Monday, May 4, 2015

Adventures in Kenya Series - Day 1 - Amsterdam Layover

I'm writing this post from 30,000 feet somewhere between Amsterdam and Nairobi.
I want to get my memories from today down before trying to get some sleep on this overnight flight.

Lori and the kids dropped me off at the airport in Newark yesterday afternoon.  It was hard to say goodbye to them.  I'm going to miss them.

The flight from Newark to Amsterdam was uneventful. I sat next to a nice Nigerian woman.  She was surprised that I knew a bit about Nigeria, and that I have collaborated with several Nigerian teachers before.  I tried to sleep as much as possible on the flight, and got about 5 hours of very broken shut-eye, never more than 20 minutes at a time. The best pqrt of the flight was undoubtedly finding these homemade cookies that my daughter snuck into my bag. The note reads:

"Dear Dad,
I love you and I hope you have a great time in Kenya. I know this sounds weird, but I'm super proud of you.
Love, your favorite person,

As we approached Schipol Airport, we flew over the tulip fields of Kukenhof.  That was quite a sight. My airplane window photo doesn't do it justice.
Tulip fields from the air

After getting off the plane, I made it through customs, put my carry-on luggage in a locker, and was on a train to Central Station in less than 45 minutes.  When I got into Amsterdam around 8:30, the city was still asleep.  Not much was open so I wandered around getting a feel for the layout and took a few pictures. Dam square was almost devoid of people, and took a panarama.

Outside the airport

Dam Square
At 10AM I made my way to Yellow Bike Rental for a 2 hour small city bike tour that I had reserved. I enjoyed this a lot.  Bike tours are a great way to get an overview of a city in a short amount of time. Our guide Petra was a university student. She brought us to many of the most notable landmarks in the city, and in true university student fashion, told us all the cheapest places to buy beverages. I was the only American on the tour - others were from Australia, Albania, and I enjoyed some nice conversation with a woman from Hanoi, Vietnam.

Petra, our guide
After the tour I stopped into a small cafe near a canal and had a small panini - mostly because I wanted to use their free wifi to send Skype messages to Lori and the kids wishing them a good morning. The mozerella, pesto, and fresh tomato sandwich was pretty good, though.
One of many beautiful canals
Around 1:45 I met up with my friend Marjolein Hoeksta who I met through the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert program. We started the afternoon with a "100 highlights" canal cruise, which was relaxing and enjoyable. It was hard to stay quiet and listen to the narration because she and I had so much to catch up on.

After the cruise we walked for a bit until we found a little fritte shop by a quiet canal.  We each had a cone of frittes (mine were with mayo), and chatted while our feet dangled over the canal wall.  It was an awesome "Amsterdam-ish" experience.

A selfie with Marjolein on a bridge over a canal
When the frittes were gone we set up my GoPro camera on a tripod and recorded a 10 minute video in which I asked her questions about Remembrance Day, Liberation Day, and the Netherlands, and she shared insights about her country.  Previously students in Tammy Lavoy and Tanya Cunningham's classes back home had come up with questions that they wanted to know, and we used those as a guide for the interview.  In addition, Marjolein has set up an amazing OneNote notebook with lots of information for them on their questions.  We're hoping that the notebook and video spark some further research by the kids.  The video will be posted on YouTube as soon as I upload it.  We were hoping to do this as a live Skype call, but we didn't find an appropriate place with good wifi.

We ended the afternoon by walking around the flower market a bit, and chatting over a cup of coffee at a cafe.  She walked me back to Central Station where I cought a train back to the airport.

At 8PM an announcement came on over the airport speakers announcing that there would be a moment of silence in remembrance of soldiers that had died in and since World War II.  When the bugle played and the moment began, you could hear a pin drop in the airport. The reverance was tangible.  Marjolein had told me that even traffic on the streets and trains stop during this moment each year.

Soon afterwards I boarded the flight I'm on now to Nairobi. I thought I might get lucky and have two empty seats next to me for a minute, but the last two people who got on the plane sat next to me. Oh, well. They seem nice.  Not sure where they are from, but Spanish is their native language.

As I'm typing this I just got a Skype message from my wife (I paid for wifi during the flight so I could blog) telling me that Abby has a 102 fever and a bear got into our garbage. I'm feeling pretty bad about leaving her to hold down the fort for 2 weeks. Many of the things that I do wouldn't be possible if it weren't for her being supportive and holding things together on the back end. I don't know how, but I've got some making it up to her to attend to when I get home.

Well, I'm powering down for a while.  7 hours until I touch down in Kenya, and I plan to hit the ground running.  Shopping for school supplies tomorrow so that I have them for my visits to Cheery and Havilla later in the week.  As they say at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Florida, "Let the Adventure Begin!"

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Adventures in Kenya Series - Final Preparations, Packing List

This post is being cross-posted from my education blog A Teacher's Life for Me. All posts in this series will be posted on both blogs.

The first leg of my flight to Amsterdam leaves Newark, NJ at 5:50 this evening.  With the time change, I will arrive around 8AM in the Netherlands tomorrow if everything is on time.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit nervous. Many times I have told teachers I was working with or students in my classes that being out of our comfort zone is where learning happens.  So, I figure I'm right where I should be.

The aspect of the trip that has me slighly uncomfortable is the lack of exact planning. When we travel as a family, or when I go to a conference to speak, I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of every hotel reservation, flight, meeting, etc.  The nature of this trip is that it can't be planned that way.  And, that's OK. I've got a general idea of where I'm going and what I'm doing most days, but where exactly I'll be sleeping, or eating, or what I will experience at many locations is still a mystery to me. I guess that's why it feels like an adventure. I think it's important for me to let the experience happen organically. That's the way I will get the most out of it, and bring the most home.  It's probably a good lesson for me to learn to let go.

Sushi, Thai food, and the Kentucky Derby.
My horse finished 4th
I know I'm going to miss Lori and the kids a great deal while I'm gone. Since this is a professional blog, I rarely bring my personal life into posts, but the three of them are the world to me. I've travelled quite a bit in the last 2 years since winning PAEMST, but this will be the longest I've been gone and the time change and connectivity issues will make it more difficult than ever to keep in touch with them.  I'm still planning to Skype them as often as possible, even if it's evening for me and before they leave for school in the morning.  We spent a great last day together today watching the new Marvel Avengers movie that just opened and then watching the Kentucky Derby with family over sushi and Thai food. Like many great days, this one ended with ice cream.

Ice-cream is a great way to end a day
Almost every night before bed I read from the Harry Potter series to my son. I've downloaded the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to my iPad, and I'm hoping to steal a few minutes here and there to record myself reading on YouTube to send back to him to watch before bed.

I started my anti-malarial pills yesterday.  So far, I haven't experienced any nasty side effects. I also had a few cranberry and tonic waters at dinner. I hear the quinine in the tonic keeps mosquitos away, so I'm going to try drinking it as much as I can. 

To be as low-maintenence as possible, I got my hair clipped uber-short.  It's the shortest I've ever had it cut.  As an added bonus, my insanely awesome Tilley Hat fits better now. 

Choosing what to bring has been a challenge. I'm allowed two checked bags that can weigh up to 50 lbs each.  They are both maxed out on weight. 

One bag is filled with supplies for the schools. I'm bringing over base-10 blocks, colored counting chips, lots of different numbered dice, number lines, cuisinare rods, Judy clocks, and fraction blocks for some of the students with whom I'll be working.  I'll be giving their teachers a crash course in teaching with hands-on math materials.  Each of the materials I'm bringing has been featured in a Distance Teaching Project video by our Wallenpaupack students, so the teachers and students will be able to refer back to the videos to see how to use them as well.  In that bag I also have a few books and supplies that other teachers have sent to me to bring. I wish that I could have accomodated everyone that wanted me to bring supplies over to the kids in Kibera, but I just couldn't. We had some left-over University of Scranton hats that people didn't take at Edcamp NEPA, so I'm bringing them to give to new friends. It'll be nice to show some pride in my Alma Matter halfway around the world. The contents of that bag are padded nicely with some stuffed animals that Michael was looking to donate. I'm sure I'll find them happy homes in Kibera.

The second checked bag is filled with my clothes, toiletries, a few more school supplies, and some random items that will be fun to have.  At the request of Tracy Hanson from NGGE, who has been on an amazing trip around the world to promote student and community driven education, I am bringing some maple syrup and pancake mix.  I will be meeting her in Nairobi, and she wants to make pancakes with real syrup for our Kenyan friends.  I'm also bringing her a bottle of Advil, which she told me is tough to get in the parts of Africa she's been visiting (Kenya and Cameroon).  I had to switch suitcases while packing because of weight. The piece of luggage that I originally packed these items in was too heavy, so I switched to a rolling duffle bag that allowed me to get in a few extra pounds worth of stuff. 

Organizing my carry-on bag was a little tricky as well. All of the camera and electronic equipment I'm bringing to document the trip has to stay with me, but I also don't want to lug around a heavy pack all day in Amsterdam.  I'm bringing a GoPro camera with several mounts and an external microphone, my iPad, a Microsoft Surface 3 tablet/laptop, my Nikon D90 kit with a few lenses and filters, and a Dolica Ultra Lghtweight Tripod which is sturdy enough for my SLR and folds up to about 16 inches long and weighs less than 3lbs (less than the syrup and pancake mix in the other bag). The Surface 3 seems like the perfect travel device - lightweight, can be used as a tablet, but still functions as a laptop if needed. I'm also packing a few extra pairs of clothes in this luggage as well - in case my other bag gets lost for a few days. I'll be carrying any important documents and such in a money belt under my clothes, including the checks with money raised by our students, kids in Greece, and kids in Kansas that will provide water filters and clean drinking water to almost 500 students in Kibera schools, and 194 homes in the Slum.

For my few hours in Amsterdam I think I'll pack a small daypack in my carry-on bag which I can remove while in the city.  I'll leave the large bag in a locker at the airport and then pick it up before my overnight flight to Nairobi.  

I picked up a cheap Windows phone that I'll use while in Africa.  The plan is to get a Sim card the first day that I arrive with a phone number and data plan. It'll be kind of cool to have a Kenyan phone number.

I'm as ready as I can be, I think. Next time I post will likely be from the Netherlands as I wait for my plane to Kenya. I think I hear the call to post...