Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chama Chama Chama Chameleon

It’s truly amazing to me the adaptability of the human being. After living at site for just 4 months, a lot of things feel normal to me that were incredibly foreign when I first got here. Take for instance, my initial repulsion of ugali (the Kenyan staple of maize meal and water mixed to form a thick paste eaten with your hands with vegetables or meat) After 3 weeks away on vacation, I actually missed the stuff!
Coming back to site made me realize that this is my home now. I missed it. Even though I don’t have running water or reliable electricity, my house in Magwar is what I am used to. I like my (relatively) clean choo. I like the comfort of having my own space. I like being greeted on the streets and in the market. And I like being able to finally own whatever pets I like (USC would definitely not condone the animals currently living in my house). I am the proud owner of an adorable puppy named Nala who sometimes gets along with my bunny, Apollo. And I just rescued a tadpole from a dried up pond who I named Tortoise (why? Because Kenyans pronounce this word in the funniest way!). This is what I call home now- Nala, Apollo, Tortoise, me and all the unwelcome insects and furry creatures ( I found a nest of rat babies living in the back of my couch, but didn’t have the heart to kill them. They’re gone now….)
There are moments when I’m walking down the road at the pace of a tortoise (Kenyan pronounce tortoise as if it rhymes with turquoise ahaha) due to the inches of mud caking the bottoms of my shoes, when I think to myself, “Wow, 6 months ago, this situation would have been so frustrating to me, still holding onto the American mindset of places to go, people to see.” And now, I think “Wow, it could be a lot worse, I could be trudging through feet of mud!” But, like a chameleon, I’ve become accustomed to the daily life here. I can predict when the power is going to go out based on the intensity of the rain. I can sleep through the loud thunderstorms amplified by my tin roof. And the giant fanged and hairy spiders and furry creatures inhabiting my house hardly phase me (lucky for those rat babies). AND I can tell when dirt is dirty! (When I first arrived here, I scoffed at the idea of sweeping dirt. Isn’t it inherently dirty? But now, I can tell when my students haven’t swept their dirt floored classrooms). So as I write this on my shaded veranda, with Nala nuzzled in my lap, Daisy the cow grazing in my front yard, my bunny scurrying around my feet, and Tortoise doing what tadpoles do, I feel at home.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Dearest family and friends,
I know I’ve been a bit absent lately. Sorry for the lack of updates, but I’ve been on vacation for the past 3 weeks. The Kenyan education schedule consists of 3 months of school then one month of vacation. January to March was Term one and the month of April I had for vacation and training.

TRAIN: I started my vacation by heading to the Kenyan coast with three other girlfriends. We took the overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa. It was lots of fun although I have to admit that I was a tiny bit scared of being murdered after my host brother in Loitokitok made me watch his favourite movie Midnight Meat Train (it’s a horror movie that takes place on a train, not a gay porn despite the title). Anywho, we arrived in Mombasa quite tired, because honestly how much sleep can you really get when a train is bumping and jerking along the railway?

COAST: We reached Mombasa the next morning after a beautiful and bumpy ride through Tsavo National Park. Mombasa is HOT and humid. We explored Mombasa a bit which has this great vibe of relaxedness (is that word?) and culture. We saw Fort Jesus, a monumental structure built by the Portuguese and wandered through the alleys of Old Town. We then went to Pirates beach (sadly no actual pirates) for some lounging, cold beer, and beach food. We ended the night with some amazing Indian food and bowling (yes, there is a bowling alley in Kenya!).

The next day we headed to Reef Beach which was spectacularly gorgeous. Imagine white deserted sand, the warm Indian ocean, and camels! I got to ride a camel! Which was much larger than I had ever imagined. I swear it was the size of a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex (Or maybe animals are just larger in Africa? Like my enormous bunny.

SHIRIANI: The next day, early in the morning, we headed to Shiriani, where a business peace corps volunteer is working with an ecotourism company that does snorkelling excursions. We had the chance to see lots of beautiful fish, coral and starfish. I even saw the Hawaii state fish the humuhumunukunukuapuapuaa!!!!

MALINDI:We traveled North along the coast to reach Malindi. Malindi is one of the towns that you can just tell you would want to live there from the first glance. It’s right near the beach has tons of friendly looking people and lots of eclectic shops and restaurants. Like a gelato shop- after months of ice cream deprivation a shop just devoted to gelato is the equivalent of heaven! I think I sampled 10 different flavours each time we went. And did I mention that the coast has amazing juices? We had fresh squeezed passion fruit and avocado juice ..delicious!

Near Malindi town are the Gedi Ruins. They are this fascinating ancient swahili civilization that was abandoned in the early 17th century. It was very interesting to learn about. Plus there were tons of cute monkeys everywhere.

LAMU:We then headed up the coast, towards the Somali border to an island called Lamu. Lamu is a Swahili inhabited area filled with amazing culture, language, food and …amazingness! After a long bus bumpy bus ride and a packed ferry trip to the island, pulling up to the waterfront of Lamu is just breathtaking.

We stayed at a hostel with a waterfront view, ate amazing seafood, drank the best fresh squeeze juices I’ve ever tasted, and explored the island of Lamu for the next 3 days of our vacation. Lamu town is comprised of endless swerving alleyways adorned with intricately carved wooden doors. Also, the alleyways are much too narrow for cars, so the primary mode of transport is either by foot, or by donkey! There are approximately 700 donkeys and just 2 cars on the island. Donkeys are pretty cool creatures, they are totally underrated and overworked in my opinion- good thing the island has its very own Donkey Sanctuary!

The first day we were there, the weather was too rainy for the beach so we visited the Lamu museum, the Lamu fort and got henna done in traditional Swahili patterns.

The next day we went out on a dhow (boat) trip to do some snorkeling above a giant and gorgeous coral reef. There were so many beautiful fish, coral, urchins, etc I wish I could do them justice in describing them. I can just tell you that I felt like I was in Finding Nemo- there were Dories, and Nemos, but sadly no talking turtles. After a few hours of snorkeling off our boat and catching fresh fish, we landed on a deserted island for a delicious meal of fresh fish, coconut rice, tropical fruits, and curry. This was one of the most amazing days ever. Even though we were rained on as we headed back to Lamu, the memory of indescribably beautiful snorkeling in the Indian Ocean AND a private island AND a freshly caught seafood meal will remain in my mind as one of my top three beach days (Mozambique’s swimming with whale sharks and Panama’s Kuna Yala islands still rank number 1 and 2!).

We spent our last day exploring Lamu’s winding alleyways, shopping, and tasting all sorts of Swahili cuisine. Whitney and I wandered the alleyways at night sampling the street food in place of a restaurant dinner- while I don’t know the names of what we ate I can tell you that since most things were fried, made of coconut, and cost a few shilling each which all add up to deliciousness!

MOMBASA: We travelled back to Mombasa the next day where we celebrated another Peace Corps Volunteer’s birthday. We had an epic night out dancing in an open parking lot turned bar, in the rain, until 5 in the morning. We also had some pretty entertaining company in the form of some Brazilian lifeguards, who, despite their poor English skills, were incredibly funny. We caught an early morning bus back to Nairobi the next day (or that day, I guess) to begin our IST (In service training) with the rest of the Peace Corps Education volunteers

IST: IST was like coming full circle as we stayed at the same hotel that we stayed in our first night in Kenya. IST was very informative as we were able to share our triumphs and difficulties of the past few months, learn about grant writing, and bond over some shared misfortunes (bowel movements often became the topic of dinner conversations…). Some highlights in Nairobi were going to the Giraffe Centre and kissing a giraffe (it’s tongue was much too rough for me to enjoy it). Petting a cheetah at the animal orphanage. And eating some delicious food- sushi, Ethiopian, and cheesecake!!!!!

Well folks, that’s my April update for you. Hope you enjoy the pictures and hopefully it will convince some of you to come visit me!!!!