Mid-Term Retreat

This post was written on July 28th

This past weekend we got out of town and went down to Navasha for our midterm retreat.  It is kind of crazy to think that half the trip is over already, in some ways it feels like I have been here forever and other times it seems like just a few days.  Navasha is about a six hour drive from Kakamega and that isn’t a very smooth 6 hours.  While some of the roads were smooth the majority were very bumpy and when we finally reached our campsite I wasquite eager to escape the confines of the overcrowded mutate that we had been traveling in.  While the conditions were rough the ride down was not without excitement, as we spotted a number of zebras and even a few giraffes on the side of rode.  When we got to the campsite we were also greeted by a number of black and white monkeys jumping through the trees, these glimpses of wildlife were only a taste of what we were going to see.

On Friday our group split into two with about half of us riding bikes and the other going to mount Logonot.  I went with the mountain group so at the break of dawn I was up and piling into another matatu.  Mt. Logonot is an active volcano that erupted a few hundred years ago and now has a giant crater at the top, so the hike had three parts: hiking up, hiking around the crater and hiking down.  We started heading up the mountain and at first the trail was easygoing with only a steady incline allowing us to easily view the beautiful landscape that lay below us and the antelope in the distance.  We quickly realized that the beginning had been a tease as the trail got very steep and turned more into a scramble then a leisurely walk.  The trail was covered with what seemed like sand and with every step forward you slipped back a few inches making progress very difficult, to add to the pressure there was a swarm of school kids behind us and rapidly gaining.  With an extra push I was able to beat the school kids to the top and treated with an amazing view of the surrounding landscape as well as the crater that lay below.  When the entire group made it to the top and we started circling the crater.  The edge of the crater was far from smooth with many peaks, the highest one was about a third of the way around and we decided that was where we stop for lunch.  The hike there was tough at parts with us sometimes almost on all fours, despite the challenge it was fun and the view we got at the top was spectacular.  After having our lunch it was time to go down.  I quickly realized the easiest but probably not the safest way to go down was just to run.  The journey around the crater and the trip down went much faster and was a lot of fun.  Throughout the entire hike we were treated with an amazing view and overall it was one of the best hiking experiences I have ever had.

The next day on Saturday we went to Crater Lake, which was similar to Mt. Logonot in that it was also a volcano that erupted, the difference was that this one had been filled with water.  Surrounding the lake was a small “forest” that was home to many animals.  I got within a few feet of giraffes and zebras and was able to see antelope, water buffalo and different kinds of birds in the distance.  It was amazing to be walking among the animals and they were surprisingly calm only slowly trotting away when we got to close.  The lake itself was also quite stunning and had attracted about nine or ten giraffes who were eating right beside it.  There was also a small resort next to the lake and a floating restaurant that had some of the best food I have had in Kenya.  Seeing all the aimals got me even more excited for the next weekend when we are going to Masai Mara, one of the best safaris in the world.

The entire retreat was a nice break from the grind of work and a nice way to see another part of the country.  I also got some good news at the end of the weekend as my grant got accepted so I will be beginning to work on that in the coming week.  The last half of my trip should be even busier than the first and I am excited to get started on my project.

The President, Stone and Grant

I wrote this post a few weeks ago but was just able to post it now

It has been a while since my last post and a lot has happened since then: I have seen the president, visited a crying rock, and written a grant.  In order to keep things straight I’m going to break down this post into sections starting with his Excellency honorable Uhuru Kenyatta.

The President

Almost every night I watch the news with my family so I have slowly started to grasp the major themes of Kenyan politics and since I know everyone reading this is very interested in Kenyan politics I am going to give you brief overview.  Like in the US there are two main parties right now CORD and JUBILEE but there not parties like in the US there more of coalitions of different parties who work together.  The current president is Uhuru Kenyatta who is part of Jubilee and is the son of Kenya’s first president, he is also indicted by the International Criminal Court.  His main opposition is Odingo from cord who ran against him in the last election and has been having lots of rallies since then and is currently demanding amendments to the new constitution.  The driving force behind the parties doesn’t really seem to be policy related but rather tribal as Kenyans tend to vote for people who are their tribe.  From what I have understood there seems to be about 48 or so tribes but each one of those have smaller tribes within them, overall its very complicated.  Anyway there is a lot of tension right now between the parties and they are both constantly saying the other is corrupt and politicizing thing and incompetent, some things are universal.

How I came to see the president was really on accident.  It was Saturday and our group had just finished a workshop at the FSD office and had about an hour till lunch so we decided to walk around town.  As we were walking on the main street we noticed a large crowd gathering down the street with lots of police with very big guns so naturally we decided to walk towards it.  Just to get this out of the way we were never in any danger, the rally was completely peaceful and civil with no one getting hurt.  As we were walking towards the masses one of the other interns I was with mentioned that the president was coming to town today so that’s what the rally must have been about.  Just as he was saying that a procession of cars began to come down the street.  The first was a military looking truck followed by a number of black escalades, there was people waving at the cars and different important people in the cars waving back and then low and behold the president of Kenya drove by decked out in camo and a smile on his face.  The procession stopped at a stage that had been erected outside one of the super marts, a strange place for a rally I thought,  The first person to speak was the deputy president, like the vice president, but it was hard to hear and in Kiswahili but he seemed to get a good response from the crowd so some people liked what we has saying  Quite a crown had gathered with people climbing nearby trees and buildings to get a better view, although it was more civil then every concert ive been too with nobody pushing or shoving for a better spot.  There was plenty of security with guards posted all over each one of them carrying a very big gun.  About half way through the speeches we left walking to another one of the many marts around to get some popcorn.  On our way out the procession was leaving and we got another chance to see the president who I swear waved right back at me.  Overall it was a very exciting experience and interesting to see, but more importantly I just have to see Obama to complete my Kenyan president checklist.

The Stone

                The crying stone is a giant rock that looks like a face and during a few months of the year water drips from its “eye”, it is one of the most famous places in Kakamega.  I went to check it out with my host brother and sister, Dennis and Michele, and the other three UP interns.  We were not completely confident on how to get there as Michele was the only one who had been there before and that was in Primary school, none the less we figured someone knew so we began talking to one of the Matatu drivers.   After some discussion Dennis and Michele arranged a ride for us there so we all hopped in a very hot sweaty car for the journey, fortunately it wasn’t too long.  When we got there we were greeted by a group of kids ranging from 8 to 14ish and they helped guide as along the path.  The path seemed to go through a few people’s homes but they didn’t seem to mind strangers walking through their land.  The stone was not far at all, only about a five minute walk till we were close, but that’s where we ran into problems.  In order to see the stone you had had to pay a small view to one of the elders of the community what sat near the trail.  Dennis and Michele first approached him to ask about the price and after some discussion they reported back 500 shillings.  We had had other friends visit and they had said that they only paid 70 for a group of three so it was obvious this guy was trying to rip us off.  This happens a lot because people assume that mzungus, foreigners, have a lot of money and don’t know the prices.  We had hoped Dennis and Michele would get us around this but apparently we would have to negotiate instead.  Eventually after about 15-20 min of back and forth with various threats to leave we settled on a price of 200 shillings and up we went.

While the stone was not currently crying it was still very impressive although I struggled to see the face.  There was also an amazing view of the surrounding Kenya countryside and a great spot for a small picnic. While by the stone I met a local who began telling me about the history and tradition surrounding it.  According to him it had once been a great king who had fled from his land and was then frozen and turned in to rock, he pointed off in the distance to another large rock and said that that was his queen.  The tradition of male circumcision also had something to do with the stone although I did not quite understand exactly what he was saying.  After seeing this small attraction I am even more excited to visit hellsgate and masai mahara two of Kenya’s renowned national parks.  The journey back to the city was much smoother as we were able to hop on a matatu for a reasonable price.  The day was ended at a restaurant with a milkshake, which tasted amazing in the unending heat.

The Grant

                Every intern for FSD has the opportunity to write a grant proposal to request additional funding for a project they are working on with their organization.  I decided to go for this grant to help start a project with my organization.  The project is the construction of an ecological sanitation (Ecosan) latrine at Mwiyala Primary School, one of the local schools.  Here is the executive summary of the grant which will give you an idea of what the project is all about:

The Western Water and Sanitation Forum (WEWASAFO) currently works with ten schools in Kakamega County one of which is Mwiyala Primary. Mwiyala Primary serves over nine hundred students but is ill equipped to manage all of their health and sanitation needs. The boys there need 8 more latrines and the girls 10, but they are running out of space to continuously build new pit latrines. Constructing a two door Ecological Sanitation (Ecosan) latrine addresses both of these issues as it gives the girls an additional two facilities and it is a permanent sustainable solution. Unlike pit latrines the Ecosan latrine is elevated and the waste is not stored underground but on top of it. This combined with the fact that urine and feces are separated allows for the waste to be removed from the latrine

Safari in Masai Mara

This past weekend we traveled as a group to Masai Mara to go on a 3 day safari! Thursday night Eloiza stayed over at my house because we were leaving very early in the morning. Bright and early at 6:15 we were waiting out on our main road for the matatus to pick us up. However, with the typical delays for Kenyan time, we finally departed around 6:45. We stopped along the road to pick up some of the other interns, and then again for food at a restaurant. The drive was incredibly long, and we ended up getting to our campsite around 7:30 (After 12 hours of driving!) On our drive there we saw elephants, gazelles, and zebras! We had dinner and then went to bed.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to start our safari off at 6am. Once again, this was more like 6:30. We drove in 8 person vans that had roofs that lifted up so we could stand while the car was driving. That turned out to be a pretty dangerous idea because the roads were bad and the driver was a little on the crazy side! Everyone bounced around a lot but no one got seriously hurt. On our drive we saw so many animals! The wildebeests were migrating up from Tanzania, and so there were thousands of them everywhere. We also saw three different groups of lions. Two of them were sleeping (typical cats) and one of them was hunting. Sadly they didn’t catch anything while we were there. We also saw lots of zebras and giraffes. There were also several families of elephants that walked right behind our car! Out of the “Big Five” animals we saw every animal except the rhino and the leopard. We were told the next morning that during the night there had been a leopard in our camp but that the dogs had scared it away (thank goodness!). Later we drove into the “No Man’s Land” between Kenya and Tanzania. We crossed a river that was full of dead animals (during the river crossing they had tripped and drowned), saw a crocodile, and fed some monkeys our leftovers from lunch. We also played Red Light, Green Light on the plains when we took a break to stretch our legs. After we returned to our camp from the safari, some of the group went to the Masai village. They took us on a tour to see a house in the progress of being built, showed us how they make fires, and danced for us. It was an interesting experience because it gave me a glimpse into the culture, but it was also very uncomfortable at the same time because most of it felt like a commodification of their culture and that they were mostly doing the things they were doing for money. I also felt as if I was intruding into their lives in an uncomfortable tourist-y way, which I haven’t felt like the whole time that I have been here.

 

 

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The next day we woke up even earlier to go on a sunrise safari before we left to drive home. It was really beautiful to see the sun rise over the hills while driving past more animals! We got to see a lion and her mate enjoying some water buffalo for breakfast and finally saw the cheetah awake! The cheetah was the laziest animal we saw the whole trip. There was a whole herd of gazelles standing near it but it just sat down and took a bath. Our driver told us that the gazelles sometimes can’t tell the difference between a cheetah and a jackal, and so that’s why they were getting so dangerously close. Sadly the cheetah was either too lazy or not hungry, so he didn’t chase the gazelles. After that, we drove back to town which took another 11 hours!

 

I am so incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to go on the safari. I have two weeks left in Kakamega and hopefully I will make every second count!

 

 

Safari Time

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Its funny how quickly you can adapt to a place. My host family has now become my family, I act the same way I do with them as I do with my family in America. My internship has become my daily job, like all other jobs I’ve had in America. I sometimes have to remind myself that I’m still living in Kenya, im still in Africa! This point really hit me last weekend when we were in Naivasha and saw Giraffes and Zebras. That’s when I said ” okay you are in KEYNA!”. It was unreal to be only ten feet away from a giraffe and have it look you in the eye, and then turn back and continue eating. It was also very cool seeing baby giraffes and zebras interacting with their mama’s, they are so playful!

 

This weekend its time for another safari in Masai Mara. Im excited to see the big five (hopefully!)

 

The adventure continues because after all, T.I.A., This is Africa! :)

 

 

Midterm Retreat

This past weekend we had our Midterm Retreat for FSD, the organization I have been working for. We left Thursday morning and returned Sunday afternoon. It was great to have a vacation after having worked for 5 weeks and especially exciting to see a different part of Kenya. We drove to Naivasha in matatus, which was about 6 hours away from Kakamega. We camped on the shore of a lake in tents at a place called Fisherman’s. The first night I arrived I had my first real hamburger since being in Kenya which was delicious! In our campsite there were 2 different kinds of monkeys and lots of colorful birds.

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During my first full day in Naivasha I went on a bike ride with some of the other interns. Offin, our tour guide took us along a road where we saw giraffes, zebras, baboons, water buffalo, warthogs, gazelles and monkeys. We also stopped by the edge of another lake and ate the best mandazi (fried bread). The other interns went and hiked a mountain, so when we all got back to camp we were all pretty tired. Some of us went into town to look around, but it started raining almost immediately. The roads were flooding, and when we drove back we were driving through almost a foot of water.

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On our second day, everyone went on a trip to Crater Lake. We walked through an animal sanctuary and saw more of the same animals that we had seen the previous day very close up!  After we walked around the lake, we ate on a floating restaurant (which included dessert, something that is not very common in Kenya!). The view was beautiful and the food was delicious. Afterwards we walked up to the overlook of Crater Lake. It was a great experience to see how different parts of Kenya are (the landscape, the climate, ect).

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That night I started feeling sick. I felt really cold and feverish, and I had a headache and my bones ached. After we had our reflection, I went with one of my supervisors to the hospital to test for malaria. Their lab was closed, so we went to a 24 hour clinic where I tested positive for malaria. They gave me medicine which I will have to take for a couple more days. It’s been unpleasant, especially during the ride back to Kakamega, but it’s basically the same thing as having the flu. I had hoped I wouldn’t get sick while being here, but everything is an experience! Even with the malaria, this weekend has been the best one while in Kenya. I’m so glad I got to go on a trip!

Shower by Bucket

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.

First Weekend with my Host Family

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. :)

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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. ;)

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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.

Children with Disabilities

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.

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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.

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Week 4

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!

The Comfort of Privilege

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.