Thursday, September 29, 2011

What I'll miss about Kenya

One thing I’ve been incredibly grateful for in my time as a Peace Corps volunteer has been the opportunity for leisure reading. Prior to living in Kenya, I was always too preoccupied with a term paper, a reality TV show, or some other distraction to find time to sit down with a good book. Right now, I’m reading a beautiful novel now called “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and the opening lines struck me as especially symbolic:

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of site, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” Zora Neale Hurston

So true, right?

Speaking of memories, last week, I attended my final Peace Corps conference, our Close of Service conference, and it made me recollect many of the experiences I’ve had over the past two years. While I have certainly had my fair share of low points on this emotional rollercoaster, when I think back, the amazing memories are what first come to mind. I am at a place where I can laugh at some of my most memorable misfortunes (falling in cow poop, being awoken by rats, attacked by fleas etc. etc) and fondly reminisce on the many fantastic experiences that constitute my Peace Corps service. In my present nostalgic mood, I’ve been thinking about all the things that I will so dearly miss once I leave the country in December. Here’s a list of all the things that I truly adore about Kenya:

The adorable kids: If you pick up random kids in the states, people think you’re crazy. Here, it’s normal for a complete stranger to hand you their child to hold for a matatu ride. I will greatly miss my village kids that greet me on the side of the road on my walk home from school.
Here's Peter Odhiambo escorting me home from school.

And these adorable boys that come to my house to watch me do whatever mundane chore they somehow find oddly captivating.

And Alice, my neighbor, who no matter what she is doing (even if she is mid-bath) will run to the side of the road to greet me in kiSwahili and shake my hand.

The mamas at the market: Women here are so strong. They are given an almost unfathomable workload from rearing their 10 children, collecting firewood, cooking, cleaning an ever dirty house, washing dishes and clothes by hand and more. I am constantly in awe by their fortitude and continual grace. Not only that, but many of my mama friends at the market are always smiling. How do you do that day after day of intense manual labor? I don’t know where they find the strength, but it’s beautiful and heartwarming. I will miss them kabisa (completely)

My students: I have said this before, but I would never be able to make it in the Kenyan education system. With a rigorous academic schedule, insane workload, and little sleep, it’s difficult to fathom how a student finds time to be a teenager. I am so grateful for my students who I’ve had the pleasure of watching mature and learn over the past two years. Little do they know that they give me so much strength and motivation. I know I would not have made it two years without them. Their laughs, their moments of understanding, their honesty, and keen discernment have given me the most fulfilling times of my service.

Here I am with my Form 1 students in front of their classroom.

My Kenyan family: I have been so blessed in my living situation. My nyanya (grandma) and babu (grandpa) next door have treated me like their own child. They introduce me as their lastborn child and have done more than I could ever expect or want. More than building me a western toilet and installing a rain water catchment so I don’t have to pump and carry my water, they have been my family. They are always there for me when I come home from a long day at school. They greet me with a smile, a warm handshake, a cup of tea and the chance to talk about my day. I am so lucky to have this extended family here in Kenya and I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay them for their generosity and for welcoming me into their family. I was a stranger to this community just two years ago, and without them I still may be. I am so thankful for my nyanya and babu and will miss them every single day that I am gone.

My Peace Corps family
: It’s really incredible to think about how fast friendships form here. During training bonds formed quickly over the shared misery of learning how to perfect choo aim, eat matumbo (intestines) without gagging and struggle through acquiring a new language. I’ve never before met such a group of intelligent, hilarious, ambitious people as I have here. Two years ago my peace corps friends weren’t even a part of my life and now I can’t imagine life without them. I know that we’ll stay in touch in the states, but not just living a matatu ride away is going to be a huge adjustment. I will most definitely miss the hilarity of certain situations that only another pcv can appreciate: having giardia 12 times, choo malfunctions, matatu experiences, a shared disgust for ugali and the self deprecating humor that is often the only the thing that gets you through the rough days. I will miss you all so much.

Shocking me out of my nostalgia is the fact that I only have 68 (SIXTY EIGHT!!!!!) days left in this country and so so so much to do. I still want to finish the laboratory, I want the market mama to teach me how to make sambusas (so I can make them for you all in America !), I want to paint a world map, and I want to take pictures of all the adorable kids. So much to do so little time :) I never thought I would be saying these words, but here it is... Two years have flown by too fast. And I’ll miss you Kenya, kabisa!

Friday, September 2, 2011


If you’re looking for a vivid mental image, take a moment to read about my chaotic welcome home to village life in Kenya. I hadn’t been in my house for a few weeks as I was blissfully enjoying the luxuries of my American vacation, but coming back to my vacant house was a bit more dramatic that I would have preferred...

I stepped into my dark house, hesitantly and weary of what creatures had taken over in my absence. One foot in the door, I realized that my flea problem had yet to subside, and in their state of ravenous hunger (no dog/human flesh to feast on for three weeks!) they eagerly attacked my flea-bite-free legs. Whatever, I thought, I have come prepared with flea bombs for this pesky problem!

I proceeded into my room.

“Not too bad,” I thought. For being gone for a few weeks I was expecting much worse.
I opened my dresser drawer and noticed that something was off. My clothing seemed oddly nest shaped.


At that moment, a rat jumped out of my drawer OVER my shoulder and onto the floor. I’m sure he was equally startled at my looming figure staring over his newfound, cozy, home. Then, my hungry cat jumped into the chaos and started chasing the rat around the room. I started screaming, the rat started squealing and my cat started sprinting around the room. In all the noise, another rat flies out of my dresser and joins the frantic bustle that is now taking place in my room. I jump on the bed and watch as my cat chases two rats around the room creating a slightly hilarious, slightly disgusting game of cat and mouse around my feet.

After a few short minutes, my cat comes out victorious and drags her TWO fresh kills under my bed. As I calm down and survey my dresser for additional rodents, my cat crunches bones beneath my bed.

“Gross!” I mumble to myself. My cat doesn’t understand. She’s thrilled.

I do some cleaning : transfer the mutilated rat carcasses outside, sweep, open my windows, take a bucket bath, and survey what’s left of my rat eaten cupboard contents. My allergies flare up, I take a benedryl and drift off to sleep dreaming about my rat-free room in California.

Sometime in the late evening, I start to dream about a breeze blowing across my face. Am I in a beach breeze room in Zanzibar? Did I leave the fan on in my comfy room in the states? I flick my hand at whatever is disturbing my sleep.

“Hmmm, that’s weird. Breezes don’t normally scuttle,” I think in my half-lucid state of sleep.

I sit straight up in bed to find that I’m brushing at not a breeze, not my mosquito net, but a fleet of cockroaches crawling across my bed.


And that, my friends, was how I spent my first day back in the village. While I know (and hope!) that my house can only get cleaner from here on out, it was quite a jarring welcome back to village life. As I sit here, slightly squeamish at the thought of being completely outnumbered by the number of unwelcome household guests, I reminisce fondly of my amazing vacation in the states. Here are some pictures from my visit home!

I was honored to be a bridesmaid in my best friend from college’s beautiful wedding. It was certainly the most gorgeous, fun, memorable wedding ever. They had a photobooth, fireworks, delicious food, and dancing! Here are the bridesmaids with the pretty hills of salt lake in the distance:

It was great to see friends from USC too! We all lived together our junior year:

I also was fortunate enough to have my longtime boyfriend come home from Afghanistan for his leave at the same time as mine. We went to Monterey for a night and enjoyed the beach, tourist attractions, and of course, the aquarium. Can you believe that these are seahorses?!

Did I mention that I brought my dogs back to the states? Well, I did! And it was a bit of a fiasco, but Nala and her puppy Kibo are now Kenyan immigrants. They had quite the time adjusting to American life. Who would have known that dogs freak out when first walking on hard wood floors? It was entertaining to watch them experience air conditioning, the ocean, dog treats, etc. for the first time!

Thanks mom for adopting my two Kenyan babies! I miss them like crazy.

I think one of the most spectacular things about the states is the FOOD! Seriously, there is just so much variety! I was in awe walking through the aisles of Whole Foods and Trader Joes. These stores are a stark contrast to my small village market comprised of a handful of mamas selling maize, beans, kale, and tomatoes. In the states, I remembered how much I love to cook, especially with the array of summer fruits and vegetables. I definitely cannot cook this breakfast in Kenya! Mmmmm …yum!

I did my fair share of eating. Maybe too much. I gained a spectacular amount of poundage in just three weeks. But, hey, at least it’s not ugali! Giant cookies, cake balls, frozen yogurt galore (one of my very first blog posts was about how I missed this), smores, and other deliciousness filled our kitchen. And this baby, a whoopee pie, is two chocolate fudge cookies sandwiching marshmallow fluff is something everyone must try!

Overall, my trip home was just what I needed. A necessary break from the sometimes chaotic Kenyan life and much needed quality time with friends and family who have been incredibly supportive throughout my Peace Corps service. Thanks friends + family! I miss you already!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, July 1, 2011

HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Last month, I organized a HIV/AIDS Awareness day for my students and community. It was a huge success drawing approximately 500 secondary school students and 100 community members in attendance. With the Bishop Abiero Girls’ Health Club and help of Nyanza Reproductive Health Society (NRHS), we were able to facilitate a successful event.

As per usual, the day started out way behind schedule. Approximately 4 hours after they were supposed to arrive, the NRHS workers FINALLY arrived (note to self; never ever ever expect a Kenyan function to begin on time). Approximately 500 students were in attendance from my school, Bishop Okoth, and Orando secondary schools. They started the day with a health talk for a Ministry of Health Official, Naomi, who discussed rape and sexual assault. The students were active listeners and asked sincere, thought provoking questions.

The main entertainment of the day was a football (soccer) tournament between students and community groups. It was entertaining to watch especially when a women’s group that had asked to compete arrived and consisted of mostly 50 year old grannies :)

Here, students and community members watch a football match

And here are the winners of the football matches with their gleaming trophies!

The students also presented HIV/AIDS related dramas, songs, and dances. These unveiled some talented actresses and actors! My students performed a drama on HIV stigma in the community:

Orando Secondary Students performed a traditional Luo song about HIV:

Bishop Okoth students performed a drama about risky behaviour that leads to HIV transmission.

Here, some children from the community enjoy the entertainment:

The day was a lot of fun and was very successful. NRHS performed 42 voluntary medical male circumcisions ( which helps to reduce HIV transmission) and 83 students and community members were HIV tested and counseled. The schools have already asked for another one to be planned for next year!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


If any of you have the opportunity to go to Rwanda I HIGHLY recommend it. This tiny landlocked country known for its 1994 horrific genocide, as it turns out, is a spectacular place to visit. It is known as the land of a thousand hills and from the moment we touched down in Kigali, I could see why. Everywhere you look there is hill after hill of bright green scenery.

In a stark contrast to the littered and chaotic streets of Nairobi and other East African cities I’ve visited, Kigali is (gasp) orderly and incredibly clean! There are streetlamps that drivers actually obey. And plastic bags are banned throughout the country meaning that there is hardly any trash on the street. And not every single person on the street asks for money or a bribe. Wow!

We arrived in the shockingly clean city of Kigali and then travelled to Ruhengeri where we would stay the night before embarking on our gorilla trekking tour a la Dian Fossey. Ruhengeri was cold cold cold, not anywhere near the equatorially heat of my village. Anywho we spent the night here before waking up bright and early to go to Parc les Volcans to start our gorilla adventure. Enjoy the pictures!

At the park gate and with no real idea of what was in store.

Hiking through dense jungle foliage with no paths, only a gorilla tracker clearing the trail with a machete.

After 3 hours of hiking in the rain and cold we finally reached this gorilla family. It has 26 members including a few newborns and three silverbacks making it the largest group in the park.

Doesn't he look so human?!?! Gorillas and humans share so many mannerisms, it's incredible.

Clearly he is not as fascinated with us as we are with him.

Stretching for an afternoon nap. Looks comfortable.

Pondering life.

Swinging on a vine. A true tarzan.

We were charged three times by a silverback. The guides advised us not to run, but as you might imagine, it’s quite terrifying to be charged by a massive gorilla!

And, drenched, exhausted, and very much exhilarated, we received our gorilla trekking certificates!

The day after the gorilla trekking we went to see the yellow monkeys. While they are not nearly as thrilling as the gorillas nor as photogenic, they were pretty awesome! Here are some of the best pictures:

We headed back to the capital for some celebratory beers and American food. We also visited the genocide museum in Kigali which is a very moving memorial. It is astonishing to know that just 17 years ago a horrific massacre of 100,000 people in just 100 days ravaged the small country. How could such a thing happen? The stories of the genocide are disturbing and heartbreaking and appalling. May something like this never happen again here or anywhere.

All in all, our trip to Rwanda was a memorable and amazing experience that I hope I’ll get to relive sometime in the future. Anyone interested in joining me on gorilla trek numero dos? It’s definitely worth it!

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Part of my April holiday was spent at Camp GLOW. Camp GLOW took place on the coast of Kenya the second week of April. GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a girl’s empowerment camp funded by PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief) and facilitated by PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers). Ok that’s enough acronyms for the day.

Camp GLOW, in summary, was amazing! There were 48 girls nominated by PCVs that attended the camp. Most of them had never left their villages before which led to some very interesting experiences. For instance, some students had never used a shower before ( I could see how a spray of mysterious water could be intimidating after a lifetime of bucket baths) nor a Western toilet. One student was terrified of an escalator and stayed on the ground floor of the mall she was visiting.

Besides exposure, the students learned some very valuable information about HIV/AIDS, female genital mutilation, communication, gender roles, self defence, achieving their goals and many other useful topics. Here, one of my students learns how to put on a condom correctly. We then had a condom water balloon toss to demonstrate just how strong condoms really are.

Many students have trouble buying sanitary napkins. This often leads to students either not going to school during their periods or prostitution for sanitary pads. I taught the students a method of making reusable sanitary napkins which will hopefully give them a longer lasting option than expensive disposable pads.

We also took them to visit a great NGO called Meeting the Goal Post which uses football (soccer) to teach girls needed skills such as teamwork and communication. Our campers played football, attended peer counselling sessions, and learned about the organization, as well as found interest in braiding the camp counsellors’ hair.

One night we had a bonfire with the campers. Don’t you remember having bonfires as a kid? Telling ghost stories, making smores, and cooking hotdogs are quintessential campfire memories of mine. Bonfires remind me of my childhood. For most Kenyans, bonfires remind them of cooking because why else would you use a good pile of firewood? We taught the campers how to make smores (my absolute FAVORITE food. Seriously, ask my roommates, I lived off of smores in college) and they in turn, taught us some songs. Not your traditional kumbaya or girl scout songs, but songs traditional to their different tribes and to Kenya. It was an enjoyable night spent dancing, singing, roasting marshmallows and of course, waking up the next morning with the smell of campfire smoke in my hair to remind of all that fun :)

On the last day we took the girls to the beach. What an experience! Some girls had never seen the ocean before and were absolutely terrified, fascinated, and excited all at the same time, to see the Indian Ocean. My student even brought back a bottle of ocean water for her classmates to taste!

All in all, Camp GLOW was a success. What started out as a timid group of girls became a lively bunch of individuals. I am continually amazed at just how amazing Kenyan youth can be. While the week was exhausting and incredibly hot (hello humidity!) it was also valuable, worthwhile, and memorable for myself, the other counsellors, and the campers!

P.S. Happy Mother's Day all you moms out there! And to my very special American mom, happy happy mother's day! I miss you!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Home Sweet Home

To all my readers who have not yet given up on my sporadic, infrequent writing, I’m going to make you a promise that I will really try to keep: I, Jenny Nakata, will hereby write a blog post every two weeks. Feel free to call my bluff if I don’t.

Anwho, to recap last term, I would say that it was a relatively difficult one. You would think that after a year here it would just get easier right? Wrong! Things that I used to attribute to cultural differences ( treating women as inferior, caning, etc) I now have zero tolerance for. My bullshit-o-meter is honed to 0.00 and if someone tries to tell me that the bible says women should serve men and blah blah blah blah, I have absolutely no self control in holding my tongue. Also, if a matatu tout tries to overcharge me by even 10 shillings I go into a rant about serving his country for free, I’m poor, he’s a racist, etc, until he finally capitulates in sheer fear of the crazy mzungu lady who will go through the effort of fighting over 10 shillings!

You may ask, with all the things that make me want to pull out my hair and scream, why do I stay here? Good question. I made a list the other night and realized all of the things that I truly do care about here.
1. I absolutely adore my students. They make me laugh, they are inquisitive, and I want to see them grow up to be productive members of society.
2. I respect my principal and her vision for the school. I want to be here to help her achieve the goals she has strived so tirelessly for.
3. My village is beautiful. The stars are so clear at night, like I’ve never seen before. I can hike to see Lake Victoria. It’s green and lush and there are guava, mango, and banana trees everywhere.
4. There are adorable children everywhere. Where else could I go and pick up a random child off the streets without looking like a kidnapper? Nowhere. Some of my happiest daily moments are when my children friends greet me and walk with me on the way to the market or on the way home. They make me smile with their genuine curiosity and true happiness.
5. My dogs are happy here. They have open fields to run around and chase birds. They walk the two hours to school and back everyday and roll around in the mud. I couldn’t imagine a happier place for my dogs to be.
6. I appreciate feeling connected to my surroundings. I know that I used 30 litres of water yesterday or 1.5 buckets to cook dinner and wash my dishes. I know how many leaves of sukuma wiki (kale) I’ve eaten and I’ve picked the bananas straight from the tree that I’ll eat this week. Do you know how much water you’ve used today?
7. I enjoy teaching life skills. I kind of feel like the little elf inside of google’s search engine (there is an elf that does all that work, right!?) who smirks at some of the questions that people ask. “Madam, if you take birth control will you give birth to a cow? Can your vagina fall out of your body? If you sneeze in a plane will it cause it to fall from the sky?” I enjoy being able to answer questions that my students don’t have answers for.
8. People in the village know me now. They don’t ask me for money like they used to. Instead, I have enjoyable conversations with a good number of people every morning and evening. In the morning, I say hellos (yes, hello can be plural as Kenyan English has taught me) to the neighbors, the duku (store) owners, approximately 30 children on their way to school, the old women that sell fruit on the road and countless villagers along the way. In the evening, it’s a similar routine, many hellos, many handshakes, and then I meet and chat with my market friends: William an old friendly man, Dolphin who sells vegetables, Mama Beatrice, the butcher for bones for my dog, Rose who sells medicine, Lucy who sells omena (small fish) , and an elderly toothless man who fixes my shoes. On the way home, I often stop at my friend Emma’s house and stay there and chat before rushing home before darkness falls. Then I have a cup of tea with my grandma and grandpa next door. There are lots and lots of daily human interactions, something that I know I will miss when back in the states.
9. I love learning and practicing languages. I like being able to communicate in Kiswahili and while I still struggle with dhoLuo, what better place to practice than in a village of Luo people? Learning new words and phrases everyday keeps me on my toes.
10. Living here gives me an amazing opportunity to travel. Going to Zanzibar for a holiday trip or mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda for the weekend is something that I can only do while living in East Africa. I love love love to travel and living here has given me the chances to do so.

So when last term was really rough and all I could think about was going home (not having to eat ugali everyday? Yes please!) the things that I appreciate about living here became all the more apparent. While I do really really miss people, food, cleanliness and easiness of life in America, I do also enjoy living here. I also had a busy month of April away from site (blog posts coming soon!) which made me miss the routine and serenity of village life. So now as I am sitting here with my dogs at my feet, trying to finish this before my computer dies since there’s no electricity today, I feel comfortable and at home.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Dearest Family and Friends,
Finally (FINALLY!!!) my Peace Corps Partnership Proposal (PCPP) has been approved and posted on the Peace Corps website. The proposal is for the completion of my school’s laboratory. As a science teacher, I can clearly see how the lack of hands on activities has a detrimental effect on the interest of studying of the sciences. How can students be enthusiastic about learning when they don’t know the practical applications? Finishing this laboratory and providing a place for students to develop their critical thinking skills is so important to me. But I need your help! The PCPP depends on friends and family (that’s you!) of the Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to donate towards funding. Once all the money is raised, the PCV (that’s me!) will ensure that the project is completed and not lost to corrupt hands along the way. Therefore, your tax deductible donations will go directly to my school! Please, take a look at the project at:

And here are some pictures of the unfinished laboratory for your viewing pleasure.

Thanks for looking and a million thanks if you can donate!