed up the previous night for about 7 hours learning and condensing the information down into a lesson plan for high school students.  He didn't know about the two cups of coffee I drank to be more alert for the lesson, and he couldn't see the excitement and anticipation in my eyes to do a review with these students.  The next thing I knew, I was standing in front of the class in full swing, and surprised at how quickly the "teacher mode" was coming back to me.  I had my summarized notes down, I had accurately anticipated the questions that the students would ask, and I gave them plenty of practice opportunities so that they could demonstrate their mastery of the material.  The entire time the teacher sat in the back of the room, never saying a word, showing ZERO non-verbal body language cues, and keeping a stern look on his face.  But after the lesson he grabbed my hand with the biggest smile on his face and simply said, "Good job."

After I left the class the principal stepped in and surveyed the students on my performance.  While this seemed very intense to me, it echoed his desire to ensure that his students were getting a meaningful education.  To my surprise he walked into the staff room where I was waiting and congratulated me on a job well done.  He said that the students approved of my teaching, with my only advice being that I needed to slow down my speaking because English was, after all, their second language.  It felt good to know that I hadn't hindered the education of these amazing students.



Now a new struggle begins.  How can I take this awesome Kenyan school model and apply it to the American educational system?  As we all know it's difficult to point a finger at our failing school system and say, "You should do this...blah blah blah."  But the information I'm learning through my journeys here is invaluable.  I guess I'll be using the rest of my time here to think about that...

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Journey through Music!

Friday Flat Stanley and I visited the children at Ebusiloli Primary School.  








The day started off like any other day.  I was making classroom observations of science lessons.  In one class the students seemed very engaged in their lesson about animal parasites and the prevention of them in domesticated animals.  I even learned a couple of new things about a nasty parasite called a "liver fluke."


[By the way, I'm one week away from completing Phase 1 of my project, at which time I will make several postings about my findings in the classroom.]

I enjoyed watching the children learn and ask all of their questions about how to prevent these parasites.  One girl even asked if the same parasites infected animals in other parts of the world.  The teacher looked somewhat surprised by the question, but he just smiled and stated, "Yes, some parasites are common in other parts of the world, while others are unique to this country."

I couldn't help but think that the murals on the walls of the school, commissioned by the Kijana organization (whom I work for) may have helped to motivate this student's question.  All over the school grounds the walls are covered with paintings of maps to help the children to understand that Kenya is just one part of a much larger world.



Here's one of the continent of Africa. (notice the Kijana logo on the left-hand side)











 And here's one of a world map.  I wonder how many times students pass these murals in a day?  It's essentially the same sort of education that American children get by watching commercials all the time. [Constant bombardment of images leads to some form of education about that subject matter.] 


After class I got to take a longer break than usual because of the scheduling of science lessons that day.  So I decided to take a tour of the campus.




 I saw the field that the students use for gym class...
















and their recess area after lunch. 








After my stroll around the school I was informed that the last
science class that I was supposed to observe had been canceled
because the teacher had to leave early.  I was a little sad about this
because that was one less piece of information to journal about.


                             But to my surprise, the head teacher called me outside where I saw the students assembling these instruments.
                            








Apparently, the students were preparing to go to a yearly
competition at a Kenyan music festival.  I was informed that in
previous years the students had made it to national, and the head
teacher stated, "There's no reason why we can't make it there
again!"














And once they had everything 
set UP, they started to GET
DOWN!







                             Their music was amazing to say the least!  From the time they began playing I had tears in my eyes, because they were so talented at such a young age.  All the teachers and students watching had to start dancing because the rhythm was just that melodic.






The students played about 8 songs for me complete with
choreographed movements!
















My favorite part of the entire 
performance was a drum 
selection played by four young 
men from the school.




 
And when I say "they got down," I mean they really GOT DOWN!











There were also a collection of solo performances by the students.



 
Complete with some familiar instruments like this West-African hand drum...





















And this strange instrument (I forgot the name) which sounds similar to a violin, but is played like a guitar.


















There were even unconventional instruments like this student who was playing...a pot!?!



















This guy particularly stole the show in my opinion with his awesome skills on the xylophone (or marimba as it is called in Africa).


















Here is a panoramic picture of everyone playing together.  It was a little overwhelming to see such a large group of young children in such perfect harmony.







After the amazing performance, which lasted nearly an hour, the principal brought out the uniforms that the students would be wearing for their performance.  The boys were a little surprised to find out that EVERYONE would be wearing traditional Kenyan dance attire, which included skirts!

The entire school (which had gathered in the courtyard to watch the children play) was laughing as the boys tried on the clothing.  The boys didn't seem too happy about this.




  
















As a motor bike (oops, I mean a "vehicle"...) arrived to pick me up, this was the last picture I took of the children saying goodbye to me.  What an awesome experience!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Memorable Journey

Friday was Class Field Trip Day!

Remember those days when you loaded up on a bus with your fellow classmates?  You were so cool if you got to sit in the back.  Hopefully, you got to sit next to a group of your friends.  But even if you didn't you were just happy to get out of school for the day.  It didn't matter where you were going, you were just happy to be going somewhere new, exciting, or different.  Last Friday was one of those days for the students at Essaba Secondary School...and I got to go along for the ride!
Here is a picture of the school bus we loaded.  It's not quite like the school buses I remember.  Let's review why:

1. It's not yellow...duh

2. Students sit in rows that spread 5-7 seats across (depending on which row you sit in)

3. The driver is in his/her own compartment SEPARATE FROM THE STUDENTS!  (Thank god we had instructors to ride along so there wouldn't be any chaos)

(Pause for some background information here)
As I was beginning to put my legal pad away at the end of one of the classes I was observing at Essaba secondary school one of the students raised her hand and said to the instructor, "Madame, there is a little time left in the class period.  Can we please ask our visitor some questions?"  The instructor looked at me as if to way, "Well?" so I jumped out of my seat and invited the students to ask me anything that they wanted to know.  The students began to throw out all sorts of questions about America like:
"What is a staple food that American's eat?"

and...

"How do Americans survive the harsh weather there?" (this one still cracks me up)

So one by one I began to answer their questions.  I found it interesting that most of the students were disgusted when I described our "staple food," the hamburger.  "Why so many ingredients pressed together?" they would ask, and all I could say is...that's just the way we eat them. (In Kenya foods are prepared in a much simpler fashion).  Even my discussion about winters in America seemed to shock them.  I tried to convert 32 degrees Fahrenheit (freezing) into Celsius (Kenyan weather units), but this seemed to really shake them up.  However, after I answered all of their questions to the best of my ability they seemed to be a little more at ease with how Americans lived.  And, apparently, the teacher was impressed with my answers because she stated, "The children need to hear more perspectives like this so that they can learn about the world."  I felt happy that I could help the students to understand that the world isn't such a large place, but then, to my surprise, the instructor told me that I should come with the students the following day to see some other parts of Kenya.  She felt that this would help me to bond with the students.  So now I was faced with a moral dilemma:

1. Continue my classroom observations so that I could understand as much as possible about  how learning occurred in the Kenyan classroom.

2. Take a field trip to some awesome places in Kenya with some VERY bright students.

Easy decision!  And hey...I would call this trip "field learning" which embraces the Clinton School experience. (At least, that's what I'm telling myself) 

(End background story of how I got to go on this amazing trip)



Our first stop on the trip was to see a famous Kenyan monument known as The Crying Stone.  It's a natural anomaly (meaning that it shouldn't exist) because it's a massive boulder suspended on top of a tall pillar of rock.  
 
From a distance, you can see why it's called the crying stone, because a stream of water constantly runs down it.









  
Up close, it's even more amazing.  Apparently, there is a depression between the boulder and the pillar of rock that holds water every time it rains.  As the water collects, it slowly flows down the rock.  It was quite impressive to see!







It's customary that when you go to see the crying stone you touch it and say, "I have seen the stone."  I invited David Watterson along for the trip and together we stated, "I have seen the stone." 






    Here's the view from the top of the hill we had to climb to touch the crying stone.  Why does everything in Kenya have to involve hills?!?




    After seeing the stone we got back onto the bus, and after several hours of driving we arrived at the Western Kenya Museum.  


     However, this was NOT your typical museum.  In Kenya people interpret a "museum" to also mean a "zoo." (The idea being that you go there to experience ancient and current products of the culture)  

    We began by walking through the zoo where we met this guy:

 
    He's called a Black Mamba and he's one of the deadliest snakes in the world.  The sign above his cage said that his bite can kill a man in 2-3 minutes.  Needless to say I kept my distance.  For some reason I didn't think that the glass separating us was enough protection for me.
 
 


      Then, we saw this guy, "Just hanging out."  Look how close the students were able to get to it!  This exposure to a crocodile would never be allowed in an American zoo.






              

One of the students got a little too friendly with the family of turtles that we saw.


    
    In the middle of the tour of the zoo we were shown this invention.  It removes the methane gas from cow dung and captures it in canisters to be used for cooking, lighting, etc.  I thought that this should be used by every American cow farmer considering the number of cattle we raise in a year.


      
   
    We also saw some traditional African huts used by the first Kenyan settlers.












      Among them was this strange hut called the "first wife's hut."  At first I was under the impression that the first settlers of Kenya were very short.  Then, after talking with some Kenyan teachers, I found out that this was a security feature.  The first wife of the village stored fire wood, precious cattle and goats, and all the village leader's money in her hut.  And so, if a thief did try to steal anything, by the time he/she made it out of the hut with the goods, the village warriors would have the thief surrounded.

   
     Outside of the huts, some of the guys thought that they needed to take a "tough" picture to commemorate the trip.  I thought this was pretty funny.
 
 
 
 
 
 





 As we were leaving the "hut area" I saw these directions about how to enter a hut and had to laugh.  Then I thought...other people might want to read them and laugh too.














   
Inside of the museum we saw lots of cool artifacts from ancient Kenyan tribes.




I finally got to see some authentic African shields and spears.



One of the more interesting displays was this set of herbs used to treat all sorts of ailments.


Including this one used to treat syphilis!  I knew that the STD existed back then, but who know that there was an herbal treatment for it! 



Upon exiting the museum we saw this old-school tractor.  Thanks to a little help from power point and Microsoft Picture Viewer, I was able to blow up the sign on the front.  The museum makes a point to note things that were used by white settlers. 




Afterward, we took a trip to Mt. Elgon.  It's a famous mountain in Kenya because its' slopes are layered, meaning it's easier to walk, bike, drive up the mountain.  Unfortunately, as we arrived it started raining heavily, so the driver could only take us this far up the dirt roads (ironic, I know).  But I managed to snap a picture.






Our last stop on the trip was to see the waterfalls of Webuye,Kenya.  From a distance they looked pretty impressive.






 
 
But when I got closer I realized how truly breath-taking they were.  Here's a panoramic of the falls.  Sorry for it being a little off-center, but it was still raining and I didn't want my camera to get wet.  Rain or shine, though...I could have stayed here all day! 


This was not your typical class field trip, but I REALLY enjoyed myself!