Activity - Siyahamba

In ninety-eight-degree heat, in a dusty classroom where shards of glass clung to broken windows and torn books lined cracked wooden shelves, the fifth grade class of Green Bells School in Lake Baringo, Kenya, began to sing—in English. Recognizing the song, Siyahamba, gave me chills. I had also sung it in fifth grade—in Swahili, and my choir was practicing it that year as well! I felt keenly alive as the song pulsed like a heartbeat; loudly, softly, then loudly again. The students sang Siyahamba as if they were singing the last song of their lives, pouring out joy. All year, I had wanted my choir to sound like this—to bring Siyahamba alive! I felt profoundly connected to the students, because they were singing with the same commitment, enthusiasm and excitement that I do. In that moment, I truly understood that no matter where we go to school or how much money is in our pockets, we are all the same—we all have uncharted power and passion inside us, we just have to bring it to life. 


            When I was ten we lived in what I thought to be an extremely old house, because everywhere I walked, the floor would creek.  Because the house seemed so old, I was convinced ghosts inhabited it.  I was so afraid of these ghosts that I could never fall asleep.  Every evening before I went to sleep, I would get into fights with my parents about the supposed ghosts. 

             “I can’t go to sleep! The ghost will haunt me if I do!” I said, on the verge of tears. 

            “Having these fights every night is insane.  Why do you feel we have ghosts living here?” my mother said. 

            “Because if a house is older than two hundred years old, there are ghosts living there,”  I said confidently.

            “ I don’t think our house is more than two hundred years old. In fact, I’ll have that checked,” my mom said.

            The next day my parents had a family friend who was a biometrician measure the age of our house.  It was only ninety-five years old.  With this information I was able to sleep at night.  Ever since that day I admired  people who study biometrics.  Now, knowing that I have a strong math background, I feel that biometrics and statistics might be a good field for me. 

            I especially like the program at --- because the department offers many opportunities for undergraduates.  I was impressed that renowned researchers like -- work with undergraduates.  I am also excited that -- offers undergraduate research in biometrics.  I have conducted many research projects, including math projects, and I believe that research is one of the best ways to learn.  In fact, the department seems to have a very positive attitude towards learning.  I liked that the department of biometrics has a weekly discussion series (--).  This gives me the impression that it is an open, dynamic department.

            I was especially impressed by the course, Supervised Teaching.  Supervised Teaching would give me the opportunity to have more practice teaching others.  This program is unique because undergraduates can obtain real teaching experience by actually grading student work, leading discussions and holding office hours.  I have been a volunteer tutor for over six years, and this would give me the opportunity to put my teaching skills to use and to continue to develop them.

            The teaching, research, and learning opportunities in the Department of Biometrics at --- are a good match for my math background, teaching and research interests, and my desire to learn in a positive, dynamic environment.


            My most recent failure was asking my mom, "Where are the car keys?"

            She replied, "I don't know why the dog is barking."

            No doubt, that is a failure of communication. But I've failed to communicate with both of my parents on an almost daily basis for as long as I have been able to speak, so I try not to look at it as failure.

            Having deaf parents means my life is a perpetual game of "Who's On First." One of my most memorable misunderstandings happened when I was nine, on the way home from watching Jurassic Park II with my parents and grandparents; I was upset because my favorite character wasn't in the second movie.

        I asked, "Mom, what happened to Ian?"

        My mom replied vehemently, "Alien? Absolutely not!  You’re way too young to see that movie!"

        My dad:  "Earthquake! Where was there an earthquake? I better call Uncle Marty to see if he's okay!"

        My mom was confused. "What are you talking about? Where was there an earthquake?"

        Dad shrugged, "I don't know, you said `earthquake'!"

        Mom shook her head. "No, I said `Alien'."

        My dad put his hand on my shoulder reassuringly. "Oh, those aren't real, don’t worry."

        My mom said, "No, the movie!"

        Dad replied, "Oh, I didn't like that movie, Lost in Space is better."

        I was excited. "You like Lost in Space?"

        My dad was excited. "You got second place?"

And so it went: a typical conversation in my family.

            No doubt, sometimes it's exasperating. But I usually choose to see the humor and enjoy it. Instead of getting insanely frustrated, everyone's along for the ride-- misunderstandings lead to new topics and old topics are left behind. I think this contributes to my openness to new ideas, and the free-form way I think. I never did get to find out what happened to Ian. He was abducted by aliens, stuck in an earthquake, and Lost in Space, but that's okay, because in my family the adventure is more important than the answer.

Shoeless Joe Jackson

Someone bumped the ball and I bounded forward, arms in the air, ready to keep the ball in play.  But, my shoe stuck to the floor. My foot suddenly felt lighter, but cold. A roar of laughter engulfed me from all sides- from teammates around me, teammates on the bench to my right, the other team in front of me, their bench, and all the spectators for both teams in the stands. The laughter was hot as if the sun were branding my cheeks. I didn't know what to do, but I thought if I picked up my shoe the laughter would burn me up so I just kept playing without my shoe. After the game, the first thing my mom said was, "What happened out there?" I couldn't answer.  At that moment, her words were hotter than the laughter; to escape the heat I thought "I will tie my shoes so tight so that my feet will never feel cool again!" Luckily, my dad came up with a less embarrassing way to respond to my experience. "Hey, Shoeless Joe Jackson!" He burst out laughing and I did the same. As I laughed at myself the heat felt as if it were draining away, and my flushed face felt cooler, like my foot had during the game. At the time I didn't know that Shoeless Joe Jackson was a baseball player from the 1930's, I only knew the feeling of relief that my dad's reaction gave me. I went home still giggling about how this will be something I can always laugh about, and I've never worried about tying my shoes since.


Varsity volleyball tryouts had just ended. An odd odor wafted through the air— the heavy, bitter smell of Laura's sweaty kneepads.  Over four years of playing together, the entire team had come to accept and even strangely appreciate that smell.  It signaled success, reminding us we had played out best.  Standing in the gym at that moment, I knew that I had played my best, but I was still nervous about making the team.

            One after another we were called into the corridor.  I was last.  Since I had played so hard, my legs felt heavy, as if the gym floor were made of quicksand. My stomach felt more and more queasy with each step.  I pushed the door open and saw the coaches' eyes.  They didn't have to say anything.  The moment I saw their faces, I knew. 

            As I drove away the tears welled up in my eyes, and quickly turned to enormous sobs.  At home in my room, I cried for hours.  When I calmed down, I went downstairs.

"I didn't make the team, mom."

"What?  You're kidding!  Who else didn't make it?"

"Just Laura an' me," the words came out as I wiped my nose on my sleeve.

"Huh, well, there's nothing you can do.  You did the best you could and that's that.  I guess you'll just have more time to focus on school and radio now since this is the first year you're on radio board.  And, you still have club volleyball.  It won't be that bad."  When I heard those words I took a few deep breaths.  I felt like my tears had rinsed away all the sad and angry feelings I had felt, and that my mom's words replaced them with hope. 

The following weeks were filled with running the high school radio station as Operations Director and playing club volleyball. One day, I was working in the radio office when Scott, the Special Events Director, hesitantly approached me. He asked me to broadcast a volleyball game with him: "but if you don't want to, I totally understand." 

"W ell, I don't know," I said.  My stomach felt tense and I began to feel uncomfortable and antsy.  I thought about how awkward it would be for me to sit there and watch the team that I got cut from. At the same

time, though, I loved being heard on the radio.  With trepidation, I agreed to the broadcast.    

"Pigott digs up the serve, she passes it up to Quish, who sets it out to Anderson.  Anderson slams it!  And that's another point for New Trier."  Sitting there describing every play made me want to jump up out of my seat, hurdle over the equipment table and get ready to receive a serve.  When the players looked up and saw me, they smiled and waved.  I could feel their appreciation for my willingness to come out and broadcast the game, despite the fact that I was cut from the team.  This made me smile back at them and I started to enjoy

myself more. I ended up announcing all the varsity volleyball games for the rest of the season, something I couldn’t have done if I’d made the team.

I learned that I can I can take a situation that didn't have the outcome I would have hoped, and turn it into something else that I love doing. The team itself had a part in helping me learn that success is just a choice about how you see things, because we could have seen Laura's sweaty, smelly kneepads as something that hindered our playing, but instead we saw them as a signal of success. What I got out of all my years of volleyball went far beyond the court.  Even though I didn't make the team, I never lost its spirit.