Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A Bad Attitude

I had a bad attitude on Monday. I let petty cultural differences annoy me. I couldn't understand Joshua's* English and I felt frustrated. Instead of asking him to repeat what he said, I smiled wide and nodded. I just didn't want to put the work into communicating through such an extremely heavy accent. 

My mom would say that, "I woke up on the wrong side of the bed." Perhaps I did, but that is no excuse for lacking patience. I was letting myself get frustrated with someone who was different from me- who spoke differently from me, who was educated in a different way than me. 


Monday night, while I was walking home from class, God convicted me of my bad attitude and bad behaviour. I had not been trying to engage Joshua* and I’m sure that my face revealed my frustration quite a bit. As I stumbled my way down the hill, I walked past a group of young people. I'm never quite sure whether one of them will have a smart aleck remark or if they will walk past quietly or if they will want to greet me and ask, "are you married?" 

As I approached them, I somehow felt that this was not going to be one of the quiet encounters. Groups of teenagers frequently show off to their peers- no matter the country, culture or language. As I passed by, one of the boys in the groups greeted me, “how are you?” Many people here believe that us westerners speak in a nasal tone and so try to mimic this tone when talking to a native English speaker. Some think that they are being friendly but they always come across sounding downright obnoxious. A few of the younger children believe that this is the appropriate way to greet the stranger- speaking as if they were plugging their noses. But, because I do not possess the language skills to explain this way of speaking comes across as rude, I have chosen to ignore these types of greetings. (The numerous other greetings- "Mzungu!" "How are you?" "Hi!"- I gladly return).

But I was convicted. Here I was fuming about Joshua* not trying to adapt his language to be understood and here this group of young people was making fun of my language. 

Was it possible that the difficulty I had in understanding Joshua mirrored the difficulty this community had understanding my language? While I have consciously adapted the way I speak since I first stepped off the plane three months ago, how do I know that Joshua* was not doing everything he could to be understood? 

The people in this community have graciously welcomed me with open arms. Why couldn’t I do the same with Joshua*? He was the visitor after all. I, as the visitor, had been welcomed. Why couldn’t I, as the host, welcome others? 

I thank God for using a group of rude teenagers to convict me of my sin. God and I had a long conversation Monday night. Tuesday morning I made sure that I got up on the right side of bed, walked to school with a smile on my face, and devoted extra patience to communicating with Joshua*. He was, after all, doing his very best to speak my language. The very least I could do was listen with patience and try to understand.

I can proudly say that we are now friends and, over time, my ears have slowly adapted to understanding his English. 


* not his real name.



Preschool Teacher Training

I recently spent a week and a half participating in a teacher training. For three days I was trained to use a new preschool curriculum and then we (myself and four other teacher trainers) spent a week training 9 preschool teachers to use it. 

Sarie, Lucy and Judi
The program came out of an organization in South Africa called Isivuno and is geared for use in the developing world. All the suggested teaching aids are made using readily available resources such as discarded bottle caps, pieces of colourful plastic, candy wrappers, rocks, hand-drawn posters, etc. 

The training was wonderful and I so appreciated working with this new curriculum. I particularly really enjoyed my first official time training teachers. I have learned a lot these past months about the limitations placed on teachers and schools here in Kenya. While most teachers are incredibly passionate about teaching children, teachers often don't get paid regularly, have to teach with very limited resources and often do not receive adequate training. Now, that's a huge generalization of Kenyan schools, but a true generalization nonetheless. 

Finger painting!
I was very excited to participate in this training because it is a resource that I can take with me wherever I end up- whether South Sudan or another East African country. The curriculum itself is very nicely put together. It is biblically based, uses many manipulatives, is laid out step-by-step and teaches literacy, numeracy and life skills. Since many preschool teachers do not have any training and may have not even finished secondary school, this curriculum is highly useful. 

While I have never felt the desire to teach in the pre-primary classroom, I have realized that, in this East African setting, I need to have some insight into how these classes run and how they could potentially be run better. I learned that the Kenyan government doesn’t dictate what is taught in these early years. They start funding public schools from grade 1. Therefore, many of these pre-primary schools are virtually day cares in which the children are fed, changed, and left to play all day. This system runs into problems, however, when grade 1 students are expected to be able to recognize and write their letters and numbers, know the sounds of the letters, be able to spell and recognize their name, hold a pencil, cooperate well with their classmates, etc.

Our teacher trainers really enjoyed all the learning and discussion we had during the week and left with at the end of training with comments like this:

Francis learned, "For us teachers we should use educational resources to teach. And these are God-given because we don't have to go and buy resources. We can just make them."

Judith said, "I learned that each one of us is unique. Therefore each of our children are unique."

Biblical Foundations
Magdaline commented, "I learned that I am able to teach. So we can also encourage our children that they are able."

Jerusha mentioned, "As a teacher, I've learned that we should be caring and show our students concern by loving them and providing for their needs."

Caroline stated, "I've learned that I need to have the resources to help the students succeed."

Grace believes, "A teacher is a role model to a community and to society at large."

With exciting realizations like these, how can I not feel energized?

Learning to Teach using Manipulatives








Monday, 27 March 2017

The Grace of God

I started reading a book this morning about the story of Idi Amin, the dictator in Uganda. There is a whole bookshelf of books here and I'm enjoying reading them during the evenings. My teammates have quickly learning that I’m an avid reader as I devour their books. I've only completed the introduction of this book and already I am tired. Not tired of reading it, but tired of this world. The horrors that humanity is capable of is nauseating. The darkness in this world is often overwhelming and, at times, I get discouraged. The constant battle with evil and sin is exhausting. 

A friend emailed me a quote and the words just struck a chord with me: 

“This place, my work...this family has changed my life to the core.  They have taught me to open my eyes to the world --- to fully see the beauty and sweetness of raw life, to embrace brokenness in order to become whole and alive.  Working with the poor is not glorious --- in a sense of feeling warm fuzzies because I made someone smile today or tried to play the role of God or Santa Claus in their life --- those things are fake.  Caring for the poor is easy, it's knowing the poor that ties you in knots. It forces me to wrestle with tough questions that I didn't have to before because they were hidden by my privilege, by my whiteness, by my ignorance.  To be honest...it stings...this whole refining process...sometimes I wish I could just purge parts of my identity out of me.  Why is it that I have grown up to reduce Christianity to judgment, morality, tradition and even habit?  Yes, it is about having an authentic relationship with Christ, but why did I slap my neighbour in the face by doing nothing?  When my poor brothers and sisters read the scriptures, they cling to Jesus' words when he speaks about the poor --- why am I finally waking up to them?  Because I grew up in suburbia does that mean that these verses don't apply to me?  That I can simply reduce them to charity if I have time? God is teaching me that engaging with these complicated, integrated issues of poverty (oppression, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, illiteracy, exploitation, poor housing, crime, hunger, exclusion...) is not optional for someone who claims to follow Christ --- it is a mark of a Christian.  In this life I have been born into a land of plenty and my privileged skin has given me a voice --- how am I going to speak and will it be worthwhile?  Repenting of this ugliness inside me is only the first step --- how am I going to live the rest of my life?  Ali Jacobs October 22, 2007

Caring for the poor is easy, it's the knowing the poor that ties me up in knots inside. Knowing and experiencing how the poor live is a daily trial. It would be so easy to try to step in and give them the life I believe that they deserve when, in reality, it is God who works and moves. I am having to wrestle with questions of privilege and whiteness. Why was I born in Canada to a wealthy and white family? Why have I waited so long to do something in an effort to help? And why, when I get tired, do I just want to board the next flight home to be safe and comfortable in my family's arms? 

The faith of Christians here seems so much more real than my own. Their faith has been tried and tested in the real difficulties of life. All the Biblical passages about the poor, orphan, and widow hit home for them. For me, these passages still seem to be such a distant phenomena! 

These issues are truly complicated. How does a foreigner attempt to deal with the issues of oppression and unemployment and HIV/AIDS and illiteracy and exploitation of children and hundreds of other issues....? Particularly this young, white, naive, Canadian girl? How can I help? 

After 90 days the doctor's strike here in Kenya is officially over. They have resolved it and doctors are to be back at work. After over a month, public university lecturers are also heading back to work. University students are now able to head back to class to resume their degrees. What could I have contributed to these issues? I am neither a doctor nor a university lecturer. And, these issues never touched me personally so I rarely even thought about, let alone prayed about, these problems! Shouldn't I as a Christian be spending all my waking hours on my knees interceding for my fellow man? 

Only God can truly enact change in the lives of humanity. I am learning that, in reality, I can do absolutely nothing to help. It is only by the grace of God and God-given humility that I may ever be able to do anything of significance in my short life. All I can do is to be present in the lives of the people I build relationships with, to pray for them, and to do my best to follow God's prompting in my life. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Rain!

When I first arrived in Kenya, they were well into the dry season. Mbita, in particular, was as dry as a twig. There was no grass anywhere and the only green came from the plentiful cacti that littered the roadside and fence rows everywhere. Trees had lost their leaves and the only trees that had leaves were the thorn trees- their leaves are thorns. 

The roads were so dusty that walking to and from school covered my feet in brown dirt. There was no getting away from it! Most days I felt like I was living through the dustbowl. When the wind would pick up, dust tornadoes would whirl in the street. My hair would become coated with the dirt and my eyes gritty from the dust. Every evening when I arrived home from school, I just had to wash my feet. Houses get so dirty here so quickly that one must sweep the floor every day. This is to stem the buildup of gecko poop on the floor but also to get rid of the fine layer of dirt blown in through the open windows.

Nearly every day I would “shower.” Because there had been no rain and the water pump was broken, our water was rationed from our rain tank. We kept a full bucket of rain water in our kitchen. When I wanted to shower, I’d scoop out about 4 cups of water, put it in a small bucket and head into the “bathroom.” It’s amazing how little water one needs to take a shower!By the end, the water would be nearly black, but I would feel cleaner. 

A week ago, the regular rains started to fall. Now, nearly every night, a thunderstorm or rainstorm waters the area. Even though the water pump is still broken, our rain tank is now full. I am now able to shower with 6 cups of water! And, rather than being covered with dust at the end of the day, my feet now track around mud. It gets caked onto the bottom of my sandals each morning on the walk to school as I slip and slide my way down the road. I’m quickly realizing that my sandals don’t have a whole lot of tread left. But I have been able to keep my feet under me and have not yet landed on my butt in a mud puddle. 

videoI have been shocked to learn that grass normally grows nearly everywhere here. Places that were just dirt when I arrived are now sporting small shoots of green! The land is taking on new lift and I am just loving it! In just one week, trees are growing their leaves back, plants are producing flowers, the dust is gone and the air smells cleaner. I no longer feel the need to constantly be washing my feet. 


With the rains, the temperature has dropped. Compared to the heat of the dry season, these cold temperatures feel downright cold! In reality, it is still mid-twenties around here. But, gloriously, I am able to sleep at night with a sheet. Sometimes I even need a blanket! No longer am I soaking the sheets in sweat- such an incredible change!



Rain, Dr. Seuss, Art and a View


As the saying goes, “time flies when you’re having fun.” The last months have simply flown by! There has been so much to learn and absorb. My time in East Africa so far has often been overwhelming, confusing, and challenging. But, this time has also been affirming, encouraging, and joy-filled. 

As I sit here writing this, the rains have come. The last three nights we have received roof-pounding rain. Our water tanks have been filled up and we now no longer feel the need to ration our water usage as much. 

For the first time, I am cold! I never thought that I would utter that phrase again but, I am cold! 

These pounding rains are needed as it has been incredibly dry. The problem comes with erosion. Many trees have been cut down to make charcoal and this has lead to soil erosion. The school farm has been working hard to prevent this erosion. They have been transplanting cacti (!) to create hedgerows between the crops. 



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Twice a week, I have the privilege of organizing and teaching an ESL class here at the school. Jane, Orro, Elijah, Gerald, Titus, George, Pamela and Susan are all employees here; they work in the kitchen, on the farm, in maintenance, and in security. Teaching these lessons is always a highlight of my week as everyone is so excited to learn! 

Since none of them were able to attend secondary school and most didn't finish primary school, they understand the importance of education. Each of them works so that their children can attend school. Together we have studied Dr. Seuss, looked at sentence structure, how to form questions, and many other topics. I am so grateful for the blessing they are in my life!



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I love teaching! Over the last couple of months, I have quickly realized that the school systems in Kenya and Canada are incredibly different and that there are good and bad aspects to both systems. To develop my East African teaching skills and to share my western teaching skills, I have been partnered with two upper-elementary teachers. I have learned a lot from Erick and Wilfrieda and have so enjoyed learning from them! I have been teaching Grade 7 English. We are doing a novel study together and the students are loving the change of pace from their normal school routine. Incorporating different subjects, such as art and creative writing, into English class is a bit of a novelty and these students have taken to it. 


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Judi loves to hike and has taken me on a few excursions up the hill behind our house. I am still positive that I’d get lost on my own, but with her guidance, we are able to get in a lung- and leg-burning experience! The town of Mbita sits on a point of land jutting out into Lake Victoria. The city centre is focused around the causeway- a bridge built to connect Mbita Point to the island of Rusinga- one of the many islands of Lake Victoria. From the top of the hill, we are treated with the most panoramic vista ever!