Saturday, January 30, 2010


This is especially for my 11 year old nephews whom I'm sure can find something amusing here! The stall on left is my "toilet". It's basically a hole in cement (in india they called it a squattx potty). Being the near OCD that I am about clean bathrooms, mine is very clean ( I use bleach and detergent in the flush water). Some kenyans say you either have to go short call or long call. I have also added just for my own amusement what I call Zach call which is a short call (pee) but it goes on and on! You nephews get why it's called zach! A zach call is sometimes good because it also helps flush - sorry for that...just "keeping it real". Of course the other stall is my "bath-shower" which is not too bad, I just wish I didn't have to walk outside to get to it. I can't walk out there in a towel so it's a little annoying to have to go wearing something and put it back on before I walk back to room. I'M hoping to convince the landlord to build a temp fence of sorts that would allow me to walk back and forth "unseen". That's all for now.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Kitchen after 7pm

So, I got home later than usual this friday since I somehow became asst games master at school so I was at the next "town" for soccer (which made me a big hit with the male students - a good thing for future). Back to pic... I was late making something to eat, so thought I'd post pic of my "kitchen". Stay tuned for exciting pics of my "bathroom".

Monday, January 25, 2010

My "house"

Not sure if this pic captures it, but the two "front doors" are the doors to my kitchen and bedroom. These are basically two separate cement block rooms with nothing in them - no counters, no shelves, no sinks, no furniture. The bldg to left is my toilet in one stall and bath area in the next. To take a "bath" I have to first go to my kitchen room where I keep jugs of water, fill basin with water, go to bedroom to get little basin with soap, etc, then carry those along with my towel to the outdoor stall (of course i also have to be dressed since i have to go outside). Finally i get in stall, close door, and take like a bucket bath - sometimes if i feel like taking extra time i fill my solar shower which is fantastic! So i have 4 different doors with 4 different padlocks. To me that is more challenging than no elec. But as with anything i've already developed a routine of sorts that makes it seem easier. I'd still like to move to a house that is all self-contained. We'll see?

Video of mombasa traffic

School in Kenya

Short note first...I tried to attach a video of traffic in Mombasa but not sure if it is viewable. I did this especially for Jo & Rob as it will be reminiscient of their time in Bangalore, India! Crazy stuff. They call those little carts "tuk-tuks".

Many of you have asked about my school day. It really is hard to explain, but I will give you some information. First it's easier if you understand the national schooling system in Kenya (of course I really don't understand it either, but I can give you a glimpse). About 7 years ago or so the government instituted free primary education for all kenyans. Now of course, this seems like something we would all support and probably should, but what happened was that all these kids who previously couldn't or wouldn't pay a nominal fee to attend public school (we pay in the US too, through taxes) all of the sudden flooded into the schools. It doesn't take an economics genius or any other genius to figure out that basic supply and demand does have its consequences. So, for example the primary school here used to have about 300 students. Now it easily has about 1000 students attending the same school...but of course there is a severe shortage of teachers. You know how few politicians think ahead on these things because I mean who doesn't want to support free education for all? [Aside, remember this when free university ed for all americans is proposed] So, at the primary school here there is about the same number of teachers but about triple the number of students. It is not unusual to see a classroom with 80-100 students. The other evening I was sitting outside across "the street" from me talking to an old retired teacher (he's known as Mwalimu Kombo) and he agreed that it is almost impossible to actually teach anything in the primary school. Out of the almost 1000 students he said that maybe 10 will score high enough on the National Primary Exam (KCPE) to go to a National School (which almost ensures you a better education). So, as things go, the education is "free" but there are definitely huge disparities (I think much larger than in the US). Essentially there are schools at various levels (national, provincial, district, public, private) that all are competing to get kids. The students have to take the KCPE after grade 8 and that one score determines if you can even apply to some of the better schools (now that's high stakes). Plus, there are some kids who do manage to score high but then can't afford one of the better schools. Then, after Form 4 (grade 12) they take the second national exam (KCSE) and that score essentially follows them around the rest of their life here in Kenya. It determines whether you can enter college and even the level of job that you can get. Kind of crazy to me.

Anyway - I tell you all this to say that Peace Corps of course places volunteers in public schools that have great needs. So, we don't teach in any national or provincial schools. My school is even "lower on the totem pole". It is not even a registered school. Basically after these last years of free primary ed there was a wave of students in the area with nowhere to attend secondary school. Most of them have scored way below the average on the KCPE and could not afford even to go anywhere else, so the community got together and formed this secondary school only two years ago. So, the school is one building that consists of two classrooms and that is it. There is no office, no staff room, no anything else.

So, I go to school usually about 7am and go to the primary school where we have a small room that serves as our office/staff room. There are very little resources. Most of the students don't have books so you can teach something but if you want to assign problems from the book then you either have to write them all out by hand and post it up on the wall with masking tape and the students can all copy into their notebooks. Or you can just leave the book and the students will copy problems sometime during the day. The schedule is very loosely done. In Kenya the students stay in one room all day and the teachers move from room to room. Of course, in this case we don't even have a desk in the room in which we could maybe keep stuff there to use, so again you really don't have many resources. I don't teach at the same time every day so it is a little confusing. They just made a chart with available times and then starting kind of randomly filling in classes. For example, today I taught the Form 3 Math class twice (2 lessons in one day) and the Form 2 class once. I teach 6 lessons for each classs in a week. The other weird thing to me is that sometimes the teachers just decide to teach extra lessons whenever they feel like it and the schedule allows. So, for example, if a teacher isn't there that day or just doesn't show up for class (yes, that happens) then another teacher might just go to the class and say, okay, now we will do more physics or whatever. Also, the students are supposed to be "on campus" from 7am-5pm. Classes end at 4pm, but a teacher might just decide on the spur of the moment to have their class stay and attend another lecture from 4 - 5. So, I sometimes don't know who is teaching what or when. It's only been two weeks so I'm guessing I'll figure out the schedule soon. The actual teaching part for me is great. I'm glad that I have lots of experience. I don't know how a novice with no experience would fare in this particular situation, but that's probably one of the reasons they sent me here and not to another more well established school. So, I teach 2-3 lessons a day. Then, during the other times I get ready for class and/or answer student questions or sometimes do an extra lesson if the class is "free". I'm trying to involve the students in working together to solve problems, etc... and it's going okay but it is a little difficult when you can't make copies of papers, you don't have paper, you don't have chalk, the students don't have paper, or many other things that might occur on any given day.

But, as usual I figure that if I can get the students' thinking, then all of that other stuff doesn't matter (wishful thinking on my part??). I know that some of you would like to help out and I will let you know as time goes by. One thing the Peace Corps doesn't really want us to do is come for two years and supply the school with lots of stuff and then that stuff disappears when we leave. We are trying to come up with plans that are more sustainable for the school. So, give me some time to learn the school and students and I'll let you know what we can do. All in all, I love the teaching, but that's not unexpected. I hope I can report some inspiring stories someday of things happening here at Marereni Secondary. At the very least, I'll be able to help them think about math.

Okay - battery is down to 59% so better go. Blessings.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

At my "home" in Marereni Kenya

I finally got my netbook charged so I am writing a quick post before the battery goes again. So - I am here in Marereni, about 45 minutes from Malindi (apparently a beach getaway for even famous people like Nicolas Cage). Of course, I haven't seen those places. I am living here in a strange arrangement of two rooms of a 4-room "blockhouse" with no electricity and of course no running water. So, my "bathroom" is like two outhouses next to each other, one for toilet and one for bathhouse. It's kind of strange and hard to imagine but I've already somewhat adjusted. However, my principal is looking at another house for me that is closer to the school and has the bathroom inside. So - I won't complain if I do get moved. But, for now it's just how it is. I usually go to bed about 9pm because it is hard to do work when there is no light. I have a kerosene lantern, but that's not so great for seeing papers or reading. Maybe I'll get another and two will make it better? I do have a headlamp type thing that is solar charged so I take it to school with me during the day and let it out in the sun so I can wear it at night to at least have some reading light. It is actually pretty good. I can't take too much time here, but I will give you a few ideas of my current life in short bullet-form:

  • I try not to go to the outhouse much after dark because there are big roach type bugs that sometimes appear -- yikes!

  • I rode to Malindi last week on a matatu (like a 15-seater van) with probably about 20 people stuffed in and two goats under the seats

  • In Malindi it is a tourist type place (many Italians and Germans visiting the resorts/beaches) so there are these "beach boys" who walk around and try to get you to pay them to take you around the town. I successfully told one in kiswahili that I wasn't a tourist, I was a teacher at a secondary school and right after he simply said "kwaheri" (goodbye). So, that was a victory.

  • My Form 3 class (like grade 11) is mostly boys and very inquisitive. I like that class a lot. One of the boys said he wanted to be president of the US just like Obama. I said, well, you can't because you were not born in the US. He and several others were a bit confused because they said that Obama is a native Kenyan and he's president, so why can't they be? (Many Kenyans consider Obama a native Kenyan and even say he was born here. Anyone want to research that one?? *smile*) So, I told them that his father was Kenyan but his mother was american. And one of them asked suprisingly, "You mean an american woman is allowed to marry a kenyan?". It's really interesting the things that they do and do not know through experience.

  • Another day about four boys were helping to go get this bed frame that I had to have made. As we were walking they asked lots of questions. One asked about if I had kids, etc... I said, no I never had kids. So, he innocently says, "You mean you're a spinster?". So, of course I laughed and said, well, yes we usually don't use that word in the US, but yes.

I hope to share more soon. It's so hard to explain the "town" but essentially it is a small village on the main Malindi-Lamu road so it is easy to get to by bus/matatu. So, that is good. But, it is very simple. People live in mud-houses and have dirt floors. At any given time (even at night) you can hear burros (donkeys) milling around outside and baying loudly sometimes. There are at times goats and chickens walking through my "front yard". But, you get used to it all.

I'm trying to attach a few pictures. I'll take more as time goes by. For now, kwaheri.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Trying to post from phone.