The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love...Kenya

The contents of this website are my own PERSONAL opinion. They do not reflect the opinions, policies, actions, feelings, or eating habits of the Peace Corps, the U.S. Government, any government, shadow governments, or anyone else, for that matter, but ME.

Thursday, November 12, 2009



Friday, August 03, 2007


I was doing 80 down I-65 tonight and just pondering what a cool day it has been.  I am so blessed in my life right now and I just want to celebrate great people/moments/events that have me happy to be home.
  • 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)
That is not to say that everyday I don't think of something I miss about Oyugis and Kenya.  I will write more about that later, but right now I just want the newness of this life to be the moment I am living.  These are some great moments.  I have let go of so much of the crap that I was holding on to before I left.  i can't remember most of it, which proves how incredibly pointless and negative it must have been.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Back in the USA

I know I have been completely remiss in my updates.  For one thing, I am home.  I don't really know what home means anymore (for I really have thought of Oyugis as my home for the past two years), but for the moment home is in Nashville.  I have been home for two weeks and it is wonderful, strange, tragic, fun, and awful.  I should write so much.  I can't write anything.  I know I have left some of myself in Kenya, and I just hope it isn't the best part of me. 
If has been positively magical to see all my friends and talk to others on the phone.  My niece and nephew have simply turned into giants.  My sister glows with happiness.  More to come, hopefully
For those who want to contact me, you can drop me an email and I'll give you my cell phone number (

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Views from the Peace Corps Bus

So, here is how four Peace Corps Volunteers go about ingesting the new country (Rwanda) they are in after two years of Peace Corps life in Kenya.  These things were actually said, out loud, to each other:
Wow, these cows are so fat, you can't even see their hip bones!
Why is there no trash on the road?
Hey, the conductor (tout) didn't snatch my money.
All this rain, they really should have a water catchment'd never have to fetch water again!
Where are all the dukas and jua kali shops?
Why aren't there more goats/cows/chicken to graze on all this lush vegetation?  And why aren't the goats/cows/chickens that are here in the middle of the road?
Where are the donkey carts/hand carts/bicycles to block road traffic?
Hey, they are having a meeting under that tree in the field!  They might not even NEED Peace Corps Volunteers.
The stima (electricity) hasn't gone off once!
There are no chickens on this matatu.
All those banana trees so close to the house, they must have an awful spider problem!
Look at all these pretty feet!  The women here have such smart toes.
No one is wearing clothes that clash.  The whole wardrobe of the whole country is so coordinated.
How are these roads soooo good?  You could Rollerblade them.  I bet that's why the bus seems to have breaks that work.  hey, and even the shock absorbers work!
At least its "I Believe" playing, Cher is so much better than Lou music.
OH MY GOD!  These women aren't wearing petticoats (slips)!  Scandalous!
What Non-PCV's were over-heard to say of Rwanda
It's so pretty.
Geez, this is taking long.
Why is "I Believe" playing AGAIN?
It's so pretty.
There you have it, the difference in world views in a nut shell.  Next time you are on a road trip with your favorite volunteer, look for some of this charming comments.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Gorillas And The Misty

Rwanda...Awesome!  OK, here is a jumble of thoughts about how great Rwanda is: indescribably beautiful, roller coaster hills, roads so good they make you cry, cheese cheese and more cheese that is delightful, affordable safe and enjoyable local transport, unbelievably stunning women, fabrics to die for, killer lollipops, and super nice folks.  It was a great time and despite some last minute disappointments (I'll miss you Mr. $200, but I hope we will meet again, and the sketch bastard who took you I hope he likes that $200, cuz I sure could have used it myself). 
So, our trip began with a somber dip into the recent past.  We visited a few of the genocide memorials and the genocide museum.  I have been a little consumed with the subject since I joined Peace Corps.  I've read probably 7 or 8 books on the subject, including Romeo Dalliar's "Shake Hands With The Devil".  He was the UN Force Commander and his book has the best logistical and outsider observations.  It is hard to wrap my head around.  The first memorial we went to was a church where 5000 men, women and children who had sought refuge on holy ground were slaughtered in a matter of hours.  Being there and seeing the remains of horror has shaken my faith in human kind.  The genocide museum is an amazing testament to truth.  It was an amazing and difficult experience that I am happy was balanced by roving the countryside and seeing what Rwanda is like today.
Yes, I am now undertaking a campaign to have a baby gorilla named Misty.  They have a naming ceremony in June and I can think of no better name.  Seriously, it is misty as hell in the Volcanoes National Park (hence, the name of the movie and the book, "Gorillas in the Mist").  It was an amazing experience.  Me and my three great pals Devin, Meg and Kirsten got to hang with the Hirwa (Lucky) group for an hour.  It is a group of 10: 1 silver back, 1 black back, 4 adult females and 4 babies (1 under 9 months!).  This was a great group to see, and they weren't even noticing us, until that is, the silver back CHARGED us full on.  Our instructions were "DON'T RUN" and to look down.  What did we do, what any natural human would do, turn and try to run.  But, when you are in a far corner of the jungle, off trail completely, THERE IS NO PLACE TO RUN.  He was just playing with us, but I tell you what, it seemed real enough.  I hope to have pictures up in the next week or two, so go over to Flickr and you can see them.  I'll let you know when they are up.
Overall we agree that maybe Peace Corps Rwanda (which was there until like 1993 I think) would have been a great experience (though I still love Kenya kabisa!).  It is truly the land of a 1000 hills, each of them more beautiful than the last.  It was a great week and I plan to return sometime soon.  The bus ride was long, but because the roads of Uganda and Rwanda are not nearly as disastrous as Kenya, not as bone crushingly awful as a trip from one part of Kenya to the other.  Considering that both countries are poorer than Kenya, it makes you understand how pervasive money mismanagement really is.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I've "Been So Lost"

That is what Kenyans say when they haven't seen you in awhile (and sometimes that "awhile" could be 20 minutes)...You've Been So Lost (or nimepotea I think in Kiswahili, though looking at it, it may mean I've been so lost and should be umepotea...sijui (who knows), I live with Lous and we don't need no stinkin' Kiswahili).  Either way...I'm back, of sorts at least.

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.


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
Box 193
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 ( 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

Too Much

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

Merry Christmas

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

How can I still be suffering under an administration that is headed by an incompetent, callous and reactionary leader with no concern for those who he's paid to be serving (and for once I'm not talking about Bush)?  How could I not have figured out a way to save my friend from being Admin Sep'd?  Will she know the huge hole she's leaving in the hearts of PCVs and Kenyans alike?  Why do I feel so utterly alone and adrift all the time?  When it's my turn to follow in Jen's footsteps, can I match her bravery and ferocity?  If no one sees the tears, does it mean they don't exist?  Where has all the time gone, and why is it going so slow?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Projects and More

Wow, what an incredibly busy month it has. I know I should have updated a while ago, but I have been so wrapped up in work, I really haven't had the time.   Also, getting Internet access has been particularly difficult.  Usually I go to the post office and use the Internet there, but the government hasn't paid its Internet bill so they owe like a billion shillings and no one knows when service will be restored.   Karibu Kenya!


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

So, been kinda quite on this blog as of late, sorry.  Every time I think I will have a chance to put some thoughts together something goes tragically awry and my efforts are thwarted.   Well, it isn't tragic really; I am being far too dramatic.  The past few weeks in Oyugis have been really crazy, and add to that that the electricity has been more off than on in town, well, you get the idea.    So, the following will be a collection of fairly random thoughts and ponderings.  That's what I get for not keeping this thing up to date.


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

Inigo Montoya

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 walking to town today after being away from Oyugis for a couple of weeks, and I was so surprised at just how much I missed my little town, my little house and all my friends at work.   When I get back from such extended absences everyone is like "you were so lost…why were you so lost." And even they knew I was to be away, such a fuss is made when I come back it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside.


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!


What is positive is that there are now a few organizations beginning to tackle this problem from both the social/cultural perspective as well as the legal and medical perspectives.   It is no exaggeration that awareness and stigma regarding sexual violence is today where HIV/AIDS awareness and stigma were five or ten years ago.



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

You might not know this, and you might not be able to appreciate the level of sincerity I am trying to express...but, is there anything in this world better than that powdered cheese in the Kraft Mac n' Cheese Dinners (or, as our Canadian friends would say, "Kraft Dinners")?  I know that Bare Naked Ladies pined about them in the millionaire song, but I had no idea back then.  Back when I could just get in my car and have any tasty delight I wished, at nearly anytime of the day or night.  Back when I kept those boxes of mac 'n cheese in the cabinet for emergencies (like being too lazy to just go get some tasty delight, or being too broke and needed something to tide me over).  I remember when I was a kid and we ate them all the time, because when you grow up poor in America, Kraft Dinners were remarkably cheap and could feed unrelenting hungry kids.  I remember eating them in college because I hated romain noodles and, while Kraft was more expensive, that extra  25 cents was like a luxurious splurge while still being able to afford the other essentials (like tuition). 
But now, now that some kind folks in America have bags of unneeded macaroni from those blue boxes cluttering their cabinets just so that they could donate those lovely cheese packets to a worthy cause, now that I am thrice weekly enjoying a real (well, sorta real) taste of home, now I understand.
That wasn't all the goodies included in the bag Mom lugged half way round the world for me, but it is what has just thrilled me in this past week.  I can't believe how good it tastes, and how much I crave it.  I sure hope my tastes for processed and junky American foods abates once I return stateside, because otherwise I am courting an early death.  I guess these are just the comfort foods, and once they are readily available, I will return to my natural foods campaign and only rarely indulge in the high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, artificial sweeteners world that American food has become.  Although, I don't know if I will be able to kick the Lemonade Crystal Light habit, as it has become so delightful.  And, oh please kind Universe, don't let me continue to crave Slim Jim's, those things just CAN'T be good for you!
I am so thankful for all the goodies people sent (you'll hear from me individually).  Thanks to some really caring friends and family I can now listen to my radio with abandon, snap into a Slim Jim (though, they are nearly gone already), wash and style my hair, catch up on progressive feminist thought, wreck my teeth with processed sugar, and generally take pure joy in the little things that have come to mean so much to me in my little corner of Africa.
This Juneteenth (read up on Civil War and Black History) finds me getting ready to go to yet another Peace Corps training nini (nini is used like the word thing or thing-e in America, but even more so in Kenya).  This is the Cross Sector Meeting, and I am utterly underwhelmed to be going.  I have packed a few books to occupy my time, as Webuye is hardly a thrilling tourist destination (although rumor has it the hotel has a pool).  Peace Corps means well by these training sessions, but I find them a total bore.  I am also not one to wait to be trained on something to give it a go at site.  If  I need information, I usually seek out the folks who have it (go figure).  After the Cross Sector meeting, we go to Nairobi (AGAIN, as I have been there three times in the last month) for the 4th of July party held by the American Chamber of Commerce and the American Embassy (who hates PCV's).  There are some nice, rich expats here who take sad pity on us broke PCV's and donates vouchers for us to eat and drinkat the party.  I sometimes feel like an urchin in Oliver Twist, minus the catchy tunes.
After that, it is back to work.  I have to stay in Nairobi (uggg...well, sorta uggg, there is Java House to eat) to do some Post Rape Care Clinicians training taught by Liverpool VCT.  It will be really interesting, and this will allow me and Emily to really dig into the re-training of the staff at our district hospital.  We want to also figure out how people in other communities have been doing Anti-rape community mobilization, considering what a taboo subject it is, and considering it means taking the message to men who are not terribly open to the subject of gender empowerment and sexual autonomy.  I am looking forward to this training!
So, that is the current scene from my perspective in Kenya.  I hope to get back to Oyugis soon, as I am having a blast seeing the nurse at my clinic occasionally wearing the scrubs Mom brought her (she wanted a nurses uniform from America).  Also, I am hoping to get together with the CHW's and manage some sort of First Aid training, but I am working from a Red Cross book (and my own Red Cross training) where every other instruction is to call 911.  The mere concept of trained emergency personnel at the dial of a phone makes me get all misty-eyed.  Here, if you don't bleed out first, and manage to endure riding on the back of a bike for a bit, then the matatu to a clinic or hospital, you are in good shape!
Hope you all are well.  And have a great 4th of July, enjoy the charred and BBQ'd meat (kabisa), drink lots of iced down beverages (both adult and not so adult) and most of all, HAVE FUN and I am with you in spirit.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

One Year Anniversary Lists

Ok, I promised a KUBWA (big) post talking about being here in Kenya one year.  I have been slow to publish only because I was dashing round Kenya showing my mom all the sights.  I don't really know why I went with the list format, it seemed the most organized way to approach the mass of thoughts going on in my head.  The list isn't in any ranking, it is how these things came to mind for me.  Even if I had ranked them, the ranking would change hourly anyway.  So, hope you all are looking forward to an amazing summer (it is summer there right, we don't really have seasons here, and you can sorta loose track sometimes).

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.


Food – I know pizza got its own line item, but that's just special.  I'd say PCV's spend 40% of their time talking dreamily about food.   Here's my abbreviated list in no particular order:  Taco Bell, BBQ, Thai, Sushi, Mexican, Basante's, Bread and Co. Creamy Tomato Soup, Hummus, Big Green Salad, Movie Popcorn with "Butter", Chinese Take Out/Delivery, Turkish place in Lion's Gate, Pizza King (specifically), Stone River Rolls, Alpine Sun Dried Tomato Bagel (I know they were bought out, but I gotta dream) with Cream Cheese, Chicken McNuggets with Hot Mustard Sauce, Bags of Pre-cut Carrots, Fruit Smoothies, Strawberries, Cheese (all kinds, even Velveeta, which might not be actual cheese at all), Italian, Baja Burrito, Sweet Tea, Apple Pie, Cheese Cake, Peanut Butter Fudge, Raferty's Hot Fingers, Hot Wings, Cheese Sticks, Vingrette Dressing (on a Big Salad), Doritos, Wine, Strawberries, Key Lime Pie, Grilled Chicken Anything (breast, sandwich, etc.), Caesar Salad,   Chicken Caesar Salad, Anything cooked on a Grill (Hamburgers, Hotdogs, Ribs, etc.), Strawberries, Reese Cups...and so much more.  What is so funny, I didn't really eat a lot of this when I did live in America, but you really can miss the crap we have so much abundance of!
Ok, that is my first year.  Wonder what I will be thinking this time next year.  Only time will tell.  I hope to hear from all of you soon.  I promise photos from Mom's visit soon (we went on safari).  Miss you and, I'm over the hump as far as when I'll be home.  Not quite a short-timer, but in the downside none the less (wish I had more to show for it).