“On today’s episode of Adventures in Homeownership…”

I’ve been a homeowner for a little under eight years. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about replacing sump pumps (and everything that goes with them). I’ve come downstairs and, half-asleep, stepped into a giant puddle in my kitchen and learned all about broken water lines leading to refrigerators. I’ve learned how to replace things like a garbage disposal and a kitchen sink faucet – and how to improvise some fairly impressive strings of curse words in the process.

This week in homeownership, I’m learning the intricacies of making an insurance claim regarding a tree that had a bad night and is requiring the assistance of my house to hold it upright. We had a rather wicked storm rip through our entire state on Wednesday night (multiple tornados touched down; straight-line winds up to 80 mph). I thought I managed to get through unscathed – went to bed with my power still on, and from what I could see, there were only branches down in my yard.

Just my house lending a helping hand. Or…roof.

Cut to waking up at 3:30 a.m. to discover my power had indeed gone out. And then, once the sun came up, I discovered that poor tree. I feel incredibly fortunate that I am ok and that all of my people are accounted for and safe (though really wishing I hadn’t had that grocery pickup Wednesday morning…).

I’d also be ok going a few months without learning anything new in the realm of homeownership…

Come Sniff Books with Lynda Barry

reposted from my work with UntitledTown

I have a confession. In 2009, I didn’t know who Lynda Barry was – I had yet to be introduced to her work. But I was back in Green Bay, a year out of grad school, and desperate to once again be surrounded by writers and artists. So when it was brought to my attention that the nationally renowned cartoonist was giving a creativity workshop at UWGB, and I discovered that I was able to nab a spot as a UWGB alumna, I jumped at the opportunity. And I’m forever grateful (if for no other reason than finding another book-sniffing kindred spirit).

Though she was born in Richland Center, WI, Barry spent most of her life in Seattle. Known as the class cartoonist, Barry met the same challenge many of us likely have – a parent who didn’t understand our love of books or writing or creating – and insisted that we instead get a “good steady job.” Also like many of us, she didn’t listen. 

If you learn nothing else from Lynda Barry, learn that. 

While attending school at Evergreen State College, the editor of her school newspaper put out a call stating that he would “print anything that anyone submitted” – and Barry rose to the challenge, attempting to push the envelope as far as she could, trying to come up with things that she was certain they wouldn’t publish. Barry even submitted the cartoons by sliding them under the office door at night and with the pseudonym Ernie Pook (the comic series that would later also feature Arna, Arnold, Freddie, and Marlys). True to his word, though, the editor printed them.

The editor of that college paper? Matt Groening. (Yep, that Groening, of Simpsons fame.)

At the age of twenty-three, Barry’s career took off thanks again to one Matt Groening. When writing about West Coast artists, Groening included his former classmate and friend. This gained the attention of the Chicago Reader, the first to pick up her comic – which would go on to appear in over fifty alternative weeklies, running for almost thirty years. 

Along with publishing collections of her comics, Barry has written two illustrated novels, Cruddy and The Good Times are Killing Me (which she also adapted into an off-Broadway play)as well as three books about the creative process, including Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor.

As though an extensive publishing career isn’t impressive enough, Barry has also been teaching since she was twenty five – her students over the years ranging from children to adults. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity at UW-Madison and travels the country conducting workshops, such as the one I attended at UWGB in 2009.

As a teacher, Lynda Barry isn’t interested in theory or critique – she’s interested in where ideas come from and in helping people find their own creativity. She makes it clear that her workshops work especially well for non-writers. “‘Kids don’t plan to play…They don’t go: Barbie, Ken, you ready to play? It’s gonna be a three-act.’ Narrative, Barry believes, is so hard-wired into human beings that creativity can come as naturally to adults as it does to children. They need only to access the deep part of the brain that controls that storytelling instinct” (NY Times).

Her best piece of advice? She won’t let her students “reread their writing until the entire course has concluded. ‘While you’re writing, you’re having this experience,’ Barry explained. ‘But when you read it, all you can think about is, Is my baby defective?’ Sometimes, she said, babies just need time to open their eyes” (NY Times). I saw this in practice when during her workshop, she asked for volunteers to read pieces of their drafts out loud. She called on folks one at a time – each time coming to their side, dropping to her knees so that she could listen closely, and then always giving small words of encouragement when they were done reading. The pieces, which were works in progress, were not being critiqued – praise was given simply for the act of creating.

Be sure to follow Lynda Barry on Instagram and Twitter, and check out her INKtalk.

Lifelong Learner

I love being a student. I can’t say I have always loved school, but I’ve always loved learning from people. One of the perks of being a college professor is that I get a tuition waiver at my school (we still pay fees, and if we audit, it’s another hundred bucks – but still well worth it in my eyes).

So when I started pre-writing (i.e. outlining and completing character questionnaires) for a murder/mystery I’ve been thinking about for a bit now, I couldn’t help but think – I know there’s a course for that. I’ve always loved detective procedurals on TV (Bones, Brooklyn 99, Lucifer, NCIS, Rizzoli and Isles, and White Collar), but I never know how much is reality and how much is to fit into the allotted time slot.

And I want this story to be as authentic as possible. Enter: Criminal Investigation. This will be the first of three courses I plan to take over the next three semesters, starting with this summer session. I’ve opted to audit mostly to take the pressure off (I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to grades…leftover expectations from my K12 years; I also have significant testing anxiety – looking at you standardized tests.) With auditing, I have access to the class, the material, and the professor – without the added pressure of worrying about my grade. I can learn for the sake of learning.

This class, which started Tuesday, is an eight-week course (accelerated to fit the summer session – it would usually be sixteen weeks, so we’ll be moving quickly). It will run the same time as my own courses that I’m teaching, too – so another reason to take a little pressure off. During this course, I’ll get to learn the “principles, procedures, and techniques” of investigation, as well as how activities are coordinated, the responsibilities of the investigator, and case preparation. I have no doubt this will be an excellent foundation to make sure I can “get it right.” Or, at least, to get it to be as authentic as I possibly can.

Plus I get to be a student again. (My last course for fun was back in 2013 – it’s definitely time!)

A Story a Day: Month Six

For this month, I chose stories from web exclusives and archives of Fairy Tale Review, which is an “annual literary journal dedicated to publishing new fairy tales and to helping raise public awareness of fairy tales as a diverse, innovative art form.” As with the previous five months, I have no idea what these stories are about – the goal is simply to experience new writing. Feel free to read along!

  1. The Listening Tree” by Micah Dean Hicks
  2. Genie in Pieces” by Claire Hero
  3. Avenue” by Sharma Shields
  4. Of Humankind” Miriam Bird Greenberg
  5. Homecoming” by Molly Fessler
  6. In Which Hansel is Gretel and Gretel is Hansel” by Brandi Wells
  7. Planting Petals” by Kristi DeMeester
  8. The Robe” by Katherine Kim
  9. Garden” Matt Morgenstern
  10. Salamandrine, My Kid” by Joyelle McSweeney
  11. Coven” by Anna Cabe
  12. Small Animal” by Aurelie Sheehan
  13. The Lemon Tree” by Ben Loory
  14. Magenta” by Molly Gutman
  15. The Seed and The Stone” by Julian K. Jarboe
  16. a disappearance beside the yatsushiro sea” by Kiik A-K
  17. Sleeping Beauty’s Daughter” by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
  18. No Girls Allowed” by Anne Valente
  19. Oyster” by Inez Tan
  20. Juniper” by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
  21. Gifts from the Sea” by Naoko Awa (Translated by Toshiya Kamei)
  22. The Girl, the Wolf, the Crone” by Kellie Wells
  23. Blue Funk” by Rikki Ducornet
  24. The Season of Daughters” by Zachary Doss
  25. Family: A Fairy Tale” by Ira Sukrungruang
  26. The Peach Boy” by Sequoia Nagamatsu
  27. Appleless” by Aimee Bender
  28. Wolf Lessons” by Wren Awry
  29. Suddenly” by Carmen Giménex Smith
  30. “Brother and Sister” by Elise Winn

Voices of JAMS Timeline

Today, Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial Schools is sitting on my bookshelf – something that started almost a decade ago when Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno came to speak to in a course I was taking at the time (I was getting a couple graduate certificates for the fun of it because I had missed being a student). I had no idea the journey that would stem from that night so long ago – and I can’t put into the words the emotions I’m feeling seeing this book sit among others that I hold so dearly.

Below is the timeline from the moment I met Teresa and Andrew to this one.

  • Oct 30, 2012 – Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno came to my Feminist Theory course to talk about the school they founded in Kenya (where they are from originally). I thought about nothing else for weeks. I proposed an idea to them about a month later that involved teaching memoir, turning the work into a collection (with the girls’ permission, of course), and using the book as a fundraiser for the school.

  • Spring 2013 – I participated in an independent study where I research education and writing in Kenya and then created the “Memoir Writing for Empowerment” curriculum we would implement at the school.

  • June 18 – July 7, 2014 – Our trip was originally scheduled for Summer 2013, but it was postponed for one year. We spent three weeks at the school implementing the curriculum and working with the students to edit/revise their work.

  • I spent a lot of time typing up the handwritten memoirs, fitting this in wherever I could.

    July 28 – Aug 6, 2015 – Formatted and then edited the entire manuscript

  • Aug 6, 2015 – Oct 2019 – Handed over the manuscript to the individual who was supposed to be co-editor. The project then stalled for several years (as Randy Pausch said, “Brick walls are there to train and demonstrate your resolve, not to keep you out. Some brick walls are made of flesh.”) I was finally granted permission to take the project back and go ahead solo (in Oct 2019).

  • I did another round of edits – and then the pandemic threw a wrench in my ability to meet with Teresa. We were finally able to get to get together in Nov of 2021 to go over spellings of names and places (to make sure everything was spelled correctly).

  • 12/5/2021 – Submitted proposal to the Friends of JAMS board to get approval for funds to typeset, for cover design, and to print initial run of physical copies. Was informed the board would not be meeting until February 2022. The board did approve our proposal. (However, one member requested we add updates for all of the students for where they are now. Because this would further postpone the project, potentially indefinitely, a decision was made to add updates for students we had quick contact with.)

  • March 2022 – The manuscript was sent to our typesetter, Kevin Moriarity (who is fantastic, by the way) on March 18, 2022. He turned this around quickly (we had a final version by March 24, 2022). The interior and cover were uploaded to KDP so that we could order a printed proof on March 28, 2022.

  • Printed proof arrived March 31, 2022. I spent April 1 – 4, 2022, proofreading. I sent Kevin updates each day. I checked over the final interior on April 5, 2022 (did I mention Kevin is quick?), and it was uploaded on April 10, 2022.

  • Image of a book laid on a display shelf in my bookcase. The book cover text: Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School. Book cover picture is looking over the shoulder of a young Kenyan student as she writes.

    On April 13, 2022, my copies of Voices of JAMS arrived. One has sat on my display shelf since. I keep peeking over at it to make sure it’s really there. 🙂

    Still doesn’t feel real.

All proceeds from this book will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

JAMS Afterword

Below is the Afterword for Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School:

All proceeds from this book go straight into the scholarship fund to help other students acquire an education at Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls. Each girl within these pages gave permission for their story to be included – excited about the chance to help educate others. By buying this book, you have helped to create a scholarship for a girl just like those whose stories you are holding.

We had a few bumps along the road to putting this together and getting these voices into your hands, but one of the positives that came from this extra time is that Teresa Wasonga and Jean Pierce had the opportunity to speak with some of these original students to hear their thoughts about the school now that they were at university and out in the world. Getting to listen to these interviews felt like such a gift.

One of the stories that stuck out most to me began with Teresa noting that the student they were about to speak with was one of the smartest students to have come through JAMS – and it was a fluke that landed her there. While interviewing another student for entry into the school, the girl mentioned that a friend of hers was struggling to find money to pay fees – without a scholarship, the girl noted, her friend wouldn’t be able to go to school. Where is that friend now? Well, after attending and graduating from JAMS on scholarship, Veronica is studying computer science at Multimedia University where she is one of four girls in a program of over a hundred students. Veronica is also a member of Girls Tech, an organization that she wants to help grow in an effort to empower more girls. She wants to “let them know that computers are not all about boys. It can be all about girls.” This young woman is already making an impact on the world. Without her scholarship, she would never have had the chance even to attend school.

Another student who is such a joy to listen to is Lynnet – who served as (what we in the U.S. call) the valedictorian of the first ever graduating class of JAMS. During her gap year (most students in Kenya have to wait up to a year before they are able to start at university), she returned to JAMS where she helped around the school – she baked bread, took care of the chickens, helped in the garden, wherever she was needed. In return, she was able to earn some money to save for her fees for her first year of university. Now, university degree in hand, she talks about how education has been an equalizer. Lynnet has returned once again to JAMS and now teaches alongside of the people who taught her.

In many ways, JAMS is unlike any school I have ever set foot in. In others, there are stories that are all too familiar. If not before the pandemic, certainly now – people in the U.S. have become more aware of how much some families rely on schools for things other than education. For some students, lunch at school is the only meal they eat that day. As Lynnet noted, food security had been a real issue for students such as herself. “At times, we could take two meals a day. We could even go without a meal. You wake up in the morning, there is nothing to eat. We go to school; at lunch time, when we come back [home], there is nothing to eat. At night, maybe you just get porridge, or there is no porridge.” At JAMS, students get three meals a day every single day. No time is spent worrying about when, or if, they will get their next meal.

Another way that JAMS provides safety for its students is that corporal punishment is not allowed. And yes, you did read that correctly. Corporal punishment, or caning, is still rampant in most government schools in Kenya. To say it was heartbreaking to hear students like Revela talk about the punishment she faced at other schools is an understatement: “You went to school, and you are scared from the minute you get to school. The teacher will always find something to punish you about. Sometimes it was not even your fault.” She continues by saying, “You were taught to pass, not to learn. You were taught to do well on exams. If you don’t, you are punished. It was not like you were taught to know the concept.”

From day one, Teresa was adamant that corporal punishment, truly a barrier to education, would not be allowed at JAMS. “I always believed,” Teresa said, “when you are oppressed, you become the worst oppressor. Many of these teachers have been oppressed in their own lives, and the only people they can oppress are students.” In addition to no caning, students were actually encouraged to ask questions of their teachers. At JAMS, “you’d go to school and want to go to school,” Revela stated. “You were meant to feel like you were in school to learn, and they were there to make you better.”

To truly understand what Teresa and Andrew have created at JAMS, we have to look no further than at what Pheobean had to say about the school: “JAMS to us, and to me, was and is still a place to call home. You go to JAMS, and you don’t even miss home because already you are home.”

There are two moments in particular within these interviews that I feel really do demonstrate what I witnessed during my time at JAMS. One involves the empowerment of these young women. More than learning information in books, they are learning that they can make a difference, and the confidence this realization brings is just so heartwarming. As Pheobean said, “Woman can really change the world. We can be leaders, we can be scientists, lecturers. We can do these things out here. It’s not only for men. We have the ability.” The key according to Pheobean? Education. (I also want to note a joyous moment that occurred when she was asked about her performance at university. Pheobean is studying genetic engineering in a program where there are four boys to every one girl. When Teresa asked her, “Are you doing better than some of the boys?” – Pheobean smiled so brightly and, without hesitation, responded, “Of course, yes. Almost all of them.”) The other moment, the first of many moments that brought tears to my eyes, was when Jean and Teresa asked Revela how her future might be different because she attended JAMS. She simply stated, “My future is already different.”

All proceeds from Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

JAMS Foreword

Below is the foreword from Voice of Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls:

Set into a lush green hillside of Muhoroni, Kenya (near Fort Ternan), is the Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls (JAMS), founded by Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno. The school is named for Teresa’s mother who identified the ten acres on which the compound sits. After breaking ground in 2009, the school opened its doors in 2011 to twelve Form One (i.e., freshman) students. As these students moved up, new classes were added behind them, and in 2014, the year of the school’s first graduation, there were eighty students spanning the four forms. In 2019, the school reached capacity enrollment with 165 students.

To say that Teresa and Andrew have changed the lives of these young women who have attended JAMS is an understatement. Of the first six classes who graduated from JAMS, 100% of them have sat for and passed their Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam, and 70% of them have achieved scores high enough to qualify them to move on to higher education, either vocational college or university. (This is double the national average, which is approximately 35%.1)

In Kenya, primary school (first through eighth grade) is compulsory and in 2003 became tuition-free. Secondary school, though, is not required, and fees kept a number of students from being able to continue. In 2008, a policy was created, but never implemented, to make secondary school tuition-free. While the government provides subsidies for teacher salaries (though only for those they specifically employ) and teaching materials (22,244 Kenyan shillings, which is just under 200 USD), parents are still responsible for boarding equipment and stores, transportation, and a portion of maintenance and improvement fees, activity fees, electricity fees, and administration and personnel salaries. Depending on the category of the school, this cost can amount to 40,535-53,554 Kenyan Shillings (about 350-470 USD; while this may not sound like a lot, remember that the current average yearly salary in Kenya is 140,000 shillings, which is about 1,230 USD)2. This doesn’t even include extra fees schools themselves may also add for things like building new classrooms, new dormitories, or other equipment.

Providing subsidies allowed the country’s enrollment to grow a bit, increasing from 43% to 67%. As a result, enrollment in higher education then nearly doubled between 2012 and 2014. For reference, recent gross enrollment for tertiary education was 11.5% – 13.2% for males and 9.7% for females. It is important to note that funding for public higher education institutions was then cut in 2015, putting a larger burden on students who qualified to attend and creating another financial barrier to education.3

In addition, we need to add to the list of barriers occasions that may keep a student home (which disproportionately affect female students), such as wage-earning jobs, help needed within the family home, and lack of access to clean water and hygiene products during menstruation. Even after all of this, girls who are able to make it into the classroom still face significant barriers from teacher credentials and attitude. (In a study done by Cynthia B. Lloyd et al., they found that “[w]ith each 10 percent increment in the number of teachers who say that studying math is ‘important’ for girls, the chance of girls dropping out decreases by 47 percent.”4) Another anecdote that I learned while visiting the school was about a primary experience where the girls in the class were sent during class to fetch water from the nearby river for their teachers to drink, thereby missing out on instruction. The boys were never sent.

The work being done at Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls is combating all of these barriers that are set up between girls and their education. One way they are doing this is through fundraising for the purpose of scholarships. $800 covers a full year of tuition, room and board, school supplies, uniforms, and books for a student – bringing to life Teresa’s goal of a “school good enough for the richest and open to the poorest” (quote attributed to Horace Mann).

This book you are holding is one such fundraising endeavor. During the summer of 2014, JAMS students participated in a “Memoir Writing for Empowerment” curriculum where they told the stories they wished to tell in their own voices. Students were given the option to publish within this collection, and they were excited knowing that their work would go on to help other girls who wished to study at JAMS.

Why memoir? Well, “[t]he world’s earliest archives or libraries were the memories of women. Patiently transmitted from mouth to ear, body to body, hand to hand. The speech is seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and touched…Every woman partakes in the chain of guardianship and of transmission.”5 In pre-Colonial Africa, this rang true. More so, these stories were “peopled with heroines” where women have “been identified as founders of dynasties and civilizations” and who sometimes “transformed and re-created an existing body of oral traditions in order to incorporate women-centered perspectives.”5 Once colonized, there was a shift from the oral tradition to writing, and those with the skills not just to write, but write in the languages of the colonizers were the ones that got to tell the stories. Unsurprisingly, this system “created a hierarchy privileging men by virtually erasing any meaningful female presence.”6 As Tuzyline Jita Allen notes, “women, originators of the text, [we]re reduced to a footnote.”5 Through her work, Allen found, interestingly, that often times women silenced themselves. She proposes that this might have been due to wanting to avoid criticism or censure, and that just as Virginia Woolf ‘rightfully’ renamed Anon as Woman, in printed work it is likely that the initialed first name of South African writers were in fact women. “In a chaotic mix of race, gender, ethnic, class and language conflicts, the creative women in South Africa seem to have smuggled [their] art into the public arena by hiding behind the mask of the initial.”5

It wasn’t until 1966 that Africa saw its first published novel written by an African woman – Efuru by Flora Nwapa. By this time, Obioma Nnaemeka states that “a uniquely male literary tradition was already in place,” and “one of the consequences of this situation was that, thematically and stylistically, African women writers and particularly those of the first generation showed close affinities with their male counterparts.”6 These African women writers, Nnaemeka continues, were hyperaware of their readers and critics, which were usually male, and worked to “deploy different strategies to (re)present the specificity of their postionality.”6 In other words, these women were well aware of the history that preceded them, the culture they were existing in, the importance of their craft, and the importance of their voice. One such writer, Dr. Margaret Ogola, states, “I always say that I have worked a lot and saved many lives, but it is the power of the pen that has brought me to where I am. Women have a story to be told, and they have an angle from which only women can tell that story.”7

We are thrilled to finally share the words inside this collection with you. We thank you for your donation to the Jane Adeny Memorial School for Girls Scholarship Fund. Some notes – first, please know that in order to preserve each writer’s individual voice, minimal editing was done to these stories; also, these are written in British English, which has some spelling differences compared to American English.

These stories give insight into a time before these girls came to JAMS. We’ve added post-JAMS updates for the students we have contact with, though for more substantial updates on what some of these students have accomplished after graduation, be sure to check out the afterward.

NOTES

  1. “History – Friends of Jane Adeny Memorial School.” Friends of JAMS, 2021, https://jamskenya.org/about-us/history. Accessed 8 May 2021.
  2. “2023-2023 School Fees for National Schools, Extra County Schools, County and All Boarding Schools.” Education News Hub, https://educationnewshub.co.ke/2022-2023-school-fees-for-national-schools-extra-county-schools-county-and-all-boarding-schools/. Accessed 10 Mar 2022.
  3. “Education in Kenya.” World Education News + Reviews, 2 June 2015, https://wenr.wes.org/2015/06/education-kenya. Accessed 8 May 2021.
  4. Lloyd, Cynthia B., Barbara S. Mensch, and Wesley H. Clark. “The Effects of Primary School Quality on School Dropout among Kenyan Girls and Boys.” Comparative Education Review, vol. 44, no. 2, 2000, pp. 113-147.
  5. Allen, Tuzyline Jita. “Doing Archival Research in South Africa for Women Writing Africa.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 3/4, 1997, pp. 245-248.
  6. Nnaemeka, Obioma. “From Orality to Writing: African Women Writers and the (Re)Inscription of Womanhood.” Research in African Literatures, vol. 25, no. 4, 1994, pp. 137-157.
  7. Kuria, Mike. Talking Gender: Conversations with Kenyan Women Writers. Nairobi, Kenya: PJ – Kenya. 2003.

All proceeds from Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

My Time at JAMS

The moment the wheels of the plane lifted off the runway, my nerves finally settled down. I’ve come to realize that in moments like this, I let go of being nervous because the trip is officially out of my hands. I made it to the airport, got through security, got onto the right plane, and my luggage is stored in a bin above me. Nothing left to do but read.

I still couldn’t believe I was finally leaving the country for the first time, though. Or that I was headed to Africa for my first international trip. Most of my life, Italy or Scotland was going to be my first trip. But then a significant life event occurred, and I decided to take opportunities as they came. Just so happens my first opportunity was to travel to Kenya. (Thanks in part to some funding provided by my college’s International Ed Committee.)

I really loved my time at the school (when planning, three weeks seemed sufficient – once there, I immediately knew three weeks was going to be far too short). These young women were the hardest working students I had ever seen – they knew quite starkly that this education could completely change their lives – and they took it that seriously. For some, it would pull them out of a cycle of poverty. In addition, a chance at attending a college or university could propel them even higher. In Kenya, students have a high-stakes exam at the end of the high school years that will dictate if they can continue on to college/university. Because of this, students can be found in the classrooms before classes studying and teaching one another. They also have a required lights out at 10:30 so that they don’t study all night long.

The school is well-built and sits on a hillside with a gorgeous view – overlooking sugar cane fields with green mountains in the distance. Thankfully, the rain held off for most of our trip, and we had beautiful, blue skies. I spent my mornings watching the sun come up, admiring the country – and every time I walked by a window, I couldn’t help but pause. I felt incredibly fortunate to have been a part of this school for even a little while.

Before my trip, I had done research about the Kenyan educational system (as part of the independent study I completed while creating the memoir writing curriculum). Even so, I was not prepared for what I saw. In comparison to schools in the U.S., there are people that I’m sure would see JAMS as a school that was lacking (though I want to be clear – JAMS is not lacking – if anything, they showed me how many barriers to education we create in our own classrooms here with all the unnecessary bells and whistles). What I saw were young women who were eager to learn, teachers who were ready to support them, and everything either could possibly need to do so.

And then we started touring some of the government-funded schools. There was a primary school just down the hill from us, which I’ll discuss more in posts to come – about the lack of basic necessities (like desks for students to sit in so that they don’t have to sit on the concrete floor). Then our guide took us to the kindergarten “room” – a small tin shack set apart from the school building. Medium-sized rocks had been brought in and set in rows with old two-by-four planks of wood laid across them for the students to sit on. At the front of the shack, pieces of cardboard sat against the wall. On one piece, someone has written out the alphabet in capital and lower case letters. Our guide informed us that they had to keep remaking the lessons because people would steal the cardboard for kindling.

Touring these other schools made me appreciate JAMS even more. In comparison, JAMS feels like a paradise. Students get three meals a day, they sleep in the dormitory on the grounds so that they don’t have to worry about being kept home from school to care for chores around the house. They are encouraged to ask questions and to actually learn concepts (as opposed to simply being able to regurgitate information back for the test). There are enough books and desks for every one of them.

It’s not hyperbole to say that my point of view, as a person and especially as an educator, was altered forever.

This picture to the right shows Andrew Otieno and Teresa Wasonga – the founders of JAMS. Right before the photo was taken, Andrew snuggled up next to Teresa, and everyone present went “Awww” – thus Teresa’s laughter. Originally from Kenya, the two brought their sons to the U.S. because they knew the opportunities that awaited them here. But that didn’t mean they forgot where they came from. Teresa had a dream of building this school for girls in an effort to ensure young women still there had a chance to get at an education that could lift them from poverty. The school has done so much more than that.

Whenever someone learns about my trip to JAMS, they always ask if I would ever go back. My answer is always the same: In a heartbeat.

All proceeds from Voices of Jane Adeny Memorial School will go directly to the Friends of JAMS scholarship fund. The Kindle version is priced at $9.99; the paperback is priced at $15. If you are interested in helping further, please consider also donating directly to the Friends of Jams scholarship fund.

Your Donation  Provides:
$50  A year of school supplies for one student (calculator, writing materials, notebooks)
$100  Full set of school uniforms for a student
$250  Solar battery to power a campus building
$500  Textbooks for a student for 4 years
$800  Full Sponsorship for 1 year for one student (tuition, room & board, school supplies, uniforms, books)

A Story a Day: Month Five

For this month, I wanted to read fairy tales and folklore from other countries (aside from one that is New Orleans based but is about voodoo). I found the stories below through the World Mythology and Folklore website. As with the previous four months, I have no idea what these stories are about – the goal is simply to experience new writing. Feel free to read along!

  1. The Vanishing Wife” from Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort by Richard Edward Dennett
  2. Story of the Tortoise and the Elephant
  3. A story about a chief” from Hausa Folk-Lore” by Maalam Shaihua (Translated by R. Sutherland Rattray) (Full disclosure – I’m severely arachnophobic, so “the origin of the spider” is definitely a step out of my comfort zone!)
  4. The Dance for Water or Rabbit’s Triumph” from South-African Folk-Tales by James A. Honey
  5. Tin City” from Drums and Shadowsby Georgia Writer’s Project
  6. The Children are Sent to Throw the Sleeping Sun Into the Sky” from Specimen of Bushman Folklore by W.H.I. Bleek and L.C. Lloyd
  7. Why Some Men are White and Some are Black” from Notes on the Folklore of the Fjort by Richard Edward Dennett
  8. Tiger Softens his Voice” from Jamaica Anansi Stories by Martha Warren Beckwith
  9. The Last of the Voudoos” from An American Miscellany by Lafcadio Hearn
  10. Buruldai Bogdo, No. I” from A Journey in Southern Siberia by Jeremiah Curtin
  11. The Woman Who Married the Moon and the Ke’le” from Chukchee Mythology by Waldemar Bogoras
  12. Story of Rostevan, King of Arabians” from The Man in the Panther’s Skin by Shot’ha Rust’haveli (Translated by Marjory Scott Wardrop)
  13. The Brother and Sister” from Forty-Four Turkish Fairy Tales by Ignácz Kúnos
  14. How the World was Made” from Philippine Folklore Stories by John Maurice Miller
  15. The Cony Who Got into Bad Company” from Tibetan Folk Tales by A.L. Shelton
  16. The Island of Women” from Aino Folk-Tales by Basil Hall Chamberlain
  17. Te Kanawa’s Adventure with a Troop of Fairies” from Polynesian Mythology & Ancient Traditional History of New Zealanders by Sir George Grey
  18. Legend of Kana and the Rescue of Hina” from Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Beckwith (navigate to page 383)
  19. The Samoan Story of CreationA ‘Tala’” from Journal of the Polynesian Society
  20. The Piper and the Púca” from Fairy and Folk Takes of Irish Peasantry edited and selected by W. B. Yeats
  21. A Cure for Storytelling” (pg 333) from Russian Folk-tales (in translation) by A. N. Afanas’ev
  22. The Flaming Horse” (pg 43) from Czechoslovak Fairy Tales retold by Parker Fillmore
  23. The Good Ferryman and the Water Nymphs” (pg 51) from Polish Fairy Tales translated from AJ Glinski by Maude Ashurst Biggs
  24. The Daughter of the Rose” from Roumanian Fairy Tales and Legends by E. B. Mawer
  25. The Wicked Stepmother” (pg 113) from Serbian Folk-lore selected and translated by Madam Csedomille Mijatovies
  26. Battle of the Owls” from Hawaiian Folk Tales by Thomas G. Thrum
  27. The Thirteenth Son of the King of Erin” from Myths and Folk-lore of Ireland by Jeremiah Curtin
  28. The Fairy Harp” from The Welsh Fairy Book by W. Jenkyn Thomas
  29. The White Witch, or Charmer of Zennor” (Part One) from Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol I by William Bottrell
  30. The White Witch, or Charmer of Zennor” (Part Two) from Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, Vol I by William Bottrell
  31. A Fairy Detected in Changing an Infant” from The Folk-Lore of the Isle of Man by A. W. Moore

National Poetry Month – Olivia Gatwood

I honestly don’t even remember where I first encountered Gatwood’s poetry – but I’m thankful for that moment. Like the other poets I’ve shared this month, it is ridiculously easy for me to fall down a YouTube-shaped rabbit hole of Gatwood’s work. I also really love sharing her poems with my own students. I’ve even shaped a specific assignment around her.

You see, Gatwood has a series of Ode poems that she has written about things that society has told her to be ashamed of – everything from the color pink to her RBF to, yes, her period underwear. One of my favorites, though, is the Ode she wrote to the women on Long Island. So I ask my students to do the same – to write an ode in favor of something they are told they shouldn’t celebrate. It’s one of my favorite prompts.

You can find links to her books (New American Best Friend and life of the party) on her website, as well as fall down a rabbit hole of her poetry performances on YouTube. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.