Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Few Updates...

Living in a foreign country has its extreme ups and downs. There are times when I am ecstatic to be here and think that every little detail of my life is amazing. Sometimes I enjoy pumping water, the long walk to school, and all the children that are constantly trying to touch my “white” skin. Then there are other times when it is too hot. And all I want is a cold shower and/or a pool to cool down and the last thing I want to do is cross a blazing hot field to get to work. Today, all I could think about was how much I missed a dishwasher. I don’t quite understand why all of my emotions seem to be amplified tenfold. Maybe it’s the Mefloquine. Maybe it’s still me adjusting to a new environment. Either way, now I know what it is like to experience menopausal mood swings.
I had a really enjoyable weekend in Kisumu. I ate a ton of delicious pizza (although still not as yummy as T-birds), went swimming at a hotel (amazing!), drank lots of cold Tusker beer, consumed a month’s worth of ice cream, and did some serious second hand shopping (I was getting real tired of wearing the same 5 skirts!). I had lots of fun comparing embarrassing stories, choo nightmares, and other moments that only other Peace Corps volunteers can relate to. While my original intention of going to town was to watch the Superbowl, I couldn’t even stay awake to watch it (it started at 2am here- way past my 10pm bedtime). We found a hookah lounge, watched American TV (well, kind of, the first season of America’s Got Talent was on), and saw a movie (Avatar = best movie ever). And to top off an amazing weekend, I finally received my Christmas & birthday presents from the states. I was so happy to receive lots of goodies from friends and family (Twizzlers, Godiva chocolate, and magazines can really cure any homesickness!) So thank you Mom, Dad, Joni, David, and Melissa!
I returned to Magwar refreshed and ready to teach. I missed my students. And I missed the rural life. I missed everyone greeting me in dhoLuo (even though I don’t understand anything they say, I still appreciate the effort).
One excited event of the week was that I started a sanitary napkin making project at the school. As I mentioned earlier, many of the students said that availability of sanitary napkins was a daily challenge. They are simply too expensive for many students to afford. Some students use old blankets, dirty clothes, leaves, or do not come to school at all. I brainstormed sustainable solutions and thought I would try making pads from cotton and gauze. I contacted a nurse in Kisumu who took me to purchase the supplies necessary and taught me how to make them (it’s really quite easy!). Yesterday, I taught my students how to make them and they all were enthusiastic about the project. When I enquired if any would be willing to help me sell them, every hand in the classroom was raised! The materials to make approximately 100+ sanitary pads costs 690 shillings (about ten dollars). We’ll be selling them to the students for 6 shillings each which is less than half the cost they would normally have to pay! I’m excited that there is now a suitable option
I also wrote and administered my first Kenyan exams. The grading system is a bit different here (a 70% is an A). Some of my students did extremely well. To reward those that scored high, I invited the top 3 students from each grade to my house to watch a movie. They chose Center Stage and we had fun watching it and eating spaghetti.
I am looking forward to getting to know all of my students on an individual basis. I know most of their names and interests. Some of them have approached me for guidance and counseling questions (I’ve heard about early pregnancy, abortions, abusive parents, and poverty issues that make me cry inside). Two days ago, I accompanied a student to the VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) to get HIV tested. And I tutor students at my house on the weekends. By building these personal relationships, I hope to truly make a positive impact in their lives.
I’m learning a lot from them as well. I realized that many of them are more responsible than I may ever be (they wash, clean, cook, and take care of siblings -chores that I don’t do so well). They are diligent and persevering in their attitude towards school (if I had to be at school from 6:40 to 5:20 each day I would do a lot more complaining than they do!) I’m learning to be appreciative of the things I have taken for granted (like a secondary school education). And together we are learning about one another’s culture (I learned Kenyan women only wash their hair once per month and I was asked “If you don’t bathe for a month will your hair look like ours?) Cross cultural exchange makes me smile 

And A Few Revelations….
1. In Kenya, teeth are a multitool. You can use your teeth to open bottles, shuck sugercane, tear rubber tires (yes, I’ve seen it done!), and many other things (sorry, Dr. Hall D.D.S.)
2. Petrol stations don’t, despite their name, always have petrol. You can misleadingly pull up to a petrol station, hoping for petrol. But, alas, the latest shipment from Mombasa is yet to arrive.
3. Kenyans want to be fat. Being fat is a sign of wealth. They try to get me to eat heaping plates of food. They think I am not yet fat. Some have told me that they want me to go back to the states unrecognizable to my family because I’m so fat. I told them, that despite my love for food, I don’t think I want to be unrecognizably obese….ever.
4. Speaking of food, I have made a Kenyan improvised S’more. Using two digestive biscuits, some melted Cadbury chocolate, and marshmallows shipped all the way from the states, I now have my favorite American treat!
5. “It’s always tea time in Kenya” Kenyans drink more tea than I thought humanly possible. Even when it is sweltering hot, Kenyans will offer me steaming hot tea. I politely refuse and silently wonder how it is possible to consume hot drinks when it feels hotter than 100 degrees?!

Ok, I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list soon!
Love to you all,

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Many of you have asked for pictures of my community, students, school etc. In Kenya, internet usage is charged by the megabyte so from my personal modem it is too expensive to upload pictures. However, now that I am in town, I can put up a few pictures. Enjoy!

Here are some of my students at their morning assemble. They are singing the Kenyan pledge of allegiance. Most schools in Kenya require uniforms and shaved heads for equality purposes as many cannot afford to upkeep their hair.

These are some of my Form 3 students working on a group project about Classification. The concept of group work is very new to them. Numbering off in small groups took nearly half a lesson!

Here are some of my Form 2 students preparing for their Biology Exam that they took yesterday. They did "well" on their first CAT (continual assessment tests)with an average score of 14/30. The scoring in Kenya is a bit different (a 70% is considered an A for science and math subjects). I am really working on developing their critical thinking skills. Many Kenyan students are so used to rote memorization, rather than understanding concepts. So we do fun activities in class like games, plays, songs, dances, and hands on activities to help them really comprehend the material.

Here is a picture of my house (with a baby cow whose pies I have to carefully avoid every morning. It is very large for one person. I have two bedrooms (one I've converted into my reading/yoga room), a giant living room (which the nyanya so kindly furnished with furniture straight out of That 70s Show), a kitchen (with a gas stove which is so much easier to cook with than charcoal), and a storage room where I cook. My bathroom and choo are outside. I am very comfortable in my home and am so thankful for the amenities that I have (most other volunteers do not have electricity) .

And here are some cute Kenyan children that I met on my walk to school one day. There are tons of adorable children everywhere I go. It may be difficult for me to return to the states without one......

And here is a picture from the funeral I attended. This is the first day of the funeral in which the body is brought back to the rural home. There is a procession of vehicles that followed the body from Kisumu. The cars honk and mourners wave tree branches out of the window. Once back to the rural home, community members wail and scream and cry for a few hours. Then they dance, sing, eat, and drink to celebrate a life well lived.

These are some pictures from before I came to my site. This is me with my host family on my last day in Loitokitok. I have them to thank for my warm welcome to the country.

This is my adorable host brother, Morris, at the Peace Corps’ host family appreciation lunch. Most Kenyans don’t smile in pictures (for what reason I don’t know), but I taught him the American “cheese” said for picture taking. He has a big smile like me!

Here are my friends, Christine and Whitney, eating sushi (yes, sushi!) in Nairobi. It's amazing how much I miss food! There is not much variety in foods here (mostly maize consumed in all shapes and forms)and some seasonal fruits and vegetables. Eating things like sushi, pizza, hamburgers and ice cream is such a luxury.

This was at our swearing in ceremony at the ambassador’s house on January 6th. This is when we officially became Peace Corps volunteers. This is me and a yummy cake to celebrate 45 years of service in Kenya.

Three of the volunteers from our training class were chosen to write and give our swearing in speech. Brian gave it in English, Shannon gave it in Kenyan Sign Language, and I gave it in Kiswahili. We spoke about the challenges, embarrassing moments, and memorable times that we had throughout pre-service training. (Sorry, I don't know how to rotate this picture!)

Kenya Channel 24 broadcasted part of the ceremony. Here I am on the national evening news!

This is me and my supervisor Matilda at our swearing in ceremony. She is the principal at my school and is an AMAZING woman. She does great things for the students and is so dedicated to her work. She is my life role model.

And here are my closest Peace Corps friends. They’re great and keep me laughing all the time.

Ok, I hope you enjoyed seeing some snapshots of my life here in Kenya. I will try to put up more soon, but slow and expensive internet makes it difficult (this took me almost two hours!) Hope you are all doing well, update me when you get a chance. I really enjoy hearing about the "real world!"

Sunday, February 7, 2010


I came out of my “slump” pretty fast and I have some amazing community members to thank for helping me realize that I should not be wallowing in self pity. A few things happened that made my attitude change. First of all, the nyanya, seeing how sad I was about the death of my bunny, rounded up some neighborhood boys to find me a replacement. They came back with the world’s biggest rabbit (no magician would ever be able to make it disappear). It was actually more like a medium sized dog. It took some explaining, but I convinced them that this enormous animal would not replace my adorable (and normal sized) bunny. In reality, I do not think I would be able to feed and house a rabbit of that size! Alas, I remain pet-less, but my neighbors’ kindness made me feel loved:)
Another event that really helped change my outlook on life here was meeting the Onyenga Women’s Group. I attended their meeting today and was amazed at the work they have done for the community. They have started so many community projects (a waterhole that people come from 10 km away to use), a diary cow project aimed at teaching members how to successfully raise cattle, a health initiative counseling HIV positive community members, and many more small projects. They have big dreams for the future of our community. They want to make water more accessible, build a resource center to train people in computer literacy, and start an orphanage to aid the many parent-less children in the community. Yet they are also discouraged. They have sent out hundreds of proposals, innumerable requests for donations, and many pleas for aid. But the Kenyan government has too many needy groups (and hello, corruption!), so funding has cut their dreams short. While I do not have any background in grant writing, I hope to aid their cause in finding funds to start community development projects. I don’t know quite how to help in a sustainable, realistic manner. It seems like they have all the components of sustainability (community initiative, interest, enthusiasm) minus the money. Why does it always come back to that?

They initiated me into their group as a member (the youngest by a few generations!) and celebrated by planting a mango tree in front of my house. Here is a picture of the tree planting (which was accompanied by some beautiful singing in dhoLuo about the future growth of the baby tree). They also named the tree nursery Jenny Nursery to commemorate my arrival in their community.

I’ll put up more pictures this weekend when I am in town so check back soon!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The End of the Honeymoon Phase

I knew this time would come eventually. The day when I would wake up and think, “This sucks.” And that is definitely how I felt this morning. My adorable bunny died (for what reason, I don’t know). I’m tired of carrying water just to take a cold bucket bath. I’m getting sick of the 45 minute walk to school every morning (especially when I have to leave before sunrise to teach morning lessons). And I’m getting REAL sick of people assuming that because I am a mzungu, I have money to throw around (about four people a day ask me for money). I’m discouraged with the lack of critical thinking skills taught in school (my students have only been taught how to memorize information word for word, but have much difficulty in actually understanding concepts). I still don’t understand dhoLuo which makes it hard to feel like I am a part of the staffroom conversations. And to top off my wonderful day, the choo door swung open, while I was mid pee stream, in front of the entire school. And I really miss some American luxuries. I am craving a slice of T-birds pizza, some Yogurtland, a pedicure, and a nice hot shower (Two years seems sooooooo far away to fulfilling these wants).
But all this whining and complaining will change, I know. It seems like emotions are really amplified here; the highs are so high and the lows are so low. Some days I’m so ecstatic to be here, motivated to make a difference, and enthusiastic about doing all the menial tasks of everyday life. But there are some days, like today, when I just think about how much easier life would be in the states (pizza delivery?!?!). But an easy life is not why I joined the Peace Corps. So please don’t be worried that I hate life here. I don’t. I’m just in a dip on the Peace Corps’ emotion rollercoaster.
This weekend I will be visiting Kisumu to treat myself to the closest thing to American luxuries this country has to offer: A movie (in an actual movie theater!), some sunbathing by the pool (there are hotel pools that you can visit for the day), and some new clothes (well, not really new, but second hand clothes or as Kenyans call it “Dead White People Clothing). I am looking forward to meeting up with some Peace Corps volunteers to celebrate a friend’s birthday, eat food besides ugali and githeri, and watch the Superbowl (albeit at 3am in the morning). There is nothing some venting, retail therapy, and a glass of wine can’t cure. I know tomorrow will be a new day (hopefully with no dead bunnies). RIP Abby.