Foreign Film Fridays 02: The First Grader

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. -Nelson Mandela

first_grader_ver4_xlg

Original Title: The 1st Grader
Year: 2010
Country: Kenya & UK
Language: English/Kikuyu
Subtitles: English
Length: 1hr 38 min
Availability: Putlocker

A beautifully poignant biographical film, The First Grader touches the soul in ways so few films can ever hope to. Based on the life of Kimani Maruge (who at the age of 84 decided to enroll in elementary school) and his first teacher Mrs. Jane Obinchu, the movie touches upon a myriad of human issues: the worth of life, the sacrifices we make to survive, and the importance of free universal education.

Set in a village far from the comforts of modern city life,  the story follows Maruge on his journey to pursue an education, particularly in his desire to learn to read and write, and also focuses on the struggles of rural teachers to provide quality education for 200 plus students. The story is given additional depth as it is broken between Maruge’s memories of his time as a Mau Mau rebel and the relatively peaceful man he has become in the present but who has yet to fully let go of the past.

There are many beautiful scenes of Kenya in this film, rich and vibrant, and give the story a beautiful backdrop for the cinematographically inclined. More than scenes, which are truly inspiring, it’s the characters that will stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling.

Maruge is the representation of Kenya’s crossroads in history: he is the everyday man with the weight of a terrible past hanging across his shoulders. He can’t even sharpen a pencil, much less hold it correctly, but his desire to become literate enough to read a letter from the government is all he needs to keep him going. Even as he is barred from elementary school in the village and forced to walk to the nearest adult school in the city, you root for him to win but it breaks your heart to watch him continually turned away from opportunities and especially when his own village turns against him. A man his age, or so he is often told, should be resting in peace in preparation for his final exit from life. Maruge, however, heartily disagrees… And it makes you truly wonder when was the last time you pursued your dreams with such passion and unabashed shamelessness, much less when was the last time you felt so fired up to learn.

By comparison, Mrs. Obinchu is the modern woman: brave, educated, and unafraid to carve a place for herself in the world, but also unencumbered by the past. She is from a poor family and has worked to the bone to become who she is. For these reasons she can see a bit of herself in Maruge and the two form a quick and steady friendship, despite the generation gap and the opposing political sides of their families during the rebellion. Young, full of idealism, and an intellectual to the end, Mrs. Obinchu does everything in her power to keep Maruge in school.

We are nothing if we cannot read. We’re useless. -The First Grader

The First Grader is a rare glimpse into a whole new world that is far and away from anything that anyone born in a first world country will probably ever know. One would expect it to be either a campy film, with one dimensional characters full of good cheer and ready to battle illiteracy, or a very deep and disturbing look at the politics of the conflict that led to Kenya’s independence. But in reality, the breadth of human emotion is expressed in each character and situation. Even the patient and good-natured Mrs. Obinchu has her melt downs when past tribal tensions force her to confront the choices of her family’s past and when she must fight for the right of her oldest and most motivated pupil to remain in her school. She is a veritable storm of sheer will and force. I can barely manage a room of thirty-five screaming seven-year-old children for six straight periods, let alone 200 students from all ages and educational backgrounds for a whole day. All the respects were given as I watched this and began to wish that every last one of my teachers had been a Mrs. Obinchu.

For those too afraid to watch a movie saturated with political and military undertones, this film is the perfect balance between serious and idealism without losing the weight of its message. We, who live in societies that have been long removed from the fight for survival and freedom, have a responsibility to the rest of humankind to help in any way that we can. It brings home the truth that one society’s treasure can be a public ally funded institution that is taken for granted by another.

The true story of Kimani Maruge is equally inspiring but ends quite sadly in 2009, when Mr. Maruge died of stomach cancer.

 

A Rut in the Road

7-Road-signBW-sm

I know I was supposed to have published at least two interview articles on education by now but I hit another rut in the road after the JET Program orientation on June 21 :/ Usually, I’m a go-getter, always-do-your-best-to-get-things-done kind of a girl. But some days, if the best you can do to keep your head above water is treading in the water for a bit longer than normal, then keep doggie paddling till you reach the pebbly shore is what I say! \O/

So, I’m doggie paddling for the time being 😀

This move is really taking the energy out of me. And it’s not just the packing, waiting, and visa paperwork (which was finally submitted on Saturday) – the things you would normally think of as being the main reason for stress. It’s mostly psychological. Saying good-bye to everyone feels so much harder this time around than it was back in 2011. I guess it doesn’t get easier. You just get better at it. More efficient, if that’s even the correct word to use, but never, ever easier. Making time to give everyone quality interactions also takes a big chunk of most weeks but it’s not a burden if I can see them smile and listen to all the things they want to tell me, that are important to them. What drains my energy isn’t the time it takes to see everyone off, in fact I wish I had more time with each person, but all the emotions involved with each interaction. I’m sitting there feeling torn for being so happy and yet so sad at the same time. Happy because I get this much more time with them, also because I’m embarking on an amazing journey to an amazing new place in Japan… but sad because it’s one day less and one person less checked off of my list of good-byes. And then there are the people you know you’re saying good-bye to for… forever. And those are the hardest. They won’t be there the next time I come back to the States. But I try to keep as upbeat and lighthearted as I can, which sometimes isn’t enough for some people, but what can you do? Change your whole inner being to please a few? I’ve tried doing that my whole life and it just doesn’t work but that’s a whole different story that everyone’s lived through before anyway so it needs no telling 😉

Even my dogs have started realizing something’s up and happening soon: they split their sleep cycles (half the night in my bed and the other half with my parents) to keep me company, when I come home after a long day out they’re extra excited and wriggling with even more enthusiasm than normal, and in general they look out for me more as if I’m their puppy.

I’ve made the decision to stay for two years in Aomori should my contracting organization decide to allow me to renew for a second term. The maximum, I’m not too sure yet… but I’m thinking three to four years would not be too bad. Five is the absolute program maximum. My predecessor was the first person to complete the full contract and I look forward to seeing how much time I can spend in Gonohemachi before figuring out the next phase of my life. It’s all toddler steps here. Because so many things have happened in the past six months alone (almost as if a lifetime has gone by and I’m not about to rush) such that I’m not going to presume what should happen next until I’ve thought it all out clearly.

To be a writer is to be like a god, creating worlds and scenarios out of careful observation, rumination, and twists of imagination. And to be alive is to be the writer of your own story. Never underestimate the power of choice, even the smallest one can reverberate decades into the future. So I’ll be making my choices creatively and imaginatively through much careful observation. In any case, this blog will definitely see many adventures. so many more than the last one that I’m excited either way.

Adapting to a Foreign Country

Oh my. You’re in for quite a ride… and the best part: there is nothing you can do to prepare before hand. When a person makes the commitment to live and work/study in a foreign country for the long-term things can get a little crazy.

Here is the break down of the four stages of adapting to a foreign country:

Honeymoon Stage

Culture Shock Stage

recoverystage

Recovery Stage

Adaptation Stage

These four well-known stages also closely resemble the “7 Stages of Grief and Loss”. Why? I have no idea but the part that is hardest to get through is the culture shock/recovery stage transition which I would associate as rough equivalents with stages 1 and 3-6 of the “7 Stages of Grief and Loss”.

Unlike the previous post, which I tried to keep light-hearted and humorous, I will go into a little more detail here on the positive and negative effects of adapting WELL or BADLY to a foreign country. I will use Japan as an example because that’s the topsy-turvy world I had to adapt to within a year for my study abroad experience in Tokyo for the 2011 to 2012 school year.

What I noticed happened to a lot of us as soon as we hit the end of the “Honeymoon Stage” is that we would begin to sink into a form of “WHY JAPAN, WHY?!” attitude anytime something absolutely shocked us – age of consent for sex (13 years old for females compared to 18 for males nationwide with each region having the right to choose any age between 13-20), extremely broad police powers, gender roles, weird pornography laws on what Japanese considered ‘acceptable’ and what not, etc. However, no matter how many times you ask yourself this… fact of the matter remains that there is nothing you can do to change it. Culture is culture and the sooner you accept certain norms as just that, norms, the sooner you can break away from the infinite loop of shock.

Because Japan is primarily (98%) Japanese and even Tokyo has relatively few foreigners compared to other countries’ capitals, any and all foreigners in Japan will be stared at wherever they go. It’s highly uncomfortable and annoying to the extreme. There would be days where I’m sure more than a few of us wanted to shout, “Why are you looking at me as if I’ve sprouted a second head?!” Another example on adapting well to a culture is that we would solve this problem by giving them a BIG SMILE. Traditionally, although looking anyone straight in the eyes is considered rude in Japan so if you find yourself in a situation where constant staring is making you uncomfortable just give them a steady gaze AND add a nice smile. It gets the point across without being ‘direct’ about what you want them to stop doing and it’s positive reinforcement that foreigners are not scary.

Here are some other things you can do (that I tried out) in order to help facilitate the whole ordeal of staying abroad long term:

1. Keep up a routine. Mine went straight out the window as I tried to adapt to a whole new style of living with my first host family and I quickly discovered just how dangerous that can be to your mental and physical health. I went six months without having any set goals to accomplish (like I had back home) and these were often times very simple little things for me such as playing with the dogs, starting/finishing an art/writing project, researching something within my major, reading, etc.

Whether you’re in the dorms, your own apartment, or in a host family, first set up some ground rules for yourself: the most important of which will be to not put yourself second or third. Your well-being is your first priority and if that means spending an entire day raiding the arts and craft shops in the Tokyu Hands building in Shinjuku then so be it. Just make sure you’re responsible about it and know when to put other situations above your immediate (not overall though) needs.

2. Eat your favorite foods. Okay so you’re on a tight budget and you’ve been rationing out the lunch money pretty carefully but one day you will pass by the super market window and it’s going to be there in all its glory: a dinky little 12 oz bin of extra chunky peanut butter. So long as you don’t go out of budget every single day it isn’t bad to treat yourself once a semester to something you really, really enjoyed back home but can’t have now because of the expense. I remember my first peanut butter and banana sandwich that I allowed myself to finally have back in December… I cried tears of joy… even though I used to hate bananas like they were the plague because I had to eat them all the time as a teenager (prone to leg cramps + member of swim team = fail)

3. Watch TV from your home country. No seriously. You’re already watching television shows from your host country. You’re also listening to their music, getting pummeled day past day with their entertainment media, advertisements, etc. and in the process you are losing touch with what’s going on in the other side of the world. One episode a night just before I went to bed is the route I took on the nights I wasn’t busy piecing together some essay or research project. Which is a big step for me if you know me at all (I do not watch TV or movies all that often).

I remember having skype sessions with my family and they would be talking about “so-and-so” movie just came out, “this-and-that” television show, “Senator Blah-Blah-Blah-Blarg-Blarg got re-elected” and I felt like a tiny little island in a wasteland of AKB48 and Prime Minsterialships gone wrong, unable to relate to anything my own family was talking about at all and vice-versa on their end as well.

4. And finally make lots of friends within your host and home culture. They’re the ones who will be able to best explain the new culture and will facilitate your transition while those from your home culture will keep your sanity grounded when it all becomes too much culture shock. They’ll also be going through similar experiences and often times sharing those with another person can make the experience that much more positive rather than negative because there will be lots of comedy involved.

Hello, world…

You’ve stumbled across Page One Adventures, a little blog about travel and the ramblings of a JET Program assistant language teacher who will be living in Aomori Prefecture starting this July! It will be my second time abroad (the archived study abroad adventures from my days in Tokyo can be read here) but the first time living, working, and exploring the northernmost point of Honshu Island all on my lonesome.

This marks a new beginning for me, a fresh start… in short: it’s a whole new adventure in a foreign country at the best possible moment that it could come into my life and I couldn’t be any more excited 😀 Although some days it feels a bit daunting considering the magnitude of such a big change, I’m more exhilarated by the prospect that I finally have an opportunity to start creating my life into anything and everything I’ve ever dreamed or wanted out of it.

So how about a bit of introduction? I am that quintessential ‘first-in-a-family-of-immigrants-to-hold-a-college-degree’ person, struggling to balance social expectations and personal desires all while trying to establish a life somewhere in this world. I am a dreamer, an adventurer, a writer, an explorer. I am intensely curious. I am multitudes. I am human. In the midst of personal and family turmoil, I’m taking it as a once in a life time chance to turn the lemons I’ve been handed into award winning lemon squares with meringue frosting and organic, hand-churned vanilla chai ice cream on the side because why not? ❤ Life’s too short to count calories anyway 😉

once a year

Goals for this year are simple but far reaching: I want to learn something new, I want to go places I have never been before, I want to create new and exciting poetry (although I really should finish that set of short stories I began a couple of months ago), and above all at the end of the year I want to be able to say that I’ve come that much closer to finding out who I really am. My secret desire is to leave behind a lasting, indelible mark of my existence here on Earth and the manifestation of all my hopes, joys, fears, successes, and failures in the form of at least one published novel. Perhaps I may not be the most scintillating conversationalist or an eloquent writer, but I’ve got nothing left to lose and no bridges left to burn. And I’ve got a 1,000 items on my bucket list and only so much living left.

Welcome. It’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance.