Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Doing a bit more: Rweteera, Mountains of the Moon, and Kitumba

Friday was an unusual day. First, because there was no laptop class. Kasiisi and the other partner schools held a soccer and volleyball tournament at Kigarama (pronounced "CHIgarama"). Second, because I turned left at the main road and traveled south to Rweteera (pronounced "Ritterra", like a cheese maybe).

Although the Rweteera and Kasiisi schools are both in the Kasiisi Project / Kibale School Support Project that I'm working for, Rweteera is the Neptune of the system. still a major planet, but considerably farther out from the others. I was told that I probably couldn't reach Rweteera, and it was a blisteringly hot day, but I took the bicycle up and over the hills to Rweteera. Actually I went through town, passed Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA), and got up to the crater lakes (volcanic?) before I decided I'd gone to far. After asking some adults, I turned around and found the school on the way back.

Students were either home or at the Kigarama soccer matches, so the school was empty. My original mission was simple: evaluate the rainwater tanks (which are "not working" somehow), and collect river water. Right away I noticed the schools have maps of Africa painted on the front wall. I thought of the kids at Kasiisi, who hadn't been able to place Kasiisi on the map. Then, I nearly tread on a discarded piece of paper. Written on it:

1) What is a map?
A map is something seen from above
2) What is a picture?
A picture is drawn on a map

[I learn later these are standard questions and answers for the 5th grade exam]

I wondered what it would take to have kids see their school's maps of Africa for what they are, and to connect them to their own location and position in the world.

Back to work. A few kids from Rweteera town arrived, peeking through windows and from distant corners, to watch me pace to measure the water tank, take photographs of everything, and get a GPS position. They could only imagine what I was doing. A door was open, so I checked out a few classrooms and wall posters. The kids began asking me for money, so I left.

A half mile down the road, I crossed the river and made my way down a steep grassy slope to collect a sample (the road is elevated to avoid flooding out during the rainy season). Gloves on. Watching my footing. The water feels refreshingly cool after a long bike ride, but it's turbid and has less obvious health risks. I cap the samples, package the glove, and look back up to the road to see several kids peering down at me, waiting with their water buckets. A passing adult spoke enough English to ask about my work. Secondary school students study litmus paper, so I discussed that part of my work, and he explained it to the kids. That resolved, I made the long journey back over the mountains and...

Went to Kigarama next, a good 8 miles away. The schools were doing their soccer and volleyball finals, and Kasiisi was leading in both, so I was sure to watch and meet up with the teachers. All schools wore their school uniforms to play, except Kasiisi, which had orange soccer team t-shirts. Another volunteer was videoing the whole thing, so I got to help out with sound. For a few minutes we tried to get the kids around us to avoid the recording equipment, but it was far easier to have everyone try on the headphones and teach the oldest kid to follow the ball with the microphone.

Meanwhile, I told the Kasiisi teachers about my trip to Rweteera, and showed them the quiz I'd found. At some point during the ride home, I'd decided that I needed to go back and teach at Rweteera. At first I thought of a SmartBoard, but I don't have a SmartBoard. Then I remembered, the Kasiisi teachers and kids had been interested in my laptop programs, so I showed them the digital maps before doing the old-fashioned paper, pencils,and stickers map lesson, which is too much of an influence . I was thinking I'd need to hold a class with Kasiisi's 4th grade in order to get an authentic map. Instead, I could do it at Rweteera.

I met the head teacher of Rweteera and, with the help of a Kasiisi teacher, explained my lesson idea. At first he asked if I could teach maps of the world, Africa, and East Africa. Well yes, but... We explained the satellite maps. He asked if this meant laptops for Rweteera. Well no, but... I explained things again. At the time, I wasn't sure if we would get satellite coverage of Rweteera at all.

Saturday, I did. 6 pages of high-res satellite goodness, covering the school and town of Rweteera. I traced my own path and the locations of the crater lakes I'd passed. I'd overshot Rweteera by a mile or two.

On Sunday morning I went to Fort Portal with the other Kasiisi volunteers. An internet cafe there had great internet access, which I used to read the latest from Appfrica and Google Geodeveloper Blog. There's a lot to look over and program with when I go home. Then tilapia for lunch. Then to the UTL office to meet the cellphone repairman. The wires had come loose from my RFID reader, and without a soldering gun it was impossible to get things working. I already played hardware charades looking for a soldering gun, and I'd decided the best thing to do, since my own soldering had failed, was to seek a professional.

The UTL office barely had enough room for a counter and a cashier lady, boxed in
by tons of mobile phones and accessories. I asked about phone repair, wondering
where they would send me. She pointed to a set of steps just to her right, about
wide enough to walk up sideways. Followed these up to a 5-foot high crawlspace.. a makeshift attic.. where I met the repairman, Brian. He's awesome. I've got to send him a thank you e-mail and photos when we use the RFID in class.

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