My last day in Kakamega has arrived! It's a very odd thing that I have just 24 more hours in this town, but as my host sister Grace would say, “It's nature, girl, that's just the way things have to be.”
The past couple of weeks have gone by in a flash. I'm not quite sure how to tackle this....
Well, let's start with my final project. ACCES has a school called Shivagala Community School; this school is located just a seven minute walk down the road from Shibwe Sub-District Hospital, which has been growing and expanding for the past fifteen or so years (that number is very rough, by the way). One would expect for the children to just naturally be taken to the hospital when they fall sick. But no, they are not. Though the students are referred to the hospital by the community health nurse, the parents normally do not honor the referrals. Why? Through many conversations with people from the community, teachers, and doctors, it seems to mainly be because of money restraints and that particular community's attitude towards the hospital. The ACCES schools were created for orphans and vulnerable citizens; therefore, yes, money is an issue. The hospital is not entirely unaffordable. It costs under $3 or $4 to open a file, get a hospital card (both of which are necessary for first-time users), and to get tested for malaria. Malaria treatment, by the way, is free. However, because of the population that makes up this school, it can be very difficult to afford to address their health needs.
There have also been misconceptions of the hospital and their costs. For example, one person may hear that somebody paid 3000 shillings for an overnight stay, and the next thing you know, nobody will go for even an outpatient issue, let alone inpatient. Combine the rumors with the cultural tendencies to wait out the sickness, pray it away, or use a witch doctor, and you have a total of zero kids from Shivagala being taken to the hospital to treat their malaria or skin disease or typhoid.
Therefore, staff of ACCES and I organized a sensitization meeting to be held at Shivagala Community School for the guardians. About five Community Health Workers came with the Community Health Extension Worker to present information on the hospital: which resources are offered, prices, the importance of their child's health and hospital visits. The meeting went fairly well; about 75% reported that they had better feelings about the hospital after the meeting than before (we had them fill out a feedback survey at the end of it all). The CHEW recognized that there needs to be more meetings in order to completely smooth over their relationship and told me that she'd like to bring the chairmember of the board and the head doctor to the school. So hopefully that will happen and sensitization between the two can continue.
The second part of my project was to organize for a planting day with the Income Generating Vocational Activities coordinator and Shivagala's 4K Club (basically a 4H/farming club). This past Monday the IGVA coordinator, Accounts Manager, Shivagala teachers, the 4K Club, and I planted sikumiwiki seedlings along with various indigenous vegetable seeds in the small plot of land that the school owns across the road. There were some extra seedlings, so the students took those home to have their own private plant. Under the supervision and monitoring of mainly the IGVA coordinator and the Shivagala teacher in charge Justice, the crops will be sold to community members and that revenue will be put towards assisting in paying for the students' medical bills when the time arises. Yeah!
I feel like I just made it all sound so simply; however, in actuality, this project underwent a huge amount of trials and errors. But I'd rather focus on the end result right now seeing as it's my last morning and I don't want to stress myself out just thinking about it! Hah! Nonetheless, it was a fantastic learning experience for both my coworkers and I and I feel as though we have been able to open so many more doors in reference to tackling the referrals issues. Though I will not be there to put in my two cents for any of it, I know my coworkers (former coworkers now?) will carry it out and handle it even better than I can foresee.
Speaking of my great coworkers, they held a farewell party for me yesterday! We drank soda, ate awesome cake, and danced and sang. It was great. In true Western Kenya style, it started storming right in the middle of it all. So I was going to try to leave the office a tiny bit early after my party; instead, I was there till about 6:30 or so, just hanging out with my coworkers, the rain, the thunder, and the rivers forming in the roads. I ended up taking a taxi for the first time here. But on the road that goes back to where I live, a huge truck got stuck going over some of the speed bumps—or as the Executive Director's wife would say, speed mountains (which is completely accurate). Cars, pikipikis, walkers, and bodabodas were weaving everywhere, in and out and in and out of each other to get around this truck. Cars even started driving on the sidewalk! (It isn't really a sidewalk, by the way. It's a strip of pavement but mostly a dirt path that is on some raised bit of land.) Thankfully, my driver was incredibly safe and just took his time getting around the truck. It took us about fifteen minutes and we only went off the road and into the dirt shoulder a tiny bit, which is impressive. It was one of the most ridiculous things I've seen since being here...I couldn't help but laugh at it with my driver!
So I suppose that's that about my work.
Two weekends ago I was fortunate enough to be able to visit some of my mom's friends in Odienya, which is about five hours and two mutatu rides away from Kakamega. It was really fantastic meeting them...with Sylvie (the daughter) it felt as though I was meeting a sister. She is so wonderful. I was only able to spend an evening and morning with her and her family, so I spent most of the time chatting with and getting to know Sylvie and playing and messing around with her two children. The next morning I went to church with the family. I'm not sure how I forgot this, but whenever a visitor attends church, they have to introduce themselves, including at minimum a greeting, their name, and who they are visiting (or why they are visiting). Surprise, surprise, I forgot Sylvie's name! What?? How?! I instantly turned bright red (I like to call myself the Rock Lobster when that happens) and laughed so hard with Sylvie as she said to me “I'm going to get you back for this one.” Whoops! I was so sad to have to leave her, her two amazing children, and her father. I can see why my mom loves them so much.
Ohhhhh the mutatu rides. The MUTATU rides! I almost forgot about the mutatu rides! So Alice and I get on our first mutatu going from Rongo to Kisumu. It's fairly comfortable, everybody's in good spirits, it's dandy. Yes, it's a little overcrowded, but it's not too bad. About half way back to Kisumu, we get pulled over. The police chief starts lecturing the conductor for a good ten minutes, brings him around to the driver, and handcuffs them together. This is all in Swahili, mind you, so we have no clue what's happening. We heard “fifty shillingi” somewhere in there, so we figured that the conductor didn't drop enough money for him. Hold up. Background story: there are traffic police checks along the highways. Oftentimes mutatu conductors or drivers will drop a 50 or 100 shilling bill (between 65 cents and a bit over a dollar) for the officer if the mutatu is overcrowded so that the officer will not cite them. This is kind of just a given at the stops. My coworkers told me that these officers even give a certain amount to their district headquarters, and a portion of that goes to the national sector. I'm not so sure about that, but then again, you never really know. So these bribes are completely normal and basically expected.
Ok. Play. So the conductor and driver are now handcuffed together. Alice and I asked the women sitting behind us about what was happening. They told us that the two men were getting in trouble first for overcrowding the vehicle and second for trying to bribe the chief. Wait. What?? I've been seeing anti-corruption signs and such around since I arrived in Kenya, but I've never seen it in action! It was really interesting. That's the last thing I expected them to get pulled over for. Especially since Aga told us that at least in Nairobi police will pull anybody over and literally look for things that are wrong the the car or driver in order to get these bribes. So...I guess we saw the opposite of that? It was pretty shocking.
So then we all had to alight (yes, it's called alighting, not “getting of the mutatu” or whatever...alighting) and the chief had the driver and conductor give us our money back for the distance we had not yet traveled.
Alice and I went with a couple women we had met on the mutatu and walked a bit back up the road to catch another mutatu. By the way, we were kind of in the middle of nowhere. There were maybe two buildings in the area. Anyway, so we thought we were so lucky because there was a mutatu sitting just up the road, waiting to leave. We greet one of the conductors and he welcomes us in. But then we look inside and it's already over capacity. We tried to tell the conductor that we would just wait for the next ride. They would have none of that, though. After they made even more room for us by having people squish in the back, we tried telling them that there was a police officer just up the road who had just pulled us over for overcrowding. “Okay, okay, no problem,” they said. And still insisted that we continue on with them. Alice and I were so tired of trying to warn them, so we just agreed and we went on our way. Now this was a bit of a larger van than the others. At its fullest, it was supposed to have 3-3-3-3-3 (including the driver. Today, though, it went 5-4-5-5-4. Uhmmm...so we just waited and waited for the chief to pull us over once again. Alas, the whole team of officers had left by the time we departed and the mutatu just went on its merry way!
Then there was a man sitting next to Alice and I who kept insisting that he was in love with us and wanted us to go to the beaches in Kisumu with him. Normally when people joke around like this, it only lasts for a couple of minutes. We laugh, we move on. This time, though, he went on for at least forty minutes. Mind you, he doesn't speak any English, so the conductor was translating the entire time (also, I'm pretty sure he was a tiny bit plastered). For FORTY minutes! How was he still having fun with this? And when new people would get on board, this man would catch them up on how in love with us he was and how he's going to take us back with him. It was entertaining for the first half; the second half was just annoying. But the entertaining kind of annoying. But still annoying. We had to be very up front with him at the end of it all, but he kept asking “Why? Why?” to which we said “Because no!” Oy vey.
Eventually, he had to move back a row to fit more people in. He promptly fell fast asleep.
On the next mutatu ride we just sat in the back, ate our groundnuts (AKA peanuts), drank our sodas, and relaxed. We made it back to Kakamega without any issue or problem or dilemma.
Last weekend was spent chilling and hanging out with friends and host family. On Sunday, Grace and I met up with another intern (Jack) to walk/hike/mostly walk to the Crying Stone. I'm not sure if I've written about the Crying Stone yet, so here it goes. The Crying Stone is a huge rock formation just fifteen or so minutes up the A1 highway from Kakamega, situated right outside the town of Khayega. It somewhat resembles a face and there is almost always water trickling down from the top of it, even in the dry season. Apparently nobody can figure out why this happens, not even scientists (I'd like to know which scientists, though). There are many stories about the stone, one of which we heard from one of Peter's friends in the small village of Shikokho. First of all, this man was telling us that people oftentimes will not/cannot marry people from within the same tribe because of the high likelihood that the two people would be related. He even did not marry the first woman he wanted to marry because of it. So according to this man, the Crying Stone is really a heartbroken woman who is crying because she cannot marry the man she loves due to their shared tribe. Ah, sad.
So the three of us made our way to the stone the back way, through the countryside. Jack's 13-year-old host brother—who knows how to get there—was supposed to come with us. However, when the time came, the brother was too busy on the farm to come along. Jack knew the general direction, and when we needed assistance, we just asked some very helpful boys who decided to accompany us. The walk was absolutely beautiful, by the way. We were walking through the countryside, so it was full of views of rolling hills, maize plantations, other plantations, greenery, and all the goodness that rural Kenya holds. We made it to the stone only to find a pretty good amount of locals demanding us to pay 200 shillings each to actually go up to the stone. I'm sorry, what? The stone is not owned by anybody, especially not Kenya National Wildlife Services (or whatever it's called), and we all knew that. These people were just trying to make money off of something that was naturally there. We did not want to pay, but we were also not about to be those assholes who just ignored the locals. We definitely didn't want to offend anybody or cause any issues. So we decided to head out back to the road. I was taking one last picture...like an idiot, I didn't notice that my flash was on. “No pictures because you have not paid!” we heard. Now that got to me. “You can see it from the road!” I said out of annoyance, but only loud enough for Jack and Grace to hear. Jack laughed, Grace was pissed, and I just said “let's go.”
Despite that little slip up of my temper, the day was really nice! I look back on it with so much fondness...I really wish it could have lasted longer. But, like every other day, that one had to end.
I guess that's a pretty alright synopsis of what's been going on in my life. I'm just picking up some last few things today and tying the last pieces of strings of my to-do list together. Then I will be picked up by an FSD site team member and taken back to Sheywe Guest House to spend the last night with the rest of the interns. Early tomorrow morning Alice and I will take the Easy Coach bus back to Nairobi where we will spend our last two or three days in Kenya.
P.S. Don't worry, the fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has not muddled any of our flying plans. We should still be getting home without any worries!
It has been a crazy past couple of months. I think that once I'm back in the states for a little while I'll be able to understand the craziness a little better. Either way, I am incredibly grateful for the experience I have had. I've learned so much about development, life, this other culture, people, things, other things, and such. I'm not so sure if I've learned much about myself quite yet, but again, in a couple months I think I'll have a better grasp on it all.
I am going to miss everyone I've met here so much. But we always knew that the time for the end must come, and now it is here. Kenya, you did me good.
Another P.S. I'll post pictures in plenty once I get back to the states.