A Penny For Your Thoughts

Things I say or think multiple times a day:

  • No, I don’t need a jacket…… Seriously, I’m comfortable.
  • If I had a penny for every time I heard “oh, muzungu” (white person)
  • Repeat please.
  • Just keep talking…. I love your accent!
  • Eek, we’re driving on the wrong side of the road! Oh wait, nevermind.
  • Will I survive this matatu ride?
  • Wow, I guess one more person can fit in this matatu.
  • How many cups of tea have I had today? Nevermind, I loose track around lunchtime.
  • Wow, Kenyan hospitality!
  • Sure, random person that approached me shyly, I don’t mind taking a selfie with you.
  • Yes, this is my real hair. No, I don’t use any special product. It’s naturally this way.
  • Am I really walking down the road in Africa right now? Haha pinch me!
  • This place is truly amazing!   AND    I’m so happy to be here
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A Few Of My Favorite Things

Today encompassed so many of the best things about being here – music, food, and global learning!

We kicked off the day with a music festival!  The SMR choir and drama team traveled to compete in a traditional dance.  The girls excitedly loaded the bus and laughed the whole ride to a nearby high school.  In the auditorium, several choral groups performed and we enjoyed the traditional Swahili songs and dances.  Then, we walked across the huge campus to the games field area for a last minute practice, and I encouraged the girls, “Tabasamu!” (smile!)  Many other schools organized and prepared themselves also, and it was quite a scene with different groups in their African tribal costumes, decorating their faces with paint, and tuning traditional musical instruments.   We waited (duh!) for a while for our turn, so we used the time wisely …. taking selfies and people watching. Everyone performed very well so the competition was stiff.  I proudly watched from the audience as the girls danced to a fun upbeat Somalian song.  The full day showcased so much of what African is all about and the people who are so proud to share their culture.

I arrived back at school in time for night class, and I eagerly prepared my iPad and portable wifi router for our Skype call with my students back home.  The lesson began with a quick introduction to global communication and how technology connects everyone.  Then, the Form 4 computer students jumped for joy when I told them we would be talking live with a Magnolia summer academy class.  We connected and everyone clapped and saved excitedly when they saw each other’s faces.  We gave a virtual tour of the classroom, and everyone asked questions back and forth about life in Kenya versus life in Louisiana.  They  talked about the weather, school, technology, food, pets, shopping, and so much more.  It was so wonderful to be part of connecting students across the world!  After reluctantly hanging up, we continued the fun lesson by learning how the wireless router works and video calling software.  At the end of class, I explained how inspiring this experience and global communication has been for me.  I encouraged the Form 4 students to dream big and pursue what inspires them.  With the help of Kid President, I reminded them to make the world more awesome!  I left school at 8:30 P.M., but I didn’t mind at all.  That’s saying something when you’ve been at work over 12 hours and you leave with the biggest smile on your face.

When I got home, Ann prepped ingredients to make mandazi!  She showed me how to knead the dough, roll it out, cut the shapes, and then fry it.  Delicious!  I savored the sweet treat for dinner with milk (Ann was shocked that I drink it cold.) and I couldn’t stop smiling.  I went to sleep with a full stomach and a huge grin on my face at the end of a perfect day.

musical festival groups

 

musical festival with my girls

 

skype collage

 

mandazi collage

Prize Giving Day

 

Exams are finished and papers are graded!  Teachers spent planning periods marking, and then returning the tests by calling out the student’s name and score.  Nothing like a little competition, or public humiliation, to encourage you to study hard.

We held a big celebration called “Prize Giving Day” for the end of Term 2.  Everyone walked together to the local church that we decorated the day before, and the girls lined up for their entrance down the center aisle.  I was about to find my seat, when Subas put me in the same line as them.  Wait, what?  So I just clapped and smiled and appreciated being a part of such a beautiful procession. Wearing their Masai blankets and face paint, the Form 1 students were officially welcomed to the school as they entered with their elaborate dance and song.

prize giving day collage

After Mass, the entertainment began and the classes showed their talents – reciting poetry, dancing, and singing.  Then, all the important guests of honor gave speeches.  They each shared words of wisdom, but I stopped counting after the eighth person approached the podium. We also had the Miss Runda event, and the beauty queens spoke about raising money for scholarships to help other students attend St. Mary.   Finally, the administrators awarded prizes to the top students in each form and outstanding students in different areas.  They also recognized the faculty, and the girls cheered happily for their teachers.  A party is not complete without cake, and I watched the entertaining process of cutting the cake (with a song, of course!) and passing out (or students swarming) and enjoying the sweet treat.  Teachers went back to school for a delicious faculty luncheon, and the students left with their parents to enjoy mid-term break.

Everyone had a blast preparing for today and celebrating, and we’re all excited to have a couple days off.  To say that I am beyond happy to experience this special day for our school would be an understatement, but this selfie sums it up pretty well:

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City Life

Riding the bus into city center, I settled into a comfortable window seat in the back, admired the flowers and buildings as we drove along, and couldn’t help myself from people watching.  I arrived at the Nairobi commercial bus stop about 40 minutes later (really glad for no jam or it would have taken twice as long) and met up with Ann’s son Steve for a day full of sightseeing in the city.

We headed straight to Nairobi National Park and visited the animal orphanage, where our park guide showed us all the typical Kenyan wildlife I’ve been waiting to see.  The cheetah purred happily as I scratched its neck, the grey crowned crane danced and showed off its bright feathers, the warthog sauntered in the brush, and the lion marked its territory (Thankfully, our guide warned us that the lion felt threatened and we moved away from the fence just in time to not get sprayed!  Another visitor was not so lucky.)  We also saw an elephant skull and the bones of many different animals.  My favorite part was feeding the giraffe, and I couldn’t stop laughing as it leaned down right next to me to eat the leaves off the branch – those eyelashes though!

Our tour guide brought us to the Safari Walk next, and a huge baboon walked beside us through the park.  One of the animal trainers led us behind the barriers to see the animals close up, and I stood in awe watching the leopard prowl along the fence, so majestic and intense.  We continued along the path and saw a zebra, ostrich, rhino, and lions.  In the forested area, we spotted a dikdik, strangely shaped triangular spider, and lots of birds.  We rested at an overlook of the national park where a river runs through.

After such an awesome experience seeing all the animals (the only national park in the middle of a city!), we walked around town, went to the market, and saw the National Archives and Jeevanjee Park.  We ate some delicious chicken shawarma at Big Knife.  Then, we hopped on another matatu (I stopped counting after 5) to the Thika Road Mall to see a 7D movie.  That’s right, 7D!  I knew the short clip called Forest Pyramid would be an experience when I had to jump onto a platform and buckle myself into the seat.  With my 3D glasses on, the forest pyramid scene came alive, and my seat jolted forward as the rollercoaster took off, the wind on my face as we picked up speed and mist hitting as we passed the waterfall.  I screamed we plummeted into the pyramid and a snake struck and hissed, and I felt others slithering around against my legs.  It was such an AwEsOmE day in the city!  Thanks to Steve for being my unofficial tour guide, helping me navigate the city, and showing me some fun places in Nairobi.

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pic stitch park final

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Creating Time

African time is like no other.   If you plan to go somewhere, expect to leave about 2 hours after the decided time.   There’s always a program for an event (and an MC), but it’s flexible.  Here, you eat when you’re hungry, and you sleep when you’re tired.   We start when we’re ready and we finish when we’re done.

Mass can be two hours or an all day event if it’s a big celebration, and there’s always announcements at the end since that’s the main means of communication.  No bulletin to spread the word.  Meals can be an event of its own, too!  At a restaurant, they bring a cup of tea, let you sip and visit, then you order and food takes a while to come out.  Even fast food isn’t very fast.

Everyone here even jokes about it themselves and says “we’re not wasting time, we’re creating time.”  I like that concept because time is what you make of it. Instead of thinking of it as waiting, now I use the chance to just “be” – talk to the people I’m with, admire the surroundings, and take it all in.

I’ve had to consciously slow myself down when walking around town or school so I don’t leave someone behind.  Usually I rush to get ready in as little time as possible, but now I take my time in the morning.  I sit and enjoy my cup of tea, instead of standing in the kitchen waiting for the water for the shower to boil.  I am guilty of wanting to cram my days with things to do or sightsee, but I actually like the slower pace.  There’s no hurry and I’m so much more relaxed.  Somehow, everything always works out and everything gets done.

Luckily, taxi drivers are not on African time, and my ride is here on time to pick me up for the airport.  Spending the weekend in Malindi celebrating July 4th weekend with Ashley and some other Americans.  Happy Independence Day to everyone back home!

african time clock

african time what you make

Roadtrip!

When my principal invited me to an education conference in Mombasa, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the coast!  Great conversation with three high school principals in the car made time fly by.  Get a group of educators from different parts of the world together and you can imagine.  The scenery changed as we left the city to gorgeous plains scattered with acacia and baobab trees with mountains in the background and awesome kopjies or granite rock outcrops.  We pulled over to grab some roasted maize from a street stand, and I shared the snacks I brought.  They were all surprised to try almonds for the first time and some granola bars!  The eight hour trip took us past the Yatta Plateau and Tsavo National park, where I spotted my first giraffe in the tree tops, a zebra on the side of the road, and baboons crossing the road.  As we continued on toward the coast, I felt the air changing and temperature rising.  Between going “off road” for road construction, being overtaken or passed by huge transit trucks, and watching for impatient drivers that randomly make their own lane, there was certainly never a dull moment!

1 Drive to Mombasa

Drive from Nairobi to Mombasa

When we arrived in the city late that night, we headed straight to find some of this infamous Swahili food.  The small restaurant was completely dark so we ate by candlelight.   The soft glow added to the mystic feel of dinner off the beaten path where we savored freshly roasted spicy chicken with ugali.  Then again, after an eight hour drive, anything edible qualifies as a gourmet meal.  Full and happy, we drove down Moi Avenue, past the Mombasa tusks and arrived at the Darajani Hotel to settle in for the night.

2 mombasa dinner

First night in Mombasa

The next morning, I was ready to explore the city and I experienced my first tuktuk ride on the way to Fort Jesus.  A tour guide showed me the museum, then we went outside of the fort and saw the Indian Ocean!  We walked the narrow old city streets, watched workers sewing and cutting the soles at a Masai sandal shop, and admired the unique blue parrotfish at the old fish market, and saw the Indian Ocean again from the fishing dock at the port.  The first hotel in Kenya provided much needed cover when the torrential afternoon downpour began, and we managed to find an umbrella to walk to the market.  So many fruits and vegetables and spices galore – coconut, avocado, plantains, and papaya and some more local foods like thorned melon, mabuyu, arrow root, and red bananas.  That afternoon, Sister Esther and her friend Mary drove me around town, and we rode the crowded ferry across from the island city of Mombasa to Likoni on the south coast.  We had a delicious dinner of fish, greens, and chapati – my new favorite and the best I’ve had yet!

3 Touring Town

Fort Jesus and the Coast

The next day, I went to Bamburi beach and walked along the shore while the tide was out.  I found so many interesting critters in the pools of shallow water – urchins, sea lettuce, slugs, crabs, coral, and sponges.  Many beach boys tried to sell me souvenirs, but I finally got some peace and enjoyed a relaxing morning.  The weather changed quickly, and I ran under the mangroves to rest on the rocks and wait for the storm to pass.  When the ride came back in, we went to the public beach near Pirate’s Cove for a swim in the gorgeous blue green salty water.

6 mombasa beach day

Beach adventure

After wading in the waves, we went straight to Haller Park and saw all the animals – curious and friendly monkeys, lazy hippos, and a 10 foot crocodile.  I remembered reading about this game sanctuary in the children’s book Owen and Mzee that for Read Across America week a few years ago, so it was really cool to see “Mzee” the giant tortoise in person.  I had an incredible dinner of chips masala and beef with the hotel manager Catherine that night, and then we went to the rooftop bar to enjoy the view and a cold Tusker.

4 Biodiversity at its finest

Biodiversity at its finest

5 Mombasa Catherine Mary and Sister

Fun, Food, and Friends!

My trip to Mombasa was a quick but fun one, and I met the sweetest and most generous people.  I spent my last day walking around town, meeting Mary’s family, and going to her house for a delicious homemade authentic lunch. They took me to the airport, and her sweet granddaughter waved bye as I went through security and the ticketing agent manually checked my name off the written list of passengers.  I had a good flight home and made it back to Kiambu for classes in the morning!

Visitors Welcome

The Kenyan hospitality is downright impressive!  Everywhere I go, people go above and beyond for visitors.  They love sharing their country and culture.  Sister Esther and Ann have both claimed the title of my African mom. Ann’s more like a sister because we have so much fun – shopping, cooking, laughing, and going out. The teachers and students also have family units since its a boarding school, and one group adopted me as “mom.”

All the family talk made me think of those back home and how much they’d love things here.

Dad – You would love nyama choma or roasted meat (usually goat). It’s not like your famous barbeque but this is some stiff competition.

Mom – The flowers here are incredible. Boganvilla and lantana wildly blooming everywhere. The ‘nurseries’ line the sides of the road and make for a pretty drive on any trip.

Court – You could have hot chocolate every day!  Our morning break at school always includes “tea” but it’s really your favorite drink.

Tiff – I wish you’d have been here to help me introduce my students to  treasure hunts. They never heard of it so I had to change that. The hidden prize ….. Oreos! Had to share my favorite cookie with them too.

Garrett – They love soccer here, er football. Unfortunately, that was never my sport. But I am good at another favorite game here called “kati,” kind of like dodgeball except two people on either side try to throw out everyone else standing in the middle.

The whole Pike family – I jumped for joy to find out that Kenya has its own version of our “Happy Friday” messages. The Swahili word for happy is furahi so they combine it and joke “furahiday!”

It’s been three weeks now, and someone asked today if I was homesick. Honestly, I’m not and I think that’s because I’ve made such good friends. It’s like I have family in both places now because everyone has made me feel so at home here.  Kenyans love visitors and I’ve been challenged many times to bring back all of my American friends and family!  So consider this your invitation and start packing your bag! I certainly have not be disappointed by this wonderful country.

 

A Day In The Life

I’m all settled in the apartment in Kiambu Town, and I’m so happy to be staying with Ann. She has taken me to visit her family in the village, explained how to navigate and survive the matatu scene, and taught me how to cook some really delicious meals! I learn something new every day, and I guess I’m becoming a local because they gave me a Kikuyu name, “Wangari.”

I’ve gotten into a routine and this is a pretty typical day:
typical day 1typical day 2

It’s a busy but fun day!  I’m usually asleep before my head hits the pillow.  Life is good.

 

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View of Kiambu from the back of the apartment

 

Starry Night

amazing weekend but so tired so ill fill you in on hiking in the mountains tomorrow

but wanted to post while I actually have working Internet

sneak peek…

UPDATE:    irony =

  1. Internet going out right when you say you have working Internet.  lol
  2. Writing in the dark.   We had a blackout this morning at school, and the again tonight so I haven’t been able to charge my laptop to write.  Have so much more to say about camping and hiking but will have to  finish this post tomorrow but here’s more pics.

 

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An intense climb! SO steep

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But we made it!

 

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The Great Rift Valley Viewpoint

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Thompson Falls

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In two places at one time! Northern and Southern hemisphere

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Sitting under the stars around the bonfire with our Masai blankets

 

Tech Time

We’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write, but here’s some teaching snapshots.

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Where I arrive after a short matatu ride and quick walk

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Welcome to St. Mary’s, an all girls boarding high school.

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The computer lab

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Form 2 (sophomores) recorded a video to introduce themselves to my students in Magnolia summer camp.

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theory lessons in the regular classroom

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practicals in the lab to create Access databases

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Their computer teacher and my new partner in crime, Mrs. Subas

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The reason I leave 10 minutes early. Locks here are no joke, both at school (right) and home (left top view from outside vs. bottom reality).  Imagine locking and unlocking blindly!