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,

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jenny, I came across your blogs while looking through Peace Corps blogs. I really enjoy reading about your experience- and most of all, I love your attitude and the way you handle situations! Good for you. It's so important to be positive. I am from Ethiopia and have been living in the states for over 10 years. So I really appreciate your open mind and positive attitude toward embracing Kenyan and African culture. I will continue to read your stuff and stay positive...that's the only way you will fulfill your purpose of being a PCV and impacting the people you work with.