Monday, March 24, 2014

Kenya! Mailbag

Welcome to the first Kenya! The Blog mailbag!  All of the questions are from actual fake readers. 

Hallo Dan!  Enough with the “everything is rainbows and butterflies” stuff.  Have you faced any challenges?  Danke!  - Finn, Berlin, Germany (I have a strong German following).

Camille and I have had wonderful experiences in Kenya, but many challenges too, and lots of reality.  For example, I am lucky to have many Kenyan friends.  I have learned from them, had fun with them, and I respect them greatly.  However, being American, I have access to more resources and opportunities than many of them.  This frequently creates a gap in our friendship, no matter how close we become.  Sometimes, it becomes clear that a friend (understandably) hopes that I can give him something (money, a new job, a scholarship, etc), which frequently I can't.  When I can, it's hard to know when to say no and when to say yes.  How can you say no to one and yes to another?  Where do you draw the line?  What are the limits?

“Gulotts,” in the grand scheme of things, what impact can foreigners hope to have in Naivasha?  Also, does it bother you that your son is already a better writer than you?  - Stuart, Boston, Massachusetts

Ouch.  The snow must be making Stu cranky, but thank you for the perfect follow-up question.   You're right, it can be naive (or worse, arrogant) of outsiders to think they can "fix" things.  Both Camille and I have seen firsthand examples, at the shelter and hospital, of outsiders basically shouting, “You're doing everything wrong!  Our way is better!  This is how we do it in our [western country].  We won't trouble you Kenyans by including you in the decision making process.  It's quicker and easier if you just listen to us."   Usually these people really do want to help, but their cultural arrogance defeats them.  Collaboration is key.  While we can offer our resources, time, training, and expertise, we must work with those we seek to help, and respect their experience and expertise.  For example, the teachers are talented, smart people who care deeply about the boys, and their jobs.  If they are not given a voice, are not included in the decision making process, the opportunity to take advantage of their expertise and experience will be lost, as will their trust and faith in your leadership.  

Leadership is not unilateral implementation of one's own ideas, but empowering others, developing ideas together, and inspiring change from within.  People must believe in the ideas to ignite change. 

 Hi Dan, love the blog Let me know if you need a job someday.  What is something you have learned teaching in Kenya as compared to teaching in America?  Also, I may have a cousin in Naivasha.  – Barack, Washington, DC.  

That kids are kids!  Kids are kids, no matter the location, environment, race, economic status, etc.  My 7th graders, all former street boys between 13-16 years old, are a bunch of goofballs who just want to be engaged in class.  I’m having a blast. 

A couple of my 4th graders.  I told them to smile for the picture.
My 7th graders.  My instructions were, "Let's group together for a nice class picture."
"Now get back to work!  No more smiling for the rest of class."
A few pictures of the shelter

You can see Lake Naivasha in the background

What are kids in Naivasha listening to these days?  - Justin, Ontario, Canada

Summer Time by Vybz Kartel.  Sorry, “Justin,” from Canada.

Eric is so cute!  You should have a blog of nothing but Eric pictures.  How’s Eric doing at school?  -Nana, Sheffield, Massachusetts

Eric is such a stud.

I bring Eric to an outdoor preschool three days a week.  It took some adjusting, but now he loves his school.  We have a very set routine which we must follow.  As we pull into school, Eric starts shouting, “Woof woof!  Woof woof!” until I open his door.  Three huge St. Bernard dogs live next to school, whom he adores.  The other kids are scared of them, but not Eric.  I pick him up and we walk over to the fence.  The dogs all stand on their hind legs to see and sniff and lick Eric.  Eric smiles, laughs, touches their noses, and says bye, and we turn to enter school.  Eric arrives a little later than the other kids, who are waiting for him when we arrive.  As soon as we reach the entrance, Eric runs towards the electric keyboard.  Usually, this is when I say a quick goodbye and run off.  If I linger, Eric realizes I’m still there, and then it's “Daddy must hold me and never put me down” time.  Eric clings to me with all limbs like the baby aliens in the movie, well,  Aliens.

The other day, I decided to hide and peek at Eric for a while.  What I saw was adorable.  As soon as Eric ran to the keyboard, Eric’s two four-year-old girlfriends, Zara and Medja, ran up to Eric.  Eric extended his little arms to Zara and gave her a big hug.  Zara looked at me and smiled.  Eric then did the same to Medja. 

I need to install a hidden camera at school to catch these moments.  It made me reflect on how teachers share so many wonderful moments with kids that parents never get to see.  Having a kid is some of the best professional development I will ever have.

Eric's woof-woofs
Running into school

Giving a hug.  He, uh, changed clothes real fast after that last shot. 
We had Eric's teacher (left) and nanny and  her son (right, middle) over for dinner.

Eric didn't have any fun.  We're very lucky.

Eric discovered bubbles

Eric is also learning Kiswahili.

Camille, what was your reaction to finding a cockroach 30 seconds ago?   
- Dan, Naivasha Kenya

(Editor's comment:  I didn't actually freak out and wedge myself on the ceiling.  I think I just told you to kill it.  But not the grasshopper.  Don't kill the 6-inch grasshopper.  Just put it outside.)

 Responding to all these questions is tiring!  Please send me questions in the comment section below.  Thanks for reading!


  1. Eric seems so photogenic!!! His face in the "BUBBLES!" photo though... :D ... his school looks really cool!

    1. I love that "BUBBLES" photo :). His school is fantastic, and it has been wonderful for Eric. I have been lucky to find great schools ;).

  2. wow--this is a great look into the good work and the learning experience that your presence is for you and the boys. You have the basis of a great masters thesis on the pages of your fantastic blog. It was a highlight of my day to read your words and view the pictures of you school and family. Thanks so much. I love you guys
    William F Gulotta (dad, pop)

    1. Thanks, Dad! I'll keep blogging...but I think I'm going to miss this week. I'll be up and running next week!

  3. Question from Nana in Sandwich, MA - what's wrong with a blog of just Eric pics?
    Loved the Q and A. Very insightful and your family has obviously adapted well to life within an entirely different set of cultural norms. Have you seen the mockumentary out of Kenya -The Samaritans - Aid for Aid? I have yet to watch this, but a nurse I work with did and said I should pass this along to you. The picture of Eric with his Kiswahili teacher is precious and I love the pic of his cute little face in awe of the bubbles! Please try to get a friend to take several family pics (of you, C and E all together). That could also be an entire blog!!! Love to you, MOM

    1. Mom! I'll check out the mockumentary. Family pics! We'll see what we can do.

  4. This is an awesome blog, Dan. What an experience you, Camille and Eric are having. Loved your comment about being a parent as the best professional development experience. So true! Camille's blog about the hospital and health care was profound. Hope to share those thoughts with my daughter (R2 at UW).

  5. Thank you, Wilder! And thank you for reading and commenting on my blog. Best wishes to on your new adventures in Florida. I checked out your website, and the Inn looks wonderful. Also, good luck to your R2 daughter! She must be very busy :).

    Great to hear from you!


    p.s. Camille just asked how your daughter is doing, and she thanks you for the comment on her blog!