Absolutely fabulous

Im sitting at Cyka‘s desk, using her i-book and eating left-overs from last night’s excelent Sushi meal. How surreal is that? Cyka and me know one another vaguely from having met at TG. We barely remember one another. A term that might be especially appropriate since I was, apparently, wearing the small blue number at the time.

Yesterday we failed to go to Nairobi’s monthly Black Cotton Club: She told me she knew how to get to Tala so I didnt put any directions to the town into my mail, she got bad directions from town and spent five hours looking for me. We headed back to town at a pace so as to avoid driving at night, we hit the speed ramps like a bat out of hell and nearly lost the road a few times. She had stuff to do before the onset of evening, things that would not have been a problem if she’d found my place in the hour or so it should have taken. But in the end there was a lot of stuff to do and her phone had gotten dropped in the morning and was broken so even when we got here she spent a long time trying to get numbers from people because they were in the phone memory and the phone was at the shop. (lesson to eveyone there, write your numbers down). Finally we went out late — oh she dressed up for it, something I couldnt match from my humble rucsack — and went for sushi which was excelent. We had plum wine with gold bits floating about in it. Quite opulent. In fact the whole weeknd has been like an episode from Absolutely Fabulous. We bailed on the club. Well I did, I had to sleep. She stayed up most of the night, I gather.

And today I was up in the morning and she was not. I had a lovely peaceful time in her beautiful garden drinking tea and reading a book on Taoism. Then she joined me at about lunch time and the adventure started anew. Before too long (though not quickly) we were packing up to take a roadtrip in the Toyota Hilux accross the rift valley. I had to work on my willingness because, although its a wonderful opportunity, I wasnt really prepared for it. And as the trip began — shopping for “snacks and supplies (… let’s go get lost, lets go get lost!)” it became clear from a number of telephone conversations I heard one half of, that there was some sort of disagreement going on between Cyka herself and the folk at the camp we were going to. Details not appropriate for this forum but it made me feel less comfortable. I considered, for a while, whether I was just being a coward and I should be more spontaneous (its part of my personal life-contract after all) or whether i really wasn’t sure I’d be safe. After our destination changed from the camp her b/f runs to some neighbouring one we werent even sure we would get into, I asked her if she’d mind if we called it off.

Back here now I actually feel releived, so I think I made the right choice, for me at any rate. I do want to see Kenya’s wonderful fauna, but I need to do it coming from a feeling of peacefulness.

Bishop Mark

No blog for two days because of road trips.

Wednesday: Sister took me to Machakos to meet the bishop and other catholic officials who, for example, sit on the board of governors at the college. While waiting for an audience with the bishop I was greeted by an old, wizzened and very poor looking lady. This was a plesant break to sitting on an armchair in a corridoor, until she knealt and kissed the ring on my right hand. Siddently it occurred to me that I was wearing a purple shirt… the color worn by bishops. I hope she was not offended that I did not offer her a blessing.

But it seems it is an easy mistake to make: on Thursday I went with Sister to Jomo Kenyata University of Agriculture and Technology. Here I met various people in various roles connected with the diploma course that the college teaches and which is accredited by the university. Some of them know who I am — sister had forewarned them, others did not. One bored acting-head-of-department asked me if I was a bishop or a priest (well, I had arrived wiht a nun and I was still wearing purple. When I told him the summary of my CV he put his boredome aside and started to list jobs I could do at the university and other ways in which I could get involved.

A very educational couple of days. I also visited the offices of The Nation (national newspaper) where Sister was placing a quarter-page advert encouraging students to come to the college, the Swedish Embassy (where Sister has been asking for financial help), and the house of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary in Nairobi where I was greeted by a small irish lady in a house-coat and slippers who said “I’m Dot”. Sister Dot has, apparently, worked in rural Kenya for over 6 years and has had cerebral malaria three times!


OK, Yesterday was my first real teaching. In the morning I taught a lesson on Javascript (and this morning I did the first lab session since then). I did a lot of question asking trying to find out what they knew and also to get them used to answering questions with me. We spent two hours doing that and didn’t get to the very humble learning objective I had set for the session. Not a good start, you might say. But I was happy with it. We covered a lot of what I think is important background conceptual stuff which they had not covered before. We differentiated between server-side javascript and client-side javascript and they figured it out for themselves from the information I had given them. That was the best part of the whole day for me…

… even better, in fact, than in the afternoon when, during ‘games’ lesson, I taught about 60 Kenyan girls the Charleston stroll! Yes, Sister Pauline invited me to do a dance lesson. I thought of doing the Jitterbug Stroll, but I don’t have the music with me. The shim-sham isn’t very physical and makes more sense to dancers, I think, so it had to the the only other stroll I know (most of); the one with “ooh, ah!, ooh, ah! in it (which did not cause as much embarrasement as I feared, either for the girls, or for sister). I will be interested to see how many are keen to do something else next time. I did, however, hear one of the girls humming the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Put A Lid On It as she walked away from the games field.

Its bloody hot here. That lesson nearly made me pass out. I joked that someone should bring me a soda, and sister brought me a warm Fanta that was very welcome. I dehydrated severely none the less. I drank lots when I got back to my house, and sat on the sofa for about an hour with a headache. Next time I will take more water to drink during the lesson. And that was for a lesson at 4pm when the sun is way past its zenith.
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A place of learning

Here’s the college. (note the satelite dish!). This is a smaller version of a picture I put on the college intranet web page.

HolyRosaryCollegeSmall (17k image)

I just taught my first proper class: Javascript. I enjoyed that too and I even managed to get the girls to answer a question that really involvd understanding what was going on. This sounds bad, they are smart girls but the style of teaching they are used to does not really involve that sort of interaction very much. They were trying very hard to answer my questions, I could tell. It was very encouraging.

I learned a lot at the weekend.

On friday I noticed the difference between my life and that of Shelley: she works for a NGO in Nairobi. Although she doesnt earn much more than me, she has an expensive lifestyle living in the city and mixing wiht ex-pats. Her home is more luxirious than mine but I imagine she has problems making the approprioate comprmoises on cost to live in the city.

On saturday I met the other volunteers. Some of them have (only just got into) homes that are much less luxurious than mine: they are dirty, dont have beds, etc. And there is the thing about their employers taking advantage of them — I dont thikn it would be entirely appropriate for me to give more details here at this time, but it was a real issue.

I think I have an easier life than both these parties. I am considering myself very lucky. And still feeling happy. Apparently it is normal to have a euphoric period at the start of a placement like this. It can last up to a few months. Then, according to some of the others who have been here a while, it gets hard and we need to support one another. At the moment I am missing someone who has the same frame of reference as me. This comprises mostly living in the UK, so I have been gettinga lot of support from you guys via this forum, email, and SMS messages. Over time, as Fede pointed out, my memories of the placement will add to those of home. I will need support of people who have the same experiences as me and then, it will be harder, though not impossible, for you guys to support me. I will get support from the other volunteers because they will be in the same boat. Hopefully this blog will enable you to share my boat, in a sense, and still be able to see where I’m coming from in a few months when it starts to drag a bit.
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