Friday, October 7, 2011

Armed guard or trained model?

Kenya: Day 10. Horses, hills, security detail, clouds and cold beers

I had this half-written, under-developed blog post in the works about exam time.  I may decide to tell you folks all about how exam week(s) happen at my school, but now is not the time for that.  
I just looked at the clock on my computer: 2:34.  My computer is still set on Eastern Standard, but my glance-at-the-clock-then-calculate-the-time-change skills have gotten pretty sharp.  Or, I just look to see whether the hour is even or odd, then make a ball-park guesstimate.  Just now, my guesstimate was off.  Silly me, it’s not nearly 11 in the morning, it’s still 8:30.  With the less than exciting realization that this day is gonna be a long one, a subsequent realization kicked in.  I have plenty of time to catch up with the good ol’ blog.  Now, I have countless stories stocked up in this crazy head of mine, but, lucky for you, I’ve already selected one of the best to share.  
My wonderful and amazing mother braved Africa and came to visit me for 3 weeks.  We had an amazing time together!  In Rwanda, we traveled around the N and W provinces, saw gorillas, lounged lake-side, went to fancy Kigali restaurants... it was a really nice time.  Then, we went to Kenya.  I think that even if I dedicated the next 6 hours to typing about Kenya, I wouldn’t be able to cover everything.  So, let’s start small.
On our last day together in Kenya (after 11 successful days spent in the country) mom and I decided to go on a fun mother/daughter morning outing.  This ‘outing’ involved pants, closed-toe shoes, jackets, horses, saddles, mountains, heavy mist and accelerated heart-rates.  Yes, we scheduled a horse-back riding excursion.  To the top of the Ngong Hills (type THAT in your browser and google it).  I don’t know what befuddled my judgement and made me think that an activity like this could occur with no hiccups...  
We started the morning by driving to the base of the hills to meet the horses.  Rather, we were driven; by our lovely driver, Lenny.  We met the horses and the guides on the side of a road, in front of what appeared to be some sort of local government office complex.  Less than 5 minutes later, we were on the horses.  This made me think long and hard about when I last rode a horse.  I think it was in Georgia, when I was 16.  That’s 7 years ago.  My mom had horses and rode all through her childhood, so for her, this was as simple as riding a bike.  I, on the other hand, would gladly rather take the bike.  Instead, I gritted my teeth, tried to relax, grabbed hold of the reins and giddied up.  Actually, I tried to prevent my horse from doing much more than walk for the duration of our ride.  He trotted from time to time.  Those were the fun moments.  The horse, Night (named as such because he was black), did what he wanted and it wasn’t until about half-way into our journey that I felt able to give him commands.  He didn’t like to be last in the pack, so whenever he felt like he was lagging behind, he tried to go quickly and join the other 3 horses.  And for those of you who know how to ride horses, maybe you can corroborate and help me explain that posting can be difficult.  Posting, or moving with the horse, is necessary if you want to remain balanced and secure.... and I tried my hardest to post, but all I kept picturing was that scene in Runaway Bride (or some movie like that... Pretty Woman?) where Julia Roberts gets stuck on a running horse and doesn’t know what to do.  Now, thankfully, such a funny scene did not play out with me, but I’ll get to that.  So, there I was, trying to give commands to my horse, trying to make him WALK, trying to relax, and trying to enjoy the fact that we were at the top of a misty mountain.  I eventually got a bit more comfortable on the horse.  Mom was really great at helping me out.  Well, she was really great until SHE started second guessing the situation.  We were both frustrated that the horses were stubborn and didn’t want to listen to us.  But, what else can you expect?  It’s not like we were riding around the hilly Virginia country-side. We were in Kenya.  On the top of “peaks in a ridge along the Great Rift Valley, located southwest near Nairobi, in southern Kenya.” [Thanks Wikipedia!]  

Stubborn horses, quiet, passive guides, reluctant participants and misty mountains... sounds like a great morning?  My favorite part of this whole ordeal goes back to Lenny.  Lenny is a driver/ guide who works for the safari company that we organized our travels through and he helped us out by driving us around for a few days.  When we first embarked on our horseback riding adventure, he said something about having no fear because he’ll be following us in the car.  Oh Lenny, always the joker.  “No... wait... he really IS following us.”  Not only that, but he had acquired two armed guards to ride along with him.  As we walked our horses up to the top of the “hills,” Lenny followed in his car.  Apparently people are not allowed to visit the top of the hills with out a security detail.  Which really helped ease my fickle nerves.  (Don't worry, if something goes wrong and you're put in danger I'm sure the sound of gunshots will really help keep your horses calm) But, as is usually the case out here in East Africa, everything worked out just fine.  We even got some fun photos with one of the guards after we ran to the top of one of the hills (on foot.. NOT on horse).  
I can’t rightfully say I’d recommend this trek to many.  But it did create a great, lasting mother/ daughter memory.  We survived!  And, in true mom and Ally style, we rewarded ourselves with cold beers.  But [here’s a fun trivia fact for you] we quickly learned that it’s illegal to order alcoholic beverages at a bar/ restaurant in Kenya before 5 pm.  UNLESS you also order food.  So, we ordered food... mostly so we could drink our beers and talk about how wrong our adventure could have gone, and how happy we were that it didn’t.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Requesting assistance!

Here is a copy of an e-mail that I've just sent to a handful of people.  I'll try to write a real blogpost soon (something entertaining and fun to read) but this morning I'm all business.

Good morning!
I’m not one to typically send mass e-mails to a broad group of people, but today I’m making an exception.  I just had a wonderful conversation/ mini brainstorm session with my headmaster, and it’s led me here, e-mailing you for advice and suggestions.  As most of you know, I’m teaching at a small secondary school in Rwanda.  Our secondary school is part of a slightly larger “9 year basic education” school (primary school + lower secondary).  We operate as a day school: using limited resources, dealing with a less than efficient national school system and trying to appropriately allocate what little government funds we receive.  I have colleagues who are doing this all over Rwanda, so we often compare our schools (the good, the bad, the entertaining and the frustrating aspects of teaching in Rwanda).  Everyone seems to have a slightly different set-up, but there are general trends across the board.  I won’t get too much into the intricacies of the Rwandan school system at this time, but I do want to share with you an observation I’ve been able to make.  
I have a GREAT headmaster.  Really. I don’t think I could’ve asked for anyone better.  This man is a critical thinker, is invested in his students, sees things realistically, is honest and truthful and has some great aspirations for his school.  I will stand behind him and give him full support on any project he wishes to undertake (I’m sorry to say that most of my fellow PCVs have not been so lucky with their headmasters... but that’s another story).  Today, he came to me and we had a nice conversation about his plan to use technology in the classrooms.  When I told him that I may be able to find a grant/ money for the school to use, he told me that that’s not the first step.  The first step is to see what’s possible, to try and find ways to make his plan work, THEN find the money.  What a refreshing thing to hear out here in the village where I sometimes think that people see me as a walking dollar sign.  But, I have no experience with this sort of thing (grants, donations, project planning) and therefore don’t really know where to start.
My headmaster, Florian, wants to start using projectors in the secondary classes.  Currently we run on a total chalk and talk system.  This system is inefficient and is likely not very conducive to learning.  Florian had this to say:  
“We see now how students write in their notebooks. When teacher writes on a boards, the student is going to rewrite in their notebook. Many times there are mistakes [both by the teacher AND the students].  The writing is often not clear, so they will not be able to read what they write. If you try to see them in their self study, it is difficult to see what they've written. This makes exams difficult for students. So, I imagine that if teachers use the projectors, and if students have [a copy of] their syllabus, maybe they can reduce their mistakes.”
He also hopes to use the new computers at school (we just received 5 new Dells from the Ministry of Education) in a way that allows students to access materials relevant to their courses (syllabi, encyclopedia software, etc).  
His plan was to begin working on this project at the beginning of 2011, because he was expecting to receive 6 million Rwandan Francs from the Ministry of Education.  Instead, the school received only 1.5 million for the year.  So, his aspirations have been put on the back burner, but I’d like to find a way to help him.
My questions for you: 
  1. Do you have any information on where to find donated materials (screens, projectors, computer programs)? 
  2. Do you know about grants that may be available for a project like this?
  3. Do you have any contacts that you think would be able to guide me in the right direction?
  4. Would you like to help us?
Please let me know if you’re interested in assisting us.  This is a great school community that I’ve truly grown to love and I want to try to help them in any capacity possible.  If you’re interested in helping but know nothing about the above questions (technology, grants, contacts) tell me what you DO know.  We welcome any and all assistance: from moral support to monetary donations.  
I hope this email finds you all well.  Thanks for reading and enjoy your Tuesday!
Take care,
mob: 078 284 6648