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

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

                             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?"


"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!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Re-Education on Water Conservation

During my time as a science major at Wabash College, I learned a lot of important information about water. If you asked me to condense my education about the substance down to a few important points, I would have to say that:

1. Water is the universal solvent (meaning that it can break down lots of substances over extended periods of time)

2. Water is unique because it’s the only substance to get less dense as it transforms from a liquid to a solid

And most importantly…

3. Life couldn’t exist without it.

When we visited Cairo, Egypt water was literally EVERYWHERE. Our hotel was right next to the Nile River, store vendors would use water to wash the concrete slabs in front of their venues every day, and there were water stands on every corner selling Americans and other tourists purified bottled water like the one in this picture. There was never a concern for obtaining water.

But in rural Kenya, water sources sometimes look like this…

In Kenya, practicing water conservation is essential. Although the country of Kenya touches Lake Victoria (which borders Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) it’s important to understand that the water from this lake doesn’t extend across the entire countries. In fact, several farmers in Northern Kenya are impoverished and starving because of the desertification occurring in this region. So it goes without saying that Kenyans understand how precious water is. Many of the Kenyans I know were never particularly fond of studying science, they don’t hold jobs in chemistry or environmental science, and most have never studied at the university level. However, they all understand that third piece of information that I learned at Wabash…

Life couldn’t exist without water

I once talked with a Kenyan school administrator who jokingly stated, “In Kenya, we have lots of water, but we don’t know what to do with it!” At first this statement was very confusing to me (given the information I just stated), but then I realized that he was referring to the rainy season. You see in Kenya, like many African countries, there is no “winter” season. So far I’ve met five Kenyans who have actually experienced snow. (3 Kenyan students studying in America, and 2 teachers here who got the opportunity to visit America) In Kenya there are dry seasons and rainy seasons…that’s it. Right now, we are in the rainy season, which means that it’s sunny and warm during the days, and it rains heavily during the nights.

Kenyans love the rainy seasons. It easily rains 6-10 inches (my estimation) everyday. During this time fruits and vegetables grow in abundance. You have the more noticeable crops that serve as staple foods

like maize (corn)…

and grass for cows.

Interestingly, Americans feed our cows corn because we produce so much of it that we have excess. However, Kenyans only feed their cows grass. Grass-fed cow meat is MUCH healthier for you, but it takes the cows several years to get as big as our cows can in several months (thanks growth hormones!).

You also see lots of local Kenyan foods growing

like yams…

and “emiro” plants.

During my time here I’ve also been introduced to exotic plants that bear some of my favorite fruits…

including guava plants

and mango trees.

However, to maintain these crops every rainy season, Kenyan citizens must be aware of how the local plants are using the water. I can recall walking with Ben (our unofficial tour guide) one day when he showed us a row of trees that had been cut down. He explained that the wood would be used to repair bridges and construct houses like this one:

And YES, this Kenyan home is made of mud on the exterior!

Immediately I asked, “Ben, why don’t Kenyans just grow bamboo? It grows three times as fast as other trees, and when layered, it’s just as strong as other types of wood!” Ben simply smiled and replied, “We could use bamboo which grows three times faster, but it would absorb three times as much water in the process.” That’s when I realized that as an American, I knew nothing about Kenyan water conservation. (I just got schooled!)

In fact, Kenyans do grow some bamboo, but only to use for fencing and other small projects.

The more common practice, instead, is to replace older trees that get cut down with young ones like these.

I got to be a part of the water conservation effort two days ago, when I happened to walk out onto the back porch during the evening rains. I noticed that Mora, the little girl whose family lives behind our host’s home, was frantically placing plastic tubs on the ground all along the edge of the roof. As I stared at her and the tubs, I realized that she was intentionally collecting rainwater from the roof. I had to take a picture…

It was the first time that I had noticed the special shape of the roofs that covered all the houses in this area. Their grooved shape is specially designed to collect rainwater!

Even the gutters of the house were designed so that rainwater could collect in strategically placed storage bins.

In case you’re wondering, rainwater is drinkable in some situations, but it’s still best to boil the water to kill any harmful bacteria or parasites.
Then, I saw a form of innovation that could only be described as SIMPLY-GENIUS.  Wilemina’s son, Sam grabbed a long tube (simple) to funnel water into large storage bins on the back porch (genius).

The knowledge hit me like a ton of bricks. The water that we had been using to wash our hands…to clean our clothing…and to bathe in was THIS RAINWATER!

Even Mora, a third grader, understood how important this rainfall was, as depicted in this picture of her filling a plastic bin with some of the collected rain water.

(Pause for sanity’s sake…)
So, you know those moments when you realize that someone has been going out of their way to help you, and you’ve been taking them for granted? Well, that’s how I felt just then. I was using such a precious commodity and not even considering the work that others contributed to make me feel comfortable.

I felt compelled to “do my part” in this conservation act. I saw Sam begin to fill some smaller plastic containers with the rainwater. So I started grabbing plastic containers and helping him fill them all. Surprisingly, the work wasn’t very difficult, but it ensured that his family, Mora’s family, and David and I had ample water for the next few weeks.

Here are all the containers that we filled.

And here is a picture of the water drum that I never noticed outside of my room. I’m sure that the ingenious gutter system that fed into this drum filled it with just as much (if not more) water as the containers that I filled.

Thank you citizens of Kenya for helping me to think differently about the way we use water in America. In my apartment in Arkansas I would just turn a knob and water would come out of a faucet, or I would take a shower in GALLONS of drinkable water without thinking twice about it. Now I see that water is a precious resource and one that we shouldn’t take for granted. I can’t wait to get back to the US to figure out ways to maximize my water conservation.