Kenz in Kenya

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Count Your Blessings <3

Hello! Hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend. Whoever has just graduated from high school or college, congratulations!! Those affected by the fire know that I am praying for you and thinking of you, and everyone else, I am thinking of you!

I hope these stories I have shared in this blog will inspire you to count your blessings. I have been blessed beyond my own comprehension and hope that my stories of being inspired by others, also inspires you.

Love you!

Wednesday May 14, 2014

May: First week of school!

Being in this new village, school, community and home has been nothing short of amazing. I have woken up with an energetic and fulfilled heart ready to take on the day. I have been blessed with the experiences I have come across and the opportunities to share my heart.

A little bit about my new school:

I am in a unit connected to a hearing primary school. This means that two classrooms are solely for the deaf learners. We have two classrooms for baby class, class 1, class 2, class 3, class 4, and class 5. But it actually works out very nicely with enough space! I am now one of four teachers. Even though I have only worked with them for a short while, I am really enjoying being with them, exchanging ideas and cultures and getting to know them. There is a total of 40 children who are deaf. I have only seen a total of 17 come to school. Most of the children live from far and cannot afford the transportation to and from school every day and cannot walk because of the distance. The students fill baby class, to class 5. I am teaching class 2 CRE (religion) and science, class 3 maths, class 4 KSL (sign language), and class 5 KSL and social studies. The first week went really well! In science we are learning about the human body. Since resources are limited I had to draw a horrible picture of a person’s head on the board. This then sparked the idea that I have paper plates; therefore, we made masks to represent the parts on our head. Of course, this was a hit! We also sung, as in signed, the “Head, Knees and Toes” song, which was fun. Next week we are learning about the rest of the body. I am going to do a project where every student is traced on paper and then they can color in their outlines and get to know the names of each part.

I am loving teaching the other subjects! Since the number of students who report to school is small, my classes are small. Most classes are 2-3 students, which can definitely have many positives. But with that being said, I wish all of the other kids could afford coming to school to have more students learning! The students are so determined and ready to learn. They are inquisitive and curious. They ask me questions and are excited. I am really enjoying being with them and being their teacher, and look forward to the future days in the classroom!

I am a huge advocate for literacy in the early childhood stage (and all stages) to help develop the brain and the skills to apply to real-life situations and for the foundational aspect of just knowing how to read. In all of the schools I have been in, I have attempted reading circles, or literacy circles and sign each word with the kids. I brought this idea to the teachers and they were so on board with at least a 3x a week literacy circle group! One of the teachers asked to observe me to see how to do it and I gladly said yes. I am no expert, not even close, but a teacher asking me to help her was wonderful because it showed her seriousness about wanting to make this happen. I am really happy the teachers are so excited about this! I also gave the kids books just to look at for their own independent time. I know that most may not be able to read the book front to back on their own, but I believe it is helping students to visually see what a book looks like, teach themselves and to independently take responsibility of their education. More to come in the future! I can’t wait!

I have started to teach the primary hearing students KSL! Also, teachers at the hearing school have expressed interest in learning. I told them I would be starting the class and that they were more than welcome and encouraged to come. My first class was on Wednesday 14. Over 70 students came to this class and I was beyond ecstatic! I was actually overwhelmed as well because I had never taught a class full of this number of students. After every one shuffled in the classroom, I greeted everyone in Kiswahili and then introduced myself (in Swahili). My German neighbors also came so I introduced them to the class as well, reminding them of our names, and that our names are not “mzunugu.” The kids all laughed.

We started with the alphabet and repeated this together a couple of times. After a few times, I instructed them to do this in small groups and if they wanted help or to show me their alphabet to raise their hand. After a few minutes I had many hands up ready to show me their skills. Some of them were definitely naturals! After the alphabet we practiced saying their names in KSL. I had some students come up and show everyone their name. Anytime I wanted their attention I would put my hands up by my face like a moose and stick my tongue out. I can guarantee that they have never had a teacher do that. They were all cracking up, but it works to get them to be quiet! I had children sitting down learning, students leaning against the wall learning, kids hanging on the windows from the outside learning and students standing in the doorway learning. They just kept on coming! I also think it was because I was probably the first foreigner to teach them. I also told them that whenever they see me they must greet me with KSL, and they totally do it! Even in the village I will be running or going to the town and they will come up to me and greet me in KSL, it is great!

I taught them some more vocabulary words and then the class was over. The next class was on Friday. I went into the class and there were not as many students but still a good amount. I know their sport competitions are soon so many kids went to practice. Even if only one student came every time I would be happy! Also, two teachers came and were willing to learn. First we reviewed and practiced and then I taught them names of places, days of the week and numbers. After I taught each subject they would break into groups and practice. I then had them come to the front and present what they learned. It is such a casual and fun environment and I have had really positive feedback. After the class, I saw the teachers teaching other teachers what they had learned, asking me about a certain sign, and have even asked for more lessons on the off-days of the KSL class. They told me how interesting the language was and how excited they are to learn! I am so thrilled!

This day was one of the top 5 days of my time here in Kenya. For so many wonderful but simple reasons

After the KSL class, my heart was just on fire. I felt so alive! I decided since the day was so nice and the sun was still up that I would go for a run. I thought to myself that I would run 15 minutes one way and then turn around to equate to 30 minutes of a run. As I ran, I passed a nearby school that was finishing up, which meant a bunch of kids were about to yell “Mzungu” and start running with me. Of course this happened in their high pitch voices, thinking that they are imitating the way we talk… obviously this is the farthest thing from the truth because we all do not have high- pitched nasally voices. I decided to keep running although the 15 minutes had passed. Ahead, I saw a sign and figured that would be my turning point. As I was running on this dirt path through a village, I saw a group of mamas hanging out under a tree. I greeted them in Luo (local tribal language) and they returned the greeting. I ran to the sign and turned around. The mamas were still staring at me as I ran by and waved. One of them yelled the school name which made me stop and say that I did indeed work there and that I was a teacher of the deaf there (all in Swahili). After I said this they pointed to a corner.

I was curious to see what or who they were pointing to, when I thought to myself that maybe there was a child who was deaf sitting behind this bush. As I turned the corner I saw this boy sitting on the ground next to his walking stick who had multiple disabilities. As I approached him the first thing he did was jump at my shoes. As he felt them and grabbed my shoes he laughed a pure and simple laugh. He kept making the noise “Aya!” and the mamas would do the same. After he examined my shoes he looked at my calves and then my arms and my hands. It reminded me of the scene in Hook when the lost boys first discover that the man who is saying he is Peter Pan, is truly Peter Pan. I think I may have been the first foreigner he had ever seen. He continued peering at my hands, my arms, my legs and my shoes and would laugh the simple laugh of joy. If I went to stand he would hit the ground as in saying “sit back down!” so I followed orders and I did. It brought so much joy to my smile and my heart, which almost triggered tears. I noticed that his shorts were so torn I could see his private parts, his feet were so dirty from no shoes, and he had drool coming down his chin, but his smile and laugh was that of an angel and the purest and most joyous laugh I have ever heard. Regardless what he had or didn’t have, he had the most joy in someone I had ever witnessed. His face lit up at the simpleness of meeting a new person. I truly believe in my heart that this boy is a pure gift from God, brought to bring joy and simpleness to the world. I could see that the mamas and even his mama had so much happiness in their heart to see their boy so happy.

I could’ve stayed for hours, but unfortunately the time was getting late and I needed to leave before the sun set. I said my goodbyes in broken Swahili, knowing that I would definitely be paying this boy and his family a visit again. At any point during this short time that I said something in English, no one understood me. As I walked away ready to return back to my house, I heard someone say the words “thank you” in English. It took me time to realize what was said but when I processed what I heard, I felt so grateful. I didn’t know if anyone even knew English and they knew I knew some words in Swahili, but saying thank you in my language was absolutely amazing. Seriously such a huge blessing.

That weekend, May 17, I was running with some of my buddies from church (buddies as in 12 year olds). I told them that we should run the way to visit the boy. As we finally approached this boy, I stopped and greeted him. The boys I was running with just stood there and watched the interaction. After some time, I asked the boys if they were ready to leave, which they responded and said they were not. I told them that this boy is our new friend. One of the boys, a 12-year-old keep in mind, said, “he is God’s creation.” My heart pretty much melted. Then, I told the boys we would return the next day, Sunday, and bring him a ball to play with him. Another boy, also 11 or 12, said, “Let’s bring him some food!” It was absolutely astonishing and humbling for these boys to have such a compassionate and loving heart at this age. Their love for this boy was innocent and pure compassion. The next day we ran back, gaining more kid friends on the way. We brought him a mango and a small tennis ball. We did not see him sitting outside under the trees like we had the day before, so we decided to walk up to his house. One of the boys said “hodi (can we come in?)” and we heard a voice to tell us yes. There was our friend sitting in a chair! He was so excited! The moment he saw the mango he started grabbing it out of my hand, still in the bag. I was trying to help him but he was too excited. I eventually gave him the mango and he just started to eat it. The skin was still on and it was in a plastic bag that our sweaty hands (from running) was in. But he didn’t care! He sat there just laughing and enjoying this mango, getting mango juice all over him. They kids and I had such a great visit with him! We then gave him the ball and he just grabbed it and threw it at the window. Thank god it didn’t break!!! Then another boy had some sugar cane mixed with chocolate and offered it to this boy. The boy picked it up and threw it at him. Clearly he wasn’t too thrilled about the sweets… It was such a wonderful blessing and we are planning to visit him again next weekend!

After visiting this boy, we had movie day in this veranda with an outside altar for church. This drew the attention of other children who later joined us. Since these were youth from the church, I decided to show them “Evan Almighty,” the movie about Steve Carrel who basically becomes Noah. The kids thought it was hysterical! I think this has started a tradition, Sunday afternoon movie time!

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The Adventure Continues

Hello family and friends! I apologize once again for slacking on the blog but it is updated to this moment. I hope that you all had a wonderful Easter and you are all doing great! Missing you and love you!

April 23, 2014

I arrived back to my house on the 21 and slept pretty much the entire next day. On the 23 I was invited by the parish to attend an ordination for two new priests. As I accepted this invitation, I also knew what was in store. After being in Kenya for over a year and a half, a ceremony + church= at least, at least 4 hours. We took a bus two hours to the church and received a program that said Mass was at 10. So at 12 the mass began.

Somethings that I experience here, well many things, make me have to remind myself where I am and what I am doing. A moment where I am like “Ohhhh ya I am in Kenya!” This was a moment where I was smiling ear to ear and just being so happy knowing that what I was experiencing and seeing was such an African, and more so Kenyan tradition. As the alter boys walked up leading the precession, there were groups of children wearing different types of clothing and doing their own dance, while the mamas followed all wearing blue and dancing to their own dance as well. Following the mamas were the priests from all over the county and even Nairobi, the archbishop and the two men to be ordained. The precession in the mass that is 3 minutes in our church at home was at least a 20-minute precession here in Kenya. Mass and the ordination ceremony was about 4 and a half hours with a lot of songs, lots of dancing and a lot of entertaining moments. Some mama sitting behind us had a whistle and she couldn’t get enough of it. After the men were ordained and considered official priest, everyone was cheering them on and I looked at their faces and I saw so much happiness and joy in their smiles and in their eyes that I got tears in my eyes. It was so beautiful! After communion, the new priests walked around and all of their family and friends greeted them and carried them on their shoulders around the mass. After the ceremony we went and had a great meal consisting of fish, chapati, pilau, cabbage, watermelon and sodas. It was such a long day but it was such an awesome cultural experience to participate in!

It has been so much fun being at site and I have been so happy! I am so filled with joy! I have been running with some of the church’s youth. One day it was with one boy and the next day gained a few more friends. My two German neighbors help measure and weigh newborns two times a week so I went with them on Friday just so I could play or even hold one of the babies! They were so darn cute! I also helped the older girls mop the entire church by our own 2 hands! The next day my legs were very sore. It took a long time but it was a very enjoyable time! Some of the afternoons have just been spending time with all of the church’s youth. They have asked me a million questions about my home and me while I ask them all about Kenya, their schools and their home life. It has been so much fun these past few days! I am now on my way to start planning the camp for the deaf that my friend Britni and I were both chosen to be coordinators of! We are so excited!

When I return from the camp we will be starting school! I am SO excited to start school, to start teaching again and to use sign language again! I have missed it so much! We will have a meeting right before school to share classes and then begin! I also have some ideas for possible projects as well. Keep you posted!

April 22, 2014

On April 4, Jocelyn and I traveled to Madrid, Spain. My best friend Grace lives there so I went to visit her! We went for a little over 2 weeks. It was such an amazing couple of weeks. I was able to see a lot of Madrid, Seville and Malaga. We stayed in Madrid for one week before traveling to the southern part of Spain. Grace was our tour guide! We saw many cool parks, many plazas including my favorite Plaza Mayor, a castle, a beautiful cathedral, Plaza de Espana, Temple de Debod, the large Mercado (market), a glass palace, lots of gardens, Calle de Sol, an opera house, and a really cool museum themed Pixar and Genesis (photos by the photographer Sabastao Salgado. He traveled all over the world into places where not many people go to except for the tribe that lives there. These pictures depicted the essence of tradition and being “untouched” by modernism. The photos were impeccable.)

In addition to all of the wonderful places we went and experienced, a lot of sangria, vino, and one euro beer were consumed throughout the days. With these drinks we ate many tapas, which I couldn’t get enough of. The popular tapas were potatoes with a garlic aioli sauce, jamon (ham) on a piece of bread, tortilla Espanol (omelet that kind of looked like a quiche that had veggies and other delicious things), lots of different types of cheese, croquettes (fried something with deliciousness), and many other great food. We also had mixed paella (really good rice with seafood and chicken) and churros with chocolate. We went to a place called El Tigre where you buy one drink, we ordered large sangrias for 5 euro, and it came with a large place of Tapas each; meaning that there is so much food it practically makes a meal.

Besides the eating, we walked so many miles everyday because that is part of the Spanish culture, so at least we didn’t feel totally horrible about all of the food. We went out a few times as well in Madrid. So I learned about Spanish culture and really liked it really quickly. You can sleep in and then be out until 10 pm and then get ready and go out at 12 and stay out as late as you want! But I really liked how you can get dinner at 11 at night and just sit outside and enjoy a drink with your friends. It was so great! We went to a dance club two different times and stayed out until about 6:30. At one point we were ready to leave but realized it was dancing for 1 more hour and getting to take the metro home, or leaving at that moment and walking 40 minutes. We decided to dance a little more and then get pizza and the metro. Win-win that’s for sure. Another night we went to a seven-story dance club with different music and vibes to each floor. SO cool! Of course we were idiots and went into the neighboring bar after paying cover realizing that it wasn’t the correct bar. So a lot of Euros later we finally were in and had an absolute blast!

Jocelyn, a friend of hers who visited, and I all did a day trip to Toledo as well! Toledo was so beautiful and had a medieval feel to it. The castles and cathedrals and small streets were gorgeous. After walking around for a while, we sat down grabbed some sangrias, some delicious tapas and had great conversations!

Our next stop was to Seville. Since it was Easter the following Sunday, Seville is very into the Holy week. They have traditional precessions that began many years ago. They dressed up covering everything but their eyes and their hats had tall points to them. It was definitely intense with the drums rolling in the background and the way the precession was but it was so cool to see and be a part of. They would carry large platforms holding statues of Jesus, Mary, apostles, etc. and sometimes they were in a scene such as the crucifixion. This happened every night until Easter and they would walk for hours through the streets. Grace and I definitely got lost at some points trying to maneuver our way through the small streets. We were able to see the Cathedral of Seville. We learned that this cathedral is the largest church in the world and the third largest gothic cathedral in the world. It was stunning and took my breath away. We were blessed with the opportunity to participate in a mass as well. The mass was mostly in Spanish, but there was some words in Latin as well. We paid a small fee to wander through the cathedral, which ended up taking about 3 hours. There were I think over 80 chapels; it was breath taking. Every small room we entered had a door to another room, so many rooms! The ceilings were so incredibly tall. The altar was beautiful and some of the statues, decorations, and monstrances were made out of gold, some had pearls, white gold, metal etc. Christopher Columbus was buried here! We walked up the bell tower called the Giralda Tower. We could overlook all of Seville. It was absolutely stunning!

After the cathedral we went over to the Alcazara. This was an old Moore’s empire before the Catholic Spaniards took over. The Moore’s were a group of Muslims living in the Southern part of Spain. After the Catholic Spaniards took over they kept the Arabic style of the castle but added their own catholic twist to it. The castle took us about three hours to look through because of the architecture, the rooms, the designs, and the gardens. There were so many mosaic tiles and the walls each had their own design it was gorgeous.

After Seville we were off to Malaga. Malaga is a really cute beach town and beautiful scenery. Grace and I attempted to make it out of to wander before finding a cute outside bar for some cheap sangria. We were using a website called airbnb which is a lot like couch surfers so the person we were staying with had discount coupons! This resulted in two very large pitchers of sangria and two hours of great chats. After we walked through more plazas finding a cool church, the cities cathedral, and an awesome and energetic port along the beach. There were restaurants along the entire port. We walked along the port and ended up at the beach where we met some really cool people from Ireland and Australia. After talking with them we went to a nice pizza place and got a huge delicious pizza with a mozzarella, tomato and balsamic salad! We met up with our couch surfer owner and grabbed a beer with him and ended up having a really interesting but fun night! After our beer we walked back to our hostel and went to sleep.

The next morning we got ready for the Mediterranean Sea! Being 24 and living in San Diego would make you think that you were smart about sunscreen but no. We put sunscreen everywhere but the legs. To this day my legs are still hurting! Besides the hot pink burns, we laid in the sun, felt the water and relaxed all day. It was amazing! That night we got ready to go out for an international pub-crawl (what I named the pub crawl). A man from Italy organized it and we were invited to join. We met people from France, Italy, Ireland, Poland, Finland, South Africa and of course Spain. It was such an awesome experience to get to know so many people doing such cool things from different parts of the world. This night resulted in returning to the hostel at 6:30 am. I of course had a dance off with a random person and it was probably one of the most fun dance experiences of my life. The next day morning, well that morning, was taking the bus back to Madrid!

Overall the trip was incredible. If you were to ask what my favorite thing I did was I would tell you that the Seville Cathedral was incredible, or the cool plazas or the museum, but what I enjoyed most was sitting on the terrace, with a cold and great Sangria with some of my best friends. It was a trip I’ll never forget!

March 2014

So yet again I have moved! I am working at a deaf unit and am living on a church compound. I live next to two German volunteers. I also live with two Kenyan priests. My house is one room about the size of a Mac book charger (only reason I know this is because my outlet is on the other side of the room so as I am typing this now my charger is on the other side and reaches to the computer.) My house is cozy and cute. I have my living room, bedroom, a kitchen and a sink all in one place. A lot less to clean and a lot less to worry about! There are 40 children from class 0 to class 5. The unit is attached to the primary school, which has over 1,500 students. Since it is a day school, the children walk to school or take public transportation every day. I am unsure what I will be teaching yet and will know the first week of May! I am excited for this new school and see a lot of work ahead of me as well as potential for this unit.

I would like to tell a very simple but sweet story. I do not tell this story to boast or be proud of something that I did, but simply to tell you about necessity and gratitude. I was at my school visiting the kids and getting to know them. Every day the children are given porridge for snack time. At lunchtime I noticed that most children brought ugali, githeri, avocadoes or something for their lunch, except for a few kids. I watched them pick up their cup and get another cup of porridge, as their only lunch. After school the headmistress gave me two bananas to take home and enjoy. As I walked to the gate to leave, I knew exactly which two boys to give the two bananas to. As I pulled them over to hand it to them, the boys took their bananas with the largest smiles I have ever seen as well as such immense joy in their eyes. The boys looked me into the eyes and gave me the most sincere thank you I have ever seen. I have never seen so much happiness and gratitude in my life, for something so simple and small. I walked away with tears in my eyes.

March 20, 2014

Unfortunately, for reasons out of my control, I had to leave this school. With that being said, I am on to the next school. I guess when I prayed before Peace Corps for God to challenge me in every way possible, He took it a little too seriously 😉 … (But challenges can be good.) Any who, yesterday was the day that Peace Corps had to drive me to the school with a couple hours to pack and say goodbye. I have read articles about how “peace corps can break your heart.” A Peace Corps Volunteer wrote this article and I pasted it below. But after I read it, I couldn’t agree more. But now with another added challenge of having to move again, it couldn’t be more true. As I walked up to this new school a few months ago, although still struggling with the thought of leaving my old school, I tried to embrace this opportunity in front of me. As the days had gone by, I had learned more about the kids and befriended them as their teacher, I had sat with them to hang out with them, I had taught them a few things in math or English, and I had run with them, watched movies with them and laughed with them. Sometimes, you never know how much someone has truly touched your life or you have touched his or hers life until the moment that you have to leave them. This doesn’t always mean leaving for good, but for example in this situation I had no choice; therefore, my leaving made me truly realize the bonds that I had made and how some of these wonderful people impacted my life in such a positive way.

http://peacecorps.tumblr.com/post/73840817637/dont-join-the-peace-corps

^^Strongly suggest you read this article 🙂 It was written so well!

As I rolled up to the school in the PC car, feeling nervous but also just wanting to get the packing and everything done as quick as possible, tears just rolled down my face. As I saw the kids sign my name with excitement that I was back, the tears came more abundantly. After I greeted the teachers I went into each classroom to tell them that I had to leave, once again feeling like I was the one bringing this disappointment on these wonderful people that I have grown to love for the second time. As I told my first class, which I taught math to, the looks in their faces was heart wrenching. I had thought maybe this time it would be a little bit easier (very little bit easier) because the last school was my heart and joy and I had been there longer. I had moved to each class and told them I had to leave and that I was very sad, that I loved them, that I know they will continue to do well, that I believed in them, and that I would miss them. By the end of the classes I had to go home with a PC staff and with my friend Dee who helped me move out. At the end of packing, I go to throw trash out and I see every student just standing and watching. It was a horrible feeling.

As I walked up to get a picture with them as a school, I saw a little boy that I taught math to everyday. I saw the tears rolling down his face, which only triggered more of my tears. I could only think, why do I have to do this again? I had done this once last year, and now I have to go through this again, but even more worse, was to have to bring such sullen news to these children that I loved. As more of the children came to give me a hug, the more tears that came from many of us. We took a group picture, which resulted in many hands grasping onto my arms and attempts to smile. After I had said goodbye, I had to get into the car as each child looked at me in the eyes and waved. I believe in God and I believe in His plans. I believe that He has reasons and I believe that He is all-powerful. But in these moments, you can only think “this isn’t fair.” Maybe one day I will understand, maybe one day I wont. But all I do know is that these kids, in such a short amount of time, have changed my heart. Just like the other 55 children in my first school, just like these 75 children did in this school and just like the next 40 kids will do in my next school.

You are guaranteed (in most circumstances) a full two years at one site, one school or dispensary, one culture, one tribe, one group of people you work with, one school full of children with big and beautiful smiles. But that has now been altered two different times. I am now off to my third site, my third school, my third (fourth including training) tribe, and my third school full of deaf children with big and beautiful smiles. There are many positives but many downfalls. When you start growing attached to a certain way of life, or those wonderful students who become your family, then for unavoidable circumstances, you have to deal with a broken heart. A broken heart that only time can amend. Moving to a new school at first only feels like you have abandoned the last, or feels like you are cheating them. But life goes on and I continue to search for the positives and I am looking forward to the next adventure.

March 2014

So this girl’s group has been going amazing! I co-teach this girl’s group with two deaf teachers every Monday and Tuesday night. I have 17 girls who are deaf. We all squeeze tight into my living room and just talk. We began the girl’s group with rules and an introduction. They had so much excitement in their eyes! And so did I! What a wonderful group of young women. So I told you all about the first meeting with self-esteem. We decided that there was so much information to cover that we should make it Tuesday nights too. Saturday March 8 was international women’s day. Because of this, I decided that it would be an awesome opportunity to discuss what International Women’s Day means, the motto for this day and different issues surrounding women empowerment. When they arrived to my house, with big eager eyes, I had them all sit down and welcomed them into girl’s group, I handed them small notebooks that I had bought so they could take notes, journal or use for their own personal entries. I wrote on a poster with the title “International Women’s Day” with different facts about women all over the world, different issues women face and a few inspirational words.

This year’s 2014 topic was “inspiring change.” We opened the discussion about what it means to be a women and different things that we need to be proud of. In Kenya’s daily newspaper, there was a section solely for Women’s Day that I cut out and pasted around my house. I retrieved facts and different stories from this newspaper. One fact for example was that 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence. I counted every girl off to three and had the third person stand up. Out of 20 women (17 girls and 3 teachers), about 6 girls had to stand up. I demonstrated that in real life this many girls are experience domestic violence. This opened up a conversation about their home lives. Many had expressed that they have seen this in their homes and that it made them very angry and very sad, rightfully so. We then moved onto the next topic, issues women face globally. This included little to no education, domestic/gender based violence, less job opportunities, lower salaries, inequality, abuse, teenage pregnancies etc. After this I split the large group into three small groups with one teacher per group. Each group chose a different topic. The three topics chosen were education, teenage pregnancy and abuse (violence and sexual). We discussed what it meant and then discussed ways to solve the problem. All of the students were awesome! They all were very involved and very active in their groups. They were given 15 minutes and then had a spokesperson to discuss their topic. Man these girls nailed it! One girl in particular, S, was incredible. She is in my English class and is so smart. She stood up there with confidence and described teenage pregnancy, ways to deal with it, and ways to solve it. It was very apparent that they had comprehended the task at hand. I showed the girls a couple quick video clips from youtube. One was a trailer of the documentary “Girls Rising” and the other was taken from Women’s International Day to share some women coming from different cultures, families and religions all over the world. I interpreted it for them as well. Most of these women shared experiences of being in a farm, with little pay and mostly caring for their children. They made little to no money, whereas the men in their villages were doing the exact same work but making more money than them. Some expressed arranged marriages, child labor, and laws against educating women. I felt these stories and clips were a great representation of women around the world, and I hope it helped expose these students to a little bit more knowledge to the world, and I am sure many have even related to one of the stories or another.

The next day we discussed feelings and emotions. We created a list of feelings that we have. This created a long and extensive list, which showed the mastery of comprehending the different types of emotions we experience. I then asked different circumstances and ask them how they feel. I started off with very basic and happy emotions such as passing a test or winning a football game. We then went into situations that had more emotional attachment, both negative and positive like not being able to communicate at home, feeling oppressed, gender based violence etc. This then lead into girls coming up to the front and sharing some of their stories of this during their lifetime. Makes me wonder every time how am I here as the foreigner who grew up in an affluent country, instead of being and growing up as this deaf 16 year old girl suffering from oppression and many other negative situations. How was I so lucky to grow up where I was and have opportunity after opportunity?

I continuously question and struggle with this thought. Why did God place me in a wonderful home, family, country instead of a poverty stricken country? After I discussed this with a few different friends and they reminded me that we, as human beings, have a choice. We hear about issues in on our communities, tribes, churches, schools, cities and countries and we either have a choice to go on with our lives, or we have a choice to attempt to make change. I know so many people surrounding me who choose to make the choice for change. For example: my sister Delanie and my parents. Delanie was born deaf and was discriminated against in her education. Instead of my parents and Delanie sitting around waiting for something to happen, they realized that they had a choice, a choice to make change. Sometimes the outcome isn’t what life is about. After years of battling the district to grant Delanie access to an equal education to her typical peers, she was still not granted everything that she deserved but was still able to make a change. At the end of the day she wasn’t doing it for herself, she was doing it for the students who are deaf in the future. And that is positive change. And this is how the world can become a better place. I say this not to make people guilty or feel like they have to pick up their lives and move somewhere different or to do something different, but I say this to make you as well as myself think. That as everyday goes on in our lives, we will be faced with challenges, with pressing issues, with issues as small as an ant or as large as the world, and with that we have the power and ability to make a change.

These girls are the strongest people I know. Walking into a room with confidence, putting all of their burdens, doubts and fears aside, and facing the world. They are in a culture where men are dominant, where they are not seen as equals, and are oppressed for not only being a woman, but for being deaf. But day in and day out they have the confidence, the strength, the courage and the bravery. Most importantly, they have the smile and happiness. They may have these burdens or horrible circumstances but they put that aside and continue with their goals while leading their peers. Although I am a foreigner, my culture treats me as an equal, as a woman I have opportunities, and I haven’t suffered nearly anything compared to these students, it is so empowering. It makes you want to wake up everyday and go to school just to continue to hear these stories and help these students feel like they are special, loved and tell them that anything is possible. They have changed my life, and they have empowered me.

February 27, 2014

We just finished up with mid-term exams! The students seemed to all do well. Some of my classes struggled, but others passed very well. I am proud of them! We have about one month left of school until our April break. I am looking very forward to a break, and will be traveling to Spain to see my friend Grace!

Part of my assignment here is creating or starting secondary projects. After discussion with the teachers and students, it seemed like a group for girls would be very effective and beneficial. Many of these girls have faced tough situations or will face tough situations. I am co-teaching with two deaf Kenyan women as well! This group is every Monday and Tuesday night and there are 17 girls, ages 13 and up, apart of it. The topics that I hope to cover are hobbies/passions, body image, family and friend relationships, romantic relationships, career planning, good interview and communication skills, leadership skills, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, education on gender-based-violence and abuse and how to protect oneself. We had our first meeting on Monday and it went really well. I was thrilled after because I am really excited about conducting this girl’s group along with two of the deaf teachers.

Our first meeting was very surfacey. We discussed rules of this group, informed them of what to expect, and began. We discussed hobbies and passions. I asked them what they absolutely loved to do. They all shouted football, volleyball, running, math etc. Then I started saying different activities and had them raise their hands when I mentioned something that was their hobby. When I mentioned art, only a few girls raised their hands. I had them all look around and see how some girls had their hands up, while others did not. I used this to show that we all enjoy different things, and enjoy doing different activities. I said that if we all enjoyed the same thing that would be so boring!!

Side note: so glad I was an RA back in college because I was able to use ideas that I used for my floor for these girls!

Then I drew a picture of a girl on a large piece of paper. I had the girls take a sticky note and place the post-it on the part of their body that they loved the most. Many put it on their face, legs or arms. And some others were definitely pretty funny. I used this as another example that we all are different, look different and like different things about ourselves. I then had them draw a picture of themselves and on their shirt they had to draw pictures of what they enjoyed doing. They seemed to really enjoy the activity! Because of time, we decided to continue this activity at our next Monday meeting. I will have them share their pictures. The last activity for this topic is passing a piece of paper around and everyone will write something positive about that person. It is always a feel good activity and everyone loves it! This was the first meeting of many and I am eager to continue!

Girl’s group!
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Whole school picture before I had to leave ❤
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The waterfall! So pretty.
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At a waterfall with friends!
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Two cute little class 1 boys!
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Girl’s Group!
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My house! Ev sent me 3 dozen roses for Valentine’s Day! So amazing 🙂

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Spain pictures!!!

Seville in the evening!
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Plaza de Espana!
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Joss, G and I in Retiro Park!
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Joss, G and I in Playa Mayor!
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Malaga Beach!
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Grace and I!
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Seville Cathedral
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Year two, school 2

Hello everyone! I hope you are all enjoying the new year. Here is my blog from the past few months. One of my New Year’s resolution is to update this more often… So I will try.

Love you all!

February 7, 2014

It has been quite the past few weeks of school. Some of the greatest moments of school have been writing letters to Erin’s class plus a class fieldtrip to the Posta, meeting and befriending my buddy with Down syndrome, teaching, getting to spend time with and getting to know all of the kids and making kites. A volunteer from 1996 visited my school, which was awesome to hear his experiences and his thoughts on how much Kenya has changed in his eyes. He brought me kites, some books and silly string. I have now attempted to fly that damn kite now a couple different times. I have googled it. I have lost one of the most important skills as a child. But don’t worry! I look outside my window and the kids have gathered sticks, grass as string and plastic bags to make their own kites. Once they knew I had plastic bags, I had about 15 boys lining up at my door for some pink yarn, and a nice grocery bag. They gathered their sticks and began to make their own kites. Wow! They are awesome and work so much better! Quite the creative children. Every time something like this happens I just feel so humbled and defeated… but in a good way.

I have really enjoyed being at this new school. I have loved getting to know the students, working with them and learning from them. They are always making me laugh, making it so easy to get out of bed every day, and making being here so enjoyable. My classes have been working very hard. They are all extremely bright students. I am teaching class 5 maths and have 12 students. We are working on rounding numbers, and man this is tough! One of the toughest things that I have taught is place value. I have to sign the numbers one, ten and hundred to show the place value but then have to use other numbers to put in that place value. The students have been working so hard and I am really proud of them!

I am also teaching 6th grade English, which has also been a very good experience. There are only 8 students in this class. We have worked on different topics like commas, adjectives + nouns, vocabulary words etc. After we finished our first unit, we wrote letters to Erin’s class. She is a 6th grade teacher in SD. They wrote many letters to my school as well as sent a generous donation of different school supplies. We had a lesson for letter writing. I taught them the different vocabulary words: envelope, P.O. Box, posta, letter, stamp etc. They read the letters to the best of their abilities and we wrote a list of the types of things that were discussed in the letters. We then made a list of everything that we wanted to respond with. Let me just say, it was really hard to send these letters off to America, because I really wanted to keep them forever. I also had the class 7 and 8 participate. The letters were awesome! I don’t think that the 6th graders in America will fully understand the letters, but that is perfectly fine! It will be a great lesson for these students in America to learn about how hard of a subject English is for these children because of the extreme difference in grammar, and their great ability to write in sign language, rather than English. And I honestly couldn’t love it more. Here is an example: “Hi, name my Timothy. Me food love chapati chicken rice family have brother 2 sister 4 mother father soccer love friends…” etc. It is the greatest! So this sentence says “My name is timothy. I love to eat chapati, chicken and rice. I have two brothers, four sisters, and a mother and father in my family. I love to play soccer and be with my friends.” So all 25 letters are written like this. As students in the higher classes wrote the letters, the English got a little stronger. But man English is tough to teach!

I have really been learning a lot about the Kalenjin tribe here in my town from my teachers. I heave learned about the culture, food, gender roles, traditions etc. I was told that this tribe likes to drink sour milk, sometimes mixed with cow blood… I have yet to try this, but I don’t think this will be something that I try. But I have tried the sour milk. I was walking into the cafeteria to see the kiddos and one of the class 8 girls called me over to the table where the older girls were eating. She forces a cup into my mouth and I was like okay! As I took a sip of this foreign liquid, I realized that it was sour milk… Try it once, never again. Not something I particularly enjoyed. I was told that this tribe sees men as holding a very dominant role. Men are forbidden to cook, to clean and to do any activities that women were “designed” to do. If there is no woman in the house to clean the clothes, then the man will have to hire a woman to do the laundry for him. The teachers continuously educate me about their tribe, traditions and culture and I absolutely love it. It really is amazing that throughout my PC experience I will have lived with three different tribes and really had the opportunity to learn about each one.

I read this article about why this tribe in particular produces such amazing athletes. The article mentions that it may relate to socioeconomic status, location of this tribe mostly lives in high altitude etc. But this article focuses on two different factors. One is that biologically this tribe is known for very small calves and ankles, which allows them to be such talented runners. It discusses how if you put 8 pounds of weight on their stomach but their ankles and calves were the same, they would be able to run as fast as they normally would; whereas, if you put 8 pounds of weight on their ankles or calves, their ability to run at a fast pace would decrease. The second reason why this tribe in particular is so talented at running is because of the traditional ceremonies of the right of passage. Since many traditionalists in their villages still practice these rituals, this can produce these strong runners with a very, very high tolerance of pain. The article discusses how when young adults in the tribe begin the process of puberty, there is a ceremony to celebrate. They have to experience extreme pain through being beaten, circumcised with a sharp stick (with no medicine for pain), and other practices to celebrate becoming an adult. With that being said, through this ceremony, they are forbidden to cry, make noises and move their bodies; which then generates a high, very high, tolerance of pain, or they are stigmatized and labeled as a coward.

The article says that westerners avoid pain, whereas this tribe in particular welcomes pain; thus producing strong runners. If you are interested in reading more about this, read the article where I gathered this information:

http://www.wbur.org/npr/241895965/how-one-kenyan-tribe-produces-the-worlds-best-runners

It is really cool to see runners constantly in my village and town. It is also kind of intimidating. I enjoy running, for fun. I am not good at it, I just enjoy it for exercise and is the best time for me to think and let go of unwanted emotions or anxieties. But as I am running up these large hills with an altitude of 8,000 feet, I am exhausted. So I walk. These runners run by me, and I’m like “hey, don’t judge me. I just enjoy running, not really running because I am actually good at it.” I just hope they don’t generalize my running to all “white or foreign” runners… because that wouldn’t be good.

My site has a lot of foreigners come not only for running, but also for parachuting. Every time there is a person parachuting the students stop whatever they are doing, look up, point with a big smile on their face, and incessantly tap your shoulder until you are looking up as well. We will count them, they will tell me about the colors and how far up they are. In the first week of school the kids and I ran about a mile to where these parachutes take off on this huge hill overlooking the rift valley. Wow! It is amazing and so beautiful. The kids will then sit on the hill, try to sneak into a few foreigners’ pictures and then story about what they are seeing. Sometimes we look up and see the parachutes spinning and going down, kind of scary! We have also seen some parachutes in a person’s shamba (farm) in the valley. These kids love looking at them, and now I have become fond of watching them as well! Hopefully one day I can try it!

I am SO proud of Kakuyuni! They have officially turned in all of the money that they have raised for the library. We are hoping to receive the books between April and June! I am really excited about this project and cannot wait to implement it. It would not have been successful without the determination of my fellow wonderful Kenyan counterparts and co-teachers at Kakuyuni and my wonderful village. I hope these books will be well utilized and that it will increase literacy at this school 🙂

Being back in Kenya…

Stepping onto that plane, once again leaving the ones that I loved, was so difficult. I knew that if I were going back to Kakuyuni, it would have been much easier. But knowing I was going to another foreign place, having to start all over, and not be with my kids, made it so difficult. Once I landed in Kenya, I got that excitement in my heart and was definitely feeling back at the place that I belonged. The children all came to school and they are awesome. They are beautiful, of course! It is amazing how some of the student’s sign language is so advanced. We have been chatting and laughing a lot. Some were born deaf, some got sick and became deaf, some have HIV, some are orphans, some have money and some are poor, some are isolated and some are oppressed; but they are all beautiful and they are all loved and such happy people!! It really has been great to be with them! It doesn’t matter where I am in Kenya, Deaf Kenyan kids are all very similar: amazing, hardworking, with big hearts and smiles!

For the first week of school I was struggling immensely. I would wake up and just want to go back to sleep with not motivation to do anything. I of course was so excited to meet the kids and loved hanging out with them, but this foreign place just didn’t feel right, at least yet. Once I was in the classroom teaching the kids, my heart was on fire and so excited! But I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I was not teaching very much and felt under utilized. I would cry randomly just thinking about the kids at Kakuyuni, I would dream about being with them, every time a kid did something at this school, I would imagine a kid at Kakuyuni doing it. I was imagining what they were doing that current moment. I would listen to the kid’s laughs here and match it to a laugh of a student at Kakuyuni. Every little thing was bringing me back to Kakuyuni.

We had a teacher meeting, which was hours long. I was originally told that I would be teaching a lower primary special education class and then in the afternoon a pull out class to work with struggling students. So of course I was EXSTATIC! This is what I love to do of course I was pumped. Then, I was told that I could do that second term. I was teaching some subjects that I certainly do enjoy, but didn’t seem enough! I love to teach and just wanted to be constantly in the classroom. This only made me long for Kakuyuni where I knew that what I was doing, or at least hoped what I was doing, was actually making a difference and felt more needed there.

One night I just broke down so hard. I began to pray. I began to pray hard. I know myself and I know that my passion is working with kids who are deaf or have disabilities. My motivation is teaching. Why do I feel so low when I am doing something that I love so much? I continued to pray. The rest of the week I was feeling a little better, but still so frustrated about the tiny amount of time to teach and feeling that I was not needed in any way shape or form.

Then we went to church on Sunday as a school. First off, it was 3.5 hours, so if I didn’t get anything out of it, there were bigger fish to fry. One of the teachers interprets every mass and the whole thing. So during the beginning of mass and through the readings I watched the interpreter. After the homily went beyond 30 minutes I decided to close my eyes and pray. Something had to change. I could not and would not spend the next year of my life here in Kenya and feel this way, I wanted to feel excited and I wanted to be motivated to give my last year here all my heart and %110. I prayed about every person I could think of, I prayed about problems in the world, gave thanksgiving, literally everything. And lastly, I prayed to allow myself to let go of Kakuyuni and focus on where I am now.

I had struggled for a few weeks of just wanting to know why I had to be taken away from the children that I loved, what my purpose was here at the new school and the reason for it all. I felt happy here at this new school, but not the intense joy and happiness I felt and got at Kakuyuni. I always remembered reading about sometimes we just aren’t meant to understand some things, at least not right when we want to know. So I prayed for at least feeling a sense of purpose and peace about everything. I am sure those who are reading this have struggled with it, we all do. Even if it is your most favorite and passionate job you are doing in the world, we still question our purpose in what we are doing. So as I sat in church I prayed about this. And I suddenly had a revelation. This whole time of me struggling to understand why I had to leave a place that I was so much more needed, only to come somewhere where I felt the farthest from needed, was what I thought was the best for me. I thought I knew it all. I thought that staying at Kakuyuni was the best for me. And then I realized, it is not what God thinks is best for me. I felt so humbled by this. I also felt like God was like “wooooe Mackenzie, why do you think you are so high on a pedestal that you think you are SO much more needed back where you were when you clearly have no idea.” I also realized, that I think that I needed Kakuyuni more than Kakuyuni needed me.

So needless to say, this week has been awesome and so much more freeing! I talked to the head teacher about tutoring students in my free blocks of classes. I have absolutely loved teaching and it has been really fun. I have started working with some students one-on-one. Today I was working with two kids in 7th grade and realized how low one of the students is. I asked the teachers about him and they said he is 18 years old and last year was his first year in school. My heart broke from him. He couldn’t even do his ABC’s or identify the letters in the alphabet. He was kept hidden in the village until he was 17 years old. I think I figured out my purpose: help this student the best that I can with language, literacy and basic skills. I have been exercising with the kids, which has been really great! Of course I love them all, and some have already captured my heart!

America and back!

It has been quite a few months! My last blog was about moving into my new school and then off to America for Christmas. I was so excited and so ready for a break and to recharge my batteries; especially after having to switch schools. As I sat in the Nairobi airport I was so excited and anxious to see my family and be home! As I sat in the airplane on the way to London, I started to freak out. I am not a claustrophobic person. I have to take matatus all of the time, which means people are basically sitting on you, so I am clearly not claustrophobic. But as I sat on the plane as it was just leaving, I started panicking which was so bizarre! It was a feeling of being stuck in something that I couldn’t get out of for 9 hours. Then I thought about Kakuyuni and just lost it. I was picturing what the kids were doing. At that time they would be sleeping in their little mud huts with dreams stirring in their minds. It was overwhelming to think that I am doing something that realistically most will never experience. That I am fortunate enough to fly home for 2.5 weeks to see the people that I love. It is impossible for me to think about them and not cry. So of course I started crying. I was like what the heck is going on! I fell asleep and then was feeling much better.

I landed in London, which is a CRAZY airport. I literally walked around with my jaw dropped at the huge stores and everyone looked so nice!! So in Kenya I do not wear makeup. This is for many reasons. One, when I was on the coast it was so ridiculously hot that it melts off your face. Two, I just really don’t care anymore. Three, who am I trying to impress? And I couldn’t love this more. Of course I love putting make up on occasions, although in America I put make up on for Christmas and after was exhausted. But I am saying this because I realized how much make up people were wearing. I am not one to think that I am pretty or beautiful, but I have become very comfortable in my own skin with no make up. But immediately as I saw all of these people with make up on I looked in the mirror and thought “WOOF!” Ugh, the western world.

Finally flew off to the homeland. Walking in and seeing my family was amazing!!! I couldn’t believe it was 15 months since I last saw them. Everyone was taller and grown up and of course beautiful. It was so great to just be with my family again. I was so happy because I missed them all so much! Everyone asked what I wanted to eat and my natural reaction was “carne asada burrito.” And WOW was that good. I definitely ate my fair share of food and gained some lbs.

Everything that I ate:
-Mexican food 2X
-Sandwiches
-Bagels 4X
-In N Out 2X
-Chinese food 2X
-Christmas food A LOT
-McDonalds 2X
-Chic Fila
-Sushi
-Fish tacos
-Lots of salads and veggies
-Chips and dips
-Desert: fudge, cakes, ice cream, cookies, milkshakes
-Bacon About 3 packs to myself over the span of 2 weeks
-Coffee with Bailey’s (everyday)
-Taquitos
-Quiche
-Enchiladas
-Waffles
-Pancakes
-Latkes with brisket
-Fondue

…in 2.5 weeks… impressive, I know.

In the 2.5 weeks not only did I eat as much as I did, but I also got to experience so many wonderful things with my family, friends and Evan. We went to the movies, went on walks at the beach, family dinners, many card and board games (cards against humanity…), Christmas pictures, so many laughs, had a welcome home temporarily party which was awesome to see everyone, had a great Christmas party at my house with our family, went to a wedding which was a blast, NYE with my family and Evan, but most important was just being with the people that I love. It was so hard to leave home because it felt so amazing to be back with everyone.

I spoke at Erin’s school, which was an awesome experience. She is a 6th grade teacher at school in SD. It was very interesting and wonderful. The students asked great questions and had great participation. We played Deaf Simon Says, I showed them a video and pictures of the kids, and talked about the typical day in the life of being in Kakuyuni. We had a discussion about the similarities and differences between these American students and my students in Kenya. They came up with such great answers. Some of the students said similarities were all have the same feelings, all learn, all go to school, all enjoy sports, arts and drama, all eat and sleep and some other great answers. They then said differences were they do not have as much, they speak in a different language, they learn differently (as in resources and using your hands rather than mouth) etc.

After we had this discussion I explained to them how exciting it is in America to go school shopping and buy a new beautiful backpack, new pack of crayons and paper. I then picked up a plastic bag and told the kids that these are what my kids use as backpacks. I had every pair of eyes on me at this moment. I told them that when I returned from town with grocery bags they would be so excited because that meant new backpacks. They would follow me to my house and line up at that door with their little and rough hands waving in my face to get one. Talk about humbling… still gets to me everyday.

Some of the children asked about Peace Corps in general. They asked me about other opportunities in PC besides being a teacher. I told them about public health and business. They asked for more information about possible working in health. In Kenya, the age to start talking about HIV is 4-5 years old. It is in the curriculum, it is in every day conversation and every day lessons. So when the students asked me about public health, naturally I said, they work on preventing and education HIV/AIDS and Malaria. They looked at me with questions in their eyes. I started to discuss what HIV meant, as my dad shook his head saying stop stop!!!!! I forgot about American schools and the rules and strict regulations about these types of conversations. HIV/AIDS is such an everyday topic and so freely discussed. This is for both education and prevention. If a five year old starts learning about this when they are young, then they will have it so engrained in their minds that you just hope and pray that they have the skills to make the right decisions.

I really enjoyed having this conversation with these students and definitely learned a lot from them! Thank you again Erin!! 🙂

All in all, being home was amazing!

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Armpit Farts are Universal

Merry Christmas! I have FINALLY just finished this blog, and I am in the airport waiting to fly home for Christmas!!! Again, I apologize for slacking. This past month has been a roller coaster. I had to change schools and sites, which you can read about below; therefore, had to pack and relocate. I hope you are all doing well and getting excited to celebrate the holidays. Thinking of you all! Love you!

And yes, I have gone to many different places around Kenya, and every child knows how to do an armpit fart without me instigating it.

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    The Best Moments of this Year

The top best moments:
-Coming back from anywhere and the kids screaming and running towards me with smiles and hugs, then grabbed my stuff to carry
-Waking up and hearing each sound of each kid and knowing exactly who it was
-When the children pray it is the most heartfelt prayer I have ever witnessed. They always ask God to have a “HEART CLEAN.” And I love it
– Every night before bed the kids and I signing I love you to one another
-Playing church with the kids

Other amazing moments:
1. I asked a boy what he dreamt about the night before, and he said Mackenzie
2. The boys catching the owl
3. Two little girls helping me cut my hair
4. Moses and that smile
5. Sitting in my living room with the older girls talking about pregnancy, HIV/AIDS
6. Games against other deaf schools!!!!
7. Family Friday dinner nights with Precious and Dume
8. The kids playing with my fan and freaking out
9. Water balloon fightS with the kids
10. Making mahamri with the kids
11. Shamba
12. My wonderful visitors: Evan and LC!
13. Snake Park (multiple times…)
14. A bat in my house and one of the girls threw her shoe at it, which killed it
15. The kids helping me teach community KSL
16. Life Skills class
17. Night Preps
20. One of the boys in my class 3, always described why he has to go to the bathroom: in KSL “MACKENZIE CHOO PLEASE/ GITHERI BAD/ OIL FULL/ STOMACH SICK/ DIARRHEA A LOT//” and me just shooing him out and saying go, go, go
21. Dance parties
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Things that I have learned this year:
1. Accept things that you cannot change
2. God is constant
3. Simple happiness is the heartbeat to life
4. I have no control over anything
5. Never give up
6. Kenyan deaf children (really Kakuyuni) are the world’s most sweetest, beautiful, giving, generous, loving, happiest children I have ever known.

December 6, 2013

My friends and I decided to go to Uganda to white water raft the Nile River and bungee jump into the Nile. We left from my friend’s house and entered into Jinja, Uganda. Uganda is such a beautiful country and is SO clean. We went to grab a Ugandan beer and then walked around and shopped. The shopping in Jinja was amazing. After, we found this restaurant that had milkshakes and sandwiches like meatball subs and Philly cheese steak sandwiches. WOW! Then we proceeded to go to our camp type place at a place called Nile High. There were tents and dorms with bunks. The bar and food area was over looking the Nile. It was incredible. We grabbed some food and drinks and then went to bed early. The next morning was the adventure! We got up early and looked up at the place you bungee jump from. It was 150 feet high! We all went up to the top of it and got strapped in, the same straps you use to rock climb. But when you were up to jump, the used a towel, rope and bungee cord. That was it. And then you hop over to the edge and are told to not look down. Naturally, that is almost impossible. I was so pumped! But the moment you get to the edge, you think, “you seriously want me to just dive?” But then they count “3, 2, 1” and somehow you find yourself just diving down into the Nile. It was such a thrill! After I jumped and descended to the water, I was dunked into the Nile, which was so warm, and it felt wonderful. Then you proceed to be bounced up and down for a good minute and then are lowered to the small boat to catch you. It was such an awesome experience and I cannot wait to do it again somewhere else in the world.

Next we prepared to go water rafting on the rapids in the Nile. We put on some light clothes and sunscreen and then hopped on a bus with a bunch of wazungu (white people/tourists). We drove through a village and then arrived at this cute little house and grabbed some fried boiled eggs, sausage and chai. We then gathered our groups and teams. Naturally, our team name was Team Kenya. There were 9 of us. Then we got into the raft with life jackets and funky helmets. We went over rules and safety for about 30 minutes and then proceeded to the rapids. The first rapid was a waterfall and we went down it backwards. Other teams tended to flip over the rapid and their boats went upside down. Clearly, we knew what we were doing. No I am kidding we just had a lot more weight because we had more people. But later one we definitely did flip! The rapid was rough! As it flipped we were instructed to grab on the rope that was on the side of the boat. I couldn’t grab it and flipped and turned under a wave and then floated away to another side. A safety kayak picked me up and took me to a boat full of Ugandans! So I got to meet some cool people. After I got back on my team’s raft, they all said they got back on and were like “Oh my goodness where is Mackenzie!” and the captain just said keep moving! Finally, I returned to Team Kenya. For lunch we had amazing burritos. After the day’s events of rapids, flipping, floating in the Nile and too many laughs to count, we were given free drinks and skewers of meat. We had an amazing time! The entire trip was epic and something that I definitely want to do again. Being in the Nile River, after learning about it in primary school and middle school was pretty extraordinary. We also said that since we peed in the Nile, it would one day be in Egypt. Fun fact 🙂

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November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving!!! We were at a conference called Cross-Sector Thanksgiving week. This conference is to bring volunteers working on different projects in different programs to exchange ideas and resources. It was really cool to talk and get to know other volunteers that I had only met briefly in the past. We talked about site, what we are working on and how everything in Kenya is going. It was definitely a well worth experience. Since it was during thanksgiving, PC was kind enough to pay for a thanksgiving meal. We all made a list of traditional plates and food that we love to have at home and prepared it together. There were about 9-10 people who were in the kitchen all night preparing, myself included! It was an absolute blast. We had some wine and some fun music as we cooked everything. The turkeys were alive, obviously, and two of the boys had to behead them and then de-feather them. So as you are thinking “ew,” just remember that you ate this at Thanksgiving, and just because it was wrapped in a nice package, doesn’t mean that the turkey wasn’t alive at one point. 🙂 We had stuffing, green bean casserole, turkey, sweet potato casserole, brownies, pumpkin and apple pie, mashed potatoes and vegetables! Wow. It was so good. After we all ate with stuffed bellies, we drank some beers and danced the night away! Definitely another amazing thanksgiving in Kenya!

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November 4, 2013

I couldn’t sleep and felt like I was going to throw up, up until we had the meeting. We all tried to keep positive, but it was difficult to not think realistic. As I sat in that meeting, waiting for what would be a huge and drastic change to my future, my experience and my life, I tried to just pray. The weekend previous the kids and I had a blast together. But every moment that they were doing something adorable, which is like every single second, I had to walk away to cry. I was walking around the school compound crying when one of the boys came up next to me and put his arm around me. I wiped my tears away quickly because I did not want him to see me like this. Imagining my life and next year here in Kenya without these 55 children was a depressing thought. I tried to keep busy by enjoying literally every moment with the kids. At first I began to pray “God please I have to stay here. I am NOT ready. I cannot leave. PLEASE let me stay…” And then something changed in my heart. I began to pray for acceptance and peace in my heart for whatever news I was about to face. I believed that God has truly been a blessing (as always) but especially in these tough moments. It is very ironic because a few weeks before I was reading my daily devotional that said, “God gives us blessings like health, family and friends, but sometimes these blessings are taken away from us. But God will always hold your hand.” So I remember after reading this like “yikes!” I wonder what this means.

I am very possessive over these children. I call them “my kids, my students, my family.” But another friendly reminder from God is well sorry but they were mine first and they are mine, so yes you love them, but they are actually my kids. So with that being said, I am learning that God “possesses” everything on this earth, and we have no possessions. We might as well let go and just say okay, ears are opened, show me what you got.

So at this meeting, as these words were said “the state department has decided to remove all coast volunteers, for safety and security reasons, as well as to consolidate volunteers into a closer region for easy access to medical and administration attention” my heart shattered. But at that moment I also felt like God had prepared my heart for what I was about to hear. It doesn’t mean that as I am writing this it is easy, but I felt more peace and an attempt at peace. And I also demanded two things from God. 1. Keep these kids safe, healthy and help them to continuously know they are the most loved and beautiful people in the world and 2. That he better get me back to that school ASAP to continue to teach for a small amount of time, whether its soon or in a few years. After hearing this news, we all sat there in shock and in confusion. To hear such news, it was in comprehendible. That night after hanging with everyone and figuring out how to take this news, but also try to distract ourselves with jokes and small talk, I went to my hotel room and just broke down. Of course I was torn apart by the news and knowing that I would have to leave the 55 loves of my life. But the hardest thing to imagine was having to tell them.

The next day I took a matatu to Malindi, to then connect to Kakuyuni. As I walked up to the school I had to walk out to cry. The kids were eating and some were just finishing. After they washed their plates they all ran up to greet me and give me their usual wonderful smiles and hugs. They asked my eyes were red and I just said it was dirt. I couldn’t tell anyone until I spoke to my headmaster. Telling the head teacher and other teachers was so difficult. One teacher began to cry, as another had to leave the classroom. I don’t think I have done anything amazing, or impacted these peoples lives to an exponential amount, but to see how these people I have grown to love react the way they did, made me really feel like I really connected with these people and established a wonderful friendship and relationship with them. The teachers had wonderful words that blessed my heart that I will carry with me forever. Because of exams, my head teacher wanted me to tell the children and school staff on Friday, which meant I had 4 days to pretend that everything, was okay. But this past week was one of the funnest weeks in my life. When you know when something is being taken away from you and you have that time frame, you seem to live everything to the fullest. I felt like I was mostly living everything to the fullest this past year, but there were definitely days and weeks that I fell short to this. Routine and no change make us take the beautiful things in front of us for granted. Each day was a 6 am (because I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t stop thinking) day and also because I wanted every possible moment with the kids, to 10-11 pm at night. Every day I came home exhausted from laughing and so much loving. Every morning Dume and Precious brought me mahamri (donuts) and beans with coconut for breakfast. We ate breakfast and dinner with one another every day until the day that I left. We had movies with our delicious food, and lots of laughs. The last night I made them tacos, which we enjoyed very much and were about to explode!

On Thursday since exams were finished it was play day! The head teacher and deputy head teacher had meetings, so they put me in charge. I brought literally every art supply that was kindly donated and we had art day and then movie day. The kids could paint, draw with markers or colored pencils, use stickers, yarn, paper plates, sparkly glue, anything! It was amazing. The little kids made masks and was that darling! We had a blast, as usual. After getting all of the art supplies cleaned up we had a movie in my house. I love these days because that means all 55 children squish into my small house for movie day. I also bought popcorn for this occasion so some of the girls helped me make and hand out the popcorn.

Friday was our party day for class 8 and celebrating the end of the year. A goat was slaughtered and I watched it being gutted, very gross and sad, but it also tasted delicious. The kids were cleaning everything in their dorms, washing their clothes and preparing their bags to go home the next day. For lunch we had pilau (rice with the best spices), goat meat, and potatoes all mixed together. It was so delicious. After lunch, the time came to tell the kids. We all met in the class 8 classroom. I was sitting next to Madam Muta (only other teacher at school that day), as I began to tell the kids the news with tears streaming down my face. Their faces of disappointment, sadness and confusion were so sad to witness. At first some of them didn’t understand what was going on, which was understood because I was still having a difficult time understanding it. Muta stepped in and re-explained it again. I told the kids about a billion times over and over again that I loved them and God loved them so much and that they were always in my heart forever. I love every kid a lot, but there are a few that have taken a large part of my heart forever. One of these boys was one I have worked with since day 1 back in January. Every day we worked on mostly math. During the 5-week teacher strike, he didn’t go home and we worked on maths and English every day, as well as played cards, games, storied and watched movies every day. He even helped me teach my KSL class to community members. He is 16 and will be in class 7 next year. Watching his face and reaction to this news, literally tore me apart. Earlier that week Madam Muta even mentioned that he loves me so much and will not know what to do with out me because I worked with so much. But of course my reaction was well I love that kid more than the world, and without me here the next year he will still do well because he is the smartest kid I have ever met.

After telling the kids, we gave certificates to all of the children that I hand made for successfully completing the school year. As we ended the meeting, I reminded the kids that I loved them and God loved them and to never forget that. I stood at the door and made every kid give me a huge hug each. And they gave me the biggest hugs. About 15 minutes later, I walked into the boys dorm just to see what was up, and I saw some of the boys crying. Omg was this hard. I think they started realizing what was going on. Even some of my little class 1 boys were crying and I just held them as I cried with them. The kids bringing light into every situation told me that they were going to fight the people and that they would use slingshots to fight, so then I could stay to be with them. This made me laugh and it was also the sweetest thing I have ever heard in my life.

Throughout this whole situation, another stressful and scary thought was having to try and integrate in a new village, culture and language. It takes a long time to establish these relationships, and having to think about doing it again was overwhelming and at first unmotivating.

It is now December 2, and I moved into my new house and school, and my heart is still being put back together. Knowing that I won’t be in their physical presence 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and the blessings that they have generously poured out into my heart, is still extremely difficult to accept. Last week, is I was getting a tour around my new school from the previous volunteer, I couldn’t help but cry. This isn’t my home. This isn’t Kakuyuni.

But after talking to the volunteer there is an opportunity to teach an IEP class for nursery to class 3. God gives and takes away, but then gives you something else to open your heart and eyes for a new lesson. There is a 6 year old with Down syndrome. And for those of you who know me, I absolutely love working with kids with Down syndrome. God is pointing me in a new direction, and slowly but surely, this will become my 3rd home (SD, Kakuyuni and here). I will be working with the kids who are deaf and also have either autism, are cognitively delayed, TBI, and other multiple disabilities. Okay God I get it. I will miss my classes at Kakuyuni, and I will miss those kids more than anything in the world. But God is now pulling me in a different direction. Although hard to accept, I know that this opportunity will better me as a person and a teacher. What I will be doing here is exactly what I want to do in America. So… I guess I just gotta say Okay let’s do it!

My school is in the Rift Valley. Wow is it COLD and beautiful. I over look the rift valley, which is absolutely breathtaking. Also, coolest thing ever… this is where the famous Kenyan Olympian runners come from. As I was pulling out of the town going to a conference for PC, I saw athletes running through the town. I was told that these runners give all of their money they win back to their homes and schools from there respective village. It is awesome to be apart of this, especially because I love to run! My goal for the next year is to casually have a conversation with one of the runners and then maybe get my butt kicked in running with them! I also went to the high altitude training center, and I can work out there if I want for a pretty good price. But I am worried that if I am running on a treadmill next to an Olympian runner, that I may fall off… again.

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November 3, 2013

I was called about a security meeting on Monday and to travel to Kilifi. On Sunday before I left I was getting ready to go to church with the kids. I had a feeling this would be my last church with them because I had a bad feeling that this meeting was about taking volunteers out of the coast. Unfortunately, this feeling was correct. As I walked outside getting ready to go to church all of the kids said that the church was in a different village for a celebration. Since I knew this was most likely my last church with the kids, I decided we would have our own church. All of the kids walked into the classroom and found spots in the classroom. On the blackboard I wrote “Kakuyuni Deaf Church.” I told the kids it was church so they better start dancing! I ran to grab my bible from my room, and then as I was walking into the classroom, I heard music, drums and attempts to sing. At that moment I had to wipe the tears away before walking in. I walk into the class with kids banging on the desks with sticks, the kids dancing and singing and having so much fun. I walked with the bible over my head like I was the priest and danced with the kids. After the song ended, one of the girls came up and prayed. After the prayer I taught them about the gospel and the stories for that day. They seemed to really enjoy the lesson! I always loved teaching them Sunday school because they loved it and really responded well to it. After I explained the gospel, we had another song and then had the gifts where money is given to the church. I walked around with a box and the kids at first pretended to put money in the box, and then some kids started writing on paper how much they were giving to the church. Some were dreaming big and wrote 1,000, while others wrote something like 50 shillings that I think represented what they truly wanted to be able to give. It was wonderful. After the gifts we said the Our Father, and then had the kiss of peace. OMG was this amazing. Everyone was giving each other the kiss of peace with handshakes and hugs, which then turned into kisses on the hand. It was beautiful. We of course had more songs and then we pretended to have communion. Lastly, we had a boy say a closing prayer and another song. Best church I have ever experienced and I will never ever forget it.

October 17, 2013

There was an art therapist who came for about one month two times a week. All of the kids did such awesome jobs with their art and it was wonderful to be apart of it. They made houses to represent their lives, posters of trees (to learn about saving trees), poster collages of what their names mean, and a poster with clay showing the people in their life. It was awesome to witness this type of therapy as well as learn about it. The art therapist grew up in Nairobi, but is Greek. The biggest project the children did was a mural of Child’s Rights, Peace and Love. OMG was it beautiful! I will show pictures on here… They did an amazing job. The school is now so colorful! They wrote things like “Keep Kenya in Peace,” “Love Kenya,” “Children have rights,” etc. During the art therapy sessions, it was very apparent which type of homes these kids came from. One boy was always really shy until you talked to him one-on-one. Every time we talked it was just wonderful because he is a wonderful and bright student, but also very obvious that he has no one to talk to him at home. Every time he comes home from break we discuss how his break was and it is always the same. He fetches water alone, he hangs out alone, and is always isolated. But he is the happiest and sweetest kid in the world! So in one of his clay projects it showed a boy sitting in a chair under a tree alone, and then a fire for cooking with him sitting their alone. Another boy had a very flat and separated project. The therapist and I were discussing this and how it represents the boys family life. I know this boy gets beaten at home because every time he comes home from break he tells me how his mother beat him. He always shows me where: his back and behind his legs. So his artwork was a representation of this. But on a more positive note there were villages and homes with parents holding hands and being connected, sports games, birds and other animals, and a lot of color. They did an incredible job.

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I went running with all of the boys. I ended up running alone because they all ran away from me because I am too dang slow to keep up with them. As I ran back down the hill, I saw a few of the kids waiting at the bottom for me. We began running behind the mud huts and through the village, when I face planted it. The kids signed “sorry, sorry” and the Kenyan men who saw me yelled “Pole (sorry).” It was very obvious they were sincere in saying sorry but also trying so hard not to laugh because they saw the muzungu face planting it.

So Evan visited back in August and we were attacked by safari ants… Well after movie night I went to sleep. A few hours later I woke up to feeling little bites and pinches. I was like “Oh no they don’t!” I turned on my light and the little buggers got through my mosquito net. I also looked up and there was a beautiful trail on my wall of these annoying things as well as taking over the kitchen. AGAIN! So I grabbed my best friend, Doom, and sprayed them all. The next day after church two boys came in and helped me clean all of it up. Then we went around the back of the house and burned the ant house down. It was really fun. Then the boys and I had juice as a thank you for helping!! Kenya, Kenya, Kenya. Welcome to living in the bush! 🙂

October 13, 2013

The doctor from the neighboring Dispensary came into our school to start the health program. Today’s topic was about health and hygiene. We discussed the importance of always staying clean with your clothes, teeth and body. The kids were able to answer so many questions and understood most of everything! It was a really fun lesson. This was going to be our health program, this being the first topic. After the lesson, the doctor asked questions and whoever answered questions got a prize. I brought a billion toothbrushes and soap bars last year from America so whoever won got a prize. Lastly, the doctor had all of the kids line up and he evaluated them for ringworm, jiggers and any other illnesses. We made a list of all of the kids with issues and made it a school field trip the following week. It was a really fun trip because there were 15 kids and I was the interpreter, and getting medical attention was so exciting for them. They received lotions and medicine for their jiggers, ringworm and wounds. After receiving a generous package from my parents, I had an endless amount of candy for Halloween. That night for movie night I gave each kid a few pieces of M&M’s, which they are obsessed with. After movie night I went into the dorms and forced each one to brush their teeth, even the kids asleep! We woke them up and demanded them to brush their teeth. A simple moment, but a wonderful time where we laughed so hard and they were SO excited to brush their teeth with toothpaste.

October 10,2013

We had a motivational speaker come to Kakuyuni for all of the class 8 students. It was a very good day and learning so much from these speakers. The students seemed to be really pumped up about everything. My fellow teacher Mr. Mwaeyle and I were the interpreters for the whole day. I just love interpreting! But definitely by the end of the day I was exhausted. Also, because the night before one of our boys had a severe allergic reaction so the deputy teacher, the housemother and I accompanied him to the hospital. It was quite the experience. The boy is okay and got back to normal! But I also saw many things that was really sad. One boy had his lip completely cut off while this old mama looked as though she was going to die any day. It was really sad just seeing this mama so vulnerable and the family members surrounding her with hopeless faces. But if her day had come, I hope she is resting peacefully in heaven.

October 7, 2013

We had a great weekend this past weekend! It was rainy a lot of the time so we just hung out. I made chapati all by myself (which shocked everyone that the muzungu was capable of such things) and I made a lot so gave to the kids. We also went to church and movie weekend galore!!! The kids were so excited! Saturday night I made the kids have a talent show, basically a dance party. We had SO much fun!

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*I do not use the student’s names in my blog to keep the confidentiality and respect of each child.

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One Year in Kenya!

I hope everyone is well! I apologize, again for slacking on the blog. When I am exhausted from a long day, the last thing I want to do is type up a blog. But I finally did!! This is from June/July to now! Lots of different stories, experiences, challenges, rewards and emotions.

October 3, 2013: ONE FULL YEAR IN KENYA!!!!

October 3, 2013

I missed the kids SO much when I was in Kisumu at the camp!!! I was ecstatic to come back and see them. School went well this week. We have been doing some different activities in class, which has been fun. We have about a month and a half left of school until their final tests. They have been working hard and doing well!

Last night I was helping the kids at study hours when Baraka started telling me a story. Baraka, one of the brightest kids at my school, was explaining to me a few of them were studying when they suddenly saw a huge bright light outside. They thought maybe it was a motorbike or car coming into the school, when all of a sudden they noticed it was in the sky. He explained that the shape was in a huge circle with yellow on the outside and white on the inside. On the white side there were stars. He said it was hanging in the sky and suddenly as quick as possible vanished. I sat there stunned. Holy shit did they see a ufo!?!?!? I don’t know what I believe in, but I do believe there has to be other things out there than humans. I was astonished. He described it so clearly. I made sure it wasn’t a plane or the moon, and he made it very clear that it was not. The whole night I just kept thinking, what in the world did they see! The next day I texted some of my friends here and they said they saw the same thing. It ended up being a satellite from Canada but launched from California going into space. It was bright and glowing when it broke into the atmosphere. I showed the kids pictures and their mind was blown! These kids in Kenya saw something all the way from my home state!!! It blew my mind too. I still want to believe they saw something cool like a UFO or aliens…

Two weeks ago I took one of the students to the dispensary because he was feeling sick and I was his interpreter. After he was checked out and received medicine, the doctor asked if I would come once a week and teach him and his staff sign language. OF COURSE!!! What an awesome opportunity!! It is SO needed and SO important for them to know sign language. That dispensary will always be there and our school for the deaf will always be here. So by breaking that communication barrier it will make life so much more easier to communicate the sickness/illness correctly. I was ecstatic! It was my first day for class. At first the doctor sat down and expressed wanting to come in and teach different topics as a health program. Even better! We discussed topics that he will present on like hygiene, good diet, taking care of your body, HIV/AIDS/STI education and prevention and some other important topics. He will be doing majority of the work but I will help with resources and interpreting. I started the sign class too which they enjoyed! It is a very exciting project. And even better, the motivation came from him, not me.

I love to run. One thing I really miss is long distance running outside of a track and did that all of the time at home. It is my exercise but more so my mental recharge. I have run around the neighboring field a million times since being here. But I have never once ran through the village and the road. Why it took me so long to do it is beyond me!!! I FINALLY ran outside of the field through the village with the kids. OMG did it feel amazing. Yes people stared, yelled muzungu, but I didn’t care. It makes my motivation to exercise so much better.

September 26- 29

I received an email at the beginning of September saying that two volunteers were started a camp for only children who are deaf called Camp Uwezo. Since these 2 volunteers finish their service in December, they had to choose two volunteers in the next Deaf Education group to participate so next year they could lead. My friend Britani and I were chosen!!! I was so honored to receive this email and be part of such a wonderful camp. This camp was incredible. It was coordinated by Peace Corps but was run by Deaf Kenyans. I had the opportunity to meet deaf adults from all over Kenya with different stories, experiences and information to share. I learned so many new signs. I met some extraordinary people who had to work through school in a hearing world alone. I met people who were kept in hearing school even though they were deaf. I met people who now work in social work and advocacy for deaf, teachers, nurses, deaf empowerment etc. One woman discussed how her entire schooling she was deaf but remained in hearing school; therefore challenged herself to teach herself everything. She went to university because she taught herself everything she knows. I met another man who now works in Nairobi as a social worker who advises the youth. As a young child he became sick and became deaf. He talked to his dad saying he needed someone to teach him sign language. His dad said if you want it you have to figure out how. This encouraged him to write a letter to the school saying he needed this assistance to better his education. They granted him these resources. He went to college and then advocated for himself to get an interpreter. This boy is 22. His sign language is impeccable. Each and every Kenyan that I met had a wonderful story.

This camp was made for deaf students who are the top leaders in their schools. I was able to meet some incredible students in upper primary and secondary school with strong leadership like qualities and learn about their lives in schools in Western Kenya. The lectures covered a various amount of topics from HIV/AIDS education, prevention, family planning, communication skills, leadership skills, STI’s, future careers etc. We also had many fun team builders, Olympic games and condom games. Condom games were held after learning about family planning, HIV/STI/Pregnancy prevention. The games were really funny like condom water balloon toss, pop the condom balloon, and a race to put condoms on a dildo. Yes I am sure as you are reading this you are probably appalled or questioning if this is appropriate. My mind at that moment was like this is so inappropriate for kids. But the reality is that kids here, at age 12 and up have sex. There are many young children who get pregnant or get HIV. Many of these children are not taught at home, especially those who are deaf. If no one at home knows sign language, how do parents communicate this? They don’t! So it is our jobs to teach them and inform them. Also, teaching them with visuals is also a major resource that helps them learn. By having condoms and dildos, this helps the children to understand exactly how these work. And of course the first and foremost job is to teach abstinence. This is always the first thing we teach, but also have to be realistic.

We also had a career panel. It was awesome to watch! All of the deaf Kenyans stood up and told us if they were born deaf or hearing, which most all were born hearing, and how they got to where they are now. Above I shared some of those stories. It was awesome to learn about each and every person’s story of how they got to where they are now. The week of Camp Uwezo was also International Deaf Awareness Week. Our camp participated in the Deaf Awareness Walk in Kisumu town. At the beginning of camp the children all made flags for their small groups, so the kids carried these flags. It was amazing to watch them story with one another and see how many deaf adults there are in Kenya and in the world. I feel like it made them realize they are not alone in being Deaf and that everything and all things are possible for them. The largest part of camp was that Deaf Can and all things are possible regardless of being deaf or not. A lot of these children are oppressed, told they can’t do it, told they are stupid etc. This camp was not only to encourage them as leaders, but take pride in being deaf.

I am so blessed to be apart of the camp, and even more blessed to now start planning it with Brit. I am honored to be coordinating this camp and I really look forward to it next year!

September 12, 2013

School has been going really well these past few weeks! We have started off to a good start. There are some days that I feel like we can actually get pretty far in the schemes and syllabus, and there are other days that I realize how much more work that we have to get done. It is so difficult to be expected to complete their syllabi when I need to go back to previous classes to catch them up in their current classes. Needless to say, this takes a lot of time to rewind to give them that basic foundation. But I have found ways that I am trying to go backwards while going forwards at the same time. Some of my kids just get it. They understand everything but just need a little guidance and a push, whereas I have a few students who struggle with that ability to connect those types of things. But this is the same everywhere! Every morning I have found time to sit and just be in silence, but mostly filling my peace with prayer. This has been an excellent start to my day allowing myself to start my day in happiness, peace and in the presence of God. This helps my patience and allows for me to be way more open for the coming challenges, awards, laughs and smiles. So when these daily challenges arrive, I feel more patient and accepting. This is not to say I don’t lose patience, because this happens on a daily basis, if not more. This past week has been more challenging in the sense of behavior. Holy cow! Sometimes I get frustrated with myself with my classes are not understanding a concept, but behavior, that is a whole other realm. I have always been a huge believer, after taking so many classes at UD about emotional and behavioral disorders, learning disabilities etc, that behind every behavior there is a reason. These reasons usually connect with their home lives. This does not excuse their behavior, but it does give a little more perspective on why they behave the way they do. So when I see my kids in tattered clothing, with difficulty in comprehension, but react to others, me or their work in a disruptive manner, I get it, or at least try to get it. I am not that child, nor ever have been or will be, who goes home and is isolated, who cannot communicate to one person, who is yelled at because sign language is not known, possibly beaten, possibly barely fed, with no care, love or comfort. But this doesn’t mean I never lose patience. I get more upset with them when they know what they are doing wrong but do it anyways. When we have discussions about respect and what that means, or how to treat other people, it astonishes me when they still act out in these ways. But it has made me realize how much I need to put myself in their shoes. There is one boy in particular. He is around 15 years old, and school is just challenging for him, but he has the confidence in his academics like he is at Harvard Law School. I love this confidence that he has. But he just struggles immensely. He sits next to a boy who tantalizes him all of the time. This poor boy is also bullied and fights with other kids. It makes me wonder what his life is like at home, how he is treated and how he truly feels about everything going on his life.

I make mistakes everyday. Every, single, day. Some of these mistakes stay at the forefront of my thoughts all day, and others I am able to easily let go and learn from. To an extent it is so important that they see me making mistakes as well. Whenever the kids do something wrong, they sign “sorry, forgive.” And this is something that I love and will return when I have made a mistake as well. Although some of these kids may not truly understand what forgiveness means because of their young age, they use it so freeing and give it so easily. They love so easily. Even if you do something wrong like get upset or impatient with them for doing something wrong, they forgive and love no matter what. Even when I have seen a child beaten for “bad” behavior, those kids still respect and love that person, which blows my mind when for me that respect and forgiveness can be so hard to give.

I have restarted my behavior chart. Smiley face for great behavior, sad face for unwanted behavior. We have been over it a billion times, but because it is something they are still getting used to, I have to restate what it all means. So when I had a boy lie to me about going to the bathroom, two boys fighting, one boy disrespecting and not listening to me, they unfortunately got sad faces. For me this is so difficult. Tough love I guess! After I put up that sad face, they are torn apart and it makes me want to just make them feel better and forget it all happened. But I am trying to stick to my policy and show them that this behavior is not acceptable. At the end of the week everyone got juice and a cool new pencil, but if you had behavior problems you only got the juice with no pencil. The kids were mad at me. This is so hard!! But the moment I step into that classroom Monday morning it will be a reminder, and I crumble up that old behavior chart saying that one is finished, now it is time to start over again. I am hoping with time it will be something that they can start to understand. I think sometimes communicating this one of the hardest part. How do you tell them they are disrupting their own learning? That they are wasting their own time and they are choosing to behave a certain way? And all in sign! After talking with some friends they gave me some good advice of how to explain this. To sign that there are two ways, one way is good and one way is bad and you have the choice to choose. Sometimes this can be very challenging though when I have eight year olds with very minute language. The week was very good though and I did not let this behavior get in the way! I did text my mom “teaching Kenyan kids who are deaf is the hardest and most challenging thing I have ever done.” It is challenging but an awesome challenge and I love it!

August 23- September 7, 2013

Evan arrived on August 23 in Mombasa. We had two full weeks with fun adventures awaiting us. It had been almost a full year since last seeing each other; so needless to say, it was amazing! We first started off in my village, where he caught up on his sleep from the crazy jet lag and over 30 hours of traveling. Sunday we went to church so he could experience what this was like since it is something that I experience, most of the time, on a weekly basis. One of my students was there so Evan had the chance to meet him, which was wonderful. That night we were just watching movies and decided we should go to sleep since we had an early morning. We walked into my hallway/kitchen, and Evan was like “uhh Mackenzie, there are a bunch of ants on the ground.” I just thought oh typical. I turned on the kitchen light, looked at the floor and and raised my head to the counter… These weren’t just little baby annoying ants, these were safari ants. The big ones that hurt really badly. And there were probably around 5,000 of them. We both just looked at each other like “ummm what do we do?” Evan wasn’t wearing shoes, so as I grabbed the Doom can (my best friend), I hear “ow, ow, ow!” I just start spraying this can all over the place. After about an hour and a half of cleaning everything up, we felt as though it was finished. We discussed how this all escalated and happened within an hour, so thank God we caught it when we did because we may have woken up with my room and possibly house covered.

Monday morning we headed off to Lamu. This road is one of the worst roads to travel on so it was quite the adventure and experience. Since these buses like going over the maximum number of people allowed on a bus, Evan and I had the cutest little kids on our laps for over half of the trip. They ended up falling asleep in our arms, and the little boy drooled all over Evan. So funny. We arrived and since it is an island, we were taken by boat to Lamu. The entire trip was just paradise. We went on a boat ride with a friend of mine from PC and her family (they were visiting as well), ate incredible coastal food (grilled fish, vegetable curry, coconut fish etc.), went swimming in the Indian Ocean, danced in the floating bar house, drank the best and most fresh juice I have ever tasted, and really just enjoyed the peacefulness that the island has. Evan and I had an incredible time together. We went out to a really nice dinner the night before we left and he ate crab. And the crab didn’t like his stomach… For about 24 hours after that, the poor guy had food poisoning. Since the food here is cooked differently, and we both were eating things we weren’t used to, let’s just say we got closer in ways that we didn’t imagine… We decided to take a very cheap, and timely flight back to my town.

The next morning we were picked up around 6:30 am for our safari! So exciting!! We both had never been on a safari, so being together was even more amazing for this trip! We arrived after a few hours of driving to the parks. We saw some crocodiles at first and walked up pretty close to them. We started to drive through the park and saw some elephants very far away. But as we drove further and further in, we saw giraffes, elephants, antelopes, and zebras so extremely close to us. One elephant even looked as though he was about to charge us! It was absolutely breathtaking and incredible. Writing out this experience does absolutely no justice to how this experience really was. But we saw families and families of elephants. We were on our way up to lunch when we start to pull up and see some cars watching something. Evan was like “omg a lion!” And I of course was like “ha ha ha very funny.” But we got so close, about 30-40 feet away from a lion holding down its prey. It was holding down a waterbuck. You could see the exhaustion in both the animals. The waterbuck was still alive and just waiting for energy to be restored. We just sat and watched for what could have been hours. The waterbuck would regain energy and start to try and gallop away. You could hear all of the other animals such as monkeys start yelling, almost like cheering it on. But the lion would jump on it and hold it down again and eventually broke its legs. After a while the lion was exhausted and went to lay down under a tree. We had to check into our hotel and eat lunch before our evening game drive. We stayed at the nicest places with the most beautiful views. We had an incredible time. The second place we stayed was the best place I have ever seen. It was a lodge overlooking so much land. The savannahs were one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen in person. After many game drives and elephants we arrived to the hotel. It was actually our one-year anniversary so it was the most amazing experience. But now my standards are set pretty high for anniversaries… jk. But we had a few hour break before our next game drive so we checked into our own little private and beautiful lodge and sat on the front porch with a glass of wine. We were over looking not only land, but also a water hole where animals were coming back and forth from drinking water. Sitting on that porch with Evan was probably one of the top highlights of the trip. We went on a rhino game drive but unfortunately did not see any. We ended up watching elephant families the majority of the trip because they are fascinating to watch. The food was delicious and we enjoyed it a lot. We ended our trip by going to this spring. We drove through land that was once a volcano. When we arrived we walked to this lake where hippos lived but only saw them from afar. We also saw lots of fish and crocodiles and it was absolutely beautiful. As this came to an end, it was time to go back to my house. I was so sad to leave! We had so much fun.

After arriving back to my house, we just relaxed and enjoyed the 2 days before my kiddies were to arrive. One boy Baraka (one of my favorites shhh) came and met Evan. I was literally jumping for joy! We played cards with him for such a long time and had a blast. Evan and watched movies and just really enjoyed each other’s company, as we did the entire trip. Wednesday morning I hear knocks on the door, which is the usual, and open it to kids saying “where’s Evan, where’s Evan!!!!” So eventually they all got to meet him and just loved him. On Thursday a lot more kids came so we played cards with them, storied and just had so much fun. Evan ate ugali for the first time, which was great watching him trying to figure out how to eat it with your hands. We also went into the village and got viazi (delicious potatoes that are fried with this pili sauce), and all of these donuts. Friday morning we woke up and went to my class to start teaching. I had one girl in class one, and four kids in class three. We started reviewing and just working on different things. I was teaching place value to my class three and Evan helped me a lot with different ideas of how to teach it! Sometimes when you are teaching and in that routine, an outside person can see something in a totally new perspective. So Evan helped and gave me some great ideas to use for place value!! He helped Rehema my class one girl with identifying animals out of a pile of random flash cards. It was so cute watching him with her and with all of the kids! They love him so much! Just watching him with the kids made my tear up because I knew that the next day was the trip back to the airport… a day I never wanted to come. After class we ate some rice and beans with the kids, which is always delicious! When the school day was over we decided to fill up some water balloons, which then became lets keep going and fill these up again! We snuck outside and just threw them at kids and the balloon popped on them and got them so wet. At first they were like not okay with getting wet from the balloons, but then eventually they couldn’t get enough! My class 3 boy, Randu, Evan’s new best friend, helped us fill up balloons. It was so much fun. We got into a water balloon fight and everyone was just cracking up laughing. At one point two of my kids got about 2 feet away, no exaggeration, and threw it literally as hard as they could at my face. I was crying laughing because it was so funny. Of course by the end of it, it became Evan versus Mackenzie, which was hilarious and fun. Two big kids, and I’m pretty sure we enjoyed it the most out of everyone. I have some more balloons Evan left so I will be sure to bust those out again. As we got back into my house, we heard the chicken squawking and opened the door to the children holding it and sharpening the knife. Welcome to Kenya Evan! Evan was given the sharp knife and he beheaded the chicken. The kids loved it! They were all surrounding him and helped him with it. It was great. Became an amazing and delicious chicken pilau!

The next day was the day I never wanted to come, but unfortunately had to. The kids all said their goodbyes, which made me cry, and we got into the taxi that was taking us to the Mombasa Airport. Some of the teachers even came to send Evan off! We had a great lunch before the airport and really just enjoyed everything up to the last moment. Saying bye was so hard because we had worked so hard with so much love and effort the past year and were finally able to celebrate that by being together, but this amazing time unfortunately came to an end. But I am flying home for a couple weeks for Christmas and will see him then, so this was our motivation to keep us not too sad! We had the most incredible two weeks of our lives and am so blessed and fortunate to have him visit for this amount of time.

August 17, 2013

Kenya Red Cross came to my village and delivered Toms to all the schools and the community members. I always heard about how Toms says if you buy a pair of shoes, than one pair will be given to a child in Africa. I have never owned my own pair but know of many people who do. It was an awesome experience to be on the other side of this experience and seeing the actual shoe being handed out to African children and mamas. I helped check the kids feet for jiggers and then if they had jiggers and their feet were cleaned, we fit them for shoes. They were all so excited. After I saw some kids carrying the shoes on their heads, and still walking barefoot. They just don’t want to ruin them! The kids were stunned when I told them how much these shoes cost at home. They were so incredibly grateful for these shoes and I was so blessed to be able to experience every moment of it.

August 15, 2013

Had my first jigger! I looked at my toe and saw the huge black dot and when I pushed on it, it hurt. One of my class 7 girls took it out for me. Didn’t really hurt at all. She just had to take out a flee and its eggs out, no big deal. But I wasn’t bothered by it because this was just one more small experience that adds to this whole experience, and gives me just a little more perspective on what these kids go through in their whole life.

We have been working in the shamba for the last few weeks to get the land ready for replanting of maize. The kids work so incredibly hard. We have tomatoes, so many different types of greens, okra, and so many other veggies! The kids love it because they get food, and they get to see the product of their hard work.

Sunday we went to church and all of the girls were asked to dance. I saw all the little girls in their lesos (material) wrapped into skirts. The older girls were then invited as well. This made me so happy because the congregation was including the Deaf into church. It was incredible to experience this. Omg was I like a proud mama watching them dance during church. I was just that embarrassing mom giving them thumbs up every 5 seconds with a huge smile on my face. Took pictures of them too. The church was so appreciative of them participating. With the kids attending church every Sunday, this has helped with this integration. Then I began interpreting some parts for the kids, and now the kids are invited to participate with other activities. It makes me really happy! The village is able to learn about the Deaf and see that they are just as capable at anything like they are.

Some of the boys at church who were also in my sign language class have been practicing this drama for a long time. Some of the kids and I went to watch them. I didn’t understand a lot of it but it was fun to watch. It was about how some of the kids are given alcohol or drugs to sell for their parents to make money and how early pregnancies are happening. It was interesting to watch! They were doing the production for the hearing school next to us. All my friends were happy I came to watch!

The kids love cards. Oh my gosh! I have a bunch of decks of cards and it has been non-stop. They play the simplest game in the world, but they love it and have played all day everyday. You have three cards and take one from the deck and discard one. When you have two pairs of the same number, you win, or if you have 4 numbers in a row, regardless of the suit, you win! That’s it! And they play all day. I have taught them go fish now so that is another game they play. They keep track too of points and who is winning the most. It is so fun to play with them!

We had tests last week and the kids went home Friday the 16th. We have had movie nights every night, which has been fun. I try and change it every night from fighting for the boys, cartoons for the little ones, etc. The tests went well. I was so proud of the class 1, they killed the math test!! One of my students is so smart. Fingerspell SUN one time, sign the word sun, draw a picture, and he remembers it just like that. My one boy who is 21 in class 1, struggled with the tests but for his reading I drew pictures of all of the words we have been working on. He signed every single one of them correctly. I was SO happy! All the kids were surrounding us as he signed the words, and they all were so happy for him cheering him on. It was great.

Been running a lot with the kids, which has been really fun. They all join me so it becomes more fun and we all get exercise! I have been doing insanity and a few times kids have opened my door and look at me weird haha. But then they all come in and join me! Makes it fun!

All of the kids have gone home, but class 8 is staying. I am really excited because I will be teaching them all next week! I am so used to teaching the little ones so this will be awesome to get a different day-to-day experience of working with the older ones. Of course I am always teaching the older ones after I teach my class, but I get to work with them all day. Since I have the younger kids, I have to deal with behavior on a day-to-day basis, so it will be nice to not have to deal with any behavior issues this next week!

August 4, 2013

After church the girls and I bought chapatti flour! We were going to cook it for all of the kids. It turned into making mahamri instead, which is like a donut but better. It took about 4 hours but it was so fun cooking with them. The boys watched a movie while we cooked! They said I was oppressing them, a daily word that I hear, because they weren’t cooking with us. I was like what do you mean? You get to sit here watch a movie and then get fed a donut without doing anything. And then they were like oh ya true. But it was really fun cooking with the girls. The next day everyone had tea and donuts for breakfast!

July-August 3, 2013

OMG being back with the kids has been nothing but amazing. I realized how much I love them (which I always knew I did a lot) but the extent of the love I have for them was realized when they were home for the strike and I was alone. It felt like part of my heart was missing. I always miss them when they are home, but I never knew how much I missed them until I saw them too. I was walking back from the matatu on Saturday because I was in Nairobi. The past month has been one of the hardest and toughest times of experiencing loneliness I have ever experienced in my life. And seeing those kids faces only made me feel so much better and so at home. I knew the moment I would see them I would cry. I was walking up and saw the kids notice me. They began screaming and running with the biggest smiles on their faces. I had tears rolling down my cheeks and tried so hard to wipe my tears away so they wouldn’t see this emotion. Usually the older kids will wait for me to walk through the gates and the little ones will run and scream towards me, but this time it was even the older kids running for me. They grabbed my bags and hugged me with so much love. I depend on these kids for happiness. The only affection that I get here is from these kids. And I realized that the lack of affection this past month of being alone showed me how much I have missed it. Needless to say, the past week at school it has been nonstop laughs, hugs and just lots of love and just being with them has wiped that loneliness way faster than you can even say the word laugh.

This past month has been a test of my faith, my strength and everything else that goes along with it. When the kids left for the strike I was basically living alone. I had sign language class two hours everyday, which was wonderful. It has helped me make friends with my peers in the village. I would run with the neighboring kids and hang out around the fire pit. It was great to hang out. It was also extremely slow paced. Being completely alone with no distractions was very difficult for me. I am used to always being busy, playing and teaching the kids from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. I am an extremely affectionate person and I depend on this. When the kids were gone, I felt physically, emotionally, and mentally alone beyond explanation. But the moment I saw these kids my feeling of loneliness faded away.

Friday after school I went to sign language class and taught some sign language. I taught them signs like HIV, sickness, stigma and vocabulary that goes a long with that topic. Patience, once of the girls, is my age and we have become friends. She walks 8 kilometers, about 5 miles to school and then another 8 k home everyday. She was telling me about her sweetheart (boyfriend) here and how mine, Evan, was visiting soon. I told her that she has to get married to him before my time in Kenya comes to an end so I can come to the wedding. She said it was impossible so she would call me when I am back at home and I will have to fly to the wedding. We always tell stories in sign language class to increase fluency, plus it is fun! They are so excited to meet Evan.

At school, it is literally a daily discussion “so when is Evan coming?” and I love it!!!! They are so funny. Literally everyday I have to write on the board how many more days until Evan comes. If they see a muzungu they ask “is that Evan???.” Yesterday the kids and I were storying, as usual, and Baraka, class 4 boy was joking around with me. They all have asked, so where is he sleeping? On my couch, duh! So yesterday Baraka was like okay, so Mackenzie you get to go to the girl’s dorm and sleep there, and Evan will sleep with us in the boy dorm. And then the kids were like “oh he is sleeping on the couch” and I said yes! And then Baraka, who is 16, said, no when it is night and no one sees, Evan will tip toe (as he is acting this out) into Mackenzie’s room and sleep there. He said Why? Because Mackenzie’s mom won’t be there to complain or say no!!!! hahahaahha literally the funniest thing I have ever heard. I told my mom and she thought it was pretty hysterical. Baraka is a nut and if I picture him at my school when I was in high school, he would be that boy that always makes everyone laugh, is the class clown, and has a lot of suave and swag. And that is what he is like here. These kids are the funniest people I have ever met.

On Friday all of the kids had to work, so after class and their work all of the older girls came into my house and I cooked tea for them. I read this book about girls on the coast who struggle with poverty, surrounded by sex, and HIV, and no support from families. It was a very easy book to read and I enjoyed it. My counterpart read it and she really enjoyed it as well. I decided to give it to Rehema, a class 7 girl who is so intelligent. I told her to write a list of words that she doesn’t understand. Yesterday we started reading it, signing word by word, together. We got interrupted by the boys, who said I was “oppressing” them because I wasn’t giving them tea. I told me that the night before they came to my house and we played cards! But still they wouldn’t give it up and said I was oppressing them and they were not happy with me. This is a daily word that I hear, and it makes me laugh every time. I think in my head “oh please.” Funniest kids I have ever met.

On Monday I was sitting around the fire with the kids, storying and laughing. One boy tried signing to me very discreetly that he wanted to go get tested at the VCT (voluntary counsel and treatment) center for HIV. He said he was feeling sick. I told him I would go with him and get tested too. A few blogs ago, back in May, I wrote about how a little boy’s finger that was pretty much severed off. When I brought him to the dispensary, and he got stitches, I noticed that I had blood down my legs and all over my hands. Because of the statistic of HIV here, I figured if one of my students was getting tested I would do it with him too. I was and am SO proud of him for being responsible to get tested. We walked over together and I was also his interpreter. I told him I would get tested with him. He said he has been tested before and was negative so I said only if you have gotten a cut and someone elses blood has mixed with yours or had sex without a condom then he could get HIV. He said he did none of the above but wanted to get tested anyways. I hope that this experience is a reminder for him when he may be in difficult situations in the future. And I also hope that this will give other people the incentive and comfort of going. I decided we would quietly sneak out of school and go so no one would know. He didn’t want anyone to know what was going on, naturally. So we snuck out and of course the moment we got back it was where were you, where were you? But a teacher came to the dispensary looking for us because the chief decided to call all special schools to meet at his office for registration. I apologized for quietly sneaking away without saying anything to anyone, but said that the boy wanted it to be confidential. The teacher said I did the right thing. So since the chief called we had to stop classes, again, and walk about a kilometer or two to his office right then and there. It was pretty much a school field trip, and the most pointless thing in the world. Our entire school had to go when really it should have been a principal only activity. They didn’t even have all the information for all of the kids so they couldn’t even complete it. Why they couldn’t just fill the paperwork out and deliver it is beyond me. The kids haven’t had school for over 5 weeks and let’s call in the middle of the day and say come now? It was really fun though because the kids and I had a blast. Walked through a dirt road, through shambas tall with maize (corn), passed villages with mud huts, all holding hands. Then I thought it would be fun to start racing. Of course, once again, I got everyone in trouble. I always am the leader in this. Woops! Sorry I’m not sorry for having fun! The teachers told us to stop running so we had to walk slow. We got to the registration sat there for a few minutes, had no idea how to answer any of these questions because the kids didn’t even know, and then we turned in what little paperwork we could do, then walked back.

One of my little girls in class 3 was complaining of pain in her shoulder. I looked at it and it looked like a zit. Since I am not used to dealing with these types of issues, I didn’t know what to do but tell her to talk to the house- mother. The next day I had a knock on my door for some Band-Aids, and at the same time the teacher showed me two living worms that were taken out of her arm, and most likely had more in her arm. They said fleas would bury themselves in the skin and then grow and if you push on it, you can see it moving. Poor little thing. These kids deal with so many things.

Friday night was our usual Friday night family dinners, and the men cooked!! With the gender roles here I was quite surprised. We got into many discussions about this. In the past, the gender roles were separated with extremely thick lines. But now, because Kenya has progressed, the women and men share some more roles now. My headmaster said that he will help clean dishes or clothes. But he said that if their baby was crying and he was sitting right there with the baby, while the woman is working on something else, he will call her to come take care of the baby because it is not his responsibility. They have asked me many times and don’t believe it that where we are from there is no such thing as dowry. Usually the father charges the future husband over 1 million shillings, or cows or goats. So they say if the father has a lot of daughters, he is rich! The more education the daughter has, the more the dowry is because the father had to pay a lot of money for the education. My teachers also said that women were seen as objects. Oh thanks, that is nice. The dowry is basically paying for the girl and then when they are married the husband gives the girl’s family a bottle of alcohol for “paying” for the future children. If they are divorced the man gets the amount of money or animals that he spent and no matter what, he keeps the children.

When the mother cooks, which is always the case, and they kill a hen, the elder man always gets the good parts, for example the gizzard. They said even if that man is travelling they have to save it until he comes home. If the gizzard goes missing, the woman has to go back to her house and kill another chicken for the gizzard. Crazy!!!

Then my friend Dume, proceeded to tell us about a meeting he is having today (Saturday) with a few students and their parents. Why? Because three class 6 and 7 girls are pregnant. Three!! We got into this discussion of how this happens. For obvious reasons, hormones but here there are a lot more reasons. The teachers were saying if the girls are smart enough they will have the child then go back to school, but most of the time, the girl marries the boy, gets impregnated again and again, and then never returns to school and the boy will potentially leave. They said that a lot of times, the girl will allow herself to be seduced by a boy because of the poverty they are surrounded by. If they get pregnant, then the boy has to help pay and therefore they arise from poverty just a little bit. Dume said the girls that are pregnant you can see the poverty because they come to school in tattered uniforms. There was a girl at my school before I came, who was 24 in class 8 and got pregnant for the 3rd time by a different person. She had been expelled from previous schools after all of her pregnancies. But now she does not go to school and has three children at such a young age with little education. Since I have 10 girls from the hearing school in my sign language class, I decided that since they do not get life skills lessons (teachers told me there is none of that), that part of learning these signs it will be also geared to life skills. So while learning signs about pregnancy I will also give them the advice of abstinence, or if you are going to do it, use a condom. I will teach them about HIV and other STD’s. I figured this could hopefully maybe be productive and beneficial.

July 21, 2013

I never knew the true importance of what human interaction and affection was. Of course I always knew it was important, but I really learned what it was. I never understood what it feels like to truly feel alone. I never really comprehended what it felt like to feel so connected, yet so disconnected from the world surrounding you. But I comprehend it now. For the past 4 weeks, I have felt more alone than I ever have in my entire life. I have finally truly felt what it feels like to have such a lack of affection from another human. I have kept myself busy by running with the school nursery kids, teaching two of my students who didn’t go home, helping at the preschool, sign language class and eating (of course). I have made new friends in the village and feel like I am finally gaining that full respect of being the muzungu in my village. I connect so well with the people surrounding me. I have enjoyed sitting with my Kenyan peers using only sign language to communicate different times of our lives and our hopes for the future. I have sat with the priest and other community members eating ugali and kuku (chicken). I have sat around the fire every night roasting maize (corn) and attempting to speak in broken Swahili. I have showed other friends movies and have had story times. I have taught my new friends cards. And Baraka kicks butt!

But the moment I walk into my house, that crazy feeling of what alone is truly defined as hits me like a mango falling from a tree. When all the children are here and we have school constantly, I don’t have time to think or time to feel. I love it! When the children are here I am in Disneyland because we laugh, have fun and tell stories. Of course there are those frustrating days at school with trying to get a new concept comprehended or the typical 20th time the student needs their pencil sharpened. But it is majority laughs and smiles. And in these days of school, life skills class, KSL community sign class and my attempt to get a work out in, I crave that 1-hour of alone time until study hours. But now that there is no one there it is a whole different ball game. I love sitting with Kenyans and hearing their stories, or them telling me things about their culture and traditions. I love running with the kids. I love playing football. I love teaching maths, English and the subjects. I absolutely love teaching sign language to my class.

July 18-20

I have been helping at the preschool. Um so much fun. We played football so basically it was me with a bunch of 5 year olds. I feel like I relate to children sometimes so much more often than I do with adults. Okay and those of you who know me really well are thinking “ya you have the maturity of a 13 year old” which is why I get a long with kids so well. I am always making a fool of myself, making funny faces and talk when I am not supposed to talk. I eat with my hands and I eat fast. I don’t like to sit and I like to play. I don’t like to share (okay that’s a lie) or follow directions. So needless to say, my 5-year-old self had a blast with my new buddies. They would yell “teacher, nipe (give me)” over and over and it was great. I put the football in the back of my shirt and ran around and they all laughed and screamed and chased me.

July 17, 2013

I have received generous packages of school supplies. I was helping at the preschool and the 30 kids were sharing like 7 broken crayons. I had an extra box of crayons and decided to give it to the Catholic preschool. When I gave the box to Patience, she was so extremely grateful. Just like a few days before, I had given a test for sign language and they all were allowed to keep the pen that I gave them for the test. She is 25, and jumped up and down like I just gave her a million dollars. It was so sweet. So when I gave the class the box, everyone was so excited. The kids marveled at the new crayons and were ecstatic about having such beautiful and nice crayons! Simple living, and I love it.

July 9, 2013

I was sitting around a fire and a boy named Kombe, was sitting with me and we were talking about hobbies, music we liked and different cultural things. He explained so many different Giriama traditions to me and why things are the way they are. People don’t celebrate their birthdays, and usually do not even know their birthdays. Kombe told me people celebrate death more than a birthday because “death brings people together.”

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Owls, Snakes and Worms

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you all had a great holiday. Xoxo

July 2, 2013

I went to run today in the field. Since the strike is still continuing, there are no schools. But the nursery school is still continuing. I started running and all of the little 6 year olds were on their recess. At first they were all laughing and watching me run, and then some joked around and started running with me then would stop. I finally said “kuja” which means come. A few started to run with me, then it was 15, then 20, then 30 little nuggets running with me. Everyone was laughing and having fun. After a lap or so, I put my hands out and I felt hand after hand grab my hands. Next thing I know, I am running about 1 mile per 5 hours, because there were like 5 kids on each arm, and then another pulling on my shirt. I loved every moment of it. All I could do was smile and just thank Jesus for that moment. I needed it. We kept running and then I motioned to go to the edge of the field. I said “haraka” which means fast in Swahili. They all looked at me ready. I said “tayari” (ready), and then “enda” (go). We all started sprinting down the field. We did this a few times and it was so fun. We started running again around the field.

Since they are little kids and do no know any better, I heard the word muzungu before we ran. After a while of sprints and running, they started chanting “teacher, teacher, teacher.” I was so happy because it was not muzungu and this is a sign of respect. After running around the field a few times with a million hands grabbing me, I decided to attempt to teach them “duck, duck, goose…” We sat in a circle but that took some time because they all were fighting to hold the muzungu’s hand. Finally, they sat. I stood up and tried acting out what the game was about. I ran around and the kid I said goose to chased me. After about 1.5 rounds of this game, and I had sat down because I was no longer the leader, all of the kids decided to run up to me and just circle around me. 30 little 6 year olds sitting, standing and circling me. A moment I will never forget. I was just sitting there and then said “Ninaitwa Mapenzi, Mimi ni mwalimu shule hapa.” (My name is Mapenzi, I am a teacher at the school here.” Not sure if that is correct spelling, grammar or Swhaili, but they understood. So the next day I was walking to the market, and all of the kids were standing in the doorway of their class yelling “Mapenzi, teacher!” And all were waving. It was great. We have now had a couple days of running, playing tag, chasing each other, laughing and having fun. A moment where I sit in the middle of a circle of 30 little Kenyan children with 60 pairs of eyes on me, thinking this would be a great picture. But then I always think, no picture could ever capture this moment, and this is something that I can only hold close to my heart.

June 24, 2013

So I had to go to Nairobi with my counterpart, Madam Muta, for Camp GLOW. We had to be there Wednesday and leave Sunday. My other counterpart, Donald, was supposed to come too, but because of the limited amount of teachers at our school, my headmaster only allowed two of us to go. Since Donald came to IST with me, Muta said that it was her turn. It was great to travel with her. We went to plan GLOW with the other PCV and CP. Highlight of the week: hot shower, comfy beds, and seeing my friends. I didn’t want to get out of bed or the shower! It was a great week of planning and preparing for the camp. It made me SO excited for the camp to come. We each discussed the activities we want to have as well as divided up the classes to teach. I will be teaching a numerous of things in including: keys to a healthy relationship, what is sex, family spacing, contraceptives, saying no, peer pressure, what is consent, what is HIV, how do you get it and how can you prevent it, etc. I am very excited about working with the other PCVs and Kenyans for this camp.

But it was great because it was a mix of our group, the older deaf/math/science education group and the newest business/public health group. We went out to dinner and had fajitas and margaritas. It was incredible! I miss Mexican food so much!! But we all had a blast. It was so nice to just relax and have a break as well.

Of course, returning back to site was incredible. One of my favorite parts is returning from either town for groceries, or from break and seeing the kids and their greetings. When I was walking back they spotted me from a far and they all started screaming, running and smiling. It sometimes brings me tears to my eyes because they are all so beautiful and this is the greatest moment. I can be gone for 4 hours, or 1 week and they always greet me with such love. This is something that I hold so tightly to my heart. They asked how Nairobi was and then told me how boring the weekend was. The priest had asked where I was to interpret but the mass was in Swahili. They said they couldn’t understand any part of church, and they were so bored at night because there were no movie nights! I felt so bad for them that I couldn’t be there and help them out. But it also makes me feel that we have all grown such a wonderful relationship and that we are all dependable on one another for laughter and love just like that in a family.

So of course when I come back to school, I am told that there is no school on Tuesday because of the teacher strike. Such a bummer, it couldn’t have happened when I was in Nairobi for the meeting! I hung with the kids the rest of the day and then showed them a movie because there was no school the next day. I was excited to sleep in because I was still tired from traveling. My plan was to sleep a little longer than usual and then do insanity. But then my headmaster called me and said that he was sending all of the kids home because of the strike. 2 reasons why this sucks: 1. I will be bored. 2. A lot of kids will not come back until term 3. So I decided to just hang out all day with them. Of course within 10 minutes of stepping outside I had about 30 requests for things from pads, medicine for cramps, band-aids for injuries, clean my wound!, money and wallets that the kids keep in my house, and other things. After being the banker, nurse and teacher, I went outside and sat with the girls who were cooking mahamri. Mahamri is delicious. It is like a donut but so much better. With chai tea it is so good. After the girls cooked, we all sat down and ate them with black tea. Throughout the day I just hung with the kids, played and storied.

Three kids were not picked up yet, and have not been picked up by their parents. I feel really bad for them and the two girls were really upset. So we have been hanging out a lot! I am trying to help them enjoy being at school. We have watched a lot of movies, we had arts and crafts so we painted and drew, they did insanity with me, we went to the market to buy viazi (potatoes with really delicious sauce), the girls and I soaked our feet in warm water with bath salts then put lotion on them, which they loved, and I attempted to make a cake type thing which actually turned out to taste really good. The kids and I have had a blast together. I feel like I have played babysitter and been the mom for play dates! Another teacher saw me showing the kids a movie and asked if his three sons could join, so they all came over! Just babysitting. The other day when they were doing their arts and crafts, aka I did too, I made them macaroni and cheese and they absolutely loved it. Ndanu has been eyeing my enormous row of Mac and cheese so when she asked I figured it was a great time to do so. Baraka has gone to a friend’s house so it is just the two girls and I. Baraka is the sweetest boy in the world. Before leaving with his friend, he made sure to knock on my door and tell me he was leaving. Such a small gesture, but so big to me. We also played a lot of cards. I taught him Go Fish and War. We had a lot of fun playing cards. He is such a smart boy. Every time he comes to my class to help him with class 6 math, I only have to explain something to him once, and he gets it. I obviously have high hopes and dreams for each and every child, but Baraka has such large potential, and I hope that he follows his dreams.

When Baraka and I were playing cards yesterday Precious and Patience knocked on my door and told me they were going to the tailor. I decided to go with them because I have had material for 4 months that I have wanted to get made into a skirt! Finally did it. Now just waiting for it! After I returned we had KSL. It was Patience and Precious, and we have had two more people join. These two boys are in secondary school and attend the same church that I do. It has been so awesome to teach my peers, teach hearing kids, and teach adults. This is a project that I hope only grows.

So this strike is obviously for the reason that teachers want to get paid more. It doesn’t matter what country you are in, this happens everywhere. Apparently, according to the teachers, the government wants to use this money, instead of paying teachers, to build a multi million shilling home for the ex-president, who is also in very bad health conditions, and also wants to give every class 1 computers. Hmmm. I got into a conversation about this with Precious. She expressed her opinion on it which I understood where she was coming from as a teacher, as I am sure many Kenyan walimu (teachers) have had. How are class 1 students supposed to learn about a computer if the teacher is not even educated on it? I think this is a phenomenal idea because of the level of technology that plays in our lives. Buuuuut, and a very big but, I understand how the teachers believe you cannot just buy a computer give it to a 7 year old and say “go!” If there is a program for the teachers to learn about the computer, then they begin this computer class, then that is great. Precious also said that the government will only give computers to classes that are very secure, so she said that takes out many schools. Why? Because the hearing school has no windows or doors to lock, and our Deaf school has no lock for the doors… I am not sure where the strike will go, but I just hope it ends quickly. And quickly for a few reasons. 1. I am bored. 2. These kids need to learn. 3. I am bored. 4. I need my Kenyan family to come back. 5. I am bored. 6. I need my people that make my laugh. 7. I am bored. 8. It sucks because a lot of kids cannot afford coming back so I will not see them until term 3 begins. 9. I am bored. 10. I love these kids more than anything in the world.

Oh and I have ring worm. I also was eating a mango today, when I realized that there was half of a worm on it, then I spit out the other piece of mango, and “oo there was the other half of the body!” Yum. That will have a nice and beautiful affect on my stomach tomorrow.

June 17, 2013

There are two men, Michale and Noor, who come to our school Monday and Tuesday every week. They are part of the organization called VSO. One is European, and the other is Kenyan. They come and help out with the classes and the kids. Their fellow VSO workers are at other schools as well. At these schools they have a club called Hands of Love, which is a club to learn KSL. Noor and Michael asked me if I would be willing to teach this club. Of course I said yes! They asked when I had time. The funny thing about that is I have no time. So I said the best option is for the kids to join my current KSL class. The 10 hearing kids came and they are all girls from class 6 to 8. I am ecstatic! It seemed as if they really enjoyed the class. All of my kids came in and started working with the pairs of hearing girls on their finger spelling (a-z). It was amazing to watch the deaf teaching and interacting with the hearing. This is my goal with this class, to build that bridge between the hearing and the deaf. My other “vision” for this class it to not only help these kids learn sign language to the best of their and my ability, but to build a rapport with them. I think that being able to build this rapport will only allow me to really grasp and learn about their life and what village life is like for them. Of course I learn from my kids about their lives, but in addition, if I could learn about these kid’s lives as well it would be incredible. I also have 3 boys from church now coming to KSL! We have a blast learning it and I am really happy with the progress of everyone.

June 16, 2013

Today was Sunday so it was time for church! I interpreted for the kids and it went well! After church we had Sunday school. We talked about the mass and what the priest was talking about. It was about sin and how God forgives us no matter what. We must pray all the time no matter where we are. The kids really enjoyed learning about this! We also practiced “the Lord’s Prayer,” John 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 3:13. Then we talked about Adam and Eve and how they were the first people on the earth. I explained that Adam was the first person created by God, and then his rib was taken out and this was formed into Eve. I drew a picture of the forbidden tree with an apple and a serpent. I explained that they had no sin, but then they were tempted to eat the apple by the snake, and once they took a bite, God was angry and now all humans have sin because of them. I explained it about 3-5 times and I could definitely see them understanding it. I said now we all have sin because of them, and the kids all gasped!

I forgot to type this in my blog a long time ago, but I want to add it now that I remember to do so. One time we were at church, and usually there are people who dance for the songs in the isle. One time we were all sitting in our chairs, boys on one side and girls on the other. I look over and three of the boys were staring at 2 of the girls with their mouths wide open. They saw me catch them, and I was laughing so hard, same with all of the other girls I was sitting with. I did the sign for drool and the boys started to blush and get so nervous. When church was finished, I told them I caught them and they tried denying it but eventually they admitted it. I am sure that reading this will not be as funny, but in the actual moment it was hilarious.

June 15, 2013

Today is Saturday and after my food shopping the kids and I have a dance party. There was music playing in the village so I began doing my infamous moves, the sprinkler, and disco. The kids thought it was hilarious. I am always making a fool of myself, and I am totally okay with it. Then it got all of the kids to start dancing. It was one of those moments I thought about taking a video, but then realized I just wanted to soak it all in. I am sure there will be more of these moments to take videos. The boys all got in a line and started doing a synchronized dance. My heart melted. These kids can dance!! Those who were not dancing just watched, enjoyed and laughed. It was wonderful. People kept joining the dance and it just got better and better.

I showed the kids Incredible Hulk! Another movie they enjoyed. Precious made Chapati and beans with aharaguay for the teachers and I died. This is my most favorite meal. It is amazing. I snuck some chapati for the kids, and they enjoyed it as well.

June 12, 2013

After school today, some of the girls and I did insanity together. I always enjoy working out with them because they are so funny when they are exercising. After insanity, I did my usual ritual of cooking dinner, bathing, watching Friends and then going to study hours. I was on the phone with Evan when I heard a loud bang on my door and could hear all of the boys giggling. I swung the door open and Stephen held an owl and pushed it in my face. Needless to say, I was startled. I was like “Evan I will have to call you back, my kids are holding an owl…” He was like “wait what?!” The owl was so pretty! We all pet it and it was so soft. Just another day in the life.

Insanity!

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Owls!
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Today was field trip day. I didn’t tell the kids where we were going because I did not want them to bail out. I knew if I told the girls we were going to the snake park, they would flip! We took a class photo, which I will attach, and then went to the snakes. The men there take the snakes from people’s homes to rescue them. Why? I don’t know. For example, the kids have been planting a lot of different fruits and vegetables, roots and plants for food (cassava, tomatoes, maize, veggies etc.) and they saw two snakes so we called the snake men and they came and grabbed them from the shamba (garden). Most of the boys were psyched, the rest of the girls had disgusted looks on their face, but they did enjoy watching from behind the fence. First we looked at all of the snakes. The owner made the snakes angry so we could see the black mamba become aggressive. I never.ever.ever want to face one of those things. It was terrifying! Their mouths are black. If you get bit, you die in 6 minutes. Then we went to look at the spitting cobras. When the owner made them angry, the cobra’s neck got very wide and then opened his mouth. It looked like the tongue was a straw. This is where the poison is spit out of. Another terrifying snake. It is scary to think that this thin piece of glass is separating you from one of the deadliest snakes in the world.

After we looked at the dangerous snakes, they took out the chameleon and the turtle. All of the boys and the only girl, Rehema, held these animals. They loved it! I took a lot of pictures so I will put them up. They tried putting the chameleon on Kahindi’s head, which was hilarious. Next, they took out the small boa then the huge boa. I held it on my neck. Then the rest of the boys held it too. All of the girls screamed and ran away. The neighbors were watching us and laughing. It was great! Then the man took out the smaller snakes. Kahindi went to grab it and it fell and slithered away. All of the girls were so scared! They out the snake in Kahindi’s and Kaingu’s pockets and it was so funny. You couldn’t even tell it was in there! Then the man decided to put the snake in his mouth. I felt as if I would vomit. He picked it up and stuffed it in his mouth. Then as he opened it, it slithered up his face. Ew. It was hilarious watching and listening to the kids’ reactions.

Class Photo
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June 10, 2013

On Saturday, the boys and I were sitting outside under the tree. We just storied for a really long time. We got into a discussion about how many kids they want to have when they grow up. It was so cute. Some said they only wanted maybe 2, but others were like 6! I asked them how many kids they thought I would have and they said 10. They are a little off. I think I will have 56, because I am taking them all home with me. But to hear these boys talk about marriage and children was just so sweet. They are such amazing people. One class 8 boy, Jackson, was telling me how he likes this girl at another school for the deaf, and how he thinks she is beautiful. He was just so giddy telling me about this girl he likes. I reminded him that you must care for someone that you like, and he told me “oh I know.” But it was so sweet.

Sunday went to church with the kids! The priest did not come so a nun gave mass. It was really interesting! She obviously did not consecrate the bread and wine, but she did give a homily and do the rest of mass. The only bummer was there was no English for me to translate. But I have never been in mass when a nun does mass, so it was interesting! After church we had Sunday school. We talked about Jesus and his earthly parents. I explained, well tried, explaining that Mary was his mother and is known as the Virgin Mary. I tried telling them that she did not have sex, but the angel visited her and God had impregnated her with Jesus. Not sure how much they got of that. They have asked me before “what is that bread you eat at church?” hmmm… how do I explain that as a Catholic we believe that the priest consecrates the bread and wine then you eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood? And all in sign language. I started with trying to explain that as a Catholic we believe in different things. When the priest holds up the little circle which is bread, it changes to the body of Christ, and same with the wine… The faces I got that I eat a “body” was priceless. There are some things that I can only try my best to explain. And this is one of those things. I also know that regardless the language you use to explain that, when you are explaining it to a child, it is just really hard for them to grasp it. Even as an adult it can be hard to grasp! But it still went well. Class was great!

The kids have to grind the maize so they can make ugali and other food with the maize flour. Here are pictures of them grinding the maize. Such hard workers!

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Mangoes!

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June 7, 2013

On Monday evening (the 3rd) I was told that I had to be in town by 8am the next morning for a meeting. Typical. The next day I woke up early to catch a matatu. After about 30 minutes I finally got one and got to the meeting at 8:30. Was I late? No I was early. Then I sat there for two hours waiting. I wish I had brought some activities or something. But the meeting finally started at 11:30. Honestly, I didn’t even know the meeting was about pads until they said welcome to our meeting about pads for the women students! When I asked the evening before what the meeting was about, the response was “the agenda is there.” Okay, great! What does that mean? So naturally, I was like alright sounds great! My whole questioning the way things are has kind of diminished. After sitting there forever it felt like they began the meeting by asking how sex happens. A lot of people took this upon themselves to make funny jokes about sex. Normally I find words like penis and what not hilarious like a 13 year old immature girl, but at this point I had been sitting there for 2 hours. They proceeded to list the female and male private parts then got into the subject of pads. It was really interesting and I did learn some new things! They had two men, one including my headmaster, come up and put a pad on a pair of panties. It was really funny. And I am glad they made men go in the front to put it on because they need to know how to do it as leaders of the school!

The reason this meeting about pads was so important and giving the schools pads is so important is because the amount of days that female students miss school here in Kenya. It is really awesome that the Kenyan government is taking initiative and giving each school a certain amount of pads for every girl every term. This is not an issue at my school because it is a boarding school. But at day schools, the number of absences a month is extremely high. The girls miss from 3-5 days of school a month because they do not have the money to buy pads. This is basically a week a month! We were told some have used old lesos (material) and even leaves. Now Kenya is solving this problem and I am very happy about it. Although sometimes it is hard sitting through these meetings because of the time that it actually starts and the lack of communication because of the language barrier, I always do get a lot out of it and am able to learn something new. One of my biggest pet peeves at home was being late, oh how things have changed.

Showed the kids spiderman 1 and now they have also seen 2 and 3. They LOVED it!

It is a tradition at my school now that every Friday is “Family Dinner Fridays.” Today I made macaroni and cheese with a fruit salad: apples, mangoes and avocados. It was delicious! It was actually really funny because Dume, a good friend of mine who works at the hearing school right next to mine, asked me if he could watch me make the macaroni and cheese and asked when we should start preparing it. I laughed and said when you are starting to get hungry give me about 2 minutes and then we can eat it. He found this hilarious! After cooking it, well more like opening a box, pouring it in then mixing cheese, we all sat down for dinner. Everyone enjoyed it! I really enjoy these dinners because we all get to cook together then relax after a busy week.

I also had a visitor from a rat tonight as well. My headmaster and I were chatting when all of a sudden a rat came into the house. Naturally, I stood up on the chair and was like “ahhh” and Mr. Jali stood up and grabbed my broom to knock it out. He killed it right away. I think I have had close to everything in my house as a visitor. Thank God no snakes, knock on wood.

Also, I showed the kids Ice Age. OMG it was great. When the tiger was chasing the deer and the deer got away all of the kids cheered. It was so cute! Love when they really get into the movies. It makes me smile.

June 3, 2013

Communication for Life Skills has been going really well. We do a lot of skits and these kids are amazing at dramas. One boy, Karisa, stood up and explained all of the words that we made the list of. He did an amazing job of describing each word. He automatically included all of the words in real life examples.

A cultural tradition here is when a person dies; the burial is an all night kind of thing. That is a great tradition to celebrate the life. But the music is from 7 pm until 7 am. The time I go to sleep, the music begins and the time I wake up for school, the music goes off. It sounds like a person is standing outside my window with a stereo. Some days it does not bother me, but on the days when I am exhausted, I cannot sleep and it drives me crazy! I have asked the teachers numerous times why the music is so loud and plays so late, and they say it is because they want to draw people from the village to come and celebrate the life. I am sorry, but at 3 am, hearing music does not make me want to get out of my comfy pajamas to party.

Since Lauren was leaving Kenya the next day, we decided to make a cake. They have Betty Crocker cake mix here! Dangerous to know that. I have my sufuria oven, but I wasn’t expecting the cake to come out very nice. It came out perfect like I had put it in a normal oven. So exciting! And it was delicious. The teachers came over for tea and cake and the cake was gone in a short few minutes. They loved it! I told them I will be baking more in the future now that I know the sufuria oven works well.

May 31, 2013

We played “Simon Says” well “Mackenzie says” today! So fun!! At first I just signed “I say…” but then I figured I should just do my sign name and this worked so well. The kids started to understand and it and loved it. It was so much fun! We would jump, spin, touch our shoulders and head, and run around. I tried to explain that if you see my sign name then do what I tell you, but if you see “MACKENZIE NOTHING” (in KSL), which in English is No sign for Mackenzie, then do not do it or you are “kicked out.” It was a blast.

We also made masks today! I gave the kids pipe cleaners, scissors, markers, colored cotton balls and paper plates. They did such a great job and they all turned out adorable. I will post pictures!

It is mango season! Yay! So this means I eat at least 1 or 2 mangoes everyday. Not mad about it. If you love mangoes, then come to Kenya, your mind will be blown. There is a man who brings our school mangoes so now I buy them from him. I bought three of them today, and used two of them for school! It was great and the kids loved them. I felt really bad because all of the other kids were peering into my class and wanted some. But since it is now the mango season the kids have mangoes everyday!

May 28, 2013

Today for Science we took a walk in the market to talk about the different foods we eat. The kids really enjoyed it! We signed the different foods we saw. It was also a good opportunity for the kids to be out in the community. After walking around we made a list on the black board of everything that we saw. Then we proceeded to organize the list into three categories: foods that help you grow, give you strength, and protects you from diseases. It was fun and I am sure we will be doing it again!

Life skills has been going really well as we have begun our section on Communication skills. Today we explained the importance of communication. The kids gave me a list of what it means to communicate well. They created a list I could not even make. As usual, they blew my mind. This list was: respect, working together, humility, manners, emotions friends, no fighting, no suppression, and telling the truth.

But then they blew my mind even more. To begin the topic of communication I had them do the human knot. At first it was a little difficult to explain, but then after a while, they caught on. I explained to them how you must connect your hands with other people and try to make yourself back into a perfect circle. We did groups of 3 to start off with. They definitely struggled at the beginning but then started to achieve it. I noticed with time that groups started to stop what they were doing to go help explain to another group what to do. UM wow. Brilliant and something that I would never even have thought of. After a lot of laughs and success, we sat down. I explained to them that their only form of communication is through their hands, and in this activity there was no communication because they could not utilize their hands. But instead of letting this challenge overcome them, they worked together and created a way of achieving this by stopping their groups to help another group. This was amazing. This led to the discussion about working together and how if you communicate with others everything can become much easier and better.

Behavior prize was watching some Planet Earth after class!

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My doll that the kids made me!

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Sock puppets!
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The boys were storying and I video taped it. Here is a picture of them!
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IST, Hell’s Gate, Start of School, Bats, Frogs and Makeshift Ovens!

Hello everyone 🙂 Hope your Memorial Day Weekend is wonderful! I finally have completed my blog since April up until now! I hope that you enjoy everything you read.

Xoxo,
Kenz

May 24, 2013

Today, after working on Maths and English, we made God’s eyes with yarn and sticks! It was so much fun and the kids loved it. I have many pictures that I will post.

Making God's eyes!

Making God’s eyes!

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Today I killed my first chicken!! I was given the dullest knife ever to chop its head off. I proceeded to start cutting away but it just wouldn’t cut. I had to start putting more effort into it and finally saw the blood squirting out. The kids were enjoying watching me and we all had a great laugh. After it was killed we boiled and fried the chicken and ate it with ugali and tomato, onion and mango soup. It was so delicious! I am sure this is not the first time I will chop a chicken’s head off.

The dead chicken

The dead chicken

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Showed the kids Avatar and they loved it!!!

May 23, 2013

World Malaria Day is April 25 but because school was not in session, I chose to do my Malaria Day today. I first started off with information and teaching the kids about Malaria. A lot of the kids have had it in the past so they are familiar with it. I first made a list where the kids gave me any information that they knew about malaria. Most things that they listed was about the signs and symptoms. After we compiled this list, I put up a map of the world with post-its in the 3 top areas of the world with the larges issue of Malaria. These top three are South America, the middle of Africa to the top of South Africa and a large part of Asia. Next, we discussed what malaria is. Of course we know that it is passed through a mosquito, but something that I learned was that the mosquito carries a parasite that has malaria and is passed through the blood. We then discussed facts about such as: 300-500 million people each year are infected with Malaria each year and 2,000,000 people die every year from it. Then we talked about ways to prevent it, number one using an insecticide mosquito net. We discussed a few more things then had a drawing for prizes. Since it is a world wide informative day, we received bags, shirts and footballs. Since we didn’t have enough, I threw some toys that I have in the pile. It was so awesome watching them all win something! The ones that were not picked to have a shirt or bag were such great sports especially Karisa. He chose a pencil and had the largest smile on his face.

Class photo!

Class photo!

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Teaching about Malaria!

We have had no running water for 3 days now. We smell. My house is dirty. And my dishes are nasty. Washing it in a bucket full of dirty water just doesn’t cut it. To add to the list of things that I have to take time to wrap my head around is this water situation at my school. I walk outside knowing that there is no water and the kids had told me they have not had breakfast yet and had not bathed and it was 8 am. But, I see the house mothers washing there clothes with the only water available… it seems as though the priorities are a little mixed up. The kid’s bellies are empty and all have smelly little bodies, but thank God their clothes are clean! Eventually they sent people to bring the school water. Finally at 10 am they could eat!

Another thing that I will always laugh about and have trouble understanding… there is a small boy at my school named Baraka. When I brought him to the dispensary because of his torn off finger, he started screaming in Swahili. I thought I knew that he had partial hearing. A couple days later I asked my headmaster how much hearing he has. He proceeded to tell me that this boy is fully hearing but has speech problems. He was accepted and sent to our DEAF school by his parents because he wanted to work on his speech. Ooooooooooo you mean that this school that only uses sign language to communicate will help his speech impediment. Sounds about right. I literally had to hold myself together to not laugh. He ended this conversation with “oh yes and I have seen great improvement in his speech.” Oh was that improvement caused by him talking to himself? Because I am pretty sure my kids cannot hear or speak… and I am pretty sure that I have never seen anyone using oral language to communicate with this kid. At least I am getting my Swahili practice in. Lauren has been here for 2 weeks and has continuously used sign language to communicate with him. I have been here at my school for 5 months and still sign to him. Karibu Kenya!

May 22, 2013

I woke up today and had 6 mosquito bites on my one big toe. 1. How is that possible? 2. Can you imagine how much my toe itched? 3. Don’t mosquitoes have better things to do? Thank God I take my malaria medicine.

Teaching has been going so well! I made a million copies to make cute workbooks with worksheets and it has been working out really well. I also cut up pictures and colored them to use for class 1-vocabulary words. We have been going through these words. We also have been playing bingo with both class 1 and 3. The first time we played it took some time for the kids to grasp the concept and how the game was played. But now since we do it every other day, they are recognizing the words! So great. I have been teaching the class 3 fractions. It is a lot more fun to teach and is extremely visual. Before when we were learning how to borrow in subtraction, it was really difficult for them to do it because that is a hard concept. But with fractions, they have been doing well! I have fraction pieces in cubes and in circles. All of these manipulatives have been a lifesaver!

Yesterday started our Life skills class, and Monday was the first day of my KSL class for teachers and people who want to learn KSL. KSL has been going really. I am enjoying teaching it to the teachers. We have started at the basics and are moving forward at a slow pace. There is a girl that Precious works with at the Catholic School next to our school who has been coming. She said she is enjoying it very much! This makes me happy. I am excited about continuing this throughout the rest of the year, and hopefully into next year. My goal is to have a community sign language class for people in the village, so this is a great start!

Bingo!

Bingo!

The life skills class started off really well. Mr. Mwayele introduced the class to what Life Skills is and what it will mean to them. We explained the different concepts we would be learning and why it is important. I had made a box for the kids to write questions and put it in anonymously, so if they were afraid to ask it, they wouldn’t have to be because they could just put it in the box! After Mr. Mwayele and I explained the box, we continued on to the rules. Mr. Mwayele gave his first rule, “When someone else is talking, we are quiet and attentive”. Once he gave a rule, a lot of people had their hands up. They came to the front and explained their rule. Rules were mainly focused around respect. I also told them that the class was a safe place and that we are all one family. Once I said that we were family, they all started signing it in their rules. It gave me chills to watch them sign “we are all one family, so we must respect one another.” When they came up, they were so animated and explained it in such a great way. I can tell that throughout the course of this class, we will focus on getting the information across through skits. They are amazing at acting! I am so excited about this class and am very hopeful for the success of it.

I forgot to write this earlier! But last week on Thursday, the teachers bought small trees to give to the class 8 students since they will leave after term 3. It was a sign of appreciation and letting them know they will always be remembered. All of the teachers have one, including the volunteer before me. They also gave me a tree to plant. It was such a special moment to be showed this appreciation. The next day, my headmaster brought me another tree, so now I have two trees “in my name” in the school compound. It was a really special moment. Pictures to show! I really enjoyed this and appreciated it very much.

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May 19, 2013

Today church was great! All the kids went as well which always makes it awesome and more enjoyable. When I saw that the priest arrived, I went outside to talk to him about speaking in English for part of the homily so that I could interpret for the kids. We ended up getting into a conversation, which was great. He has been a priest here in Kenya for 2 years. He took some time off to learn Swahili, which he speaks really well. His first language is Spanish, so he had to learn Swahili based off of his second language. I cannot even imagine! We had a great conversation. We discussed our experiences here and what organization I work for. We talked about my school and that I live with the kids. He said he would like to come visit one time and I though that that would be wonderful! After church I did my laundry, cleaned my house and prepared some things for school the next day. After lunch, we had our usual Sunday school. Today we discussed the meaning of Pentecost (uh try explaining that one) and I gave them the bible verse 1 Corinthians 3:15 “and the three of these remain: faith, hope and love. But love is the greatest.” We discussed why these three things are really important. I put these three words on the board and asked for the kids to give me any information that they knew about with that word. Faith, they had no idea. I explained to them that we always pray, but do we see God? Do we see Jesus? Do we see Heaven? No, but we still pray right? After a while, I could tell they were starting to get it. Hope. Jackson, one of the class 8 and a doll and a half, said hope: “Time maize/ hope rain! (In KSL)” In English, “when you have your maize in the chamba, you hope for rain.” WOW! This was a perfect way of putting it. When you have a test, you hope to do well. When you are praying, you hope God will protect you. Love. This one was a little easier for them since we had worked on this in the past. We said that it is something that you like a lot, that you are passionate about; you have strong feelings for something. It was a great discussion! We practiced this verse, the Lord’s Prayer and then John 3:16. They still know it!

After Sunday school we ran for a bit with the kids. Lauren and I ran outside and as usual, all of the kids ran with us. So wonderful! They grab your hands and then you run with 5 little ones grabbing at you. I think it actually becomes more of a workout because you have so many little bodies holding you back so you have to work harder.

I have nominated all of the class 8 girls for camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). This camp will be in August and is for girls, both deaf and hearing. I am really excited about this! It is a week talking about HIV/AIDS, prevention of HIV and pregnancy, empowering women, and how to create goals for jobs. The girls had to fill out a couple of questions about why they want to go and what they are interested in. We all worked together to answer the questions and completed it together. When it came to the jobs they were interested in, it was really cool to see which ones had something in mind for their future. Catherine said she wanted to do business with medicine; Penina wants to be a tailor, Janet and Farida want to possibly work in business or in a hoteli (restaurant). With these goals in mind, I hope that they are able to achieve this one day in the future.

May 17, 2013

Wow! Teaching has been wonderful! Below I talk about how Wednesday was a more so tough day of teaching, but the last couple of days have been great!! I am so excited about the ideas I have for my classroom. I bought a few books in Nairobi during IST and we have started reading those in class. Also, my class 1 kids returned to school from home, and remembered how to add!!!!! The simple things that make me so happy. It has been really fun working with them with Maths and English. Also, around 11 am, a bunch of older kids come into my class and I help them with Maths. It is great and I love that time. I went into class 7 to help them with Maths and we started writing people’s names on the board with hearts. It was so funny because we joked about people liking each other, and those people got so flustered and reacted immediately. We all laughed a lot. I also printed a bunch of photos through the Costco website and Lauren brought them for me. I handed them out to the kids and they loved them! Of course the moment after they looked through the pictures, they were like “wait, remember that one day that I was doing this with this person, where is that picture?” I laughed. I will continuously print pictures out for them, and I am sure they will always ask “what about that other picture with the tree?” But teaching has been wonderful and I adore my students. Night time study hours have been great. One of my favorite parts of the day. I have realized the past few months how much I like math and how much I love teaching it. It has been really fun working with the older ones because they behave well, they are so motivated to learn, and they are excited to grasp the concept, as well as the younger ones.

My headmaster has asked me to start teaching KSL to the teachers Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. I am really excited about this. There is also another woman who wants to learn so she has decided to come to the class. I will be teaching about 7 people KSL. I am really happy about this because my goal is to eventually teach sign language to the community, and this is a great start! It was actually really weird to use my voice while teaching! I forget I can speak all the time. I also am starting a Life Skills class with two other teachers, Madam Muta who is deaf and Mr. Mwayele, every Tuesday and Thursday. This is something else that I am PUMPED about. I get to work with all of the older students. We have many topics that will be discussed including: communication skills, leadership skills, healthy relationships, self-respect, peer educating, goal setting, many weeks on HIV information, prevention, stigma etc., and other topics that are very relevant to their lives. I am really hoping and praying that this is successful and that they can at least take one thing away from this class. This class will continue though term 2 and 3, and possible term 1. Yay!

May 15, 2013

Today was interesting day of teaching! Some days can be a lot harder than others, which is natural in any job that you do. I think it was hard to get these kids back on schedule and back in their routine, as well as get myself back in that routine. Some of my class ones have not had an 8-4 school day so they struggle with their attention span, which is also very natural. I was also really distracted with the death of the student and knowing that in a few hours I would be going to his house for the burial. Although this day was not as good as it could have been, I realized how much potential this class has and it motivated me to make a few changes in the classroom. I will continue about how much greater the next few days were above! But this was a day where I experienced every emotion in a short course of time. Promise I am not bipolar. These kids are amazing and beautiful and loving and wonderful. They are children, just like every other child in this world. They all have different experiences, backgrounds, challenges from one another, but they are all kids. Therefore, there is always laughing, fun, playing and storying. But like any other day at work with kids, it can be extremely challenging. Using a language that they are still learning, as am I, and trying to then teach them a subject that they have little knowledge about, is tough, but awesome at the same time. They are all always determined to learn a lot. But behavior gets in the way. Some days most of class time is wasted because one kid is disrupting the class. Welcome to teaching 🙂 I am sure that if you are a teacher and you are reading this, you can relate. Even on the hard days at school, I think that it doesn’t matter if it was frustrating. Why? 1. I have tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. 2. Because I learn from it. Who cares if it is frustrating? I learn from it. And that is what is important.

All of the teachers decided that we all needed to support this young family in the loss of their young, 10 (may have been a little younger), son. When we arrived, I noticed that all of the men were in a large group together and all of the women were in their own group. We were lead to the small hut and I could hear all of the women wailing. It was an extremely overwhelming thing to hear. I walked into the hut and noticed that all of the women were surrounding a bed, and suddenly noticed the little body, lying so still and so lifeless. This was little Baraka. This made me start to cry, hearing these mamas and to see his little body. All I could think about was that this boy was too young. He died from pneumonia, which is such a curable illness in America. This makes me realize, along with all of the other lessons that I have learned, that I am so blessed. We have a sickness and go to the hospital. Boom you are better and you have medicine. Life goes on. But here, such a curable illness sometimes cannot be cured. This 10 year old laid in this bed, about to be buried in the ground. Thinking about this and thinking that the next time I will see him again will not be on this earth was a weird thing to think about. A lot of the little ones at school asked me and I tried to sign and explain it to them. Naturally, it is not something that a child, or even me being a 23-year-old woman, can ever fathom and understand. After we stood there looking at little Baraka, we were led to sit outside around with all of the other women and wait for the next step in the burial. The male teachers that I work with were with the men on the other side of the house. It was one of those “wow, I feel like I am in Africa right now” moments. I was sitting with a bunch of African mamas, so beautiful with their clothing, sitting in the dirt, in the middle of a couple of huts. But experiencing it this way was not something I had ever wanted to experience, the death of a child. When I thought of challenges that I would face being here, having to deal with the death of a student never even crossed my mind.

After we sat there for about 45 minutes, I started asking Madam Muta and Precious about why the men and women were separated and other questions about his process. I really learned a lot. When the person who had passed is a boy, the men are in charge of cleaning and preparing the body for burial. When it is a girl who has passed, it is the women’s responsibility. There is usually a grieving process where people stay or pass through the house for 3-5 days after the burial. But I was told, because of the increase in Christianity and in the economic world, the days have been slowly getting to be less. After the men washed the boy’s body, the body was laid out in the middle of the compound for all people to see. Hearing these women wail, which is part of the grieving process but I also think it is a cultural thing as well, was really sad, but also a little overwhelming and creepy. In America, when a person dies, obviously there is grieving, screaming and crying, but I had never heard wailing before. Another cultural thing is that if the person who died is Christian, they can wear any type of clothing. This boy was dressed in his school clothes. In the Muslim religion, the day that the person dies, that is the day the burial is. The person must be dressed in all white. I was explaining to them how different this is than in America. We have our funerals about one week after the death because of the planning and traveling for family members. After everyone had the chance to look at Baraka, the men carried him into the chamba, where they were going to bury his body. Watching his family go through this was devastating. It also started to rain. As the women were wailing, there were also a few women who had passed out. It was extremely overwhelming and a lot to watch. I took a lot away from this past week and the experiences that I learned. I realize that maybe emotion is not shown very much besides the burials, and why it seems that life just goes on and you just move on, is because literally life goes on. People here don’t have time to sit and think about it, because they have to survive. They have to work to feed those who still live. This is not to say that they move on from the loss or just forget, but they simply keep that person in their heart as they carry on with their everyday activities. Unfortunately, death is seen everyday here. The house mamas both had a relative die in the last few weeks. The kids all tell me how they don’t have a father or do not have a mother. Death is so part of life here. Of course death is part of life in America too, as well as other countries, but it seems to be so much more accepted here.

May 14, 2013

Teaching has begun again! All of the kids finally came on Monday and Tuesday. It was absolutely wonderful seeing them again and all I could do was just smile. When my little man Moses came to school my heart was fluttering with joy. We started some teaching but more reviewing. I have jumped to other classrooms to answer questions and help some of the older kids. I absolutely love the little ones, especially my class. But working with the older ones is so wonderful and I really enjoy helping out their class. It is so nice because we can have real-life conversations and tell stories. I have missed sign language so much so signing with the kids has been so great.

From IST I got and learned so many ideas that I am so excited about implementing into my classroom. I want to start small group rotations, class 3 teaching class 1 occasionally etc. I also bought some children’s books so I look forward to reading those everyday in class. I was sent a generous donation of workbooks so I got a lot of copies and made workbooks using construction paper. I cannot wait to use them! Lauren has been helping me in my class and that has been great. Since I have a lot of kids in two different classes it has been very helpful to have another person helping out. The kids love her! These kids are the most welcoming and loving children in the world.

Today, the teachers and I received very tragic news. One of the nursery school kids had passed away in the hospital from pneumonia. Hearing this tore my heart apart. I didn’t teach him or work with him in the classroom, but all of the kids and I always play together. I think about this small child, so capable of a long and healthy life, who was taken too soon. Way too soon. Kenyans don’t cry, nor do they believe in crying. I know this through many lessons at PST about emotions and how Kenyans don’t cry. Well this was proven today. After this news was said, my heart started to race and I could feel tears coming, but had to hide them and play it “cool.” Everyone sat there with a straight face and absolute no emotion. Not something that I am used to. I interpret for the teacher who is deaf, so I had to push it away in my mind and then continue to interpret. But it was hard. I just wanted to get up and walk away.

The next thing I know Lauren came in and told us that a child was bleeding a lot from getting his little finger slammed in the door. I got up to help him and brought him to my house and first gave him some candy to distract his mind. I started cleaning off his cut up finger when I pushed on it and realized that the tip of his finger was severely severed and was half way off. I picked him up and knew we had to get too the dispensary. I stopped by the teacher’s office and told them I was taking him there. I carried him to the dispensary and we sat and waited with other patients. Eventually they checked it out and decided that it needed stitches, obviously. There were two other teachers with me so we all went into the “surgery” room together. We had to hold him down when he was getting anesthesia in his finger. He was kicking and screaming. This little one is also half deaf so he can speak. He was screaming in Swahili. We had him pinned down when they put the stitches through his finger. And the level of strength they used to push the needle in seemed as if they were going to pull the top of his finger off. Gross. Finally, the procedure was done. We went back to school and ate our usual lunch of ugali and marahaguay. It was delicious! As teaching was over and the day settled, I finally was able to go back to my house, sit down and process the emotions I had and the events of the day. It was a lot to take in. Obviously I would never want a child to ever get hurt, but because this little boy and his finger happened, it took me out of my mind of thinking about this boy who died, and I was able to put my energy into helping this other one. But once I sat down, my heart just once again broke. I see his face in my mind, have looked at his pictures, and that beautiful smile and light about him. To think that his life was taken away at such a young age is something so hard for me to understand and to grasp. But this is life. And unfortunately life in Kenya is different. Deaths happen everyday and too often. Yes in America deaths happen everyday, but the number seems to be so much larger here. The medicine and help that we get in America is so much higher; therefore, allowing people to heal and basically survive. Here, it is a different story. Yes they have medicine and dispensaries, but it is not the same. But I have to trust God and the reasons for this to happen. Maybe it teaches me to try and put that little bit more effort into every single child and person that I meet? Maybe it is to teach me that life is so fragile and to not take it for granite? Maybe it teachers me to look past myself, my “problems” and to look for the problems that really matter? Maybe it just teaches me to not question the way life happens, but to look to God and remember that He loves each and every being more than anyone can possibly love someone else and He has a reason for everything? This is what it teaches me: everyday that I face, I must smile and I must love each person I meet like Jesus does. I must take that extra second to help someone, I must think before I speak, and I must let the little things go and count my blessings. Life goes too fast and people are taken from us. It doesn’t mean life is over, it means that life goes on with a little bit more knowledge about how the world goes on and how we can make it a little better each step of the way.

Baraka, the boy who passed away
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May 9, 2013

We were told our meeting was Monday the 6th. I woke up and it was raining harder than anything I have ever heard. I received a text that the meeting was cancelled because of the rain and because of transportation. We were told the meeting was the next day, Tuesday at 10, well so I was told. We had our meeting on Friday at 2:30 pm. The kids started coming on Thursday and Friday. I was jumping with joy as they arrived. OMG did I miss their beautiful little faces! On Friday morning I heard knocking on my door at 8 am and some of the girls were hiding. I was so happy to see them! Only 19 out of the 56 have come to school so far, so I am anxiously awaiting the rest of their arrivals. I am SO excited about teaching. I was sent a generous package of so many art supplies and workbooks. I went to town and made a ton of copies and I made workbooks for the kids. I am really excited about using this in my class. I have also bought some children’s books to practice our reading everyday because this is something that really lack. They are not exposed to books at home, like we are from the time we are basically born. They are behind and I hope to help them with reading by using these books. I also am planning on doing rotations of small groups with different projects at each station. I know that this will be challenging to implement at first, but I am very excited about it and know that it will take a lot of time and patience because this will be the first time the kids are exposed to this type of learning. Ever since the kids have come we have storied a lot, watched movies and hung out. It has been wonderful and they make me the happiest person in the world!

May 4, 2013

It is the rainy season. The long one. I have never seen so much rain in my life. It rained for 4 days straight and I was out of power and water for a couple of those days. If I could take some of this rain to southern California, I think that our state would finally be out of this long drought. Because of this rain, we get beautiful and wonderful creatures. Crickets have resided in my house, as well as my new pet frog, Larry. I am okay with the frogs. One day, Lauren and I decided to go to town really early for food and I had schoolwork to complete, and as we opened the door, two bats CRAWLED into my house. Not flew, but crawled. Just another animal to add to the list. At first we were like “oh sh**.” Now what?! I only saw one, but thank God Lauren saw the other one. I was afraid that they would crawl into my bed! EW! After standing there and trying to sweep out a bat, I got too freaked out and decided to trap them. During Christmas when all my PCV friends and I were visiting a friends, we trapped wind/scorpion spiders. Spiders, not bats. I wasn’t prepared for this little incident. I took my Tupperware and threw it over them. We looked at it and realized that these little sh*** could get out and go God knows where. So then I took my sufarias (cooking pots), and put that over it. Then to really make sure they wouldn’t get out, I put the cans of tuna that my parents were so generous to send me on top of the pots. Thanks mom and dad! We looked at it and were proud then made our way to town. On the way back, we were like “NOOOOOOOOO! I forgot about the bats!” (Kind of the same statement like in Hangover “Damn, I forgot about the freaking tiger!… so it was pretty much the same experience, but probably not as dangerous). We walk in there, and thank God the cans, Tupperware and sufarias are still in their place. Now, it was decision time to figure out how to get them out, especially because one of them was on a step above the ground. I decided to scoot it out. I knew they were still in there because they peed themselves. After I had them outside, I hid behind my door, took my broom and scooted it off the ledge into the grass. The first time we saw the bat crawl out, the second time, there was no bat. To this day, I still hope that damn thing got out of my house.

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May 1, 2013

Lauren I traveled back to my site. I was so excited to go back to my home (don’t worry mom, my temporary home) and to settle back in. It had been a long couple months of constantly moving with consolidation, then school then games then IST. Plus I had so many ideas that I wanted to implement at school that I was ready to go back and settle in and then see my kiddies! After unpacking, doing a lot of laundry, and cleaning my dirty house, I went outside to take a small walk and sit out by the field. After I was sitting there for about 20 minutes, a small boy came up to me and sat next to me. I thought he was young but turned out he was class 8. He was visiting his grandmother’s house during his school break. We began talking about school, family, our favorite food and colors and so many other things. He was such a cutie and just made me smile. It was one of those moments that I needed, and a reminder of God’s blessings. After a while he told me all of his friends were playing football and invited me to play. At first I was a little skeptical because I am not good, but I ended up playing with them and it was so much fun. After playing in the field for a while, when they saw my lack of skills I was moved to the goalie. Ouch, thank you 14 year olds! It was a blast playing with the kids. I was so happy to be back 🙂

April 27-29

After IST we decided to go to Lake Naivasha and the national park Hell’s Gate! Also, my friend Lauren flew in to visit, so she came along to our trip too! It was awesome. At Lake Naivasha we set up tents and hung out for a while. This is about three hours from Nairobi. We decided to take a boat ride where we saw hippos and many birds. These hippos were huge! It was so cool to see them so closely and we had a blast. When it started getting dark and the rain was coming, our boat died. The worker was trying to fix it when we turned around and asked him what happened. He proceeded to tell us one of the parts had fallen into the water. Great! Eventually another boat came to pull us in. We made it! We bought food to make hot dogs over a fire. It was delicious! We shined our flashlights over and behind the fence was a family of hippos about 20 feet away from us. They are huge!

The next day we woke up and slowly got ready to make our trip to Hell’s gate. We made our way through the small town. We turned on this long road to go to Hell’s gate and then made it! It was really cheap because we all have resident’s cards so that was great. We decided to rent a tent for 2-people when we had 5 girls. We proceeded to go through Hell’s gate to go to our campsite. As we turned the corner on the road we were overwhelmed with large mountains covered in such large and beautiful rocks. You will have to check out my facebook because I have many photos of this beautiful site. We continued to go through these mountains and came upon the open savannah riding next to warthogs, zebras and gazelle. We spotted a few water buffaloes but they were much farther away from us. Our campsite was up a very large hill. I was holding all of the food, clothes and the tent, so needless to say that was quite the trip. We finally made it to the campsite, which looked over all the hills and savanna. We settled our 2-person tent for 5 people (yes we did not have any help, dad you will be proud of me :)) and then made some lunch. After lunch, we all decided to go about 8 kilometers to the gorge. We passed such beautiful animals and sites of huge mountains with the layer of rocks. We eventually made it to the gorge. All 17 of us started to walk down through the gorge, which was pretty deep. It was the most beautiful site in the world. I was in awe! We had to go down watery rocks, through small dirt paths when we finally made it to the bottom of the gorge. It was absolutely wonderful. There are photos of this as well. We had to walk down very steep rock with small holes for our feet. There were springs full of very hot water (which looked great considering I couldn’t remember the last day I showered). It was about an hour walk through the gorge. It was so beautiful. We walked up the steep small path over rocks using branches from the tree to swing to get ourselves about the path. At the end of the gorge, the tour guide gave us all war paint on our faces. It was great! Sorry this does not have very much detail, but I am honestly struggling with words to describe how beautiful it was. I will have pictures up on both my blog and facebook. Going back was a long trip considering it was mostly up a lot of hills. As we were going up the last hill, after seeing zebras, I looked over and spotted giraffes. It was Kyle’s idea to stalk the giraffes, and of course we all thought it was a wonderful idea. Lauren, Kyle, Jocelyn and I proceeded to stalk the giraffes. Thank god they are not vicious animals! We were maybe 30 feet away from them. It was incredible. There were three of them, a mama and her babies. I took a million photos because I just could not get enough of the giraffes. We made it back up the hill and made dinner. We played some games next to the fire and then all went to sleep so early because we were so exhausted from the day. Having 5 people in a 2-person tent was maybe not the most comfortable thing, but was like camp and we all had a great time. Hell’s gate was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. If you ever make it to Kenya, make this place a priority!

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The gorge at Hell's Gate!

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April 14-27

For two weeks our group, who came to Kenya together, had our In-service training. Now that we have been volunteers and teaching at site for three months, we have another training, and our last large group event before we finish our service. Weird. It was a long but great two weeks. We had training everyday from 8:30 until 4:30-5. The first couple days we just talked about site and how everything was going. We had a 1.5 year PCV come in and talk to us about other alternatives to corporal punishment and how to start a peer education group.

From Wednesday until Friday we had one teacher from our school come and learn with us. We talked about HIV/AIDS, Life Skills and how to implement everything into our schools. I learned so many things about HIV that I never knew. The HIV population is 43,013,000. There are two strands of HIV and the first strand is worse and stronger than the second, and can mutate into AIDS faster. HIV is more likely to be found in America, rural areas and Europe, whereas HIV 2 is more so in West Africa and Africa. It is also so important to encourage a couple that may both have HIV to still wear condoms because the strands can continue to be passed and make their HIV even worse. It is also possible that only one person in the relationship can have HIV, have sex and not pass it to their partner. In this situation, both people are strongly encouraged to take medicine to protect their bodies, and obviously wear a condom.

There are four ways of HIV transmission: blood transmission, semen, vaginal fluids, and breast milk. Although breast milk can be a way of transmission, there are many other ways now to avoid giving it to your child. Another way that can be transmitted is through birth. Most mothers now here in Kenya have to get an HIV test before giving birth to make sure that if they are positive, they can give birth without transmitting HIV to their child. A large myth here is that HIV can be transmitted through saliva. If that were the case, then a lot more people would be infected, so thank God that is not a way of transmission. Also, through VMMC, voluntary male medical circumcision, if a man decides to get circumcised, this can decrease the transmission by 60%.

The more I learned, the more I was beyond motivated to pass this information to my students. In America, I do not even remember learning about HIV until maybe freshman year learning about STDs. I feel as though it was something that was not talked about. I never really understood what it meant, but only knew that if someone had it then they would get AIDS and could die. I do not say this because I believe it now, but just as how naïve I was growing up and not knowing that much about it. But now as I learn about it and actually know so much about it, I realize that it is something that must be talked about whether you live in Kenya, the US or Antarctica. It needs to be something that people are aware of, and that people will understand. People must understand that even if a person is HIV positive, that they can still live such a happy and healthy lifestyle with a family. When teachers who were HIV positive came and talked to us during training, they said the biggest battle is stigma. And man I hate stigma. It is so ignorant and unfair to judge people for being HIV positive and thinking that their life is essentially over, because it is far from the truth. But I know that is what was thought about 30 years ago. And although that was the thought then, it doesn’t need to be now. It is so essential to get checked every 3 months. I encourage those of you who are reading this to do the same. People think, oh it can never happen to me, but unfortunately we are not invincible and must take charge and go to the VCT. The biggest mistake that a person can make when facing HIV is to not get checked because they are afraid of their results, which is understandable. But the quicker you are checked, the quicker you know, and the quicker you can get medication if your results are positive.

Since I am the school nurse, bleeding children are always coming to me. One day one of the little ones threw a rock at another boy’s head. He came up to me with blood dripping down his face. My natural instinct is to help this kid as quick as possible. But as I wipe his face using only a tissue, I realize that I need to protect myself before helping him. Someone told us, when it comes to HIV it is like taking a plane and in the directions about your oxygen masks, you must put yours on before assisting others. It is the same when dealing with blood. I do not know the status of my children here. It tares me apart to think about the reality about some of their statuses when I have 56 children and knowing the statistics of how many people in Kenya have HIV. Regardless if some have it or do not, I need to constantly remind myself to put on gloves or to take extra precautions to protect myself. Since many of us are teachers here, we thought it would be responsible for ourselves to go to the VCT and get checked ourselves. I also am a huge believer in walking what you preach. How can I stand and look my kids in the eyes and tell them how important it is to get checked if I haven’t even done it myself? It is a simple task. You get your finger pricked and then they put it on the small test. 5 minutes later, it tells you your result. It is simple and it is essential. Statistics of HIV says that if you do not get medicine, it will mutate into AIDS between 6-10 years. What a terrifying number. Now with all of this information and experiences with IST and learning this, it is my turn to pass it along to these kids who I have grown to love with all that I am and pretty much want to adopt all 56 of them.

After having an in-depth conversation about HIV we talked about how to educate our students the best way and to get this information drilled in their heads. We discussed ways to incorporate life-skills into our schools and into specific classes. It is challenging to explain this concept to kids who are so young and their language is not yet developed. How do you explain to a 6 year old who can barely sign or understand sign that they cannot touch their friend’s arm when they are bleeding? How do you explain to children that HIV is so prevalent in their country and you have to be careful? Now with this information, my counter part and I decided to start a Life Skills class once a week in place of their study hours. My goal is to not only teach about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, but to help them understand about how to make good decisions, be good communicators, how to make long-term goals, how to peer educate others, how to be healthy and other relevant life-skills. I am SO excited about starting this class because not only do I get to educate them about all of this information, but also I get to work with the older kids whom I absolutely adore.

The rest of IST was about teaching in our classrooms. It was very effective because we were all able to sit down and share our challenges and then give one another ideas for solutions. It was awesome to hear about everyone else’s experiences and to also share ideas to help one another overcome their challenges. We had Swahili for a week, which was great. I have really grown to love the language and am motivated to learn as much as possible. I am hoping to find a tutor soon! We also learned about writing grants, creating libraries, how to create resources and other effective lessons to implement at school. Before IST was over we visited the International School of Kenya. It was amazing and basically looked like a college. This is where all of the Ambassador’s, CEO’s, or people from all over the world bring their children while they are working in Kenya. First we observed a couple of classrooms. This was oddly very emotional for me. I felt as if I were going to cry a few times. As I stepped into a first grade class, I saw the independence of these children, the abundance of resources, colors in the classroom, and how far ahead these kids were. All I could think about was my kids. I have to face reality when thinking about my kids and their life. I look at these fortunate kids, I look at myself as I am so fortunate and blessed, and then I look at my kids who may never ever have the opportunities that these international kids or I had. On the other side of it, I also see my kids as the most fortunate children because of their love, kindness and simplicity for life that blesses them beyond belief far more than I could ever have. But it was still a hard reality for me to face. My goal is to give them as much opportunity in my class as well as in their future in any way shape or form that I can.

After observing we had many different speakers about special needs in classes, small groups, how to challenge your kids to think critically etc. It was amazing and I learned so much from this day! I also walked away with many ideas to use in my classroom to hopefully help my kid’s progress through the syllabus quickly. It was wonderful!

Throughout IST we had a blast. We went out to dinner to some nice places that tasted like American food, went to the markets to shop for clothing, the malls that were larger than the North County Malls in CA, and all had a blast together. One night we all went out for a good-bye party for one of our group members who decided to early terminate. We all went to dinner at this place with amazing burgers. I pretty much died, went to heaven then came back to earth to finish the burger. And it was buy a pitcher of beer, get one free. Too much fun. I love my group and had an absolute blast being with everyone for 2 weeks! It was awesome to see each other after 3 months of hard work at site and to be able to share so many rewards, challenges and ideas. It was a really great experience and taught me a lot!

Me and the kids!
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With my girls!

Makeshift Oven
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Assembly!

Assembly!

Assembly!

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This was the day when all of the girls came into my living room. We all were storying about different things, and then got into the discussion about HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. We discussed the ways to stay safe and helped educate one another.

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Site, Consolidation and Games!

DSC02593Hello everyone!

I am sorry I have not posted a blog in a long time. The past month and a half has been crazy with consolidation, elections, school games and ending the school term. Below I have tried to remember as much as possible. I promise I will start getting in a better habit of writing and posting more often!

March 25- April 5

The past two weeks have been our school’s games, track meets and activities. It has been a blast! My job, which is a hilarious title, is Games Master. On Monday we traveled to a different school, which is close to town. Once we reached there we unloaded 7 mattresses and our things into a classroom, our spot to sleep for the next 4 days and 3 nights. 40 girls, one classroom and 20 mattresses… camp style! It was so much fun! Yes I gotten eaten alive by mosquitoes, I would wake up to many little arms across my body, and could barely sleep because of the heat, but I had a blast! We ate dinner, which consisted of ugali, cabbage and meat. It was delicious! There were many different schools with many different disabilities. Needless to say, I was in heaven. There were kids who were Deaf, kids with Cerebral Palsy, Physically Handicapped, Down syndrome, in Wheelchairs, and Cognitively Delayed. This was basically like Special Olympics. The entire week was wonderful.

Tuesday morning we woke up early, took a splash bath, ate breakfast, which was chai tea and 4 pieces of bread, then headed to the field. Being the team manager, interpreter, games master and nurse, I had a busy day ahead of me. After the opening ceremony, we all moved to our respective spots to prepare for the track meet. This was a track meet just like one you would see in schools in America. Since our school is very small, all of the kids basically ran all of the races. By the end of a few races, they were exhausted. There was the 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 3000m, 3000 walking etc. We had such a blast cheering on all of the kids! The announcer would announce the next race and I would have to interpret to the kids what race was next and tell them who was running. By the end of the day they all just shook their heads and said, “no way I am running again.” My energy had to come into play at this point to motivate them to just try. At some points, it was very chaotic. I was interpreting to the children what was next, one girl almost fainted so I was trying to help take care of her, and then I was told another one of my girls actually fainted and went to the clinic. Since I was the only one helping organize and lead my team, I struggled with figuring out what to do. I ended up leaving the team to find the girl, Rehema, who had fainted. After she cooled down, drank water and was stretched and ready to go, we walked back to the field. By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted and happy that the day had come to an end.

The next day we had ball games including soccer, volleyball and netball. Watching the kids was really fun because some of them are very talented and athletic! Throughout the days at games, I would meet and hang out with other kids with other disabilities. As most of you know, I started a business called iMADE (I Make A Difference Everyday), an exercise program for young adults with special needs because I love kids with special need. A couple of my biggest passions are working with kids who are deaf, and those with disabilities such as CP, Autism and Down syndrome. So basically, this week was my heaven. I had an aunt who had Down syndrome and passed away at the age of 30, and am very close with a family at church who has twins who have Down syndrome as well. So anytime at the games events I saw a child with Down syndrome I would go up to them and just start chatting with them. At dinnertime I would sit with this one girl who had Down syndrome. She was soooo cute! At one point I almost teared up because it made me miss Eddy and Rudy, the twins with Down Syndrome, and think about my aunt and how if she were still alive what a great relationship that we would have. Many kids with disabilities are shunned in their family. Kids will sit at school waiting for their parents to come pick them up for school breaks, and will never be picked up. Hanging out with this girl just made me smile. Her mother was a house mama, who helped cook and take care of all of the kids. Just by watching the girl and her mama interact, you could see how much they loved one another and how close their relationship was. This mama was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. Even though I knew very little Swahili, and they knew very little English, we managed to connect by just smiling. We would just eat next to one another and just laugh. She would say things to me in Swahili and I would have a hard time understanding her, so we would just laugh. It was one of the major highlights of my time at the games. Eventually we had some other friends come and sit with us for dinner. This one boy with Down syndrome named Jona came and sat with us. He joined our laughing, dancing and fun. Being able to sign and story with my kids throughout this entire week was incredible, and being able to hang out with kids with other disabilities was a bonus. When we left on Thursday afternoon, all I could do was smile.

Consolidation

In 2007, Kenya had their presidential elections, which caused a lot of violence to occur. Unfortunately, a lot of lives were taken during this time. Now in 2013, the elections were planned to be March 4th. Since the past elections created a lot of violence, Peace Corps required all of the volunteers to consolidate together, if God forbid history repeated itself. I was in a place near Nairobi called Lukenya, where all the volunteers got to stay in a nice hotel for a week and a half. 110 volunteers, 1.5 weeks. It was a wonderful experience because not only did I get to see my friends, I was able to meet the other 80 people I had not yet met!! So many people from so many different backgrounds, with so many cool stories.

I first started my trek with other volunteers on the coast in a train. It was quite the experience! I had never been on a train before so I was definitely excited. Plus, I heard that during the ride we would have the opportunity to see animals!! Sarah, Deirdre and I all bunked in a cabin and hung out then went to eat dinner. We played Farkle, a really fun game, and then headed for bed. It was impossible to sleep. The train broke down about 12 times and it was so loud. Plus, I could feel the mosquitoes eating me alive. We woke up pretty early and started looking out the windows to see if we could spot some wild animals. Pole pole (slowly) we were able to see the most beautiful creatures. Seeing an animal in a zoo is one thing, but seeing that same animal in their natural habitat is beautiful and majestic. We watched wildebeest stand under trees, zebras galloping with their families, gazelles sprinting through the terrain, and giraffes eating their morning plants.

Arriving at consolidation was awesome! I saw all of my friends that I trained with for 3 months during PST, and saw many new faces. There was a pool, basketball court, volleyball court and everything else possible. Basically, it was Peace Corps Spring Break. It was a blast! We had Olympics on Sunday, which was SO fun. It was the Education sector versus the Public Health/Business Sector. We had basketball, volleyball, soccer, football, swimming, chicken fights, ping-pong, talent shows and peace corps trivia. Of course I was on the chicken fight team, and unfortunately only got silver. It was an awesome week. We had meetings everyday to update us on the elections and any news that occurred. Everything went very smoothly and we were all very happy! It was really nice to get away and be with Americans and feel at home. Some of the mornings I woke up early and ran with other volunteers. Running out into a large terrain, filled with zebras, wildebeest, gazelles and giraffes was incredible. I love to run, and seeing a family of zebras run across the path just made it that more awesome! After meetings we would all hang out by the pool, read and just get to know one another. We ate incredible food! At night we would sometimes have movie nights and just have a low key night, and other nights we would have parties! Everything that we did was a blast.

Since elections were extended, they allowed us to travel to Machakos. I was so happy because this meant that I could see my host family! After arriving in Machakos, we all went to the market to shop for very cheap clothing and look for lesos (material that can be made into clothing). After buying a few tops for 20 shillings, I met my host family at a small hotel (restaurant). It was awesome! They all greeted me with large smiles and hugs. I was so happy to see them especially my man Joseph. It was great to sit down with the family and catch up. I am planning on visiting them again soon! Since we only had a few hours in Machakos, I only had an hour to spend time with them. It was cutting close to the time that I had to go back to the bus to travel back to Lukenya. On our way to the meeting spot, my mama said she wanted a family photo. We stopped at this Kodak store and took a family photo. It was really funny but also very sweet of them! We said our goodbyes and then we were off back to Lukenya.

We had parties, dancing, and Peace Corps prom, such a blast! For Prom, we all had bought different things in Machakos to prepare for the prom. I bought a leotard so obviously I wore that. We took prom photos and had so much fun just messing around like children. We have accepted the fact that because we are surrounded by kids 24/7, our maturity levels have severely decreased. And I am completely okay with it and have completely accepted it. After consolidation was over, we made our trek back to site. We were all nervous to return to site and being alone again after 2 weeks of being in basically an American bubble. But returning back to site was wonderful! It does not matter if I am away for 4 hours or 2 weeks, the kids greet me and anyone walking into the school, with the largest smiles and biggest hugs. I think this is one of my top favorite parts of my experience here: walking into school and seeing all of the kids running as fast as possible to grab my bags, walk me in by holding my hands, hugging me and smiling. I went through the classrooms where all of the kids were sitting and reading, and greeted all of them. I was so happy to see them! Some of the older kids gave me the largest hugs and it made my heart jump for joy. I absolutely love them.

Getting back to site!

Getting back to site was great. We had about a week left of school before tests and games began. We ended up reviewing for the entire week. My classroom was an organized zoo. I had class 1 working on different assignments, trying to teach and review class 3 different things that would be on their tests, many of the nursery school little ones were playing in my class, students from other classes in my class asking me to help them with their questions and my little baby, Moses, sitting on my feet. Crazy, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Since classes and exams were finished, they would play a lot of volleyball, we would story a lot and would have movie nights. We watched Up, Dark Knight, 300 (which they flipped out about and loved), Hunger Games (not a good one to show), and Monster’s Inc. Showing them movies is so much fun and they all really enjoy it! I always love when they are watching a movie and I can watch them signing about the movie. The things they talk about make me laugh. I also started running with them in the morning. Once term break is over, my plan is to continue running with them every morning. Great way to start my day!

The little moments that become a big moment

My house has become the school hangout. All of the girls came into my house and we just sat around the living room and storied. All of the boys and little ones would knock on my door and want to come in because they wanted to be part of hanging out. Of course they were all welcomed into my house, but the older girls made sure to make it known that no one else was allowed. We ate sugarcane as we talked about many different things. Our conversation eventually became a discussion about pregnancy, HIV and AIDS. In America, this would not be a typical discussion that you would have with primary schools girls, but here it is something that needs to be discussed. Rehema, the head girl who is class 7 (one of my favorites and I tell everyone she is my sister), began to talk about girls getting pregnant and why it is important to either wait or protect yourself. Farida began to ask about birth, the cost for a baby and other relevant things that are connected with pregnancy. She told us that after you breastfeed, your breasts become saggy, and we all couldn’t help but laugh. Rehema told Farida that to have a baby it costs 15,000 shillings and all of the girls reacted with shock. This number is outrageous to them. They said that if you have sex without a condom you can get HIV. They said that if you don’t wear a condom you could get pregnant. Since these girls were at a young age, this was drilled into their heads. Being a Catholic, I have always known the standpoint that the church has on birth control. But in these kids reality, this can literally be a lifesaver. There are so many young mothers here, and so many children, young adults and adults with HIV. The rate and prevalence is very high. I know that abstinence is the only way that is 100% safe, but we must face reality and give alternatives to these young adults. Watching them talk about this was empowering to me. These are such young girls helping educate and empower one another about the prevalence of HIV and how to prevent it. This was a moment that I will cherish forever. It is the moments that you don’t plan for, and the moments that just naturally happen. Of course we have life skills class, but I think that life skills come in natural moments where lessons can be learned.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday was quite the experience! We walked about a mile to this spot outside where we had a blessing and were handed palms. We then proceeded to walk through the dirt road singing songs in Swahili. It was such a neat experience! After returning to the church, we had mass. Every Sunday, I watch my kids walk up to the offering and drop in money. These kids do not come with much money. They may buy themselves a sweet or soap to bathe once in a while, but watching them offer up money with the little that they have is so humbling. Experience number 32094, these kids touch my heart and move me. These are the times that I know I will carry with me forever, and know that I am forever changed.

My list

I have written a list of things that I have accepted here, things that I am trying to accept, and things that I have not accepted. Most of the things on this list are more for the sense of humor. This is because most things that happen here you must deal with it with humor, or you may not survive. I hope you enjoy this list because I found it entertaining writing it.

Things I have accepted
1. I will itch everyday until the day I complete my service
2. I will have at least one mosquito bite everyday until I complete my service
3. Diarrhea happens. A lot. And even more so a main topic of discussion when most PCVs are together
4. Ugali and beans are my favorite
5. Taking at least 10 minutes to remove bugs from the beans before eating lunch everyday
6. There will always be bugs in my bed, and I have accepted feeling them crawl on me
7. Frogs and lizards surprising me everyday
8. My feet will never be clean, regardless of how hard I scrub
9. I will sweat and smell until the day I complete my service
10. My clothes will never smell nice
11. Instead of tucking the kids in with blankets, I tuck in their mosquito nets
12. I will continuously get stuck and wrapped up in my mosquito net
13. Slow internet or no internet
14. My bathroom will never be clean
15. My house will always have dirt. I sweep and within 5 minutes it’s dirty again
16. In America we have people pick up our trash in the trashcans, here I get to light a match and put my trash on fire (always enjoyable)
17. I have already lost a toenail
18. I have found a dead lizard under my dresser with maggots eating it and I am sure this will not be the only one
19. Meetings are never on the time that they are said they are
20. My pet peeve of being late is slowly not being a pet peeve anymore
21. Yelling at bugs to leave me alone
22. Knocks on my door at 6 am
23. Alligators stroll on our compound
24. Waiting for a Matatu
25. Waiting in a Matatu to leave

Things I am trying to accept
1. Seeing weird creatures
2. Spiders
3. Creepy men hitting on me
4. Matatu drivers
5. Being stared at for being white and called Muzungu

Things that I will never accept
1. Big Spiders (I am trying and don’t think this will ever be something I accept)
2. Snakes
3. Caning
4. People talking/yelling to the kids, who are deaf, in Swahili

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:)

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