Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Every time I start to write a blog entry, there are hundreds of things that come to my mind to write about. There isn't much about my life in Africa that reminds me of my life in America, so there are so many stories to share. But the stories aren't necessarily related to one another, so I've decided that this post will consist of a couple of unrelated aspects of my past month-or-so in Kenya that I hope you'll find interesting, informative, and maybe even comical.

One inevitable consequence of traveling to a foreign place and immersing yourself in a whole new way of life is the roller coaster ride that follows. Since coming to Kenya, there have been some pretty high highs, and pretty low lows, and it's usually something inconsequential (or would be inconsequential in America) that can shift the scale from one extreme to the other. So, all of us trainees have developed a system of storing up things that can shift bad days into good ones, in case we find ourselves feeling bummed out. Following is a list of things that can cause a bad day:

1. Surprise rain storms that turn the dusty roads into ankle-deep red mud.
2. Getting the "mzungu price" whenever you try to buy something at the market. To calculate the mzungu price, simply take the price that an average Kenyan pays, and double it. (Also, FYI, mzungu is the Kiswahili word for white person).
3. Chewing sukuma wiki (kale) and almost breaking your tooth on a stone that SOMEhow got in the food.
4. Terrifying dreams/hallucinations from the malaria medication.
5. Realizing that a diet that consists of roughly 90% refined sugar and other carbohydrates is not ideal for dental health, and thus, cavities are forming.
6. Accidentally making a "friend" who is drunk and loves to follow you around town while mumbling in Kiswhili.

And now, a list of things that can make a bad day better:
1. A lollipop from the man at the small duka (roadside stand) sitting under an umbrella who always smiles and says "Habari!" (this may also have something to do with #5 above).
2. Mail. Any mail. Some of us hide letters in our room so we have something to open when we really need it.
3. A movie that we've gotten from another volunteer. I know "O Brother Where Art Thou" is on my laptop, just waiting for a tough day.
4. Successfully purchasing and loading minutes onto our phones.
5. Communicating successfully in Kenyan Sign Language.
6. Skipping church with our families so we can go to someone's house to "study," and instead spending the whole morning venting, doing yoga and laughing with fellow trainees.

As trainees, we've gotten pretty skilled at sharing the good things we come across, and mitigating the negatives. We have each others' backs, and have also gotten good at laughing off the ridiculous situations we encounter. I can't imagine being in Kenya without everyone else.

Now, an anecdote. One of my favorite moments so far in my homestay house happened about three weeks ago, when I was still pretty new to this whole experience. It was a Saturday morning, and a woman had come to our house to help my Mama with washing clothes, because everything has to be washed by hand, and there's no way my Mama can wash a week's worth of clothes for her and her two kids in one day without some help. (In related news, I have nothing but the highest reverence and respect for single mothers in Africa). After the woman had gotten there, my host brother and I kept hearing a chicken coming from SOMEwhere nearby. This was puzzling, because we don't own a chicken, and neither do our neighbors. And it was LOUD. We looked around the perimeter of the house - outside the front door, back door, and out the side windows - but couldn't see anything. We gave up after a while, and I eventually went to take my morning bath (from a bucket, as usual). When I returned to my bedroom after the bath, I was getting dressed when I noticed a basket in the corner of my room that wasn't there when I had woken up, and didn't belong to me. I figured it was nothing, and continued to get dressed. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the basket move. I looked closer and realized that the chicken we had been hearing was in that basket, in my room, with its feet tied together, looking straight at me. I was definitely startled at first, but once I realized the comedy in the situation I hurried to finish getting dressed, and went out to tell my Mama that "I think I found the chicken." When I explained the situation, we both had a good laugh - apparently, the woman who had come to help my Mama had brought the chicken in hopes that we'd want to buy it. Turns out we did... and guess what we had for dinner? It was a first for me - I don't think I'd ever had an animal for dinner that had, earlier in the day, watched me get dressed.

That's all I have time for now, so I'll give a quick update on what's happening currently. Today we had our Language Proficiency Interviews (LPIs), and whoever passed will be able to start Kiswahili lessons next week, so keep your fingers crossed! I think I did alright, but we'll be getting our results tomorrow and then we'll know for sure. There are only three weeks of training left, so I'll be saying goodbye to Machakos soon and heading to the Laikipia district in the Rift Valley. We'll be swearing in as a group (Deaf Ed. along with Math and Science Ed.) on December 15th in Nairobi, and then traveling to our respective sites with our supervisors. We're all very excited.

Thank you to everyone who has sent letters!! As I mentioned, mail is one of the best mood elevators, and I love staying updated on everyone's lives and experiences. Keep them coming, and I promise I'll write you back :)

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