Thursday, September 29, 2011

What I'll miss about Kenya

One thing I’ve been incredibly grateful for in my time as a Peace Corps volunteer has been the opportunity for leisure reading. Prior to living in Kenya, I was always too preoccupied with a term paper, a reality TV show, or some other distraction to find time to sit down with a good book. Right now, I’m reading a beautiful novel now called “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and the opening lines struck me as especially symbolic:

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of site, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.
Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.” Zora Neale Hurston

So true, right?

Speaking of memories, last week, I attended my final Peace Corps conference, our Close of Service conference, and it made me recollect many of the experiences I’ve had over the past two years. While I have certainly had my fair share of low points on this emotional rollercoaster, when I think back, the amazing memories are what first come to mind. I am at a place where I can laugh at some of my most memorable misfortunes (falling in cow poop, being awoken by rats, attacked by fleas etc. etc) and fondly reminisce on the many fantastic experiences that constitute my Peace Corps service. In my present nostalgic mood, I’ve been thinking about all the things that I will so dearly miss once I leave the country in December. Here’s a list of all the things that I truly adore about Kenya:

The adorable kids: If you pick up random kids in the states, people think you’re crazy. Here, it’s normal for a complete stranger to hand you their child to hold for a matatu ride. I will greatly miss my village kids that greet me on the side of the road on my walk home from school.
Here's Peter Odhiambo escorting me home from school.

And these adorable boys that come to my house to watch me do whatever mundane chore they somehow find oddly captivating.

And Alice, my neighbor, who no matter what she is doing (even if she is mid-bath) will run to the side of the road to greet me in kiSwahili and shake my hand.

The mamas at the market: Women here are so strong. They are given an almost unfathomable workload from rearing their 10 children, collecting firewood, cooking, cleaning an ever dirty house, washing dishes and clothes by hand and more. I am constantly in awe by their fortitude and continual grace. Not only that, but many of my mama friends at the market are always smiling. How do you do that day after day of intense manual labor? I don’t know where they find the strength, but it’s beautiful and heartwarming. I will miss them kabisa (completely)

My students: I have said this before, but I would never be able to make it in the Kenyan education system. With a rigorous academic schedule, insane workload, and little sleep, it’s difficult to fathom how a student finds time to be a teenager. I am so grateful for my students who I’ve had the pleasure of watching mature and learn over the past two years. Little do they know that they give me so much strength and motivation. I know I would not have made it two years without them. Their laughs, their moments of understanding, their honesty, and keen discernment have given me the most fulfilling times of my service.

Here I am with my Form 1 students in front of their classroom.

My Kenyan family: I have been so blessed in my living situation. My nyanya (grandma) and babu (grandpa) next door have treated me like their own child. They introduce me as their lastborn child and have done more than I could ever expect or want. More than building me a western toilet and installing a rain water catchment so I don’t have to pump and carry my water, they have been my family. They are always there for me when I come home from a long day at school. They greet me with a smile, a warm handshake, a cup of tea and the chance to talk about my day. I am so lucky to have this extended family here in Kenya and I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay them for their generosity and for welcoming me into their family. I was a stranger to this community just two years ago, and without them I still may be. I am so thankful for my nyanya and babu and will miss them every single day that I am gone.

My Peace Corps family
: It’s really incredible to think about how fast friendships form here. During training bonds formed quickly over the shared misery of learning how to perfect choo aim, eat matumbo (intestines) without gagging and struggle through acquiring a new language. I’ve never before met such a group of intelligent, hilarious, ambitious people as I have here. Two years ago my peace corps friends weren’t even a part of my life and now I can’t imagine life without them. I know that we’ll stay in touch in the states, but not just living a matatu ride away is going to be a huge adjustment. I will most definitely miss the hilarity of certain situations that only another pcv can appreciate: having giardia 12 times, choo malfunctions, matatu experiences, a shared disgust for ugali and the self deprecating humor that is often the only the thing that gets you through the rough days. I will miss you all so much.

Shocking me out of my nostalgia is the fact that I only have 68 (SIXTY EIGHT!!!!!) days left in this country and so so so much to do. I still want to finish the laboratory, I want the market mama to teach me how to make sambusas (so I can make them for you all in America !), I want to paint a world map, and I want to take pictures of all the adorable kids. So much to do so little time :) I never thought I would be saying these words, but here it is... Two years have flown by too fast. And I’ll miss you Kenya, kabisa!

Friday, September 2, 2011


If you’re looking for a vivid mental image, take a moment to read about my chaotic welcome home to village life in Kenya. I hadn’t been in my house for a few weeks as I was blissfully enjoying the luxuries of my American vacation, but coming back to my vacant house was a bit more dramatic that I would have preferred...

I stepped into my dark house, hesitantly and weary of what creatures had taken over in my absence. One foot in the door, I realized that my flea problem had yet to subside, and in their state of ravenous hunger (no dog/human flesh to feast on for three weeks!) they eagerly attacked my flea-bite-free legs. Whatever, I thought, I have come prepared with flea bombs for this pesky problem!

I proceeded into my room.

“Not too bad,” I thought. For being gone for a few weeks I was expecting much worse.
I opened my dresser drawer and noticed that something was off. My clothing seemed oddly nest shaped.


At that moment, a rat jumped out of my drawer OVER my shoulder and onto the floor. I’m sure he was equally startled at my looming figure staring over his newfound, cozy, home. Then, my hungry cat jumped into the chaos and started chasing the rat around the room. I started screaming, the rat started squealing and my cat started sprinting around the room. In all the noise, another rat flies out of my dresser and joins the frantic bustle that is now taking place in my room. I jump on the bed and watch as my cat chases two rats around the room creating a slightly hilarious, slightly disgusting game of cat and mouse around my feet.

After a few short minutes, my cat comes out victorious and drags her TWO fresh kills under my bed. As I calm down and survey my dresser for additional rodents, my cat crunches bones beneath my bed.

“Gross!” I mumble to myself. My cat doesn’t understand. She’s thrilled.

I do some cleaning : transfer the mutilated rat carcasses outside, sweep, open my windows, take a bucket bath, and survey what’s left of my rat eaten cupboard contents. My allergies flare up, I take a benedryl and drift off to sleep dreaming about my rat-free room in California.

Sometime in the late evening, I start to dream about a breeze blowing across my face. Am I in a beach breeze room in Zanzibar? Did I leave the fan on in my comfy room in the states? I flick my hand at whatever is disturbing my sleep.

“Hmmm, that’s weird. Breezes don’t normally scuttle,” I think in my half-lucid state of sleep.

I sit straight up in bed to find that I’m brushing at not a breeze, not my mosquito net, but a fleet of cockroaches crawling across my bed.


And that, my friends, was how I spent my first day back in the village. While I know (and hope!) that my house can only get cleaner from here on out, it was quite a jarring welcome back to village life. As I sit here, slightly squeamish at the thought of being completely outnumbered by the number of unwelcome household guests, I reminisce fondly of my amazing vacation in the states. Here are some pictures from my visit home!

I was honored to be a bridesmaid in my best friend from college’s beautiful wedding. It was certainly the most gorgeous, fun, memorable wedding ever. They had a photobooth, fireworks, delicious food, and dancing! Here are the bridesmaids with the pretty hills of salt lake in the distance:

It was great to see friends from USC too! We all lived together our junior year:

I also was fortunate enough to have my longtime boyfriend come home from Afghanistan for his leave at the same time as mine. We went to Monterey for a night and enjoyed the beach, tourist attractions, and of course, the aquarium. Can you believe that these are seahorses?!

Did I mention that I brought my dogs back to the states? Well, I did! And it was a bit of a fiasco, but Nala and her puppy Kibo are now Kenyan immigrants. They had quite the time adjusting to American life. Who would have known that dogs freak out when first walking on hard wood floors? It was entertaining to watch them experience air conditioning, the ocean, dog treats, etc. for the first time!

Thanks mom for adopting my two Kenyan babies! I miss them like crazy.

I think one of the most spectacular things about the states is the FOOD! Seriously, there is just so much variety! I was in awe walking through the aisles of Whole Foods and Trader Joes. These stores are a stark contrast to my small village market comprised of a handful of mamas selling maize, beans, kale, and tomatoes. In the states, I remembered how much I love to cook, especially with the array of summer fruits and vegetables. I definitely cannot cook this breakfast in Kenya! Mmmmm …yum!

I did my fair share of eating. Maybe too much. I gained a spectacular amount of poundage in just three weeks. But, hey, at least it’s not ugali! Giant cookies, cake balls, frozen yogurt galore (one of my very first blog posts was about how I missed this), smores, and other deliciousness filled our kitchen. And this baby, a whoopee pie, is two chocolate fudge cookies sandwiching marshmallow fluff is something everyone must try!

Overall, my trip home was just what I needed. A necessary break from the sometimes chaotic Kenyan life and much needed quality time with friends and family who have been incredibly supportive throughout my Peace Corps service. Thanks friends + family! I miss you already!

Thanks for reading!