Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bitter Sweet

This first month, I have been extremely challenged in a culture I am quickly learning about. There are things that I already love about Africa and others that frustrate me. I recognize, however, this is all part of the adventure. Let’s start with school. We are three weeks in, and I have not had one uneventful day. It is amazing to work in a place that people have traveled, literally half way around the world, to teach at. There is a common cause that drew us all to these children and that creates a strong bond. However, our resources are limited, which leads to lack of organization. I crave things to be in order, especially in a work setting. I have had to bite my tongue a few times to save myself from getting in trouble. For example, the school supplies ordered last year have yet to come in. There was a strike in Mombassa, therefore no supplies. We’re lucky at this point to find a pencil with an eraser. I have been lesson planning in pen, not exactly ideal.

Kindergarten... one of my favorite classes to teach. I'm trying to get them to participate in PE, but you would think it is story time.

I am in the process of developing school programs and there is no one around that knows how to answer my questions. The school site principal is on furlough until January, and the interim principal is just trying desperately to survive the basics. Jim you were right, teaching overseas is much different. I miss you Reagan crew! Another plus to our school is that our average class size is roughly 20 students, Kindergarten through 11th grade. That is a dream number in the states. Despite the fact, there is work to be done, we leave school everyday around 4:00 pm. That is not enough time to get things done, but that’s when our ride says its time to go. We need our own car. Please be praying for this to happen sooner rather than later.

My time at home is spent differently now. Instead of going for a walk, going out on the town, or watching TV at night (with the exception of a season of House, that someone let us borrow), I now read books, cook, write emails saved on my computer, or grocery shop. So frequently? Yes! That’s what happens when you don’t have preservatives in your food. You make lots of trips to the store. Often times it is unsafe to be out after dark (about 6:00 pm.), so we come up with things to do at home. On weekends though, I have started taking Salsa lessons, we go to internet cafes, to church on Sundays, and we also visit people’s homes.

I live in a two bedroom/ 1 bath apartment. If you want to take a hot shower, you get up two hours ahead of time to turn on the water heater. And even then, it only lasts 10- 15 min. So I’ve started taking showers at night and my roommate takes hers in the morning. This also helps with the flooding problem. The shower floor is set down an inch from the floor in the hallway. It has a small drain in the corner that can’t keep up with the water coming out the faucet. Therefore, water everywhere. If we are not careful it will over flow into my room. Thankfully, that has only happened twice. I’m not sure what the architect was thinking when he constructed this area of the house. We recently got a used washer. This is a blessing, even if we can only use it for its spin cycle. The machine will not hold water, but it does a great job ringing out our clothes, which means… things dry faster! Dad what do you think about a quick trip to do some handy work?

Homesick. I have to say, when I first got here I wasn’t that homesick. Not like the last time I left home for six months. It is slowly seeping in though. Usually my down times I wish I could make a trip home. I love you family and I wish you guys could be a part of living in Africa. People said this would be an experience of a life time and that it is. Next weekend our school staff is going on a retreat. I am excited to get outside Nairobi and see some other sites.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Finding Differences in a New Culture

There are times where I don’t feel like I’m really here in Africa. For one reason, it’s cold! Who thought Africa would be cold, even though it is winter here. They also have a shopping center in the city where I live, called Nakumatt. It looks like a version of Walmart, minus a few American things. Within these four walls, I forget I am in a different country until I go to the register and I’m asked to pay 2,000 shillings. That sounds like a lot right? It looks like a lot! That is only about thirty dollars. And then sometimes… as my mind drifts into work mode here, it is interrupted by the electricity going out. I’m then quickly reminded that I am actually in Africa.
A good day, I have come to find out, consists of hot water, electricity, an internet connection, and a ride to work. We walk along the streets here and a majority of people are dressed better than myself. This is odd to me because a majority of people here live and work in places that are quite the contrary.

I felt like I really stood out when I first got here. Which I think is reasonable thinking. People watched and stared, but over time I’ve come to realize that they do this with each other as well. The African culture, it moves at its own pace. They have time to watch the day as it literally rolls by. At the same time, I do have to mention that people here are very hard workers. It requires a lot of effort when you do everything by hand.

There is something here called a “people section.” It is a truck bed crammed, that might be an understatement, of men who are getting a ride to work. I’ve been told that most of them are construction workers. It is awkward and slightly humorous to get behind one of these vehicles. Often we run into this situation in the morning. They point, stare, and laugh at our car, full of six white girls. What do you do when you can’t pass them other than laugh at what they must be thinking? Between us and them it is a bit of a comedy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First Day of School

I am blessed! Thank you to all of you who are in some way reaching out, whether it is through prayer, email, blog responses, or financial aid. Tearful eyes come when I think about the support I have behind me. Each and every one of you plays a huge part in the mission I am here for. It has been a little over two weeks since I arrived, and so far things are off to a good start.

The first official day of school has come and gone. I survived! Not that I didn’t think I would. First impressions are important though. In my opinion, they set a tone for the remainder of the year. It was a half day. This helps to ease our way back from a long summer break.

My day started in a third grade classroom and ended in the fourth grade classroom. I have a unique position this year. I am responsible to teach language arts to two grade levels, as well as K-5 Elementary PE. After school, I coach intramural sports and run a program called Community Development. This is a bit of a stretch for me, or what you might say is out of my comfort zone.

Community Development is a program designed to get kids involved in their surroundings. Last year, students worked with a local orphanage. This year, I am hoping to do the same, and also extend our resources a little more. My current ideas include… working in the slums (severe poverty areas) with other disabled children, helping with an AIDS awareness program, and fundraising for long term goals (ex. play equipment).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Getting Settled In

My access to the internet is through an internet cafe at the moment. Time online has been limited. Unfortunately, internet is on and off at school as well, so I (close your ears mom and dad) walked here today, by myself, so I could check my email. I implied that it isn't safe, but it is during the day. I'm learning my way around quickly.

Everyone is busy at work! I moved into my new apartment Tuesday. It is two bedrooms with one bath. Jennie, it’s not quite the place we had in the states. I miss our old place! I have one other person who lives with me, her name is Julie. This means I have a room to myself, something that wasn’t expected, but I am excited about. Julie and I are both new staff members so we have a lot to learn about being on our own, everything from how to sanitize and cook our food to how to pay the bills. There is no mail system locally, so we hand deliver everything. And since we are out a car that means a lot of walking. As a result, I’m thankful this will keep me in shape. We employ an askari (gate guard) for our compound and also house help (a maid). This is very common in Africa. Chores take a considerable amount of time because they are all done by hand, such as laundry, dishes, and cooking from scratch. The house help alleviates some of the daily stress since we are gone a good portion of the day. But it feels weird coming from a place that has slavery in our history. Although, that is not how it is perceived here.

The area we live in would be considered middle class, but at home we wouldn’t view it the same. Most would consider this a low income area. I feel conflicted in my heart because there has been times where I thought to myself… this place is old, and dirty, and I don’t own but a few things, but then I see on a daily basis people that are a lot less fortunate. I’ll admit that this is a struggle. God is good though, and we are taking this one day at a time. We have a place to call home now and that is an answer to prayer. No more living out of a suitcase!

Pictures of school. All week we have been setting up offices and classrooms. Full staff orientation starts Thursday(tomorrow). We finally get to meet the whole gang!

In the wild... real live giraffes. Saturday we took a trip to look at some wild life in Kenya. These long neck creatures were really friendly as long as you had food on you. Otherwise watch out for a nice head but. God's unique African creatures are all around, but birds and giraffes are the extent of what I have seen thus far.