Friday, March 19, 2010

Burning Trash

I’ve often heard that smell is the most sensitive sensory organ, evoking vivid memories with just one inhale. Like how the scent of pumpkin pie and roasting turkey brings back thoughts of Thanksgiving. Or how the smell of Water Babies sunscreen gives me flashbacks of summers spent by the Swim and Racquet poolside. Or how the distinct aroma of salt and sand reminds me of lounging on Hawaiian beaches. Well, the smell that brought back memories for me today was the specific scent of burning trash. The smell of burning plastic gave me flashbacks of the developing worlds that I have lived, worked, and travelled in. Before this moment, I hadn’t really thought there was a distinguishing characteristic that tied all of these countries together. But as I stoked my burning pile of trash this morning, I had images of rural countries flash through my mind; trekking through El Capulin in Nicaragua, or exploring the Kuna Yala Islands of Panama, or back to my first extended stay in a developing nation, La Providencia de Napoles in Mexico. While the smell of burning trash might evoke images of a deteriorating ozone layer or a grimy slum to others, the smell is nostalgic to me. When I get a whiff of smoking trash I get visions of the amazing people I’ve met through out my travels (adorable kids, my favourite Nicaraguan grandmother, Fanny, my host mom in Mexico, Charo) the unforgettable sights I’ve been lucky enough to see (the view from the top of Volcan Mombacho, the frosted peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the untouched beaches of Mozambique) , the exotic foods I’ve been able to try (Zimbabwean mopane worms, South African zebra) and all the good times I had throughout. So as I stand here, watching the remains of my weeks trash smoulder in smoke and turn to ash, I breathe in (yes I know it’s carcinogenic!) and remember the memories. That’s why I, strangely, enjoy the smell of burning trash.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kupiga Picha

Hi friends and family,
Here are some pictures of my life in Kenya

This is me pumping water at the borehole behind my house. People from all over the community come to pump water from this tap because it has "the cleanest water in all of the district" according to my babu. It's convenient to have a water supply close to my house, but I still don't enjoy carrying water. Maybe it would be easier if I was like the Kenyans who can carry huge jugs of water (and anything else for that matter) balanced on their heads.

This is one of my students, Leah, and her niece. She took me on a hike near her house where there was a beautiful view of Lake Victoria. Can you see it in the background? Prior to this day, I had no idea that I could see the lake from my community!

This is at Leah's house where her mother was teaching me how to make place mats out of banana leaves. Kenyans are very resourceful- I often have moments where I think "ahhhh why didn't I think of that!" I had a great afternoon eating bananas from the tree and weaving banana leaf place mats.

Here I am making chapatti. Leah's mother taught me a "secret" recipe that makes the most delicious chapatti I've had in Kenya! I told her that I would bring her recipe back to America and start a chappati craze in the states (seriously it could be the next korean taco truck phenomenon!) and name the restaurant Rosemary's Chapatti stand.

Here are some of my students at their Cross Country competition. They did very well, and our school was ranked 3rd out of 19 schools. Not bad for our first year competing!

I invited a Public Health volunteer to come to my school and answer my student's health questions. They have lots of good questions and no where to get the answers (they can't turn to the internet to find a solution to an embarrassing question about adolescence). So here they are at an outdoor assembly listening and participating in a HIV/STI discussion.

These are some other Peace Corps volunteers and me during a night out in Kisumu Town. We decided to meet in town to not only enjoy one another's company, but to take advantage of the hot showers and delicious (non Kenyan) variety of foods that Kisumu has to offer! Here, we're at a restaurant called the Laughing Buddha which has indian food, pizza, hookah, cheesecake, and a dessert called the sizzling brownie..mmmm

Here is my friend Whitney and I at her sight near Bomet. Myself and a few other volunteers went to visit her site and meet her students. It was interesting to see another volunteer's sight in comparison to mine. We all have very different living situations and schools.

During our visit to Whitney's site in Bomet, our afternoon hike was interrupted by a torrential downpour. We took shelter in a small shack until the rains subsided. While our smiles might say otherwise, we were completely drenched and cold.

During my stay in Kenya I have frequently seen some sights that make me laugh...this being one of them. This is a picture of a matatu "van" that I often use to travel in. This one has a rooftop of live chickens. They were all alive and flapping their wings as the matatu drove by.

K hope you enjoyed these pictures! Love you all!

Friday, March 12, 2010


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do after the Peace Corps. Yes, I realise that it’s two years away (and yes, I realise that my spelling is in British English, but that’s my Microsoft word is programmed now!). But still, thinking about the future helps me sometimes, especially when the days are treacherously long. Imagining the time when I will have running water and constant electricity makes me a little less homesick. I, unlike many of my fellow community members, have the knowledge that this life is temporary. That I will eventually return back to America to daily showers (ok, who am I kidding? Bi-weekly showers) and having the luxury of dishwashers and laundry machines at my fingertips. These are futures that all my students and neighbours dream of, but will they ever get there?
This makes me wonder, what is it that I really want for my future anyways? I’ve thought a lot about grad school or continuing to work with international organizations like the Peace Corps. I’ve even thought about, on a good day of course, extending my service to stay in Kenya for three years. But after my stay here, will I go back to the US and finally settle down as David puts it? Not the settle down, like get married settle down, but the settle down like live in one place longer than a few years. (I’ve been hopping from continent to continent, country to country since before I can remember). But the truth is, I don’t think I can. Maybe it’s because I crave the adventure of living abroad. Won’t my life be boring if I don’t have to take my battle pose against the giant creatures that occupy my room before I go to bed? (I killed a giant hairy fanged spider last night) Won’t I get tired of speaking English everyday? And above all, won’t I miss the knowledge of knowing that every morning when I wake up it is going to be a new learning experience? I’m not saying that every job in America is boring. I just cannot imagine myself feeling fulfilled after a 9 to 5 day at the corporate office. I know I complain a lot (I can check back at my old blogs and read about my whining over lack of running water), but in reality, I love my life here. Living here is my life now, and sure there are days when the novelty wears off, but overall I’m comfortable just living here. Today, a community member told me, in dhoLuo and translated through my friend Emmah, that I’m part of the community now and I need to learn the language. I was flattered that he called me part of the community, up until now, I’ve been referred to as the “visitor” or “mzungu.” His comment really sunk in the fact that I am here, right now. And no matter if I have times when all I can think about is life in America, I’m part of the community and I need to mentally be here. I think I need to work on “staying present” as the director of my study abroad Cape Town program used to say. I need to learn to stay in the moment and appreciate the everyday experiences of life here. I want to learn the local language. I want to try those gross little dried fish that everyone here claims are “tamu sana” or very sweet. I want to laugh at myself when I slip in the foot deep puddles of mud. And I want to savour the moments, good and bad, that I know will last me a lifetime.

I guess I look towards the future when life gets tough here. And that’s ok. But I also can’t overlook the fact that I should be appreciating the days that I have here as well. I quote from the book I just finished, puts it in good words:

“So if she were granted one small wish, perhaps it would only have been not to know. Not to know what each day held in store for her. Not to know where she might be, next month, next year. Ten years on. Not to know which way her road might turn and what lay beyond the bend” The God of Small Things


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Teacher on Duty

Teacher, teacher! I see the vena cava! It’s moments of true understanding, like a student’s excitement at seeing a heart dissection, that make the long, often 14 hour, days worthwhile. This is the end of my Teacher on Duty week, where I have been the teacher responsible for everything that goes on at the school compound. I’ve been waking up at 5 am, leaving my house before sunrise (which results in me often slipping in the mud- and to my great misfortune cow pies) and stay at school until after sunset. I don’t think that I have ever worked this hard in my life. I go to sleep exhausted, but fulfilled. But the long hours are wrecking havoc on my cleanliness. I’ve been trying to ignore the disgusting pile of dishes that I have to wash and that I know are a breeding ground for the already growing colony of cockroaches in my house. I’ve been putting off washing my clothes because it just takes me so gosh-darn-long to pump and carry water. And when decided whether it’s more important to cook or heat my bath water, unfortunately for those around me, eating takes priority. I’ve decided that cooking takes too much effort so I have resorted to Peace Corps cuisine which includes crackers and jam and ramen. I’ve concocted all sorts of one-pot dinners like rice and lentils or kale and plaintains (Would Ina Garten hail my ingenuity or abhor my laziness?) Either way, I am glad that this long week has finally come to an end. At least next week I can sleep in until 6:30am! (Wow, how things have changed since my college days!).

Tears on my pillow

I cry myself to sleep a lot. Not because I’m sad or homesick (which sometimes does happen), but there are moments when I cannot believe the poverty that surrounds me. With such extreme poverty, there are cultural and social repercussions. It is a male dominated society. Wives are inherited by the deceased’s brothers. Men beat their wives. And what breaks my heart the most is parents beat their children. One of my students missed a week of her exams because her guardian beat her so hard she bled continuously for days. When my Form 4 students did poorly on their exams, they were caned, because as my principal said, “Some Africans only understand the word of the cane.” It’s psychologically draining to constantly see kids hit, puppies whacked, and wives with bruised faces. What can I do when it is so culturally ingrained in people’s minds that physical punishment is acceptable? Am I insane to think that I can make a difference here? In a society that does not value women's rights nor choice, how can I make an impact? Do I turn a blind eye to corporal punishment because it is “just part of the culture?” And what do I tell my student, who has no one else to turn to, when she asks me what to do about her abusive guardian? These are the questions that fill my head as I get into bed each night and because I have yet to find a solution, I cry myself to sleep.