Thursday, November 12, 2009
Friday, August 03, 2007
- The feel of freshly cut grass against my bare feet
- The feel of smooth pavement against my bare feet
- The feel of household flooring against my bare feet
- The hugs you get from fr
- The odd phone calls from the only people who understand what weird and wonderful sensations America evokes
- The radio full blast while I sing at the top of my lungs as the wind blows through my hair
- The casual conversations about nothing at all with whomever I choose
- The smell of so many different foods in one place
- The Cherry-limeade at Sonic at 1am with extra cherry flavor and extra flavoring
- The smile and laughs of new people in my life
- The sushi that is still awesome at Samuri
- The hugs my niece and nephew ply me with every time I see them
- The funny texts my PC friends still send because that is how we communicate
- The gossip that still flows fast and thick even across an ocean
- The smell of gardens and grass
- The sticky oven of heat that is Nashville in July and August
- The thrill I get from clothes I haven't seen in more than two years and completely forgot I owned
- The joy I feel in my job again
- The idea of so many wasted hours surfing the net
- The feeling that life has changed dramatically and that it is perfectly sawa sawa (OK)
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Back in the USA
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Views from the Peace Corps Bus
Friday, April 20, 2007
Gorillas And The Misty
Friday, April 06, 2007
I've "Been So Lost"
I have really just been swapped beyond belief with work. The Imani Design ladies have been at it like it is a sweatshop trying to get product ready for the big Peace Corps roll out which was last week. The roll out was a success, though the ambitious American in me wanted it to be even more. I will soon have pictures up on Flickr or some of the cool stuff they are making.
It is actually so funny it is to be this busy. When I first got to site, nearly two years ago, I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be this insanely busy and with a project and people I love so very much. Despite the horrible upheaval in my assigned organization (which really will stay undescribed here until I return to the US), I am one lucky volunteer to be living in a place I love (most of the time) and working with people who really are committed to things. Not everyone can say that.
There is a lot going and some really big decisions I will be making in the next few weeks. I am still torn as to when I will be coming home. My original plan had me coming home for my birthday (hint hint....get the cards in the mail now). I can still do that, but if I stay until July 4 (when I can get an early COS) I am thinking I will help Imani Rural Women's Action Group get on a sounder footing and be a more sustainable project. I still haven't decided and a lot depends on the actions (or inaction) of my supervisor (sorry for the subterfuge for those that don't know, but it really isn't appropriate to talk about in such a public forum).
I am basically putting off the decision until I return from Rwanda in two weeks. I leave next week for a week in the beautiful Rwanda where I will be tromping through the volcanic rain forest with Dian Fossey's gorillas. I think I am excited about that, but it is hard to overcome the mental hurdle of suffering through an 18 HOUR bus ride each way between Kigali and Kisumu...EACH WAY. These gorillas better make me tea and play scrabble with me or something.
PEACE ACTION REQUEST
So, I have a request (another one) for those of you looking to help me and my projects out. I would love for you to send along any Oprah (and other very colorful) magazines that may be laying round collecting dust. Part of my project involves making jewelry from old magazines (I know, I am the last person you'd thought that would embark upon a craft), and the magazines need to be very colorful (full pages of color, like O, People, Cosmo etc). This is the best recycling program imaginable. You'll get to see examples of this cool and funky jewelry when I get back (if I know you personally I guess) or soon with pictures on Flickr. Though, the pictures don't do it justice.
If you could M Bag these magazines to Kenya, you would be doing a world of good for the ladies of Pendo Letu (Our Love). M Bag is a slow boat way to send any printed material, it costs about a dollar a pound and takes six months to get here. Feel free to send it by faster means if you want such immediate satisfaction. Since I will not be here in six months (still hard for me to believe) please send them to the following person. She is a woman I have worked closely with throughout my service, and with whom I will continue to work closely.
Sophie R. A. Otieno
Oyugis, Kenya 40222
(Seems the US post system is a little thrown by the zip code and keeps sending my mail first to Louisville instead of Africa...Kentucky/Kenya, I guess that could be confusing.)
Thanks so much in advance for being part this Peace Action. Rest assured there will be more to follow.
Monday, February 05, 2007
Well, only 3 hours ago I was with 30 other Peace Corps Volunteers watching AMERICAN FOOTBALL! Now, it was 6am on Monday for us, and we'd stayed up all night to enjoy it, but it was worth it. It is hard to believe that another football season has passed while I whittle away the months in Kenya. It was a true joy to be screaming at the screen when Grossman made yet another bonehead move (in all of his 6 minutes on the field), and Manning seemed to be holding a spiritual conference with all the players he was calling so many audibles. The only way I managed to stay awake through the whole game was by spending the last quarter and a half explaining the intricate rules to my friend Shinita who had decided to cheer for the Colts (and there were so few of us) because she "likes horses." I figure that is as good a reason as any though. Now, me choosing the Colts side in this game in NO WAY diminishes my unyielding love for my Titans. That should be understood immediately.
Life in Peace Corps has gotten crazy busy and it is amazing that the last six months of service are really the most frantic months. Without going into too much detail (or really, no detail), y'all should know that things at my organization aren't so much kosher. I am fine and my work progresses, but there seems to be a few more stumbling blocks these days. I mention this because getting mail is proving to be more difficult than normal. So, if you have sent me any letters and I haven't responded, please know that it is not because I am slacking off. If it is something you really need a response to, please drop me an email or call me up. The on-going insanity of getting mail/packages/psychic messages has become simply absurd at this point, but for once I can't blame it on the Kenyan postal system (as much as I'd like to). I am doing just fine though, so there is NO need to be worrying about me, promise.
I have been putting up more pictures on the website lately, if you haven't checked over there recently. I went into the way back machine and put up some from training in Kitui from summer 05 (yikes, that was like yesterday). I know I repeat this every time, but I really am missing everyone desperately and hope everyone is doing well.
Monday, January 22, 2007
This and That
I don't know what I had even thought about writing here. I have been very busy on the usual stuff and can't think of too much new to write, not at the moment at least. I am ultra excited about my brother coming to visit in a few weeks. It has been so long since I have seen him (well before I left for Peace Corps) and it will be the first time he gets to hand with his big sis all by himself.
My women's group has been kickin' butt with their bead work and I am in the process of creating an internet persona for them. They now have a blog of their own (www.ImaniDesignsKenya.blogspot.com). It is pretty sparse for the moment, but I hope to get more pictures up soon, profiles of some of the women and general group demographics. They sold 4000/- ($56) worth of product last week, that means they are close to buying a sewing machine as a group (they want to make school uniforms to sell). I have included a picture below (hopefully, if this thing works right) to get you an idea of what's going on.
Ok, the following story is quite, um, harsh is the ONLY word for it. I am about to describe a traditional practice that would have PETA righteously flying 8000 miles to my house if they only knew. So, I might suggest that some would wish to skip past this to the end of the post.
So, last week, on a fine morning at 7:30am I was startled from my routine by a group of people out my back window tying up a bull. I really didn't pay them much mind except they were kinda loud and drowning out my radio. When I peeked back a few minutes later, the bull was hog-tied and on its side with a pole shoved between its legs for the length of its body. Well, you don't have to tell this girl twice to grab her camera and see what's going down.
Here is where it gets intense. In Kenya lots of men carry a runga, a stick carved with a big knob at the top. It has many uses, but I had no idea about this one. See, the family had brought in a traditional castration guy, with a mighty big runga. Well, there was to be no cutting this day my friends. Nope, this skilled tradesman placed the bull's testicles over the pole and began whacking on them (think "whacking day" on the episode of the Simpson’s). He did it over and over again; the bull uttered not even a sigh! I was beyond shocked at this point, I couldn't believe this was really happening, and within two feet of my house! Just when I thought the dude was done, he flips the bull over and goes about it all again! Now, I kinda (but not really) understand why they use testicular trauma to castrate a bull and not snipping them off. There really aren't any vets around, the bull was several years old and there would be no actual wound care available. But, when that bull was untied and it got up and walked away I thought that there is NO WAY I just witnessed what I had, let alone snapped some disturbing pictures. Kenya never fails to surprise me. I wonder if what Jeff would think of this method of animal care.
So, there we go, nearly two years in and still nothing is really routine. I hope everyone is well, and I will be uploading more pictures (on various subjects) in the next few days, so go check them out.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
I don’t know if you have heard any mention of Kenya or the Horn of Africa lately in the news, but if you have, you’ll not be surprised when I speak of flooding. For at least the past five years Kenya has been suffering under a drought. The northern, eastern and rift valley parts of Kenya have suffered the worst, but even here in the green western part of Kenya, the farmers have had a rough go of it with the reduced rainfall. Well, this year has been particularly rough.
First, it looked like the rains might start a little early, so all the mamas and framers got to work and put the crops out. After that disturbing false start, the rains stopped completely. The short rains did finally come, a month late. Then they wouldn’t stop! It has been so troubling for all of Kenya. The northern part of Kenya has been so petrified with drought that now that there is some rain falling, the ground is too dry to absorb it. This has led to widespread and devastating flooding, dire food shortages and many deaths. The flooding is happening in so many places, and it is a harbinger of worse to come. Not only will there be deaths by the initial catastrophe, but disease, homelessness and famine are sure to follow. Already the normal rainy season explosion of malaria is hitting near epidemic proportions. This isn’t even to mention the current explosion of typhoid in my town and I am just hoping that cholera and dysentery aren’t on the horizon. And still the rains haven’t stopped.
It is the end of December; we should be well into the dry season. January is the month that is actually quite hot here in Oyugis, not to mention unbearably dry and dusty. But instead of letting the maize dry in the fields and harvesting the beans, what little maize there is continues to get wet and the beans are near ruin. I was in a field the other day where there was literal mold on the beans. My friends and colleagues say that this time next year the price of maize will be four times its regular market price. Food security is always an issue for the people in my community, such a dramatic increase in price and likely shortages surely means I have friends that will be starving next year. I don’t even know what think or do. Sometimes I think being a PCV means feeling powerless and overwhelmed most of the time.
Merry Christmas 2006
It is strange to think that it is Christmas. NPR keeps speaking of the shopping, the traveling, the food and even plays carols during breaks, yet it still doesn’t feel like Christmas. I hope that none of you are caught at the Denver airport, suffering from the blizzard.
A few of my friends will have new youngin’s celebrating their first Christmas with family this year (Kate and Harper). I hope the families will be having a blast with their new additions and I’ll be looking for all those “1st Christmas” pictures to be coming soon.
I’ll be spending Christmas at home (my Kenyan home) trying to catch up on work and getting things done for the new year. It is hard to believe the immense time crunch I am beginning to feel, I can see the end of my service looming and it now feels like it is coming way too soon. I never thought I’d be saying that!
So, to everyone out there, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas full of cheer and fun. Eat lots of food and think of me, or even better yet, take pictures of Christmas dinner and send them to me. I am missing you all very much and I know I’ll be seeing you “relatively” soon.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
"Ah, For You, I'd Kill My Wife"
The title of this blog entry is the winning "wooing" comment from my time in Egypt. It happened the last day in Cairo, Carole and I were strolling through Khan al Kalili market and one guy says to me, "Ah, for you, I'd kill my wife." Now, not one prone to speechlessness, I was dumbstruck with silence. All I could think was, geez, your poor wife. This is all to say: I had a brilliant time in Egypt and I can't wait to go back!
It was just two of us as our third planned traveling companion ran into some problems. So, Carole and I set off to the oldest tourist attractions in the world. But before I can get to the pyramids, sphinx and all that crap, I have to talk about the cool crappy food we ate! We got off our insanely early flight to Cairo (departed Nairobi at 4am) and took a nice shower. We then walked ACROSS THE STREET from our hostel to the McDonalds!!! Now, it was the middle of Ramadan when we got to Egypt and the nice guys working at our hostel had invited us to break the fast with them that night. Carole and I have notoriously small tummies so we made a compromise (well, if you asked Carole, I forced the compromise on her). We would share a McNuggets meal so we wouldn't ruin our appetites for the big breaking of the fast that evening. It was difficult not to chow down on everything on the menu, but we (well, I) won out. And yes, the meal the guys brought in that night was amazing as well. But back to McDonalds. After a year and a half, it was so awesome how a McDonalds in Cairo tasted just like a McDonalds in Connersville. This isn't something I would normally rave about, but consider my skewed perspective.
So, on to the ancient wonder of the Giza plateau and the pyramids. They are HUGE. There is no way to tell from pictures just how massive they really are. It was really cool because they are practically in the middle of urban Cairo and you can see them from different parts of the city. The desert heat, especially after a year and a half in mild Kenya was scorching; I thought it would burn my eyeballs up. The best part was the horseback ride we did at sunset around the pyramids and into the desert. It was such pretty light and so quiet compared to earlier in the day when there were all these huge tour buses and inappropriately dressed tourists about (more on that later). Carole really wanted to take a camel, but the sunset ride lasted close to two hours, and as we know from the legions of experienced Camel Derby Vets here in Kenya, more than 30 minutes on a camel can incapacitate the tushie for days, so we both opted for the horses. Also, this let us ride further out into the desert.
After some touring around Cairo, we hopped a train down Aswan to continue temple viewing (and trying to avoid the pressure to see the High Dam…now I am sure it is a nice place, but I was assured it was only a dam and didn't posses magical powers, so we managed to ignore the agent pressure and ditch the dam). The highlight of going to Aswan is the massive, speed of light, motor vehicle caravan down to Abu Simbel. They do this for safety reasons, but there is nothing safe about at least a hundred vans and buses traveling near the speed of light through a dark desert, blindly passing, all to get to the same place at roughly the same time. That being said, we were one of the first ones there, so eat that suckers!
It is a cool, Ode To Ramses II that he built for himself along the banks of the Nile only 40km from the Sudan border. It really is impressive, and I really liked the Temple he built for his favorite wife, Nefertiti. We had to leave at 4am to get there, and it was worth it to have the morning light and NOT the unbearable heat of mid-day.
To get from Aswan to Luxor we spent the night on a felucca. It is basically like a Kenyan Dhow, or a wooden fishing boat, modified to sleep on the deck. It was a nice gentle ride, but packed matatu style with some partying Aussie chicks. Next time I think I'll opt for the private boat.
More temples…it is Egypt after all. We loved Luxor; it was a cool place to celebrate the end of Ramadan with Egyptians. And we were in a totally posh hotel with a TV and a bathroom that was beyond perfection. Fire hose strength water pressure, endless hot water, granite countertops, adjustable height showerhead…I could go on and on about the bathroom alone. At one point Carole, who is quite tall, walked out and said, "I was going to complain about the height of the showerhead, but it's adjustable, now there is not ONE thing I can complain about."
The shopping and the street food in Luxor were beyond compare. Egyptians love honey covered pastries, and even more so during Ramadan. We went from one curio vender to one food stall after another. Temples viewed include: Hatshepsut, Valley of the Kings (Tombs) Karnack and Luxor. All pretty amazing, but beyond my descriptive powers, go look at the pictures.
In Luxor we had the immense joy of spending the day with some of our Peace Corps Kenya buddies. Emily and Meg were also in Egypt and our trip overlapped by a day. So, what do four good friends do after so long removed from civilization and in an over-whelming historic and beautiful place? Well, we lunched at McDonalds (across the street from the Luxor Temple though) and we shopped! It was sooo much fun to be with them, because we could make the same dumb comments about how much better Egypt was than Kenya to each other and we all got it. We feasted (see the pictures) and then we soaked up some temples. We all went to Karnack together, which was great fun and gave me a great picture of them. It was the last time until I return to the States that I will see my Oyugis mate Emily, as she had COS'd (Close of Service) and returned to the US before I returned from Egypt. I will miss her, kabisa!
So, Em and Meg left for Cairo and we left for Dahab, better known to me now as PARADISE. Dahab is on the Sinai Peninsula on the Red Sea across from Saudi Arabia. Friends had been there previously and they couldn't speak highly enough of it, but I was still like, "it's just a beach." Oh no my friends, it is not just a beach. It is one of the best I have ever been to! The water is really indescribable, it is a sapphire blue, but more than that. And because of the geography, thirty yards off shore of most of its coast is a dramatic shelf that allows for absolutely brilliant snorkeling. We went out to the famous Blue Hole to snorkel and it just rocked. Behind us is stark desert cliffs, ahead of us, ravishingly blue water filled with the coolest sea life ever. All around us Bedouin folks schlepping diving gear on camels. It was really ideal. And the town of Dahab was so relaxed and laid back, no pressure, the sign of perfect beach culture. I can't wait to go back here.
We also ventured into some Holy Land touring. Carole and I climbed up Mt. Sinai, Moses' Mountain. Now, let me just say that there have been times in Kenya I would SWEAR I was freezing (as I am but a poor southern girl unaccustomed to cold, and now I am Kenyan, so it's even more dramatic). But nothing compares to how shockingly cold it was on the mountain. We began climbing at 1am so we could be up there for sunrise (I promised years ago no more sunrises, alas I broke my own vow). I was wearing a thin flannel pullover on top of a t-shirt, pajama pants and Chaco sandals with no socks (I live in Kenya, not too much need for a parka). The temp, according to our wonderful guide, dropped to just above freezing before the sun came up. I nearly didn't make it, especially when you consider the wind. But I am glad I did as it was beautiful to see the color of the stone in the early rays of sun. Because of the day (Sunday) there were only about 75 people up there, but all the other days there would normally be 700. I can't even imagine that, Moses' Mountain isn't that roomy! I guess that is why he went alone. Anyway, it was worth the freezing climb (ending with 750 rock hewn stairs to the top) to get a wonderful sunrise. At the bottom of the mountain is St. Katherine's Monastery where the burning bush is supposed to be housed. The monastery is closed on Sundays, hence the less crowded mountain top. But, the best views of the mountain are from the open rock outcroppings across from it, so all in all…GO ON SUNDAY. Our guide was a really nice guy who has been leading folks up and around the area for 18 years. He is a Bedouin guy who was so nice to tell us a lot about Bedouin culture, and how tourists trample all over it.
So, back to Cairo we went and then back to Kenya. I nearly wept getting on the plane, I didn't want to leave. Although our parting meals were KFC for lunch (not the same, as there were no fake mashed potatoes and no biscuits, we have to export biscuits y'all, the world doesn't know what its missing) and McDonalds for dinner. We went out with a bang.
Ok, now for some chat about perspective. I bet if I had come to Egypt straight from the US it wouldn't have seemed so amazingly modern. Just out of the doors of the airport we were giggling with joy over the smooth roads and painted lines on the street. Not to say that Cairo drivers aren't totally insane, they are! When we got to the hostel, the owner, knowing we were Peace Corps, said, "Welcome to Civilization." He couldn't have said truer words. The whole trip was marveling at how things actually worked the way they were meant to in Egypt. I think I got a tiny taste of what coming back to America is going to be like, and all I can say is you people better bare with me, it is going to be rough. But please do not let me eat crappy food like it will disappear tomorrow, or any of the copious amounts of food I took in while in Egypt. But I did know while I was there that I only had two weeks to shovel it in before I was back to sukuma and ugali.
Another comment…wear some clothes people. Now, Carole and I weren't wearing full abyas or head scarves, but coming from conservative Kenya it wasn't that difficult to cover our shoulders and most of our thighs. That being said, if you are NOT at the beach, and in a conservative Muslim culture, your tightest Daisy Dukes, half tank tops with your bra hanging out and belly bared is not the way to walk around. It shows a total lack of respect and only invites more attention (sometimes aggressive) and revile from the local culture. I know that when tourists come to my village wearing shorts it really is disrespectful to my community. Even though I am a tourist in a place like Egypt and I am not trying to fit in, there is a decent level of decorum that should be respected, and it was mind blowing how many people didn't give a care. Emily coined a brilliant term for it, Nakidity. I wouldn't like us (westerners) if you showed nearly naked in a culture where upper arm is risqué. So, please do a modicum of research into the culture of the place you are visiting, even if you are only hitting the major highlights, your host country would greatly appreciate it!
One last thing…if I did try, I would blend (insert Marisa Tome accent from "My Cousin Vinny"). Countless times a day I would be asked if I was Egyptian, and I finally began to answer in my thickest southern accent, "yeah, I am." It was true though, if I'd been wearing a head scarf and not standing next to a statuesque blond I would really have blended. I guess my theory continues to prove itself true, if your people are brown skinned, I really can blend. Too bad I can't use my powers in some super-agent capacity, that would be fun (language would get me every time, always does). The other funny thing was language. Kiswahili is a mixture of African Bantu language and Arabic, so we would constantly be stumbling over a few words that we knew that over-lapped with Egyptian Arabic. That was to the great amusement of all the amazingly nice and hospitable Egyptian people we met. They really are nice people, even if their blokes are aggressive with the chatter. Carole said, "They look at me and they think a good time, they look at you and think wife." It ended up being fairly true and amusing most of the time. The whole trip was amusing and relieving and fun and just a needed break from Africa.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Random Rhetorical Questions
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Projects and More
So, a friend asked me the other day while we were on the phone, what the hell am I exactly doing here. I guess I talk about my projects in such bits and pieces it can be hard to tell (well, sometimes it's hard for even me to tell and I'm living this life). So, I thought I would do a brief overview of my three main and current projects. There are other things I do skirting around these things, but these are what I would characterize as my main focus these days.
Post Rape Care: I've talked about this one a lot. Currently I am working to "mobilize" (fancy development term really meaning publicize whatever one is working on) community awareness of the program and also create a dialogue about rape in the first place. This really means I am sitting with mamas groups and talking about sex and rape. I am also working with the district hospital on creating "capacity" (another stupid development term meaning make sure they are actually doing this job of providing Post Rape Care like they are meant to be) by doing further trainings with the nursing and trauma counseling staffs. This will be an on-going project with no real conclusion, but I guess that can be said about most any of these projects.
Holistic AIDS/HIV Treatment: Eeegads, where to even begin with this? Well, needless to say, most have heard that meds are "available" for people living with AIDS, and I won't even go into why that word is in quotes, just trust me that it is a loose term. The problem is that there is no whole-life approach to treating these patients. It isn't really the health systems fault; they were completely over-whelmed and under-resourced before you factor in an epidemic like AIDS. So, I am copying an idea form another departed PCV's site and trying to offer comprehensive treatment at my organizations clinic. To do that I am working with the CDC (yes, that CDC, your tax dollars hard at work) in developing an experimental approach. One of the CHWs (Community Health Worker) I work with is currently in VCT Training (Voluntary Counseling and Testing…learning to give HIV tests and do counseling). She will return to start giving these tests from our clinic. Once that is underway, the nurse from my clinic will go to the CDC's staging training where she will learn the procedure in assigning a stage to those who test positive. If you are in a certain stage you are eligible for ARV's (anti-retro virals). If the patient is eligible then they go to the district hospital to get stabilized on the meds and treat any immediate illnesses. Once they are stabilized they would then come to the clinic once a month to get their meds from us. Now, the benefit of that is they will be seeing one caregiver every month, someone who can monitor their condition more closely than the staff at the district hospital. Also, by having a population of patients who are suffering the same disease we can provide extensive support in many areas and not just health. The staff at my organization can do group therapy sessions, nutrition classes, managing side afftects seminars and generally create a caring community to enhance the patients WHOLE life. Now, this is in the beginning (as my CHW is still in training) and the CDC wants me to keep the lid on it for awhile from my co-volunteers so that we can see how it goes, but if successful it will hopefully be a new approach in managing AIDS patients.
Imani Design Project: I don't know how best to explain this. I have a great friend at site; she is one of the most amazing women I have ever met! She has started a women's group and she is constantly on the lookout for projects that will help its members generate income. So, there is a project that another volunteer started probably 10 years ago over on coast. It is a vocational training program that produces these cool bags we all love. Peace Corps Volunteers buy these things in bulk (don't worry, you'll see them soon enough, I have bought many to give out a gifts). While I was at their workshop last month I got to thinking about how great the product is, how unique it really is and why aren't more people doing it. Then I though, why aren't the women I work with doing it? The coast project has some problems, mainly dealing with availability. They aren't great at marketing themselves. Well, I know NOTHING about crafts in general and sewing specifically. So, when I was sitting with Sophie after my return I asked her how hard it would be to make a few of the examples I was showing here. I then explained the setup and we brainstormed out the idea and she got really excited. Now, I made it a rule early on to never be the bearer of money, but this project seemed like too much potential success not to go find the funds to do it. So, hopefully in a few weeks I'll hear if the grant I wrote will come through. Assuming it does, we will begin to create this structured business (I will be doing extensive business training classes for the women). I am alerting you now that I will be selling these bags like Jerry Peace sells his hot sauce (blatant Nashville Production reference!). I will be helping Sophie and the Imani Rural Women's Action Group (Imani means faith in Kiswahili) put their product (once up to quality control and production quotas) into boutiques in Kenya. We hope to try and find an exporter (you know, one of those folks to place things into Ten Thousand Villages stores), but that is further down the road, probably after I have already returned to Kenya. This women's group is really great and it would nice to know that Sophie can help them learn a skill, make a marketable product and allow them to care for the orphans and infected community members from a self-reliant place.
So, that is what my days have been focused on lately. Of course I have been listening obsessively to the radio, when I am not reading that is. It is amazing to me that most days I don't miss TV so much. When something isn't apart of your everyday life you tend to forget how integral you once thought it was. I feel this way about electricity and running water. Even though when I stay in a hotel I have that wonderful shower and a place to plug in my beloved curling iron, once I am 10 minutes back at site I forget that it was even there. But, once you are around it again, you slip back into old patters. For instance, a few weeks ago me and like six friends were spending the night at another volunteer's house that has electricity and a TV. At one moment I noticed that we were crowded around a 13 inch TV with bad sound enraptured in an 8-year-old episode of Dharma and Greg. Now, when in America would that EVER happen? When I remarked on it we all laughed for a moment and then returned our stony gaze back to the TV. Ahhh, Peace Corps moments! What makes me bring this up is that NPR has been recently talking about the upcoming fall TV season. I don't really think about TV at home, but when NPR talks about the new shows I swear I go into the DT's! The worst of it is that Aaron Sorkin has a new show this season (creator of the West Wing and that amazing but short lived Sports Night). How can I NOT be there to see a new Aaron Sorkin show? Some days it is enough to make me cry! Please don't let it be canceled before I get home, it has Bradley Whitford and Mathew Perry for crying out loud...Eddie (you know who you are) please promise me you are taping this show!
So, in a few weeks I am headed up to Egypt for a little R&R. We will be there for the end of Ramadan festival and that should be really exciting. But, sadly enough, the thing we have talked about most in planning this trip is the fact that McDonald's will be across the street from our hotel in Cairo and that there is a Pizza Hut that overlooks the pyramids. Now, this is sad, but you start to miss the crap your culture produces after awhile. I hope also do some great shopping and get some cool pictures (especially from that Pizza Hut window overlooking the pyramids). Hope everyone is well and WILL BE WRITING TO ME SOON (no small hint!)!!
Saturday, August 26, 2006
Deep (or not so) Thoughts
Well, first things first, the past week has been like my birthday, but in August. I got four birthday packages ALL IN ONE WEEK! My friends JP and Renee came through like champs, if only a few months late. Well, I shouldn't imply that they were late (as my birthday is in May), but the Kenyan postal system felt I would need a little uplift and held off delivering my packages until just now. So, last week I put great conditioner in my hair, nearly cried with joy as I inhaled Doritos dust, put on some flashy new jammie pants, cracked some amazing new books and generally basked in the attention of my friends from afar. JP had mailed my packages in FEBRUARY! In her letter she remarked that when I read this letter I would be 3 months closer to coming home…well, I ended up being six months closer to coming home. It totally made me laugh riotously. Lisa also wrote me (as she does faithfully) and also commented on my impending return to my beloved Nashville. Hard to think about right now, being so close and yet so very far way from actually going home.
Life in Oyugis has been quite busy as of late. My site mate Emily had a mini Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) last week that I helped out with. You will be getting the full details of what Camp GLOW is in the future (with a shameless solicitation for funds, no doubt), suffice to say for now it is a gathering to empower girls in the areas of career, health, personal relationships, education and anything else we can think of. No drama here, it is just amazing. Well, at mini Camp GLOW I was brought in to talk about sex education and rape awareness (shocking, I know). Emily is their teacher, so she thought it would be easier for the girls to talk to me (an outsider) about more sensitive issues. The first thing you notice when entering a room full of Kenyan teenage girls is the absurdly painful shyness. I cannot begin to explain how painfully shy these girls are. Emily and I did a lot of motivation exercises, things like having them yell taboo words like: vagina, uterus, penis, etc. In the talk on sexual violence we ran through assertiveness exercises. This basically means having them yell for the first time in their lives that, "This is my body, you can not touch me," and "no" and something as radical as, "yes means yes and no means no everywhere we go!" It was great.
My ultimate observation is that we should be teaching reproductive biology in PRE-SCHOOL! The whole world over, as soon as girls can talk lets start teaching them how their parts work, what they are called and why we have them. The questions I had to answer regarding basic female biology was mind boggling! The boys had used and abused the girls' ignorance of their own bodies against them for malicious and selfish purposes. Some of the things I had to answer included: boys say they can tell when they have made you pregnant, is that true; you cannot have sex during pregnancy because it will hurt the baby, right; what else can you do if it isn't playing (having) sex or smooching. Emily had put up illustrations of female anatomy on the wall and walked more than one girl over to them and explained the basics of reproductive health. People, let's teach our daughters right, if we don't someone else will and I really don't trust their motives!
I guess I have been talking about sex a lot lately. I have been meeting with some mamas groups and talking about the Post Rape Care program and sexual violence in general. It has really been an emotional eye-opener. I love these women because even though I am not one of them, I am a westerner who has completely different sexual expectations and empowerment, they still open up to me. They ask the tough questions. They really want to know how to make life better for their daughters. I never have any concrete answers, but it does a world of good just getting the conversation going.
So, the book donations have really begun to come in. It is great being out at the school and seeing these kids expanding their minds with cool stuff that isn't required reading for the national exam. I hope to have some pictures up soon of the mural the kids painted in the library room. Thanks for all the donations, and remember it isn't too late.
Speaking of pictures, I am finally getting round to uploading safari pictures, random pictures, pictures from my friend's wedding and various snaps. If you haven't been over to the pictures site lately, head on over for a more traditional taste of Africa . I wish the safari pictures could have been better (and these are less than a tenth of the ones I took), but budget and time are always constraining factors.
A few weeks ago I got a lovely taste of costal life and lost my mind shopping. I have started procuring the little (and totally inadequate) trinkets to take home for friends and family. I have had amazing support with packages and reminders of home while I've been here. I am having so much fun picking out little tastes of Kenya for the gang back stateside. It sucks that budget even becomes a factor, but such is the life of the abject poor (at least the Peace Corps poor).
A few days ago I had this surreal Kenyan wildlife moment. There are these birds called Marabou Storks. These aren't the cuddly things that bring babies; these are huge meat eating birds that are massively imposing. So, the compound (well, kinda my) dog, Poppy, starts barking his head off at around six in the evening. He usually waits until about 2am for this kind of activity. When I peak out the door to see what the commotion is all about, he is going crazy at the trees. At first I just think he's just a little batty and pay him no mind (even though the tree is next to my house). When I go take second look I see this flock of storks perched at the top of the trees. Now, on land these things stand 5 feet tall, no exaggeration. They have an expansive wing span and long beaks. They have been known to attack children. It is just so cool. I am not worried because gathered around me watching the birds (and Poppy go crazy at the birds) are all the children, so by my sheer size advantage I feel makes me safe from a bird attack. What is so cool is they stay stationed there, at the tippy top of the trees, all night. They flew on their way around 7 the next morning. I can bet that won't happen when I get back to Nashville.
I am in Kisumu this weekend for an event sponsored by, well, the embassy and Barak Obama's Senate staff I would assume. If you haven't heard, Sen. Barak Obama is on a tour of Africa preaching his message of "African Self-Reliance." The special Kenya connection is that his father is Kenyan, Lou actually, and the family lives in a village near the lake. Kenya has gone crazy with Barak fever and it is quite funny. There are t-shirts for sale here that say "Welcome Home Barak." Well, it should be mentioned that he has only been to Kenya twice and that he was raised entirely by his white mother and white grandparents in HAWAII (I read the auto-biography). So, I could go into the hilariously funny plans for his visit to his father's village, but I'll only ask you to endure one example. Keep in mind the message that is the theme of this tour of Africa. So, a few months ago they name this dilapidated secondary school after Barak Obama. Since the announcement of his upcoming visit, this poor school that doesn't even have glass in the windows has been furiously engaged in building a "science lab" that is basically a room with the words science lab written above the door. Now, could there have been a better use of funds than building a room that will house nothing but dust and termites unless some rich person from America (who happens to be a member is the US Senate) ponies up the cash to fill it? So, I learned about some of the more outlandish absurdities on a series of reports on NPR. I loved the reports because they had some classically Kenyan cries for money from these "family members." The school children have been taught an endearing song (a re-working of " America the Beautiful" set to Kenyan landmarks) and the headmaster is hoping that Barak will leave "a little something." Preach on Brother-man about that African self-reliance!
Ok, so that doesn't explain why I was there. Why, what would be better PR than to have a gaggle of smiling Peace Corps Volunteers greeting this son "returned" at the airport. Now, I don't blame them, in my former (and future) professional life I would have exploited it for all it was worth. I just wish that they had put an hour or so into his schedule for an in-depth chat with a few of us on the ground here so that he would get a realistic picture of how that self-reliance thing is working out. I know that the Foreign Affairs committee (of which he is a member) doesn't distribute funds based on developmental practicalities, it is based on bang for the political buck, but he should still use such a valuable, up-to-date and candid resource as the volunteer community. We see the affects of the decisions they make, good and bad in our daily lives. Oh, and I was really there to see if he might be in need of a resourceful television producer for his re-election campaign. See Fletch, I'm always thinking ahead!
Ok kiddies, I am outtie for now. I have bored you plenty nuff for one week. I hope to keep posting pictures in the next few weeks, and also doing a better job updating this thing. Still missing you, so give a shout out if you think of it.
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Time Killers...For the First Time in Ages
Which Princess Bride Character are You?
this quiz was made by mysti
So, I have for the first time, a few minutes to kill and thanks to Lexi (an amazing friend who is moving to Kisumu), I found this. "Princess Bride" is one of my all time favortie movies. I have only seen it several thousand times and when mom was here in Kenya, I read the book. Now, I loved the book too, so I thought this was fitting. I was surprised to be Inigo, but I love that character AND Mandy Patinkin's creative portrayal of him.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Life and Learning
I was attending Post Rape Care training through offered through a large Kenyan organization; they fund and support the Post Rape Care program at the district hospital. This workshop was just amazing. The guy who was leading it is truly one of the most remarkable Kenyan men I have ever met. He has worked on sexual violence issues for many years and is very sensitive to the implications for survivors, justice systems, health care systems and cultural barriers. He just blows me away in his approach to education. The workshop participants were nurses, doctors and clinical officers (just under a doc) who have worked in the large Nairobi hospital for many years. They brought with them (as I did) their own ideas, prejudices, attitudes towards treatment of sexual violence survivors and rape definitions. This guy was mind-blowingly patient and gentle with antiquated ideas of treatment and what is really considered rape (a male OBGYN contended that a wife could not be raped by her husband, and this is a very common notion in most communities). It was an extremely refreshing educational opportunity. What was also wonderful is that they are trying to mobilize a national media campaign to both promote the Post Rape Care program (which includes Post Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV, Emergency Contraception, and prophylaxis for STD's as well as counseling sessions) and prevention of sexual violence. Guess who is well suited to be of assistance with a media campaign…yay me! Now all I have to do is help come up with some unconventional funding sources for a national media campaign against sexual violence. One of these days I will realize that I have bitten off more than I can chew.
I don't mean to sound so positive regarding the subject of rape. It is a staggering problem here. The latest statistics show that 40 percent of Kenyan women will suffer sexual violence in their lifetimes, compare that to the World Health Organizations world-wide average of 25 percent (which is in line with the American numbers as well). Either number is just heartbreaking. In Kenya, 80 percent of those that suffer sexual violence will know their attacker and 96 percent of victims are women and girls!
On other subjects…the new Peace Corps trainees are now in country and it is more concrete proof that my term in Kenya has peaked and I am now on the leeward side of the mountain. In some ways it is hard to believe that I was in their shoes just a year ago. I met some of them over the 4th of July weekend as they were getting ready to set out on their future site visits. One girl with whom I had exchanged emails with before she left was uber-kind and not only brought me a bag of Starbursts, but managed to hold on to them, UNTOUCHED, for the five weeks here before she met me. A champion in my book. All the trainees had the same pressing questions we had and it was such a walk down memory lane, and a relief to have the answers and not be the one asking the questions.
Ok, I know I am meant to have posted safari pictures ages ago…I am sorry it is taking so long. It is such a time/money consuming endeavor (takes ages to load just one picture from my Nikon with these slow internet connections) and I have been putting it off. Soon, I promise!
Well, I am off, back to my termite ridden mud hut to enjoy some mac n' cheese (though running low, hint hint) and listen to some Morning Edition on NPR. Miss you all and hope to hear from you soon!
Sunday, June 25, 2006
A Little Taste Of America
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
One Year Anniversary Lists
What I love about Kenya
Fresh, whole pineapple for 65 cents (compared to $4-5 in America)
World Space Radio – Ok, not strictly Kenyan, but a beautiful part of my everyday Kenyan life.
Long and Short Rains – Our lives are ruled by the rains. When is the last time you sat wherever you landed, to wait out the rain? Or leave something early as to beat the rain home.
Roving Livestock – I don't know why but I adore the random, roving cows, goats, sheep and chickens as they meander through my yard or through town.
Chapatti – I love the chapatti (flat bread) and the chapatti mama show sells them for $.08 each. Her hard work (I've made them, once, it is hard work) keeps my tummy happy.
Matatus – They are loud, crazy, comical, infuriating, life-threateningly dangerous, but they are never boring.
My Pee Bucket – There is nothing better to satisfy the lazy soul than shuffling 4 feet out of bed to pee at night. Seriously, you should try it…so convenient.
Cement Floors – This should sweep America soon. My cement floor means I never worry about how much water gets spilled, it all eventually evaporates. No mess, no muss and no fuss!
The Full Moon – When the moon is full, it's like someone left a light on outside, is so crazy bright. I never knew how dramatic the difference moonlight could make in the non-electrified night.
The Choo – In a country where plumbing, even if present, is usually faulty, the choo (or pit latrine) is very nice because "everything" just disappears down the hole. Almost like magic.
Boda Bodas – These are bicycle taxis that litter western Kenya, and they are brilliant. Have a new sofa to get home, hire a boda. To lazy to walk 4 blocks to lunch – TAKE A BODA! I want to bring these to America.
Things I, uh, "dislike" about Kenya
Self-imposed curfew of 7:00pm – When its always dark by 7:00pm, and the dark holds dangerous hordes, both real and imagined, you end up being in the house (if not in bed sometimes) by that time. Will I ever recover from my fear of the big, bad dark?
"Give me 5 shillings, trip to America, etc." – Who wants to have such demands come at you from random strangers many times a day, every day.
Abuse – The old adage of "shit rolls down hill" couldn't be truer, especially here. The hierarchy of abuse in Kenya breaks my heart. The top (not hard to imagine who has the power) beat down each successive layer to the bottom. Small children are even part of the pattern, as they are allowed to (along with everyone else) beat the animals. It's a cycle of violence that no one acknowledges or even recognizes.
Resignation – If I could have a nickel for each conversation that revolved around resignation of the situation, impossibility of change, lack of hope, I'd be rich beyond my dreams. This isn't an exclusive Kenyan application, sometimes it is more apparent within the Peace Corps Volunteer ranks (me included).
Grinding Pace of Bureaucracy – If you think American bureaucrats aren't extremely productive, come to Kenya and discover the real thing. Getting a meeting, question answered, piece of vital paperwork, or an idea of who actually occupies the office, is a chore that could take weeks to accomplish (no exaggeration).
Matatus – Yes, this appears on two lists. If you've ever been forced to depend on them for general transportation, you know that it's a "hate-love-hate| relationship. Plus, there is the whole "constant risk to life and limb" tat is involved every time you are smushed into. Not to mention the revolting smells, oppressive crush of people and the evil, single-celled amoebas also called touts to detract from their already lacking charm.
Children – This isn't really Kenya specific, as I am famous for my lack of fondness for children world-wide. Kenya simply hasn't changed that; it may have even solidified it a little more. But Kenyan kids are, comparativly speaking, amazingly well behaved. What American kid would sit on some strangers lap silently for a 5 hour matatu ride.
Gracious Hospitality – This may seem like a joke, but Kenya are such gracious hosts that I could scream. If you visit someone they feel you should consume copious amounts of chai (sweet milk tea) and they want to cook you a massive meal. My tummy can't possibly hold enough to make a Kenyan mama happy.
Maize – its corn's duller, less flavorful cousin (I was born in Indiana, we are experts) and it's the main staple (75% of food consumed). Ugali, gatheri, muthiqui, mahindi choma, and nameless other dishes all consisting of ground maize, dried maize, roasted maize or boiled maize. And none of it anywhere near the tastiness of fresh July sweet corn straight of the grill.
Staring – There is no way that anyone but an extreme narcissist could enjoy being under constant surveillance. All eyes seem to follow the "mzungu" once I leave the house. That's not the worst of it; the staring is coupled with pointed laughter and giggles. There is nothing that can upset most people faster than being laughed at, including me. If I open my mouth to utter a meager Dhlou word, everyone in a 1 mile radius falls down in fits of laughter. I can't wait to be anonymous again!
Things I have accomplished thus far as a Peace Corps Volunteer (hint: not much)
Book consumption – I have read 83 books in my first year as a PCV. Maybe this just proves TV is inducing brain rot, cause I can't say I'll ever be able to achieve such lofty heights again in my life. My reading has spanned multitudes of subjects and genres. I've read some brilliant books and I've suffered though some horrible crap!
14 Kiswahili words and 5 Dhlou words – I have abysmal language skills. I can only demonstrate this properly while trying to argue with street vendors. I consider it an accomplishment that I even know the proper name of the language (Kiswahili, not Swahili and Dhlou and not Lou). I can greet you in both languages, and luckily greeting is paramount in Kenya (plus English is one of the national languages…thank the entire divine world).
High Five – To avoid tough the grimy, germ infested hands of the two little boys on my compound I've taught them to give me a high five instead of the traditional handshake. This comprises the third goal of Peace Corps, spreading your culture.
Sex Education – I have managed to convince anyone who will listen to me (especially girls, women and teenage boys) that westerners are obsessed with sex, or at least that's all they (westerners) seem to want to talk about. This is a very conservative culture, so I am outstandingly funny with all my "family planning" talk and condom demonstrations (both male and female).
Answering Questions about America – This must be frightening to some of y'all out there, but to my circle of Kenyan friends and acquaintances I have become the voice of authority on all things American. These are your tax dollars hard at work.
No Murders – I manage not to actually kill a matatu tout thus far. If you could experience them just once, you'd be shocked and impressed at my restraint. I make no such promises for the upcoming year.
Raging Feminism – My other pet topic that is only exacerbated by the inequality of Kenya culture is Feminism. The guys I work with (and they are good guys) are good naturedly subjected to my rants about their misogynistic behavior many times a week. The debates that ensue would make your hair set on end.
What I Miss About America
Efficiency – I know that you, state-side Americans, don't realize it, but the system that runs government, business, transportation and even casual interactions is supremely efficient. Beautifully and gloriously so!
Pizza and All Associated – I miss pizza, hot and lovely from the oven with bubbly cheese and doesn't taste like cardboard. I miss pizza delivery, free and within mere minutes from the time you place the call. What a beautiful country!
Driving – Driving where you want to when you want to go and as fast as you want to go! Alone even! No squeezing 8 people into a Toyota Corolla (my current vehicle in America and a popular choice here, but no exaggeration on the number of passengers it carries…8!).
Friends and Family – That's a given. I almost didn't list it because it's so obvious, but I felt that someone might have thought me negligent.
My Job – Whodda Thunk It? Yes, I miss my previous (and next year, current) job as a Producer. At least I've been reminded of how much, despite my pre-Peace Corps thinking, I liked my job!
Legs – I'm not being a fetishist, I don't care what peoples legs look like, and I just miss seeing them (and mine). It is very taboo to show anything above the knee here for adults. \When I wear my Titans boxer shorts in the privacy of my own home, I do a small happy dance. I'm wearing shorts in December when I get home, and I hope you do too!
Casual Drinking – Long story short, women in Kenya (excluding Nairobi) don't drink, let alone have a casual glass of wine with friends at a pub. When men drink here, they do it excessively, exclusively (not including prostitutes) and riotously. I can't wait to have a luxurious cosmopolitan with Lisa or Sabrina at the new "hip" place in Nashville.
Girlie Things – I'm not really missing this because the pre-Peace Corps Misty didn't do "girlie things." But I am now excited about wearing my hair down (gasp), buying shoes not exclusively available at REI (double gasp) and even limiting my Jammi pants wearing to casual time and shoot days (continuous gasping). No, seriously, just wait. Ok, we'll see how long that lasts, but at this moment I am fairly sincere about it.
Phone Use – Using the phone in Kenya (mobile or landline) is expensive so we rarely speak on the phone and when we do it is in short, quick, staccato bursts. I'm going to burn the lines up.