Thursday, December 23, 2010

A pile of puppies

After my travels with David and Peace Corp’s mid service medical examinations, (no parasites/TB/ African infectious diseases for this girl!) I rushed back to my site because my dog had given birth to NINE puppies. This large number would not have been such a surprise had my Kenyan vet told me that I could expect a litter of this size. However, he told me (after falsely diagnosing my dog’s pregnancy and telling me she was too young to get pregnant) that she would have no more than three puppies and I quote “but she will eat one so you will end up with ONE or TWO puppies at most.” Well, turns out that he, like most other Kenyans, told me what I wanted to hear, rather than the truth…funny how that applies to just about everything here from meeting start times, prices, puppy number, etc.

When I got the call from my neighbour that my dog had given birth to this abnormally large litter, she asked me, in all seriousness, if I would like her to “slaughter some puppies.”
“Um, what?!?!” I yelled into the phone
“Slaughter some puppies because there are too many”
That is quite possibly the worst thing I have ever heard. Who wants to be a puppy slaughterer? And if I agreed, wouldn’t I be accused of puppy manslaughter? So, I unequivocally refused to allow her to commit puppy murder (which in my opinion, is up there on the morally reprehensible crimes list) and that is how I ended up with TEN dogs in my house.

While I may have recently felt my maternal clock ticking, all wants of children have been completed abolished after caring for nine pups. I have not slept a full night’s sleep for the past two weeks (did you know newborn puppies do not sound like dogs? Rather they constantly make a squawking noise like a dying flock of seagulls), I’ve run out of pc money feeding Nala meat, milk, and fish to keep her healthy, and I constantly smell like puppy poop. I definitely have a new gratitude for mothers.

But the joys of motherhood, or in my case grandmother-hood, arise from the precious moments: a puppy falling asleep in my lap, seeing their eyes open, witnessing a wobbly first step. So, despite my constant crankiness due to lack of sleep and my empty bank account, I’m thoroughly happy with all ten dogs in my home. They are adorable beyond belief and I’m glad I get to witness their growth.

Nala is a great mother. She is dedicated as ever and very protective of her pups. Note her luxury dog bed that I transported all the way from Nairobi.

They all sleep in one big fluffy puppy pile.

Did I mention that the puppies are adorable?! Here, they’re spooning in their sleep!!

I’m busy looking for good homes for all the pups. Hopefully some pcv friends will take a few and I know a couple Kenyan families who will treat dogs well. But this one, Kibo, is staying with me. He’s my mom and brother’s xmas present and will be travelling to America in August. Hopefully they love him as much as I do. Isn’t he so cute?

Alright, I have to go, I hear the puppies squawking!

Friday, December 17, 2010

David's Visit

I’m incredibly lucky to have an amazing boyfriend who has flown to Africa to visit me, not once, but twice! We had an adventurous vacation to Zanzibar, an island off of the coast of Tanzania. It is one of the three Swahili ports of eastern Africa and is therefore an intriguing mix of cultures. It sometimes did not seem like we were even in Africa due to the Muslim influence, Islamic architecture, palm tree lined beaches, and tropical cuisine.

Here are some of my favorite snapshots from our vacation. Does it seem to you too that most of my blog posts are about traveling? I promise you I do work (!) and your tax dollars are not being used to fund my holiday excursions:)

Before we started our travels, David came to my site and was able to experience life minus modern luxuries i.e western toilets and dishwashers. You can ask him about his fond memories of using a choo. Here he is cleaning dishes with my Kenyan dishwasher i.e three buckets. Note the bright green polka dot cleaning gloves :)

We then made a quick stop at Lake Nakuru National Park famous for its hundreds of flamingos inhabiting the lake. We also spotted giraffes, water buffalo, tons of baboon families, two white rhinos, and much other wildlife. Here we are amiss piles of flamingo poop. Can you spot them in the distance?

On our flight to Zanzibar we passed the infamous peak of Kilimanjaro that has so haunted me since our August climb. I really did get chills thinking about the excruciatingly cold and miserable summit day. While Uhuru Peak(the tallest point in all of Africa) seemed to be smirking at me from a distance I did feel a bit of satisfaction knowing that I climbed that beast of a mountain (I can say that, of course, from the safe and temperature controlled cabin of an airplane).

We arrived in Zanzibar and began exploring Stone Town, the heart of the island. It has endless narrow streets that you could wander for days albeit many of them sell the same touristy items. We meandered through the streets, stopping for street food, fresh fruit juices, and the occasional reprieve from the heat in air conditioned shops. To me, the most beautiful part of Stone Town was definitely the intricate wooden doors. Isn’t this one just gorgeous?

Forodhani Gardens, a waterfront plaza, transforms into a seafood extravaganza at sunset. There were tons of vendors selling fresh seafood on skewers that they would roast for you and serve warm with delicious coconut bread. We indulged in “Zanzibari pizza” aka a banana and Nutella crepe like creation fried in lard. Artery clogging, but delicious.

We spent one afternoon going on a spice tour in which we traveled to a spice farm located in the center of the island. We learned about, smelled, and tasted all sorts of spices from pungent cinnamon bark to the exotic tumeric. Here is some raw vanilla bean. Did you know it takes weeks of intense processes to produce the type of vanilla sold in stores?

We then enjoyed a yummy home cooked and coconut infused Zanzibari meal before heading to a secluded beach to float in the Indian Ocean. Pure bliss.

After two nights in Stone Town, we traveled to the eastern side of the island to enjoy the serene and isolated beaches of Jambiani. Our hotel (despite its perpetually late, incompetent, and completely stoned Rasta staff) had an amazing location. We were literally on the beach and fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing which is quite possibly the most soothing sound ever (at least in comparison to my norm of rooster crowing and cows mooing).

We spent our time here lounging on the beach, eating delicious seafood (mmm coconut curry prawns), befriending adorable children, sipping cold Tanzanian beer, gazing at the spectacular stars, and watching the gorgeous colours of the sunrise.

Each evening, the tide would go out as far as you could see. We walked through the tide pools examining the many spiky starfish and hermit crabs. The local women did the same, except they were in search of small shells with some sort of meat inside that they would undoubtedly cook up for supper. The shallow waters made it look like we were walking on water, quite a feat for someone who had just consumed their body weight in delicious sea food :)

One fateful afternoon, we decided to go on a dhow (boat) snorkeling trip. While we should have been a bit hesitant due to the boats obvious sketchiness (it was only a foot wide!) we decided to go anyways. We sailed out to sea before emerging ourselves in the clear blue waters of the Indian Ocean. I should note here that David has developed an irrational (well, maybe not so irrational) fear of water creatures. He would constantly spurt out facts about deadly sea animals citing shark attacks and other various recent and fatal tourist incidents. I assured him that nothing of the sort would happen here. However, not TWO minutes into our snorkeling excursion we were swimming through a swarm of jellyfish! I tried to keep my calm channeling Dory from Nemo (clearly David would be the terrified Nemo here), but alas, our trip ended with a slightly scared David and lots of “ I told you so’s”. While neither of us was stung by our jellyfish friends, I did spot a sea snake a bit later only to later discover it is one of the most poisonous snakes around! Yikes.

We returned from Zanzibar to spend an evening in the luxurious Fairview Hotel in Nairobi (thanks mom!) where we enjoyed all the Western amenities allowing David a mental transition before his flight back to America. And lastly, I provide you with a pensive picture of David possibly pondering his deep desires (whoa alliteration) to never again visit a choo, dreaming of America land of food sanitation laws, or most likely, he's just trying to have the camera catch his good side.

Despite our run-ins with deadly sea creatures, I thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Zanzibar. It was everything I could possibly want in a vacation: great company, beaches, relaxation, amazing food, and interesting culture. Thank you to an amazing boyfriend and a spectacular trip. And to any of you that have yet to visit Africa or East Africa, it has some seriously beautiful spots to explore. Karibu.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Thankful Thanksgiving

To all of you who are still reading my blog despite my prolonged absence my apologies for the delay. I’ve had a busy past few months and finally have some time/ internet access to reflect on the half way mark of my Peace Corps service. It’s been over a year now since I arrived in Kenya and that year has taught me a lot while testing my limits. I know that I have grown in certain areas and learned some valuable skills like independence (living alone in a Kenyan village miles from any other American has led to such) and adaptability (who would have thought it is so easy to live without running water/constant electricity?). But there are so many traits I still wish to improve on such as patience (I still cannot stand waiting hours for meetings to start!) and flexibility (a very true saying “This is Africa” in my mind translates to “shit happens, so deal with it”).

Thanksgiving (my favourite holiday!) gave me a chance to not only reflect on personal growth, but also what I’m thankful for. While I didn’t make a hand turkey to display my appreciation, I’ll tell you the things that make me especially thankful this time of year:
1. Family- both Kenyan and American who have been so supportive. My Kenyan grandma and grandpa have done so much to ensure my happiness and safety as have my American family who do the same by sending me parmesan cheese and flaming hot cheetos!
2. Friends- I’m so appreciative of all your letters and packages and visits. It seriously makes me week to hear from you. And my students who have you as penpals could not be more excited to have a friend in America.
3. Nala- My dog is the best company I could ask for. She makes my daily walks to and from school much more enjoyable. Plus, she is the perfect snuggler.
4. The opportunity to learn-I’m grateful to have a job/working environment in which there is so much possibility. Possibility to expand the school, possibility to start clubs and activities, opportunities to make a lasting difference in a students learning, etc. While this often translates to a lot of needed work and necessary motivation, I enjoy working in an environment conducive to change
5. The little things- I’m thankful for the little actions and moments that remind me why I’m here. A genuine smile. A true Kenyan friend. A perfect juicy mango. Sleeping in past the rooster crowing. An enthralling book. When the days are stressful and full of typical frustrations, it’s the little things that make a difference.
6. And lastly, I’m thankful for a delicious thanksgiving dinner. David and I cooked a fantastic Kenyan/vegetarian thanksgiving dinner complete with green beans, garlic cheese mashed potatoes, Stove top stuffing, and my all time favourite canned cranberry sauce topped off with charcoal oven cooked fudge brownies. Mmmm. It was the best dinner and company I could possibly ask for away from Los Gatos.

Completion of one year marks a big milestone in my Peace Corps service; I’m past the transition phase and beyond the adapting to the culture. But I still have so much to learn and even more to do! On my list are completing my school’s laboratory construction (be on the lookout for a donation email coming soon) and starting health clubs and life skills classes in the surrounding secondary schools. This next year will fly by much too fast. The best I can do is take advantage of my time here and be the most productive I can be. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Light bulb

I had one of those “ah hah!” moments today when I was walking home from school. I realized why so many Kenyans respond to greetings with a grunt or other guttural indecipherable noise (ok, maybe this theory only applies to me, but bear with me) but I think it may be because they’re too fucking tired to do much else. Let me explain. After a day of carrying buckets of water on your head, washing dishes by hand, scrubbing clothes (again by hand), starting fires to cook meals for your 10+ kids, picking vegetables to eat, tending to your livestock and garden, and then carrying more water to repeat all that dish washing and cooking for dinner, you’d be pretty tired too, right?
While I don’t nearly work that hard (my mom tells me I have princess wrists- too fragile to do “real” work) I still exert way more energy than I have ever before. With my daily 45 minute walk to and from school and 12 hour teaching days six days a week, I’m completely exhausted by the end of the day. Today was especially tiresome as I walked the hour and a half to the post office to check for mail (false alarm, your package hasn’t arrived yet, mom!) and on the way back the blazing heat and hilly terrain gave my (gasp in horror) Kilimanjaro flashbacks (ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, the walk isn’t THAT bad). In addition, I ran around like a crazy person searching for some place to print my exams, but alas, the stima (electricity) was out everywhere in Paw Akuche and in Miranga there was only enough electricity for a television, but of course, not enough to power a printer (wtf?). Anyways, after my intense climb back to school and then back to my house, all I could muster back to my friendly neighbour was raising a few eyebrow hairs in response to his “good evening.” I hope he noticed my effort. So that’s when my lightbulb went off, maybe (maybe just maybe), that’s why there are so many nods, “mmmm”, and “aaaaah” in response to questions and comments here, there just isn’t enough energy left to say much else.
The reason this theory definitely applies to me is because I swear I am way peppier in the morning and will muster enough energy (even at 5:45am!) to respond to your “good morning” (maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll respond in dholuo AND Kiswahili) but by the end of the day you can expect a much less enthusiastic response (maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll respond with a half nod or pathetic wave). As I sit here, writing down this world shaking theory of mine, debating whether to move my biweekly bucket bath schedule so that I can rinse the Kilimanjaro climb’s dust and sweat off of me, I request of you that if we are to meet in the future, please acknowledge my ¼ of an inch eyebrow raise as a legitimate greeting (at least if it’s in the evening hours).

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Turning Kenyan?

Lately I’ve been noticing some strange changes in me, most likely due to the fact that I’ve been in Kenya for almost a year now. (Wow, I cannot believe it’s been a year!) For instance, my Kenyan voice (which my brother described to me as sounding like I have a British accent, minus the British part) is beginning to pervade ALL my conversations, not just my conversations with Kenyans. And I catch myself making very Kenyan comments like saying “Nice time” when a year ago I would have said something like “have a good day.” And the ultimate Kenyan thing that I unfortunately hear myself saying all the time is responding “I’m fine” before someone even greets me!
I remember a year ago, when I first arrived here, smirking to myself about these language oddities. Who replies to a greeting when nothing has even been said???? And, to top it off, certain occurrences hardly phase me such as seeing a goat being transported on the back of a bicycle or livestock being walked on leashes like pet puppies. When I first arrived, I remember balking at a matatu completely covered in chickens. Now that I’ve seen it a few times, it really is nothing surprising (definitely not camera worthy, like it used to be).
Whether my turning Kenyan is a positive or negative thing, I cannot say. However, it makes me wonder if when I go back, I’ll stare at things that seem so common and everyday to you. Like a supermarket aisle or a Starbucks menu or seeing running water in every household. Will living in America make me yearn for what I’ve become so accustomed to here? Will I miss my daily sighting of bicycle transported animals or cows accompanying meon my walk to school everyday? While time will only tell about my eventual transition back to the states, I hope that you won’t think I’m too strange if you catch me gazing in wonderment at the fifty different brands of soap or taking 20 minutes deciding what coffee I want to order. And don’t think I’m too strange if I talk to you in an accent that sounds British, minus the British part. I know that I have a long time to wonder about these things, but taking into account how fast this year has already gone by, I know this next year will pass much too quickly. While I can promise you that I won’t come back with the skin colour of a Kenyan (like my students initially predicted would occur over the course of my stay here), I can’t promise you that I’ll come back as the same Jenny that you remember. Blame it on Kenya :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

3 Parks in 3 Days

The adventures of Caitlin and Jenny continued with some exciting, but hectic, traveling to Kakamega National Rainforest, Lake Nakuru National Park, and Hell’s Gate National Park all in the weekend before Caitlin was to return back to America.

Caitlin experienced her first Kenyan matatu (van) ride which can only be described with some vivid mental images….Imagine a van meant to hold 12 people, meaning there are 12 seats. However, in Kenya, seats don’t determine the number of passengers. In our matatu ride there were 24 people riding in our van including a few men hanging out of the door, four or more people per row, plus chickens, giant bags of food, mattresses, water tanks, etc. tied to the roof. It is quite an experience to travel by matatu. And while Caitlin was not fond of the smell, there are definitely some adventures that occur while on a matatu whether it be 80’s flashback music, a dancing baby, and an entertaining/drunk seat sharer, etc.

Our fist stop was to Kakamega National Rainforest, the only rainforest in all of Kenya. While it used to be home to gorillas and all sorts of other wildlife, development has reduced it to the habitat of Kenya’s most spectacular bird population. This is a bird watchers paradise with beautiful greenery and birds chirping everywhere. There are also tons of monkeys swinging from tree to tree, tree shaded trails, and a wealth of medical knowledge that we learned about from our Luhya guide.

We stayed in traditional mud bandas (huts) at the Udo campsite. While rustic from the outside, the bandas were quite comfortable inside. Although, we were a wee bit terrified to venture out of our hut at night to use the choo and thus constructed an in-door bathroom consisting of a bucket behind a chair.

Our next destination, after another jampacked matatu ride, was to Nakuru town. Nakuru is Kenya’s largest town and has a lovely laid back atmosphere and quaint restaurants. Caitlin tried her first plate of Ethiopian food here. We entered Lake Nakuru National Park for evening and morning game drives and were thrilled to see a plethora of animals running around everywhere (there were baboons and monkeys jumping on cars). We were able to spot black and white rhinos, a ton of flamingos nestled in the lake itself, Rothschild giraffes, baby baboons, lionesses and their cubs, zebras and many species of birds. While unassuming from the park’s gates, this national park was truly something else. The sheer number of wildlife wandering left and right make it a safari dream come true.

Our last stop on our few day adventure was to Hell’s Gate National Park located outside of Naivasha. This park is unique because it is one of the few parks that allows visitors to walk or bike through it. While it is not the same as being a few feet away from a lion behind the protection of a car frame, wandering through a park in the company of giraffes and zebras is just as fun. We rented bikes (and after relearning how to ride a bike) we headed into the park. We only had a few hours in the park due to Caitlin’s impending departure so we choose a short route to the Obsidian Caves. Along the way we biked through herds of zebras, grazing giraffes and warthogs. The end destination was a few caves composed of layered obsidian rock. While Caitlin’s view of biking adventures was scarred due to a sore derriere, I enjoyed the park greatly. While the animals may not have been as spectacular nor scary (who would want to see a lion while biking?) it was still fun to be biking next to all sorts of wildlife. I hope to go back again soon and explore some more!

Even though a tearful goodbye to Caitlin ensued after our amazing adventures, I still thoroughly enjoyed all of our travels together. It was her first time to Africa and hopefully not last. To all of you who have yet to explore this fascinating continent, karibu!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Safari Njema

After our Kilimanjaro adventure we spent a few days recuperating in the luxurious Fairview hotel in Nairobi. I truly did not know that a place like that haven existed in Kenya! There a spectacular breakfast buffet that had STRAWBERRIES! I had not seen a strawberry for 10 months! Needless to say, I contemplated a peace corps site change to the Fairview hotel. After a few days, a few showers, and a few hot meals, my family and I met up with Caitlin, my best friend from high school, to embark on our next set of adventures. Since a picture shows a thousand words, here are some of my favourite snapshots of our vacation:

At the elephant orphanage we watched baby elephants (awwwwww) get fed with giant bottles of milk and then play soccer.

Caitlin and my Mom getting smooches from giraffes at the Nairobi Giraffe Centre. Giraffe tongues are rough and slimy, not at all kissable.

At Carnivore restaurant where you are served an endless buffet of wild game from crocodile to ostrich. This is the happiest I saw Robbie on the trip, and quite possibly in all his life.

We ventured to the Masai Mara to begin our safari. We first stayed at Keekorok Lodge in comfortable wooden huts. Note Caitlin’s excitement for our first game drive! There was also a hippo pond with lots of snuggling hippopotamuses.

Below are some pictures of the wildlife we saw in the Masai Mara. It was fascinating (and slightly scary) to see all of the giant game roaming in their habitat.

Seeing all of the animals above almost felt like a Disneyland ride/Lion King movie set (I did have to sing the circle of life a few times!). Out of sibling rivalry, Robbie and I came up with a competition to see who could spot the most animals throughout our stay and assigned points to the most elusive of animals. I lost miserably! I missed a sleeping lion right in front of me, mistaking it for a dead buffalo…..

This is the second lodge that we stayed in, Mara Serena, which had gorgeous view of the Mara river. The rooms were modeled after traditional Masai huts, but with the luxury of running water, toilets, etc.

From the view of our rooms, the wildebeest migration across the Mara river was seen. Unfortunately for me I missed the whole crossing as I was blissfully enjoying a massage! Oh well, at least from this picture you can see the sheer number of wildebeest…quite amazing.

The view of the Masai Mara were breathtaking. You could see for miles and spot wildlife off in the distance.

And there were absolutely beautiful sunsets. The colours of an African sunset are just so pretty!

Caitlin and I attended a Masai Dance where we witnessed some traditional songs and dances. The Masai tribesmen dance by jumping as high as possible in a circle.

After our safari in the Masai Mara we headed to Kisumu in the Nyanza province. We stayed at Kiboko Bay Resort located on the shore of Lake Victoria. There was a lot of delicious fresh fish to be enjoyed as well as bird watching.

We went on a boat ride in Lake Victoria and saw many fisherman at work catching tilapia and omena (small sardine like fish). We also saw a group of emerged hippos, many beautiful birds, and a giant water lizard.

We ended our vacation at my site where my family and Caitlin had a chance to meet all my students and staff at Bishop Abiero Girl's Secondary School. The students asked them many questions about themselves and America.

My visitors also got to meet all of my house’s animal inhabitants (invited and uninvited). I was glad that they were able to see my house, school, and community to get a real feel for what it is like living in Kenya as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My mom described my house as “camping for two years” while my brother euphemistically called my living situation “an adventure” (in reference to the daily battle with rodents, bumblebees, spiders, etc that have infested my house). And even though Caitlin had a nightly staring contest with the mice living in my rafters and Robbie was attacked by a million mosquitoes, I want to believe that they enjoyed their stay in Magwar (although I know they will not miss using a choo). Come back to visit again soon!