Friday, February 20, 2009

hangs between

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Placed on this isthmus in a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the skeptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die; and reas’ning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such,
Whether he thinks too little or too much;
Chaos of Thought and Passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise, and half to fall;
Great Lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled;
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!
~Alexander Pope


I know, I know - I’m not updating enough. But really there’s nothing that incredibly exciting going on. I know people want pictures too but that’s going to have to wait a while longer. I get online through my cell phone and pay by the bite (amount of info transferred) – pics would be expensive.

I’ve been teaching for 2 weeks now. I’m still experimenting with ways to teach these children and behavior is still a big issue. This week I tried to do a little experiment – wanted to see how my Class 2 and 3 kids compare to the older students abilities. I asked a couple Class 4 and 5 kids to write a sentence about something they like. “You like to run. You like school. Something.” Blank stares and then one girl started copying the days of the week off a poster hanging on the wall. A lot of the kids love math. It makes sense to me. Although, they don't really seem to understand what they are doing they love using the multiplication chart and were pretty excited when I showed them the lattice method for multiply large numbers. It's really the only subject that doesn't require them to read a lot of English. But my Class 2 kids can't even count yet. "Fill in the blank. 23, _, _, 26" Nope. I just don’t know…

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. (I’m actually out of books now until I can borrow more from someone or get my boxes that are waiting in Nairobi.)

Stones from the River – Ursual Hegi
Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria Rilke
Unbowed – Wangari Maathai
Can-Cans, Cats and Cities of Ash – Mark Twain
Kite Runner – Khaled Hossein
The Unheard – Josh Swiller

It saddens me that my kids will never enjoy reading like I do – never really have the opportunity to enjoy reading. But I don’t know how to change that even a little.

So, a typical day for me:
I get up around 6am and get dressed and ready. Around 6:50 I go outside and buy mandazi which I eat while I check email and Kenyan newspapers online. At 7:15 my counterpart comes by and we walk to school together.
8:00 – English Class 2 and 3
9:00 – Math Nursery Class
10:00 – tea and mandazi break
11:00 – Social Studies Class 2 and 3 (Mon/Tue) Environment Nursery Class (Wed/Thu/Fri)
12:00 – Lunch Break
2:00 – Creative Arts Class 2 and 3 (Wed/Thu/Fri)
3:00 – Class finished kids play, I read
I leave school at 4pm and walk home with my counterpart. As soon as I get home I jump into a cold shower because I’m hot a sweaty and if I sit down to relax for even a second I’m not going to enjoy the cold water (of course, that’s only if the water is working.) The rest of the night I eat a snack (either cinnamon “toast” or fried potatoes,) check blogs, read, etc. For dinner I usually have a peanut butter and banana or peanut butter and honey sandwich. Although, I did find some avocados at the market last weekend so I had more variety this week. Around 9pm I go to bed.

Friday, February 6, 2009

struggles and experiments

So, I’ve been back at school for a week now that the strike is over. I wouldn’t really call what I’ve been doing teaching though – more experimenting, trying to find ways to work with these kids; figuring out what they know and even what they understand is expected of them at school. Behavior has been a major issue for me, especially with my nursery students that have no language skills. All the children know how to copy from the blackboard though. So “fill in the blanks” are copied word for word, blank line and all.

My latest experiment was a book (of course.) On Wednesday I got the kids in a circle and read them a book. A simple book, really only one word - hug. The pictures tell more of the story. After I read the book I had each of the kids read the book to the class. 6 kids! 6 times to see the same story! But it worked! They enjoyed it! And even the child that has no language (and is usually kicking and throwing things at the other students) tried to tell the story and sat the entire hour! Unfortunately, I don’t have enough books to do that everyday or even every week but it’s a start.

My first week I struggled trying to get the kids to be creative. Draw a cat, the sun, yourself – they just wanted to copy what I did on the board or copy out of a book. But this week a few have gotten excited about drawing. So that makes me hopeful.

It’s really a mess of emotions, being worried about how I’m going to teach these kids one moment and excited about trying to find ways the next.

As of Monday, I have 23 months left in Kenya. Seems insane to me! Both the thought I’ll be here for 23 more months and the idea that I’ve already been here for 3! I hear that the first 3 months are the hardest (not including the 2 months of training, so still 2 hard months to go.) Then, after in-service training in April, it gets easier/goes faster. We’ll see…

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

more moon

I see the moon and the moon sees me
And the moon sees somebody I’d like to see
God bless the moon and God bless me
And God bless the somebody I’d like to see
(song from childhood)

New address! Love me further! Love me faster!

Erin Mercer
Takaye Primary School
PO Box 287
Malindi, Kenya

Sunday, February 1, 2009

the ants go marching

(written last Wednesday but unable to post)

And so the strike continues into the second week. This morning the teacher’s union had a meeting with the Parliamentary Committee on Education. I have yet to hear the outcome. At first I welcomed a few extra days to settle into my house and work on lesson plans but now I have too much time to think and second-guess everything. I guess I got what I asked for - more time. But this isn’t the kind of time I wanted, so last Thursday I went out and bought a dvd to occupy some of my thinking time. On this one dvd there are about 15 movies supposedly pertaining to the theme of the 80th Annual Academy Awards, although I seriously doubt either of the two Steven Seagal movies won any Oscars along with a number of other questionable movies. But in the past week I have enjoyed The Golden Compass, Juno, La Vie En Rose, Michael Clayton, and The Assassination of Jesse James. I don’t think Butterfly on a Wheel won anything but it was adequate entertainment. Today however I decided to watch one of the lesser promising movies In the Name of the King (it actually has quite a few recognizable actors.) I was reminded that I paid the equivalent of $5 for 15 movies when randomly in the middle of a major battle scene the audio switched to German voice-over for a good 5 minutes. I still have The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and No Country for Old men to enjoy. I can also watch Atonement and Sweeny Todd again. And there are always the Steven Seagal movies.

But I haven’t only been watching movies throughout my time off. I frequently walk to town, to the pier and along the gorgeous beach. I’m trying to visit a different restaurant each day I go to town – even if only for a soda. I also visit fellow teachers and this past weekend I (and another volunteer) took a trip to Mombasa to visit the Deaf Ed volunteer down there. While in Mombasa I was able to pick up a few supplies I haven’t been able to find in Malindi, get some tech help, enjoy a good Wimpy burger and some good Kenyan Chinese food, test out the Likoni ferry, and share stories, thoughts, hopes and worries with my friends. (Check out Paul’s blog for pics.) Returning home I was greeted by thousands of ants making nests in the corners of my house, on my curtains, and even on my ceiling. I’ve won a few battles but the war continues. I ran into my supervisor in town today and he took me to the Malindi Police Department to introduce me. After trying both Monday and Tuesday, today I was finally able to buy a fan for my house and I look forward to a sweat-less night with dry hair! There are plans to go to Mombasa again this weekend for a volunteer’s birthday; stay at a hotel and go swimming and dancing. I’m excited!

I wish there was more to say about working with my students. Hopefully soon! I also want to look into some environmental projects around here like the Malindi Green Town Movement.

Hold all letters and packages for the moment - I’m going to see if I can use the school’s PO to receive mail, because that would definitely get to me faster.

UPDATE: As I was heading to Mombasa on Friday I found out the strike is over. I will resume work Monday.