Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Home Sweet Home

Merry Belated Christmas to everyone, and a Happy Early New Year (since I have no idea if I’ll have a chance to post an update before then). I’m safe and sound in Sipili, Kenya, in my new home and community, and I’m getting settled “slowly by slowly” (as the Kenyans say). It's typically dusty and hot, but there were some refreshing rains yesterday (I have a new appreciation for the Toto lyric "I bless the rains down in Africa"). There is one other Peace Corps volunteer here, and her name is Jessica– we traveled here together from Nairobi with her supervisor. She’s a Math/Science Education volunteer, which means she was training in Loitokitok while I was in Machakos with the Deaf Education group.

The journey here on December 16th was long, but not unbearable. Jessica, her supervisor and I took a matatu from Nairobi to Nyahururu, which took about three hours, and then took another matatu from Nyahururu, through Kinamba (where the paved road or “tarmac” ends) and on the dirt road eight more kilometers into Sipili. The second leg took about two hours. It was early afternoon when we arrived – first we went to Jessica’s house and had lunch and tea. It was so hard to be patient during lunch and introductions with the family on her compound since I was so anxious to see my place. I would have been more restless, but I was too exhausted from the journey, which was only exacerbated by the fact that I’d gotten no sleep the night before. A group of us newly sworn-in volunteers opted to go out dancing in Nairobi instead of packing and sleeping in preparation for the journey ahead. Even though I was lethargic during our trip, dancing was not a regrettable decision.

After getting Jessica settled, we walked the 2-3 kilometers to my house (with luggage in tow) and I was finally able to see my place. As I mentioned before, my house is on a family compound, and the family I’m staying with is amazing. Their house is about 15 feet from mine, and the family’s kitchen is between our two houses. The kitchen is actually really cool – it has a brick stove contraption with fire under a metal grate when you can place a pot (called a sufuria in Kenya) on top for cooking. It reminds me of cooking over a campfire, and it’s a nice place to sit with the other people in the family even though I don't cook there myself. Luckily, my house is just perfect for me! It has a bright blue door, and red cement floor. There are two rooms, each with a little window and surprisingly charming curtains. One room has a little table with a gas stove with two burners, and the other room has my bed, a small table and chair, and a corner that is portioned off with plywood for bathing. Some carpenters came over the other day to take measurements for a few more pieces of furniture I need (especially a wardrobe – my clothes are currently stacked on the table in my room rendering it useless) and that will hopefully built and installed within the next couple of weeks. When I first saw my place there was no electricity, but since then I’ve had two lights installed in the house that are powered by a solar panel on the roof of the main house. The solar panel isn’t strong enough to provide power to an outlet so there’s no way to charge anything, but Jessica’s house has an outlet so I charge my phone over there. Also, there’s no running water, but that was the case in Machakos so I’m a pro at living without pipes.

During the first day here we also took a tour of the garden/farm ("shamba" in Kiswahili) that the family I’m living with owns. It’s absolutely incredible. The family compound sits between the two parts of the shamba; one part has mostly maize, and the other part is FULL of fruits and vegetables. I bet you can guess which part is my favorite. I love walking through the rows of fruits, picking a pineapple or passionfruit if it looks ripe, wondering when the mangoes will be ready, snapping off a piece of sugarcane and gnawing on it while I guess which plants are cowpeas or black beans or soybeans. It’s like a free grocery store that’s always stocked and always fresh. There are even fruits that I’d never heard of or tasted before (tree tomatoes are rapidly becoming a new favorite of mine). The family has graciously offered to let me take anything I want from the shamba, since it’s so big and plentiful. The father of the family takes care of the shamba almost exclusively, and he’s trying to get people in the community to plant more fruits since they’re heartier than some of the traditional crops. His idea is that a shift to that kind of farming would provide more food security in this region which is typically quite arid. He and his wife both have a very community-minded outlook, and they’re very focused on helping people help themselves. He was actually instrumental in applying for a Peace Corps volunteer for both the secondary school (Jessica) and for the school for the deaf (myself). It's really amazing to be surrounded by a forward-thinking, self-sustaining, happy and friendly family. And the three kids are adorable and incredibly helpful in helping me navigate my new surroundings.

Since the first days here, I’ve been able to explore a bit. I’ve traveled with Jessica into Nyahururu a couple of times since we arrived to get supplies that we can’t get in Sipili (since it’s pretty remote). One of the trips was especially comical; it involved me bringing an empty 15 kg gas can (for my stove) into town and bringing a full one back to Sipili. Of course it’s huge, metal and unmanageable, and I already stick out wherever I go here in Kenya by virtue of my skin color. But I dragged that sucker through Sipili, onto the matatu, through Nyahururu and back. It was totally worth it too, because now I can cook for myself and heat my own bathwater. Self-sufficiency and reclaimed independence is one of the best parts of settling into a home, since we were forced to rely so heavily on other people during training.

School doesn’t start until the 4th of January, so there is a lot of down time between now and then. The following is a list of things (aside from wandering in the shamba, as I mentioned) that keep me entertained in the meantime:

1. Reading. I have read two and a half books over the past week – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (not bad for a memoir), Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (finally, I’d been meaning to read that one for a long time ) and half of Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (SO GOOD).

2. Writing. Each night I write until my hand hurts so I can keep my mind sharp, because I have noticed that somehow I’m losing some English. All the volunteers who have been here for about a year say that it’s inevitable, but I’m hoping to stave it off. I’m not exactly sure why it’s happening since I’m speaking English all the time (I’m not good enough at Kiswahili yet to effectively converse), but it’s happening.

3. Watching the animals around the compound. The family here has dogs, cats and chickens, and there are little kittens and chicks hiding in woodpiles and bushes, so it’s a good diversion to go searching for them and watch them do whatever cute things kittens and chicks do once they’re found.

4. Catching frogs. The frogs come out at night, and most evenings I have about three in my house (somehow). I’m nervous that they’ll make a mess or die overnight while I’m sleeping, so it’s a nightly ritual to find them with my headlamp (they get scared and freeze when I shine light on them), usher them into a paper bag and put them outside. It’s a pretty adorable infestation, honestly. Way better than rats or cockroaches or something.

5. Wandering around Sipili town. Although there is really only one main road, one store that could be considered a supermarket/general store and a smattering of other flour mills/milk bars/convenience stores, it’s nice to get out and see the people in town and hopefully get people used to a mzungu wandering around their town.

Otherwise, life is pretty calm here in Sipili. Christmas was like any other day (except my family slaughtered two chickens, and the kids chased each other around with the heads and entrails), and there is a slow, easy pace to life. Even more than in Machakos. But that’s what I was expecting, and I’m enjoying it more every day. The next exciting step will be when school begins. I can’t wait to meet the students, not to mention my fellow teachers! I’ve seen the school, but no one is there yet. In just over a week it will be completely full of kids, and I can hardly wait. Between now and then, I’ll travel out of site for New Years and travel back just a couple of days before school begins. I’ll be sure to update shortly after school starts and share my impressions.

1 comment:

  1. Catching frogs! Grandma Maie has stories about Uncle Wayne and Uncle Gary catching frogs for me in Florida when I was just a toddler. A skill that must run in the family. LOL It was great talking to you on Christmas. We miss you and love you lots. Safe travels on New Years.