Category Archives: Africa

Body Language

Learning a language is hard and it takes a lot of time and practice to master nuance. Not only that, but you can’t learn every language you might need. I would like to understand non-verbal communication better. A few times I have been in situations where there was no language cross over.

In Africa with people who spoke Kikamba and in China the language spoken had no kinship with English. In Europe most of the languages have at least a few words that make one feel like there is a connection. In both Africa and China, while it is true that younger folks have mostly some familiarity with English, older people (my age as opposed to my son’s age) often don’t have any familiarity with it at all, so I can speak as slowly and clearly as I want but nothing will get through.

Yet somehow with pointing, smiles, exaggerated facial expressions, along with charades, and the occasional drawn picture. many things can be communicated. I would like to be better at that.

I have had a few adventures where my, I like to think anyway, above average language skills in my native tongue have not helped me at all. Where being better at reading people and non-verbal communication would have been way more useful than fluency in the wrong language.

One of the more recent was last year and is outlined in my Let’s Go Fly a Kite post.

Harambee.
Harambee.

In Africa one happened having my hair washed. Mama Munini, our hostess, had arranged for the woman who washed her hair to come and wash mine (for the exhorbitant cost of ~$2). I just wanted it washed, it was in the 90-100 degree F temperature range and after traveling from Nairobi in a very full minivan (driver five passengers and a bunch of luggage, a harambee (tiny church very full of people), and walking about a fair amount for two days with only a wash basin of water to clean with I longed for a clean head.

Mama made the arrangements but had to go off and left me with a lovely lady who scrubbed my hair and scalp cleaner than it has ever been before. I thought we were done.

But then she rubbed in conditioner and carefully bagged my head up in black plastic to let it work.  When she rinsed that out I thought we were done.

But then she started to braid my hair. Since I had no way to communicate to her that I didn’t want braids I called to my son to go and get my supply of elastic hair thingies. I looked pretty odd but it was WAY cooler to have my hair in the braids which I left in for the five days until we returned to Nairobi. I wish I had been able to communicate…but then I would not have been as comfortable.

Munyoki family.
Munyoki family.

A similar situation occured when I went to visit Mrs. Munyoki, specifically Mama Elijah (Mr. Elijah is featured in Reward). I was to meet Mueni (Elijah’s sister) at the elementary school and go with her to visit her mother. I got to the school and she wasn’t there. Not sure quite what got said to whom but I was sent off, as it turned out cross country, with a fourth or fifth grader. He took me through peoples yards and gardens to Mrs. Munyoki, the principal’s wife not Mama Elijah (there are quite a few Munyokis in Mulundi). She understood where I was headed but insisted that I eat first. The rest of my party (including those who could understand) somehow found me there, where I was not supposed to be, eating fresh chapati so hot that they burned my fingers. We all went the last couple hundred yards together, and had to eat again with Mueni and Mama Elijah. I never was quite clear what happened…oh well.

It would be so nice to somehow understand, and yet I treasure these memories of times when I didn’t and somehow connected with people.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take That, Rosetta!.”

Blur

This is one of the first pictures I took with my (at that time, 2012) new Nikon L120 camera. I dropped it as the shutter went off (fortunately) it was around my neck so it kind of rotated as it fell.

I was going to delete this picture when it occurred to me that it was a perfect representation of all the things swirling around in my head and into my suitcases as I packed for a quickly decided on trip to Kenya.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Blur.”

Big Point of View

The first wildlife I saw at Kichwa Tembo was these elephants:

Elephants.
Elephants.

I got really excited going through my pictures that evening to find that these same elephants were in the top photo, one that I took as the plane was descending.  These photos are a few years old, but I thought the difference in point of view was interesting. I seem to have Africa on the brain lately, this is my third post in a week from that trip.

Young Teachers

Hello to you mum, thank you for your uptades.At Nairobi all is well still pulling up my socks in all matters concerning my life. Thank you mum for your concern, i really know that my success is your success too. plz tell my brother that i have got and appreciated his regards.

James with "his kids".
James with “his kids”.

My son is a teacher. That is not the course on which he started out, his degree is in marketing. His first gig was to volunteer at an embryo of a high school in a village not far from Kitui in Kenya. He was there for three months and taught business, English, physics and he invented a PE class to help the kids get their blood flowing between all that book work. At 22, with no experience, he was the only teacher who had a university degree.

The note above is from a young man who was a student at that school. Life in Africa has many challenges and Alex’s story illustrates a few of them. James was not Alex’s teacher, but they were friends. He noticed that Alex was not in school for a while and discovered that he was ill with Malaria. It did not just affect his attendance, and performance in school. Since Alex was working to pay his way through school he was subsequently sent home because he could not pay his tuition. James scabbed together a scholarship from his own funds and asked me to sponsor Alex’s last year in high school. This allowed him to finish school. Although he is a bright young man who worked hard, his marks were not high enough for college. But he now has a job. He sends money home to his mother and helps pay his younger brother’s way through school.

I am proud of both my sons: James for taking the initiative to help his friend, following the path of untold numbers of teachers around the world going above and beyond the classroom; and Alex for “pulling up his socks” in the face of a very challenging set of circumstances.

Digression about Malaria: Maybe I am exceptionally ignorant, but I didn’t realize until then about the high cost of malaria for people who have it and do not die. They are sick, often very sick, on and off for the rest of their lives. How many kids drop out of school from lost time and never get the somewhat better jobs available to those with an education? How many people who have the illness wind up losing pay for missed time or even their jobs? The lower standard of living means less nutrition which makes people less able to fight and recover from the bouts of malaria and other illnesses, These are not statistics I have seen and may not be even possible to measure, but they are real effects of the disease.

There are other teachers from that school I want to talk about. The school was chaotic and disorganized and had a corrupt headmaster provided by the government. These young teachers were often not paid on time and sometimes not at all. The headmaster did not provide the text books paid for by the government so these teachers often had to be creative to teach the students. They worked hard, provided as stable setting for the students as they could and held things together. None of them was over 25.

Mr. Elijah teaching.
Mr. Elijah teaching.

At the time James was there the school was in large measure held together by a young deputy headmaster, Mr. Elijah. Mr. Elijah had only a high school education at the time he was holding things together. He was about 20 years old and he dealt with everything from buying food to counseling pregnant teens. His enthusiasm and joy are infectious and probably why many of the students stayed in school. It is he in my Reward post.

Moses Kyando and James.
Moses Kyando and James.

Mr. Moses Kyando was a primary school teacher who came (he actually commuted by long distance running) from a village about 5 miles away.  He could have worked for more money, and more reliable money at that at a location nearer his home but he came because he loved the students. He became deputy headmaster when Mr. Elijah went off to college.

Mrs. Munyoki
Mrs. Munyoki

Another dedicated teacher who held things together was Mrs. Munyoki. She did not have as flamboyant a personality as the two young men but she was always there. It was harder to get to know her as she had a young child and was not able to socialize with us after school hours.

The villagers eventually got together and ousted the corrupt headmaster and a new, very competent headmistress was brought in.  Now the school has textbooks, floors in all the classrooms, a lab and, soon, a library.  Things have really come together, but the school would not have lasted long enough to flourish without the dedication of those three young teachers.

Mr. Elijah graduated from Kenyatta University in December and Mr. Kyando is a student there now.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “We Can Be Taught!.”

 

Reward

I had jet lag. We arrived in Nairobi at 10:00 pm and had prearranged to meet the “boys” (actually men, I call them boys because they are about the same age as my son) at a bookstore in the Sarit Centre at 10:00 the next morning. Nairobi is an eleven hour time difference from Seattle and it takes about 24 hours to get there.

They call traffic in Nairobi “the jam”.  It took over an hour for our taxi to get to Sarit Centre from Gigiri but the boys bus ride was closer to 3 hours.  If I had realized how challenging the shopping trip would be I would not even have tried.

We had raised and brought with us $500 for them to use to purchase library books they thought would benefit high school students and young adults. Never has $500 been so carefully spent. They spent hours carefully picking, conferring and doing sums. I sat on a stool with my head on my knees, not comfortable enough to doze. I thought we were done, when the owner of the bookstore gave us a 10% discount so they could buy more books!

After shopping we had lunch in the food court and parted company. I was toast, but the reward:

African man smiling
African man smiling

Of course I would do it again…Just maybe on the second or third day.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Reward.”

“Beautiful Children”

That was the whole post: two words and the picture above reduced to transmit “quickly”. It was a Facebook post.
The two boys, alot of the kids, had never seen anything but a text book and the brightly colored books about the world we brought to them fascinated them. Their teachers really liked the books as well. They came into the library during breaks and after school.
The only place I could find sufficient reception for the Safaricom modem was out in the compound. it took about a half an hour to send and it was hot. The juxtaposition of the modern technology with the sleeping dog and chicken strutting by tickled my funny bone. Young man in the blue shirt is my “baby”.
Mid-day in Mulundi-even the dogs are sleeping.
Mid-day in Mulundi-even the dogs are sleeping.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Blogger in a Strange Land.”

What is Serenity?

This was harder than I thought. I didn’t know what the word really meant and had to look it up. Going through my pictures I realized that I have some serene baggage.

Dawn looking out over Masai Mara, an infinity pool in the foreground reflects the clouds and a hot air balloon is flaring.

My five elements of serenity:

  •  It needs light, but also an edge of darkness.
  •  It needs to have sky in it, but not perfectly clear.
  •  It needs water in it, unruffled water.
  •  It needs to have land in it.
  •  It needs life in it.

 

A courtyard of the Forbidden City in China, It has stone paving, a basin holding water, a couple of trees and tile roofs.
Forbidden courtyard

I am not sure why I like my sky cloudy and my water smooth. But for every rule there is an exception:

Agapanthus Flowers with a backdrop of the  harbor of Crescent City on the California coast.

 

Then of course there is his Serene Highness:

A profile of a lion in grassland facing the sun.
His Serene Highness.

Aren’t dictionaries great?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Serenity.”