Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Eggs and Math: Life is Now Cool

It is not uncommon for us to look at the young people, and especially kids growing up today, and quip on how easy they are having it today. We often speak with some nostalgia about how life was tough back in the days and how we walked for five kilometers to school, were canned by teachers, showered with cold water and endured bullying. Or how we only ate one meal while today our kids have access to sausages and eggs in the fridge the whole day. Of course when our parents sit us down, they paint an even tougher pictures, walking for twenty kilometers to encounter some tough colonial discipline masters.

Of course at times we exaggerate. Anyway, to give a picture of how life has evolved over the years and become more easy, I recently came across a demonstration of this fact illustrated through the teaching of maths. Below is a rather hilarious depiction courtesy of a Peter Murimi who sent this to my inbox. Amuse yourselves and let me know if you think these stories from the past are often over-exaggerated.

History of Mathematics in Kenya

Last week I purchased a drink at a supermarket for shs. 55.00. The counter girl took my shs. 100 note. I then pulled shs. 5 from my pocket and gave it to her. She sat there holding the tiny coin, while looking at the screen on her register. I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me a shs. 50 note, but she hailed the supervisor for help. Why do I tell you this?

Because of the evolution in teaching math since the 1980s:

Teaching Math In The Early 1980s

A farmer sells a tray of eggs for shs. 100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In The Mid-1980s

A farmer sells a tray of eggs for shs. 100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or shs. 80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In The Early 1990s

A farmer sells a tray of eggs for shs. 100. His cost of production is shs.
80. Did he make a profit?

Teaching Math In The Mid-1990s

A farmer sells a tray of eggs for shs. 100. His cost of production is shs.
80 and his profit is shs. 20. Your assignment: *underline the number 20.*

Teaching Math In The Early 2000s

A farmer exploits a flock of chickens with a selfish, profit-driven motive.
As a result he makes shs. 20 for every tray of eggs he sells. What do you think of this way of making a living considering increased animal rights advocacy? (NB: There are no wrong answers and if crying for the miserable chickens makes you feel ok, go right ahead).

Teaching Math From 2010

(Not to be attempted by pampered private school brats). Same question as number 5 but if you have special needs or just feel you are a victim of tribal/political incorrectness, social class, historical injustice, gender etc, then don't answer and the correct answer will be provided for you.

Cartoons from

Monday, June 20, 2011

Small Talk, Plastic Smiles

Many people who meet me for the first time say that I am a quiet person. My wife often tells me that her friends say that her husband is the shy and silent type, never speaking unless spoken to. And that even then, my responses are short and curt. She tells them that they don't know Charles. Those who know me better hold the opposite view. That I am talkative, full of opinion and argumentative. I quietly smile to myself when I hear these comments.

To be honest, my problem has always been with small talk. I find myself in many situations where I am just there, with nothing to say. It is for these reasons that I hate cocktails or networking events where I hardly know anybody. I find it quite difficult to walk up to a stranger and start chatting without any specific agenda. When I was a kid, whenever I joined a new school, I would keep to myself for sometime,not really mingling with other kids until much later when we got to know each other well and I identified those that I thought I shared with a common interest. When I actually think about in now, both in my primary school days, high school and even through college, my friends were drawn from a small circle. I was not the type who was friends with the whole school.

This set-up suited me fine until I started to get into management positions. When I worked for FilmAid as the Programme Manager for their Kakuma programme, I suddenly found myself being invited to events simply by virtue of my position to represent the organization. Now I had to serve some bitings and wine and mingle with other heads of organizations and government people and make small talk. I survived this however because Kakuma was a small community and everyone soon got to know everyone. Furthermore, I more or less interacted with these people in the course of my day to day work. After a few weeks I was familiar with everybody who mattered. But after sometime I was moved to the Nairobi office as the Country Manager. Now I was being invited to all manner of events to mingle with new sets of Country Representatives, Government people, donors ambassadors e.t.c. And because these were not people I saw on a daily basis, the conversations became even more difficult. I remember once being invited to an event at the US Ambassador's residence and discovering to my horror that I knew almost nobody at the event (luckily my wife had tagged along). I was relieved when later in the evening I met two guys I knew and they were able to introduce me to more people.

Networking in events has always been the most difficult part of my job descriptions. Don't get me wrong, I can seek out an organization that I think will be useful to me, make formal contact and discuss business. Later we might even become friends. I am talking about the appearing in an event and suddenly laughing and being familiar with everybody type of networking. I find that it involves pretense and wearing a fake smile. After some time my jaws begin to hurt.

When I moved from FilmAid, I thought I was now going to spend most of my time implementing projects and doing less plastic smiles. But with transitions in the organization, I once again find myself having to do this. As I write this, an invitation to an event at the end of the week has just landed on my desk. But as is the story of my life, I just have to keep learning, even if it learning some of the stuff I find ridiculous. I wish I was my smaller brother Biko...He is the type who walks into a room full of 100 strangers and in less than 10 minutes, he knows all of them...and they know him!

Image courtesy of this site

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Blue Or Pink, Does It Matter? Should It?

It is difficult gossiping with your spouse when you are both busy with work and have two demanding daughters at home. So my wife and I find getting stuck in the evening traffic as the best time for spouse gossip. So here we were stuck in traffic the other day when my wife starts telling me of some of her friends’ desires for kids. Apparently one of her friends was looking for someone to advice her how she can conceive a baby girl. So far she has four boys but she is desperate for a girl. Short of knowing the sex of the child at conception and deciding to abort if it is not the favorable gender, I really have no answer for this. A while back she told me about another friend who upon noticing that my wife had a “cute girl”, was now also looking for a girl. I think when some women see kids happily playing around they start to suddenly crave for a kid like one would crave for a chocolate or something like that. Then there is also a fellow we both know who has 4 girls with his wife. He also has ‘a few’ other girls with several mistresses, girls he has apparently sired as he desperately looks for a boy child. He is a good businessman and I think he might be looking for a son who will one day inherit his wealth.

My wife herself has on several occasions talked about her desire to have one last kid, a boy, despite my insisting that the two girls we have should be enough. The times are becoming difficult on the economic front and I am also not getting any younger so when this comes up I usually remember to make an urgent call and conveniently extract myself from that conversation.

Anyway, for me the question is whether it really should matter whether you have a son or girl. I know that this is a big issue in some cultures, like in India where cases of girl infanticide are high. Sons are there to keep the family name and line, to inherit the family business. In India they also bring some wealth into the family when they marry as it is the girl’s family that pays the dowry. In my Luo community, it is your sons who inherit the land. But today I see young men who refuse to get into the family business. Others make their money and buy land in Kitengela, opting to make their homes in other places far from their ancestral land. So in this age and time does it really matter that you have girls only? For me it does not. When my wife was pregnant we even declined to know the sex of the kids in advance. I like that moment when the doctor tells you it is a baby girl. Was I disappointed when the doctor told me the second kid was a baby girl? Well, because I was in the delivery room and saw my wife’s delivery run into complications, I was more worried about her health and recovery…and then about the huge hospital bill that we accumulated  Took me days to notice that we now had two girls, and I am happy with them!