Wednesday, August 28, 2013


One thing that I definitely learned in Kenya was to be grateful for all that I have.  When I got home, I came across this article in my Twitter feed about 10 simple, science-based ways to increase happiness.  What's cool is that I practice a lot of these strategies: exercising, sleeping more (well, I try to at least), spending time with loved ones, and helping others.  I've always tried to work on gratitude, which is #10 on the list.  In fact, when I was in Kenya, I wrote in my journal that I'd like to keep a gratitude journal when I get home.

I haven't started that yet, but I have an empty journal kicking around, and I'm going to consider this post as my first entry.  Each day, I'm going to jot down at least three things that I'm grateful for. I had a pretty great day today.  I spent the full day at work.  I lead 40 student leaders in preparing for tomorrow's grade 9 orientation.  I do this every year, and I find it's a great way to ease into the school year.  Instead of just going in and doing mind-numbing paper work, I get to work with a great bunch of kids.  (And then when it's over, I do the mind-numbing paper work.)

Today I was grateful for the following:

1) The president and vice-president of student council were the first two students to arrive. They were excited to see me (aww) and gave me big hugs (aww).  I was grateful for the welcome.

2) My friend Nigel was helping me out today.  We also are taking the student leaders to a camp at the end of September.  We did this last year, and we reminisced about how the worst thing that happened during those three days was when we were lounging on a patio, overlooking a beautiful view of fall foliage, and then there was a slight breeze and we felt cold for a few seconds.  We had a huge laugh remembering this, and I'm grateful for laughs with good friends/colleagues.

3) I bought rafiki bracelets for some colleagues at work who supported my trip to Kenya.  I handed out a couple of them today, and my colleagues were thrilled with them.  I am grateful for support, and also to be able to make people happy with small tokens of appreciation.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Filler Post

I've been loading up my drafts folder with lots of long posts where I philosophize on the happiness divide between what I've experience in North America, and what I've seen in Kenya, but seriously, no one wants to read that, so it'll stay in the drafts folder.

Life has chugged back to its usual speed since I've been back.  I've been shocked at how quickly I revert to my North American tendencies to feel ire and complain over the smallest, most insignificant, meaningless things.  However, upon reading my previous post on my trip, I can be returned to what I learned on my trip.  I want to complain less, I really do, but man, complaining's a hard drug to kick when you are so used to it.  This is one of the main things I'll be working on in the coming year.

I had a nice weekend visiting my parents.  Miss Rilo's back home now.  My dad misses her.

I went into school today.  Of course, I was met with a few frustrations, but I am trying to stay as positive as I can.

I'm back onto my fitness kick.  I've decided to continue with my personal trainer for the rest of the year, seeing him 3-4 times a week.  I'm rather addicted to the progress I've seen.  Today I ran into a former co-worker on the street who commented that I looked really good, and an employee at my gym commented that I was looking skinny.  I wouldn't say I'm skinny yet, but I'm happy in my skin these days. (Again - what a weird world! I struggle with having too much food to eat, when there are people who don't have enough.  It's mind-blowing.)

My Kenya travel group has a group on Facebook, and it's been fun to watch the pictures come up.  The one below is one of my faves.  It's a candid shot of me taken at recess.  Many days, I'd be taking a break in the schoolyard while our students taught lessons, and then suddenly, recess would hit and the yard would be filled with students, and they would bee-line for the visitors.

The kids would love to sit with us, playing clapping games, counting games, and sing songs.  They gravitated toward touch.  The would hold ours hands, pat our arms, touch our hair, and play with any sort of jewellery or accessory.  In this picture you can see that my head band (needed since I didn't wash my hair every day) is slightly askew because they were playing with it.

The little girl above my head was fun to play with.  At one point, she said "let's play sleep!" and we all laid down on a shuka (Kenyan blanket) and pretended to sleep.  Sleep! I liked the cut of her jib, to quote Mr. Burns.  At one point we were playing a singing game, and she gave me a huge hug and exclaimed "I love you!" and it completely melted my heart.

Last summer, I read a book that Ashley Judd wrote about her life and her work with people in the developing world.  She wrote a lot about the biggest gift that you can give other people is to touch them, to hug them, and to hold them.  I didn't really understand what she met at that point, but now I do.  It's pretty amazing when you can connect with people of a different culture, lifestyle, age, etc. on such a meaningful level.  Playing with the kids at the primary school is one of my fondest memories, and it brought me to feel love at the most basic level: when you love others just for being human like you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hold onto this lullabye even when the music's gone.

I've been back from Kenya for a few days now, but haven't been in the mindframe to write/talk/post much about it yet.  I returned with a cold that hit me on the day that we left Sikarar (community where we stayed) and there's the jetlag, which I think I'm over.  However, I've just really wanted to sleep like a monster since I've been back.

It's really bizarre to come back home from what was an amazing thought-provoking, mindset-changing experience, and see that everything is the same.  I think that's what I'm struggling with.  I'm back, mind-blown, and everything is just continuing on the same way as if I'd never left.  I thought I was going to miss out on so much, or stuff would change, or something, but it's all the same.

Being disconnected for three weeks was one of the best experiences of my life.  I thought it was going to be hard, but it gave me such a great opportunity to just experience life without feeling like I had to document it nor check who was contacting me, writing things, tweeting things, etc.  It was awesome.  Instead of wasting time online, or watching Netflix, like would at home, I journalled a lot: I have about 90 pages (front and back) filled with writing.  I played volleyball.  I read a couple of books. I spent a lot of time chatting in the mess tent, or playing Yahtzee.  I spent time singing around the campfire.  I got a good nine hours of sleep most nights.

Of course, that wasn't the most significant part of my trip.  When I signed up for this trip, and when I left for this trip, I was focused on building.  I wanted to get down and dirty.  I wanted to put my blood, sweat, and tears into the build site.  I wanted lots of hard physical labour.  I thought I could exorcise (and exercise!) my inner demons by carrying stones and mixing cement.

And that happened.  However it wasn't the most significant part of my trip by far.  Getting to know the community for whom I was building was the most significant part of the trip, the most inspirational, and gave me so much meaning.  At first, I think the entire group was worried that doing other activities while we were in Kenya was going to take away from the amount of time we could spend on the build site, but I am so glad that we were able to get context and insight that brought meaning to building.

We stayed in the small rural agricultural community of Sikarar (or Sikarrar... I've seen both spellings). To get to Sikarar, we'd have to take a road off of the B3 highway that is a few hours west of Nairobi.  Once we were on the road to Sikarar, hydro poles disappeared completely, and the road was dusty, rocky, uneven, and quite precarious in some places.  After 25 minutes of bouncing up and down in a lorry down this road, we'd get to the centre of the village, where there was the primary school, and a building with a couple small shops.  Around the corner, we'd take a path that lead to our camp.

Walking down a dusty road like the one that lead to our camp.

The school currently goes from the baby class (like kindergarten) to Standard (grade) Six.  Another group was able to complete most of the Standard Seven classroom before we got there.  The fundis (construction workers in the community) complete the roofs and place the windows in, since volunteer groups don't have the experience to do this work.  We started on what will be the Standard Eight classroom.  By the time we were done, we'd dug the foundation, filled it with concrete, and laid the first few layers of stones that would make the walls.

This is early on in the trip when we started digging the foundation.

Most days, we'd build in the afternoon, and spend the morning working at the primary school.  The students from my school board who went on this trip are getting two credits for the experience, and one of their assignments was to prepare lessons to teach the classes.  In the mornings, we'd work in the classrooms.  Most of the classrooms were new ones made of stone, with slanted tin roofs, and glass windows.

 New classrooms.

However, the old classrooms that were originally built by the community itself are still in use.  For whatever reason, the Standard Four class was huge this year: there are 70 students in that one class!  As a result, the old classrooms are able to fit this enormous class.  The old classrooms don't have windows, and the walls are made of wood, as opposed to stones.  As a result, they are darker, warmer, and you can hear through the walls.  However, it's important to keep them to honour the community's dedication to building its own school, before outside assistance was available.
Some boys posing in front of the old school buildings.

Being able to teach the classes in the mornings gave us an opportunity to really get to know the students, which made working at the build site so much more personal.  I really enjoyed talking to the students in Standard Six about what they've been learning in school, etc.  What struck me the most, is that if it wasn't for Free the Children (the organization that organizes projects in communities in the developing world), these students most likely would be stopping their education this school year.  (Kenyan school years go from January to December.)  However, it looks like both new classrooms should be ready by next school year, so hopefully the school will be able to implement new grades next year.

Being in the classrooms, watching students learn, has inspired me so much.  The students worked so hard to learn, even though there would be usually three students crammed into a small desk.  Often, two desks of students would have to share one battered textbook.  Despite this, everyone did their best to focus on the lesson being taught.  There were no photocopies, no projectors, no computers.  The posters on the wall were all handmade.  

All of the teachers worked so hard with so little.  The Standard One teacher, Mr. Kenneth, was the biggest inspiration to me as an educator.  He had such energy, and all forty-something of his students were engaged by his teaching.  I remember him vividly when I was helping some our students teach art to the Standard Ones.  The lesson was simple: to draw a picture of an airplane, and Mr. Kenneth was doing an awesome impression of an airplane to give the kids an example of what to draw.  He was amazing, and seemed to truly enjoy his job so much.  The next time I am feeling the least bit frustrated at school, I am just going to think about Mr. Kenneth.

But I'm really just scratching the surface of my trip here.  I could write pages about playing with the kids at recess!  About what I learned from going on a water walk with the Mamas, and what I learned from beading with Mama Gladys.  Pages about health care, and girls' education, and kids who weren't at school, and frog invasions after the rain, and the safari, and all the stuff about Maasai culture taught to us by our Massai Warrior, Philip.  Pages about what it's like to drive down a road or walk down a road and have everyone smile and wave at you and shout out a warm Jambo! (hello) to you.  Pages about the amazing food that we ate, all cooked over coals by our amazing camp staff.  Heck, I should write a poem about just the bread rolls.  And showering... We got to shower under buckets with valves.  When you needed hot water, you just had to yell "Maji Moto!" and Wilson would come and fill up a shower with warm water for you.  

So what does it all mean?  In summary, I think I learned the importance of community and relationships, about staying positive no matter what, about how we who are blessed with so much need to share it with those who have less, about how everyone deserves education, healthcare, food, and water.  I've learned about the importance of fair trade, and being thankful for every little thing in life. 

And the vitality of smiles, hugs, and laughter.

And how so many things are universally human, and how we have to get over so much, and just love each other.

Playing with the kids on the schoolground is where I learned the most.

p.s. I'm slowly posting some of my favourite pictures on my instagram account if you are so inclined to see more.