Sunday, May 31, 2009

working 9-5 woman

First, I apologize to everyone for this blog being a month late... I have never been more busy in my life than I am righ now! I literally talked myself into stopping my work at home to come into town and do this blog. Ever since school started it has been non-stop teaching/mentoring/getting this school "in-shape". I decided to cut back on 2 classes (1 KSL and 1 P.E.) however, I have decided to add a few as well.

I am teaching English, two KSL classes, and a Creative Arts class. Though it's only 4 classes a day, I feel like I'm constantly teaching, my hands are constantly moving (sign language), and my mind is constantly straining (how to get the information out effectively). I have a total of 70 students and I feel that ALL 70 NEED ATTENTION! However, I'm realizing this is near impossible. During break time, when it's suppose to be my time to relax and have tea with the teachers, I'm in the classroom clarifying my assignments and lessons to the students. During lunch time, when I'm suppose to be EATING, I'm in the classroom helping the slower-learning students with a slower teaching technique. I even risked my life (no joke) and came to school to teach at night last Thursday, which they all loved, but I almost fell through the door on my face when I got home I was so tired.

If that isn't enough, the principal has requested I teach KSL to the teachers (which they desperately need) because I'm supposedly the "expert". Last Friday was our first meeting...only 12 of the 26 teachers showed up, but that's a start. It was fun to see them starting to realize how visually beautiful sign language is. When I showed them a person WALKING (a directional sign), they all laughed but thought it was cool :)

One thing I had been trying to weasle out of but seems that it was meant-to-be from the start is teaching HIV/AIDS to Deaf college students. The volunteer before me was more of an HIV teacher than a subjects teacher, like me. So the college expected I would be the same. Oh no... I tried to explain my load is much heavier than the last volunteer, but they pushed and pushed and I finally gave in. Yesterday was the first class I taught at the college. Only 7 students go there, but that's enough for me! As I began to teach about Malaria, Homa (cold), TB (illnesses they know) and then compare them to HIV, I realized that there is a reason for me being here. Even though the last volunteer was their teacher, they apparently forgot about myths like sharing a spoon/toothbrush, or shaking hands with an infected person will NOT spread HIV. They all were against me, saying "YES IT DOES!" even the Deaf teacher. But after I said again and again that HIV is contracted through blood and semen only (sex, needles, open wounds, breast milk, etc), they were like OH... it was a lot of fun and as I teach them, I'm learning SO MUCH myself. I gave them the example of Magic Johnson and how some NBA players were against him also. Then at the end I passed out notebooks and told them to write each illness 10 times...spelling test next week. They loved it! We're even gonna do a few trips to the VCT and hospital.

I won't even get started on my secondary project with the school board!

Whew! Yeah, I think at the end of these 2 years I will for sure have acouple of gray braids! But knowledge is power and truly these students, teachers, and myself are all going to be much stronger, as long as we ALL give our ALL...

Friday, April 10, 2009

living with a family

karibu! welcome!

houseboy sleeps on the right, chickens straight
It's amazing what a person can get used to when options are absent. I live on a family compound (grandparents, parents and the married children all abode on the same property in several houses). My 2 rooms are attached by roof to the upper main house. One small step for mankind and I'm in their house!

my rooms on the left, kitchen on the right

It's taken awhile, but I have proudly grown accustomed to the "lala sana wewe" (you sleep a lot!) I hear every morning at 6 sharp by the houseboy as he sweeps the compound. I have enjoyed washing my clothes and dishes at night because the only water source (outside tank) is being used to water the farm during the day. I've even began springing to life at a mere 7 am on the weekends to listen to loud Kenyan stories mixed with Chai and mandazi preparations from the family kitchen, which is one step from my front door. I'm sure in a few more months I'll even look forward to the constant critizism on my hair, clothes, and cooking by the mama. She wouldn't even let me go to town today until I fixed my jeans and ironed my shirt! Oops, I almost forgot the little girl. Some people rise and shine to music, the smell of coffee, or their HUNGRY dog...I wake to the sound of kitchen music and a little sugar brown face looking at me from my open bedroom window (that she managed to pry open). As sweet as she is, playing in my room on a Saturday morning is not on top of my to-do list.
Coming from an only-child household in America, this is truly like being in a long episode of the twilight zone (dang, I miss that show). But as you can see I'm SLOWLY adapting. It sure would be nice to live at school though...thanks enos :)

washing clothes/dishes area

the outside water tank straight ahead

Monday, April 6, 2009


Every year in Kenya, during Term 1 (Jan-March) all Deaf schools gather together and compete in different events: dance, drama, poems, volleyball, football (soccer), track, and net ball. Round one is only for the provinces. I'm in East province so about 5 schools came to my town for a few days to see who is the best. I've been told that my school blows everyone out the water each year, but it was amazing to see it with my own eyes!
Four other volunteers came down with their schools to cheer on their kids. All that team spirit couldn't stop my kids from taking first place in dance, drama, volleyball, netball, and poems! Well, Gin's school in Embu did take first place in powerwalking! Ha Ha! She trained them well in that!
On the first day they competed in the creative arts section and I was the interpreter to deliver the scores to all the kids. It was hard to hear the judge's voice, let alone understand her accent so I had to stand right next to her, which gave me a good view of the judges score sheet. I was a little nervous because all the Deaf people in the room were relying on ME to know if they won or not. I kept saying, "can you repeat that score?" to the judge. Sorry to say my KSL training went out the window as I resorted to using ASL numbers---faster and easier.

As Machakos' name kept being announced as number one, I looked over at the other volunteers and signed SORRY. Ain't no stopping my school! Some of my kids were rather cocky during the events, which I hate. I'll have to teach them about humbleness and good sportsmenship for next year. As for this year, who cares! They are all on a bus now, headed to the national competitions, involving the best of the best throughout Kenya. I can't wait to see how many trophies they bring back from this one!

Friday, March 20, 2009


This month, I must say, has been one of the hardest thus far. I can't seem to shake the heaviness I feel. Don't get it twisted, school is awesome (and challenging), the Deaf community is great, the Samosas are delicious, and riding the tuk tuks are a thrill. But my adjustment hasn't been as smooth or as fast as I thought it would be.

Let me be blunt: my Kiswahili sucks! I haven't given it my all (as I have with sign language) to learn anything past greetings. Therefore, I am very insecure about talking with people in their language. The first week in Machakos, I had a lot of enthusiasm. I walked into a shop and said,

"Habari yako? Soda moja tafadali" (How are you? One soda please)
they stare...shake heads
"Moja soda" (One soda)
I point to the corner.
They bring the soda
They asked me, "Why do you not know Kiswahili? You live here, you should know it. How do you communicate?"
"I'm American, here with the Peace Corps. I'm still learning."
They handed me my change and I left.

Ever since that day, I've realized how insecure I am to even say hi to people in Kiswahili. People perceive me as Kenyan so when my accent is heard and I make mistakes I feel a little embarrassed, like "dang, Aneesah, you're black, you should know this language by now!" Even the kids intimidate me! My neighbors have a butt-load of children who are always running around. When I walk up they stop and stare at my "weird"clothes and probably wonder why I carry a water bottle all the time. I always want to play with them, teach them some sign language, put flowers in their hair. But I find myself keeping quiet most times, so they will just think I'm Kenyan and not know I can't speak the language, saving myself the embarrassment. With Deaf people I'm very bold and can talk until the cows come home (which is usually around 5pm), but with the rest of the community, it's definitely going to take some time. For now, I'll try to focus on school and hopefully everything else will turn out as sweet...
have any suggestions?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

fit for a queen

On January 9th, 2009 I stepped through the door of my new home for the next 2 years and thought, "what the heck did I get myself into!? Where's the washer, the dryer, the stove, the carpet, the ceiling, the toilet seat!!?" AHHH! My mind was racing a mile a minute. My home in Loitokitok seemed a lot cozier than this. Then, I immediately snapped out of it and said to myself, "Aneesah, this will be a challenge, but if the Home Design team on ABC can turn a ghetto crackhouse abode into a diamond in the ruff can you girl! So get to work!" And that I did...

My place isn't that large at all, probably one of the smallest of all volunteers. I have two small rooms (bedroom, livingroom) and teeny, tiny toilet/bathingroom. Two days before I arrived the walls were painted. About 3/4 of the top is white, and the rest down below is a beautiful baby blue. This also gave me a lot of color choices, as far as my furniture is concerned. One of my favorite things about my place is the door. It's very tall, almost completely made of glass, and very sturdy as to keep intruders out. I'm thinking a nice deep yellow or ocean blue paint will give it more life. The compound that I stay on is on a hill overlooking Machakos. It's a beautiful view from sunrise to sunset. There's a mini shamba (farm) and watch dogs that are cared for by the house boy John. As the days have carried on I've slowly been remodeling my place. Everyone who steps inside is just blown away by the decor. My answer to them, "Thank you, but I must give credit to Oprah's design team." Blank stares always reflect back to me.

All in all, I feel this place is fit for me...I wouldn't have it any other way...except a ceiling to keep the rats away and a toilet to relax on!

my kids

I would have to say I feel pretty luck to be at this school. We have over 200 Deaf kids and during the first week of me being here they all thought I could remember their names and sign names! Yeah right! But they are such a joy to be around. Deaf children, especially, are very energetic and expressive with one another. One of my kids in 7th grade can immitate those dancers who poplock! It's so funny to see him pump his chest out to some unknown beat in his head, just like the Jabbawokees on MTV! And actually he looks just like the guy from that movie Breakin, who was dancing on the walls and ceiling! (that may be too far back for some of you). Last Thursday I stayed after to watch the kids run around the track. I must of been bambarded with a million questions! As I slowly backed away from the mob, they would get closer. I felt like Michael Jackson on tour! One girl refused to run; she's a little thicker than the rest, so we have something in common. After bribing her with gum and telling her I'll run with her, she finally got up. She and I, in my cute black dress in 120 degree weather, powerwalked around the track 4 times. All the kids cheered and I think she felt loved. I didn't beat or yell at her, I just treated her with respect...then gave her candy.

My Machakos kids are a true breath of fresh air. Their minds, curiosity, and playfulness are the same as American children. They want attention, they want to learn, and they want to use my camera ALL THE TIME. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't even be in Kenya, in the Peace Corps. So let me give a shot out to my Machakos kids! They're the best! (and we'll prove that at National Deaf games. Ginnie, Alyssa, and other Deaf ed schools ain't got nothin on us!)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

slang signs

i always thought sign language was so beautiful, that's why i got involved with interpreting. but there is much of the language is hard for me to understand the first time around because it's not my first language. i love to just sit back and watch the kids in class or even the Deaf adults in the community sign to each other. it is amazing! i wonder sometimes "how do you understand each other so well?" my counterpart, who is also the only Deaf teacher in school, will interpret for me to make it more clear if I look lost.

She has become a great resource for learning the language. Last Friday the dance team performed for the women's prison, which is right next door. We arrived a little after 11am, but as you will learn about Africa, time is NOT of the essence. The actual program didn't start until 4 hours later, so there was a lot of time on our hands to chit chat. My friend was cracking me up with all her slang signs and facial expressions. If I can make a comparison for those of you who may be a little confused, it's like watching an episode of Bernie Mac, Martin Lawrence, or sit down, watch the program and laugh because of the way words and phrases are delivered. There's highs and lows in tone pitch, there are pauses at the perfect moment, and there may even be some body language that sends you doubled over on the couch. The same thing with Deaf people! I thought I was going to pee my pants! Right there in front of all the kids, teachers, guards and prisoners! I didn't though. Whew!

Here are some of the slang signs I've learned: Robber (B, flat hand cutting the side of your throat), an adulterous man (B, flat hand, brush cheeks), a person who takes money, white collar crimes (grab money then fold your arms), and a woman with a big butty (R, make a half circle like outlining the butt). She does the last one with the funniest expression! From these few signs you can guess the kind of topics we've talked about :)

I hope by the end of these 2 years I'll be able to master ALL the slang signs and fit like a glove in with the Deaf community. Now flowing with the Hearing community is another story...