I was very proud of myself for mastering the art of a “bucket shower” on my very first attempt. lol It is literally taking a shower with a bucket. There are three large buckets. One filled with boiling water, one with cold water, and an empty one to mix the two. To get the perfect temperature, you must mix four pints of hot water, and six of the cold water. There’s a small pint-size jug to use to pour the water on you. I pour one to two half-pints on my head before applying the shampoo. After lathering and rinsing with two more half-pints, my body is wet enough to wash with soap. Then I rinse again with the remaining water. It takes about 20 minutes because I have to make sure the curtain is closed, my towel hangs on a clean area, mix the water, and slowly wash my hair. Even with these extra obstacles, I shower in less time than I do at home! My real parents would be surprised but very proud, I think. *Chuya, be sure to tell mi mom and dad. :D Also, the shower room is not a bathroom, so there’s no room to change. It’s just a room with buckets of water.
Needless to say that my access to Internet has been nearly impossible (yes, worse than Milton-Freewater and Salzburg, *Andrew) since my last blog post was July 4th AND I’m still trying to cover the first weekend with my host family, which was way back when, June 21st and 22nd. Yep, I’ve been living with my host family for over a month now and although I spent close to three months with one of my host families in Brazil (I miss you, *Margot e Petit), a month here has felt eternal. Life is lived much slower in Kenya so there’s time for more each day. YET, even with so much time, very little seems to get done on a daily basis.
Plenty of house work gets done: cooking meals, cleaning the house, doing laundry, taking care of livestock or crops, and of course, caring after the many kids and spouse. Office work, however, is another story that I shall leave for another time. For now, let me finally tell you about my host family and what my first weekend with them looked like. :)
The FSD Kakamega Site Team Director, Peter, dropped me off early Saturday morning, June 21st. Neither one of my parents were home. Instead, they had the neighbor and house girl receive me.
Note: A house girl here in Kenya is house help. My family’s house girl is named Naomi and she lives with us. Currently, though, she is out because her father is sick. She’s been gone for two weeks now, so my parents hired another temporary girl named Nancy. Anyway, Naomi wakes up before 6am and goes to bed close to midnight. (I don’t know how much she gets paid or how regularly. Usually house girls didn’t finish high school and in Kenya you cannot get an official job without a high school diploma. Official can mean working at a grocery store or even a gas station.) She is responsible for making breakfast, tea, lunch, tea again, and dinner. She does the laundry and dishes and all other household cleaning. She helps get my brothers ready for school and watches them whenever my parents are out. She was even in charge of making my bed, but I took over eventually. Whenever I tried to help clear the table I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t want my parents to think Naomi wasn’t doing her job and I didn’t want Naomi to think I wasn’t happy with her help. Her English is limited and my Swahili is basically non-existent still, so we mostly smile at each other, which is quite nice. While I’m here, she shares a room with the two boys.
After Peter explained once again the contract rules with the neighbor, he left me to settle in my room. I was welcomed and greeted so warmly by the two young ladies. Though both my host parents were out working, my host brothers were home and so precious!
My host dad got home in the afternoon, but he just said hi and let me go about my business. I think he was busy, too. My host mom got home later, close to dinner. She knocked at my door and as soon as I opened the door she gave me a huge hug. It was heartwarming, but much unexpected. They’re not usually very affectionate, which is okay.
The next day, Sunday June 22nd, we woke up early to attend Mass with the high school boys at 9am, then we attended Mass again with my host grandparents in their local Church around 10:30am. The school is Anglican and I think my host family is too. Because there are so many boys, they just gather out in one of the fields and have a preacher come in every week. The boys’ choir is quite good. On our way out to the village, we stopped by the market twice and then chatted for a bit at the house before proceeding to Mass. We were late, but that was no surprise considering how casual we went about our morning. My host parents, like all Kenyans, do not take time seriously. Let’s just say that. I was asked to introduce myself at both services right after the homily and I was told both times that I speak too fast. Haha The village church service was almost three hours and past lunch time. Around communion time, my mom walked me out to eat a snack. I felt bad, but was rather hungry so I followed.
At dinner, I was informed that my dad would be gone for the week on a business trip to Mombasa which I hear is a fabulous city on the coast. I hope to one day come back and visit it.
Note: The sweetest thing happened when he returned. He had my youngest host brother give me a gift. He had bought me fabric from Mombasa! In Kenya, fabric is sold everywhere and women have it tailored into all kinds of outfits. I made a traditional dress out of it already and plan to have many more made! Watch out for pictures of my new outfits. ;)
My host father, Peter Yves Omutiti, is the principal of the Lubino Boys High School. It is a boys’ boarding school, so we live in the school compound. There are over 900 boys at the school…imagine driving past them as they take their meals or see them outside the house, just past the yard, doing their own laundry! It’s rather intimidating, but I’m slowly getting used to it. So, my first impression of my “dad” was that he was a very serious man. This was because before I met him there were dozens of family pictures on the walls and in only about one was anybody smiling. Later, I realized Kenyans don’t smile in pictures, no matter how happy and smiling they are right before. Thankfully, he is not serious in the least bit. Haha He is a very social man, who loves to dance and go out with his buddies whenever possible. My host brothers definitely got the dancing jeans from him! He also enjoys traveling, whether it is half an hour away to his parent’s village or to the Philippines for work. I think he was just as excited as I was that first Sunday when we went around getting to know the area. :D He’s actually been the one encouraging me to explore this country! It’s refreshing because I’m usually told not to since security here is a bit sketchy. Thus far, I have not felt unsafe, js.
My host mother, Jacklyn Wembani, is a police woman who commutes to Kakamega every day. Police officers can live in the police compounds but she didn’t want to live away from her husband and children, naturally. She is fabulous! And she and Shashana are the ones I’ve been consulting for fashion advice. Shashana and I have come to love the tailoring and second-hand business in Kenya! Haha We either buy clothes for KSH50/- (a.k.a. 50 Kenyan shillings which is equivalent to 70 cents) or purchase beautiful fabrics and take them to a tailor. I have inherited my mother’s personal tailor. Haha One weird thing is that my mother is pregnant and I was never told. Obviously, it was not something I would ever ask, so I assumed not. Multiple people asked me if she was and I did not know how to answer. Apparently, women in Kenya do not broadcast their pregnancies; they simply wait for the baby to be born and then everyone finds out. I find that weird. She finally made a comment about it this weekend, though, which was good to hear confirmation from her.
Note: Unlike other interns, I have not experienced too much of gender roles while in Kenya because my father treats my mother fairly. I am very thankful for this. Although, male dominance is predominant across Kenya, it would be very hard for me to live with it every day. If you’re interested in knowing more about gender roles and how to handle it, talk to Shashana. Unfortunately, she has experienced it in many different situations and it’s been hard. Anyhow, it is partly because my host mom is a working woman who does not have to depend on a man for money and partly because my father is a great man that I live in a well-balanced home.
I have two very adorable host brothers. Enos is 5 years old and Joshua is 6 years old. They actually have the exact some birthday, July 12, which is super cool. I got to celebrate their birthdays and it was an honor. They are very intelligent, so playful, and as respectful as any 5- & 6-year-old could be. *Tela, Luli, Madga, Ale, and Yoyo, try making your little munchkins play with a tire or just sticks and string for hours! lol Sometimes I play soccer with them after work and sometimes I dance with them during/after dinner. :D After play time, they are good about respecting my space if I feel the need to retreat to my room. I love it. One thing I still haven’t understood is why they are both in the same nursery class. Nursery is pre-school, I think.
Note: My parents hired a piki piki driver they trust to drive me to and from work. Richard, my personal motorbike driver, picks me up every day at 7:45am to take me to work, at 1pm to take me home for lunch, at 1:45pm to take me back to work, and at 5pm to take me home. I also have his number in case I ever need a ride other times on the weekend. It’s so much fun to have my own driver, especially when it gets close to rain-time (again, another story for another day) or when it’s a beautiful day and I get to have my hair flowing in the wind. It’s also very convenient for whenever I’m exhausted, which unfortunately has been more frequent than it should be.
There are many positive aspects of working at Divine, but there are also some downsides. The biggest one I can identify so far is the way that children with disabilities live. In official documents certifying Divine Providence Children’s Home as a Kenyan non-profit, they state that they are unable to care for children with disabilities due to a lack of resources and trained staff. However, there are many children with disabilities either mental or physical that live at the home. Children who are 8 and above can attend Daisy School which is a school for children with disabilities but the children who are younger than 8 stay in the nursery or attend regular classes at Alberto’s Primary School. The children who attend school cannot learn in the environment they are in, so are basically left to do their own thing (write or draw in their workbook), which seems unproductive and frustrating. One younger boy who is still in pre-unit classes (the Kenyan equivalent of kindergarten) is named John, and he is deaf and mute. He communicates through some noises and hand gestures, but during class he just sits in silence. For the younger babies with disabilities, it’s even more frustrating. There are two babies with disabilities living at Divine who are between the age of 3 and 4.
This is Valarie.She makes sounds sometimes, but usually she is silent. She keeps her body curled up most of the time, and has to be fed by one of the Mamas. When I first arrived, she was very unresponsive and just stayed in her bed all day. She has a lot of problems with balance, and last week she had a huge bump on her head, which the Mamas told me she got from falling down, either from the chair or from a changing table. Because there are only two of them, they cannot always give her the attention she needs. I worry a lot about her because she has a pretty severe case and in my opinion she probably needs physical therapy to help her stretch out her limbs and also just engage her mentally. However, there is no staff member who is trained in children with disabilities, and so she will probably never receive the care she needs.
This is Janet. She is very sweet, and is much more lively and engaged than Valarie. She is deaf, and her communication is through laugher and occasional sounds. She can feed herself and walk if assisted by a person or using the wall for support. She gets really excited when I pick her up and carry her, and she never wants to let go! She has a very strong grip. She also really likes to bite things and sometimes randomly hits her head against things, so if you take her outside you must watch her pretty carefully. The same problems exist for Janet that exists for Valarie. She is left alone most of the day because it requires a lot to supervise her and make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. She doesn’t have a chance to explore the world or to stimulate her senses at all. I feel very frustrated with this situation because I am not an expert nor do I know much about children with disabilities. However, I know that more should be done to help these children, and if there were more resources such as trained staff or a physical therapist, these children’s lives could be greatly improved.
This week was a very good week at my internship. I started the week out by finding the Swahili version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves-Halima na Mbilikimo Saba. I typed it up and printed it and had Class 3 illustrate it. I then brought all the papers into town to have them laminated and bound. I should have my 3 books by Saturday!
On Tuesday the school had parent teacher conferences, so Sister Mercy told me to entertain Class 1-3, which was about 50 kids between the ages of 6 and 11. First they colored me some pictures, and then I taught them some American songs and dances (The Macarena, the Hand Jive, and some Girl Scout songs I learned when I was younger). I tried to play some American games (Heads Up, 7 Up, Red Rover, and Little Sally Walker) but the language barrier and the amount of kids made it pretty much impossible. It was overwhelming but really really fun!
The kids have been really sweet this week. We have been having playtime every day in the playroom with the kids, and I love seeing them play with all the toys! They have so much fun. Yesterday one of the little girls was crying so I held her and sang to her, and she fell asleep in my arms. It was one of the sweetest moments I have had with the kids so far!
Something I have noticed that is very strange is the clothing that the children in the nursery wear. Almost all of the onesies have some saying about family (“I like to talk like my mom”, “Daddy’s Little Angel”) which is strange because it is an orphanage. I think people must donate the clothing without really thinking, and I guess it matters more if it functions as clothing rather than how it looks or what it says!
Today the two German girls and I drew some art to decorate the nursery. We will have some of the younger students color it and then hang it up next week! Next week I will also start implementing a peer mentorship program for the students. This week has been really rewarding, and I am sad that I only have 4 more weeks left with my kids!
Traveling to Africa has been my first time going far away from home. I have been to Canada and Puerto Rico, but since one is right on the border of the US and the other is a US territory, it’s hard to see them as truly international. In my time here, I think a lot of my initial reactions and feelings about Kenya can be attributed to culture shock. Pretty much everything here is extremely different from the United States; from sense of time and pace of life to the food options. I feel very young here for a few different reasons. First off, back at home I was reaching what I would consider a more adult place. I was renting a house, paying bills, and buying my own groceries. I could get myself from one place to another and cook my own meals. Here, it is the exact opposite. I know the general locations of important places (My house, work, the FSD office, and Katch Fries which is a restaurant that sells a pound of French fries for 100 shillings) but I am terrified to travel anywhere farther than into town by myself. Last night my host brother tried to show me how to make ugali, the staple food here in Kakamega. After my failed attempts at stirring the ugali, he proceeded to tell me that “a real African woman would be shamed if she couldn’t cook ugali.” I know I am not the best cook, but here I think I would starve if I had to provide for myself. The food in the stores is different, the cooking utensils are different, and even the way of heating food (charcoal or gas stoves in case of emergency) are foreign to me. I don’t mind Kenyan food, but I really really miss American food, and the ease of knowing that if I was hungry I could either make myself food or find food that I enjoy easily. Another reason I feel very young is the fact that I miss my family so much. After college, I thought I would be fine because I’d already gone through a pretty big transition phase. However, coming here has really shown how important my relationships back at home are to me, and that I might not be as mature as I thought I was. Being here has also made me feel very small. Living my whole life in the United States, I always knew that people lived differently, but because I never truly experienced different cultures, I just kept it as a very vague idea in the back of my mind. Here, it is impossible to ignore the stark differences between my life in the United States and the lives of Kenyans in Kakamega. Neither way of life is better or worse, but I am realizing that this trip is so incredibly important for me to get the chance to experience, understand, and appreciate different cultures. Although it is easy to want to return to the privilege of things that I am comfortable with, it is really great for me to see the world in a more complete way and rather than just from my experiences in the US. I also am seeing my role as an ambassador for the United States much more this week. It sounds silly, but during everyday conversations I feel that I am helping people learn more about the United States. I have been asked for money a lot more this week, and once from a coworker. I have been explaining to people a lot this week that I am a student and have taken out student loans and therefor am not rich. One of my coworkers asked me if it was true that all Americans are rich and don’t worry about money. I told him no, and that many people in the United States struggle with money. It was really eye opening for me because I think that the concepts of the US in Kenya are just like the concepts of Kenya in the US; we have the danger of only hearing a single story and then judging the country from that. My coworker takes the single story of Lil Wayne songs and makes them into the reality of everyday Americans, and I take the single story of the post-election violence and make them into the reality of everyday Kenyans. Culture and life is much richer and complex than a single story, and so I am blessed to be able to continue hearing these stories and becoming a better person in my next 5 weeks here.
Yesterday was a really good day. My host mom went on a big food shopping spree yesterday so I had peanut butter with my morning bread and tea. When I got to work, I sorted through the playroom toys and found some ones that the babies could play with. I washed them and then took them to the babies room. I helped the Mamas feed and bathe all of the 18 children, which is quite the job! It took 3 of us 2 hours to get all the kids dressed and back in their cribs. By the end of it I was covered in water and porridge. The kids loved playing with the toys, and I am going to try and implement a playtime every day so they get some visual stimulation and motor skills practice.
After that, I went to the library and sorted through some of the books to see if any of them can be used for the tutoring program. There are some very strange books in the library-a cat sticker book and a Catholic prayer book in Spanish (I asked, no one at the school can speak Spanish). After lunch I went to Class 1 and had them illustrate the two books in Kiswahili I had written up; a book of counting animals and a book of colors. The kids did a really good job with the pictures so I am really excited to have them laminated and bound!
Yesterday I also made tortillas for my host family. They turned out a little different because a) I couldn’t find baking powder in the store b) the stove is a gas stove and was very very hot c)The pan they gave me to use definitely wasn’t nonstick and it burned the crap out of the pan. They still turned out alright (not as good as my dad’s). My host mom told me they were “good” and then put peanut butter on them. I’m not sure what to think about that!
Today there are nuns here from Rome because tomorrow is the 200th year anniversary of one of the founders Maria Schiapparoli and also the feast day of St Benedict (The Sisters at Divine are Benediction sisters). There are 3 languages being spoken and it is incredible to hear things being translated from Kiswahili to Italian to English. We also got some special food because of the visitors, including liver (I declined to eat any), pasta (which was strangely flavorless but still a nice change from ugali) and the best pineapple I’d ever eaten. The children are all practicing their choir songs for tomorrow’s Mass, which is the highlight of the celebration tomorrow. There are blue and white decorations being put up all around the home.
I am very thankful fo
This is a picture from the roof of Alberto’s School of the compound that houses Divine Providence Children’s Home (The building farthest to the left). The middle building is the newly constructed dining hall, and to the far right is the nun’s house and behind that is the kitchen.
This is a better picture of the home, which has sleeping quarters for all 98 children, a wing for the babies, offices for the nuns, storage, as well as shower facilities.
One of the places I spend parts of my days at!
Part of the gigantic garden that feeds all the children in the home and the school. There is a lot of kale!
The courtyard of the home. Loads and loads of laundry is done every day, sometimes with the assistance of women from Kakamega Prison.
I spend most of my days working with the youngest babies in the nursery. There are 15 younger children, two living with disabilities and 3 newborn babies between 4 weeks and 1 month. I am so blessed to be able to work with these kids. They are everyday reminders of grace and innocence. Some of them have been through horrifying things and they haven’t even begun to talk. Regardless of this, when I walk in I am greeted with smiles and babies holding out their arms to be carried.
This is Lucia, and she is one of my little loves! She is 3 years old and has a twin brother living in the home as well named Joseph. When she was born, her mother only fed her and her brother water and so she is severely malnourished. Although she is 3 she looks much younger. She cannot talk, walk, or crawl. However, in the time that I have been at Divine she has taught herself to hold a cup and feed herself porridge and milk. She is one of the happiest babies I have ever met. She smiles, claps, and nods her head constantly, and I have only see her cry once in the 2 weeks that I have been working which is incredible for a toddler. It breaks my heart that choices beyond her control have forever altered her life in such a major way, but I am so privileged to be able to work with her.
I am really inspired by these children and their struggles, and I want to focus most of my time here working with them. I am planning on developing a peer mentorship program to help the older students work more with both the younger students and the babies. So that’s what I will be working on for the next 6 weeks!
There are many little things about Kenya and Kenyan people that I would have never expected so I would just like to take a little time to acknowledge them. The first and funniest in my opinion is the obsession with Spanish soap operas dubbed in English. My mama’s favorite is Corazon Indomitable and we even had to switch from world cup games to watch it. Many of us interns are also becoming hooked and the never ending drama is often discussed when we meet up. The second thing that I never would have guessed, but makes sense when you think about Kenya’s association with the British, is the frequency that everyone takes tea. I think my personal record is five cups in a day and I average around 2.5 but hat is nothing in comparison to most people. There is the morning tea when you wake up, then ten o’clock tea in the office, another cup when you get home from work and sometimes a final one before you go to bed. My mama was telling me that while people are talking they can go through a whole large thermos by themselves. The last little thing is I think a nice reflection of how social Kenyan culture is, for whenever you enter an office or meeting you go around and shake everyone’s hand no matter how many people are there. The handshakes are often accompanied with a hello or how are you and they really build a comfortable communal atmosphere. There are many other differences between my new and old home and I am slowly but surely adapting to almost all of them.
This past Saturday, the 21st of June, I finally got to meet my host family. From the moment I entered the family they were all very hospitable and welcoming. Within the first few minutes I was offered tea which would be the first of many. I spent the weekend getting to know the family, on Sunday I went to church with the oldest brother Dennis, 18, and enjoyed a few world cup games with the entire family. I have gotten to know Dennis pretty well as he is interning at the same organization as me and want to study civil engineering at the University in the fall. He already feels like a brother and has really helped me transition to my new family. I also really enjoy spending time with my mama, who I often watch the news with and discuss various things. Overall while there have been some challenges with my new home, like bucket showers and very inconsistent power, I feel very comfortable and a part of the family.
This week I also started my internship with Western Water and Sanitation Forum (WEWASAFO) and I have been blown away with how much I have learned and experienced in this one week. I was able to go out into the field four out of the five days this week and was able to really get a grasp on what my organization does. On Tuesday and Wednesday my organization was hosting a visitor, Crissy, from the Water Project which is an organization based in the US that raises money for local organizations like mine who are working to address issues with water and health. Her job was to visit all the projects WEWASAFO has finished and are working on, so I got to tag along and see all the projects as well. In total we visited about five school and three communities ranging all over Kakamega County. When we pulled into the first school the kids were abuzz with excitement sneaking glances at us and gathering closer to us muttering muzingu, foreigner in Swahili, walking around I felt like the pied piper with a crowd of kids following me. At the schools my organization had constructed or was in the process of building water tanks and VIP latrines, VIP stands for ventilated improved pit which is very different from very important person. The tanks were made of layers of concrete and wire and hold 30,000 liters of water which came from the gutters of the surrounding buildings. Fortunately I was with James, who is a civil engineer, during our visits so he was able to describe the construction process behind the tanks as well as why they designed it in the way they did.
Mixed with the visits to the schools were journeys to the local communities where WEWASAFO had built protected springs. Protected springs are cement structures with pipes where the water come out, they are built around natural springs and create cleaner water. With the new protected springs community members are able to get clean water faster. Surrounding the springs WEWASAFO works with community leaders to have trainings regarding sanitation and health as well as picking five homes to build new pit latrines. One of the recipients of the new latrines was an elderly couple. We first met the wife outside her home and she showed us how the walls around the latrine were almost finished. She then told us how grateful she was for the new latrine because there old one was falling apart and the hole was too big, her husband was blind she said and struggled to get to the old latrine and even fell inside once. Hearing this was shocking as I could scarcely imagine a worse experience, hearing her story really reinforced in me the importance of what my organization was doing. The wife then took us inside the house to meet her husband who we quickly found out was 94 years old. He was struggling with some health problems but was still quite talkative and began telling us stories about how he served in World War II and had been a cook for the British for a while. It was amazing to consider all the places he had been and all the places he had seen. He had been living in the small farming village where he was now for about 20 years and had been blind for about 15 of those, but even as he was going blind he continued to work his farm and tend to his land. I felt honored to meet him and have a chance to hear his story. There were many other inspiring stories that I heard during this one short week but that one definitely stood out the most. Seeing everything my organization has done and everything they are working on has been inspiring and humbling, I am greatly looking forward to working with them all this summer and I am hopeful that I can help in any small way.
The past two weeks have been a truly eye-opening experience and have left me very excited for the rest of my time here. I have decided to change the way I post and am now going to post smaller more frequent entries so the next one should be coming much sooner.
This week has been a little rough on me. I started work on Monday with a cold, and throughout the week it has only gotten worse. Nothing serious, just a stuffy nose and a sore throat, but my patience is shorter and working with kids who always have their hands in their mouths or their runny noses and are coughing on me is getting old and I feel like I will never get better! Also my mother has malaria, which is unpleasant.
I went into work early today (7 am!) and attended the Mass that they hold every week for the students. It was a really nice experience, because I grew up attending Catholic Mass and it was very similar to the services I have gone to! The only differences were that it was a little shorter, there was no collection, Communion was only for the sisters, and students danced down the aisle during the processional. But it was a nice reminder of home.
For my project this summer, I am working to develop a student mentorship program for Alberto’s School and also Divine Providence. It will help develop healthy relationships for the children and also improve their schoolwork. I also am going to try and engage some of the older children with the very young babies in activities to help early childhood development. It has been a slow start, mostly because of the language barriers between me and the teachers. I gave the teachers a form to nominate student mentors, but they didn’t understand and gave me the sheets back filled out by students nominating their favorite teacher. A little miscommunication but hopefully I can figure it out before tomorrow!
I have been working with two German Social Work students to take the children outside more, and also work with the two children with disabilities to engage them in moving more and engaging them through speech and sight, because they are often left for the whole day in their cribs. It has been tough but also very rewarding. One of the girls, Valerie, is already showing signs of being more attentive. Hopefully this work can continue for the next 7 weeks and she will improve even more!
The culture shock is setting in more, and I am getting very tired of being stared at. I have been working at my internship for 2 weeks now, but it feels like I am still this new foreign thing because everyone still stares at me! Even in Mass today, kids turned around constantly to look at me. I just want to yell “I’m still here, and I’m still white!” The same thing happened when walking to town. At this point I am just trying to remind myself that people are just curious, but I will be glad to be in a place where I don’t stick out like a sore thumb!
On a happier note, one of my family’s chickens had chicks, and they are currently living in the kitchen! So cute!