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Geek Volunteer Overseas - Arrival

By thaths in Culture
Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 01:29:20 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

This is second part in my series on volunteering overseas. In this part I describe my arrival in Kenya and the process of settling down. A lot has happened in Kenya politically and socially in the last month. A significant portion of this article deals with explaining the changes taking place.

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Arrival in Nairobi
From my middle-row aisle seat of the Kenya Airways flight I barely caught glimpses of Mt. Kenya silhouetted against the glowing eastern horizon as we began our descent into Nairobi. The eight-hour overnight flight from Amsterdam's Schipol to Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International was uneventful. I barely slept perhaps because of pre-placement jitters. We landed a few minutes past 6:00 a.m. As we were taxiing towards the terminal, the sun peeked over the horizon.

After passing uneventfully through Immigration I proceeded downstairs to baggage claim. Except for a bit of dust and dirt, the airport was excellent. Walking thorough the "nothing to declare" section of customs I was halted by a man in uniform who asked me what I had in my small suitcase. In my surprise at the question I forgot what was inside the suitcase (my Canon Rebel and over 40 rolls of Fuji and Kodak slide film). I mumbled something about books and clothes and this seemed to satisfy the gentleman. I was waved through. It was only later while unpacking that I noticed the small 'x' marked with chalk on the suitcase. Apparently the bags are scanned and suspicious ones marked before being thrown on the conveyer belt. I hope yet another x-ray scan has not clouded my film.

The VSO Program Officer met me. We chatted hesitantly as he drove the VSO-logoed Toyota pickup truck along Uhuru Highway into the city. I was curious to know why there were only two volunteers arriving in Kenya in September. I learnt that worldwide VSO was re-evaluating itself and the effectiveness of its programs. VSO Kenya apparently came very close to the chopping block but managed to survive. This close call has made VSO-K cautious when it comes to placements. I was dropped off at the Methodist GuestHouse to sleep off my jet lag for the rest of the day.

The next morning I was taken to VSO's office in Kenya and introduced to all the staff. Intensive briefing and reams of paperwork followed this. I met my employer shortly after lunch. The first thing she wanted to know was how to pronounce my name. Sister Pauline, the principal of the college where I'm placed is a cheerful Nigerian nun who has been in Kenya for just under two years. The principal, the VSO Program Officer and I went over a lengthy document titled 'Three Way Partnership Agreement' and signed it. Only later in the day after I was dropped off back at the guesthouse did I remember that it was my thirty-first birthday.

Arrival in Tala
I was picked up promptly by the principal the next morning. As we drove east in her dinky little white Peugeot hatchback we descended from Nairobi's elevation. The scenery gradually changed from Nairobi's greenery to he semi-arid region's parched yellow. At some places one could see black charred areas where the local residents had cleared land using the oldest method of doing so. The tarmac-ed road was pretty good except for two short stretches. Navigating the kilometer of potholes around the Kariobhangi slums and the industrial estate took as much time as the rest of 60-km journey. We passed little towns with gaily painted dukas (general stores). A kilometer ahead of Tala town center we swung off onto a mud road. A well-painted sign pointed to the college 300 meters down.

I dropped my backpack and suitcase in what is to be my home for the next 9 months - the College GuestHouse. James, one of my colleagues met me and took me around the college introducing me to all the other staff. It was hot and I was dazed from the jet lag and rapid changes over the last 4 days - San Francisco - Amsterdam - Nairobi and now Tala. The changes in timezones were accompanied by progressively increasing culture shocks.

It was a few days before I knew all the other staff by name. The staff in the college include the principal, an administrator, 4 teachers (2 men and 2 women) for secretarial students and 5 teachers for IT students (2 women and 3 men) excluding me. There are also a secretary, a cook and an askari (watchman/guard).

I beat a hasty retreat from the heat and awkward social situations to my house and began unpacking. I noticed a sweet little welcome card from the staff and students of the college on the table next to the bed. There was also a note from the other VSO volunteer who lives in Tala welcoming me.

When the sun had moved substantially to the west, the principal took me into town. We parked the car near the bus stand and I was introduced to all the big shots of the town - the City Council Chief, the treasurer and prominent citizens. It was touching in a way. To my intense embarrassment, I was taken to the two stores in Tala that were owned by Indians. I was later told this was to make me feel at home. The principal and City Council people felt it important that I meet "people of my own kind".

My Work
After a couple of days of getting used to the system I slowly began to fit into the work. I teach Web Design and E-Commerce to final-year IT Diploma students. The class is small - only 6 students. I have also started training the other teachers on weekends. I'm starting with Linux and system and network administration.

School starts at 8:00 a.m. On Mondays and Fridays there is a school-wide assembly where the Kenyan flag is raised and the National Anthem ("I pledge allegiance to the President and Nation of Kenya" was one of the lines I've managed to decipher) sung in English. There is a half-hour tea break at 10:00 a.m. followed by another two hours of classes. Lunch break is from 12:30 - 2:00 p.m. After 2 more hours of classes, school ends at 4:00 p.m. On Mondays and Wednesdays the students play sports (NetBall, Volleyball, rope skipping and table tennis) till 5:30 p.m.

The most difficult aspect of teaching so far has been getting the students to participate in activity oriented learning. It is only now - after a month of teaching - that the students have gathered enough courage to even ask questions when they don't understand something. I've surreptitiously caught some of the other teachers in their act of teaching. The technique seems to be for the teacher to drone facts in a threatening voice and for the students to write down everything obediently. I do not blame the teachers. This method of lecturing seems to be an integral part of the Kenyan educational system. I hope to ask other volunteers how they coped with this. Maybe I can subtly introduce some new styles of teaching interactively when I train the teachers.

My Life
Settling into a routine has been a bit difficult. Till last week I felt no real sense of being settled. I made two trips to Nairobi (an hour away) and have managed to equip myself decently with VSO's 10,000 Kenyan Shilling soft furnishings grant. I bought almost all the spices that I consider essential to cook. I also bought a boombox to listen to the BBC World Service that is on FM.

Before I bought the boombox I'd come home from work, make dinner (pasta or curry or toast or some such), write a letter and become immensely bored. Sun sets at 6:30 p.m. year-round. And my mobility is limited after sunset because of safety concerns and lack of streetlights in Tala. This lack of streetlights is not as bad as it sounds. The night sky is fabulous to glance at. The lack of artificial light makes it possible to see a lot more starts.

A New Constitution for Kenya?
In-between classes I usually spend time in the cramped staff room engaged in lively banter or charged discussions about political news in the media. Every one of the teachers reads the Daily Nation to varying degrees of depth. Chatting with the other teachers I've managed to feel the political pulse of many Kenyans today.

Perhaps the biggest controversy today is the fight over a new constitution of Kenya. Bowing to domestic and international pressure and street protests and demonstrations demanding changes, the government agreed to set up a commission to review the constitution in 1997. The Consitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) headed by Professor Yash Pal Ghai conducted public debates and solicited input from ordinary Kenyans on what they wanted in their constitution. After a lengthy process the commission did what few commissions in Kenya have done - they published their findings. Dark hints about how the draft constitution being written by the CKRC was "foreign" to Kenyans and innuendo that "foreigners" (a jab at Ghai's Asian Indian roots) being consulted started appearing from the cronies of the well entrenched. CKRC cast the die by releasing the draft constitution for publication and even took he unprecedented step of publishing the draft constitution of Kenya on its website.

The draft calls for some dramatic reorganization of the country. Significant changes proposed include dramatic reduction in the powers of the President, the new post of Prime Minister to head the executive made up of non-elected ministers, a bicarmal system of parliament. The first salvo against the proposed constitution comes from the judiciary. The draft proposed the lowering of retirement age of judges from 74 to 65 and investigation of judges with charges of corruption against them by an independent body. A few of the judges, with nudging from the powers that be it is alleged, have decided that the CKRC does not have the authority to judge the judiciary and propose changes. Two lawyers filed a case against Ghai and the CKRC alleging that the CKRC was in contempt of court by casting aspersions on and suggesting dramatic changes to the judiciary. The Law Society of Kenya made up of lawyers seem to be firmly behind the CKRC. The lawyers of the nation went on a strike on Oct 9 - the day on which the contempt case against CKRC came for hearing. Judging from press reports and letters to the editor in newspapers, most Kenyans seem to think that the new constitution is a good thing. Almost all my fellow teachers agree with the proposed new constitution. The few that disagree still want the draft to be discussed and adopted with amendments.

Admist all this wrangling hands a big question mark over the new constitution. Some want elections to be held under a new constitution. Some, including President Moi, want it to be held under the old constitution. In a move to sabotage the new constitution review process Moi is rumored to be planning to dissolve parliament in the next few days. If this happens, thee would be no sitting MPs to debate the draft and adopt it with or without amendments. When elections are held in December, the future of the new constitution is uncertain, as the new legislature will not convene before the mandate granted to the CKRC ends in early Jan.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow
The ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) is splitting almost right along the middle. On the one side is the faction backing President Moi (who cannot contest for another term)'s chosen successor Uhuru Kenyatta as KANU's presidential candidate. This side has been dubbed 'Project Uhuru'. And on the other side is the hodgepodge of old party stalwarts who feel betrayed by not being in the succession line. This faction calls itself the 'Rainbow Alliance' and is headed by Energy minister Raila Odinga (whose own political party merged with KANU as recently as March) and sacked Vice President George Saitoti.

As I write this, the Rainbow Alliance has announced that it will boycott the KANU delegates convention on Oct 14 and will soon announce whether they will start a new political party or join the opposition.

The brightest hope of the opposition to unseat the tottering KANU seems to be the National Alliance (Party) of Kenya - a patchwork of a coalition of several parties brought together by the smell of wounded KANU. The NAK has announced that Mwai Kibaki - a long time member of the opposition who left KANU in '92 when the first multi-party elections were announced - as their presidential candidate. Also notable in NAK's lineup is Charity Ngilu as the candidate for the post of "Prime Minister in waiting". The NAK seems to have arms wide open to embrace the Rainbow Alliance if they were to leave KANU. How the candidature of NAK will change if this happens is uncertain at this point.

Coming Up Next
Over the coming weeks the political scene is going to undergo numerous changes. In my next article I'll write more about my college, the students and the game of politics in Kenya.


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Geek Volunteer Overseas - Arrival | 50 comments (45 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Checked in film (2.83 / 6) (#1)
by Djinh on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 07:45:29 AM EST

Assume it's fogged. Most check-in luggage is scanned with much higher intensity than carry-on.

Always carry film in your carry-on!

We are the Euro. Resistance is futile. All your dollars will be assimilated.

film (3.25 / 4) (#7)
by Ludwig on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 01:10:49 PM EST

Usually only high-speed film (>800) gets fogged by x-ray machines, but yeah, you should always keep it in your carry-on. I don't know if they'd let you bypass 40 rolls these days, though.

[ Parent ]
Aaah! (2.00 / 3) (#9)
by bigbtommy on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 02:35:07 PM EST

So my Velvia 50 will be alright then...!
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]
Not quite... (4.50 / 2) (#10)
by pingflood on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 04:28:41 PM EST

The X-ray machines used for carry-on generally won't harm anything slower than 800-1000 ISO, but the stuff used for checked luggage in many airports these days sure as hell will. If the author had the film in a checked bag, it might be a good idea to find someplace local that could develop a roll (I'm sure there's gotta be an E6 capable lab around *somewhere*) just to see if the film's ok. Would suck to come back with 40 rolls worth of nothing.
Sell fitness equipment, make bucks. Cool affiliate program.
[ Parent ]
Or (5.00 / 1) (#13)
by bigbtommy on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 05:32:01 PM EST

Post it back to a buddy who can develop it and see if it comes out okay.
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]
Then ... (none / 0) (#23)
by sanga on Mon Oct 14, 2002 at 08:55:01 PM EST

If the friend says the film did not come out well, was it damaged by the airport security or was it exposed during transit.

[ Parent ]
even better (none / 0) (#27)
by Wah on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 12:33:38 PM EST

digital cameras.
Life is a strange state of matter.
[ Parent ]
Hmm... (none / 0) (#30)
by bigbtommy on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 05:15:17 PM EST

Yeah - much better. $2000 for a digital SLR that gets outperformed by a $200 conventional. Real good value for money.
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]
take 1,500 pictures (none / 0) (#31)
by Wah on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 05:46:24 PM EST

then pay to have them developed, and call me in the morning.

And I don't even know what SLR stands for, so I probably shouldn't press this discussion too much. :-)
Life is a strange state of matter.
[ Parent ]

Or... (none / 0) (#47)
by bigbtommy on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:44:26 PM EST

And just how much does it cost to get a high-quality inkjet print? I can bet you that making an Ilfochrome from a slide is cheaper and higher-quality than anything that some crappy consumer inkjet can turn out. Plus, my darkroom cost about £500 to set up. What can you get for 500 in digital?

Anyway - let's wrap this up. I've no intention to start a flame war on something as boring as cameras.
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]

No need for flames (none / 0) (#48)
by Wah on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 03:33:08 PM EST

Digital printing costs have come down quite a bit in the last couple years.  My folks just got a new color inkjet that makes pretty much perfect prints from a 2-3 megpix file (I'm looking at one right now and it's not noticably, even upon close inspection, different from a similar print from a lab).  We calculated the costs (including high gloss paper and ink replacement) at about $.52 (US) for each printed picture.  This is roughly the same price one would pay at someplace like Ophoto (shipping is extra, natch).  I believe the printer cost was ~$299 (it seem to have come down since then).  This is only at 4x6 size, I suspect the cost would increase quite a bit, with a slight loss in quality, at 8x10 or larger.  I'm not sure how long it takes to chemically develop film, or if that even how it's done, but I can go from pushing the little button on the camera to printed photo in under 5 minutes, and my mom can to after a 2 hour tutoring session. :-)

I do have a slight bias towards digital anything, but I'm not reallly into photography, so it works fine for me.

Life is a strange state of matter.
[ Parent ]

Oh right. (5.00 / 1) (#49)
by bigbtommy on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 04:21:47 PM EST

I'm more thinking 16x12. Anyway, colour film at home takes 37 minutes, and costs around 50 cents per roll.

Yeah, for 6x4's digital is fine, but anything above that it can really suck.
-- bbCity.co.uk - When I see kids, I speed up
[ Parent ]

No market for digital work (yet) (none / 0) (#44)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 02:00:19 AM EST

I hope to sell some of my photographs in the stock market.  Last time I checked, only slide film work was being bought.


[ Parent ]

I have yet to check (none / 0) (#46)
by Wah on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 09:29:26 AM EST

so I'll have to take your word for it.
Life is a strange state of matter.
[ Parent ]
Film fogging (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by substrate on Mon Oct 14, 2002 at 11:28:54 AM EST

With checked in luggage, at least according to the girl at the counter last time I flew, there's only a probability that the luggage will be X-rayed. I've been told that UPS doesn't X-ray film, so thats what I now use to ship film when I'm traveling. I usually buy film where ever I am, then ship back the exposed film.

Of course, none of this will probably work in Africa.

[ Parent ]

since noone else seemed to be doing it :-) (3.77 / 9) (#8)
by el_guapo on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 01:55:03 PM EST

linkage, to said older (first) article :-)
mas cerveza, por favor mirrors, manifestos, etc.
Great article (2.71 / 7) (#11)
by j harper on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 04:30:14 PM EST

For a front page article, there don't seem to be many replies to so far. I want to change that by saying this is a really great article. Well written (a few typos, but no bother), well said, and informative. Me likey.


"I have to say, the virgin Mary is pretty fucking hot." - Myriad

Sorry about the tyops (none / 0) (#43)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:55:45 AM EST

Sorry about the typos (the mis-spelling in the 'Subject' of this reply is intentional, BTW).  I wrote the article on pieces of paper in long hand and typed it up in a cyber cafe.  Beginning with my next article, I will be typing it up on the computer in the college and brining it to the cyber cafe in Nairobi on a floppy.  That should ensure better spelling.


[ Parent ]

volunteer (3.80 / 5) (#12)
by dinu on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 04:37:20 PM EST

How do you actaully volunteer for such jobs?

Today's your lucky day (5.00 / 2) (#14)
by hbw on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 05:35:54 PM EST

That's exactly what the preceding article in this series was all about.

I have discovered a truly marvelous signature, which unfortunately the margin is not large enough to contain.
[ Parent ]

thanks (none / 0) (#21)
by dinu on Mon Oct 14, 2002 at 04:18:22 PM EST

thanks m8.

[ Parent ]
Richard Feynman teaching in South America (4.75 / 4) (#15)
by Paul Johnson on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 05:52:26 PM EST

The technique seems to be for the teacher to drone facts in a threatening voice and for the students to write down everything obediently.

Richard Feynman went on a sabbatical teaching in South America, and encountered much the same thing.

For the sake of the students, I would urge you to keep plugging away at getting your students to ask questions. Start by asking them questions to test their understanding ("So how do I make this bold and italic? Hands up!").

Keep up the good work.

You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.

The scary thing about Feynman's experience . . . (2.50 / 2) (#26)
by kfg on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 07:12:58 AM EST

was that it was at university level, and not just at the undergrad level either. In fact it turned out that the only Brazilian teachers he found that were doing what he considered good teaching were not Brazilian schooled themselves.

Every time I here some political talking head bemoaning America's falling performance in standarized tests and suggesting some brain dead way to fix this I yell "Nooooooo!"

Learning the *knowledge* are not the same thing as being able to fill out an "information form."

The beaurocractic institutionalization of education will ultimately be the undoing of civilization.

What was it Mark Twain said?

"Never let your homework stand in the way of your education."


[ Parent ]

Good suggestion (none / 0) (#42)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:52:47 AM EST

I try to do this as much as possible in class.  My modus operandi goes something like so:

I set the objectives of that session and begin by telling the students what they are going to learn that day.  I next ask questions to remind them about what we did last class and where we stopped.  And as seamlessly as possible, I lead into the next topic by asking them (sometimes leading) questions.  Whenever the questioning leads to a nugget of fact, I repeat and emphasize it.  The one thing I haven't quite done yet is constant checking of whether the entire class has understood by involving them in games and excercises around the subject we are learning.


[ Parent ]

*sigh* (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by delmoi on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 06:41:32 PM EST

So much bad stuff going on in the world these days.  It's nice to see someone helping out there fellow man  :)
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Classroom expectations (4.83 / 6) (#17)
by TON on Sun Oct 13, 2002 at 08:03:38 PM EST

The teaching style you describe is so common all over the world. You are not the first, or the last to have to deal with it. Plenty of good educators have wrangled with this one over the years and a variety of methods to create a more learner centered classroom (Yes. That is education jargon.) have been developed and tried successfully.

My experiences with this problem have been in language education, so my solutions may not work for you as is.

Teaching in Japan, I often find a little out of class socializing does wonders. This is encouraged here, it may be a problem for you. I don't know. A meal with a group of students, or even a cup of tea together after class or on a Saturday may be a big help. Can you ask your students to teach you about Kenya? They may naturally fall into more of a give-and-take exchange. You will certainly be able to ask questions. This might carry over a bit to class.

On a more formal note, student assessment is really important. It can be more or less formal. There are plenty of resources available on how to do this.

Anyhow, changing the classroom dynamic is difficult, but it is not an insoluble problem. Any amount of time and effort you put in to it will be repaid very well in easier to teach and more productive classes. You have a great start in that the classes are small, you have access to the other teachers on the staff, and the students are probably quite motivated. Good luck with your classes.

Here is one link from ESL education that has a few ideas you may adapt for your classroom.This is related to writing, but has some good advice. Actually, you may find it easier to start students off with giving you feedback or asking questions in writing. I've found "Learning Logs" or "Classroom Journals" (Whatever you want to call them.) very effective. In the most basic form, students write a diary of their learning experience as they learn in and out of class. Of course, they probably won't do this immediately without support and a good structure. It's not so hard to set up though. I'll see if I can't find some better links after breakfast.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


Classroom Architecture (4.50 / 2) (#24)
by driptray on Mon Oct 14, 2002 at 10:39:37 PM EST

Disclaimer: I have no experience teaching, but I'll throw some ideas up anyway.

Classroom architecture tends to reinforce the teaching style. Rows of students staring at a teacher at the front of the room creates a stiff formal atmosphere that makes it hard for students to ask questions, and hard for students to collaberate.

You could try shocking your students out of this habit by rearranging the seating, or by standing in a different place, or by moving around a lot. You could make them sit in a circle, or sit in small groups, or you could position yourself in the middle of the classroom instead of at the front.

Try to create an architectural arrangement that is actually tailored to the type of lesson you are teaching, instead of just accepting what is already there.
We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]

Sure, but with one or two small problems... (none / 0) (#32)
by TON on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 05:55:45 PM EST

I often move around the class when I am teaching. If nothing else, it keeps people (and me) from falling asleep :) Actually, I find moving around the room is great for a few reasons: it does keep me more energetic, it gives me a better feel for what is happening, it breaks down the dynamic of "look at the distant, boss teacher up front pouring info at us".

Rearranging the layout can work well, too. Unfortunately, this is not always an option. I've taught in plenty of classrooms where the rows of desks are bolted to the floor. Computer equipped rooms tend to be very rigid.

My only caveat is not too shake things up too much too fast. A certain amount of "shock" can work, but has to be balanced. If the teacher breaks students' expectations too much of what a teacher should be, they may not think much of their new teacher. Violate the unwritten rules of school too much and they may dismiss you as "not a real teacher". If you lose the students, it is twice as hard to get them back. Where is that balance? Good question? I wish I knew a nice and easy rule of thumb. I have to feel out the dynamic of each new class- they are all different.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


[ Parent ]

A few Links (none / 0) (#34)
by TON on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 06:30:13 PM EST

Just a couple of links for anyone thinking about classroom practice.

"First, I am born. Then, the trouble begins." -- Schizopolis


[ Parent ]

Thanks (none / 0) (#41)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:47:15 AM EST

Thank you very much for your comments and all the follow ups.  I'll try some of the techniques suggested.


[ Parent ]

random thoughts (4.33 / 3) (#19)
by sasquatchan on Mon Oct 14, 2002 at 02:08:43 PM EST

of a un-knowing American.

Do you feel safe commenting on the political situation in this public forum, or discussing it with various fellows and students ?

While I may be acting under the stupid Yankee stereotype of third-world banana republics, there have been plenty of instances where foreign guests/teachers/workers get a bit too involved in local politics and are unfamiliar with the inner workings/secret police and other such suppressive forces. Don't want to see you in jail or worse when you are definitely working towards a better Kenya.

-- The internet is not here for your personal therapy.

tes (none / 0) (#28)
by hypno on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 02:01:03 PM EST

While I may be acting under the stupid Yankee stereotype of third-world banana republics,
You are. Kenya, like a lot of african states are not like that.

[ Parent ]
I'll be careful (3.00 / 1) (#40)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:39:29 AM EST

I've made an effort to write in an unbiased style.  Regarding safety, I do feel safe talking about politics and life with all of my colleagues and friends.  However, I did have doubts about writing about them on k5.  I have tried to present a balanced journalistic piece.

When I talk politics and history, I always try to ask questions.  I refrain from commenting on the trends because (a) I do not know enough about the history and (b) I am an outsider.


[ Parent ]

I'd like to know.. (3.66 / 3) (#20)
by petis on Mon Oct 14, 2002 at 02:13:57 PM EST

(Sorry, I have not checked the first part of the story, maybe the answer is there)

Do you have a significant other, if so, what was his/her opinion on you volunteering? What about family? No objections from them?

A bit personal questions for a public forum, maybe. But I'm really interested in how you handled this problem (if it's a "problem" that people close to you are worried :)

Also, very interesting article, thanks!

There is one (none / 0) (#39)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:35:19 AM EST

Good question.  I have a girlfriend back in the US.  When VSO learnt that I was "attached" and not planning on going to volunteer with my S.O., they did ask me and my partner some penetrating questions before I was accepted.  It seems volunteers returning home because they miss a partner that they have left behind is a pretty common thing.  The other, more serious, extreme is long-distance break ups.

My girlfriend and I discussed my volunteering for an extended period.  Luckily for me, she is an understanding sort who could plainly see that my wanderlust cannot be satusfied by working in a cubicle.


[ Parent ]

My dad's best friend (4.00 / 3) (#22)
by broken77 on Mon Oct 14, 2002 at 06:08:23 PM EST

My dad's best friend, John Kaiser, a priest who lived and worked for decades in Kenya, was murdered by (suspected) agents of the Moi government. I hope they don't stay in power much longer.

I'm starting to doubt all this happy propaganda about Islam being a religion of peace. Heck, it's just as bad as Christianity. -- Dphitz

security (2.50 / 2) (#25)
by dorksport on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 06:07:48 AM EST

"It was only later while unpacking that I noticed the small 'x' marked with chalk on the suitcase. Apparently the bags are scanned and suspicious ones marked" It's a good thing no one has any fingers or cloth to rub the chalk off with.

Funny you should mention it (none / 0) (#38)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:30:33 AM EST

Once when I was visiting my family back in India, I found my bag marked with the chalk 'x' because the scan seems to have revelead the laptop I was carrying home.  I cheerfully rubbed it off and walked through 'nothing to declare' with no problems.


[ Parent ]

After you return (5.00 / 3) (#29)
by mickwd on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 04:26:32 PM EST

Interesting article - I hope it encourages one or two other people to try something similar.

I've just got one question, which I'll come to.

One thing I've noticed about my (very limited) experience of travel is that I don't appreciate some of the good things about a new place until after I've left it. Or maybe that's just a form of nostalgia on my part.

So my question is: Will you write a final article a while after you return, explaining what you miss about Kenya, what you've learned, how you think you've changed, and whether there are things in life you now look upon in a different way ?

Good idea (none / 0) (#36)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:24:33 AM EST

Your idea about writing a piece a few months after I return is a good idea.  I'll do it.


[ Parent ]

I took a similar trip to Tanzania (4.50 / 2) (#33)
by Brandon Stafford on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 06:17:15 PM EST

I'm an embedded systems engineer in Palo Alto, California. A few months ago, a colleague of mine and I went on a trip to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania (just south of Nairobi) to teach a class in embedded systems to the Tanzanian National Radiation Commission. We did the same SF-Amsterdam-Nairobi flights (in 36 hours-- it sucked).

I had the same impression of the attitude toward education. The class we were teaching was just about how to program small microprocessors, so there was very little of it that wasn't hands-on. It was difficult to get our students to tell us what they understood and what they didn't; it seemed like they were used to listening a lot and not understanding much. It was a strange situation-- us trying desperately to teach them as much as we could in the two weeks that we were there, and them giving us very little feedback about what was going right or wrong. ("No feedback?" *the controls engineers wince*).

The political situation in Tanzania was maybe a little more stable than that of Kenya, but the lack of industrial infrastructure was still amazing. Burundi and Rwanda, which are just west of Tanzania, have both recently suffered a great deal of fighting and killing; it was strange to be so close to such great destruction, and yet see so many people so happy with their lives.

It was also surprising to notice how thoroughly the internet and cell phones had penetrated Tanzania. Both were more available than, for example, clean water. You'd be walking down a dirt road with huge potholes, burning piles of trash on the roadside, and you'd see a rusty steel shack with a hand painted sign reading "internet cafe." They'd have a satellite dish on the roof, and 4 or 5 pentium II's lined up on a table inside. (No linux, though. Lots of Windows 98. Ecch.)

Anyway, very interesting read-- I'll be interested to read future installments.

Brandon Stafford
Mindtribe Product Engineering

More details on my trip:
www.mindtribe.com/tanzania (avoid kuroding our server if you can help it)

It takes time (none / 0) (#37)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 01:27:58 AM EST

It is frustrating when one can't get feedback on what one is teaching.  But I'm slowly learning that there is feedback underneath the surface.  It just is in a different cultural context.  For example, I think I can now tell if the students don't understand something I'm talking about.

I look at my mission as not only teaching the students but also training the teachers on other more interactive teaching methodologies.

[ Parent ]

Congratulations. (4.00 / 2) (#35)
by mindstrm on Tue Oct 15, 2002 at 10:39:58 PM EST

Though my reasons are different, I too live in a less developed country.. though not to the same degree you are.

It will be tough; you will hate it at times, and you will want to go home.. but ultimately you will look back on it as a wonderful adventure, making you all the much more wise.

Update (5.00 / 2) (#45)
by thaths on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 02:04:59 AM EST

Just minutes after I submitted the article, members of the 'Rainbow Alliance' of KANU quit their ministerial posts and later announced that they were formally joining the opposition.  Also, Uhuru Kenyatta was chosen as KANU's presidential candidate unopposed.


Interesting (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by LittleStar on Sat Nov 02, 2002 at 03:57:01 PM EST

This was a very interesting article. I look forward to further installments. As someone who has travelled, and wishes to travel more, it is always great to hear an outsiders view of a destination. I was also very interested in the social aspect of your living in Kenya, the cultural differences etc. As someone who is teaching in a very rural setting you have a very interesting range of people to observe. It sounds to me as though you are already catching on to the subtleties of their culture within your teaching. Thanks again, belated happy birthday as well, it sounds as though you missed yours this year.
Twinkle. Twinkle. Twinkle.
Geek Volunteer Overseas - Arrival | 50 comments (45 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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