Thursday, September 13, 2012

On the Move

Although the school term should have started last week, there's not a lot happening in any of the schools in Kenya these days. All of the major teachers' unions are on strike, which has paralyzed learning completely. That's bad news in any case, but is especially problematic this year since under the new schedule, term three is drastically shorter than the other terms. I have a feeling that once this all gets resolved, we're going to have somewhere around seven weeks of instruction time before the kids have to start their exams. Here's hoping that we can blast through sufficient review to get the kids good scores despite the time crunch! And if this sounds like déjà vu, it is. The same thing happened last year.

In the meantime, I'm in Nairobi getting medical clearance to return to the USA. So far it's all good news - no tuberculosis or anything.

Strikes and shots aside, the last month has been pretty incredible. After the mountain, Kelsey, her mom Carla and sister Julia made the transatlantic journey to Kenya. Their visit was fantastic! After a couple of days in Nairobi to see some sights, acclimate and get over jet lag (during which I dragged them all to see Brave in the theater - my second movie in the same number of years) we flew to the Masai Mara for a safari. I went on safari last year with my family, but it was just as amazing as it was the first time around. It's mind-boggling how visible and accessible all the animals are, even the relatively elusive ones. But they weren't my ONLY source of entertainment - during our game drives and back at camp, I constantly tried to make conversation with our guides in my meager Kiswahili. We could get a few sentences into a conversation, and then they'd start to talk a little too fast or drop a verb that I didn't know, and I'd just stare blankly and smile, saying "uh... nini?" which means "what?" That always got laughs. I did learn a few new words, though, and it's always fun to laugh at yourself, so I'm glad I wasn't afraid to make a fool out of myself. In all seriousness, that's one of the most important things I've learned in Kenya - never be afraid to look ridiculous. I constantly look ridiculous as a foreigner struggling through life in a different culture anyway, so why not just do whatever makes me happy without worrying about how it makes me look?

After the Mara, we headed to the coast, where we enjoyed lounging by and swimming in the Indian Ocean in Kilifi before Julia had to leave to go back to school. The three of us remaining made our way to Watamu where Kelsey went diving, and then continued on to Lamu. I'd been looking forward to visiting Lamu ever since I heard about it from a fellow volunteer toward the beginning of my service - it's an island off the Kenyan coast, about six hours of driving north of Mombasa. There are no motorized vehicles on the island (just donkeys!) and you have to take a boat from mainland to the jetty. Also, the culture on the island has a very strong Arabic influence, but is distinctly Bantu as well. I suppose that's typical of many Swahili areas on the coast, but the art, architecture and prevalence of Islam is is much richer on Lamu than other Kenyan towns. Paired with the laid-back coastal attitude, antiquated transportation methods and small-town feel (although it was full of tourists), it's so distinct, so unique. I could have stayed there for a month. It's as though time stops as soon as your feet hit the ground on the shore of the island. During our time there we took a dhow (old wooden sailboat) ride to an empty beach, ate seafood and spicy Indian-influenced concoctions, bought beautiful fabrics and admired all the woodwork throughout town. The boats, doors, signs and buildings all feature gorgeous carved wood, with a bit of a nautical feel to it. The old buildings are all stone, with high walls, and the narrow alleyways that weave between them feel almost European. It was rejuvenating to be surrounded by so much beauty - not to mention the ocean, the full moon one night, and great company.

After Lamu, which was hard to leave, we headed to Naivasha for my Close of Service (COS) conference. Kelsey and Carla were able to go to Hell's Gate and Crescent Island during the days (which I'd done last year with my family), while I sat in a conference hall, facing the reality that I'm almost finished here. Our whole education group was there - everyone still left in country who'd flown here together. We reminisced about the start of our service, talked about how our attitudes and outlooks have changed and evolved, and dreamed about our next steps. We had lectures about all things surrounding our re-entry, from reverse culture shock (I, for one, am not ready for touch screens on every dang thing) to marketing our PC experience during our job search, to insurance and other fun bureaucratic paperwork. It was really sobering to get everything set in stone, especially travel plans. The exciting (and scary!) news is that I'm officially flying out of Kenya on the evening of November 28th. For those of you not counting, that's 76 days from now. A blip on the radar of two years. I'm going to try not to think about it until I absolutely have to, because I'm not so sure I'm ready to say goodbye.

After Naivasha, Kelsey and Carla got to see a little bit off Nyahururu and Sipili. It was great to have them up in my neck of the woods, even though it was brief. Unfortunately not many of the kids had shown up to school because of the strike, but there were a few! Plus, all of the playground equipment that had been in disrepair had been fixed over break, so we taught the kids how to use the swings and the see saw. And to Kelsey's great credit, at the very end of her visit, she took the matatu ride from Sipili to Nyahururu! From what I hear, it's not for the faint of heart.

To see some pictures from the trip, click here!

Now that we're halfway through September, I'm ready to get back to Sipili and into the classroom. I don't plan on leaving the village much at all until classes end. I want to spend as much time as possible with my students, coworkers, friends and family there. Sipili really is home. 

In my downtime these next 11 weeks (when I'm not studying for the MCAT, which is my first priority), I'm sure I'll be working on my itinerary for when I get back home. New York, DC, San Diego, Portland, Alaska... they all seem like a fantasy, but I'll see them soon enough! Both studying and planning will be much easier, because I'll be able to use my computer - I now have power IN MY HOUSE! It still cuts out sometimes, and I can't get an internet connection, but it's a help nonetheless.

Oh, and Alaska friends, I'm sorry for the termination dust on the mountains. I'm getting so excited to see snow again that I may have willed it to fall. Sincerest apologies.

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