Sunday, September 23, 2012

Monday, February 19, 2007

Valentine's in Kahuho

Kahuho Village, an administrative sub location in Kikuyu District, is one of many rural villages in Kenya. From the hilltop of Kahuho there is a beautiful view of Nairobi, which lies some 25 km to the east. Kahuho is so close, but yet so far. An hour walk from the matatu (public transportation) stage and matatu only runs up the hill on market days (Monday & Thursday). This makes sceduling your healthcare needs much more important. The most recent village census reports an estimated population of 6,500 (split almost equally between women and men). The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2003 suggest that 6.7% of Kenyan adults, age 15-49, are infected with HIV. It is believed some 60,000 men and women over the age of 50 are HIV positive. This means over 1.1 million adults are infected. The overall rate of women who are infected is nearly double that of men who are infected (1.9:1 – Female to Male). By these numbers it is estimated that Kahuho sublocation has more than 529 men and 544 women who are living with HIV/AIDS. But HIV/AIDS is more than prevalence rates and a set of statistics. There are human faces behind all the numbers. Real people were reached by the Valentine’s 2006 Mobile VCT sponsored by Bohshep and Kahuho Restoration Youth Project (Karesyop) with the help of the Liverpool Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centre (VCT). The village came alive with the activities of mobilization on Friday, February 16th. A large Land Rover driving over the narrow and bumpy dirt roads in the village brought everyone out of their homes to see the cause of this rare commotion. A giant puppet hanging off the back of the automobile had the children running behind shouting and cheering. Speakers mounted on the top of the vehicle blasted music and alerted everyone to a day of free HIV testing services the next day. The schools in the village were visited and over a thousand students were educated on HIV/AIDS Awareness. Methods of transmission and prevention were taught. The need to provide “Hope, Support, and Love” to our family and neighbor was talked about. Everyone was told to remind their families that mobile VCT would be in the village the next day offering free testing and counseling.

Very early on Saturday morning the tents were set up and the counseling and education began. The fear of stigma attached to testing was absent among the community members. Liverpool Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT), Bohshep and Karesyop worked hard to meet demand for testing. Nine VCT counselors perform individual and confidential HIV tests, along with pre and post counseling. Village members knew their status within 30 minutes.

The sun began to set and the crowd began growing in size. The number of people waiting to be tested exceeded sixty. Pleas and shouts from the waiting group couldn’t be ignored. The counselors, Bohshep and Karesyop got together and agreed that the seventy four people tested were not enough. Something had to be done for the sixty people still waiting in line. Everyone agreed to return again on Sunday for another full day. This was an incredibly kind act, for all the tents had to be packed up and reset early in the morning.

In total, over 120 people learned their status as a result. Over 600 people received information on Nutrition Home Based Care, and Antiretroviral Therapy. Some came with specific questions on the caring for their infected loved ones at home. Information on access to free ARV drugs and treatment were given out. Open forums for questions and discussion were put into service. Support service and follow-up referrals to Bohshep and Karesyop were made by VCT counselors to those in need.

It is always the case in the village that the children turn up in masses. TI used the opportunity to hold “Girl Empowerment” meetings for about 40 girls, between 12 and 15 years of age. Discussion of life goals and ambitions were shared. Everyone wants to come to America. I told stories of how I always wanted to come to Africa when I was their age. The kids are always amazed to hear that someone would want to leave America.
An open forum discussions was held and questions about HIV/AIDS were answered. The group discussed ways Drugs and Sex interferes with a persons aspirations in life.

Stigma against those infected and their loved ones was discussed. In a country where over 76% of the people report knowing someone who has died of AIDS, all of the girls raised their hand when asked if they knew anyone who had died of AIDS. My wonderful brother Roger, who past away from AIDS 14 years ago always comes up in these discussions. I hope he looks down and smiles at the stories I share.

The small children couldn’t be ignored. A separate meeting was held for them to discuss “Personal Hygiene.” Nearly 30 small children expressed reasons for washing your hands and brushing teeth. Shouts of laughter and screams of disgust followed my silly presentation of not washing your hands after using the toilet. I hope I got the message across.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The first of many.

Let me introduce you to "Back Up" Margrate.

She is around 7 years old and number one in her Standard 1 classroom. She speaks perfect English, Kiswahili, and Kikuyu. She is strong as an ox, she'll pick up a child twice her size, put them on her back and carry them across the yard. She is a constant source of entertainment. She is a skinny little thing with Big Bulging Muscles. She hasn't a kg of fat on her. She tends to be a bit bossy and is the self appointed chief of all children. None of the others dare to cross her. (that might explain her classroom postion)

I've never seen her cry, yet I've seen many times when she should have. This child is amazing. She is a bit silly on top of everything else.

I have been teaching her to pose for the camera. She in turn tells the others what to do when in front of the lens. I hope you enjoy the shots. I’ll add other children later. But she made me laugh so hard today, I just had to put a face to her name.

Back Up

Peace Corps Volunteers were hosted by several families in Nairobi for Thanksgiving. I was assigned to a fantastic family. They both work for USAID and she served in the Peace Corps, here in Kenya. It was fun to hear stories about what it used to be like. Boy has things changed, mostly in the area of security.

I had my own room, with a bath (including the porcelain toilet), an incredible bed with clean sheets, and a balcony over looking a huge backyard. I was able to wash my clothes in a machine! That was a first in Kenya. They even had a dryer. I either gained a lot of weight over the holidays or the dryer shrunk my clothes.

A large group of PCV met at a campsite hostel after Thanksgiving. It was the first time many of us had gotten together since moving to our sites, so the stories and comparisons were a lot of fun. Some people have all the amenities. Some have no real job and are getting bored, and some are considering leaving early. Many are going home for Christmas and a group of us are heading for the coast. It was really wonderful seeing everyone. We are getting togehter again for a training in Nairobi in a few weeks, so we’ll get to share some more Holiday Cheer before Christmas.

I left the group early to attend the funeral of Father Angelo D’Ag0stino. He was an incredible man who opened the first orphanage for HIV positive children. His work brought tears to my eyes. I visited Nyumbani in Karen and couldn’t believe the organization of 95 HIV+ children. They live in houses like a real family. They have house mothers and brothers and sisters. The staff knows every ones name. They have toys, clothes, and shoes. Each house has a TV. It was amazing. There is a playground with swings, teeter-totters, slides, monkey bars. The kids are so clean and well cared for. You can feel the love in the air. I’m serious. It was so amazing I wanted to move in.

I was given a tour of the grounds. We walked pass the garden to a fences off area where they have a small cemetery. The hideous truth of reality sat in and I was grateful for all my healthy children. It’s like the guy who complained of having no shoes until he met a man with no feet.

I can only hope that the work Father D’Agostino started will continue. His funeral was attended by President Kibaki and First Lady Lucy. The church was packed with people standing outside. The children of Nyumbani sang songs, performed dances, and read poems they had written. When he died thousands of children endured the loss of yet another parent. His newest home in Kitui opened the day after his funeral. It’s is a new approach to helping the guardian continue to raise the child. Often the Grandmother can not afford to keep the children, Nyumbani in Kitui is to house over 1000 residents and they will be taking in the Grandmother! Isn’t that incredible? Please read about it on their work at and don’t miss the incredible outreach program Lea Toto link. I believe this is the only real logical approach to raising a generation of orphans. It fits into the Kenyan culture much better than institutions.

After the funeral I stayed the night with a new friend, Melinda Wheeler. She is the Kenya Country Director for HOPE Worldwide. She volunteered in Somalia two and a half years before coming to Kenya. She recently married a man from Ethiopia. He is a widower and has a precious little six year old girl. They recently moved the child here to live with them in Kenya. She is learning English and slowly adapting to a different life. She invited me to a tea party. She was so cute serving imaginary tea to me and her doll guests.

I was gone so long from Cura that I began to miss it. I wanted to come home to see my own children. School is out of session, so half of them are visiting their guardians. It’s very important that they maintain relationships with their aging Grandparents. It is through them that they will inherit property. (Well, at least the boys will inherit). I came home to find twenty children had missed me too.

Close your eyes and imagine trying to get through them and unlocking my front door. Lucky for me I brought back sweets (never pass up an opportunity to teach good dental hygiene). I tried to lure them away from the door, but it was useless. I started in on my favorite front door chant, “Back Up, Back Up”. I don’t think they really understand it, but they know it means -- MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!

After the candy was gone I put the kids to work carrying my water. I had to laugh when little Margrate came through with a spilling bucket of water shouting, “BACK UP, BACK UP”

Home Sweet Home


Here are a few links and some information on Father D’Agostino.

One of the incredible things Father did was fight to get education for HIV positive children. Class 1 though 8 is now free for all children in Kenya. I am told he has 100 acres of land in each province and plans to create Nyumbani towns in each of them.

This is a posted transcript of a CNN broadcast aired January 1, 2004

GLADYS NJOROGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Here are orphans HIV- positive and now caught in the middle of an elementary school court case. Almost all of the potential students in the Nyumbani Children's Home in Nairobi raised their hands when asked how many of them want to go to public schools."They refused us admission, because we have AIDS," says this 7-year- old. Even though what it fully means to have the disease is somewhat of a puzzle. Nevertheless, informal classes go on at the home, even as those old enough going to find a place in public school.

FATHER ANGELO D'AGOSTINO, FOUNDER, NYUMBANI CHILDREN'S HOME: We have three who have gone in without them being identified as Nuymbani. When that happens, of course, they are able to get in. But as soon as they're identified as coming from Nyumbani and therefore being HIV-positive, that's when we run into a problem.

NJOROGE: Prompted by this, the home's Catholic founder took the government to court this week with, as the lawyer puts it, the demands that:

ABABU NAMWAMBA, LAWYER: And we've got (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who should be in school today, but they are not in school because they're living with HIV/AIDS (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NJOROGE: Within hours of the court case hearing, four students were placed in the public schools that had (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the last 10 years. The school's principal, who declined to appear on camera, maintains (UNINTELLIGIBLE) discrimination, there was just no room. And the home couldn't afford private schools for them either, so they just have to stay at home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Money (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and every (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and nothing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we are spending a lot of money for (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NJOROGE: Half of the 93 children depend on a daily dose of those ARVs (ph) until (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and getting as many of them to public schools would (UNINTELLIGIBLE) therefore lengthening their lives. But until that happens, these children have to continue to fight the war to win society's acceptance. Gladys Njoroge for INSIDE AFRICA, Nairobi.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

A trip to Kahuho

I woke up today thinking I was to spend the day in Nairobi sorting through 94 boxes of books that have been donated to Cura. The thought of a library in the village has everyone, children, youths and elders excited. The books arrived with 30 computers. The used and refurbished systems are Pentium III, loaded with Windows 98. They may not be as powerful as the one you are reading this blog with, but at the moment the computer students are working with 3 old PC XTs (remember them?)

There is so much to be done before things actually arrive in Cura. As they say here, "Book shelves are very much in order" since stacks on the floor are not such a good idea. A secure location must be identified for the computers. In addition, the minor detail of electricity needs to be sorted out. The Cura Youth Champions for Change (CYCC) have been preparing for the arrival of computers for several years. Various ICT training programs have been attended, multiple revisions of a Cyber Cafe business plan has been written, and many meetings have been held to discuss the e-community development. Since the telephone land lines were stolen from the poles, we must look towards a slower wireless option for Internet. There is hope that the systems will create jobs for some of the 1500 unemployed and idle youths. There are likely to be several more meetings and revisions to the plans before they actually arrive in Cura. As we say, "Location, location, location". The day the CYCC hangs the shingle for the Cura Cyber Cafe will definitely be one for celebration.

I am learning that the way of business in Kenya is very slow and difficult. Since communication is so limited things just happen to fall into place. It is not an exaggeration when I tell you that four of us sat around, for four hours, waiting for a village leader to arrive for a meeting. That is a lot of chai drinking and ndazi eating! (BTW-the 9:00am meeting was cancelled at 1:00pm when the gentleman finally arrived to say he was too busy to meet.) Cell phone minutes are very expensive. There is a phenomenon called "Flashing" that quit common. This is when someone calls you and hangs up before you answer. You, being the receiver, and the one thought to have more money, is expected to return the call and find out what the person wants. The mobile cell phone provider also allows five free text messages a day. These are an emergency template sent along with your telephone number asking the receiver to call you immediately. The more courteous caller will wait until you answer your phone and yell, "This is XZY, call me right back!" and hang up on you. The whole thing confuses me. I'm still wondering why I should spend my minutes finding out what they want to say and why the caller is confused by my anger at the process.

So, I was told yesterday that I should come back into Nairobi to assist in the inventory of the two trucks of donated items. Since I had previously set an appointment to visit an orphanage in a near by village, I spent last night and this morning trying to confirm the task of inventory & sorting. Needless to say I was not successful and cancelled my orphanage visit in preparation for the Nairobi trip. This is a 40 minute (depends on how many people you stop to greet) walk -- down a dirt road -- to the matatu stage, 10-15 minute discussion with the tout (guy who tries to get your money and convince you to get on a particular matatu) 20 minute ride into town, another 15 minutes trying to figure out the transfer matatu, then goodness only knows how long before I find the meeting place.

Peace Corps tried to prepare us for the multiple cancellations and delays in the Kenya mode of business. It is one of the most difficult obstacles to doing business in the country. It's so common and expected that everyone accepts that you sit around waiting four hours to find out the meeting has been cancelled. So, at the last minute I get the much awaited call to confirm my trip to Nairobi. "Lisa, call me right back!" buzzzzzz

You bet I called them back and the first words out of my mouth were, "Do you realize I am an unpaid Peace Corps Volunteer? I do not have the minutes on my phone to call you. You are working in an office in Nairobi with a phone on your desk. AM I TO COME INTO NAIROBI OR NOT?" This was a very bad way to phrase a question to a Kenyan. They always answer "Yes" then go into the reason why the answer is "No". Ugh, these are my minutes we are using. Let me rephrase, "Do I come to Nairobi today? Answer Yes or No"

After finding out the Nairobi business had cancelled I went into action trying to save my previous appointment with the orphanage in Kahuho. Thank goodness everyone is use to the chaotic state of business. Of course I should come to Kahuho and meet the children.

Off I went back deeper into the rural area. Kahuho is an hour walk from Cura. (I have since found out there is a shorter route, silly me, I took the "Road to Kahuho" route, which is apparently, not the best one). I can't explain the look of disbelief from the people on the road as I merrily go walking down the road. The children see me as an opportunity to practice their English, "How are you?" is shouted out in a nasal tone, followed by giggles and laughter. The adults look at me with such a quizzical stare. Some of them will greet me, most all are amazed when I greet them in Kikuyu, "Wemwaga" for one person and "Moreaga" for many. (I'm sure those aren't spelled right, but that is how they sound) Several of the mama's ask if I am lost. They think I must be if I'm this far in the bush. I finally arrived at the top of the distant mountain. What an incredible view. It was amazingly beautiful. The matatus only travel back to Kahuho Monday and Thursday, the two market days each week. There isn't much traffic to speak of so the dirt road isn't disturbed much.

As I walked towards the orphanage I passed crowds of people sitting along the roadside. I thought Kahuho must have more unemployed than Cura. I was greeted by EvaKim (her name is Eva, her husband is Kim. This is not her last name, Kim is the first name of her husband. Once we arrived at the church I was introduced to the 15 children who come each day for breakfast, school and lunch. Afterwards they return to their guardians, most of whom are old grandmothers. The EvaKim explained to me why all the people were near the center of town. It seems that a young man, 18 years old, was found dead in his home earlier this morning.

I am then introduced to his girlfriend. She is 14 years old and the aunt to one of our Cura Rotary Home children. I spoke with her and her mother about the boy. Once I got the girl alone I asked if she had been "intimate" with the boy. She started to cry and explain that she was afraid. It seems the boy died of Typhoid. If it's not malaria - it's typhoid. No one wants to admit they are HIV positive. We'll never really know what the boy died of, but I did convince the young girl to accompany me to the VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) center for an HIV test.

I held her hand and we were both tested together. She has only been with the boy for the last 3 weeks, before that she was a virgin. This is actually the "window period" and her test is possibly a false negative. In any event, she was very happy to find she was not HIV positive and she promises to go back with me in 3 months for another test. Since the boy had promised her a meal of meat I took her into a restaurant and ordered a big plate of goat meat for her. She stayed the night at my house and we had a great time getting to know each other. We shared girl talk and discussed the reasons she should remain faithful to her dead boyfriend. I had her write a lesson plan for me on teaching young girls abstinence.

I was asked to attend the funeral. This was not something I wanted to do, but I was told, "You must" so I did. Of course they insisted the mzungu speak. Another thing I was not too excited about. The response was "You must", so I did. There was much wailing and a few fainted. The grandmother almost fell in the grave, the mother fell on the ground, and the girlfriend had to be carried off to the clinic. I will accompany her to church on Sunday in hopes that she will return to regular service. It is through faith and the church that the teaching of abstinence has the greatest impact.

I guess I didn't want to take that trip to Nairobi and inventory those boxes after all.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


I found a computer with enough speed to upload a few photos. You can view them on
You'll see a few photos of my Homestay Mama Beatric in Kitui. I also posted a couple from Peace Corps graduation.
I hope to be able to post more of the kids from Cura Rotary Home. I'm sure you'll find one or two that you'll fall in love with. I am told there are 1.1 million children in Kenya who are now orphans as a result of AIDS, I only have 40! If things work out the way I'd like there will be a website with a photo and bio of each one. They are indeed the most wonderful part of this adventure.
More to come.....

Friday, August 11, 2006

Update From Kenya

My first ten weeks in Kenya was spent in Peace Corps Pre-Service Training (PST). This was held east of Nairobi in the small town of Kitui. I actually lived in the village of Membe Tayari. This is the land of the Kamba tribe. My homestay Mama was Beatrice Matawa, a 63 year old widow and mother of six. I�m not positive that she actually gave birth six times; in Kenya counting your children is believed to be bad luck. You most definitely would never point to them and counting. They are referred to as, �the first born � son or daughter�, the �next born�, on and on until you reach the �last born�.  Most references are made from the first born son. Apollo is Beatrice�s first born. She is referred to as �The Mother to Apollo�. The children are given the names of their grandparents, starting with the husbands� father for the first born son, moving to his mother, then to the wife�s parents. When you run out of grandparents you begin naming them the eldest brother to the father (uncle) then on to the mothers side.  This accounts for the multitude of people with the same names. Christianity is also very present in the naming of children. They are given a tribal name and a Christian name. It is more common to refer to your first name, then the middle name (they call it the second name) and then rarely do they use the father�s surname.

I was given a Kamba name by the people in the marketplace. Ninaitwa Wende. (I am called Wende). Wende means the one who loves. My permanent 3 year site is in Cura Village with the Kikuyu. After they get to know me they will give me a choice of five names and allow me to select my own. So far I�ve been given Uria Ugucoka (the one who returns), and Uria Wendete Kuruta Wira (the one who likes work). I�m holding out for the others since I�m not sure about either of those.   

The homestay experience in Kitui teaches the Peace Corps Trainee what it is like to live as a Kenyan. I drew water from the well, collected firewood for cooking, learned to bath in a bucket, how to cook on a jiko (tin can stove) with coal (kwa), and much of the day to day activities. Beatrice has a very large farm (shamba), so I learned a bit of agriculture and ate very well. Her husband died in an accident sometime in the mid-seventies. He�s buried in a garden within the compound. I guess you could say he�s pushing up peas. By the time I left the peas had been harvested. Trust me, there is nothing like Beatrice�s home grown peas! I�m not sure what influence her husband has on them, but they I�ve never been fond of peas until I had hers. The garden has been replanted. Husband to Beatrice is now blessing the kale (sukuma wiki). Sukuma wiki is not my favorite dish. It�s always served with ugali, a thick cornmeal mush dish that is boiled with water until it is so thick you cut it like bread. Both are eaten with your hands (Ohsha makona tafadali = wash your hands please). Both have a very bland taste. I�ll be happy to make them for you when I return. You can grind the maze into ugali flour while I cut the sukuma wiki into little shreds. Sounds like a real party.

Rural Kitui does not have electricity. Beatrice is preparing for the installation. Everyone says, �It is coming�. Actual power lines were run through the shamba and men cut down one of her trees to run the line up to her house. Maybe the next group of PCT will have life a bit easier. Or maybe not, perhaps sukuma wiki and ugali is best prepared and eaten in the dark!

Beatrice also has some indoor plumbing. She sold a portion of livestock and had an indoor toilet (choo) installed. There is a faucet in the kitchen, and one in the choo. Choo is synonymous with toilet, bathroom, restroom. crapper, or john. It is used as a verb and a noun. You use the choo when you go to the choo.  I was considered privileged that my homestay had an indoor choo. Most everyone else had an outdoor choo. A choo is not your average pit latrine. I fondly referred to them as the �choo hole�.  It is nothing more than a hole in the ground. Aim is very important! Choo Holes are the most common form of toilet in rural Kenya. (As well the bush and we are here to teach people to stop using the bush and go into the stinky choo.) The actual choo hole varies in size and shape. They are found in restaurants and most all residential locations. Beatrice has two that are used by the Shamba Boys (farm hands). She is preparing for her old age and had the porcelain toilet installed inside. Kenyans are so accustom to squatting that they will actually climb up on the porcelain bowl and perch. This accounts for the lack of toilet seats and explains the mud. It also eliminates the age old discussion between men and women about leaving the toilet seat up.

Beatrice has not yet purchased sinks, but the water faucets are there. I guess the sinks are coming, like the electricity. Sometimes the water actually runs, mostly at night when it isn�t needed. I think the Ministry of Works (MOW) turns it off during the day. Beatrice has a couple of large water jugs she fills. She also has a well. When the water is turned off for days she fills the jugs with well water. Right after I arrived one of the main pipes broke. We spent the first few weeks carrying buckets of water into the house. Either way, the water is not safe to drink untreated. It�s a funny brownish color with chunks of stuff. They don�t seem to mind. They consider themselves blessed to have it.

A large portion of Kenya does is not so lucky. On the worst of days we just walk outside the house to the well. Many people walk several kilometers and carry their water home on their backs or their heads. Several NGOs are working to bring water into villages so the young girls can continue attending school. Men do not �fetch� water! It�s amazing how you can conserve when you need to. All water is reused. Nothing flows down a drain. It�s saved in a pail and used to water the garden or wash. You�d be doing the same if you had to pull every drop of water you consumed out of a hole.

This is one of the hardest adjustments I�ve had to make. The daily struggle for safe drinking water gets to be very complicated. The local people have just come to accept a constant state of diarrhea. They just dip their cup into the holding jug and drink it as is. There isn�t much point in treating the jug. Each time they reach inside for a cup of water they contaminate the entire jug with their dirty hands.  (Ohsha makona tafadali has become one of my favorite phrases).  Oral fecal transmission is a major problem and one all Public Health PCV are taught to fight. I treat smaller buckets and keep plastic bottles filled with my own drinking water. Teaching them to treat their water and wash their hands is a major part of my work here. It�s not malaria or AIDS alone that kills them. It�s the combination of illnesses. The dehydration from diarrhea on top of malaria kills most of the infants. It sounds so simple. A few drops of Water Guard or a few minutes of boiling can save a child�s life. Unfortunately, it�s easier said than done.  

Coffee is a foreign beverage. They drink Chai each morning. It�s made with fresh milk. This first task of the day is milking the cow. Those without a cow send a child to a neighbor with a few shillings to purchase a small plastic bottle of milk. The chai has a bit of pounded ginger added to some loose tea leaves and lots of sugar. Initially they laughed at my black coffee, but they eventually admitted it was much easier and faster to make then chai. I�d be on my second cup of coffee before they had the first cup of chai prepared. Chai is just a part of life here. Whenever company comes over (and you can count on a long stream of them) they are offered chai. I�ve even had to get all the ingredients to serve my company. They are truly offended when they stop to visit and you don�t have it to offer them.    

Each weekday morning and most Saturdays were filled with Peace Corps training classes. These were comprised of intense language (Kiswahili), cross-cultural, technical, medical, Public Health (HIV/AIDS & hygiene), and last but definitely not least Safety & Security lessons. Each of these topics is specifically directed towards life in a rural Kenya village. The PC Staff & Trainers represented every tribe in Kenya. Tribalism is very strong here. I only hope that it does not cause problems during the next election. Politics are the biggest threat to the PC program. Candidates do not campaign on issues. They simply promote their tribal affiliation. When a person votes a straight ticket--Three Votes -- it means voting for the guy from your tribe.

All of the Volunteers complained of the lack of organization within the training process. I believe it was an intentional part of the learning process. They taught us in the style of learning Kenyans are accustomed. There didn�t seem to be a plan or agenda. The only difference is that they were prompt and we have been told to expect a 2 to 3 hour delay in our programs at site. That is if anyone actually shows up at all.

One of our first tasks at site is to create a seasonal calendar. If you don�t understand the harvest and planting seasons your doomed to failure. Couple that with the academic calendar and you soon realize there isn�t much leisure time available for hanging out with the munzungu to talk about washing your hands.

Our PST training continued regardless of our state of health. All PCV experienced various bouts of diarrhea and nausea. It just becomes a part of life. Talks of who was sick, which end it was coming out of, and how often, became common conversation topics. You make sure you have two �night buckets� in your room. Once you get into bed and shut your door, you don�t open it again until morning. A few PCV have stories of their trips to the outdoor choo at night. You only make that journey once in life. The roaches are much larger and bolder in the dark. At least their roaches lived outside. With running water in the house you can�t control them. Since Beatrice had bats in the house I didn�t get outside my mosquitoes net at night. I tucked that baby in real tight around the mattress and just held my choo till morning. I was only sick enough to get up in the middle of the night once. After that I demanded my own water. I sat Beatrice down and explained that there was no way I could spend the next 10 weeks throwing up and with diarrhea. I explained that my vegetables had to soak ten minutes in a bowl of treated water and that all my food had to be cooked to a boiling temperature. Life got much better afterwards. 

I made a �Leaky Tin� for her choo and put soap on a rope. A Leaky Tin is a jug of water hanging by a rope. You puncture a hole in the bottom and insert a stick. When you want to wash your hands you simply twist the stick until the water dribbles out. I�ll never forget the day I filled the leaky tin from the faucet only to find several roaches in my jug. I was told they like to climb up into the pipes. Make mental note, let the water run a second before capturing. Don�t worry, it is captured into plastic tub and reused.

As appalling as it might sound, I loved Kitui. My Mama is Kamba, I�ll always be Kamba. Beatrice and I would sit and laugh over the silly events of the day. I remember the time the Shamba Boy couldn�t find the big cow. Seems he didn�t tie the old girl up good enough and she escaped into a neighbor�s shamba. A very serious matter, but in the end good for a hardy laugh.  Then there was the time I came home with lassos from town (Pieces of colorful printed cloth that have become a part of my daily attire. You wrap them around your waist to cover your lower half. Works to hide the fact that you have legs and doubles as an apron. They are also used to cover your shoulders and head. You wouldn�t want anyone to actually see you have shoulders. They must be covered at all times!) Well, we were having my favorite dish for dinner, chapatti (a cross between naan and flour tortilla). These are prepared on the hottest possible cast iron grill. Beatrice and her daughter-in-law were so excited over my lassos that they left the kitchen unattended to laugh at the silly munzungu. Note that chapatti is best hen prepared with too much oil. Hot pan & oil left unattended? You guessed it, Flame On in the kitchen. It was the most light in the evening that kitchen has ever seen. I was shocked, they laughed their heads off. Later Beatrice and I had a hardly laugh over dinner. We were grateful that all the chapatti didn�t burn up.

Dinner with Beatrice was always a laughing matter. Here the women are big and the men are skinny. I wouldn�t dare leave my plate unattended with Beatrice in the room. I�d return to find it overflowing. She kept bragging about how the previous PCV had gotten fat. The entire homestay mama clan seemed to be holding a contest on who can fatten up their volunteer the most. She caught me once putting food from my plate onto hers. I thought I�d have to pick her up off the floor. She thought that was the funniest thing. She talked about it for days, telling all the neighbors and friends who stopped by. After that we both guarded our plates.

Covering the PC Volunteer up with lassos and feeding them until they couldn�t move were our two favorite topics in role playing for cross cultural class. Trying to get out of the house and to class in the morning was a real feat. It was always one more cup of chai, another piece of bread with �Blue Band� (not butter or margarine but some yellow spreadable grease), a packed lunch of fresh fruit, and wait, don�t you need a lasso?

Yes, I�m already missing Mama Beatrice. I�m glad to be in my site and with the kids here at Cura Village Rotary Home. The Kikuyu are a great tribe. I�m going to learn to love them too, but my Mama Beatrice is Kamba and once a Kamba always a Kamba. I am even sleeping through the whole night. My home in Cura does not have bats. Instead of the rooster waking me in the morning I have kids playing outside my window.  But that�s story for another day. You can bet that if you come to visit me we are taking the three hour matatu ride to Kitui to see Mama Beatrice. She�ll cook up a pot of fresh peas and a stack of chapatti for us.  Come hungry!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A World of Stuff

It’s funny what you run across when you go through every piece of your personal belongings. I sit and look around me at all the stuff that will live in storage the next few years. It’s a weird feeling to view your worldly possessions in terms of volume, value, and ability to replace. Things that you can pick up at the local department store may have more emotional value than the expensive piece of art from the other side of the world. Some things can’t be replaced, no matter what the availability is.

I look one direction and see all this stuff. I look the other and see 4900 cubic inches of space. Think of the irony, I’m budgeting for a 10’x10’x10’ storage unit that will be packed top to bottom – side to side, and I need to pick out 28”x14”x14” worth of stuff to keep me company for the next two years.

Whatever I take is subject to loss, theft, and corrosion or decay from the harsh environment. The best solution I have come up with is to scan a few pictures to load have them on my laptop, iPod, and Blog. This way, if all is lost or is stolen, I will only be as far as the nearest CyberCafe from home.

My Big Brother

My Big Brother & Little Sister