As I celebrate my 23 years of being alive, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of the observations I have made about life in Kenya thus far:
1. I am now an official Peace Corps volunteer! I parted ways with the other volunteers yesterday and will be living on my own.
2. I gave the swearing- in speech at the American ambassador’s house in Swahili! It made the national news!
3. I am so lucky to have been placed in my work site. I am in a town near Lake Victoria which is absolutely beautiful. I am surrounded by greenery and fields of maiz.
4. I have a beautiful house at my site. It is very large (much more than I expected!) with 2 rooms, a kitchen, a dining room, and a verandah.
5. I have electricity in my house which makes me feel very privileged as only a few people in the whole town can afford it.
6. As I unpacked my belongings, I am forever glad that I packed Snowball. No matter where I am, or how old I may get, she is a consistent source of comfort!
7. I live about 45 minutes away from my school, so I will have a nice walk every morning.
8. I live on a compound with an elderly couple who are so hospitable. They have been feeding me delicious Luo food too! The nyanya (grandmother) will be teaching me how to cook someday soon.
9. I met my future students today and they seem like very intelligent girls. There are about 120 students at the all girls school I will be teaching at. Some interesting things about the school are that all the girls must shave their head because many are too poor to keep it clean otherwise. They all much wear a uniform including collared shirt and tie. And they all call me Madame (which makes me feel slightly like a brothel owner-oh well!).
10. The principal at my school is an inspiring person. She works so hard, has many ideas for the school, and is very enthusiastic about her job. She has transformed the school in the past 2 years. It is now 3 classrooms. Within the next few, it will hopefully have a laboratory and living quarters for the students. She has a huge heart too and takes in orphans who cannot afford to go to school.
11. There are 7 other teachers at my school, only 3 of which are trained. The others are straight from secondary school meaning they are very young to be teaching!
12. I will be teaching Form 1 Math (freshman), Form 2 & 3 Biology (sophomore and junior) and all Forms Life Skills. Life skills will teach things like self confidence, building relationships, setting goals etc. etc. I have a lot of work to do this weekend in preparing for my lessons! I have to write lesson plans and schemes of work for the whole term.
13. I was equally motivated and disheartened by hearing my principal’s explanations for why girls so often fail in the Kenyan school system. Partly because of household chores (ie carrying water for many hours out of the day) or because of the common belief that girls don’t deserve an education (many parents only will pay for their sons to attend secondary school). While disturbing to hear, I now feel like I have a duty to influence these girls’ lives.
14. Water is scarce in my town. My babu (grandfather) offered part of his land for a borehole to be built many years ago. People walk hours to our house in order to pump water for just 2 shillings/ 20 liters. This makes me think of how much I took running water for granted.
15. I went shopping at the local market and am happy that I can buy mangoes, bananas, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and kale for just a few cents each.
16. In my town, I am able to buy only the basics- some fruit and vegetables, flour, etc. For all other things I must travel to Kisumu city. It is a 1.5 hour walk to the main road where I will catch an hour matatu ride to the city.
17. Today, I learned how to put together and use a lantern. I bought a fanta of kerosene (so called as they use an old fanta bottle to measure it) at the market and will be using it in case there is no electricity.
18. I am very lucky to have been shown around town by a fellow teacher named Emma. She is only 19 years old, but she is amazingly mature. She helped me move into my new home, bargain at the market, and taught me how to pump water.
19. While I miss my host family in Loitokitok, I finally am starting to feel settled. I like having my own space and being able to call a place home. I am comfortable living here and cannot wait for the time when I will be able to communicate in the local language of dhoLuo. It is very difficult to learn as it is a tonal language, but I hope to understand it soon!
20. I am consistently overwhelmed by the friendliness of Kenyans. Nowhere in the states would you find someone willing to let a stranger, from a foreign country, live next to their house and teach them the basics of life. I am very thankful that my inability to live on my own here has not translated to stupidity! (ex. I still don’t know how to heat my bucket bathe water on my own- a skill that Kenyans learn around the age of 6).
21. I have recently realized how different my life is today than it was one year ago. For instance, I am immune to the giant cockroaches that are staring at me from the ground. If this had been at my apartment in LA I would be Raiding them to a toxic death. Also, I am now perfectly content with a refreshing bucket bath outside, when last year I would have complained to my landlord about the lack of hot water. I have learned to eat ugali and rice with my hands a la Kenyan style. Just last year I would have much rather eaten with a fork. I am surprised with how fast, and with what ease, I have acclimated to life here.
22. I was given a Luo name. The Luo people give names based on the time of day he/she was born. Since I was born in the evening my Luo name is Achielo. I don’t remember the rest of it in dhoLuo, but it is roughly translates to “Born in the evening daughter of Abiero” (Abiero is the name of my school).
23. I am incredibly excited and motivated for the time that I get to spend in Kenya. I can’t explain in words how grateful I am to be here. So many people have invested so much time and effort into making me feel comfortable here- all because they think that I will make a difference in their community. And I truly hope I won’t let them down. While I don’t want to set my or the community’s expectations too high, I feel like I can make some tangible improvements in the time that I am here. I think about how just 2000 shillings ( a little over 20 dollars) can send a girl to secondary school for one whole year or how a few dollars could drastically increase the number of textbooks available. - I just cannot think that I won’t be able to make a positive impact here. Hearing these facts made me seriously rethink all the frivolous purchases I have made in the recent past ( 40 pairs of shoes? Seems a little extravagant in retrospect). And while I miss my friends and family back home, I can truly say that I am content being here. I feel independent and I feel like I have a purpose. I know that two years is a long time (When I return to the states in 2013, I’ll be 25 years old!), but as of now I feel like two years is so short, as I have much to do!
I hope you enjoyed learning about these tidbits of my life here. I will try to keep you updated as much as possible, but I foresee a VERY busy next few weeks/months. If you want to send me a letter, package, or anything, my new address is:
Bishop Abiero Girls
Secondary School- Magwar
P.O. Box 42- 40131
Wishing you all a happy new year and much love,