Kenya Methodist University (KeMU) where my wife and I have taken residence this week has enough of the old British tradition attached to it that there are tea breaks at 10:15 and again at 4:00. I’d personally like to find a cup of black coffee at those times, but having a cup of the local chai—hot milk, some tea, and lots of sugar—can be kind of nice.
Today, we had to break a bit early before afternoon tea because a couple of elephants had shown up at the fence which keeps them from attending classes. Some students just walked on by. The professor from Oregon State made a dash across the quad and began shooting pictures like a paparazzi.
This has been an interesting experience for me and for my spouse. When we consider that we go through the day without tv, no morning paper (we take two at home), no car, sleeping under mosquito netting, uncertain drinking water, and finding very few students with text books, then having an elephant (or two) show up at the edge of the campus is just another event during the day.
I’m sending an elephant picture along with this blog entry. I don’t know if Rebecca can insert it. If not, just try to imagine yourself on a campus where the appearance of a couple of elephants just across the fence from the Chancellor’s parking lot doesn’t draw much attention (except for the visiting guy from Oregon State).
Teaching this week has been interesting for me. The British academic tradition seems to carry on to the expectation that classes will be more lecture than participative interaction. Full blown lecture has never been my style—I thrive on interaction. In examining what is going on, I have difficulty doing a self-assessment of teaching effectiveness because of the communication difficulties we have: students find me hard to understand just as I find it difficult to understand them. (English is the language of instruction; Swahili is the language of the people.) I have always been a person who does a personal retrospective of my teaching day: what went well, what didn’t happen that I wanted to have happen, how could things have been changed to improve student interaction, what was missed that I had hoped would take place, etc. When I asked the students today what I could do to improve the level of understandability for students in the class I will begin teaching in a few weeks, the students gave only cautious suggestions. I imagine their respect for anyone with the title “Professor” on their name made their suggestions very mild.
At present, my wife and I are the only two white people on campus. That is another experience we can talk about in future blogs. We also must say that we have never been in a place which was so overwhelmingly welcoming by everyone we meet, the groundskeepers, the cooks, just plain ALL. Habari is a wonderful way of life. There should be more of it.
Brooke Collison is professor emeritus of counselor education and a former president of the American Counseling Association. He will be a visiting professor at Kenya Methodist University in Meru, Kenya during the September trimester. Joan Collison will be a volunteer with children in a social service agency during their four-month stay in Kenya.