The Great Mystery Returns!

Posted April 21, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: The Great Mystery, Uncategorized

2012 Mystery LogoThe Great Mystery, Explorations Academy’s unique team problem solving challenge, returns this week with a vengeance! Both Super Sleuth and Family Edition teams have kicked their analytic skills into high gear, and as of this fine Monday morning, BOTH Super Sleuth and Family Edition prizes have been claimed.

We celebrate all those who participate in this rollicking adventure.  Four clues (for the Family Edition) and four separate clues (for Super Sleuths) had teams spending their Easter Weekend racing around Bellingham, checking their maps, crossing bridges, scratching their heads, braving Easter traffic to cross busy streets, and — in many cases — successfully locating the Week One Answer.  This morning saw a record number of teams coming in to claim a prize, although (unfortunately) there was but one Week One prize per challenge level to be had.

photo

The Family Edition prize went to the Last Ditch or Last Chance (they may be desperate, but they apparently still have identity issues too). This team received four free passes to enjoy an afternoon at the Spark Museum of Radio and Electricity.  The Super Sleuth prize, consisting of gift certificates for organic food at Terra Organica, was jointly claimed by two teams that arrived almost simultaneously in our office:  The Thing Finders and Ladies of the Eighties.  The Thing Finders, technically first, were kind enough to share the prize!

NEWS FLASH!!!  Speaking of prizes, we have added a new prize to this year’s Great Mystery!  Countless hordes of concerned local citizens have come forth to say that they have never heard of the Great Mystery and are unaware of how awesome an endeavor it really is.  (Feel free to tell your friends about The Great Mystery, by the way, since we still have room for a few more teams!)  So, the new prize is our Shameless Marketing Prize:  Submit your best photos or videos of your team in the thick of Great Mystery sleuthing, and we will collect them all and award a special prize to the best of them!  (While collecting them all for future promotional use, of course!)

Finally:  Please, as you go about your mysterious activities, honor the privacy and professional needs of the citizenry of our town.  We have had a few teams that thought they needed to ask a marine biologist where to find a “captive starfish” when the relevant clue was not under that person’s scientific purview…

Anyhow, thanks to you all for participating in this wonderful lark.  Stay tuned for more updates, and happy sleuthing!

Back in the USA

Posted February 27, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Kenya, Outreach

Spioce Tour 2Our Kenya Cluster has safely returned to American soil, and the group reports having had a series of powerful and vividly educative experiences.   You have read about some of those adventures here.  But don’t take our word for it:  Come hear the students’ stories and see the images of their trip firsthand, and ask questions directly of the travelers!

Two public events are scheduled for the public to learn about the Kenya Cluster’s amazing expedition.

On Monday, March 3, at 7pm, a Kenya presentation will kick off our Outreach Week activities.  This event will be held in the Explorations Academy Lower Level Theatre.  The event is free and open to the public — please help us spread the word and encourage anyone curious about Kenya or Explorations to join us.

Then, on Thursday March 20th at 7pm, another Kenya Presentation will take place at the Whatcom Museum, 121 Prospect Street in downtown Bellingham.  This is part of the Parks and Recreation Department’s Travelogue series.  Again the event is free and open to the public.

Also in our Outreach Week lineup next week:

•  TED Talk Tuesday Tuesday is March 4th:  We will show a TED talk on the theme of Happiness, followed by open discussion.

Forum on Parenting Teenagers is Wednesday March 5th:  We invite parents of teenagers to come share ideas and strategies for effective parenting.

Visitor Night is Thursday March 6th:  We will present Explorations Academy and how our school prepares young people to be global citizens.

Each of these events will be held at 7pm in our Lower Level Theatre, 1701 Ellis St. in central Bellingham.

We hope you can join us for one of our Kenya presentations or possibly one of our other Outreach Week events.  Thanks for your interest in and support for the incredible learning community that is Explorations Academy!

Kenya Update #8: The Tanzanian Coast

Posted February 5, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Kenya

Peponi Beach

Peponi Beach

Our group made it to the Tanzanian coastal village of Peponi, south of the town of Tanga, for some moist sea air and a big transition from the Amboseli Valley.  The temperatures, however, were no relief.  When even the locals in Equatorial Africa say that it is unseasonably hot, you have to believe them!  Fortunately, with the Indian Ocean lapping at the shore, a certain refreshment is at hand.

Snorkeling Boat

Snorkeling Boat

As mentioned in our last post, the travel from the Masai village to Peponi was long but painless, and the border crossing was mercifully simple.  As the teachers and students settled into Peponi, they found  a level of comfort that made it easy to cover substantial academic material.  And to introduce Logela to the experience of swimming, and do some snorkeling, and eat tropical fruits in abundance.

Mangrove

Mangrove

After a few days of transition in Peponi, it was time to pack up again and head for Zanzibar for the final part of our expedition.  The original plan had been to travel down the coast to Dar Es Salaam by bus and take a ferry to the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago.  However, the wisdom from the locals was that the bus ride on the gravel coast “highway” was less safe than hiring a boat to go direct from Peponi to Stone Town, Zanzibar’s largest city.  Thus, our intrepid travelers packed into two dhows — local flat-bottomed freight boats, not beautiful but surprisingly stable — and cruised across the western edge of the Indian Ocean to Stone Town.

Islamic Icon on the Bow of the Dhow

Islamic Icon on the Bow of the Dhow

This city, once a fishing village, gained stature in the 19th Century as a center of spice and slave trading and became the Sultinate of Zanzibar.  Now, it is a noisy city where our students visited markets, museums, and took a spice tour to learn about this aspect of the local economy.  They also got to see lots of historical architecture.  But the city, especially in the incredible heat, was an exhausting place to be after several weeks in remote areas.  So nobody complained when the time came to pack up and head out to the western side of the island for the group’s final stay of the trip, in Paje.

Arriving in Zanzibar

Arriving in Zanzibar

Jonathan Cooper, known as “Coop,” and one of our trip leaders, sent this narrative:

Habari ya asabuhi?  I hope this message finds everyone at the Bellingham location of Explorations Academy doing well.  Currently, the East Africa location is engaged in a class session here in Zanzibar with Aaron and the students discussing the article, “How Africa became Black.”  Next I will gather the group for a final discussion on the novel  “The Red Moon.”  Each student will help lead the discussion based on a question that he or she has generated. At the end they will begin their final project for the literature class.  This morning was a very productive one, as the group laid out a framework for the term end presentation.  There was a lot of writing, editing, collaborating, and feelings of accomplishment.  Moments like this have contributed to making this journey successful and enjoyable.

Spice Tour

Spice Tour

Before I go on, I apologize for the limited communication.  Internet has been scarce, so access to any communication other than texts has been minimal.  That said, let it be known that all of our voices have been behind the messages you’ve received.  Our leadership team has been an example of a well functioning, well supported, compassionate, and humor-loving team.  Suzy and Aaron have been a pleasure to teach, work, and travel with.  I look forward to sharing more stories and testaments in person!

Guess the Spice!

Guess the Spice!

Last night my Mom joined us in Zanzibar, having come all the way from Mwanza.  The students greeted her with excitement, respect, and interest in what she is doing, which she promptly returned by listening to stories their last 4 weeks of travel.  Hearing the students reflect on their experiences in Africa has been a refreshing and enjoyable reminder that the work we are doing is highly valuable and important.

Stone Town Market -- imagine the smells!

Stone Town Market — Imagine the smells!

Thank you all for your support!  I look forward to being involved with more of these academically, culturally, and personally challenging expeditions with Explorations Academy students in the future.  Asante sana.  Safari Njema!!

Stone Town Door

Stone Town Door

Stone Town Locals at Sunset

Stone Town Locals at Sunset

Kenya Update #7: Students Experience the Masai (B)

Posted February 1, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Kenya

Camping on Safari – America writes:

Masai SchoolchildrenWe left from Joseph’s boma and headed to Kili Springs Camp.  I did not expect to be traveling down a bumpy dirt road for hours on end.  After a while we got to a paved road that led us to a road that led us to a town called Kimana. It was a small but energetic town; I learned that it was recently developed to capture the tourism potential of being near Amboseli National Park. We saw a sprinkle of other Mwazungus (“whites,” in Swahili) traveling on motor bikes and in other vehicles, also headed to Kili Springs Camp.  Kili Springs is owned by a man named Benjamin who was affiliated with our last host, Joseph.  Benjamin made our stay incredibly comfortable and kept us very well fed.  It was a nice surprise to arrive and discover that our tents were already set up, with real beds in them!  Every pathway in camp was lined with volcanic rock and lit with oil lamps.  The restaurant had a delicious variety of food served buffet style.  From chapatis to fresh vegetables to meat stew, everything was delicious.  Although our stay there was short, we were constantly served with tea and coffee from our friendly host Benjamin – though were not able to get to know him well, he treated us like friends.

BloodlettingBloodletting – Myles writes:

We woke up early. It was six am and there was tea waiting for us. The Mandazi was still hot from Joyce’s kitchen; we were blessed with Joyce’s cooking and constant tea brewing.  Joseph, our main host, was going to take us to a blood letting. He said that it had been five years since the last one. Some students were uncomfortable with the process, so they stayed behind watching the morning fire.

Myles Learns to SpearWe walked to where the cattle were kept.  Joseph told us to wait outside of the acacia thorn fence until his men had a strong hold on the heifer.  He had a bow and one arrow that had a blunt, fingernail-length tip: Just enough to puncture an artery but short enough to avoid further damage.  We gathered up around the heifer while another man tied a rope around its neck exposing the large artery. Joseph fired the arrow multiple times but never reached the artery; the arrowhead could not puncture all of the layers of skin. He got a longer tipped arrow, pulled back and fired. Blood began rusihing out as a man named Jonathan, put a large gourd up to the wound.  Once the gourd was filled he began plunging it with a stick.  He pulled the stick out, caked with congealing blood. It looked like red string tangled around the lower half of the stick. He passed it to the surrounding children who were delighted and excited to eat. None of them were over the age of 12 and they were eating chunks of clotting blood.  Jonathan poured some blood into a coffee cup and passed it to our group.  After seeing a few of my classmates take a sip, I gave in. It was warm, very warm, salty, and very thick. I caught a small bit of clot in my teeth to make the flavor last.  After I swallowed, I felt my stomach go into a panic of confusion.  My heart began racing so i made a hasty walk to get my tea to help keep the blood down. After swishing the black tea around my mouth, I felt much better and was able to retain the blood.

Learning about PlantsWildlife Management – Daniel writes:

Kenya’s primary income is tourism, and in part to protect this income the Kenyan goverment has created Kenya Wildlife Services — known as the KWS — to protect, manage, and sustain the natural wildlife. The quality of the job KWS does is questionable, with many reports of bribing and turning a blind eye.  Their values are observable in their actions: when a Kenyan civilian is hurt, or their crops are damaged, KWS does little and will often deny the event and any responsibility. Nearly all spending on parks goes to the government, and the locals see very little of it.  Staying in the park can cost over $100 per night per person.

We stayed on the other side of the fence, where the locals have quality inns, ranches, and hotels.  Our base was on a large tract of land, 5 miles square, that is communally owned, well taken care of, and used for safaris.  All the wildlife that is seen in the KWS-managed park land is also available on this parcel, and the cost is less than $40 per night.  What is typically provided for you as a tourist is only superficial — to be responsible is to do research on your own to  better understand the situation.

As of now, our group has left the Masai and crossed the border into Tanzania.  It was a fairly smooth border crossing, though a bit surreal to have to get out and walk across some fifty yards of a sort of “no-man’s- land” to get to the other side.  The trip down to the coast, in hired vehicles associated with the resort we were heading for, was relatively uneventful but tiring.

The most exciting part of the trip resulted from the fact that Logela, who so generously hosted our group in his village,  refused payment for all he had done to help out.  Our teachers tried earnestly to pay at least something, without success.  So a compromise was reached, in which Logela accompanied the group down to stay for a day or two on the Tanzanian coast!  He had been to the ocean only once before in his life — despite living quite close, by American standards.  Logela, loved by everyone in our group, was a wonderful companion — he even led an evening circle discussion with students on respect and listening to elders.  Logela’s highlight was to go swimming for the first time in his life — it was a powerful experience for him!

Kenya Update #6: Students Experience the Masai (A)

Posted January 29, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Kenya

[Editor's Note:  Our group has now left the Masai  and at last has Internet access.  Thus we are able to provide student-written accounts and actual photos.  Any errors in fact or perspective are attributable to the editor.]

Encounter with the Masai — Hannah C. writes:

Logela

Logela

In spending time with Logela, we learned that he was a senior member of the Maasai tribe, that his name means “the chosen one” in Maasai, that he has killed many a lion, that he is, essentially, the most BA person we’re bound to meet.  Ever.  Yet this ripped, spear-toting, lion-slaying warrior was absolutely kind, friendly, hospitable, and insanely awesome to be around.  Living with him and his family in his home was a cultural eye-opener for us: having expected to revel in our differences, we instead reveled in our similarities. Our time with the Maasai, learning of their traditions and customs, is something we will treasure for years to come. 

Walking SafariEarly one evening at Logela’s boma, we set out to witness the sunset, a sight that proved to be utterly incredible to behold. We’d already trekked up the hill to see the sunrise; however, the journey was vastly different in the fading light than in the morning darkness. We followed Logela, tromping loudly, I’m sure, in comparison to his carefully-placed and experienced footsteps.

We traveled through fields and clearings, eventually arriving at a large collection of boulders, which acted somewhat as a throne amidst the flat savannah. We climbed to the top, each of us wordlessly dispersing to find a nook to nestle into, whether perched on the rock ledge or beneath an acacia.  And there we sat in silence and solitude, watching the sun sink below the horizon, staining the clouds in brilliant yellows and reds in its wake.  After dark, we followed Logela back through the bush, beginning our search for bush babies. We walked in silence and thick darkness, stopping every so often to scan the trees, holding our breath, anticipating the discovery of bush babies. We were unsuccessful in this endeavor.  However, the experience of being silently led by a Maasai warrior through the African grasslands in utter darkness was surreal, striking, and powerful.

Slaughter — Nathan writes:

Goat Gift Group

Not a pet, rather, Dinner

We eagerly followed to where the two were laid on their backs. The longer the wait, the more the goat shrieked and struggled. Knives were brought out, along with metal buckets. The sheep went first. One of the young Masai carried him by the legs to a cleared-out spot. His head and neck held over the bucket while our guide and friend Logela plunged a knife through the neck. After draining the blood into the bucket, he sawed through the rest of the neck. As he went through the esophagus, it released a huff of air as though the sheep’s last breath was cut short. The head was left dangling only by its spinal cord as the unopened carcass was laid on a pile of branches next to his now-convulsing and panicking partner in death.

Prepared Goat

Now was the goat’s turn. He was carried to the bucket, vigorously restrained, bleating louder than ever.  Logela plunged the dagger into his throat, but something went wrong. He broke the skin opposite the knife, entirely piercing the neck, but with no thick sanguine rainbow, no dying silence.  Our dinner was still kicking and screaming. Logela put the goat out of its misery as soon as he could, apologizing sincerely to the struggling creature.  In a moment, he hit the artery, followed by the relieving arc as the kicking stopped. The bleating weakly continued, but as Logela cut through the esophagus, there was one last airy, wheezing bleat, and he was laid next to his deceased cohort.  It was time for the gored duo to be prepared for the feast. Dogs and flies hovered, eager for their share.

Eating Goat

[This passage was heavily edited for the gastric security of readers. -- Editor]

We watched the butchering in fascination.  As the internal organs came out, they were identified one by one.  Two men pulled the kidneys from the goat, graying blue orbs connected by thick, purple cords. They cut the cords and peeled back a thin film, leaving a meaty, purple-red ball. They cut into the kidneys, eating a portion and passing the rest to us.  We nervously passed them around.  My teeth sank through the warm, soft, purple ball like butter.  The texture was tender and fiber-less, however the taste was intensely meaty & salty, leaving something to be desired.  Pointed sticks were poked into the meat to frame the slabs of muscle and prop out the broken ribs.  A fire was then built, and these ‘meat-kites’ were ready to be grilled. 

Game Drive — Hannah M. writes:

Kids at RanchWe got up early and went on a “game drive” in the dawn light because the animals are more active at that time of day. At the beginning we saw lots of zebras.  Continuing the game drive the cars stopped and we watched how a warthog moves and walks. Warthogs are brown and fuzzy little pigs and they run very fast. When they run, they put their tails up and they can run long distances. Their nickname is the Kenya Express!  Also, we saw elephants playing in the water and at one point they walked in front of the Land Rover as we were sitting on the roof.  I think the elephants were happy because they were free, able to play, and had plenty of water, even though it was the dry season. Later in the afternoon we saw elephants scratching themselves on the trees. 

Game DriveThroughout the game drive we saw Mount Kilimanjaro looming over us. Later on, we stopped at a river and observed hippos. We sat for half an hour and watched them roll over and splash themselves. Occasionally they yawned, exposing their huge teeth. The hippos moved very slow through the water. While we were watching the hippos, we also saw a troop of baboons playing on the other side of the river. Suddenly it started to rain. We stayed outside, enjoying the refreshing rain.  We also saw Maasi giraffes, a darker species than the other giraffes we had seen. Throughout the game drive we saw lots of large birds flying about. Masai Sunset

Kenya Update #5 — Living Among the Masai

Posted January 27, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Kenya

Suzy writes:

We are on top of a small rock outcropping, watching the sunset in silence with mt Kilimanjaro and Lake Amboseli center stage.  Beside us is the senior Maasai warrior, Logela, clad in blue robes and intricately beaded jewelry, holding a six foot spear, who brought us here.   It’s an amazing ending to another day of adventure!

maasai woman:child copy

We woke up around dawn to observe a special occasion, the bloodletting of a cow to so that the blood could be consumed by Logela’s sister, who gave birth a few days ago.  The birth prompted both this activity and also a giant celebration to be held tomorrow at the boma (compound) – we are invited! – to celebrate the baby’s birth.  The new mother consumes a little blood/milk mixture to help regain strength.

This practice is also done in times of extreme drought for survival.  A small puncture is made in an artery in the cow’s neck using a bow and arrow.  Then a pint or two of blood is collected in a special gourd and mixed with fresh milk using a wooden mixing stick.  Just a small amount of the concoction can sustain a warrior for a long time when food is unavailable, and the cow is essentially unharmed afterward.  It was very special to watch this!

Afterward we walked for about an hour to the nearby (yes, an hour’s walk counts here as “nearby!”) public primary school. There are about 400 students and 13 teachers- you do the math.  Luckily, they are very energetic and inspiring teachers, and we were impressed with their ability to handle so many children. We played games and taught the youngest ones some songs, including the Hokey Pokey to learn body parts and Five Little Monkeys for counting.  Our students were great sports, joining in with no prior warning that this would be happening.

The most valuable part of the visit was the hour or so conversation we had with the teaching staff.  We discussed American education, politics, funding, what makes a good teacher…these were very sharp people, curious about our experience and very straightforward about the joys and challenges of teaching here.  We found that we struggle with many of the same challenges.

On the walk back to the boma, many of the children came with us. It was their lunchtime, and it turns out that while some students live at the school, many walk there and back each day. If the government cannot provide enough food for all of them to have lunch, some are sent home midday to eat, but because the walk is so long, they just stay home after that.  They walked with us and at one point I had at least six delightful little uniformed bodies clinging to my hands, arms, and at one point armpit, enjoying the attention and companionship of the strange pale people who showed up at their school.

kenya_6020_600x450

Afterwards, we spent the hottest hours of the afternoon reading and completing assignments in the shade of Logela’s many gorgeous acacia trees, before launching out again for this sunset reflection hike.  We will be staying on this rock until it gets fully dark so that, walking back through the bush using headlamps, we may spot some bush babies in the trees along our route!

[Editors Disclaimer:  Once again the pictures in this post are not from this group or this expedition.  They are simply included to help provide a visual embellishment for the narrative.  We will post photos from our group as soon as they are available.]

Kenya Update #4: Ngomano to Namanga

Posted January 24, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Uncategorized

Aerial View

Staying at the Clay School provided wonderful opportunities for both our students and the Kenyan kids.  Lots of wonderful interchange took place, learning about local practices, and of course, some adventures.  At one point our staff made a trip from Ngomano into the nearby town of Wote to get supplies.  Foragaing through the very few and very limited shops, they eventually managed to get drinking water, mural supplies, and yarn — but just buying paint, masking tape, turpentine and some brushes took over an hour.  While returning, their jeep got stuck in the sand…  fortunately, some gentlemen bearing a strong resemblance to Bob Marley and the Wailers came along in a tractor and were able to pull the vehicle loose!

Although Clay School funding largely comes from America and other outside countries, the design premise of its founders was to serve the people based on their ideas and needs.  This is a powerful, and unfortunately uncommon, strategy, since too often what is called “development” in poor countries is in fact arbitrary, and reflects the culture of the funders more than that of the people.  Consequently, the Clay school incorporates round buildings, in keeping with local tradition.  There is more integration between the school and the village than is typical, and education and economy — such as through the basket-weaving co-op — are consciously linked.  Along with the people of Ngomano, our students are beneficiaries of the vision that underlies the Clay School.

BasketsAnother feature of the linkage between this school and its village is its production of food.   Their garden is a huge , and includes corn, various legumes, green vegetables, tomatoes, and groves of mango and papaya trees — the fruit of which was shared generously with our group.

It was of course a big upheaval to leave Ngomano and the Clay School behind.  Our Explorations kids prepared a miniature “Term-End Event” that was patterned after our recent school play, and was entitled “Muzungu in Kenyaland.”  (“Muzungu” is a rough Kenyan equivalent to “gringo.”)  The mural was dedicated, emotional goodbyes were expressed, and the Explorations group headed off to its next destination.  Reflecting on the first, fruitful segment of the journey, Kaya wrote:

Already being here, I have gained a level of appreciation I never imagined possible.  Each day has met me with an interaction or experience I couldn’t have prepared for.  At times the level of poverty I have seen has made me question even the possessions I had on hand.  As much as I have found our lives a gift, and placed new values on the resources I am so very thankful for, I have also found myself in a place of envy.  The rich culture and guidance here provides these people with a sense of self assurance I have rarely seen in adults.  The spirit and determination is so beautiful.  I am filled with excitement for this trip’s continuation and for adventures to come. 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThere is not much to say about the hot, dusty, seven hour bus ride to Namanga.  But arriving in the Masai village, our group was greeted by a handsome dark-skinned man in full Masai dress, including a spear!  Everyone was crammed into a Range Rover along with our host, driver, host’s friend, driver’s friend, and one woman with an infant who just needed a ride.  A raft of plastic chairs were strapped on top using a piece of tire. This was the start of our time with Logela, our Masai host, en route to his “boma” (encampment/compound).

Before parting with our other driver, we had a toast of Coke and Tangawizi Soda toast in the middle of the bumpy dirt road in Namanga.  This impromptu ceremony was surrounded by Maasai men and women, goats, cattle, passing motorcycles (one with an electric keyboard strapped on, another with six live chickens tied on the back rack with twine) and some piles of burning garbage.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove to Logela’s boma as the sun set behind the mountains, with Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance. Thunderheads with lightning rumbled past as the stars emerged.  Upon arrival we were greeted by about ten small kids who each presented their forehead to the adults as a sign of respect, wanting to be touched.  Logela showed us our tents under a huge acacia tree.  We sat around a campfire (on the plastic chairs we brought, it turned out) and had Maasai tea, which is mostly hot milk and some sugar, with a little tea in their somewhere.  After tea and  conversation with Logela and his friend Jonathan, we had dinner prepared by his wife Joyce. It was rice and a legume called green gram, like small lentils. After dinner we did some planning and then lay in our tents listening to the stirring winds outside, the noises of donkeys, a dog barking in the distance, and a subtle chorus of cowbells from Logela’s cattle, which constitute much of his wealth.

[Editor's disclaimer:  Once again, the miracle of sending photographs is still eluding us on this expedition.  Therefore, the images in this post are either from the Clay School or from our last Kenya expedition.  They are, however, from the actual places the students have visited.]

 

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