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Playing in Dirt

6/23/17

Today was our first day in the school. Surreal. It felt so out of place and so common place at the same time. We took the Matatu to our placement, which was about a 15 minute drive away. We then walked for another 10-15 minutes through community marketplaces to get to our school. Once there, we were immediately greeted with smiles and waves. The children were so excited to see volunteers, especially Mzungus (which is the word for white people).

The children at the school range in age from about 7-14, although the children who attend the school aren’t the only kids there. Dozens of children are around but not in school, at least not Gladways, the school we were at. I am not sure how the schooling in Kenya works, but throughout the day, random kids joined our games and left when they decided.

The school buildings were nothing more than pieces of tin and hand cut wood. Wood braces with tin nailed to it for walls and ceilings. Some of the classrooms are lucky. They have an old, scratched-up chalkboard. Others don’t. Some have wooden planks for chairs and desks. Others have rocks to sit on. Books of any kind are hard to come by. Paper even harder. To say they have no supplies is an understatement. As much as the crayons and markers that we brought are going to help, the things we can’t bring are the things they need most. Concrete. Walls. Ceilings. Wood. Water. Those things can only be bought in town.

Volunteers have helped, for sure. Helped raise funds to purchase materials. Helped build rooms for schools, toilets, and churches. Helped decorate and paint so that the weather and termites won’t destroy the school’s new found riches. Every little bit counts because every little bit is appreciated, by the community and by the students.

The school we are at has a little over 100 students. Some walk over an hour just to get there. Some don’t have a home outside of the school. Some have even been adopted by the school’s founder, Mary. But when it comes to school, there is no difference at all. The kids are there to learn and experience. What I find most amazing is that across a world and amongst different cultures, the children are all the same. It doesn’t matter if you speak English or Kiswahili. It doesn’t matter if you live in privilege or poverty. It doesn’t matter if you learn with a Smartboard or a stick. We all are the same. We all learn.

The day we went was the day after midterm exams. It was a half day at our school. It was less structure of academics and more free play. We have tons of supplies to take them, and when our bags get here, we will. Without our donations of games and learning materials, we had to be creative. Mikayla and I combined our classes, so we had about thirty 7-10 year olds. The group I was with decided to play on a ‘big field.’ The ‘big field’ to them was just up a hill from their school. A large flat dirt area littered with trash and surrounded by cliffs on three sides, a far cry from what we would consider a soccer field.

As Mikayla and I tried to teach them the game sharks and minnows, we quickly realized the language barrier was an issue. We had to have their regular teachers translate. Still, it took a few rounds till they understood how to play. A game, similar to tag, with no equipment, no lines drawn, occupied us for an hour. The kids just had fun, playing and laughing, loving every minute of learning this new game. While it may not be something they can use on a resume, it is something new they learned that they can play anytime, anywhere. Something so simple, yet so useful. Something I take for granted.

Once we finished on the ‘field’ we went back down near the classrooms. There is a small area, about 50ft x 50ft that is shared by the school and the surrounding families. An area littered with trash, roamed by goats and chickens, and used to dump out dirty basin water.

One of the items I had in my carry on was a tennis ball. Again, supplies are hard to come by, so toys are nearly impossible. Once I brought out the tennis ball, the kids became excited and just couldn’t wait to play. The teachers and students taught us a new game. It is a combination of monkey in the middle and dodgeball. The goal is to peg the person in the middle with the tennis ball. After ten throws without a hit, more people can join in the middle. This was a game we played for almost two hours. Many other kids from the town joined us as well. The younger ones came to watch. Miss Bocian’s class joined as well, once she was done creating bracelets and singing songs with them. It was a community brought together by a tennis ball.

While we were playing, I was noticing my surroundings. While kids were watching, they were also exploring and learning. One girl took the tathers from her clothes and made a jump rope. One boy was pulling a bottle around with a string he attached. Two boys were banging trash into the ground with a rock, similar to a hammer and nails. A group of children were scraping the dirt with sticks. Everyone was enjoying themselves. Everyone was happy. I never thought playing in dirt could be so much fun.

Miss K.

Day 1 – The Path Less Traveled

6/22/17

Today was a day like no other. With about 11 hours of sleep, mostly making up for the jet lag, we all woke up, refreshed and ready to start new adventures in our plan book. Today was our ‘city tour.’ What I originally thought was going to be a trip to see the buildings and sights in Nairobi, ended up being an animal adventure.

We awoke around 7 for our tour beginning at 8. Shortly after 7:30, we learned that the van broke down and we had to wait till someone was available at 10. The transport over here is something of its own. If you aren’t walking, you usually take the Matatu, the main Kenyan form of public transportation. The Matatu is hard to describe. It is like a small bus/van with about 4 rows of seating, completely blocked off from the driver, although the seats next to the driver are also passenger seats. The 14 passenger van is usually shoved in with about 20 people, some sitting on laps. Legroom is not a thing. The Matatus also have a solicitor riding with them. A man leans out of the door and tries to coerce people walking to take their Matatu. Unlike public buses in the U.S. you can choose which ones to take based on their look, amenities, and music. So most of them are painted bright colors with famous figures on them. One would think maybe the Kenyan president or famous religious figure… wrong. The decor printed on the van usually matches the music. The three we rode so far were blasting, and I mean nightclub-style blasting, hardcore rap and reggae music. Funny thing is, it is 90s and early 2000s songs. So our first Matatu, we listened to Dr. Dre, Ludacris, and Snoop Dogg.

Not only is the Matatu an experience for its atmosphere, but driving as well. Honestly though, this applies to most all driving in Kenya. It’s like New York City driving combined with go cart racing. Constantly swerving around cars on a single lane road, mostly dirt and not paved. Honking left and right. And, in the Matatu, stopping to pick up or drop off people every half mile. Certainly an experience.

We had a wonderful man pick us up today though in his car. Samsun arrived at the house around 10:40. They joke here about Kenyan time. They think most westerners are too rigid with time and schedules. Kenyan time is approximate and works in flux. It supports their laid back lifestyle more, but when I am scheduled to go see animals… I want to go!

When Samsun arrived, we headed to the first stop: an elephant sanctuary. Here we got to see over 25 baby elephants. They were adorable. Watching them play around with each other, the keepers, or the soccer ball was amazing. What amazed me most was the excitement they had when headed to the viewing ring. Around 13 came at a time from the forest area to the place where they are viewed and described. When they were running, yes running, from the trees they were yelling with excitement for their milk bottles. Their cry sounded more like the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park then what you would think of as an elephant noise. It was a perfect start to the day.

The next stop: a giraffe sanctuary. Here, ten giraffes are raised in a large open area. Not only are they ridiculously close, but you get to feed them! There are guides there to hand you food pellets to give to the giraffes. Luckily Dina K-B previously taught us how to hold the food for them! We used our skill and fed them from the top deck and the sanctuary floor. There’s also a tradition of kissing a giraffe, which should be called the opposite. As you place one of their snack pellets in your mouth, they come up to eat it and lick your chins to your nose. A completely odd experience, but one I would totally do again.

Stop three along our ‘city tour’ was a crocodile park. We had a guide take us around and educate us about Nile crocodiles. We saw ones that were 5-43 years old. We even got to hold the smallest one! They also had turtles and ostriches there. This place was similar to a small zoo but still was impressive. One of the neatest things wasn’t even the animals. It was that there were about a dozen school groups there. Seeing the kids play around and gaze at us was priceless. We got a chance to interact with a bunch if them as well. Veronica taught them how to fist bump and blow it up. They were infatuated with us. It makes me so excited for tomorrow, our first day at our school placement!

The last stop on an amazing day was a monkey park. Unlike the other three stops, this is not a tourist attraction. This was just a random park that had over 2000 syke monkeys throughout the trees. We made a pit stop along the way to pick up peanuts. As we arrived, Samsun gave us each two rolled up packs of peanuts and told us to hide them securely. As we quickly realized, the monkeys would jump on you and steal the packs of peanuts. Veronica had this misfortune happen to her. It was amazing to see the monkeys descend the trees and come right up to you. As you put out your hand to give them a peanut, their little hand would grasp yours to get the treat. When we got more comfortable, we placed the peanuts near our ears and they would climb on our shoulders. Such a weird but amazing experience. Again, one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Unlike my last post, today was a day for tourism. Getting to know the greater area and enjoy the sights is certainly something to see. What also threw me off the most was the difference in surroundings depending on which way you turned. Make a right and you are in an area with houses with walls and storefronts. Make the left and you are amongst tin houses and marketplaces and a lot of trash. Which road Robert Frost?

Miss K.

We are not tourists.

What a day it has been. After 33+ hours of travel, we finally arrived at the Nairobi airport. The thing is… our luggage didnt arrive with us. Apparently, it is in Ghana at the airport of one of our redirected layovers. When we finally left the airport with our carry-ons and lost baggage slips, we quickly realized that we were in a whole new world.

Driving through the city streets surrounding the airport were no different then home (well except for the nature preserve right next to the airport). Traffic was crazy and the rush hour timeslot didn’t help. The biggest surprise for me was all of the people walking. Thousands of people along our 90 minute commute were walking to jobs near the city. Walking across busy roads, walking through fields, and walking everywhere in between, coming from all different directions. Bony, our driver and transport for the Agape program, said many people walk because they can’t afford any other transportation. Now I’m not talking a stroll to work, I’m talking walking miles and miles one way. Just something I wasn’t expecting I guess.

When we got to our village, it was, a village. Marketplaces everywhere. Not what I was thinking though. Not full of bracelets or baskets or colorful handmade jewelry. But full of necessities to support the local community. Rice bags. Clothes. Bananas. Tons of bananas.

Thus, we are not tourists. We are not staying in a hotel and buying knick-knacks and souvenirs. We are living the culture. Our house is one of their houses. We are eating the local food and taking the local transport to and from.

As we are getting assimilated, differences are the new normal. Experiencing everything is in our plan books. And our plan books are constantly changing with every new turn and adventure. Authenticity is our goal and we are on the way to achieving it.

We are not tourists. We are the culture.

– Miss K

Kenya: 2 weeks!

Support us!

Just as the end of year closes in on us, summer is fast approaching and I guess that means Miss K and I are about to embark on a reaaaaaaally long flight to Kenya! We can’t believe our crazy idea has turned into a full-forced plan and that our adventure is about to commence. The support from our community has been incredibly generous, and we are truly grateful. Thank you.

With our journey beginning in a little under two weeks, we feel ready – and wanted to fill you in on some of the steps we’ve taken to ensure we include our students here, too.

  1. We’ve asked the teachers to have our kids write letters we plan to take with us, in hopes of initiating a new pen-pal program from Swain to Kenya! Swain teachers have been so receptive to the idea, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we found ourselves with a hundred letters to share with our future Kenyan students. We’ve heard that learning English is very important to them, so hopefully writing back will be beneficial and exciting.
  2. We’ve started to collect school supplies to bring along, as we understand the school(s) we will be teaching in are exceptionally low-resourced, (you can find a list of accepted supplies below), and will continue to accept donations throughout next week. We do have the option of using donation money to buy supplies while there, not only for the school, but in hopes to contribute to the local economy as well.

Outside of this, we plan to continue blogging throughout our journey, taking about 263,749 pictures, and sharing these with our Swain students at the start of the 2017-2018 school year. We’re so excited to see more of our beautiful world and share that with all of you! Keep following! We’ll see you in Kenya. 🙂

  • Miss K and Miss Bocian

 

Accepted Donation Items
Pens
Pencils (and sharpeners)
Rulers
Calculators
Notebooks
Colored Pencils
Crayons
Erasers
Balls
Bubbles
Pencil sharpeners
Solar calculators ​
Socks ​(​white and black)​
Footballs​ or soccer-balls ​deflated with a pump
​Stuffed animals and educational games for the younger children

Learning via Adventure

Sometimes when I look at my students, I wonder what I want most for them. As teachers, we are set up to inevitably become attached to these growing humans. Of course we want the basics for them. Good health, happy days, a brain that’s hungry for learning, curiosity – the everyday goals that parents and teachers have the extraordinary mission of trying to undertake. But aside from these things, I look at them and think that more than anything; they learn to love the world. I want them to be compassionate towards all people, unafraid to get on a plane and learn about a different culture. I want them to see a long layover as an opportunity to explore. To try new foods. To see every person as a friend they haven’t met yet. I want this for them more than anything, because it’s been the biggest game-changer for me during some of the greatest transitions of my life. Adventure.

When Miss K. and I first began the process of researching the many aspects of Lion King, we were immediately fascinated with the Swahili language. In fact, this became the starting point for many of our characters and what would eventually become their persona. We wanted this show to be more meaningful than just another performance, and were really inspired by its roots and derivation. We looked into the impetus for Pride Rock – is it a place that actually exists? (It does.) Can we go there? (We can. And we are!) What are the schools like in this part of the world? Do these songs and words carry true meaning? If it weren’t for Lion King, I can honestly say we wouldn’t have sought answers to these questions and found ourselves booking two tickets to Africa.

Agape is a program that allows for us not only to do what we love, teach, but encourages this sense of adventure and sets aside time to see as much of Kenya as we can. It would be an underestimation to say how excited we are to hike and bike, explore, etc. But more than anything, we feel the most ready to better ourselves as teachers and to bring back this newfound enthusiasm to our community. I can’t wait to share this experience with our school, to instill this love for the world in our kids, and to give as much of this zeal for life to our students as we can.

Keep following along with our journey! We want more than anything to share every step of this adventure with the happiest school on Earth, and we’re so grateful to have you be a part of it.

Hakuna Matata

When Miss Bocian first came to me with the idea of a teaching experience in Africa, I was blown away. I was all in from the moment she described it. My sensible mindedness kicked in and I immediately needed to know the answers to the thousands of questions piling up in my brain (and of course, all the worries).

Before I could even begin my search for the unknowns, I knew I was going to go – that was never an uncertainty. The experience, coupled with such an amazing person, could never be passed up. I was thrilled. I was scared. I was overwhelmed.

Miss Bocian knows me well. She immediately noticed my worries, and knows I appreciate the details, so she took the time to create a ‘cheat sheet’ of basic information on the trip. (Well, actually incredibly detailed information). She outlined the company, the travel, essentially the whole experience. It was every answer to my questioning and more. It was exactly what I needed to fully commit and sign on the bottom line. She was the base when I was too excited to see the details. She was the comfort when I was scared of the unknowns. She was the calm when I was overwhelmed. This trip couldn’t happen without her, and for that I am truly grateful.

As we continue towards this journey, I could not think of a better human to be experiencing this with. We balance each other and play off each other in a way that all my questions are answered before I need to ask, and my worries are cared for. Fittingly, I can only describe the rest of this experience in two words: Hakuna Matata.

  • Miss K.

Meeting Miss K

It’s been about a year and a half since I first began my Swain adventure, and I truly have a hard time wrapping my head around all that’s happened since that adventure commenced. It’s incredible to think about how much we change as people during these transitional moments; the game-changers, as my Mom often says. We’re sort of slapped in the face with a whole lot of truth, whether we’re suitably equipped for it or not. It’s the universe saying, “Okay, ready or not, here I come!” It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also rattling. It’s gracefully aggressive. It’s a roller coaster ride I willingly, over-ardently signed up for, having no idea what that ride would entail. But man, am I grateful to be on it.

Thinking back to the beginning of this journey is something I often catch myself falling into. It’s almost silly to imagine some of your closest friends as strangers; to think you’d ever question yourself around them – to worry they may judge you. I had no idea that every person I met would eventually change my life – that every day was catapulting me into purpose and meaning.

The very first teacher to introduce herself to me was Miss K(leppinger). I’ll never forget our exceptionally comfortable foundation as I was taking on the overwhelming task of trying to make the theatre studio my own late into an August night. We now joke that she’s become my “scarecrow,” referencing Dorothy’s first friend in Oz. We immediately clicked, found our banter, and fell into a permanent rhythm that’s still kept it’s pace. If you had asked me what I loved about her that night, I’m not so sure I’d be able to fittingly articulate it. Her humor? The ease you feel in her company? Sure, maybe. Now, however, 15 months later, I think I can be a bit more specific.

Miss K is a lover of people. She is an enthusiast of things. All things. Tangible things, experience things, conversational things. She’s the first to reply, “I’m in!” to any offer you send her way. She’s the first to ask you how you’re doing and genuinely mean it. She always hugs longer. If you need a hug, she’s your girl. Seriously – she won’t let go. She’s the person who’s typically first in line to help – in whatever way that means. She asks you to go to breakfast just for fun – before school. She shows up early. She stays late. She’s not in it for what she gets out of it. She’s in it because she’s in it. Most importantly, and to bring this paragraph full circle, she seriously, unapologetically loves the love out of people. Arguably her best quality out of a very long list of great qualities.

It’s refreshing to be around a person who sees the good in things – who considers the positives. Miss K acknowledges the little things. She tells you how much she loves you and she tells you often. The perfect recipe for an influential teacher such as herself.

That being said, it came as no surprise to me when her notorious “I’m in!” response served to be true when asked about teaching in Africa this summer. “Where and how do we sign up?” The idea came to me shortly after we chose The Lion King as our spring musical this year. In researching the Swahili language, I stumbled upon some volunteer opportunity in Northeast Africa, and thought, why not? I’m a big fan of traveling. And an even bigger fan of eyebrow-raising ideas – so this seemed like the all-inclusive union. After months of research, we’re now accepted into our program, placed together, and set to teach in the Nairobi neighborhoods of Kenya beginning June 21st. How far we’ve come since that August introduction. To think we could have said, “Nice to meet you, should we talk about our layover in Tanzania?” A laughable thought to think of your inner-circle as strangers indeed.

I can’t wait to voyage with Miss K. To see her people-loving lens on the world come to life and be put to such powerful, significant use. There are so many beautiful humans on this Earth, and I hope to be more like Miss K when I have the opportunity to love. To see every opportunity as an opportunity to love; to make a difference in someone’s day just by being the first to hug and the last to let go.

Here’s to transitional moments. Here’s to replying “I’m in!” I hope you feel loved today in the way Miss K would want you to feel loved. This is only the beginning of our journey, so stay with us!

  • Miss Bocian