Leilani's 2004 letters from Kenya

–back to index–


Hi everyone!

Greetings from beautiful Kenya! I am sorry for any misspellings or problems here, as I don't have much time at the computer and I have to make it home before dark.

I'm here at my training site in Naivasha, about 100 KM from Nairobi. I'll be staying here with my host family until the 23rd of July, then I'll be whisked away to my site (still have no clue where that is).

I'm doing well here, no illnesses yet. The people in my group (about 40) are also very wonderful with many experiences and skills. I'm one of the youngest at 23, but feel quite up to par with the others here.

I'm beginning to learn the language and am trying to get used to it. It doesn't seem terribly tricky, but languages and I don't usually agree.

Communication via email may be a bit sparse as our only access is down in town and it looks like I might not have much time to dally. I've already received a letter from Kent Lee, (thank you!) so the post works (it said it was stamped with the word "opened" but the letter didn't seem to be opened at all). Our letters do get cleared by the embassy, just so you know. When I get a local address in August I'll send it out – or have dad send it out – if you'd like to send more letters there! Packages sound like they should still be sent to the PO Nairobi address, as duties will be less for me. Right now Ill be in training until July 23rd. Email messages can be sent to kenyaisgreat@yahoo.com while I'm in training. These messages will go through the office here and will be printed out to me (so as to cut down on reading time when I have to pay for the Internet). – So please send longer emails there so that they don't waste too much paper with shorter, small emails. The latest hint I've heard about packages is to write in red ink and to write "educational materials" – some even say to put "religious materials" and put a cross, star, etc. on the box. One girl even calls herself Sister Kelly. This helps expedite the process a bit and will cut down on the chances of it being looked into. Also, they suggest to not putting a high dollar mark on the packages for customs or I'll have to pay a big incoming tax.

Well, I guess that should be about it. I've gotten some helpful hints form the current volunteers and have been having a great time. It's beautiful, hot, (and cold during those morning bucket baths – about 50 degrees!!!!!), and just so nice. I especially enjoyed seeing the wild zebras along the roadside on our journey here. My host family here is also wonderful, and they've been showing me lots of things… how to use the "choo" – the outside loo. And other stuff. Its' really really great here!

I hope that everyone is doing well in their respective countries. I know all of you are doing amazing things and I hope to hear about them soon!!

With lots of love,


–back to index–


Dear everyone –

OK… First of all, email is VERY SLOW. It's taken me 20 minutes just to open up my account…. Not so good. Hopefully this will go through.

Hello I'm here in Naivet&#eacute, still having a good time. I'm getting much more used to the culture and lifestyle here. I'm living with a family: a mother, father and four children. Only one of the kids is at home right now (Derrick, age 6) while the eldest, 23, is in Nairobi at the university and the other two, Timothy age 14 and Mary 16, are both at boarding school. The father is a butcher and has a shop in a town about an hour away and lives there most of the time. So, in the house right now it's just the Mama, Derrick and me.

The training has been pretty good so far, I'm partnering up with the National Youth Service and a local (very rural) school to educate and help with their HIV AIDS awareness programs. It should be a great experience and I'm really excited about working with NYS (about 500 girls and 200 boys ages 18㪮). Don't worry SCPers, I'll be sure to talk to them about having "healthy sex."

In general, life has been good. Food is full of carbs and fat. I'm really doubting that I'll be losing any weight due to exercise/diet with all the Ugali (starch mixture) and potatoes and fat. Also, our transportation is pretty good since the Kenyan government has mandated that the local transport have seatbelts and to limit the van to 14 people. Of course, there seems to be many exceptions to the rule. Already I've been in a van with 23 people (not including babies and animals). I'm sure you all know my fear of birds and I'm positive you'll be happy to know I'm getting over it. Just the other day on a crowded matutu (bus) I was practically sitting in a guy's lap next to me. Of course he's holding his bag in his lap and as someone left the van I was able to move over. I noticed I was sit next to a rooster. Yes, the man's bag had a live rooster staring straight at me as if he's saying thanks for removing your buttocks. Laura B – I'm not sure the Lake Boon birds will scare me anymore.

I'm staying healthy and haven't gotten sick yet. The malaria pills make me dizzy but no bad dreams or depression. I'm getting used to all the shots (I've had 6 so far and have about 7 more to go). And have practiced sticking myself to prepare a malaria blood slide.

Well, that's about it. Thanks for everyone that's written so far! It's SO nice to hear from all of you and it's nice to get those long emails to the kenyaisgreat@yahoo.com address. I might not be sending too many written letters as they are much more expensive than I would have thought. A letter of regular size is about 88 shillings (over a dollar) and to give you an idea, the lunch I got the other day was 25 shillings. So please forgive me if letters don't' come frequently as I usually like to make em. I promise to make up for it later on in life.

Lots of love to you all and hope everyone is well.

Ps sorry if I don't personally respond to every email/

Pps don't anyone worry about me not being my normal anal Johnson self, I've already done some very Lei things like get a birthday list going and re–writing some songs for going away presentations to the current PCVs.

PPPs housekeeping: I have the wrong email addresses of the following people. If anyone has new updated info for any of them please feel free to send it to my father's address so he can update the send out list: Eric Rhee, the Seidens, the Parentes, Missy Lakin, Alpha Bah, and Rick Barker.

PPPPS I'm trying a new yahoo account, so I'll be using leilanik_j@yahoo.com hopefully as well as the hotmail account. Hotmail doesn't seem to work very well here.

PPPPPS/// I'll just keep on typing cause I'm paying for the time….but still not internet access… one hour and counting….

–back to index–


Hey everyone!

I hope that everyone is doing well and is having a wonderful day, because I just had SUCH an amazing day!!!

These past few weeks have just been fantastic. I'm really getting used to life here, no electricity, no running water, and a special–scented choo. Life is about to change though, come July 23rd when, after swearing in, I'll be heading to Mombassa, on the coast. It's just about the best location – and the one that everyone wanted the most (other than the mountain–lovers). Mombassa is actually on an island, and I'll be staying in Port Reitz at the School of Clinical Medicine. The weather will be hot (yea!) and it being on the coast I'm hoping for some snorkeling and water time. The coast has a mixture of both Muslim and Christian cultures, and Port Reitz itself is reasonably safe. Already most of the training group I'm with is planning on coming and visiting Mombassa, and I hope that you'll all think about it too!!!

The job description includes training counselors or teaching counselors to

  1. develop a training of trainer program for tutors and for staff at the school of clinical medicine,
  2. to teach students/teachers on HIV/AIDS counseling and
  3. to be incorporated in the counseling program.

Long term objectives/goals will be to

  1. create a program to be used in teaching counseling to future public health workers,
  2. to evaluate the most effective methods to reduce stigma of HIV/AIDS in the community and
  3. to establish a work base of knowledge about counseling in the practical setting of the college.

I'll be working with other organizations within the area, including the local VCT (Voluntary counseling and testing) site, PSI (Population Services International), Family Health International (FHI), the Public Health educator in the area, NACC/PACC, COPE (Coast people living with HIV), and Bamako initiative projects. The location sounds like it's about a 10 min walk to the water, and housing includes a two bedroom house with electricity and water.

So that's the latest update for today. I'll be heading off to Fisherman's Camp tomorrow (hopefully to see hippos!) and am really looking forward to getting to know the other people in the group a little bit better. Do know that I do think of each of you, and I just wish that I had a notebook on me all the time so I could write down the funny reminders I have because of each and every one of you.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR EMAILS, LETTERS, and Packages. I am SO happy to hear from you, and LOVE getting these emails (especially to the kenyaisgreat@yahoo.com one – although please take my name off of any forwards!!! It's wasting the PC paper!)!

Lindsay and Ricky, Nick and Lucy, I hope you both had wonderful weddings last weekend. I wish you all the very best!

I'll let you know more about my site after I visit next week. I'm SO excited and the trainers are really excited for me (and the ability to really make use of my MPH at the university there!).

Lots of love and I hope that all is well with all of you!!!!!

Alohas and love,


PS – I'll be getting a cell phone soon – just as soon as I figure out what services are best in Mombassa I'll be all set and let you all know – also I'll let you know about a new address (to send letters to) – packages should still be sent to the Peace Corps address in Nairobi.

Really – thanks for the letters, they're AWESOME!!!

–back to index–


Hi there =–

I'm here in Mombassa right now. The college that I'll be working at looks pretty great – my house is huge with three bedrooms, a sitting room, kitchen, flush toilet, shower room and small garden. the house overlooks the bay area of Mombassa, although there is no bay access from our area. The actual port Reiz is kinda seedy – a bit more dirty as its closer to the city of Mombassa, but the grounds where I'll be staying look pretty nice. I think it's quite secure once I'm inside the compound area. no running water or electricity, so we'll see about that stuff... I was looking forward to showers, but I think I'll get used to the bucket baths – especially in the warmer weather.

Right now there's a nice PCV who's showing me around. He's about to end his service here in the next few months – but he'll be here for a month or so before I head out myself.

Looks like I'll be doing some computer work while I'm at the college there – they want me to install epi info and stuff like that – but they make their students and teachers pay to use the computer, which I think is a big deterrent – thus making the people not use the computer area that much.

My supervisor seems to be quite nice; I think he'll be a good person to work with. And the other professors and teachers there are really laid–back and fun to be around. I think I may even have more fun with them than my supervisor.

I'm actually living in the area that the professors and doctors stay, and there's another area for the workers of the hospital and "junior class" – not professionals.

Well, hope all is well – I'm having a really nice time. This past week has been really cushy as compared to the other volunteers (who were just told to get onto a bus and good luck) – they've really held my hand through finding my place and house and Muslim home stay while I'm here in Mombassa for the week/weekend. I'm even going to see two movies in two days with the people here. AND we stayed at this gorgeous resort on the beach for a public health sector meeting during my first two days here (I've heard that it was the nicest place that many of them had ever seen, much less stayed in).

Unfortunately the mosquitoes still love me lots here and my legs are FULL of bites. I mean... really bad. I'm taking antihistamines for it as my legs are continuously pussing. And I thought the mosquitoes in Hawaii liked me... It looks like I have the chicken pox all over again (on my legs).

Well, hope that all is well with you – let me know how things are – I'll be back at the Malaika center soon – in Naivasha – where the training is, and then come July 24th I'll be headed out here to Mombassa. They call us "Coasties" and have dubbed the term "Beach Corps". I think I'll be ok with that stereotype...

OK... Hope all is well – miss you lots and hope that you can come and visit sometime soon!

Lots of love and aloha,


–back to index–



So my site visit has come and gone and I'm really quite happy about it. I'm working in Port Reitz, which is just off the island of Mombassa. It's a really interesting area that has lots of dock/airport/shipping/industry type workers. The area of Port Reitz is quite poor but the people are so ice and the hospital and college areas are quite safe and nice. The Port Reitz hospital is small by American standards, but it has pretty much everything people in the area need (maternity ward, labor rooms, VCT, dispensary, operating theater, TB area and some general medical areas). Also, right close by is a ward for Polio patients and the mentally ill. Ill be working closely with the school of clinical medicine there (one of the profs there even knows about BU's certificate courses!).

My site supervisor is quite a nice guy and the other professors and doctors there are great too! My supervisor is actually in charge of the computer lab there and he's very interested in getting some stat a! and epi p packages installed on the computers. The biggest obstacle seems to be money (of course!) where since the computers don't' run and upkeep by themselves the college has to charge the students to use the computers. Thus hardly anyone is using the computers (there is internet access, but its 180s an hour when the students could go into Mombassa and use the ones there for 40s an hour). If anyone has any ideas as for sustainable solutions to this predicament they're more than welcome. In addition to doing computer work, I'm hoping to get to do lots of HIV AIDS work with the community in and around Mombassa. Hopefully my site supervisor doesn't assign me with too much computer work.

As for the logistics of my site, well it's pretty great. I'm living in the same compound as the other doctors and professors. Thus, my house is big enough for a whole family. It has three bedrooms, a sitting room, kitchen, shower room, and toilet room. I'll have electricity (so they say) but no! running water (and thus I think using my flush toilet may be a pain… we'll see). I'll have to hire someone to fetch my water for me. The house came sort of furnished with a master bed and two other bed/cot type things, a bench, wicker chair, bookcase and table. I'll need to get a stove, mattress and maybe a fridge among other things once I get there. The semi–furnished house is a mixed blessing though because the reason it's semi–furnished is because the last three volunteers there have terminated early. Some because of the job, some job and personal… so… my site may not be as great as I think it is right now, but we'll see. I just tell myself that it'll be as good as I make it, and while the current PCVs were warning me about the site, they all thought that I'll be a good fit for it and that it won't be a problem. There are some volunteers close by (within a few hours) and I think I'll have lots of visitors since I'm in such a key location.

So, now I'm back here in Naivasha finishing up 4 more weeks of training. It's nice to be "home" again, but boy do I miss the heat of Mombassa (it really was like being in Hawaii again with the palm trees and lush greenery outside of the city). I think it'll be great to be back out on the coast and a part of the "Beach Corps" family.

Our group now has2 less people, soon to be 3. One guy just left today after being sick for 5 weeks straight. He was quite a trooper (a New Englander of course) and we were impressed that he made it this long. He actually had lost 30 lbs. since he got here. The other two girls will have left for non–medical related reasons. So we'll be down to a core group of 36. Don't' worry about me losing any lbs. though – the food out here is so starchy – I hear that on average the girls all gain lots of weight.

I hope everyone is doing well and best wishes for a safe and happy 4th of July. My 4th isn't quite the same without the annual trip to the Boston Esplanade, but we had a great time yesterday on the 3rd in Nairobi at the International school. I haven't danced to that much classic American rock in quite a long time. The day went quite alright as there was a political rally on the other side of the city that we were wary about. I didn't' get to meet many of the other white people out here, but it was a fun day to spend with the other PCVs.

Please start thinking of coming to Mombassa to visit me sometime! I think Ill be in Western Kenya/Uganda/WhiteRiverRafting on the Nile for Christmas, but let me know when you're thinking and Ill be here! It's a great city, beautiful coast, and plenty of Mosquitoes… I really had thought that I came down with the chicken pox again at one point.

Lots of love and aloha,


PS – here are some things I've learned:

I no longer will pay or seek out thrill seeking 4–wheeling adventures after all the off roading/rain/mud/hill/mountain truck climbing that we've been doing lately. The white people that are here… so rich

Even though I've read Fast Food Nation, a hamburger and hot dog are just a necessity every once in a while

What's cold here isn't cold at home. I was riding home in a bus the other day (probably around 75 degrees or so) and the toddler next to me was wearing a snowsuit….

PPS – as for mail – I'll be using the Mombassa office for letters since it's close to my site – Leilani Johnson, PCV, PO Box 98612, Mombassa, Kenya but still using the Nairobi address for packages – I guess if you start sending letters to the Mombassa office now I'll be getting them in 3 or 4 weeks, so go ahead and use that one if you want. Packages are still duty free for me, until a month after I swear in, so if you want to send packages feel free!

–back to index–


Hello everyone –

Boy, it's been a busy few weeks, so sorry I haven't written more. The last few weeks of training were wonderful. I moved out of my homestay, which was sad (and boy do I miss the food!!! – avocados every day anyone??). But! After moving out of homestay we were all able to stay at the training center, which was kinda like going to summer camp for a week. Movies, guitars, bonfires, croquet and the like. I did well on my ACTFL test in Swahili, I scored and Intermediate Mid level, which was nice. Of course, the Kenyans just seem to be happy that I'm attempting to speak it, "You're trying, you will get it. pole pole" (pole pole means slow).

Last Friday we were officially sworn in Nairobi. We actually had to walk through a metal detector at the Ambassador's house (where the inductions were taking place) and the Ambassador of the US was there, along with a head honcho guy from Kenya (not the president, he was not available). It was a great ceremony and there were hundreds of people there. Quite fun.

On Saturday a few of us went into Village Market (a really nice mall type place) – boy, it was like being in a mall in Europe, no Kenyans around at all... maybe a few, but barely any. I got to see Spiderman 2... so cheesy, and had an interesting experience with an ice cream bar (they are so expensive here) as apparently the adding machines can't subtract, they can only add, which meant that my food total was 300 more than it should have been and the lady said that that error would have been my fault – and that I'd have to pay the difference. Luckily there was another veteran PCV there who pulled out some rapid–fire Kiswa (hili) and made everything A.O.K. That night we went to this great restaurant, Carnivore. It was quite a spurge at 2000 shillings a pop, but well worth it. Like its name, it is a place that any meat –lover like me would want to go to. I highly recommend the ostrich and impala meatballs (yum. meat – it's all you can eat and boy did I eat a lot of meat that night).

So, Sunday and Monday were "hang out" days where we really didn't do much of anything. We would have left for site like everyone else, but there were political riots in Mombasa (which turned out to be nothing) and so Peace Corps would not let us leave until Monday night. We rode the train to Mombasa from Monday night till Tuesday morning. The "choo" (bathroom) on the train was like every other choo, a hole in the ground... except, this one you go right onto the tracks. Fun times. And now I'm in Mombasa. I just love this city, it's so safe (as long as you're not stupid) and it's so much cleaner and friendlier than Nairobi. I got a bunch of stuff for my house in the past two days, including a mattress (yea!) and a gas stove (not that I know how to cook). Now I just need to buy some food and I'll be all set. I should have electricity, except that it didn't work last night, so we'll see how that goes too. I do have a flush toilet in the house, but alas, no running water. Thus it'll be all about filling up the tank each time I need to use it (and since it flooded I'll have to see if even that is possible – if not, it's back to the smelly choos).

Arriving at my site was fun. The other PCVs out here on the coast are so nice, I have one really close PCV, Bernie, who has been like my big brother (and he calls me lil sis) who's been looking out for me. Unfortunately he leaves come the end of August, but I'll be OK.

Funny.... speaking of the male species. I haven't felt so wanted as a bride until I came here. Yesterday I had a visitor who came in the afternoon and walked right into my house. I decided that was not a good idea, and so we went for a walk in which he decided that I would marry him. I told him that I have a boyfriend back in the states (just a caution to you guys, you are all potential boyfriends depending on who's name I can come up with first) and that I would never marry him, nor be one (of many) of his wives. So... this walk wasn't good , so I decided that that wasn't good either, so we both went back to a family we both know (one I stayed with during my site visit). It was great to be with that family again, and they fed me well. Yum. So.... the end of the night swings around, and the children and aunts and neighbors walk me back home (probably a 7 minute walk, but not a bad idea to have so many escorts) and they dropped me off at home. About an hour later, that same guy (the visitor from the afternoon) came by to visit again. I sternly told him to go away and to go home... Hopefully he got the gist. I think I'm just going to be rude to him... hopefully he'll get the hint.

So, all of you, please visit, I have more than enough room, and I'm getting to know Mombasa quite well. I have two extra beds, and I think a hammock on the way, plus I have a double bed that I'd willingly give up for any of you. By the way, mosquitoes suck. Literally. They seem to love my blood. Grandpa Ito used to say I have "sweet blood." At this rate all the mosquitoes in Mombasa are on a sugar high. It'll be all about deet and long sleeves.

So. my new address will be: Leilani Johnson, PCV. PO box 98612, Mombasa, Kenya That's for letters

For packages (don't' forget to label "educational materials" or "religious materials" and low $ value placed on package) they should still go to the Nairobi address.

Well, Tomorrow is my B–day. The big 24... We'll see how it goes. I think I'll treat myself to some chocolates or something like that.

Hope everyone is doing well. Please, start planning your visits :–)

Lots of love,


–back to index–


Dear everyone,

So here's the latest from the Beach Corps Girl. Life out here in Mombasa has proven to be everything I could have wanted (with the exception of having to haul water to my house, toilet, which is, like my ceiling, leaking – the supervisor says that they'll fix it come September when the workers are back and the college has a budget again). Other than that it's been pretty good–going. Some people have been asking me to describe my daily life a bit more, so here goes (note: not everyone I s placed so close to the city – some are staying in mud huts – literally).

5am: "Koo–ka koo" says the chicken, as close to my window as possible. Now for some reason I thought that birds chirped at dawn. Oh no, I am wrong about that. Or maybe I just have special birds. In any case, from about 5פam they're all up and talking about who knows what, but it must be exciting to wake up that early!

6-7 am, wake up, walk over to the kitchen, fill bucket for bucket bath and plug in the electrical coil to heat the water (as I'm writing this I can see my father and every other engineer reading this cringing in their seats – it only gets better). So you plug in the coil, and throw the coil into the bucket of water, making sure to hold on to the coil's plastic handle so it doesn't fall in. Then you hear the "ksss zzzzkzzzz kssss" of not only the water, but the electrical socket as well, as I'm told that all over the compound the electricity is ';special' and that it won't shock you, but it'll give you a 'jump'. As I'm not fond of 'jumps' myself, I then make sure to turn off the electrical socket before unplugging the coil with a hot pad since the plug itself gets quite hot (for all you engineering fathers, very sorry). So now I have hot hot (it's the Hawaii in me) water to take a bucket bath with. I'm getting quite used to the bucket baths now and have developed quite the system for efficiency and effectiveness. After the washing is done it's time to decide what to wear. This consists of deciding which skirt (below the knee of course) and top to wear (short sleeved or long sleeved preferred, but if I'm feeling that it's going to be just too hot, shoulder less – but not e4ver spaghetti straps)!Then, which slip for my skirt. Yes, that's right boys and girls, slips are many times a necessity here (the mamas can tell if you're not wearing one!). It's funny though, because back home it would be taboo to actually let someone see that you're wearing a slip. Here they seem to poke out of everyone's skirt. After dressing gulp down the meds (especially if it's mefloquin Monday) and

7:30 breakfast. Usually this consists of bread which may or may not make it into toast, and half an avocado or banana with peanut butter on it. Then brush teeth (dentist's granddaughter)

8:00 time to set out (now I don't really have a normal schedule yet as the college is out for break, but I'll tell you how the past 2 or 3 days have been), Walk up, out of the compound, wave to the nice guards and walk down the "main" road where you pass the medical hospital, a hoteli (not a place for staying, but for eating), a mortuary, and the clinical medical school. matatu At the entrance gate, matatus (the public transport here – basically a mini van) wait for their customers.

If I'm headed to town I'll hop into one myself. Now these matatus are supposed to be much safer than they were a year ago, now the government has made them put seat belts (ropes tied to the seat... which itself may or may not be bolted to the frame of the van itself) and speed governors (to make sure that they don't' go too fast). You're supposed to have a seat, normally 14 people, but that's just a suggestion as I've noticed – especially when going through the police check – and there are people literally hanging out the door. Hopefully you get a middle seat – as in not next to any windows, as they're the "safe" seats as people will caution you if there's an accident (accidents are semi–common here).

Also I'll try to buckle the seat belt so that should there be an accident at least I'll be restrained for a split second longer than everyone else – that is until the belt slips, breaks or whatever it mostly likely will do. Also those middle seats are good because even fupi (short) me clears the ceiling of most matatus by only an inch or two. All of these things make matatu rides that much more special.

I have the added bonus of living on one of the worst roads in Kenya, It's used by trucks for its port access and so after many years this road has become... horrible. Something even I wouldn't want to take the 4 runner on for fear of tipping or popping a tire. Needless to say there are plenty of trucks with wheel or maneuvering problems stuck on the road, that the matatus will get to wind around, in addition to the ditches and giant rocks. It's a special road to say the least.

SO about .5 hour later I'm in Mombasa and I'm off to whatever function. Recently it was a scout camp (think boy/girl scout camp without the rich lil kid stereotype) that was conducted during their school vacation specifically on HIV AIDS. More specifically on abstinence. The first hour or so of any meeting I've been to (with the exception of a PC meeting) is always just sitting and waiting. For what or why I don't know and I always feel I've arrived too early. Oh well Kenyan time, no worries. I tried to pass the time by singing camp songs with the kids, boom chicka boom works well (any other suggestions?).

So then it's talking about HIV AIDS. What it is, how you get it, how you don't get it (toothbrushes, mosquitoes are two common questions) and what they can do about it. Then come the questions: what if someone with AIDS takes a shower and has an open wound, and then you use that same towel and you have open wounds too? What if you go to church and are saved, does that cure you of AIDS? Where does AIDS come from? A lab in the US? Using two condoms at the same time will give you double protection, right? etc. etc. etc. The kids then put on a fabulous skit about how people get HIV/AIDS, about stigma, and then some spoken word type poems about how they're affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

4pm So after a full day's work it's time to finish up in the city, visit "old town" which is a predominantly Muslim area that has great internet cafes, yummy eating places, a bakery called "Mr. Supa's" and really nice people. All of these errands (and a quick trip to the PC office if it's open) all while saying "labda kesho" (maybe tomorrow) and "si leo" (not today) and "si taki" (I don't' want). To all the hawkers on the street (also pronounced "hookers" by the locals... confuses me every time). Meanwhile you also may find yourself dodging some street kids who hold out their hand and say "nipe pesa" (give me money) to which I reply "sina pesa, wewe nipe" to which they are 1st shocked that I know that must Swahili, and 2nd because I have just said, "I don't have money, you give ME money" which just confuses the heck out of them. Oh and a hint to all those travelers out there – be wary about when you hand out money, gum, any of that stuff to the local kids, as they come to expect that then of EVERY white person they see. Of course, I also hear it's a funny trick to play on another PCV when you visit their local village, just to irk them. SO after hopping in the Matatu home, I alight (alite? it's a new word to me) at the gate and bargain a bit for some veggies or fruit (you must bargain here part of buying stuff). Then home by 5:30 or 6 so that it's not dark yet. After arriving at home with a view of the water, the little kids run around the house and inside if I let em. Peek into the windows and yell "Muzungu" white person) and run away giggling. It's cute. Depending if there's water I'll go fetch some from down the hill and lug about 4 loads up to store in the water tanks (and add waterguard, bleach or chlorine so I don't have to boil it...bad practice I know...).

6-6:15 close doors. This is a very important step to my day as it insures less mosquitoes. With the rate I'm getting bites (and the allergies I'm finding from them) I just might find myself testing the "get malaria 3 times and you're sent home" policy. Don't worry, I'm taking my meds, lathering on the deet, and have screens on the windows – and sleep under a net. Those mosquitoes just somehow find a way to nibble on me. Mosquitoes are not the only visitors – I get my occasional cockroach and gecko too... although geckos are a) good luck and b) eat bugs.

So now that the doors are shut it's time to turn on my world space radio (which gets NPR's morning edition and car talk on Saturdays) to listen to CNN or the BBC. Also time to start dinner. Cooking yeah, I think most of you know I'm a bit challenged in the kitchen, but I'm getting by. I've learned to make pilau (a special rice), spaghetti, a mean bruscetta, chapattis (like Indian naan), potato stew and whatever else comes out of the pan or pot/ I bought a gas countertop stove so at least I don't have to wait an hour for the charcoal to be ready. I the carnivore have not managed to buy meat just yet. Somehow the idea of the meat hanging with flies all over it, and it being out for who knows how long... most of it goat... well it just isn't' that appetizing to me just yet. I'll try to get my meat intake when I'm in town. I' didn't even get to tell you about me not being able to kill the chicken... another time.

So after dinner, after washing and drying the dinnerware, it's time to relax for the evening. Either a book, writing out emails like this one, stare at a pic of my favorite fish that the past PCV happened to leave here (black spotted box fish), preparing fo the next day, Texting to friends, etc. IN fact, tonight I have a lot of texting to do to the other volunteers as I have taken on the job of finding a carpenter to make 34 penis models for our group so that we can properly do condom demonstrations. Also during this time I'm hoping that that same boy doesn't come by to be my "visitor". I'm constantly getting ruder and ruder to him and have told him flat out that he should never visit me again. Mostly it's a nuisance but thankfully the lil ole guard keeps an eye out for him.

Well it's time for me to head to bed (anywhere between 9 and 11) best wishes to everyone and hope everyone is happy, healthy and well!

love, lei

PS if any of you camp counselor people can think of any easy, repeat after me , cute games or songs I'd greatly appreciate it.

PPS anyone know how to not get rice to stick to the pan? Me the half Japanese girl who has always used a rice cooker doesn't know how to do it.

–back to index–


The past day has been so interesting that I just must write it down. I went to the polio ward, right close by to my house. It was certainly heartbreaking to see all these small children who I know with just a few drops of vaccine, wouldn't be living there at all. The actual ward is quite nice and the kids are all very happy. Happy, it seems, to just be alive and a child, which is something most children and adults just take for granted. I was invited by a man I met a few weeks ago along my matatu ride home. He's a Kenyan who works for a Swedish religious organization. I knew that Swede part of me would come in handy here. In any case, he comes to the polio ward every Saturday and plays, and talks and basically has a mini Sunday school type session with them. It was certainly a spiritual moment for me as I made my rounds, holding, touching, and letting the children touch me (and my pigtails, which were quite the hit). I know that I've never seen the effects of Polio on a child first hand, and was amazed to see the range of damage it can do. Some children who looked no older than 1 were about 6 or 7 years of age, grown teenagers who wear slippers on their hands because they have to walk on all fours, children with half body casts, confined to their wheelchairs, and children unable to clap along with our singing, as they lack the motor control to get their hands to meet. At least I saw each and every one of them smile (or try to) at one point during my visit. It was really a wonderful experience and I'm going to try to visit them more often, at least once every other week.

On a completely random note, I was washing my clothes the other day and I heard something hit the ground and run across the garden in front of me. I thought to myself, what the heck is that? All I could figure was that it was a giant grey woodchuck or something like that. Then I thought, are there woodchucks in Africa (and is there a Swahili tongue twister for it?). Hmmm... Upon closer look, oh my goodness, yes, it's a MONKEY running away. What fun! And now I've seen a pack of at least 10 monkeys enjoying the corn growing outside of my house.

–back to index–


It's kind of funny when your tutor uses examples of phrases like, "Of course women should never be equal to men" and talks of the greatness of G.W.B. because those Iraqi people aren't Christians. Yeah. My tutor (past principal of a primary school) is an interesting man. Very nice, and he realizes my liberal views (which are of course toned down here). He's a very nice man, just not quite what I'm used to.

–back to index–


So it looks like my lazy community integration days will become a very busy one soon. Two of the professors have been accepted to a PhD program in Nairobi, and thus leaves the psych, soc and management departments open and without a teacher. Hmm. Leilani the school decides. So looks like I'll be taking up some Psychology and Sociology and Management of HC in the upcoming weeks. Now don't' worry, I won't be teaching full time, but take over some lectures and things like that. Interesting. We'll see how it goes. I just have to sit back and laugh sometimes at the way things work out around here. I'm supposed to be doing counseling of counselors on HIV AIDS, then when I got here they had no clue I was supposed to do that, so they put me in the computer lab, which is where the past volunteer was... now there's no power because of some corruption and so it looks like I'll be teaching (since this day the power has returned... most of the time! ... so I'll definitely be doing computer work as my primary job – hopefully getting internet access to the university school there). Oh. And apparently "You will be leading the scouts (like boy/girl scouts) on a walking hike to Tanzania, camping from village to village and spreading information about HIV AIDS." Um.... Ok. So yeah, maybe I'll be doing that too. We'll see.

Now it's Sept 8th and my life will soon have some structure to it as the school year has finally started. It looks like I'll be teaching a bit, working with the computer lab a lot, and doing as much HIV AIDS outreach as the 1st two priorities will allow me to do. It's a bit discouraging to find that they're really looking for a small business type volunteer to help with the computer lab stuff, but I figure it can't be too hard to do, and I'll try to focus as much as I can on PH stuff through the computer lab (epi info anyone?).

Outside of the "work" life, it has been good. I've had a few fellow PCVs come to visit and we have a good time "hanging out". I'm also looking forward to meeting more of the students at the college as they're all around my age... although I'll have to make sure that I uphold my "teacher" status. My every day life has been good too. Lots of time to think, listen to current events and read. My dreams have been funny as I usually don't remember them in the US. But as of late I find myself waking up remembering dreams of flush toilets, baking ovens – or stoves in general, and hand washing stations. I even had a dream about a bathroom with a bidet... I don't' even know how those work! In any case, things are good. I'm really going to try and get the comp lab at the college some functional internet providers and see if we can boost the computer lab usage so that the medical officers go out into the world knowing a bit more.

So a few more quirks. We've found that living in Kenya is like working with "cable guys" all the time. Except instead of them saying that the work will be done anywhere from 8ע, it's sometime in the next few weeks. And meetings... well, they're sorta optional (not for me, but for the local Kenyans). Also, trying to get across the road in Mombasa is even worse than trying to cross in Boston... We've decided it's like the game "frogger" and we constantly remind each other that in "Frogger" most of the time they go "splat".

One more, when explaining a new program to a student (a Kenyan to a Kenyan) he says. "and when the box says would you like to use the program in Spanish, click yes, or no" he (the Kenyan instructor) actually had to tell the person "Do not click yes". Somehow things are just not what they seem. Please don't think that that was a stupidity comment, but more on a comment of how things are dealt with (step by step, with regard to exactly how to go about a process).

Well, I guess that's about it. I hope that everyone is well, and that I hear from you all soon.

Thanks for all your letters and packages. You're all amazing to me! (Fluff in the mail – who would've thought egg whites and sugar would have made me so happy!).

Lots of love,


–back to index–


Dear everyone,

So already it's been almost 5 months. Can you believe that? I know I'm having a hard time thinking I've been here almost half a year already. Of course, I already feel I have enough stories to last a lifetime. Thanks so much for all of you that have kept in touch with letters, emails, packages, and even the far-between phone call (you're too much!). I really do appreciate all your support and really, I don't think I could have made it this far without all that you have given me, presently, in the recent past, and of course, all of you that have helped me become who I am now.

Many of you have been asking so:

So as you can see, I'm really doing well here. I'm studying diligently my Kiswahili and use it as often as I can -- people usually are pleasantly surprised that I know so much (You're trying! - is what they often say). I'm also becoming good friends with another neighbor (she's a former cook for a hotel and so knows how to cook both Kenyan and American style dishes)! I've even started becoming friends with a few students at the college. Oh, right, and work. Yes, that has been good too.

Certainly frustrating at times (it's taken me over a month to form, write, type, print and finally mail some letters). But I just keep thinking, even if most of my work here goes unnoticed, just making the positive difference in one or two lives will help in the butterfly effect needed here help the general population. Actual work here has been a whole variety of things including; writing inquiry letters for wireless internet, writing letters for bolstering the computer lab in general, painting the computer lab, fixing everyday computer bugs, helping the admin with disciplinary action for some of the students, preparing to teach management and community health, attending professor meetings, working for the public health officer (apart from the college), doing presentations, condom distributions, small group meetings and other odds and ends.

I've also come in contact with what seems like an awesome group of Rotaractors on the island of Mombasa. Last I saw they were collecting money on Saturday so that on Sunday they would go, buy food, and then go to a certain park where there are lots of drug problems and trade the bought food in return for illegal drugs. Interesting huh? So yes, hopefully I'll be working with them too! Well, that's about it from here.

Oh! One more thing, been thinking about doing the Foreign Service exam. I'm interested to hear what you all think about it (likes, dislikes, knowledge of how to best prepare for the test - etc.). Imagine, Lei working for a US Embassy.

Hmm.... Hope everyone is well. And when you flush your toilet (and the water fills back up on its own) think of me!

PS - my phone has amazing capabilities. You can send me a text email through my phone - but I do have to pay for it... not much, but enough to make it matter. So, if you must get in touch with me and can't call, you can email a text to me. NO MORE THAN 140 characters - (including spaces!!) to LEILANI@safaricomsms.com

PPS. So remember the count from Sesame Street? He goes "One Bat, Muahhh, ahhh, ahhh" well, for some reason some of the men here have started to laugh like that "Muahh, ahhh, ahhh". Every time I hear it I myself want to break into laughter, and feel the sudden urge to count out loud.

PPPS. No worries, the radio here plays Kris Kross at least once a week, so I'm getting my fair share in of reliving my early '90s.

–back to index–


HI there,
Well, you're all lucky enough to get two of my messages at once. Apparently my October one got lost somewhere along the way, and so now you'll have the October, spooky Halloween greeting along with the Turkey day one.

Things are good here in Mombasa. Life hasn't changed much and I'm still working hard at getting the computers' internet connection. It looks like the country will be getting rid of the current government monopoly that they have on the internet, and thus the prices will start to go down from the crazy rates of anywhere from 300-1000 USD per month for connection alone.

These past few weeks have been amazing though. The holy month of Ramadan has closed, and it ended this weekend with a big party in Mombasa. I unfortunately wasn't able to partake in the festivities. I think, as part of celebrating by gorging myself with food, that my friend and I ate something bad and both of us had severe stomach problems from Saturday night until... well, it's now Wednesday and I've at least made it out of my house, which is a good sign since I couldn't make it out of bed yesterday. Nonetheless, we heard lots of celebrating this past weekend from the confines of my house, and, when unfortunately one of my friends was occupying my rest room for her problems, and I had to run outside to rid my body of the gurgling, my upchucking was welcomed by a stream of fireworks over the island of Mombasa. I must say I never have thrown-up to quite a display. It was almost fun. ALMOST.

Let's see. What else. Only a few other things come to mind right now, I'll have to let my October writings make up for my lack of words right now. I keep thinking of last year's international Turkey day; a Pacific Islander baking the turkey, 1.5 baked pies per person, people representing almost all continents of the globe (and food representing many places too), the surprising connection of Christian colleges between the random American males in the group, taking everyone to see the hometown-American style football game at my local high school, and of course, lots of relaxing, eating, and wonderful conversation. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving and I can only hope that this year's will be half as fun as last. Many of us will be "Shipped off" to Nairobi to spend Turkey day with some of the Americans there, which will be nice, but boy, as much as I'm not a huge holiday person, I'm certainly going to miss all of you during this holiday season. The weekend after Turkey day I'll be headed off to Uganda to go rafting on the Nile. It should be a wonderful time with my other PCV friends, hopefully a bit scary on the rapids too! One girl apparently lost her trousers and pants (to those Americans, that means her shorts and her underwear) on one rapid, and when she was fished out of the water by the kayaker, he dropped her into the nearest boat, a bunch of European men. How mortifying! I have decided that I'm going to wear a one piece and tie my shorts on to my lifejacket. Maybe I should just wear one of those children's nighttime PJs with the feetsies!

Well. To leave you, I thought I'd send you off with a little bit of Mombasa flair. The matatus here (see pervious emails for explanation of Matatu) are all stenciled with different names on their vans (if you're trying to get a visual think minivan with "Latin Lover" printed on it like the sports cars some people drive around in the ghetto parts of the city).

In any case, many times here they don't make any sense, sometimes they do, and sometimes they're just strange. So here are just the ones that I saw on the way into town in 5 minutes. Mind you some of them may make NO SENSE. I'll try to write down the really good ones in the future:

Addicted truth hurts shania RAGOTDW buda buda goofy all about me
double x gap fear factor no fear deep kubwa (big) virgin treasure hunt
equiniminity commander oops escapades titi baby phat farm punch
lil flip five play bamba claat pick up da phone big hand down with click in your fae
koch records man live nautical nora blood brothers hooker lil Scooby doo
touch 11 ice cube afroman sneak attack ace duty time heart and soul
Dog Want Food make it hot parental love sparrow against all odds hot and wet picture perfect
jehovah rah rah god is great futuro funk baby daddy rough times lovely miami sands
life after death big brother hot stuff Todaro so fresh abcabadabra the best syndacyte open letter
bazil license to (Heart) silver shadow free URE mind ExplOd

Mind you I made no spelling changes.

Well, there you go; hope all is well with all of you! Lots of love and aloha to you all! Eat some turkey for me - and someone must eat some of that pudding for me... Two of the older Johnson grandchildren girls are married... Wendy, you can take my almond for me this year :-)

Love to everyone!

–back to index–


Hello All,

A lot has happened in the past few weeks, most good, some discouraging and all constantly providing some laughs here and there. I'll start with my IST (in service training) which was a very nice time. I arrived one day early as my good friend, Leah, and I wanted to visit our homestay families from training for a night (our homestay families are also great friends). It was absolutely wonderful to see my Kenyan family again and my Mama, little Maina and Guitau (my homestay bro who's almost exactly my age and came out for the weekend just for the occasion) all were there to greet me as I hopped (ok tumbled) off the matatu! Mama even ran down the drive towards me, re-ingraining that not all Kenyans are Olympic marathon runners as she waddled/jogged towards me, giving me big hugs and kisses. I had a wonderful and relaxing afternoon, fetching cows, peeling potatoes, watching Guitau slaughter the chicken, lots of conversations and oh! Mama's cooking! I had bought Mama some fabric while in Mombasa and as I gave it to her she exclaimed that she had something for me. How happy, shocked, and flattered I felt as she handed me a bag and said that she had something made just for me. Can you guess what it was? Yep, a Pink skirt! How perfect!

It was a wonderful evening, and made up for any of the frustrations of the next day as I made the mistake of saying I'd go to church with them. I certainly don't mind sitting in a church for almost 5 hours, but did they have to turn up their PA system so loud? Especially when the keyboardist only knows 3 chords, guitarist three more chords, only half a step up, and a drummer that tries to keep up to the tempo of the guy holding the tambourine. It was a fresh reminder of how much I miss good choral music.

In any case, the rest of the week was spent at Malaika Training Center, back in Naivasha where I got to catch up with my other fellow volunteers and hear their stories (and the stories of those who have left, about a quarter of us). There were a few concerns about why volunteers left (safety and security concerns) and so a few friends and I decided to quickly draft an email to our CD (country director) and APCD (assistant pc director) to let them know some of our concerns and questions. Somehow I then became the go between girl for PC Kenya admin and my volunteer group. Things seemed to go reasonably smoothly for the rest of the week and I think some (hopefully most) of our concerns were very well addressed by the PC people in Nairobi.

So why am I writing all this? Well, on the last day of our training we had Student Council elections. No, not student council, but same idea. We actually had a running for VAC (Volunteer Action Committee) and somehow after a long process of speeches (which I was unprepared for as I was nominated by other people and didn't know I'd be running) I was elected Chairman. Not public health rep, or wat san rep, nor secretary or vice chair, but chairman. What a surprise that was! But, I'm not officially the VAC chair just yet, I'm only the nominee from the PH sector (and there's only one other sector, small business/deaf ed). Also it looks like it'd be a far stretch if I were to be elected as it goes by popular vote, and there are more small business/deaf ed volunteers than PH and it's been the norm that the PH always loses the elections. So come July wish me luck in the VAC elections, well see who they go!

Turkey day was quite fun. All of my group actually stayed at the training center and we made our turkey day dinner there (for some reason I didn't hear a gobble gobble at 6 am outside my window after Thurs morning...). I helped in the kitchen crew from about 3 pm until 9pm, cooking away under the supervision of two volunteers who happen to be excellent chefs! We cooked enough food for a small army and then had a great dinner all together around our centerpiece... an African 4 foot wooden giraffe carving and a Peace Corps plaque... with condom balloons everywhere and three condoms hanging off the giraffe's ears and nose. Lovely I know. The biggest Turkey day treat though? After having a nice long conversation and puling out some rapid fire kiswa with the ladies in charge, they kindly let me use the washing machines (shhh - nobody else got to!). What a treat it was to not have to do it by hand!

After IST training it was vacation time and off to Uganda. As I was assigned group leader and a good map reader I got to lead half our group from Naivasha Kenya to Uganda by foot, matatu and bus. The border crossing was an interesting time - it took about two hours to go through it all - and by the end our bus driver was impatient and tried to hurry us out of there. As we were walking back to the bus one of the guards saw us and asked me, "Are you not running because you're too fat?" To which I must have given him a shocked look, but I laughed it off, knowing I've gained some weight here, but I still am fitting into my clothes, so it can't have been that much. It all became clear that he apparently didn't know the meaning of 'fat' when my 5'6", 105 lb friend stepped on the bus, laughing, telling me that the guard told her she was also too fat to run. Once we got to Uganda, I, with the map, thought it would be a good idea to just check with some locals about the directions. Bad idea. They tried to study the map, upside down and sideways, and |I realized that they just didn't know their town layout using a map, or street names. We finally made it, but I think I've created a revolution there in that town for the want for knowledge of how to use a map.

Uganda, what can I say. It felt like a completely different world than Kenya. They seemed to have more infrastructure, utilities and better houses, and even dinosaurs. Ok, not really dinosaurs, but I swear I've now seen a direct cousin of what I thought was a pterodactyl. We camped out overlooking the Nile River those two nights at the rafting place's campground. The campground also came with a bar, which of course meant plenty of crazy touring Aussies taking turns with the beer funnel. I instead opted for a shower (the showers were up on a high bank and over looked the Nile - FULL VIEW - there wasn't a back to the wall of the shower!) - and then a cheese burger and a captain and coke. Ok, maybe more than just one captain and coke.

Our day out on the rapids was full of fun. I was in the only all girl boat (seven of us girls) and our manly Ugandan/South African guide, Eric. We did a pretty good job of handling the rapids. We even did the last rapid (which was connected to a class 6, but we only caught the tail end of that on our way to class 5). Our only mistake of the day, we were the only boat of all 5 or 6 boats to paddle on the wrong side and miss the "G" spot rapid. 7 girls, all missing the G spot. We were teased for the rest of the day. Our poor guide was pretty great though and joked around with us a lot. At one point we all had to buckle down as we went over a rapid and he shouted "Get down" which was our command to get down and hold on. Two seconds later he screamed "STAY down" and this little voice from the front of our boat yelled "Who the heck is getting up???" I think we almost lost our guide to the rapids because he was laughing so hard.

Our bus ride back from Uganda was surprisingly even scarier than rafting. Our bus driver must have been a Mario Andretti wanna be as he passed other busses, 18 wheelers and trucks on the sunken shoulder. I was SURE we were going to flip about 3 times (which is not an uncommon occurrence in these countries). Even the locals started hurrying up and putting on their seatbelts. That's a sign it's getting really bad. More adventures were to be had though, since when we got to the Uganda Border, the power went out (add another hour or two) and some little street hawkers tried to sell us one banana for 1000 Kenyan shillings (about 15 USD). When we got to Nairobi we were greeted by high-glue-sniffing- street kids shoving feces and (we think) goat liver in our faces and telling them to give them money or they'd throw it at us. When we all proceeded to ignore them and quickly walk away, they started shouting anti US phrases and chanting "go back to your country". What a beautiful welcome back to Kenya.

But! Now I am back in beautiful Mombasa, Kenya, where the street children, although annoying, are nice, and the only stomach innards and feces I have to deal with are my own (and they give me more than enough worries!). Of course, it's frustrating to be back and have seemingly no PH jobs to do. Today was spent expense keeping in the computer lab - a whole different story - which may include a bit of corruption or maybe just really bad record keeping... which they are somehow trying to blame on me even though I didn't arrive until Aug. I'm starting to become a bit discouraged with my lack of ability to be allowed to do PH stuff there, but I'm trying hard to fix that. Although, nothing seems to be happening in the month of December as everyone leaves for the month for holiday. So what will I do, I guess I'll just be patient and wait a couple months and see what happens in the meantime - and have another chat with PC about my goals as a PH volunteer and exactly what they need me to do out here.

In the meantime I'll look forward to Christmas (many many volunteers are coming down to the coast for the holidays). And wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!

PS - I am asking each of the following of you to doubly enjoy these holiday treats for me:
Handel's Messiah, listening to the Boston 'Holiday' Pops, A Charlie Brown's Christmas special, the nutcracker, and if you get a chance, Bob Johnson's special red and green chocolate chip cookies!

Lots and lots and lots of love and aloha,


PS - two quotes for you all to ponder

"A country's economic development is directly related to the number of women having orgasms." - a PCV here in Kenya

and two:

"We know that the risk of acquiring HIV does not depend on knowledge of how the virus is transmitted, but rather on the freedom to make decisions." - Paul Farmer, Infections and Inequalities.

–back to index–