My Kindergarten Teacher Lied to Me

March 26, 2011

I’m pretty sure it was kindergarten. Or maybe first grade. I can’t exactly remember the details.

The point is: I was lied to.

In the far recesses of my mind I have a hazy memory of a cute, colorful little poster hanging on the wall of our classroom and showing the year neatly divided  into four seasons. Spring (March- May) was illustrated with bright  happy flowers and perhaps a little watering can. Summer (June- August) was represented by a cheerful sun and a magnificent sandcastle. Autumn (September-November) was blocked in with orange and red leaves and probably a soaring kite. And finally, Winter (December-February) was symbolized by snowflakes and snowmen.

How deceitful.

In Kenya, we have two seasons: wet & dry. But currently, I live in the state of Ohio where the seasons are as follows:

Spring. Consists of the last half of April (if we’re lucky) and May. There is rain and lots of it.

Summer. Takes place from June through August. Blazing hot and humid, an appropriate picture of this season might be of a person dripping with sweat and swatting mosquitoes.

Fall. Occurs between September and the first half of October (if we’re lucky). However, the trees ARE gorgeous.

Winter. Consumes most of the calendar year, consisting of the last half of October through the first half of April. Yes, six bleak months of greyness, bitter cold, and howling winds. The only redemptive quality of winter is the beauty of the snow, and even that loses its ability to console by the time March rolls around.

Because of my great concern for the accuracy of instruction in kindergarten classrooms, behold the Ohio Seasons Chart, copyright 2011. Feel free to reproduce for the benefit of all misguided young people.

-44 days.


Because It’s There

March 24, 2011

I want to give a shout-out to my youngest brother, Daniel, for successfully conquering Mt. Kenya  for the second time!

Mt. Kenya is the second highest mountain in all of Africa and absolutely gorgeous. It also holds a special place in our family because Dad has taken every single one of us kids up the mountain around the time we were 12 or 13. It’s kind of like a coming-of-age trip.

Prior to my own climb at age 12, I had often seen Mt. Kenya’s snow-capped peaks jutting into the sky and I had read an amazing book about three Italian prisoners of war who escaped prison camp in 1943, climbed the mountain, and then turned themselves back in, just because.

But of course, that was nothing compared to being on the mountain itself for three days.

We hiked for hours, Dad and I, climbing endless hills, passing funky lobelia plants, and occasionally stopping to drink from the sweet, icy water flowing straight from the glaciers. The night of the final ascent, I was so nervous and excited, I thought I would never fall asleep, and when Dad shook me awake just before 3 am, I was ready to go. We took it easy, stopping often to rest and suck on KSL candies. I remember, though, reaching a point when I was so exhausted I didn’t think I could go any further. Dad just sat with me, encouraging me, pushing me onward one step at a time. I wouldn’t have made it to the peak without him.

The sun was just coming up as we reached the top and I can remember the sheer elation of feeling like a conquerer of mountains. After a few pictures, I ran most of the way down to Shipton’s camp, slipping and sliding in the scree, and beating Dad back to our bunks. When he caught up to me,  he gave me a good Dad-sized hug and I remember he had tears in his eyes as told me how proud he was. It was one of the happiest and best moments of my childhood.

So, thank you, Dad, congratulations, Daniel, and here’s to Mt. Kenya!

-46 days


March 23, 2011

I logged onto LinkedIn today and the first thing that showed up on my screen was an advertisement saying:

“Build your Empire, Reap the Rewards, Add Connections.”

It struck me as a very odd way to advertise a site specializing in networking.

Move over Caesar and Napoleon ’cause I’m building MY empire.

-47 days

And Back

March 21, 2011

Spring Break is over and my unlimited internet access is back!

I think, though, that sometimes life is on technology overload and to go for periods of time with limited internet can be restful.

I wonder sometimes if it would be good to limit media not just periodically, but also as a lifestyle choice. I once noticed I had reached the point where I couldn’t walk across campus without my ipod in my ears. Now I try to limit my plugged-in time and doing so has made me realize how we all move in our own little worlds of phone conversations and texting and tweeting and earphones and I’m not sure we haven’t lost something in all of this.

I know I lose things sometimes because my mind doesn’t work the way it used to. I don’t get lost in books as often and I’ve gotten lazy about getting outside and enjoying a walk just for the sake of being out in green grass and blue sky. I don’t know the last time I sat with a cup of tea and talked with a friend with no concern for time. When did life become so rushed? Like one of those little lizards skittering across the surface of the water.

-49 days

A Story About Jeans and Growing Up

March 12, 2011

The first time I ever bought myself a pair of jeans was in a sprawling, hectic place called Toi Market.

Buying jeans at Toi is an adventure, to say the least.

First thing to know is that the better prices are usually in the way back of the market where you have to wind your way around tightly packed stalls, hopping over ditches and moving out of the way for men jogging by pushing large two-wheeled carts. Word of advice: for the sake of your nose, avoid the side closest to the fish market.

After navigating the various obstacles, you will find yourself surrounded by huge piles of every imaginable article of clothing and people milling around among them, including that one man who persists in yelling “5obob50bob5obob” as if that will attract new customers.

What next? Step up to the first pile, look over the stack and tug out any pair that looks good. Once you’ve accumulated a few pairs that seem to be in good shape and will probably fit, the next step is to find a “dressing room.” Many of the stalls will provide this accommodation via a flimsy sheet hung over some twine on one side, and bright blue plastic tarp on the other three sides. The customer service is so good that the mama running the stall will even send some nearby toto scampering away to find the one mirror shared by everyone in that section. At this point, it’s a good idea to have a friend handy who can keep the changing room together, hold up the mirror, and provide running commentary on your selection of jeans.

Eventually a pair will be found that fits and has no noticeable stains, broken zippers, or gaping holes. This is when the fun really begins in the artful and scientific process of bartering. My favorite person to watch barter is my Mom. I have known her to successfully complete bartered transactions in the US- a country where most prices come preordained on stickers. Also, Mom once bartered a guy down hundreds of shillings by shouting prices back and forth while he ran alongside her car window for the length of an entire roundabout in Nairobi traffic. She is hands-down the queen of bartering.

Once both customer and owner have gone back and forth long enough and are satisfied with the final offer, the jeans are rolled up, wrapped in a black plastic bag, and proudly toted home where they are shown off to all and sundry.

And that is how one buys jeans at Toi Market.

When I first came to America I had a difficult time buying jeans. For one thing I could not get over the fact that anyone would pay $20 for a pair of jeans. I very clearly remember the first time Mom and I walked into a Kohl’s to buy clothing for my freshman year. We walked in the doors, felt a little overwhelmed, turned around and walked out.

Last weekend, though, I had an experience which makes me proud because I think it shows how far I have come in the past four years. I needed a new pair of jeans, so my friend Sarah drove me to a Walmart. We marched straight to the section where I had bought my last pair of jeans, grabbed the right size and style, didn’t even try them on (!) and went to the register where I did not attempt to argue with the clerk over the price. I paid for my jeans, took them home, and now I have a new pair of jeans.

I believe that was a big coming-of-age moment.

I kind of feel like a grown-up.

-59 days.

one version of a changing room


Skimming Part 2

March 10, 2011

Warning: Do not try this at home. The following skill is only for advanced skimmers.

Recently, I was faced with a difficult dilemma (not dilemna) when I realized I had to somehow find time to watch a three hour film outside of regular class time.

That particular week I was on a tight schedule as it was, so I decided to experiment with some advanced-level skimming. I proceeded to the library, checked out the two VHS tapes and popped part one in the VCR player. Making sure the subtitles were on, I hit the fast-forward button and began.

As the subtitles zipped by I found I was able to absorb the majority of the dialog. The great thing about subtitles  is that they are usually simplified and nicely spaced, and thus easy to read as they flash across the screen. If you try this, I feel I should let you know that on occasion, it may be necessary to rewind and watch a particularly complex dialog in real time, but overall this does not hinder one’s progress.

Another benefit of watching in fast-forward is that it skips the unnecessary “artistic” scenes. You know the kind: sweeping panoramic scenery or back and forth scenes contrasting  upper class luxury with the lower class rabble. Yeah, yeah, I get the symbolic gesture, and… moving on.

Anyway, it was a highly successful experiment because, voila, all of a sudden my three hour film was only an hour and a half long. And movie viewing: check!

-60 days

Alternatively …

March 9, 2011

Alternatively you will find students during midterms engaged in the following activities:

  1. Cleaning. Because, “I just can’t focus when my room is so messy.” Strangely, this phenomenon only seems to occur when there is an important assignment due. Otherwise, most dorm rooms remain in that state that prompts mothers to ask ,”Were you born in a barn?” (Side-note: how do you answer that question anyway?? I mean, shouldn’t your Mom know where you were born? You certainly don’t remember the day.)
  2. Uploading pictures to Facebook. Pictures accumulate for weeks and this just seems like the best time to post them.
  3. Griping about professors/paper topics/study guides/ the University in general. You’d be surprised how effective this can be in getting through midterms. Somehow complaining about it really makes that essay prompt so much more clear.
  4. Going for jogs. Fresh air will certainly clear the mind. And while you’re out of your room, why not also run important errands for a few hours?
  5. Catching up on  TV episodes on Hulu. Again, what better time than this?
  6. Bringing all correspondence up-to-date. It would be really rude to let it go another night.

Yes, studying for midterms indeed.

-61 days.