The power to read

Yesterday I went to graduation at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Graduands sat in the sun in the square under parasols and umbrellas. Sister Pauline blagged me in on her invitation from the Vice Chancellor so we sat on the dais in the shade, and stood every now and then when the new Chancellor stood to confer a degree or two. Or three. Or more… 1564 students graduated with various degrees.
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Breach of contract

It seems like a lifetime ago now that I tried to negotiate a learning contract with my stage II students. What a lovely idea that was, at the time: “Make it fun!”, and “Be Proud”. Hah!

This morning, those students have taken their programming exam. It was not pleasant. I’m told some were seen crying afterwards. I felt as if their faces were saying “you’ve not prepared us for this”. Maybe it was just in my mind. But I didn’t feel proud of the preparation I’ve given them. I’ve done my best to teach them to program. Why? I knew what the exam was going to be like: define this,
explain what you understand by that, list the other.

And this afternoon they came back into the same room for their final Continuous Assessment Test (CAT). As they completed their tests they came to the front and left them in a pile on my desk before leaving the room. Some wanted to put their work in the middle of the pile. Not sure what the logic of that was, but I told them to put them on the top and those who didn’t I fished out and put there myself. Even managed to get a smile from one of them that way.

They’d tried and tried to get extra time for the exam. I ended up having to be firm to the point of nasty with one of them to start collecting the scripts. For the CAT I decided to just wait for the pile to be complete. The last lady to leave the room was the same one who had added “Make it fun!” to the learning contract (I remember that kind of thing). She started put her papers in the middle of the pile. I smiled:
“On top please”, I said. She put it on top and I added: “Be proud of your work, always”.
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The boys from Tala girls’

Despite it being exam time, there was drumming from the feld this afternoon again. The drumming comes from Tala Girls Primary School which, confusingly, is a mixed primary school. “Tala Girls” is just the name of the shop. Anyway, someone remarked, about the drumming:
“They are going to compete at National level, not just regional!”
“What, who’s that?”
Its the same school that entertained me with their poetry performance. This time it’s mostly boys, the ones who stand around the gate to college when I’m teaching the Charleston Stroll. And they’re dancing! The deputy principal and I went to see…
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Rat rage

I’m thinking of something like Road Rage but rather than when driving, it occurs when there is a rat in the kitchen at 1:30am, noisily knocking down the cooking oil and the DOOM. I tried to turn over and go back to sleep: deal with it in the morning, but it clattered over some more pots and pans and sent my heart into palpitations again. I got out of bed, put my stomping boots on and went into the kitchen with a battle cry:
“Aaaaaaarh!”, when I saw it scaling the West face of the cooker in front of me.

I picked up the metal thing I’d used to supprise the last one and proceeded to beat merry hell out of my kitchen, destroying it piece by piece, just like DZ.

I was frantic, not wanting it to run behind the cooker and start the game of hide-and-seek. With great urgency, therefore, I beat the floor, my presure cooker, the kitchen door, the litter bin, etc. with this metal thing that once used to be part of something else. And the little bugger ran round my feet making me twist and turn in my big boots and boxer shorts.

Finally I clobbered it. It lay there on the floor with its legs stretched out akimbo as one would draw a cartoon of a dead rat. I stood, with my heart pounding, breathing deeply and slowly trying to regain a feeling of calm normality after the battle. Few things have ever made me feel like this. Fighting and killing an animal, even a small one like this, is a very emotionally exhausting experience.

And it was a small rat, not one of those as-big-as-a-cat ones you hear about, but just normal somewhat-larger-than-a-mouse size. I picked it up with a plastic bag and pushed it into an empty Skippy jar which I stood by the door to dispose of in the morning. I didn’t want to open the door in case any more came in.

Turning up the heat

Exams are almost upon us. Revision practise classes, last minute assignments, last minute lessons and an impending sense of panic. Last term the students went hyper at revision time — I have my own opinions about that and its relation to an education system that promotes factual exam answers writen by students in a language which is probably their third — but that’s not the point.

Meanwhile in the staff room the newspaper provides a rich source of raised voices at lunchtime. Today it was a story about a priest who’se genitals were severed by an irate wife for witholding his sexual services. The story is a little more complex than that, but the conversation, that I couldn’t even begin to represent here, reveals a lot about how my colleagues view the world. Here are a few opinions I have heard from individuals (though not intended to be representative of the staff as a whole):

  • Homosexuality == sodomy and is, accordingly, a sin. (While homosexuality for women still elicits incredulous disbelief, this all seems to stem from a strong association of the sexual orientation with the physical act, itself)
  • Asking a partner to establish mutual HIV status == an accusation of infidelity and connotes mistrust.
  • The high contamination and death rates for HIV/AIDS in Africa might have been exagerated in a money-grabbing conspiracy by greedy governments and NGOs.

Line of sight

About a week ago, I went to USAID for a meeting about the future of the College’s Internet connection. Those guys are paying for it, and its expensive: hundreds of dollars per month. There is an idea that we might be able to raise some of that by selling off some of our bandwidth with a community wireless network, while reducing the cost by seeking a different kind of connection. I was in town to pick up some ‘pooters that have been kindly donated, I went along to meet the man from Blue Broadband.
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Boys are stubborn

My twice-weekly early-morning run is now 8km as measured by the tachometer in the College’s pickup-truck. As I ran out this morning, the mist lay heavy on the fields like lazy eiderdown. The air smelled of smoke and I heard chanting, even though it was still 6:25am.
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Back to school

This morning I talked with one of the teachers of Holy Rosary’s Secretarial course. She had a book on writing essays and letters. I was curious, not sure if I’ve ever written an essay. What I read in herbook said that essay writing is different from composition because it emphasises the personal opinions and emotional responses of the writer. I guess I have written some essays after all!

The teacher went on to tell me about her English classes with the secretarial students. They are required to research a topic and give a speech on it, they also do short speaking exercises where they are given a topic at short notice and required to speak, in English, on that subject in front of the class. I was encouraged. When the relevant tecaher arrived I asked him about the Communication Skills topic that the IT students take. This is what he told me:
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Polo Sport

Just the other day I had the urge to apply cologne.

Now I’m not generally much of a scent man. Until 2001 I only owned one bottle of Body Shop No Debate aftershave. Then a lovely Chinese friend gave me her Polo Sport when she went back to Shanghai. I started to get compliments on my aftershave, but until I met Miss Ying I thought Polo Sport was a Volkswagen.

So, there I was, in my African bathroom, stepping out of the shower (I didn’t say it was a typical African bathroom!) and putting on my Gillette clear Gel, which smelt very nice; I suddenly had the urge to smell of Polo Sport once again. And then I let the thought go.
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