30 July 2011

Finally, summer break!

The end of term has finally has arrived and in the teaching aspect, things are definitely rolling more smoothly. Unfortunately, I learned about many frustrating and disappointing information dealing with my school, which was kept hidden from me last term. Nothing much I can do except roll my eyes and continue teaching.

Anyways, I started a few small projects with another teacher and some students. I co-started a Young Farmers Club where we taught some students how to grow bag gardens (when you don’t have much land), learned how to make organic fertilizer (which is a smell I will never forget), taught them how to make paper charcoal, helped plant 43 moringa trees around the school compound, and gave out over 250 seedlings to the students to plant at their homes. These magic trees will hopefully contribute to a healthier diet and promote planting trees, but I hear they do not taste that great. We have harvested about 5kg of sukuma wiki from the bags, and sold 40/= worth of paper charcoal to the parents at 5/= for 2 pieces. YAY!

I also started a Red Cross Club. Unfortunately, this club is not going as smoothly as the Young Farmers. We met maybe twice this whole last term due to the games schedule and I only taught them how to stop bleeding, and clean cuts and lacerations. Next term I want them to build some type of permanent hand washing station near the choos to promote hygiene. If anybody has any good ideas/fun activities to teach proper hygiene, first aid, public health, etc. I’m all ears.

During games, I was the girls football coach, and coaching here is SO much different than in America. Besides a select few, the majority of the team refused to do more than one warm up lap, any of the drills, listen to my advice about not kicking with your toe, and basically did the opposite of everything I said. However, they played much better than I expected. Next term, I’m hoping to gather the more serious girls for smaller practices (instead of 50 girls showing up with one ball) so that for next year, they can help me coach the mass of girls who just want to get out of school for games.

Besides school, I guess the most exciting thing I did this term was participate in a sheep slaughter. They eat EVERYTHING. Intestines in Kenya are not like in Chinese restaurants. They taste like crap, literally. Cleaning of intestines include running a dirty fingernail through to push the leftover poop out and then rinse it with a little water. A couple of pieces were ok, but after piece 5, I just started swallowing without chewing. Spleen and pancreas has a nasty texture and taste, but lungs and stomach are pretty good. They have an “African Sausage” consisting of cooked blood and random pieces of insides contained in part of the large intestine. It looks scary, but actually tastes kind of good. They also have the sheep head/hooves soup where they crack open the skull to let the brain diffuse out and boil it for a couple of hours, which is a little oily, but tasty. Slaughtering of the sheep was not as traumatic as I thought it would be. I was more disgusted with the swarms of flies. If you let them be for 1 minute, the whole carcass and cutting station would be covered with layers and layers of flies. I’ll put up some of the bloody pictures sometime.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to Camp GLOW (girls leading our world) with 2 girls from my school and help out as a counselor, which I’m real excited for! The following week, my brothers, Theresa and Patricia are coming for two weeks! After a short stop at my site for a first aid demonstration, we’ll be going to Uganda for white water rafting and bungee jumping, Masai Mara for the wildebeest migration, Hells Gate and then chilling at the beaches of Watamu! I’m so excited, it’s hard to sit still.

That’s it for now. I hope everybody is enjoying the last month of summer back at home. Somebody eat some crabs for me and take a nice Ocean City trip! Btw, I’ve been seeing Ocean City, MD t shirts and MSI t shirts worn around in town, which brings a smile to my face!

02 July 2011

Quick Pictures

Here are a few pictures while I'm in Nairobi, too lazy to write a post now.

*WARNING* There are one or two pictures of blood, from a sheep slaughtering I helped out in, but I did not put any pictures of a bleeding to death sheep. Just before slaughtering and after killing and cleaned of blood. I also have a few pictures of the areas that the sheep was slaughtered with the blood just because it reminds me of Dexter, but they don’t seem to be too gruesome.


17 April 2011

End of First Term

First term finished, break until May, then second term begins. Compared to the beginning of the term, students are more responsive, teaching is becoming easier, and overall things are just meshing. Hopefully things will continue this way next term.

Right after term ended, the school BOG sponsored a trip to Mombasa (coast area) for the teachers. We spent a few days in Mombasa, visited Haller Park, Mtwapa, and Kenyatta Beach. Then, we spent a night in Malindi (North Coast) where we saw a lot of historical sites, went to a beach, Malindi National Marine Park, and took a boat ride to a sunken island. Teachers left back home the next day and I made my way back to Mombasa. 

Now, without the teachers, I spent a few days with some other volunteers in Mtwapa in this hostel where we slept in swahilibeds (hammock-like) in a tree house a few steps from the beach. It was beautiful waking up to the sunrise, watching the tide come and go while still in bed, and going for a dip whenever we wanted. But, it is the coast so of course the weather is HUMID. We would all wake up in the middle of the night in a pool of our own sweat and mosquitoes feasting on whichever part they can reach. The swahilibeds were also not the most comfortable but overall it was a nice experience. The fresh seafood was also delicious! After Mtwapa, I headed to Diani Beach (south coast, past Mombasa) which is more expensive, but way more relaxing. You're not bothered by beach boys and just a more relaxing atmosphere. We stayed in a cottage at Stilts hostel and even though we kept our doors locked and windows closed, there was a daily battle with monkeys somehow getting into our house and ripping open our food.

After a few days in Diani, I headed into Nairobi a day early and had myself a delicious sandwich with meat and cheese! Watched the Man U vs Man City and Real Madrid vs Barcelona football game at a bar and had a very nice evening with other volunteers in town. After traveling from city to city everyday for the last week and a half, I can finally put my large bag down and relax in the same city for the next 2 weeks. Tomorrow is the beginning of training and it has been great seeing the rest of the group and catching up/learning about their crazy schools and towns. I am with free fast Internet, so let me know when you guys want to Skype!

Finally able to upload pictures so click to see! 

07 March 2011

Mid Term

Sorry about the lack of updates, forgot I had a blog. We’re going into our 10th week of school. It has been a rough first 6 weeks, but beginning the 7th week to present, things are picking up! Students are getting more comfortable with me, beginning to understand my crazy accent, and the stares/giggles seem to be getting less (or I’m just not noticing it anymore).  Some students have even asked me to help them start a First Aid/Health club! We had mid terms (CATS) 2 weeks ago, and I just want to apologize to all teachers during exam week. Even though it was a shortened week, grading these exams was torture! A class of 54 students taking a 1.5 hour Biology exam took me 7 hours to completely finish grading (short answers only, no essays). Final exams are in a month, awesome.

After our midterms we got a much (mentally) needed mid term break. I ended up going to Nairobi for a night, met up with a friend and then we headed towards Naivasha for the extended weekend. In Nairobi, we went to a brewery and the beer and food was absolutely delicious! First hamburger in Kenya, oo how I missed you old friend! In my opinion, the food and beer was better than Gordon Biersch, but my memory and taste buds could be playing tricks on me since I haven’t eaten anything except cabbage and githeri in over 2 months. The next day, we headed towards Naivasha and had some delicious crayfish outside of the park! Got our bikes, strapped our gear, and entered Hell’s Gate National Park! The first day we set up camp and did a 14km bike ride called the Buffalo circuit. The first half was downhill/not too steep but then suddenly we hit a hill. Then after that, we hit another hill, but steeper, then after that the hills were just never ending. I think that was the hardest bike ride I’ve ever been on (even though I wussed out and walked the majority of the hills). Finally we got to the top of the last hill and started descending downhill, heading back towards camp with a beautiful view of Mount Longonot. Along the circuit we saw giraffes, hartebeests, warthogs, gazelles, impalas, pigeon fowl, and zebras. The next morning, I heard baboons around campsite (normal), but they left pretty quickly. Then, we noticed some large cat prints around our campsite and realized we were sleeping while a leopard was roaming around us and that’s why the baboons didn’t stay longer. Anyways we headed down towards the gorge. Great/fun hike and beautiful scenery! On our way back to camp, we saw buffalos! Lots of them! Got back to camp, packed our stuff and then slept at another campsite outside of the park next to Lake Naivasha, which means next to hippos and monkeys! This campsite had BOMB pizza! Oh man… the food that weekend was just DROOOOOOOLLLLL……

Came back to site and continued grading papers. Fun! Back into my normal routine, waking up at 5:30 to the farm animals, if I can’t get back to sleep, I’ll go for a run. Go to school around 7:30, get back home between 5:30 and 6:30PM (yes looong work days). Then, cook dinner (cabbage mostly), watch some How I Met Your Mother/read a book/ catch up on email/attempt a puzzle, etc… and then to bed at latest 10:30pm. On weekends, if I’m not accompanying students to their extracurricular activities (cross country, math competitions, science congress, etc.), then I’m just doing laundry, cleaning the house, walking around town, and basically just bumming around. Exciting, I know!

Cannot wait for IST in April! 2 weeks in Nairobi with free/fast internet (skype drinking party anybody?), 2 weeks of other volunteers, 2 weeks of hot showers and flushing toilets,  2 weeks of dancing with other people and not just alone in my house, and 2 weeks of delicious food! Ohhhh can’t wait!

13 January 2011

School Has Started... Sort of

Classes started last week, but of course the teachers and administration started on the same day. When I tried to explain that in America the staff come at least a couple of days before the students start to arrive so everything would be prepared and classes can be taught on the first day, but they just looked at me like I was crazy.

Teacher: “Doesn’t that cut the teachers break short? Why should we get a shorter break?”
Me: “If we came maybe 3 days earlier we could have started teaching on the first day and the students wouldn’t be sitting in the classrooms doing nothing.”
Teacher: *stares, wide-eyed* “I don’t understand, why should we have shorter break?”
Me: “Our job as teachers is to teach these students, not let them sit in class and do nothing while we organize ourselves”
Teacher: *another blank stare* “Sifahamu (I don’t understand)” *walks away*
Me (in my head): You’re paid to teach these students, do your freaking job.

So, I didn’t actually meet my students until the second week of school, but of course 2/3 of the students were sent home because they haven’t paid their school fees (though secondary school should be public and free). Why they weren’t sent home the first week when they were just sitting doing nothing is beyond me.

The first day of actual class was spent giving out books, taking down numbers, introducing myself, explaining the difference between America and Kenya, explaining why I’m here, and trying not to let the whispering/giggling and wide-eyed, open-mouthed stares bother me. On the second day, I taught a double lesson, but I can’t tell if they actually understood the info the material. It’s like talking to a brick wall. They just stare, stare, maybe whisper and giggle, but mostly just stare. When they do speak or answer a question, they whisper the answer to me or they put their hands over the mouth and answer the question, so I have to ask them to repeat maybe 5 times before I actually understand.

Everyday I do notice that the whispering and staring diminishes a little. Some students even greet and converse with me like I’m human.

Until February I’ll only be teaching one Biology class (4 classes a week) and 1 PE/Life Skills class a week. I’m waiting for Form 1s (freshmen) to arrive. The Form 1 students are waiting to be chosen to be accepted into a school. It’s like a draft based on how they did on their KCPE (national exam for primary schools). Basically it’s like applying to college solely based on your SAT scores, if the SAT was a cumulative exam of what you learned the past 8 years in each subject. So, until February (hopefully they’ll show up on time) I’ll have ample of time to keep staring at my walls.   

On a side note, I’ve seen my first fresh dead body. I was on a matatu and then noticed that we were slowing down on some random road. I thought we were just going to squeeze another person into this already packed matatu, but then we came to a full stop and everybody got out of the matatu. Before I realized what was happening, I was being pushed towards a crowd where everybody was grouped around a woman sprawled on the road, many bones obviously broken, blood coming out of her head, and cabbage scattered all around her. Apparently she was hit by a matatu, but not sure if it was hit and run or if police took care of it. Some prayed, but most people just gawked. Then before I knew it, they pushed me back onto the matatu and we left. That is a hard image to erase from your head, but apparently it’s common to see bodies on the side of the road hit by car/bus/pikipiki. It is uncommon however for the matatu to stop and everybody get out to stare. Sigh, TIA.

02 January 2011

Happy 2011

Just came back from an amazing trip to Meru (about 6-7 hour matatu ride). It’s a much larger city than Sipili and they have a Nakumatt (wal-mart type store)!!!!! This trip was filled with delicious non-Kenyan food (grilled cheese sandwiches, PIZZA, minestrone, garlic cheese mashed potatoes, garlic cheese bread, more cheese, chili, scones, French toast, burgers, salad, etc), fabulous friends, flushing toilets, hot showers, wine, liquor, and an awesome hike!

On New Years Eve, we went to a club which cost us 260ksh (~$3) to get in, which went into the first drinks that we bought (it bought us 2 beers). We danced, danced, and danced! There was no countdown to the New Year, so all of us foreigners looked crazy screaming the countdown. We decided to leave around 2am, but apparently most of the locals were going to another club. Champs…

New Years Day, after being able to sleep in because roosters don’t crow every hour starting from 3am in Meru and there were no goats and donkeys nearby, we went on an awesome hike and saw 2 waterfalls! The hike itself was probably around 4-5km or so, with the first 2-3 km on a big road, but once we went off the road, it was quite an experience! The first 0.5km started off really steep so we were snowboarding down on the dirt and grabbing trees and vines to either keep us from falling, or to slow us down after falling and sliding down the large hill. Then, the next 2 km consisted of up down up down up down, climb around/through this tree, don’t fall in this stream, up down up down, climb a few boulders, don’t fall into that marsh, jump across this swamp, up and down a few more boulders and finally we have reached the big waterfall! We even got to go directly behind the waterfall, which is an experience that I highly recommend if you ever get a chance!

Now, I’m back in Sipili, in my lonely, non-cozy, still furniture-less house. I have set up plastic bags around my sitting room so people can sit on them though. The fundi (carpenters/handymen) were supposed to come to my house to start measuring and give me an estimate before Christmas, but surprise surprise, they’re taking their sweet time. Eh whatever, they’ll eventually show up.

Anyways, school starts tomorrow! I am so excited to meet the students and to start having responsibilities and obligations again! Before the trip, these past 2 weeks have been filled with, staring at walls, staring at trees, chewing sugar cane, purposely getting lost so that it will take some time for me to find my way back, reading, sudoku, and more sitting and staring at absolutely nothing. Once in awhile there will be some kind of awkward conversation with a local who either doesn’t believe I’m from America or that I’m actually living in this town for the next 2 years to teach their children. Once I actually start teaching and these locals start getting used to seeing this “mzungu” in their town, it’ll get better. Hopefully in a month I’ll stop being the center of attention wherever I go and people will start ignoring me, again… hopefully. Oh, I did help my counterpart to plant his small shamba! We planted about 125 spinach plants, watermelon, cabbage, cauliflower, and some other stuff I can’t remember. But, in 1 month or so, some of them will be ready to eat. Right now, he just has fruit that are ripening, so I’m kind of on a fruit binge right now.

22 December 2010


Moved into my new residence! 2 room house (1 bedroom and 1 living room/kitchen). I cook with a kerosene stove or a hot plate either at my front door or outside for ventilation. The only type of furniture that I own right now is a bed and mattress. I have a borrowed stool and coffee table, but mostly I sit on the floor. There is no running water, but I do have electricity, except it is only hooked up to handle simple charging and lights. Cooking for an extended period with a hot plate usually ends up with me short-circuiting something (thank goodness for surge protectors). My bucket bathroom is about 10 feet across from the house, along with my choo (this is the smallest choo hole I have seen yet and it causes my overall accuracy percentage to rapidly decrease). I live in a family compound which means my counterpart is in the house 10-15 feet across, but at least it’s a completely separate house.

The town itself is a lot calmer compared to Loitokitok, with less people and no/less screaming obnoxious children. Before coming I was told that Laikipia is dry, dry and dry, so food security is an issue, which is true, except in my town. I live in a small town/village called Sipili and even though it is real dry, people have found a way to have sustainable farms. Many people (especially my counterpart) are also really into organic farming. He saved me a part of his shamba (farm) so that I can grow what I want, which is AWESOME! Also, they don’t just eat simple carbohydrate foods like ugali and rice. They believe in whole grain and in spices (other than salt)! I almost forgot what pepper tasted like. By the way, if anybody gets a chance to taste a tree tomato, do it! It is my new favorite fruit!

The school I am teaching at has 4 greenhouses, a botanical garden (in progress), a huge farm, and some cows, chickens, rabbits, and goats. The school itself is the biggest school I have been in since coming to Kenya. It has over 400 students, which means each one of my classes will probably have around 40-50 students. Classes start “January 4th”, but that does not factor in Kenyan time (which is 5x worse than Asian time). The students will still be helping out in the shamba, since it is still harvest season. Thus, I was told not to expect the majority of my students until mid/late January, maybe even February.   

I have a new address, and if I forgot to email it to you, then let me know and I'll send it to you!

If you already sent something and it is on route to the old address, don’t worry, it will find me somehow.

Happy Holidays everybody!