Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Entries from March 2010

Another Interesting Night

March 19th, 2010 · No Comments

Yesterday I headed back down to New Hope Christian Centre for yet another night at the Thursday after-school club. My first experience was largely negative, while the second was much more fulfilling, so I didn’t know what to expect for attempt #3.

When I arrived, I caught up with Duane and company. They seemed legitimately sad that I won’t be around for the next few weeks over break (I’ll be in the US, Greece, and Italy!), which made me feel like I was really making a contribution to the organisation. One of the best aspects of volunteering is the warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment. I definitely felt that way, in spades. Go me.

I spoke to the social work student Katie and Duane’s wife Clare about the plans for the evening. Since some of the children requested more music, we took out the church’s electric keyboard. Unfortunately, none of us really knew how to play. I expected lots of banging on keys and loud, discordant noises, and believe me, I was not let down.

When the kids arrived, they jumped all over that keyboard like a fat kid on a dozen Dunkin Donuts. Josh, the resident big kid (read: bully) shouldered his way through the line of kids waiting to make ‘music’ and proceeded to bang his fists on the keys as hard as he could. It is an interesting phenomenon how one bad seed can change the dynamic of a group of kids so dramatically. He was acting like a jackass, so everybody else needed to follow suit. One of Josh’s lackeys and I had the following conversation:

Kid: “Hey, what’s your name?”

Me: “Andrew. What’s yours?”

Kid: “Suck my willy, wanker!”

Me: “Pleasure meeting you too.”

I suggested to Duane that Josh and a few of his troublemaking friends be banned. So he kicked them out for a week, leaving a motley mix of impressionable children without a rabble-rousing big kid to lead them. To my surprise, most of them went from borderline sociopaths to reasonable teenagers with whom I managed to hold decent conversation. What a pleasant change.

We played cards for a while and had a pretty fun time. One of the boys informed me that my accent sounds like Duane’s, meaning I sound like a Texan. No one really knows what their voice truly sounds like to the ears of other people, but I’m pretty sure I don’t sound like a southerner. Learn something new every day, I suppose.  

Later on, the boys started getting rowdy again. Instead of trying to calm them down, which wouldn’t work, I decided to channel their hyperactivity into something entertaining for me and the other adults. I taught them how to ‘elephant fight’ by putting your hand over your face with your left hand, while crossing your right arm behind the left, and swinging it around like a maniacal pachyderm. Google Images does a better job explaining than words ever could:

During the debriefing session, Duane and Clare lead us in prayer. This is something they usually do, being a Christian group. Usually I sort of zone out during prayer, not at all interested in giving thanks to the good lord Jesus. This time I actually listened carefully to their words and was moved. They thanked the lord for the opportunity to help some children enjoy their probably difficult lives. They thanked Jesus for the human capacity to empathise, giving us the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the kids and really help them. I thought their words were so moving, I even said Amen in the end.

Hours logged: 3

Total hours: 8.5

Tags: Andrew B

The Importance of Being Earnest

March 15th, 2010 · 4 Comments

I have yet to observe the party beyond a grunt level of going door to door. So I shan’t bore you with another rousing explanation of how cold it gets after a few hours in the rain with doors being shut, albeit politely, directly in your face. However, I did get a chance to hear Adrian Ramsay give a lecture last week, so I’ll rabbit on about that instead. The talk was pretty basic, essentially just outlining a general history of the Green Party and their present day goals. Nothing a seasoned veteran wouldn’t already know. Never the less, it was a good opportunity to get some times with the demos. The Green Party has done a good job of interacting with the younger voters, especially with university students. Their Internet and forum based campaigns are more versatile and reactionary than many of the larger, more cumbersome parties out there, and they have a large portion of student or post-graduate based internal support.  This support probably comes from the fact that students don’t yet have to pay for actual houses or have severe tax issues.  Too that end they’re still doe-eyed and idealistic — they still believe we can insulate all the houses for free.  But this seems to be a common thread for many of the smaller parties. When a party doesn’t have actual power, they just promise to give lots of door prizes — just look at the Lib Dem’s campaign.

Despite Green Party’s focus on young voters, I found it strange to see how hard Mr. Ramsay attempted to dissociate himself from our age group. He is definitely older than me, but seven years tops (he was elected in 2003 at the age of 21), which in political terms is practically nothing.   He may have been doing this in an attempt to legitimize himself, to be looked up to, or he may realize he needs to be focusing more on the more middle class/middle age votes.

This last idea scares me: we are constantly being driven further to the center. New Labour knew it, Cons definitely know it. The Conservatives will pretty much get every vote right of center withing the first and possibly second standard deviation, therefore, they need to put their policy as close to the center as possible as a means of snatching up as many votes as possible. Labour did this as well, although it later cost them by creating a split into Lib-dems and Labour. I see the Green Party of Britain and Wales becoming more formalized, which is partially a good thing. It means they have better organization, more potential funding and actually have a chance of winning seats. But it also means there is a potential slip in ideological stances; it means the green party could start shifting to the middle and lose its initial purpose. I don’t foresee this truly happening as the green party still relies on wedge issues, but it is a potential outcome.

Does the Green Party really have a chance at winning though? Honestly, I don’t think this time around, which saddens me. I will say this, the Green Party has gone from 1.4% to 7.4% in three election. This could simply be a reactionary movement away from labour, as most of the votes were taken from said party. But you know what, a votes a vote. First passed the post is a war of attrician, greens might not win this time, but i bet they’ll be in the top three this time. The election is potentially coming up soon (May 6th), so I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Also of interesting note: the Sunday before break, there will be a Q&A session with four of the Norwich South candidates, seats are still open if you’re interested, but you’ll also be able to watch it on TV. Check it out, might even spot me!


Tags: Andrew R

‘There She Goes’ to a disappointing acoustic gig

March 13th, 2010 · 3 Comments

Pete Lee

I know what you did last Friday: you went to the Black Horse pub on Earlham Road for March Madness. What’s March Madness? It’s not really that mad, it’s actually just live music every Friday. This past Friday, my flatmates and I attended this ‘live music’ that we saw advertised in the Outline Magazine. What went wrong?

To start with, there was no band. Instead, there was some guy’s 40-something birthday party. Then, there was his drunk friend who happened to know how to play acoustic guitar. That was this past Friday’s live music. After waiting for about an hour for the ‘performance’ to start, the birthday boy finally mounted ‘the stage’ to announce that his friends, Pete Lee, would be performing The La’s self titled album in its entirety. This wouldn’t have been so bad, since the album is a classic by the band which formed in 1983. However, good ol’ Pete sang too close to the microphone, blasting scratchy loud music across the otherwise calm atmosphere of the non-student pub. He also temporarily forgot how to play the most famous song, There She Goes. After watching him struggle with the opening chords of this song a few times, he finally got it right. The crowd clapped, sang, and drank along with Pete, raising the general mood. Even my flatmates and I, save the one who doesn’t sing along with other people’s songs, were able to enjoy this song.

Overall, I am sure that on other Fridays, when it is not a birthday gathering, the live music must be quite nice, since the Black Horse atmosphere suits an acoustic performance. It is littered with comfy chairs with a bookshelf (complete with old-looking books) lining one wall. Seems I just picked the wrong day to go!

Hours: 2

Total: 10

Tags: Megan

A Complete 180

March 13th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Not exactly knowing what to expect after last week’s experience, I headed over to New Hope Christian Centre for another few hours of rowdy 13 and 14 year-old boys and girls. When I arrived at 18:00, I helped Duane and crew set up for the night’s activities. Considering how all attempts at organized activity failed miserably last week, I thought to myself that it might be more effective to load up tranquilizer rifles instead of inflating balloons. But hey, I’m not in charge.

I had the option to help out with the younger and generally better behaved kids. But since the only two volunteers for the older ones were Clare and the 22-or-so year-old Katie, I thought my services might be better appreciated with them. We discussed my suggestion last week for an elected youth council of sorts. We decided to focus on group activities and bring the subject up next week.

Around 18:45 the kids started funnelling into the church. As usual, they were rowdy and loud, so I immediately started dreading a repeat of last week. Fortunately, many of the especially problematic children didn’t show up, leaving us with a manageably small group of fifteen or so. Some of the boys went outside to play manhunt with Duane, their favourite game. I stayed inside and taught three boys how to play the card game of the gods, Egyptian Rat Screw. I introduced the game as follows:

Me: “Hey do you guys want to learn a card game?”
Boys: “Nah, learning is boring.”
Me: “It involves slapping each other.”
Boys: “Teach me your ways, Sensei.”

OK, so the last part didn’t go precisely like that, but you get the idea. Needless to say, the boys loved the game and wanted to teach it to everybody. During the debriefing later, Duane asked how the older group went. Clare told him that “Andrew had them eating out of his hand.” Hearing that was pleasant, especially considering how helpless I felt the previous week.

Overall, the children were much better behaved this week. Violence was kept at a minimum and I was actually able to hold a reasonable conversation with some of them. I believe the more experienced volunteers are starting to see my potential and have been taking many of my suggestions to heart. I am honestly looking forward to next week’s Thursday club.

Hours logged: 2.5
Total Hours: 5.5

Tags: Andrew B

Indian students in Cambridge

March 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I had the chance to spend a weekend interviewing international students at Cambridge University because I have a friend from Argentina that is doing a masters program there. I attended an Erasmus dinner and an Indian student gathering at an Indian restaurant. 

It was great that I  had just finished reading Indian Students in Britain (1963) by Dr. A.K. Singh. The author explains that it was only in the last third of the nineteenth centry that modernising Indians began to look overseas for university studies. Before then, “Oxford and Cambridge were so poor that they did not appeal to the liberal, humane minds of the great Indian and birtish-Indian reformeres of the first half of the century”. It was only after the opening of its examinations to Indian cadidates for the Indian Civil Service in the 1870s that Indignas began in large numers to go overseas for advanced studies. At the time, it was “the thing” for the Indian elite, even if Indian already had three universities of its own and a number of colleges. The students were sons of wealthy and distinguished princes, lawyers, landowneres, and sometimes proteges of Maharajahs. After completing their studies, many of them went back and got very much involved with leftist Indian nationalism.

This is not a new phenomenon and not only applies to India.Many of  those famous leaders of independence in the process of decolonization had attended Oxbridge and Ivy League institutions in America. In India, those who were ‘England-returned’ possesed the status-symbol number one in society.

Two things made these interviews important. First, to verify that in fact, the meaning of being educated in the West has not changed for Indian students. Most of them expressed how, even with very good universities back home, the value of an English or American degree is still symbolically higher. Second, it was particularly interesting to see Indian students that attend Cambridge at an Indian restaurant because it made me think of the interaction between the local Indian community that has been born here and these students. I suppose that in England there are many instances that give room for interaction between a local community that interacts with people from their nation of origin such as the Indian community with Indian tourists. Contrary to what I would think, after observing the way the restaurant staff treated the students, it didn’t seem like it matter that they were Indian, but would treat them the same as many other clearly non-Indian customers in the restaurant. However, these third year students had been friends since the first year at Cambridge and  they themselves explained that they became a group because they were all Indians. Perhaps it is the caste system, or in England, class, that puts these two groups in such a distance. Perhaps this is an isolated case and in other universities the Indian students have a good relationship with the  staff at the local Indian restaurant. i guess further research would be needed.

Other than these observations, I also got very interesting insights to what it is like being a student at Cambridge and the impressions of ‘Englishness’ that these students have, as you will see in the final research.

Hours: 6

Tags: Azul · Uncategorized

S’alright I Guess: The OK-ish music of Fionn Regan

March 9th, 2010 · 2 Comments

In the beginning, before WWI…there was Fionn Regan. My flatmates and I went to see Fionn Regan at the Norwich Arts Centre on February 25. The crowd, as my flatmate noted, was made up of mostly “artsy 20-somethings.” Regan has released two albums and five EPs. Unfamiliar with Regan ahead of time, I found it hard to distinguish the lyrics of his indie folk songs—especially with his Irish accent. The gig opened with the up and coming band Danny and the Champions of the World, who also acted as backup band for Regan later on. All the members of the Champions wore plaid shirts and were vaguely reminiscent of New York hipsters. My favorite by far was the drummer, who wore black thick rimmed glasses. Despite their lack of fan base in the audience, the crowd took to the band immediately. Their upbeat songs and catchy lyrics were easy for us to pick up. The addition of acoustic pieces along with these faster songs kept us all engaged. The Champions successfully built up the excitement for the main act: Fionn Regan.

When Regan finally took the stage, I have to say I was a little surprised. Also decked out in plaid, Regan wore a collarless shirt with a silver beaded necklace. He donned  an old-school mushroom hair style and kept his mouth right on the microphone—adding to my inability to distinguish his words. However, his fans in the audience had no difficultly singing along—except my flatmate who apparently doesn’t sing at gigs. The crowd cheer at every one of Regan’s lyrics. And as one of his final songs, his best known single from 2006, Regan turned the mic off and let the crowd fill in  the chorus, “Be good or be gone.” I have to admit, this last song did move me a little. I always enjoy being part of the crowd’s energy.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that I am a converted Fionn Regan fan, but Regan is just another example of the eclectic music scene in Norwich!

Hours: 2.5

Total Hours: 8

Tags: Megan

Scouting in the U.K. Part IV: Walking the Tightrope Towards Community

March 5th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Last week I attended another Bowthorpe Explorer Scout Meeting. We spent the entire time working on the troop’s IT Badge.  I was in charge of leading three of the eight scouts present at the meeting through the requirements of the badge.

The first requirement we discussed was how technology can help make jobs easier to do.   Then we moved on to discussing computer viruses and internet safety.  After that came the fun part…

During the second half of the meeting each one of the Scouts had to create a spreadsheet and a powerpoint presentation based on a subject of their choice.  Since it was one scout’s birthday she brought in Celebrations to share with everyone at the meeting.  She was so excited about the candy that she decided to create her powerpoint presentation based on this subject as well.  Needless to say it was not the most scholarly of topics but she understood the point of the exercise which was to learn how to use a computer to convey information within a slideshow type medium. Overall I was very impressed.

After all of the scouts finished up their powerpoint presentations and spreadsheets we headed into the main hall where we played a rope game.  This was a “team building exercise” that I had never seen before.  All of the scouts except for one formed a circle around a large rope.  Then everyone picked up the rope and pulled as tightly as possible until it was taut and elevated about three feet off the ground. After the rope was elevated one scout climbed on top and the goal was for him or her to get all the way around the circle without touching the ground.  We started out with the smallest scout and she made her way around the circle with no issues.  Then things got a bit more difficult.  Before I knew it, it was my turn.  Climbing ropes/balancing in general was never one of my fortes in elementary school and entering the meeting last Friday I was still not very confident in my ability.  Despite my fear however I made it all the way around without touching the ground! I certainly do not plan on entering the circus anytime soon and I have to give the other scouts a LOT of credit for keeping the rope nice and taut but overall I was impressed by my newfound tightrope walking abilities.

No matter how old or experienced you are at something sometimes you need others to help you achieve a goal.  Without the other scouts helping me out I would never have made it around that circle, no matter how perfect or imperfect my balance is.  Scouting is an organization that has always encouraged people to learn how to work together and solve problems collectively.  This is a skill that they will need for the rest of their lives.  This was the first activity with the Explorer Scouts in which I truly felt that everyone worked well together as a group.   This was an incredible feeling.

At the conclusion of last week’s meeting I realized just how comfortable I have become with many of the Explorer Scouts and leaders that I have been working with over the past two months.  At first many of the scouts didn’t seem to know what to think of me but now they do not hesitate for a moment to say “hiya” to me and ask how I am doing.  While in Norwich earlier this week one of the scouts happened to see me and came over and said hello.  This was a very kind gesture and something that I would not have expected to happen even two weeks ago. I feel as though I am part of their community now and that is a wonderful feeling to have as I continue to volunteer with this group.

Hours: 3

Total Hours: 12.5

Tags: Henry

“If You’re Gonna Fight, At Least Take it Outside”

March 5th, 2010 · 1 Comment

My paper topic is on special education, what better place to volunteer than a school with a renowned special ed. program. Unfortunately, as Anya noted a while back, lengthy background checks are required for working with children. So I went to plan B: contact every volunteering and community service organiser Google has to offer. After a long and annoying process of playing email tag and waiting around for hours in coffee shops for my contacts to arrive (they never did), I finally managed to cement a legitimate volunteering opportunity. Duane Elkins is a 30-something man born and raised in Texarkana, Texas. He moved to Norfolk about 10 years ago and married a local woman. As a result, Duane has by far the coolest accent in the history of accents. Take hokey southern and mix it with hokey Norfolk, and you get Duane. But I digress.

Duane and his wife Claire (pronounced “Cleh”) run an after-school program on Thursday for children in the Lakenham area out of a church. A group of volunteers spend time and play games with whoever decides to show up. The area is economically deprived and many parents do not pay their children adequate attention. Some of the parents have learning disabilities. Others are too busy working long hours. And of course, some are apathetic.

I took the #004 Anglian from the central bus station to Lakenham. The stop I needed was at a pub called, I kid you not, “The Cock.” Asking the bus driver to take me there was just as awkward as I expected it would be. When I arrived at the church at 18:00, I found Duane and he introduced me to the other volunteers. It was a motley crew of young, middle aged, and older folks all there free of charge, taking valuable time out of their busy schedules to give local children something to do and keep out of trouble.

Duane explained to me that all children are welcome regardless of age. Some of the kids have special needs; others just have nowhere else to go after school. There are no written rules anywhere. If a child is especially poor behaved, he is kicked out, “banned,” for a fortnight. The goal of the program is to teach the participants how to respect authority and each other while having lots of fun in the process. Some nights are successful and all around enjoyable while others are a nightmare. My first experience falls into the latter category.

The plan for the evening was to make paper mache for the young kids and teach the older ones a game called murder mystery. I chose to help out with the older crowd. Claire and a younger woman studying social work accompanied me. They explained to me that the older ones are sometimes very difficult to handle. Many of them have parents who never taught them the meaning of respect.

The kids were so badly behaved it was actually frightening. The moment they arrived they started going crazy, swearing, fighting each other, and throwing playing cards and tea bags around the room. It was impossible to control this group of 13 and 14 year-olds. The boys were violent and crude and the girls were just plain mean to each other. The whole situation was not at all how I imagined.

The worst part was the complete lack of authority from the adults. I felt helpless standing at the sidelines while the kids trashed the room and fought each other. At one point Claire yelled at two of the boys, “If you’re gonna fight, at least take it outside.” One of the combatants, 13 year-old redheaded Liam is a known drug dealer. A few weeks back, another kid, Ben, misbehaved and was chastised by Duane. Ben proceeded to call 999 and report that Duane was abusing him. The police, knowing better, ended up escorting Ben home while Duane shook his head in frustration. Last night, another child whose name escapes me kicked the chair legs out from a sweet little girl called Georgia, knocking her in tears to the floor. Duane banned him. The kid called him a “fucking faggot” and stormed out. We never managed to teach any games.

After all the kids went home, the volunteers met to debrief. During the meeting, we chowed down on birthday cake and discussed the evening. Apparently, this was the worst and least successful night in months. I guess I chose to right time to start. We brainstormed new ideas to keep the kids in check. Someone suggested a list of written rules up on the wall and a yellow and red card system for those who break them. I proposed an elected system of government, entirely managed by the children. They are clearly already in control, so why not give them some structure to work with?

Eight year-old Ashley, the severely ADHD son of a volunteer, noted that the lack of rules is what separates the group from school. His contributions were helpful and valid, so he was treated like an adult. Ashley embodies the essence of what the group is meant to be. He treated us with respect, so we reciprocated. I was surprised at his precociousness, despite his hyperactivity and young age. Ironically, the older kids pick on Ashley while they should be emulating him.

Around 21:00, the meeting was over and we cleaned everything up. I had a nice conversation with Ashley about WWE wrestling. Did you know that The Undertaker was still competing? He must be in his forties! Overall, my first night at the Thursday youth club was an interesting one, to say the least. I am looking forward to going back next week to a hopefully better behaved crowd.

Time logged: 3 hours

Total time: 3 hours

Tags: Andrew B

A Stranger in Strangers’ Hall: What a mess!

March 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Today, for the entirety of the three and a half hours I volunteered at Strangers’ Hall, I organized craft cabinets. Why may you ask? For some odd reason, I thoroughly enjoy organizing (even though oftentimes my own room isn’t so) and when they asked me if I wanted to do this task, I sprung to it. With a cold coming on though, perhaps sorting through pipe cleaners and bits of paper wasn’t the best thing for me.

My boss briefly explained where the things were located and what she wanted done. Organizing some cabinets and writing lists of supplies seemed easy and mindless enough. Boy was I wrong. Since the museum is very much involved with children’s activities, they have massive supplies of random objects. They had enough paper and pens to last them a few years and yet they had only one measly box of crayons and about 15 children’s scissors. Clearly, nobody had sorted through their craft supplies in quite some time, so I set to work.

The supplies, activity guides and materials were all over the place with no sense of organization. I managed to make one cabinet only for supplies, one only for the activity sheets and the other for extra supplies such as pens, scissors, glue, etc. Even just that small task made a huge difference. Then I had to sort through everything…what a nightmare!

They tried to have separate bins for each activity with supplies in it, ready to go. Of course, that was not the case when I sorted through them. Many were filled with trash, lacking in supplies or instruction sheets and had no order to them at all. I tidied them all up and made a list of supplies that were needed. I even alphabetized the bins in the cabinet for easy reference. So maybe I’m a little “OCD.”

I then moved on to make some order of the huge supply cabinet. Nothing was labeled or in any order. I’ve realized over time that most people really won’t take the time to search through boxes or things to find something, unless it is labeled for their convenience. There were the usual supplies of paper, yarn, fabric and then the unusual supplies such as baby socks, nutmeg and floor tiles. After the cabinet was labeled and organized, I thought that my tasks were done, but then I turned around.

I noticed on the floor of the supply room that there were piles of random papers and objects that looked like they might have been for crafts. Guess what, I was right. Now I had a whole other pile of things to sort through that weren’t in any bins. I found more activities for the activity bins, useless scraps of paper, and other random activities that might possibly be used in the future. Once again, I sorted and organized, found places for these objects and left a pile of miscellaneous items that I had no clue about for the curator. Whew!

What I thought was going to be a day of mindless work turned into a day of organizing genius. I had no idea (and I think the museum workers as well too) of the amount of craft items and activities the museum had in possession now that it was all organized and labeled. I can understand why things get like this in a place like a museum, especially after a busy holiday, but it is just incredible just how unorganized it can get. At least I’ll be leaving in a few months so I won’t have to be there to organize it when it gets cluttered up again. I think I would cry if I saw it in disrepair again so soon.

Hours logged: 3 1/2
Total hours: 15 (technically I’m done, but I’m going to keep volunteering there anyways)

Tags: Alli · Museums

A Short Story of an Awkward Encounter.

March 3rd, 2010 · 2 Comments

“What are the chances?!” I continued to question, as I watched my mentee strip, shout, drink and dance (as if no one was watching) at Club Mercy last Thursday night. What were the chances of him and I bumping into each other at the club?! I guess I had forgotten how small Norwich really is… afterall, there are only but so many night clubs in the city center. Fortunately, we both maintained our distance, it was already awkward enough to see him outside of our formal meeting environments— especially when he was obviously intoxicated! In my attempt to set a good example, I refused to buy any drinks for myself, and even though we are close in age I felt a sense of motherly responsibility to address his behavior during our next meeting.

When we met the following week he insisted on starting our convo by discussing Thursday’s encounter; I conquered. Bekre claimed he wished we would have danced together, but I disagreed in response, tried to explain to him why I thought that was inappropriate but he insisted: “It’s just dancing!” But it isn’t just dancing when I have been trained to be someone he must respect, someone he can easily speak to and rely on, someone he can look up. It isn’t just dancing to me when he was clearly drunk— the chances of him crossing the line were high in my mind. A part of me felt like I was taking my role too seriously at this moment… I’m not too sure. But I believe there is a line that must be emphasized in any formal relationship. I think in the end he understood where I was coming from.

This encounter/discussion brought me to understand the some of the cultural differences between my mentee and I, as well as the ways in which he has been influenced by English culture in his nine months of residency in the UK. As we (Dickinson Humanities) have all learned over the past seven months, there are countless differences and similarities between English and American culture; as there between English and Ethiopian culture (where Bekre is from). Regardless of our known distinctive cultural upbringings/characteristics, we come together every week to share experiences, to support one another, to engage in intellectual conversations and motivational chats; NOT to boogie dance!  Besides, what are the chances of bumping into him at the club again!?!

Tags: Flow