Monday, December 28, 2009

Paul Norton: The First Run & Silgich

Norton in KenyaBrandeis student Paul Norton traveled to Kenya this past summer to intern with the KIMbia Foundation.  Below, we continue sharing his journal entries, which will run daily for the remainder of the 2009.

“Swing Paul, swing!” was what I heard from Mike, a worker at Silgich who used to train at one of the famous Kenyan camps told me the last 200 meters of our run.  It might have been the hardest end of a run I’ve ever had.  You hear it all the time, but you don’t realize until you get there that this country is seeping with running talent.  The two men living next door to me are both workers at the school, but also happen to be semi-elite runners in their spare time.  Sammy ran 2:25 in his marathon debut at the Nairobi marathon, which is an impressive time to begin with, let alone the fact that it was at 5000 feet. Mike has run 14:20 for 5000 meters, and at 6000 feet.

It seems like almost everything Kenyans do can help their running.  The relaxed way they go about the day keeps them from suffering the fatigue that hits many crazed overcommitted NCAA runners.  Ugali, my friend Frederick told me, is supposed to make farmers strong and help them get through long days of hard labor. Despite the immense amount of talent in Kenya I am amazed with how supportive everybody is of my running endeavors.  Mike and Sammy, two of the very fast and talented workers from the school who I train with, practically tell me what to do every day.  They keep telling me how impressed they are with my progress the first few days and say when I come home I’ll break 14 minutes (we’ll see about that).  The headmaster at Silgich even asked me if I represented my country internationally in athletics.  He said he was impressed with my speed around the track (when I was running with middle schoolers).   I am quite sure I will have more to add to this after some time in Iten!

After just a few days here I am continually amazed with how gracious everybody is.  My first night here I was treated to an assembly with the whole school where the drama group performed a play and the girls choir sang and danced for me, concluding with a rousing chorus of karibu mzungu, or “welcome white person” in Swahili.  The students here are extremely disciplined and enthusiastic about learning, and are painfully polite.  When I clumsily dropped a piece of chalk on the ground while teaching a math class, the students all immediately began to apologize and picked up the chalk before I even realized what was happening.

After I finished teaching the math class, Victor, a sixth grader, ran up to me with his English book and said, “Teach us!”  I walked into the class, thinking I would ask the teacher how I could assist, but she wasn’t there yet.  Victor pointed to the page of the book they were on and insisted I started teaching.  Not wanting to say no, I began, figuring the teacher would take over.  However, when she walked in and I offered her the chalk and book, she told me to keep going because the students were so excited about me being there. Every time I ask a question in class, it seems almost all the hands go up instantly.  They are dying to show me what they know and to keep learning.

I’ve also had a lot of fun introducing board games to the students. I wanted to bring some kind of gift that everybody could use, and so I brought two of my favorite board games, Scrabble and Connect Four. When I brought Scrabble to the eighth grade class, they looked in awe at the board; the letters, even at the little wood stands for the letters.  When I made the first word, the students were a little confused, but with the help of the teacher and myself they quickly caught on. I soon couldn’t keep straight what was happening as all of the students attacked the board with letters attempting to form words. If they had a particular word in mind and couldn’t find the letter they needed they would ask one of the other students playing.  I really didn’t have much of a chance at all to explain some of the more mundane rules of the game, so by the end of the game there wasn’t a score and the board resembled a word search more than a traditional
scrabble game, but that was beside the point.  The students were having a ton of fun, and expanding their vocabulary while they were at it.

I had a similar experience introducing Connect Four to the second graders.  When I showed them how to put the pieces in, they all of a sudden just started stuffing the cage (or whatever you call that thing) with pieces.  I played with one of the teachers to try and show the goal of the game, and soon enough they caught on.  The biggest challenge was curbing the enthusiasm, as sometimes they would want to put two or three pieces in at a time.   Eventually, they calmed down and then even started to use strategies to trick the other team into letting them get the coveted four in a row.

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