Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Teacher frustrations: the same everywhere

There are many rewarding things about being a teacher, but there are also things that make you want to pull your hair out, no matter where you are.

One of the main things I am here to work on is the writing programs at the schools BEADS works with. I have been trying to compile some of the best student writing to put in a little booklet, because we figure the students will be inspired by seeing their work in print. But I'm feeling a little irked by the local standard of good writing. It seems as though what is most prized and encouraged in the students' writing -- the skill they work hardest to hone -- is the lavish use of similes. Not original similes, but a sort of standard list that everyone must get issued at a "here's how to write like the pros" seminar held sometime around fifth grade.

Also, in sifting through eighth grade writing I was given, I was at first amazed by the number of really exceptional experiences these students have had, such as multiple homicides, gang violence, terrible accidents, mysterious deaths -- until I realized that no one writes about things that have actually happened. I think the usual assignment consists of giving the students the title of their story ("A Narrow Escape" seems popular) and having them loosely transcribe the plot line of a week's worth of Guiding Light. Kind of like this:
I awoke and jumped from my bouncy bed and went to the frog's kingdom. I took a shower as cold as ice and then felt as fresh as a daisy and as cool as a cucumber. I was as happy as a lark when I sat down to a breakfast fit for a king. I was as busy as a bee washing the dishes. It was as quiet as a grave. Then I heard a noise and shook like a leaf [where might be added in red pen "on a tree in the wind"].
I will spare you now, but that's a taste of the agony. The thing is, the little kids, the ones who haven't yet "learned how to write," there are some great stories from those guys. For these, there is yet hope, and in such hope we soldier on, and may God have mercy on our souls.

Boring list of animals we've seen in Africa

...with a bonus puppy picture to keep you interested.

We've seen more than this, but check out the awesome pictures of the dik dik and klipspringer.

African wild dog, camel, cow, dik dik, dog, elephant, giraffe, goat, hyena, impala, klipspringer, maribou stork, olive baboon, ostritch, pygmy falcon, sheep, superb starling, Thomson's gazelle, warthog, waterbuk, white-bellied go-away-bird, zebra.

(L-R) Bridget, Rufus, Piglet.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


When it comes to puppies, the old phrase "one is too many, a thousand is never enough" seems to apply. After spending a few days with our yet-unnamed dog (Winston? Doggert? Egon? He hasn't responded reliably to any of these) we realized he would be a lot happier if he had a friend from his pack to be with -- something to bite and chew on other than my arm, and to jump around with or cuddle with as the mood strikes.

So, we went by the house where the dogs were and asked after another -- a girl, so we could name it Sonmi-451. The first dog they pulled from the box was runty and shivering, and making very soft pig noises, like that first scene where Fern gets Wilbur and he's all wrapped in the blanket and stuff. And then they pulled out another girl, a grey with bluish eyes, bigger, beautiful, and sturdier seeming, and then we asked them to please stop or I would want to take every one of them home. How can you look into the tick-swarming eyes of a malnourished pup and say "yeah, I think I liked the other one better"?

We decided to take the first one, as she seemed more in need of attention, and more submissive, which might have just been a state of hunger-induced lassitude; she gets feistier with each bowl of kibble. She is adorable -- see picture of her tiny body next to Jeremy's hand -- but she likes to crawl around on my head and bite my hair in the night when I'm sleeping. Hard. Like she's trying to eat my brains through my skull. I don't really like it. We found out that the puppies are only 6 weeks old, so they are just getting weaned and she's probably trying to suckle my follicles, which is disappointing for everyone involved. Tonight we'll try again to get the sleep situation worked out, as I don't do well with sleep deprivation. How will I ever have human babies? I've heard they're even more demanding than dogs....

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

New Puppy

Yes, we went to Amboseli National Park and assisted with BEADS's famine relief efforts. Yes, it was a moving and inspiring and beautiful experience.

But then we got back to school and within three hours of our return, we were presented with a small, flea-covered puppy:

So I went and bought some flea shampoo and the only dog food they have in town, a noxious dry mixture of grains and bonemeal called TOP DOG which must be mixed with water and boiled for 5 minutes before it is fit to serve to a discerning canine.

Dogs are mistreated in Kenya as a matter of routine; people throw stones at and kick them... just because. As a result, most mature dogs you see flinch and retreat if you so much as look at them. This has made us sad. So when a group of students hands us a tiny, unspoiled puppy, it takes a hard heart to tell them to put it back in the gutter in which they found it mewling pitifully.


So now the dog lives with us. When we thought it was a girl, we were going to name it Sonmi-451, after our favorite character from Cloud Atlas, which we just finished reading. But now we kinda think it's a boy, and none of the male characters in Cloud Atlas have good dog names.

What the hell are we going to do with this dog when we go to Europe for three weeks in December? What about the months we're in India, Nepal, SE Asia, and road-tripping back across the USA? This remains unclear. Once, while working on a movie in New Mexico for a month, my girlfriend Rachel and I did not tell a stray puppy to scram. It lived with us and the rest of the movie crew for a month and when it was time to return to Los Angeles, we abandoned it. This memory makes me sad. I do not want to make the same mistake.

I mean look at this thing. All it wants is to be cute and to steal some of your body heat.