Tuesday, September 30, 2008

There's a new post up!

But it's down here! Click the link or scroll down to "Coming into Focus"

Kind of pathetic

It's 7:57pm and I'm still at school. We had our "Meet the Teacher" corn roast after school, so that took two hours out of after school time - time well spent, mind you - so here I am, all hopped up on coffee, ready to go at 'er for another hour or two at least, but, well, the custodian is going home in 15 minutes, so I have to leave.

Seriously? Who DOES this? I clearly need help.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Speedy McSpeedersons!


I just got of the phone with Jim, the provincial contact for AIM. He was calling me because he was wondering where my application was (it's in the mail!). He got an email from head office today saying that they've got all the references for this girl named Hillary, but no application, and did HE know who this person was???

I asked my references on Thursday evening if they would fill in the forms for me, and by Friday afternoon, all three had emailed them off. I didn't even finish filling my application out till today!

They are FABULOUS!

And AIM? Also a Speedy McSpeederson. They may have already found me a placement! Before they've even got my application! (I'll fill you in when it's for sure!)

And the process continues...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Coming into focus

Ever since I began talking seriously about heading to Africa, people - and my application form! - have been asking me big questions. What do you want to do there? How are you hoping to impact the people you are working with? Why do you want to go to Africa, as opposed to say, China, or South America? What kind of ministry do you want to be involved in? Where do you hope to go in Africa? What do you hope to gain personally from the experience?

And to all of it, my super intelligent articulate answer has been, "Uhhhh....."

Oh yeah. I know how to make myself look smart, baby. BUT, I think my thoughts just haven't had a chance to percolate, and because this is all so new and happening kind of fast (even though the idea has been floating around for quite some time, it's never been quite so concrete), I haven't had a lot of time to let the flurry of thoughts kind of settle out a bit. But that's happening now, to some degree.

I think I'm leaning towards wanting something rural over something in the city. I'd love the chance to experience some traditional African music - whether it's through some kind of lessons or participating in some for of music ministry or just living in the midst of music as a part of every day life. I'm finding myself leaning towards somewhere in East Africa... Kenya? Tanzania? I'd be ok with teaching, but I don't think I want it to be the sole thing that I do. I'd like a variety of jobs and roles, I think. But all that said, I'm also open to a wild adventure - something I would never have thought of, never dreamed needed doing (I say that now, here, safe in my own little hous in my own little world! Yikes!).

But more than all that, I am getting SO excited about the spiritual experience that I know will come through this trip. I have only ever seen Christianity through a Western lens, but God is so much bigger than that. I think that understanding God (well, attempting to, anyway!) via how my culture thinks and acts and understands is to get a skewed perspective of who He really is. I know that we do the best we can, and culture IS an important part of how we understand anything, so I'm not knocking that. I'm just really, really excited to see how the same God, the same Bible, the same message is relevant and meaningful in a very, very different context and cultural understanding.

Back in university, I remember taking a couple of different seemingly unrelated electives in the same semester: History of Christianity, Intro to Anthropology, and Greek Philosophy. As I was learning about the development of the Christian church from the time of Christ to now, I was getting a better idea of the context and backgrounds of the tradition that I am a part of today. In Anthropology, I was learning about myths and traditions and cultures from all around the world and how to approach the study of culture openly. Greek Philosophy was introducing me to one part of ancient thought and ideas and ways of understanding the world, and also to cultural myths from ancient time periods, too. And what I was seeing were common themes across time and culture and tradition. I began to see how the message of Jesus was relevant, had connections, made sense across time and across culture. I began to see, as if someone was peeling back a curtain into a huge, crazy understanding that I'd never even begin to figure out, that there was a universal applicability to the gospel. I'd kinda known that in my head, sure, but I was starting to see it, and it was SO exciting!

And I think that's a big thing that I'm looking forward to about going to Africa. To see how God is still God in such a vastly different place. To experience God in a totally different way than I am used to. To attempt to learn how another culture sees and experiences God. To try to share what I know to be the best news there has ever been in a way that is relevant to the people I am working with.

I'm looking forward to sharing, yes. That's the main reason I'm going. But I'm also looking forward to learning, to being challenged, to having my understanding of God totally blown open and reconstructed in a different way.

And funnily enough, as I was in the middle of typing the first paragraph of this post, my friend Steve, who has a great interest in and knowledge of Africa and African spirituality and has spent quite a bit of time there, called to ask if he could drop by and give me a book. It's a book that, in my vague understanding of it, talks about non-western (specifically African) understandings of Christianity and about how it is often a lot more real or connected or... I don't know exactly. (I'll tell you more once I've read it!) But Steve was saying about how African Christians have a much deeper, more connected understanding and love of the Bible than many westerners, because so much more of it resonates with their lives - poverty, clans and family groupings, a spirituality connected to every day life, etc. I'm looking forward to reading it, and I'm excited, cause it seems to fit in so well with what I've just been thinking about today and where I'm kind of hoping that this experience will take me and what it will teach me.

Whooooo! I'm excited!!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What was that about a road paved with good intentions?

Intentions: A day full of productivity! Get up and at 'em! Update the blog with more posts from the summer! Finish the Africa application! Do the laundry! Clean the kitchen! Put back all the stuff that's piled on my desk, table, couches, and bed from when I cleaned the carpets last weekend! Upload some outstanding picture sets from the summer! Go dancing!

Reality: Stay in PJs. Sit online and chat. Talk on the phone. Play with the devil cat. Eat chocolate chips.


Today was an unexpectedly blah day, and because of it I had no upmh to do anything. I'm supposed to go for dinner and out dancing, but I just want to cancel and stay in.

Must. Fight. Desire. To. Wallow.


The little push I needed

It's been a year and a half of ruminating, all with not a lot of intention to do anything. "Ah, it'd be nice," I'd say. "You should go for it!" They'd tell me. "Yeah, maybe... I'd like to... Maybe one day..." But then I started thinking about it a little more, and possibility became probability.

The deadline to apply for my leave was the end of October. I had intended to wait until then to see if I was really sure if I wanted to go. To wait for a lightning bold flash of light from the sky as a sign from God, perhaps? But then I heard that the school board only gives out a limited number of leaves in a year, and if I waited till October, I might not get it. But more than that, hearing and reading about the journey of two very wise friends and how they came to a decision to make a big change in their lives really made me think about risk, about faith, about obedience. I was waiting to be sure that this was what I was "supposed" to do. But the words just kept coming back to me that we'll probably never be more than 80% sure of anything, and that the biggest regrets we'll have are opportunities not taken.

And so, on September 11th, I called some friends for a pep talk, took a deep breath, and dropped my application for a leave of absence in the district mail bag after work.

I'm kind of amazed at how fast things are happening now. I've got a new section on my sidebar for quick links to Africa-related bloggy bits. The "Timeline" link will be updated regularly and as things happen, I'll add them to that post as they happen. If you're at all interested, keep checking back!

Off I go to finish filling in my official application! I want to get it mailed out today!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Notice anything different??? *UPDATED*

Click the pic to make it bigger and tell me what you see... (besides pure and total awesomeness!!!)


AND! Whaaaat? It even updates the language used to email notifications to my inbox! LOVIN' IT! (of course, I'm at work o nlunch, and facebook is blocked, so I can't see what seeeeexxxyyyyy picture she's talking about! I think I'm scared! (And if you're a FB friend and get to it first, don't tell me... I don't think I want to know! ha!)

To pirate-ify your Facebook, do a search for "Translations," add the application, then choose "English (Pirate)" from the drop down menu (it's quite a ways down).

Arrrrr, me mateys!

Yeah. That's all I got. It's friday. I'm pooped.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ok... some details (scant that they are)

The letter arrived in my mailbox at work last Wednesday. I had a feeling that I knew what it was, but I had no idea what it would say. With shaking hands, I took it and rushed into the staff room where it was quieter to open it up. It was, indeed, from the school board.

Dear Ms Hillary

This letter will confirm that your request for a Personal Leave of Absence has been granted for the school term 2009 January 01 to and including 2009 June 30...


I wanted to jump up and down and yell and scream and dance around and shout, but I was not alone in the staffroom, and really, I'd have looked a little silly (I know, I know, when has that ever stopped me before?). So I called Trudy to tell her the good news, and she jumped up and down and screamed for me. I LOVE that she did that!!! I was pretty much a mess for the rest of the day - WAY to excited to concentrate properly on ANYTHING. (And also? That sucker came FAST. I dropped my application in the inter-district mail system on Friday morning, and it got TO the board, read, approved, and BACK to me by Wednesday lunch time. Woah.)

Ok. So. Do you remember my mystery post a while back about the exciting, thrilling, terrifying, life-changing thing I set in motion? Well, this was it! I'd gotten my leave, which frees me up to do something that's only been rattling around in my head as a kind-of possibility that I never really believed would actually happen. And now it is.

I don't actually have a lot of details to share just yet, because I don't know many myself.

So where am I going in Africa? I don't know yet. With who? Again, don't know. To do what? Also a mystery, though I do have vague ideas. Ok, ok, so I realize you probably all think I'm crazy now for being so sure about such a big thing that isn't even nailed down yet, but the ball is rolling, and quite quickly. It'd better be, because my job gets posted NEXT! WEEK!!!! AAAAAAAAAHHH! I was hoping to have it posted at the end of November or beginning of December - you know, just in case everything falls through! - but nope. It'll be filled probably by mid October and I'll be unemployed as of January (temporarily).






Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It came...

The day I've been dreading. The day when every student who could potentially melt down DID, all at the same time, and when even many of the ones who normally aren't a challenge WERE.

There were tears, there was attitude, there was refusal to comply, there was kicking and stomping and yelling, there was bargaining, there was constant inattention, there was all but four minutes of my lunch hour spent dealing with kids, there were boundaries upheld and hysterics because of it, there were things thrown, there was talking back, there were stern talking-to's and minutes with heads down on desks, there were giggle fits, there was name calling, there were temper tantrums, and there was me, looking at my watch, wondering how on EARTH I'd survive another hour and a half till the bell went.

Oh there WILL be wine with my dinner tonight, let me tell you.

Tomorrow is an early dismissal day to be trained on our new provincial electronic student information system, and all I could say when the announcement came on at the end of the day was "OH THANK GOD."

I, my friends, am POOPED.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The A-B-C's of Hil-la-ry

Another from the drafts folder. This one's ancient! It's from November 30, 2006. If I were writing it today, I'd add Trudy and Rebecca to (B) in an instant!

A - Available/Single? Both
B - Best Friend? Rachelle
C - Cake or Pie? Pie
D - Drink Of Choice? non-alcoholic - orange juice; alcoholic - Blue Hawaiians
E - Essential Item You Use Everyday? my computer (how sad is that?)
F - Favorite Color? green and blue
G - Gummy Bears Or Worms? worms - so long as they're still the gummy kind!
H - Hair Style? straight, shoulder length, no bangs. Been wanting to change that lately, so we'll see
I - Indulgence? chocolate!
J - January Or February? February - duh!
K - Kids & Their Names? My kids are my students right now - it'd take too long to list all of them!
L - Life Is Incomplete Without? God
M - Marriage Date? HA! Who knows! I'll let ya know!
N - Number Of Siblings? 1 sister, 1 brother, both younger
O - Oranges Or Apples? oranges
P - Phobias/Fears? None that I can think of!
Q - Favorite Quote? One of them... "God always gives the best to those who leave the choice to Him" --Jim Elliott
R - Reason to Smile? life!
S - Season? All of them! I can't choose!
T - Tag Three People? Nope - not gonna tag for this one. But feel free to use it if you want.
U - Unknown Fact About Me? I once put a kitten in the fridge
V - Vegetable you don't like? Cauliflower
W - Worst Habit? Talking too much! :)
X - X-rays You've Had? hmm... chest, maybe, and teeth
Y - Your Favorite Food? Thai, Indian, Mexican. So, huh, anything spicy, apparently.
Z - Zodiac Sign? Aquarius

Sunday, September 21, 2008

This really isn't going so well...

Ah, dancing. I haven't been in nearly four months. Scandalous, I know! I had a pretty crappy and busy spring, and really couldn't muster up the umph to go, and then summer came, and I was busy (I really do need to finish my summer posts! Sheesh!) and wanted to be outside as much as possible, not in some hot room with sweaty people! And then time passes along, and the longer I go without going dancing, the harder it is to go back... all my friends have been getting better while I've been sliding backwards, I'm rusty, the nights I purposefully kept clear for dancing got full... excuses excuses excuses...

But I've been trying to get back for a few weeks now. The Sea To Sky dance convention is coming up, and I'm hoping to compete again. Not gonna happen if I haven't danced in months! Two Thursdays ago I was planning on going, but I was all cold-y and really didn't feel like going anywhere. Last Saturday I was supposed to go, but was just too tired and opted to stay in instead. I was thinking of going on Sunday, but not many of my friends were going, so I bailed on that, too. Thursday was supposed to be a sure thing, but I got snagged up in a meeting at church that ended way too late to have any kind of decent time for dancing.

I did, however, have my friend and unofficial dance partner Chris over for dinner on Wednesday to do some practicing in my kitchen. Fun, but it kinda doesn't count.

So tonight, when Chris texted me asking if I was going, and told me that even though he was tired from playing Ultimate today, he'd go if I was going, I decided to ditch my housecleaning plans and head downtown.


I grabbed my shoes and my water bottle, changed my clothes, and headed out. It felt so good to make the familiar trek from my free downtown parking spot (FREE!!!) to the studio, up those stairs, and into the studio. AH! So many people I haven't seen in SO long! I got lots of hellos and "Hey! You're back!"'s and I went over to put on my long-neglected dance shoes.

Except there was only one shoe in my bag.

What??? I looked around the studio. Nope, not there. I went back to my car in the pouring rain and rummaged around my trunk and the front seat where I had the shoes, fending off the homeless guy who is ALWAYS there in the back lane offering unwanted parking advice. (I really should learn his name. I see him EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I go down there.) But alas. No shoe. I couldn't even dance in the shoes I had on. Flip flops (yes, in the pouring rain. I'm in denial that fall is here!) don't bode so well for dancing. I couldn't even dance in socks, which is sometimes done, as I wasn't wearing any.


So I trudged back to the studio to say helloandgoodbye to all my dancing crew. I watched for a while, remembering everybody's own styles and watching people try out all the new moves they've learned while I've been away, then me and my one freakin' shoe went back home.

I was kind of concerned about where my other shoe got to, because I just went through my whole house getting stuff up to wash the carpets (that's a whole 'nother post!), and I didn't see it. Guess I was going to have to look again.

As I pulled up to my house and got out of the car, I saw it. My suede-bottomed dancing shoe, lying there on the side of the road, soaking wet from being out in the rain for over an hour.

But hey, at least I didn't see it till after I had RUN OVER IT WITH MY CAR.

*smacks forehead*

Ummm.... better luck next time?


Another one from the draft folder... I wrote this one on June 1 of this year. I think I was gonna write more, but it's pretty long as it is. It's funny, too, cause I wrote this before developing my dating philosophy a little further this summer. We'll leave it at that for now, shall we? ;) After all, this isn't about now, it's about June 1... Read it then tell me, what do YOU think? Dating philosophies? Thoughts? Tips? Cute single boys you want to set me up with? (ohsorryWHAT?) hehehe

No, this is not a proclamation. I'm not dating anyone. And if I was, it would have to be pretty solid before I announced it on the blog, in part cause I've seen what a flurry of activity happens when a girl casually mentions a boy on a blog (hehehe... right, Sarah?), and in part because I feel like talking about relationships here is, in some ways, telling stories that aren't only my own.

But I've been thinking about it a lot lately (and no, not in a "gee, I wish I was dating someone" kinda way... well ok, not JUST in that kinda way!). If somebody asked me, I would tell them that I haven't actually been in a more "serious relationship" (whatever that means!) for quite some time. Like, for seven and a half years. Wow. But in that time, I've had boyfriends, I've gone on dates. I've done that oh-so-awful nebulous non-dating thing. I've been head over heels for someone and I've had my heart broken. Broken reeeal good. I've been led on, and I've led on, albeit unintentionally, and within the parameters of trying to do the best thing. We all mess up sometimes, and while I don't have many regrets in my life, hurting a friend and an awesome person is one of them. But I digress...

My views on dating are changing. Back in university, I think I thought that the only relationships that counted were official boyfriend/girlfriend, "I consider you a potential marriage partner so let's determine if that's a possibility" kind of relationships.

Holy scary, Batman!

But I think that view is still around, particularly in Christian circles. It's probably why people (including myself) can get so freaked out by a "Hey, do you wanna go for coffee sometime?" Somehow that simple question gets twisted all up into something more like, "Hello. I consider you a potential candidate for marriage. Would you like to consider the possibility of entering into a long term exclusive relationship to determine if this is so?" (best said all in one breath as if there were no spaces between the words!)

GAAAAAH!!!!!!!! It's JUST coffee!

Sounds nutty, doesn't it? But I think that's - to some way less scary degree - what's behind the fact that I "don't count" some of the dating I've done or boyfriends I've had (gosh, it sounds lie it's been a lot! It hasn't, really!) over the last few years. Which begs the question, "Count as WHAT?" and why is that? For some - yes, most - there's never been a defined relationship. Perhaps that's why. Many haven't lasted very long at all - a few dates, maybe a month or so. Does length of time determine "dating?"

More and more, I'm settling into the idea that dating is waaaaay more casual than I used to think it was. Meet someone fun. Hang out. Get to know them. No pressure, no expectations, no "what are we?" There may be chemistry, sparks, fireworks. There may not be. It may develop, it may not. I'm really trying to yank the idea of "dating=potential marriage partner" from the mix (it should get there eventually, but NOT at first, I don't think) and just enjoy getting to know lots of different guys (well, girls too, but in the dating context... that would be a little awkward!).

One of the great things about meeting people, going on dates, getting to know someone is that I get to know some really great people and get to see the world through somebody else's eyes. And of course, I learn so much: about myself, about the kind of person I'm looking for, about new ways of thinking, about new skills or ideas, about attitudes I need to change in my life and attitudes I don't want to put up with in another person.

Sometimes it's wonderful, thrilling, all-consuming. Sometimes it's painful, humbling, aggravating. Sometimes it's just plain S.........L..........O..............W.

Ah, dating. A necessary evil? Who knows.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


* I've been going through my drafted posts and looking for a few to bring to light. Most are just unfinished, some I've written and decided they're not for the whole world to see, and some, like this one, I have no idea why I never posted. I wrote this at the beginning of November of last year. No idea why it wasn't already up, but it is now! :) *

Back in junior high, we had a Missionary come to our church from the Ivory Coast in Africa. Something about what he said, the stories he told, the pictures he painted of the place he lived captured me. I remember for a number of years having a really strong sense that I would go there some day, even for a short time, to do some kind of missions work.

That strong sense faded after a while, but the memory of it remained. I remember thinking a few times during my undergrad degree that the fact that I was studying French would come in handy if I ever ended up going to Côte D'Ivoire. But frankly, at that point, the thought of going somewhere SO foreign, so different made me dismiss it. I really had no interest in going anymore. I would much rather remain where it's comfortable, where I know how things work.

But Africa keeps popping up.

While I was teaching music, I did a few African drumming workshops, and I L-O-V-E-D them. There is something SO powerful about the drums, not to mention they're just really fun to play! I even bought myself a djembe at a county fair down in Washington a few summers ago.

And then, about two years ago, I saw a group called Masabo perform at a fundraiser dinner at a local high school. The drums, the balafons, the dances - they captured me. I bought a CD and listened to it frequently. I took another drumming workshop with Fana Soro, the leader of the group. And I borrowed a class set of djembes and some other African instruments from another school and did a drumming unit with my students - kindergarten to grade 7.

I've heard beautiful drscriptions of Kenya from AfricaBleu, a blogger who grew up there and whose heart is still very much there in many ways. I have looked through - again and again and again - a friend's photographs from his travels to South Africa and Namibia. And now, one of my best friends is living in Niger for six months, working to bring clean water to people in the villages surrounding Niamey.

And once again this week I have been captured by the music. At our pro-d day on Thursday, there was a group called Kutapira who provided about half an hour's worth of entertainment after lunch. They are a group of students from ages 14-19 who play a fusion of marimba and Afro-cuban music. They were AMAZING. (I had one of the band members in my music class a few years ago! Though I take absolutely NO credit for his extraordinary mucial ability. He was already honing his mad marimba skillz while I was teaching my class how to play hot cross buns on the recorder. Buah ha!)

Then yesterday a friend invited me to go see Umoja with him. All I knew was that it was a South African musical. It turns out that it was a journey through the development of music and dance in South Africa, from tribal drums and ceremonial dances to shebeens to gospel to music in the apratheid era to clubs... it was spectacular!

More and more, Africa keeps coming up on my radar. I am less and less concerned about it being "too different" or too far out of my comfort zone. I would love to go there one day. For what, I don't know, but I have a few ideas brewing. We'll see where God leads me.

Just for fun, here are a few videos: the first is of Kutapira and the second a clip from Umoja. Enjoy!

Friday, September 19, 2008


I had the kids getting their spelling dictionaries ready for use today. They had a notebook and were to write each letter of the alphabet on the top of each page for use throughout the year to write down our phonics words, spelling words, and theme words. Kind of a vocabulary bank and something that they can refer to throughout the year for spelling help. I'm in the process of putting up the word wall, and I've only gotten to posting the letters A-M.

Rachel* put up her hand and told me that she needed help. All she was doing was writing the letters of the alphabet on each page, and quite often she just wants the attention, so I told her that she could do it on her own. Well, it turns out that she was following the letters up on the wall, and had hit "M."

She really did need help. She didn't know what came next.

Oh these poor babies. We're going to need a lot more basic instruction than I first thought.

*Names are changed

Avast, me hearties!

This be the day dedicated to talkin' like them salty sea-goin' scallywags. Give yer hearties a mighty "yaaaaar!" today. Work that thromborax!

Not sure how? Watch and learn.

And a little something... for the chiiildren

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Well wouldn't ya know it...

Turns out a few blocks of car flirting with some seriously cute boys in a red convertible mustang really CAN make a girl's day!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Just... WOW

Here's how I spent last weekend.
(Click for a larger version - cause really, this baby needs to be seen as large as possible!)

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I've had an idea rattling around in my head for a year and a half or so. A terrifying, thrilling, life-changing, trust-requiring, beyond-all-belief-exciting, and did-I-mention terrifying idea.

It's been all talk for quite some time, but this morning, I actually took the first two fairly large, concrete steps towards making it happen. I'm not past the point of no return, but the ball is rolling, and even still, I'M FREAKIN' OUT!!!!


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

First Week

It's been a full seven days of school already, and I haven't even blogged about it yet! I think in part it's cause I've been so darn exhuasted, and SO MUCH has happened that I really don't know where to begin...

I guess I could begin with a little comparison. My old school had just under 700 students in kindergarten to grade 7. My new school has 81. E-i-g-h-t-y--o-n-e. That's it. We were anticipating about 112, so unfortunately that meant that a new teacher who, like me, spent the entire week before school started setting up her classroom had to go. We lost funding for the extra class, as we didn't have enough kids to fill it. I felt terrible for her. School started Tuesday, we found out Wednesday that we were losing a class, she found out that she was the one to go on Thursday, and Friday was her last day. :( That meant, too, that we had to rearrange all the classes, and my one-two split that turned into a straight two the week before school started now was gonig to be a grade two-three class. I have all the grade twos and all the grade threes in the school. I've got twenty kids. Craziness.

And then there are the kids. Cha-llen-ging. I thought my last class was tough. HA! Like a walk in the park, baby. But the thing is, they're sweet kids. It's just that so many of them come from challenging situations, from generations of opression (the majority of my kids are First Nations), and just have had it rough all their little lives. Poverty and dysfunction are not strangers to these little angels. Honestly, academics are my second priority in my classroom this year. Teaching these kids that they are valuable, that they are loved, that they are special is my number one goal. And if I can do that while teaching them to read (many of them can't), then all the better.

So many of these kids already have an attitude of "I can't do it." It's not a snarky kind of attitude, just a belief about themselves. When they go to their desks, I have two boys in particular who just shut down. They can't read, they can't write, and the task before them is just too daunting. I've since modified their work, but it just makes me so sad to see that they're so aware that they're behind and to see how it affectst heir confidence.

BUT, I had a moment yesterday with one student, Bly.* He has trouble copying words and forming his letters, and even his printing booklet was a discouraging challenge for him. My support worker is a hero, and had the idea for him to form the letters with plasticine first, then trace it with his finger, THEN copy the letters. That totally worked, and he did his whole page of printing, including copying some words down that began with the target letter. He wandered over when he had finished to show me, and I made a big deal of how well he had done, all by himself, wasn't I proud of him, great job, etc. The look of bursting pride on that boy's face nearly made me tear up. He was SO proud of himself. That one little interaction alone just made my week.

These kids are going to make me want to tear my hair out, most definitely. They're going to push the boundaries of my sanity, and may even break me temporarily (mental health days, oh, I see a few of you in my future). But they're also going to teach me so much this year. It's gonna be a wild ride! I'd better hang on tight!

* Student's names are changed

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Anyone see this commercial during the Olympics? The school in the last scene? It's my (old) school!!! Um, too bad it's featured in such a crappy product ad! heh!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Walk the Wall

I originally posted this back in July (so no, you're not going nuts, you HAVE seen this before!), but Walk the Wall is coming up THIS Saturday!!! I'm getting excited! I'm still looking for sponsors... are you interested? Read on to find out more! :)

photo courtesy of International China Concern
Niki asked in the comments yesterday why I reposted my "Shabby Green Door" post at this point in time. Well, I'm glad she asked! :) It's because International China Concern has been on my mind a lot lately since attending a benefit concert at my church a few months ago. It's because I have a few friends who have gone or are going to work at one of ICC's sites. It's because, even still, I just can't shake that feeling that I can't let children live without love, without humanity, withought hope, and do nothing about it. And it's because I now have a plan to do my tiny little part...

It's called Walk the Wall - an annual fundraiser where people all around the world team together to walk the distance of the Great Wall of China and raise money to help support ICC in bringing
love, hope, and opportunity to China's abandoned and disabled children. This year, the goal is to walk the wall twice - from one end to the other and back!

On September 13, 2008, I will be walking 10km with a team here in Vancouver. There are teams and individuals all over the world who will be doing the same. Watch the video below, visit the Walk the Wall page, and would you consider sponsoring me? My goal is to raise $200, and I need your help! Or even better, register to Walk the Wall yourself! I have a fundraising page with more details where you can donate online or sign up yourself. Check it out here!

Let's bust down that shabby green door!

Photo courtesy of WalkTheWall.org

Friday, September 05, 2008


I don't live by myself anymore - once again, I have a roomie! He moved in the same day school started, and we've been getting acquainted. I quite like him, actually. He even sleeps on my bed and gives me love bites. Silly boy.
Whaaat?!?! It's a CAT! Sheesh. (har har) My little bro is working a lot in Pemberton, about three and a half hours from Vancouver, and since his landlords decided to take back the suite, and he's never in town anyway, he decided to just go live in the hotel the company provides in Pemberton for a few months... which of course left the question of, "What do I do with my cat?" So I'm long-term cat sitting for my brother. Might be a month, might be as long as four. So for that time, Odie is the new kid in HillaryTown.

That's right. Odie. A dog's name, you ask? Not exactly. See, my brother was at a house party one night and the host had some kittens. He decided that he was going to take one home. Brendan, being Brendan, decided he was gonna name the cute bundle of kittenny fluffiness "Old Dirty Cat." ODC, if you will. "Odie" for short. Crazy boy.

But anyway, Hooray! It's a great way to test-drive cat ownership! And besides, idn't he cuuuuute?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Ready or not, here they come...

It took ALL week last week to get my room unpacked and set up. Boxes unpacked, bulletin boards and borders up, art supplies organized, furniture arranged, posters and calendar laminated... It all takes so. stinking. long! There's still lots to do to get it organized the way I'd like it, and I have gloriously large windowsills, so I'm going to go and buy some plants, but it's ready to go. Good thing, cause the new school year starts tomorrow.


I miss my co-workers already, and can't even imagine not seeing the same kids I've taught for five years in the halls, but I've met a smattering of new staff at the new school, and they seem nice. I really just want this year to get underway (well, kinda. I want more to still be on holidays! hehe!) so I can get settled in my new school.

September. Ready or not, here it comes!

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Want a full tour of my new classroom? Click here!

You are banished!

These ads! They kill me. They never get old.

Education in Kenya

First of all, a disclaimer – I’m only going on what I’ve learned, so I apologize if the details are not quite right. If they aren’t and you know so, let me know!

In urban areas, most children go to a type of kindergarten before the begin class one. There is Baby school for age 3, Nursery for age 4, and Pre-unit for age 5. Upcountry, however, there may not be teachers available, so kids may begin right away with class one at age six. If they do go to kindergarten, they generally know how to read and write before beginning class one.

Primary School

Primary school consists of eight classes, and the school year goes from January to December. There are three semesters of three months each, and then a one month school break in April, August, and December. At the end of each class in November, all children from baby class (three year olds!!!) to class eight sit National Exams which cover the full year’s material. If a student doesn’t pass, they stay back in the class/level until they are able to pass. At the end of class eight, students sit exams that cover everything they have done in all of primary, and the results of these exams determine what kind of secondary school they get into. There is incredible pressure, as three days of exams at age thirteen basically determine a student’s entire educational (and in many ways, vocational) future. Results are posted at the school and on the internet, and schools are ranked according to how students perform on these standard exams (sound familiar, anyone?) High schools have reputations for how well they perform, too, and only those with certain marks are admitted into certain schools.

As a result of these exams, teaching is very much tailored to what is on the test. The educational style here is very much about rote learning, and so students often have difficulty with critical thinking type activities. For this reason, teachers must be quite explicit as to what are on the exams, because it would be very difficult for kids to extend or adapt what they know if there is a question that is similar, but not exact, to what they have been taught.

Finally, from what I have seen, children are very well behaved in the classroom. The teacher is seen as the master and has all the answers. There is a very high degree of respect for a teacher, and children learn very quickly to behave well in school. Of course, this is probably also due to the fact that if a student misbehaves (or performs poorly on a test, or has a ripped uniform, etc), it is quite common even today for them to be caned. I was asking a primary student about this. “I must keep my book neat or I will be beaten.” Beaten? “Yes, if we are naughty we are beaten.” Oooh. Where? On the hands? On the behind? “Hands, behind, back, legs… anywhere.” And does it hurt? “Oh yes! Yes, it hurts!” I was so shocked to learn that this form of punishment is still alive and well.


Once children have finished Standard 8, their exam results are announced and they wait through the month of January to find out what schools they are accepted to. This depends on their marks from the class 8 exams. The first year of secondary is called Form 1 and it continues up through Form 4.

Many high schools are boarding schools (going to a boarding school is more common than day schools, at least in urban areas), so students do not have to go to a school near their house. The boarding option is more popular, in part, because then students do not have to spend valuable study time commuting. Perhaps this typical schedule will give you an idea why:

5:00 am (as early as 4:30) – Be up and ready for the day
5:00-6:00 – Duties/Chores
6:00 – Breakfast
After breakfast, ~1 hour of personal study, which is compulsory
8:00 – 4:00 – Lessons
After lessons, there are sports, clubs, or personal study until dinner
After dinner, approximately 2 hours of compulsory personal study.
10:30 - Lights out in the dorms
11:00 – Lights out in the study rooms (but some students will continue to study in the hallways till later).

On Saturdays, students get to sleep in… till about 6:00 am… and then spend the first half day in preps (personal study). Generally by lunch time, they are free for the rest of the weekend.

Canadian students just have NO idea!!! Wowzers!

At the end of Form 4, there are exams again that cover everything the students have learned in all four years, and these will determine if they can, and to what kind of colleges students can go to.

Challenges in education

Wherever you go, of course, there are always areas in which to improve, and I have been learning about some of these areas here in Kenya. Two in particular are a dramatic shortage of teachers and a looming strike.

Generally in urban areas, there are “enough” teachers for every level. Upcountry in rural areas, it is common for children to not be able to go to school, perhaps for the three years of kindergarten-type classes before class one, or even in other years. But “enough teachers” is used loosely. There are definitely no class size limit laws here in Kenya, and it is not uncommon to have classes of 60, 70, or even 100 students. In the Nursery Class (age 4) in Mitumba, for example, there are 52 students registered. Fifty- two! Four year olds! Great goodness!!! The teacher does an amazing job teaching them letter sounds, numbers, printing, etc (after all, they must pass their exams!). The school is very proud of the fact that once the children pass Nursery (there is no Baby Class at Mitumba) and Pre-Unit, the children can read and write. Incredible!

The teacher shortage and huge class sizes are made worse in secondary schools, because, in the last election, secondary schools were made to be “free” for all students. (Again, the word free is used loosely. There are no longer tuition fess, but students still have to pay for books, uniforms, room and board, and even in some places have to bring their own mattresses!) Regardless, the drop in prices for secondary school has opened it up to far more students that previously could have attended. However, this dramatic increase in enrolment was not met by an increase in teachers. I don’t know numbers or stats for this (in particular because January is the beginning of the first year of implementation of free secondary), but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see what kind of problems this causes in an education system!

Finally, on Monday, teachers in public schools in Kenya are set to go on strike. As far as I understand, a few years back, teachers were promised incremental wage increases over a number of years, but the government stopped well before the increases were complete, saying that there was no more money to continue the program. Teachers are paid very poorly here, earning just over what an average family pays for house help. Teachers have gotten fed up and are asking for the wage increase all at once, because they do not trust the government to carry on with the incremental wage increases that were promised, but the government has said no, there is not enough money, and so teachers have voted to strike beginning January 19. There are two unions – the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET). The government has offered a deal, and KNUT has not accepted it, but KUPPET has, so there is even tension among the two unions, with KNUT calling KUPPET traitors. The government, too, is issuing strong warning against a strike, saying that teacher who strike will be sacked. A solution does not look probable, so it will be interesting to see what the outcome is over the next few days.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments, and I’ll answer them if I can! I’ll try, too, to update with any info I have about the strike, though it may be difficult once I head upcountry. Pole! (poh-lay, meaning sorry!)

Fundraising Progress

As of January 6:

Thank you SO MUCH to those of you who have given so generously!

My budget, $11,300, has already been met (and exceeded!!!). Any extra that is in my account will be used to support the ministry that I am participating in over the next seven months.

Want to know how to continue contributing?? Click here.

Fund Pie as of December 30

Fund Pie as of Dec 19

Fund Pie as of Dec 13

Add Image

Fund Pie as of December 8

Fund Pie as of November 30

Fund Pie as of November 1

Fund Pie as of October 25

Fund Pie as of October 17

Fund Pie as of October 4

Fund Pie as of September 27

How to give

Want to know how to contribute to my trip? Here are three ways...

Africa Inland Mission is a registered charity, so all gifts are tax recieptable
My budget, $11,300, has already been met (and exceeded!!!). However, any extra that is in my account will be used to support the ministry that I am participating in over the next seven months. Some ideas I am researching are buying supplies or books for the school and/or helping with a food aid program for the area I will be working in. So, if you are still thinking of contributing, it's not too late, and your gift will be put to good use here in Kenya!

1. One-time gifts - simply mail your cheque to the appropriate address listed below. Please enclose a separate note indicating that the gift is from me. Something like "Donation for Canadian short term missionary Hillary U" would be sufficient. All cheques should be made out to Africa Inland Mission, with my name appearing nowhere on the actual cheque itself.

2. Post-dated cheques - Sometimes people wish to split up their giving, whether monthly, once now and once later, etc. AIM requests that I meet my budget before I leave, but if they receive post-dated cheques, they will accept the total amount of the post-dated cheques as fulfilling the budget requirements. If you would rather give this way, mail your post-dated cheques to the appropriate address listed below. As with one-time gifts, please enclose a separate note indicating that the gift is for me.

3. Pre-authorized withdrawals - If you would like to take advantage of this option for regular monthly giving, please send a voided cheque to AIM and a separate note indicating that the gift is for me. The note also needs to include the following information: the amount you would like withdrawn each month, your full name and address, whether you want the withdrawals to begin on the 1st or the 15th of each month, and the start and end date of your contributions.

Thank you for your support!


Africa Inland Mission Int.
1641 Victoria Park Ave.
Scarborough, ON M1R1P8

In the US:
Africa Inland Mission Int.
P.O. Box 178
Pearl River, NY 10965
* be sure to indicate that I am a short term missionary out of the Canadian office *

Aim International
Halifax Place
* be sure to indicate that I am a short term missionary out of the Canadian office *

Africa Timeline

11 - Dropped off application for leave of absence
17 - Received letter granting my leave of absence
17 - Filled in preliminary online request for information with Africa Inland Mission (AIM)
18 - Received email back from AIM putting me in contact with the BC contact person
19 - Spoke with BC contact person and was sent a preliminary "Getting to Know You" form
21 - Sent back "Getting to Know You" form
25 - Received official application and reference forms via email
26 - All three references have already filled in and emailed off their forms (!!!)
29 - Got a call from the BC contact telling me all three references were in, and was the application on it's way
29 - Got tentative placement (before he even had my application!) working with kids in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya
29 - Requested a more rural placement if possible (more what I had in mind)
30 - Mailed off application form

4 - Got call from Jim - he has a few teaching opportunities in northern Kenya, very rural areas, could I stay for seven months instead of six? (Yes!)
4 - Set up interview for Tuesday October 7
7 - Had my interview with Jim and Elaine. Had a great chat, learned more about serving in Kenya, and got to share a little of my thoughts and excitement about this trip
11 - One month since this whole crazy thing started!
11 - Wrote my initial support letter and compiled a (very long!) address list
11 - Contacted my church's missions committee to request their support
11 - Contacted the AIM missionaries in the town I may be living in to say hello and to ask permission to use some of their photos in my support letter (go blogs!)
11 - Began initial stages of planning a large fundraiser event for the end of November
11-17 - Wrote individual emails to 170 people, sending them an update and my support letter. 30 more to go!
14 - Got my password to AIM's Outbound program with info and checklist of things to do for short term missionaries.
22 - RECEIVED OFFICIAL LETTER OF ACCEPTANCE!!! WOOOOOHOOOOO!!!!!! (still waiting on official placement)
28 - Booked date for fundraiser
28 - Went for physical and lab work to send away for medical clearance
29 - Realized I had to change date for fundraiser
29 - Got package of books to read before I head to Toronto for orientation

And that's where I'm at so far... still waiting on an assignment, still waiting to plan the fundraiser, still waiting to send out the next letter. Patience, patience... ARG! :)

Check back to see how things continue to progress!