Thursday, August 8, 2013

While my host sister plays with my hair one last time...

     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. 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 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.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Meanwhile, a chicken was being slaughtered on the other side of my bedroom door

     Some of you may not like what I have to say. You may disagree, I may offend a bit, and I might come off a bit too harsh. This is just a blurb of what I had learned as of my third week in the field of development, followed up by an even smaller blurb from earlier today. A few months ago, I never thought I'd be writing something so critical; but then again, maybe I needed a little more criticism in my life rather than taking things so easy.

     P.S. Don't worry, laid-back Richelle is still alive and well! Just with a different outlook on some things.

The Odd Sides Of Development
     During my first three weeks of working in development, I feel as though I have already encountered many struggles within the field that are not very often talked about. And if they are talked about, then they're probably not highlighted—rather, I think that people tend to skim over these issues because they are incredibly difficult issues to overcome.
     The first is the shelf-life of NGOs. Somebody mentioned the other day that most NGOs do not last past three to five years. To me, development sounds like a rotating door of NGOs that all try to tackle really important issues; however, if the door keeps rotating, that means that nothing stays still. And if nothing stays still—at least for a little while—then there is very little opportunity to create tangible solutions. When I heard about this shelf-life I was very surprised...I feel like you always hear of these really great NGOs that are starting up, but you never hear about NGOs going under. I suppose that they shut down due to inadequate funding/sustainability or overreaching aspirations. Of course, I am making a complete generalization. There are many successful NGOs in the world and I really do believe that they serve an incredibly important purpose. I love the idea of NGOs and the missions that they serve (at least most of them). However, if the majority of them do not survive, then the effectiveness is questionable. I have to ask: If a five-year-old NGO falls down in a forest and only a few people are around, does it make enough of a sound?
     The second has to do with an organization that I've had my issues with in the past: TOMS. One for One. It sounds good! People feel like they've done a poor child some good when they buy their $44 pair of canvas shoes that fall apart in a few months. The purchasers are happy, so everything's good, right? Wrong. I know that the downside of TOMS has been discussed at length, but let me summarize it really quickly.          There are small problems (the shoe sizes of the children not necessarily being catered to, the rate at which kid's feet grow, etc.) so I will focus on my main issue with them: the last of sustainability. Suh.stane.uh.billITy. FSD's favorite word and one of the biggest things I have been/will be learning about during my time here in Kakamega. Plainly put, the shoes will be torn apart after a few good months. The shoes will get their share of wear and the rocky terrain and incredibly rainy weather tendencies are not very conducive a long life span for canvas shoes. And what happens when they are trashed? The child is without TOMS once again because they definitely do not supply shoes for a lifetime.
     If you can't tell, I may or may not have participated in a TOMS shoes distribution the other day. It's true, it does feel good to see the kids so happy when they receive their shoes! They're excited and you're glad to see them excited (and you also score a free pair along with it). I will give the company some credit: it is a very good temporary way to avoid jiggers, which is especially rampant in this area. These shoes are also better than the rubber flip flops (or “slippers”) that I see so many people wearing. Nonetheless, its long-term benefits are absent.
     While discussing my frustrations about TOMS with her, my sister helped me remember the root and branch methods of solving problems that I studied in my United States Politics class last semester. It is exactly how it sounds. When you tackle a problem using the root method, you take into consideration every single issue involved and go straight to the cause of these issues. From there, you reform. However, with the branch method, you basically just put a band aid on the issues that are going on. It is quick, clean, and easy. And this is how the majority of our problems are solved.
     TOMS is a perfect example of Western intervention using branch methods to tackle something that is caused by poverty rather than contributing to alleviating poverty. Sure, sometimes we need to have a quick-fix for some things, but do we really need it on such a large scale? So large that it takes away from the bigger ultimate goal?
     Let's wrap up this discussion about TOMS in a nice package with a bow on it: oh wait, that's what TOMS is. It's a feel-good approach to fixing minimal problems. But once the package is opened, there's nothing inside. The mystique has dissolved and now you're without a pretty put-together box.
     Whoah. Just a side note, a lot of the Kenyans I know like to speak in metaphor...I think it's contagious and I apologize. But just a little.
     This model has gotten me to think more about what makes a successful organization. TOMS is booming and incredibly successful despite its huge downfalls. So is this what it takes to become a well-known, income-generating NGO? Come up with a model that sells? Does it not have to be sustainable as long as it appeals to the masses with money? Ehh, I don't think so. I still believe that NGOs can be successful without going the way that TOMS did. It just has to have the right timing and management. What the right timing and management actually is, I have no clue. But that's okay.
     The whole TOMS thing also brings up the good ole development vs. aid debate. Which I don't really want to get into right now. In short, I have seen many organizations so dependent on external funding that if the funding stopped, the organization would follow. Which is pretty disheartening. At the same time, though, many of these NGOs are providing free and necessary services to the community that cannot otherwise afford these resources. So how do you make an income off of that? How can it really survive without the aid?
     The main lesson I've learned through my Kenyan work experience:
     Starting and maintaining an NGO is hard. Development is hard. Everything is hard and requires a balanced equation that nobody really has the answer key to.
     So that's that. That's my spiel about what I've observed in the past few weeks. It's a bit jaded, but I still have faith in the field.

Fast forward three weeks...
     I have just completed my sixth week of my internship and my position on the matter holds. I just have one more thing to add to my mini epic on sustainability and aid and development and all the good things in the world.
     I remember one day in World Politics we had a discussion about aid and the extent to which it is effective. One anti-aid stance was focused on the argument of dependency. We discussed the possibility that providing so much outside monetary help would result in the receiving end being overly dependent. Of course, when we were discussing this, I thought to myself “No way, everything's fine! Everybody takes responsibility for their stuff and there's cohesiveness in the development world!” In retrospect, I think I had too much of a sunshiney, nearly pristine and Hans Zimmermany outlook.
     As much as I hate to say it, I have proven myself wrong. There is one school community in particular that I am working with towards sensitizing their community about the health services offered at the hospital right down the street (side note: there's a large misinterpretation of what the hospital actually provides...such a gap). As I was discussing a hopeful relationship between the school and hospital in the future, the community representative began asking me about the free services they'll get and whether I'd be able to fund them or have my “people” back home fund them. Wait a minute...what?? I joked around with him and lightheartedly—but also seriously—explained to him that I am on scholarship and have to work hard to attend school. His response: “Yes, but you are in a developed country.” My internal response: “Yes, but just look at my mountain of debt.” I know that Kenya being an ex-British colony has a lot to do with the general image of mzungus, but the piles of aid doesn't necessarily help how I'm received when I'm walking through a crowd of mutatu drivers; meanwhile, a box drifts past me reading “USAID: From the American People.”
     My final stance: No, aid is not the devil. It is very necessary for programs and such to exist and run smoothly. As much as I'd like it to, the world can not function without money. But when monetary help on one side turns into dependency on expected incoming funds is when we get into dangerous territory. For an organization—or even society for that matter—to flourish, it must have the tools to stand on its own two feet, not have the tools handed to them every time. Weening is a good thing!

     Once again, we have a very delicate balance. How do we manage it? Oy, I don't know.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

With a ridiculous amount of stubbed toes

Wowwowywowwow, pole for not updating this for years!
     I suppose it has been a couple of weeks since my last post. How do I condense it all?
Work has been very relaxed the past couple of weeks as I have continued to observe, partake in events, and figure out my work plan for my remaining time in Kakamega. I started attending HIV/AIDS support group meetings. The first time I went, I expected it to be something like a scene from Rent; however, it was probably the most opposite of Rent that I could imagine. The members laughed and attended to business and I didn't actually hear one therapeutic analysis. The group I have been shadowing is incredibly established, though, and is in the process of setting up their new office. Tomorrow I will be attending an all woman's group that is less official, so maybe it will present something new. I have decided to turn my attention to the unfulfilled medical referrals for the learners of one community school in particular. It will be a difficult task to tackle, especially in just 3 ½ remaining weeks at this organization; however, I am looking forward to the challenge, especially since it seems like I will maintain my normal work schedule on top of managing this project.
     I have gotten better at accepting all the unneeded attention. Walking down the street, I hear so many Hello, *mzungu, how are you?s in the most over-exaggerated voices. For the majority of the time, I accept that I am the local mzungu and respond with a smile and a “Hello! I'm fine, thank you. No, thank you, I am going by foot today.” however, there is one instance where the attention is a bit too much. Sherry (fake name for my supervisor) and I wanted to get some mangoes for lunch a couple weeks back, so I suggested that we go to my friend's stand, my savior from the rain. Surprise, surprise, Sherry knows the man's mother, who was also at the stand. I had met the mother earlier that morning, so she was even more excited to see me back the second time and with Sherry. Now, though, whenever I return to the stand and the mother is there, there is SO much pressure! Sherry said that the mother is very proud that her son has a mzungu friend. What?? I didn't even do anything! So now that the mom has that pride, the man has become shy and embarrassed, and I become just weird (and not in a good way) because I do not react well to so much pressure. Oy.
     Fun little diddy: my host niece was using me as a doll again the other day and turned me into her own personal piki piki! She just climbed onto my lap, took my knees, and starting making whizzing noises and honking. Too cute. 
     Mmm, I have also listened to my coworkers' opinions and personal stories on many different controversial issues such as homosexuality (which is greatly looked down upon in, deathly looked down upon), the not uncommon practice of polygamy, and politics. As difficult as it has been biting my tongue, it has been very interesting hearing what they have to say. I realized that I've sort of isolated myself from other opinions...I find that I surround myself with people who think similarly; so much, in fact, that I forgot that people with other ideas exist! I think that I have a better understanding of the way they approach certain issues; however, their viewpoints have made me more concrete in my opinions, in a way. So that's good, I think...
     Oh! I almost forgot!
My Kenyan 4th of July
     After a monotonous day of organizing the medicine cabinets at work and social security fund projects and rushing home on a pikipiki, I met up with ten FSD pals for dinner at a fantastic place called Forest Green. On the outside it just seems like a run-down hotel. However, it was actually surprisingly cozy and urban on the inside.
     That night, the restaurant could hardly fit eleven people all at one common area, especially since it was sufficiently crowded. So a couple of fantastic locals shared their table and laughter with us. They talked about their lives and I split an order of vegetable curry with chapati and chips masala (a fancy way of eating french fries). We then proceeded to storm Club Ripple in downtown Kakamega.
Holy moley. This club. What words can describe this club? To begin, it was bumpin 90s R&B while playing some weird desert storm movie on the televisions that speckled the bar. Occasionally the Djs would play a little Beyonce or Britney or Black Eyed Peas AKA the greatest combo pack. If love at peace are so favorite was when they played “Carry Out,” a song that epitomized my drives from school to swim practice senior year of high school. I basically spent the night laughing and seat-dancing (there were only three men dancing and it was apparently just not the dancing sort of night for the locals). Oh, I also saw a rat running up the speaker...Hilary (a fellow intern) and I shared a look of disgusted and frightened amazement, followed by disbelieving laughter. Awww, domestic party rats.

     And then also...
My Most Proud Moment: Seconds on Guacamole
     It has been suggested that we make dinner for our families at least once during our home stays. The easiest—and my favorite—recipe within my skills set is, of course, guacamole. I reserved a night to make dinner and bought all the ingredients, which may or may not have included an incredibly rainy trip to the market. I wanted to serve it with beans and chapati; however, chapati takes a very inconvenient amount of time, so I opted for rice. I intended to make it all myself, but when I got home, my host cousin Michelle was making the beans and rice already. Fun fact: this was her first time making rice. And beans, now that I think of it. So I just went on my way, chopping and preparing the guac. The tomatoes, onions, and garlic I chopped for the green dish ended up in the beans without my knowing...oy! So I rechopped new vegetables and such (and cilantro! Yummm) and we enjoyed a garlicy-tomatoey-oniony goodness. I was unsure of whether or not my family actually enjoyed it...they kept saying things like “Mmm, it's sweet!” (because everything good is sweet) but I was still skeptical because I have heard that guac is either hit or miss with host families.
     To my great delight, Momma Mary asked me to make the same dish when I returned from work the next day. SUCCESS! This time we ate it with gderi (beans and maize) and bananas. Ooooooweeee it was so good. One of my favorites, for sure. Ah. Now I want it tonight...dangit.
The guacamole experience is just one instance that has helped me get even closer with my family. It goes without saying that things with them keep getting better and better.

Mid-Term Retreat, Naivasha Edition: Land of Casual Zebras
     Last Thursday morning, I headed out of Kakamega and off to Naivasha with the rest of the interns and the site team (minus Peter) in two spacious vans. Naivasha is about two hours northwest of Nairobi. It is home to three beautiful lakes, a volcanic mountainish place to hike, and Hell's Gate. Apparently, there used to be many Maasai living in the area until a huge storm came and flooded the place. A great amount of Maasai died from this flood; hence, Hell's Gate. This is also the place where Lion King was based off of. We drove for four hours without any problem besides the overly-bumpy-underdeveloped road; we were all sleepy and in need of a bathroom, so we stopped for lunch. After eating, we were on the road again. We were chugging along, chugging along, until surprise surprise, one of our vans got a flat tire. One second we were whizzing down the highway; the next, we were whizzy backwards in the shoulder, going the opposite direction of traffic to accompany the flat-tired van. Our drivers changed the tire within twenty minutes and we were again on our way to Naivasha.
     Overall it took about six hours to get to Naivasha. After lunch we had to drive through the town, past a copious amount of resorts, and numerous greenhouses just to get pulled over by the Tourist Police. They told us to accompany them to their station and we did not ask any questions. After questioning the site team about our visas, the reason for us being there, and a phone call to Peter, we all left the station confused. The drivers were to return to the station after dropping us off at the campsite. Apparently, it turned out to all be okay, though. Oy, the life of traveling amongst so many mzungus...
     We stayed at Fisherman's Camp, right at the waterside of Lake Naivasha. There is a hotel with a restaurant and bar occupying the bottom level, and a large amount of land for camping. We camped, of course. There were tents everywhere, lots of benches, and incredible sights. The place is notorious for hippos visiting its beaches at night—it's chill, though, because the campsite is surrounded by an electric fence to keep them out. There were also so many beautiful trees, some of which have toppled over into the lake in a disastrously gorgeous way. On top of that, there were huge swan-like birds loitering around the dock and funny greenery living in the lake with puffball tops. The food was delicious (we had our first pizzas in over a month!) and there were more mzungus than I had seen since Zurich combined.
     The FSD Kakamega crew went to Crater Lake for a day; we thought it would be a day of hiking around a lake, but it ended up practically being a walking safari. As soon as we left our vans, a giraffe welcomed us to the park with the most graceful, awkward, slow-motion gallop. It was absolutely fantastic and a bit surreal. For the most part, we spent the morning stalking three giraffes and followed them to a field with numerous giraffes and zebras. In addition to these great animals, we spotted warthogs, impalas, and backed away slowly from a bull. A bull? A bison? Ehh, I honestly can't remember. It was some large, gruesome beast.
     We enjoyed sack lunches (courtesy of Fisherman's) under a dramatic tree of either veggie burgers (bean and onion patties) or chicken burgers with chips and chips and chips**.
     After that, we hiked up a hill and down and hill, through the gorgeous forest to a resort on Crater Lake. It was possibly the most beautiful resort/setting I have ever seen! There was a buffet/seating area literally on top of the lake. It was kind of like the Lake House...
     That night, two other interns and I saw three hippos out of water. WHAT. So cool! There were two adults and a little one. We tried to protect its privacy and keep the baby a secret, but people noticed it. Oops. Then one of the hippos starting yelling at the other one, scaring it back into the water. While all this was going on, there was a cat lurkin real close to the hippos. Ah! It was so closer to them, accepting its own fate. Thankfully, there were no cat murders and the feline made it out alive.
     The next day I went kayaking with two other interns. One of them almost hit me out of my kayak, so that was good. But it was really nice being out on the water, just the three of us. It was quite secluded...also, summer isn't right if it isn't at least partially on the water! The rest of the weekend, we relaxed, walked, chatted with a few cool people, and played kickball.
     One night I chatted a lot with the resident man in charge of tours and such named Offin. Turns out, he is from Kakamega! On top of this job, he has set up schools targeting Maasai children, IGAs for HIV/AIDS support groups having to do with flowers and greenhouses, and education on female circumcision. He also has a super cool purple hat that says “SWAGG.” Therefore, he is great.
     To sum it all up, the weekend was fantastic. So much wildlife, so much beauty, so many great people, so much terrible music.

     One last thought...
The Realization That The Others Are Returning to Duke, Not Portland
     It is beginning to get a bit odd listening to people talk about hanging out once they get back to school since I won't be joining them. Yes, we are just over half way and still have three weeks left with them, but still. I've told them that if they can get me a killer scholarship I would transfer in a heartbeat. However, I do not think that is going to happen. Which is fine, because I like Portland anyway. I do wish that I could bring them all with me, though.

*General term for foreigner. It's not derogatory, but people often call me mzungu to get my attention. This used to bug me a bit. I used to think “Come on, guys, I have a name!” Now, though, it is not bad. I like to think I've done an adequate job of embracing the mzunguness.

**Keep in mind that chips are actually french fries. Colonialism, doe. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Most of my pictures all look the same, but to me that doesn't make them any less beautiful

Shitoho, one of the four ACCES Community Learning Centers.
The jigger man making his feet beautiful.
A goat pregnant with three babies. THREE!
Just a quick note: I feel like most of these pictures do not need captions. Enjoy them, add your own commentary, see what I saw. Because, really, I wish I could have shared this day with everyone.
One lone tree in the grasslands. You don't go there, Simba.


I will forever be covered in dust

My friends,
   I apologize for my lacking communication skills! It has been far too long since my last blog post. So let me tell you about my last two weeks of practicing patience and flexibility in sections.
Part One: The Time I Flew All The Way To Kenya And Ended Up Doing Something Completely Different Than I Had Planned
   So the title of this section basically explains everything. I was supposed to work with an organization that focused on empowering people living with disabilities. Although it is an incredible organization full of passion and commitment, I found the organization without funding and leadership. On Tuesday I recognized that the organization would not work and I was out by Wednesday afternoon. For the time being, I was in No Man's Land. I spent a lot of time at the FSD office hanging out with the fantastic site team. They even included me on a field visit to a fellow-intern's organization to observe a community assembly addressing corruption issues.
   The whole coming-and-realizing-it-absolutely-wouldn't-work thing was a bit difficult for me to swallow at first; but then, after Peter's wise words of “Relax!” and “Welcome to Africa!” I relaxed and embraced the African practice of flexibility. So that Friday I began at my new organization: Africa Canada Continuing Education Society. Here, their mission is to foster social and economic development through education. Some of the projects they embark on are building primary schools for orphans and children of very limited means, providing health and gender services to these children and the community, providing scholarships for certain students from these schools that will enable them to continue on to secondary school, providing scholarships for college and university students with very limited means, agrobusiness income-generating activities that are focused in the communities surrounding the ACCES schools, and vocational training. So basically, it's the breeding ground of truly amazing and inspiring work.
   The only issue is that there has been a nation-wide teachers strike. Public school teachers—and now some national school teachers—have taken a stance against government, arguing that they need to be paid more. Which, by the way, I totally agree with. Because of taxes and such, teachers only actually bring home a small portion of their paychecks to support themselves and their families. However, for a week now thousands of schools have been at a standstill while millions of students are forced to stay home. Even some boarding schools have sent their students home. This has even spread to the ACCES schools, which has inhibited certain work from being done. It does not seem like there is an end in sight, but I am hoping with all my might that the government and the teachers will come to some sort of agreement soon so students can return to their educations.
   Nonetheless, so far I have sat in on a meeting about the basic terms of quality needed for orphans and vulnerable children to be successful, I have assisted the Community Health Nurse de-jigger a man (a jigger is a nasty parasite that lives in the soil and makes its way into a person's feet and then multiplies and can even get in the way of a person's ability to walk), and visited the one ACCES school that remains in session called Shavagala. I have really been enjoying the people who I am working with. They all have such high spirits and love to laugh and joke and learn. It's great!
   So despite the slow-downs, it's been a great experience so far.
Part Two: The Time A Puppy Was Brought To The Office
   One of my coworkers (we'll call him Joe) bought a puppy from another coworker's sons. This puppy was delivered to the office today by the son and holy moley it's the cutest puppy! Everybody was surprised at me when I held the puppy and it started falling asleep in my arms. They were even more surprised when I took it outside to relieve itself when it wouldn't stop barking. I love the puppy. Joe left with the puppy. But now I just want it back. **It is also important to note that this co worker Joe has three main goal professions: to be a businessman, a professor, and a politician. Already, he's basically all three of those, but he wants them on a more grand scale. Today he told me that I he has observed that I have certain qualities of a good politician (I have no clue where he got that one, but I'll take it) and said that he wishes that I'd stay so that we can make a political partnership and change the lives of Kenyans. NOTE: These are his words, not mine. When he was saying this, a picture of Obama dancing into his arrival in Tanzania was sitting between the two of us. Joe said “Like Obama!” We then decided that we would cut Obama in half: Joe would be the right side, I'd be the left. Does it make sense? No, not really. But don't be surprised if I end up staying in Kenya in order to be Obama's left side.
Part Three: How I Came To Be Very Close With My Host Sisters
   I am not quite sure how it happened and I am not sure how to explain it. But for no good reason, I could not sleep last Tuesday night. For the weekend before, I was feeling very homesick and a bit out of it...just not myself. Then Tuesday night came. The second I laid down to sleep, I was wide awake. I kept feeling more and more energized and could not figure out why. I tried watching a movie, I tried planning next summer's internship, and I tried reading (by the way, if you're reading this Christian, I'm sorry but your copy of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next has gone through a lot of wear and tear). But no matter what I did, I could not lull myself to sleep. Then I realized that something about that night had snapped me back into being my normal self. I was feeling more social, more excited about the smallest of things, more me. Ever since that fateful night, things have gone incredibly smoothly. Everything has been so easy with my host family and coworkers. There was one night last week where the three of us (my two host sisters and I) were all just sitting on the extra bed in my room, hanging out and talking. Just like three sisters normally do (or what I'd expect them's been far too long since I've been with just my two sisters COUGHsadCOUGH).
Part Four: The Most Slippery Walk In The Dark
   This past weekend I made my way to Kakamega Rainforest with the 12 other interns. The rainforest is situated about 20 kilometers from Kakamega town, but because of the bumpy dusty roads, it took us about forty minutes to an hour to get to our guest house. We stayed in two different types of buildings: one was outfitted with a large eating/sitting area, a kitchen, and three bedrooms while the other one was a large round boma filled with enough bunk beds to house about fourteen people. So the thirteen of us ate our yogurt, our avocados, our incredibly surgary peanut butter sandwiches, and our pre-packaged tea muffins without the tea and sat around, talking, and laughing and learning about one another.
   The next morning we rose at 4:30 AM in order to meet our rambunctious guide Abraham for a nice stroll in the forest. I was so smart when I was packing for the weekend: Oh, we're going to be hiking in the dark? Of COURSE I don't need my flashlight! Umm what? I was able to mooch off of other people's lights a little bit, but for a lot of it I was just convincing my body I knew where I was going by trudging through the forest with confident steps.
   We made it to the top of the tallest hill in the forest just about fifteen minutes before the sun rose over the surrounding hills. It was hands down the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen. The fog that licked the tops of trees, the orange-red tips of the tall grasses, the sounds of the forest animals waking was wonderful and a little bit surreal how perfect everything was while I was just munching on my bag of breakfast peanuts.
   We remained on the hilltop for a while before we hiked back down the very treacherous hill—by the way, how did we not realize how steep it was on the way up? We made a pit-stop in a cave to get attacked by bats for a hot second and then continued on our way back through the forest. The entire hike ended up being about 15 kilometers. Yep, 15 kilometers of beauty in nature. I was a pretty happy girl. Also, somehow I made it through without falling down! I slipped probably five times in two minutes at one point, yet I never fell. (Which is a good thing because I took a tumble down some stairs the day before and let's just say I have the worst bruise I've ever had. Baby's a little tender.)
   So fifteen kilometers, too many slips, and a handful of baboons later we were back at the lodging area, exhausted and ready for our welcoming beds at our home-stays.
Part Five: Now I'm Not So Sure How To End This Post
   So there you have it. That's a slight overview of what my life has been lately. I know it was a lot, but that was just the surface, trust me. Every day something a little odd happens—for example, I was on the bus back from visiting Shavagala and a man decided to stand up in the front of the bus and preach the word of the Lord. In Portland, most people would have gotten annoyed or impatient. But on that bus ride, people either politely ignored him, bowed their heads in thought, or even raised their hands and joined him in prayer.       Huh.
   There's that little snippet for ya.

   I can't quite think of anything else to put on here without reporting every detail of every day. Just know that I am doing well. This trip has been quite the roller coaster so far. The dips are tough, but the high parts are what make this experience fantastic. I know that I don't realize it as much as I will in the future, but this is an experience that will prove to be invaluable. I know it. It may not feel like it right now, but it will. And I'm grateful to be here and to share this opportunity with some truly great people, whether they are here in Kakamega town or back home in little sunny Auburn or wherever you may be.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A little diddy about last Friday because I told Joeva I would

There is a place called Kakamega Golf Hotel. Yes, it is ritzy and no, it is absolutely not real Kenya. However, it is a place to decompress after a tough week while sipping on some drinks by the pool while you utilize their free wifi. So to destress a bit from the first week of internshiphood, I met up with a couple friends from FSD at Golf for just a bit. The rain started, but we decided to wait it out. It finally started to let up--or so we thought--so we decided to make our respective ways home. Only two minutes had passed and it had already started to downpour again. 
NOTE: Two out of the three of us had thirty-minute walks home ahead of us. Whoops. I was soaked within minutes but was having fun with it. Unlike in Portland, I didn't even have to convince myself that I love the rain. This rain was actually really enjoyable! So I trudged past the people crowding under awnings and made my way through the sidewalk-turned-muddy-river lined with produce stands. Sidewalk River was so high that it reached my mid-calf. 
All of a sudden, I heard a voice from a produce stand calling "Come over here! Come wait here!" So I joined Victor the friendly fruit vendor in the safety of his stand. We made idle chit chat about where he buys his fruit and how I'm very hesitant to take a piki piki* until the the rain finally subsided. 
I made it home just in time to make a delicious batch of chapati and ndengu** with my host sister Grace.

*Lots of men drive around motorbikes and give people rides for money. So it's like a two-wheeled taxi with a motor.
**The most tasty way you could ever eat lentils. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Siwezi kuongea Swahili

My first ever impala! So tame. 
Observe the wild house cat.
The view from the back of Sheywe Guest House. Too beautiful.
Because Kenya's countryside is gorgeous part 1.
 Because Kenya's countryside is gorgeous part 2.
 Just a cool cautious tree chillin at the resort.
 Only 6% of Lake Victoria is in Kenya.
 Mother Hippo! Thank you for treating us so kindly.
 A weaver bird with its woven nests.
 And then an oasis of woven nests.
 Our hippo-impersonating leader. Notice he's on the phone in the middle of Lake Victoria (and by middle, I don't actually mean middle).
The last of the sixteen people exiting our fantastic boat.

Oh! I forgot to mention that on the way back from the lake to Kisumu, we had only two tuk tuks. Each tuk tuk is supposed to fit four to five passengers including the driver. We successfully had 16 between the two of us, fitting 8 into each. One intern sat with up front with the driver, four were in the middle, and two sat in the back facing the road behind them. I was in the back and have four things to say about it: first, it was beautiful. Second, it was so not Kenyan, so we got some weird looks. Third, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the safest way of transportation. Fourth, Pollyne (the Local Program Coordinator for FSD Kakamega) kept laughing at the two of us in the back. Regardless, I loved it.