Happy 2005. Habari za Mwaka Mpya? (How is your New Year?) This is the greeting I still get, 18 days into the New Year. It’s certainly a nice way of greeting people, even if you knew that just yesterday their new year was well too. I do prefer it to the greeting, ‘Umepotea,’ directly translated, ‘you have been lost’ which can also mean; you haven’t visited me as often as you should, you haven’t been around here much, and you seem to not stay in one place and sit and do one thing for a long time.
So yes, the new year has been interesting, as was the month leading up to it.
For the Christmas holiday many friends came out to the coast (as it’s the best place to be in Kenya) and we spent the first few days running around Mombasa, shopping and seeing the sights. Christmas Eve our disaster started as we tried to get up to Kilifi, a town about an hour away. We had heard that travelling around the holidays is a pain… but we never expected this. Upon arriving at the stage, we had to wait for a while as there were a limited amount of vehicles working during this holiday season. We finally got onto a vehicle, but when we tried to pay the normal price (80 shillings), we found that the going price was 200 shillings!!! One girl that actually lives in Kilifi mentioned that this happened once before, and that eventually the locals refused to get into the van until they reduced their fare to the normal price. By this time we were already in the Matatu, so we told them that we refused to pay that amount, that this was corruption since the matatu fares are set as it is public transportation. The matatu driver actually turned the vehicle around (we had been driving for 10 minutes already by that time) and drove us back to the stage. The other passengers on the Matatu were quite angry with us 6 Americans, but really, we were just trying to get the set fare. What really made us unhappy is not that they were asking US (the foreigners) to pay the outrageous fee, but that they were asking their fellow Kenyan citizens to pay this, knowing that they get to pocket that extra 120 shillings from each person. In the response to the driver saying that this is Kenya and that behaviour change to end corruption is slow here, one of our friends from New York yelled, “Yes, behaviour change IS slow, but it can work. For example, five years ago I would have kicked your as$!” Luckily she pulled off the comment well, and the driver laughed along with her… But jeez… for a moment there all of us thought that was the end of us.
We eventually did make it safely up to our destination, but only after first making a big scene at the stage. We found a police officer who was conducting traffic at a jam packed rotary, who suggested to us to write the license plates of all the matatus charging an extra rate, and then to report these to the police later. He actually apologized for not being able to leave the rotary to help us onto a decent matatu. After a while of discrete writing of license plates, the people near the stage became wary, and wouldn’t yell out their fares so that we could hear them. We eventually saw a police man near the stage and asked him to help set the prices back to the fair price. He replied that there was nothing he could do, and kept walking. After he left, one guy in our group mentioned that he thought he was sure that he had just been paid off by the matatu drivers. Corruption at its best. We eventually decided to take a matatu about 20 minutes outside of the city and from there we caught a “lifty” with a very nice British Kenyan (with a PLUSH air-conditioned SUV) who took us straight to our destination. So after about 5 hours, we came out victorious, each only 30 shillings spent, a letter to the police with Matatus licenses, and a cushy 40 minute air conditioned ride. Not bad.
Also very not bad J We spent the afternoon and evening at a seaside town called Takaungu. This is the site of one of my friends, Katrin, and she has made friends with this local Italian man who lives there on the beach. *This is the place that I went to about 3 months ago - where the man cooks this amazing multi-course seafood/Italian meal. So our dinner was packed with wonderful food, about 30 Peace Corps friends, and Sangria to the max. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!! After stuffing ourselves we went down to the beach and lit off sparklers and small fireworks (and yes, I held my hands up to my ears the whole time). It was completely unlike any Christmas I’ve ever had and a nice change from the TV jingles, mall crowds and traffic of home.
The evening of the 26th, about 15 of us were sitting at dinner, having a nice conversation, when all of a sudden it must have looked like we were all secret agents. All of our cell phones started going off as Peace Corps was warning us to stay at home, not go anywhere near the water, and “be careful because there’s a TIDAL WAVE” (from a text message). As we didn’t have access to the news at that point, we had no clue what was going on, except that Peace Corps was really worried (I personally (because of proximity to the ocean) got 3 calls during that evening). It wasn’t until the next morning that we heard about the earthquake and the Tsunami. It was a sombre morning; all of us huddled around my radio listening to the estimate that, at the time, 15,000 people were presumed dead. As it did hit the Kenyan coast, the police here actually did close the beaches that day, probably saving many people from accidental death. I still don’t know the exact number of people that died here. I’ve heard estimates from 1 to 300. Most of these, I’m assuming, were fishermen who didn’t know how to swim (not knowing how to swim is quite common here).
Since we were no longer permitted to go near the ocean, our plans for going to Shimoni Beach on the South coast were cancelled and instead about 7-10 people came and stayed with me here in Port Reitz. One of the days we decided that we should have an adventure and went to the Shimba Hills Wildlife preserve. It was a great day, filled with even more matatu/hiring a car/ crazy driver situations. In all we finally got to see a bunch of elephants, some rare type of antelope, wart hogs, an ostrich (wow they’re ugly!), giraffes, and an African buffalo type thing.
Our New Years celebration was calm as we spent the night at this bar above the upscale movie theatre. It was an interesting time as we spent the night dancing away to old-skool beats, Kenyan rap, and Hindi pop. We were the only group of non-citizens there, and there were hardly any black Kenyans, as most of the patrons were Kenyans of Indian descent. The New Year was rung in with a balloon drop (er… people had to jump up and hit the balloons out of the net as the net was never intended to “drop”) and a techno version of Auld Lange Singe came on.
The new year has brought a lot of change with it. A married couple from my group left, who I was very close to. It was sad to see them go, but I think they were quite ready to leave. As the husband wrote to me in an email, “I haven’t seen one genuine smile from my wife in 7 months & she’s normally a very happy person.” Their circumstances for leaving were understandable though. Jo (the wife) wouldn’t go into the nearest city because she was harassed so much (even when her husband, Cory was with her!) and their supervisor basically told them that they could either write a grant to get a VCT (Voluntary Counselling and Testing clinic for testing for HIV) or they could leave. As they weren’t too confident that he was doing this for the right reasons (he planned on running for political office) or that he would spend the money accordingly, they decided on the second option.
As for my work, well, with the new year I’m trying to turn over a new leaf and try to fully engage myself into the work here since everyone is back from holiday. Unfortunately, I really do believe that my type of assistance is not needed here as much as it would be in say, a more rural area. Work is picking up, but still slow. I’ve stopped by the public health office multiple times, making sure that they know I’m available, but they have said that they are OK for right now. At the computer lab I’m diligently working on two grants, both for the same outcome of getting internet hook-up. Should that happen I think I’ll be able to help the students a lot more with their research, epi work, and other PH related things (not just how to find a lost word document, or how to open a new program). One of the grants, the Peace Corps Partnership Program, is a way that any of you can help out too, as the donors are made up from communities back in the US. I’ll try and get more info out to you about that when I submit this project.
The cub scouts that I’ve been working with are all gung-ho on about six different projects, all involved in stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately their hopes are a bit high in the funding department. $13,000 USD for 6 projects (granted they’re for 50 children, 10 adults and two of them are for week-long camping excursions… but still). My next step with them will be to see where they can cut out some of their un-needed items and tidy up their budget. I’m excited about this group though, the troop leaders are a bunch of out-of-work guys that are finding something positive to do with their time, and the girl leader has them all whipped into shape as she is very well educated and pushy enough to get things done.
Which leads me to my next point. I almost think that we’re doing more harm than good out here as the donor community. It’s not that they don’t need the money, but that they somehow have to find the drive to find and get that money (and do it without corruption!). I just keep thinking that if we weren’t here, that somehow these people would survive, and as I’ve seen here on the coast, in the city, people DO know how to solve these problems. The resources are there, the skills have been learned, and now it’s just up to the people to go out and use them to their best ability. And the best thing about these trained people? They can train others! But there in lies the problem. Nobody wants to actually DO anything, especially when so much of the donor community is wrongly doing it FOR the very people that they’re supposed to work WITH. Not that I’m bitter, but this situation really became a tug-of-war in my mind; between staying and working here for the next two years, or running out there into the world and helping with these disasters.
In addition to those activities, I went back to the church group/ class that I taught a few months back to check on them last Sunday. Unfortunately the class wasn’t being held, and so I went to a regular church session with Gilbert (someone that has linked me up with this group). As soon as we walked in, I heard the preacher shout, “How can God hear you if you don’t make any noise” after which a loud hooting, hollering, jumping, yelling and screaming session went on for about 5 minutes. Not what I’m used to by any means. I almost felt like I was a teenager again at a rock concert, mad at myself for forgetting my ear plugs to reduce the noise. I somehow don’t think the Quaker Meeting House type of church service would go over well here. It was a nice (long!) church session though, with a minute long silence for those victims of the Tsunami and for the ongoing peace agreements in the Sudan and Somalia. It was a nice idea, that one minute, all churches in Kenya were all silent in recognition of all the disasters that are happening.
Of course, meanwhile the disasters right here in this country keep happening, HIV/AIDS, corruption, equality, children’s rights, drug abuse, religious clashes. It’s crazy to think that while these people were one minute praying for all the people hurt in the tsunami, that about 10 minutes later there was talk about how to stop the surrounding Muslim community from putting up a building in their shared community. Somehow that just doesn’t make sense to me. I hope it never will. After church, Gilbert and I were talking about this building, and I replied that at home, at least in my area, I don’t think anyone would actually hope to stop someone from putting up a religious building, at least not to the degree that their church was talking about. Gilbert’s response, “Imagine! The United States is big enough for ALL those religions.” Well, it is and it isn’t, but at least some of us are trying, right?
Well. That’s about it from here. I hope that you’re all having a safe and happy New Year so far.
Oh, and if you ever wanted to know where things go that aren’t needed in other countries… know that they come here. Kenya is Product Heaven. I can’t describe to you how many old stuffed animals, wrong-colored sports jerseys, Jinsu knives, ugly hair accessories, and Yankee baseball hats are here. It’s the Yankee baseball hats that constantly make me smile though. I like to think that they were never able to sell them back in the states and so now they’re all here, desperately searching for a home. Meanwhile I’ve only seen one Red-Sox hat, and it seemed very well taken care of J
Love and aloha & GO PATS!!!!
PS - I get to watch the Superbowl here, but they cut out all the commercials!!!! Anyone going to Tivo it?back to index
Wow, what a great month it's been. Work has really picked up with a new project that I'm working on and its given me a better outlook on the different ways in which I can help this urban setting population. But I'll elaborate on that a bit more later.
First I'll have to go over a few funny/crazy experiences which have transpired since the beginning of February. Here are a few bits of my life:
In working with a religious group, I heard that they were going to have a special moment of prayer for the witches in Salem, MA. Apparently they heard (via an email to a Christian on-line prayer site) that witches in Salem were going to court, and that the Christians in the Salem community needed prayers so that these witches would be stopped. I had bite my tongue to keep from laughing, knowing about the Salem Witch Trials and how this must have been a hoax over the internet. So there I found myself, giving lessons about the 'witches' that infected the town decades ago.
As I was hanging out with some of my co-workers (from the new project, Tuoanane), we saw a boy walk into a house with something on a leash. The guys got all excited and shouted for him to come back. It was a monkey, with a rope tied around his stomach. Thinking that maybe this monkey was friendlier than the ones at my house (or more like the ones I met on the island of Gibraltar) I got closer to it. As I did, I saw that it had a terrible-looking infection in one eye and as I was backing away, the monkey spazzed out and started jumping onto people and screeching. I quickly remembered the prevalence of rabies (I'm sure EVERY animal has it here) and ran away. There was a time during college that my roommate and I thought that it would be great to have a monkey as a pet. Never again will I think that.
The Superbowl weekend was quite an American time. The event started at Diani Beach (south of Mombasa) where I met up with people from the public health group one year ahead of mine. This group (especially the guys I was going to meet in Diani) has the reputation of being quite a rowdy group. Fortunately, the girlfriend of one of the boys was also at Diani, so it was me and Kate and about 6 All-American-20something-year-old-boys. Kate and I spent the afternoon on the beach while the boys played 'Risk' and then we all later went in for a sunset swim. There I proceeded to not only get stung, but doubly stung, by a jelly fish as I got it stuck between my forearm and upper arm as it involuntarily flexed. Fortunately it didn't hurt too much and just felt like a hot, tingly burn, and spent another hour or so in the water. Later that evening, after going through about two crates of pombe (beer) and 2 bottles of imported liqueur, the conversation consisted of bodily functions and how the heat and humidity effects parts of the male body (leading them to sing over and over again, the chorus of the rap song 'to the window, to the wall….'). These conversations were held over meals of fish caught hours ago on the beach, cheese (REAL CHEESE!!!) burgers, Doritos, smoked cheese, summer sausage, spicy chicken wings, 2liters of Heinz ketchup (hard to find decent ketchup in this country), and a 10 hour poker game that lasted until 5am. Needless to say, Kate and I spent much of the time just sitting, dumbstruck, watching our boys be as stupidly-American as they could. The next morning we headed back to Mombasa, where we tried to watch the Superbowl at a bar we had reserved for the night, but apparently there isn't a great desire to watch the game out here, and it was only shown in South Africa, even though we stayed up all night, expecting it to hopefully turn on at some point. Sounds like I didn't have to worry too much though - we saw the highlights from the game at around 7am and I got to rub in the Philly boy's face that WE'RE GOING TO DISNEYWORLD!!!
Nothing romantic at all, but I did have two male dates to the movie (each probably about 3 times the size of me). One was my PCV leader, Katrell, here on the coast (he's been here 3 years as a volunteer), and the other, a missionary, Thomas, who I believe used to play football down south. A special treat was that on the way there, I saw a guy on the street wearing a Matsumoto's Shave Ice shirt (a place in Hawaii) which I TOTALLY flipped out about - Luckily Katrell was in the matatu with me (he went to BYU in Hawaii) and so we both got to revel in seeing this sight. Funniest part of the night - we all went to see the movie 'Bride and Prejudice'. If you haven't seen this movie, I highly recommend it, it's made by the people that did 'Bend it Like Beckham' and is a Bollywood-ish style movie of the Austen novel. Quite a girly movie to watch with those two burly men.
So I'm apparently the new daughter of a neighbouring family. The father of the family has told me that I'm now one of his daughters and that I will no longer eat at my house all by myself, but with him and his family. Really this is quite a nice thing - and I really do feel at home at their house, so it's quite funny that they've decided to take me on as a daughter. The three eldest children are away at boarding school, so there's only one daughter, Jostina, at home - about age 10. So now my routine will be to head over there in the early evening, help Jostina with her homework, and then eat with the family and talk with the mama and baba (father). It's a great exchange for all of us and its nice to have them all around.
And now for work (Work? There's Work in Peace Corps? - and here I bet you thought I was just having fun all the time…. well, actually, I am :)
So as I'm getting more and more involved in the PC activities that are offered, I have found myself as co-chairman of the TODTW program on the Coast region. This is a program sponsored by Peace Corps's Gender and Development committee, where about 10 girls are picked from the rural areas and then taken here to Mombasa in May where they shadow and live with a host mom for 3 nights and 2 days, ending in a two day conference on women empowerment, careers, and education. I'm really excited about the project and so is everyone that seems to be involved in the project (upon calling one mother to ask her if she'd like to be a host mom, she said, sounding like she just was nominated for the Miss World pageant, 'oh, me? oh I'd be so honoured, I'm so happy').
Since Feb, I've finished three grants, two for the computer lab - to gain internet access, and one for the scout group that I'm working with to do a 6 month HIV AIDS awareness campaign. Hopefully we'll see the grants get approved!!
This is the new, amazing job I'm working on. It's a program that incorporates former IV drug users (heroin) to go out into the community and help people most at risk for HIV AIDS to get the help they need (be it referrals rehab, outpatient services, drop in centres, HIV testing, access to Anti-Retro-Viral therapy (if it's available), condom distribution, how to clean a needle with bleach, general information, etc.). So these former IV users are going back into their former using community and trying to help their friends and other users to reduce their risk of HIV. Its really an amazing program, and so far it's been going really well. The people involved are some of the most amazing people I've ever met. So strong, so educated, so unselfish, and so brave to go back and try to help other people get over their problems.
The program is not without flaws, and the scariest part about it is that there is a huge opportunity for the workers to relapse. In fact, the day after a two week training in Nairobi (there are three of these projects here in Kenya; Mombasa, Nairobi, and Kisumu) one of the Nairobi group members relapsed and OverDosed. He was found the next day with the needle still stuck in his arm. Apparently he thought he could just do it one more time before the program began (there are random urine tests). This event, as well as a relapse within our own Mombasa group, has really shown me the dangers that these people are taking with their own road to recovery, and only makes me respect them more for the work that they are doing.
Through this program I've not only developed a respect for these people, but have developed friendships too. Already I have been invited to two weddings (which I had to decline - see Scout excursion) - and many relatives houses. After one very taxing support group discussion (mostly on relapse) I tried to openly express my admiration for them, only to find that with my admiration and words of encouragement came a few tears. After the meeting, one of the men came up to me and said, 'One day, please come to my house and meet my wife and children. My wife would very much like to meet you as you both have big hearts and like to cry.' As much as I don't like to cry in front of other people, somehow this instance seemed to only enhance the importance of my words for the respect of the work that these people were doing, I'm sure many of whom have never heard any words of encouragement or praise.
I agreed to accompany the scout troop to a Founder's Day Jamboree. Between Thursday and Tuesday so many things happened.
We met all together at the determined time of 3 oclock, knowing that if we said 3, everyone would be there by 6. Finally at 6 we boarded a reserved third class car on the train. Piling in among 115 scouts and leaders, were foam mattresses, suitcases, bags, cooking pots, tubs of lard, food and cans for water. The overnight ride in the car was cramped and my sleeping area consisted of a foam padding on the floor, next to another leader, underneath the seats (1 foot space) where others were lying. The trip which from Mombasa to Nairobi, is usually from 7pm-9am, became much longer as the train broke down about 3 hours away from Nairobi.
We cooked breakfast next to the train, and 6 hours later still no transport was provided (first and second class get first dibs). We eventually hired 2 matatus - one which normally holds15 people, the other about 30. The 14 passenger one held all our luggage and about 8 people on a 3 person bench seat, while the 30 person matatu held the rest of us (two or three people to a seat). From where we broke down it took 6 hours to get to our destination. On the way we were stopped three times by police (two of which were paid off) and an annoying high pitched buzz because the driver was going above the max kph limit. We finally got to our destination, set up bed areas and went to wash outside in really cold weather with cold water, in the dark.
The next day went to grave of Lord Baden Powell (founder of the scouting movement) but they did not let us in (although the white European scout leader was let in with his private guides and the paper the next day showed a bunch of adult scouts at the grave site). An official from the Scouts in Nyeri not only did not let us in, but started to rip off scarves and bits of the children's clothing saying 'this is NOT scout uniform, code XEP321' blah blah blah, and basically said that if we didn't have a uniform we were not invited to the jamboree (among other rules which they never informed us about the jamboree - mostly about how it was VERY expensive to be a scout and that every little thing has an expense; group, leader, camping, registration, water, parade, scout, activity, event, certificates, etc.). It was really embarrassing moment for everyone especially because most of the kids in the club couldn't even come to Nyeri in the first place because their parents were not able to afford the pocket money for transport and food (about $4usd). The kids that did come, most of them couldn't afford a scout uniform and so here is this guy, basically saying that we were not invited and had to return home because the kids didn't have the money. We had tried to forgo many of these costs by not staying with the Scouts (which was expensive) and instead asked to stay at a nearby school). It was really very un-scout like, yet I didn't want to speak out and tell this exec. scout guy that he was being rude, possibly getting the whole troop in even more trouble. Anyways, we left him and his euro-adult-boy-scout-friend and walked to Baden Powell's house. There we were about to come into problems again because the scouts must be in uniform in order for free admission to the house, but the guard took pity on us and we were able to enter.
After a long hike up and down a valley (probably about 14K round trip - big walk for those little tykes!) we came back to the place we were staying and found that the water had run out (at this point, about 250 children were staying on the school grounds). Eventually, as the water turned back on that evening, one of the other female scout leaders, Roda, and I took our bucket baths in the teacher's toilet room. That's when I found out I had a super-hero power that I didn't know I possessed: I glow. That's right, naked, in a darkened room, with only a bit of moonlight, I GLOW - especially compared to brown-skinned Roda.
That night we had a bonfire (which they proudly stated that they would replace the top layer of grass that they removed earlier, after the fire was through to protect the earth - this they were saying as they lit two truck tires on fire - creating I don't even know how much air pollution…). Around the bonfire the kids sang songs, produced plays about HIV and AIDS, recited poems, and I shared a few US camp type songs. It was a great night, with lots of fun events throughout.
Sunday was the big event, Founder's Day. Our group somehow managed to march towards the front of the parade and then proceeded to find as many shaded areas as possible during the 3 or 4 hour long speeches. That evening we headed back to Nairobi to camp at the Railway grounds.
Monday, the kids went to a marketplace (apparently it's a huge used clothing market) while the troop leader, Roda and I went to the Scout World Headquarters to check on some things. On the way there, we walked by the outskirts of 'Kibera Slums'. This is apparently the second largest slum area in Africa, 2nd only to one in South Africa. I also learned that this is called the 'Land of the Flying Toilets.' Their explanation of the name is that since the people can't afford to use toilet paper, they use the plastic bags (Kenya seems to have an abundance of thin plastic bags -like the kind you use at grocery stores- which are used for anything that you might buy). Thus, with a bit of wind, these dirty, plastic bags float all over the slum area. After that I was very careful as to where I walked and of any gusts of wind.
Trip home just as cramped as going there, but at least the train didn't break down. All in all, with all of it's crazy incidences, I had a fantastic time. The kids had such a scouting spirit, it was hard to not have a good time with them. It really reminded me of the hopes that Kenya has for a brighter future and a more equal and healthy society.
Well, that's about it for the month of February. This upcoming month I'll be looking forward to more work with the Tuonane project, TODTW, Scouts, hoping the grants go through, and studying for the Foreign Service Exam… Maybe I'll try and throw in a trip to Lamu too! We'll see!
Hope everyone had a great and wonderful February!
Love and aloha,
Well, Peace Corps certainly has its ups and downs. Work this month has its highs (with the Tuonane Project) and its lows (with Port Reitz in general), but luckily outside of work has been all wonderful. Here's the latest from Lei in Kenya:
So after a day full of Tuonane Project (the new drug/HIV/AIDS/Risk Reduction program) and working with the Cub Scouts, my friend Teressa and I decided we'd check out the public beach. Upon arrival we were greeted by stands of 'for rent' bathing suits (yes... that means you rent a hopefully-washed bathing suit by the hour), Girl Guides (scouts) handing out cartoon catalogues about a teenage girl who has tough life decisions to make, and a rap/dance/poetry/drama show by anyone that wanted to go up and say something. After hearing the 5th poem about the same topic with almost the same vocabulary, Teressa and I decided to sit on the beach, watch the children take camel rides, fight the urge to spend our money on a boat ride, and avoid the pestering beach boys. About an hour later two guys came up to us and decided that we would be their entertainment and conversation topics. One even pointed at Teressa and said to his friend, "Look, a REAL LIVE African American!!!" I've never felt more like an animal at the zoo. Luckily some random man came up to us (seeing that we were being bothered) and asked if we wanted to go on a glass bottom boat ride. Seeing that at least there would be another family with us too, we raced onto the boat with our knight in shining armor: an Indian/Kenyan who had spent the last 15 years in the Castro district of San Fran. What an accent that man had!!!
Afterwards we met up with some other PCVs, one of whom was having her birthday celebration at a club that night. We spent all night, until about 6 am, dancing and having a great time. The morning proved not so great though. We got a ride back with two guys with their own personal cars (one was a former boyfriend of a PCV). One group of us went with a guy that hadn't drank all night while the others decided to leave with the guy who had been drinking earlier on in the night. Unfortunately, our driver, though sober, was a speed demon and we ended up hitting a guy on a bike. The event really wasn't the drivers' fault: it was dark, the bicycle didn't have any lights (which it is required to by law), it was overloaded so that he couldn't see in front or behind him, and the cyclist was turning onto the main road without looking. In any case, we hit him and as we kept on driving, I actually had to tell the driver to stop the car so we could see if he was OK. In speaking with other people about this though, apparently people hardly ever stop after an accident for fear that they might have to deal with a mob justice situation. In any case, we did stop and got the man to the hospital. Our driver was quite ridiculous about it though, as he at first refused to take the man to the hospital (he had a broken hip) and kept yelling about the damage to the car.
Quite a night. The next night wasn't nearly as exciting but we did go to a BBQ at an acquaintance's house. The conversation was amazing as it centered on politics, poverty, money and other things that make our world go round. At one point it became known that among the guests was a son of a former MP (he made sure to tell us though that it left his family very poor). Later this very same MP son mentioned something about his family's boat, and another one of the guys said, "Boy, I wish my father was a poor former MP with an oil tanker!" Well, that put him in his place!
So Easter weekend was coming up after the PHAST training so I jet-setted up to the island of Lamu for the weekend. The big splurge? Instead of taking the 12 hour bus to Mombasa and then another 7 hour bus to Lamu, I shelled out the bills to take a plane there. Although it did hurt my budget, it at least didn't hurt me!! In fact, the night before on the news was an overturned bus on the very highway I was supposed to take. In addition there were extra vehicles on the road due to the holiday. Between those accidents and the bicycle incident in the recent past, my decision became solidified. 1.5 hours in the put-put prop plane was pure heaven! Two days after my arrival, 2 friends that left from the same area of Nairobi and same day arrived. They had endured sitting on the highway, getting to Mombasa 24 hours later than expected, paying for hotel, and then having to take the slow and more dangerous bus up to Lamu. Hooray for airplanes!
The island of Lamu itself was pretty wonderful. We spent all our time on the beach, on boats, shopping in Lamu town, and trying to avoid the behinds of donkeys. After Lamu came a quick stop back in Mombasa and Port Reitz and then...
DPS is the peer counseling support group (Diversity and Peer Support) where volunteers can rely on fellow volunteers for their problems. The training itself was really quite wonderful and it was really good to know some of the other types of challenges the volunteers face. We even had to deal with some diversity issues first-hand as the caretakers of the center were racist and judgmental towards some volunteers. Thankfully the issue has been addressed to PC Kenya and we won't be having any more trainings there.
During the same weekend I was elected to two different Peace Corps Kenya committees, one as the secretary/resource person for DPS and the second as Coast Representative for the AIDS Resource Center. In addition to those two groups I finally wrote my campaign statement for the Chair for VAC (Volunteer Action Committee).
This new project that I was gushing about before has only gotten better. The work is amazing and we're really getting to reach out to so many people. The staff members are all so great. They really have become like my Kenyan family - complete with bratty brothers and beautiful, intelligent, perfect sisters. One of the 'sisters' sadly fell ill this past week though. Upon visiting her she disclosed her positive HIV status which I'm not so sure that she's even told to her family. It was a sad yet hopeful moment as she understands the disease well and is not scared of her future. It was so powerful for me to be there, rubbing her back and just letting her know that I support her. The project itself has allowed me to do so much more with the Mombasa risk community than anything I've done yet at Port Reitz. It's really nice to actually have work to do that is so highly related to public health too! The director of the project has actually asked me to be a full time PC volunteer with that project, and so with the way things are going at Port Reitz I'm totally ready to jump in.
So, after much thinking and agonizing about my place here at Port Reitz, I've decided to take the first steps towards leaving. Just today I spoke with my APCD about my desire for a site change and she's sending me the forms which I should need for the process.
I'm feeling pretty good about my decision as my supervisor seems to not realize that I'm a public health volunteer (not small business) and that some of the other professors have expressed their distaste for the people we're trying to help with the Tuonane Project ("We should leave all the drug users to die.. Including their family members and partners"..."They don't need your help, they can stop if they really want to"..."You weren't there when they started, so you don't need to be there for them to get off of it"). My only fear is that I won't be able to do the Tuonane Project should PC not want to place me there (after moving out of Port Reitz). Apparently these are two separate actions (site change, and finding a new site), and that worries me a bit. I'm a bit afraid of not only losing the Tuonane Project, but the wonderful area of Mombasa as well. Well... the main thing is that the work I'll be doing is better suited to my goal here as a Peace Corps volunteer, and that's the main point. But gee, it would be quite a 'best case scenario' if I were able to work with the Tuonane Project full time!
Well, that's about it for the rest of Feb, all of March, and part of April. I hope you all have had a great spring so far!
Oh - one more thing. As much as me helping here is well and good, don't forget about the people you're living with in the states. A hometown friend, Steve Kirchner, is doing the Walk for Hunger which is a great fundraiser where you walk some ridiculous amount of miles in and around the Boston area. Below is some info about it from him. Feel free to check out the organization and feel even free-er to support his fundraising by sponsoring him via online!!
Aloha tons and hope that everyone's doing well!!!
Some of you know me and others do not. I am a good friend of Lei's from high school and am writing to ask for some help with a good cause.
May 1st, Boston is holding its annual Walk for Hunger event, which raises money to alleviate hunger throughout Massachusetts. The walk takes place in Boston, starting in the Commons, proceeds to Newton, goes along the Charles and back to the Commons for a total of 20 miles. Raytheon, my employer, is an active sponsor for the walk and has numerous individual groups that participate. This year I will be walking with the Employee Resource Group to complete all 20 miles.
If you would like to make a donation (no matter how large or small) to a great cause, it would be very much appreciated. Donating is very, very simple and can be completed online on the Raytheon Employee Resource Group website (a Walk for Hunger site) found below.
In addition, if any of you are in the Boston area and would like to walk, your participation is just as valuable as your donations. For friends of employees that walk as well, Raytheon will donate $1 per mile walked for a total of $20 per friend. It's that easy! Please let me know if you would like to walk, and I will get your name on the list. The last link is for a brochure describing the events and the walk.
Thank you so much for your support and generosity.
Please email me with any questions. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hey there everyone. I realized that it's been quite a while since I've last written - 'Pole Sana' (very sorry) for that. But! I think it's a good thing that I haven't written due to the reasoning behind it: I've been too busy!!! I know. It's amazing. I never thought that I'd ever feel stressed and pressured about the amount of hours in a day here, but here I am, trying to find a few hours here and there for a bit of forced relaxation. It's wonderful! Most of you know that I thrive on being busy, so now I finally feel quite like my normal self.
Today I'm at the computer lab, and have finished all the work I could possibly do here (yes, still at the computer lab...) so I have some time to write to you all. In general Mombasa has been pretty great. The rains are now off-and-on here, which means it's a lot cooler and easier to sleep at night. Some days it's even cold enough to wear short sleeved shirts! Of course, with the rains come the mosquitoes, so my body looks a bit polka-dotted, but it's bearable. Yesterday my biggest health concern was that I thought I had some strange flesh eating disease on my lips. Turns out that while I thought I had outgrew my allergies to mangoes, (my grandmother has memories of me running around saying 'itchy face!' when I was little) apparently I have not, and after scarfing down a mango the other day, well, now I'm stuck with peeling lips.
Anywho, let me try to sum up the past few months with the big events that have been happening.
Well, I did it; I took the Foreign Service Exam. It was quite a strange exam, not one that you can really study for. In fact, I highly doubt that I passed it-especially since I possibly messed up on a huge portion of it (I put the wrong form number on one of the scantrons). So we will see what the future holds with that one. I feel now that I'm not quite interested in working for the US government in that capacity, so even if I do pass, I'm not so sure that I'll do anything with it.
The same weekend as the Foreign Service exam I had my first Diversity and Peer Support meeting (as secretary). There's plenty of planning to do with this group, especially with the new Public Health group arriving, so there was lots of work to do (training staff on diversity issues, American culture, etc). Our core DPS group of 5 though has dwindled down to 4 as one of our group members, a sweet girl from PA, was actually presumed to be poisoned by her community and so returned to the US. Strange thing to happen but I haven't heard the whole story so details are a bit sketchy. Don't worry though; this seemed to be a strange and extreme case in which not everything makes sense...
The trip back from the weekend was a bit of an adventure filled with strange and funny incidences:
It was quite a trip home - luckily though being with a friend just made it funny rather than confusing and frustrating. Sometimes it really is good to have someone around that can share things like that with you.
The next big event was our public health sector meeting on Diani Beach. Although we did do a lot of public health related sessions, it was nice to have the option to walk along the beach, take nice, hot showers, swim in the pool, eat yummy buffet food, relax with a few drinks at night, and even hit a few balls on the tennis court. OK. Let me fess-up on the last one. I didn't get to hit as many balls as I wanted to. Apparently I'm not the Anna Kornikovia of the Beach Corps group - but it was fun to run around on the court a bit.
One of the biggest hits of the sector meeting was to head off to James' site (one of the Beach Corps volunteers that I've gotten to know well) and have a fun public health day in his community. The morning started off with about 2 hours of speeches made by leaders in the community, then a demonstration of how to treat a mosquito net, how to make enriched Uji (porridge with extra vitamins and energy), how to make a solar-cooker, how to start a tree farm, and finally a presentation of certificates to the people who attended James' health club. OH right, and then came the food. HUGE PLATTERS for each person of coconut rice, pilau (rice made with meat and Swahili spices), vegetables, and some meat. This was in addition to two coconuts each (for the coconut water inside). It was an amazing day; being with a new community and seeing the impact that a volunteer can make in the village setting in just 2 years.
So right after our sector meeting I headed off to Nairobi again for a brief meeting of the ARC (as representative for the coast region). I'm excited for this group as I feel that there's plenty of resources out there that we're still in need of - and I'll get a chance to really get to know more about the AIDS pandemic around Kenya. In fact, my first task is to write an article for the newsletter about the drug use and its impact on the HIV rate (they've found that 50% of IV drug users are HIV+, while 47% of drug users (smoking marijuana and/or heroin) are HIV+ in Mombasa). Quite a huge rate considering that only about 10% of the general population of Kenya is assumed to be HIV+.
The other week I was invited to a commemoration ceremony for those who have died from AIDS. It was quite the event with giant puppets (about 10 feet tall), guests of honor, a candle lighting ceremony (during daylight hours), lots of dancing, dramas, skits, poems, and finally soccer and basketball tournaments. It was amazing to see the community get together like this, and even more amazing to see an HIV+ person speak out about living positively. It's still quite uncommon for people to speak openly about their status, and to see this was quite encouraging (even though he is one of the bigger drug dealers in the area).
I think I mentioned that I was helping out with this project in the last email. TODTW here is a lot like the US program, although girls from 'the bush' are invited to come to Mombasa to live with a professional woman for three days. They shadow her in her work and then there's a big seminar on Saturday which allows the girls to ask questions and learn about goal setting, different lines of professions, relationships and sex, and drug use and abuse. Saturday afternoon we took the girls to the ocean (some of them had never experienced it) and then a nice dinner out. It was quite a fun week although a bit exhausting... I've forgotten all the different needs, wants, and dramas that happen with teen-age girls! Overall though, it was quite empowering for the girls - and for the professional women who hosted them. I think a lot of those women hadn't been reminded of all the barriers they have overcome to become the women they are today!
So I didn't really think that I'd be elected as Chair to VAC seeing as the Public Health group is usually smaller than the other sectors (small business, deaf-ed, and health education volunteers) and thus I was told that I'd have no chance in really winning. Plus I was told that a woman hasn't ever been elected to be chair...Apparently something happened though and I was elected! I'm quite excited about it and will learn a lot more come the end of the month when we do a handing-over of duties from last year's group.
So apparently now I'm in charge of trying to make things better for the volunteers of PC Kenya... We shall see!!!!
As always, the Tuonane Project is going strong and well! I really absolutely love working with them and have tried to get involved as much as I can there. These past few weeks we've been training volunteers from the surrounding community. I took over a lot of the public health sessions, as well as some of the counseling and team-building sessions. It was great to work with such enthusiastic and eager people!
The outreach workers are all doing well too. One of the nicest ones, Fuad, was hit by a car the other week and has been in the hospital since. He broke his femur and has to get some pins in his knees, but luckily his spirits remain high throughout it all. It's amazing how much corruption seeps into every facet of life here though. Fuad was supposed to have surgery on the Monday after his accident, by Thursday (after not eating every day since they told him that that would be the day of the surgery) he had a visitor come to his bedside in the middle of the night saying that he had to pay 2,000 shillings (extra $30 or so) in order for the doctor to actually do the surgery that he's already been paid to do. Now, another week later, he still hasn't had his surgery and doesn't know where the $ went...
The hospital is an interesting place though. Certainly not somewhere I'd want to go if I were sick, especially with the coffin makers setting up shop right outside (one's sign says - "Poleni Coffin" - (translation - 'Sorry all of you, coffins').
Work isn't all hospital related though - a lot of it is out in the streets, talking to drug users and trying to figure out how to help them. There are so many people that want and need the Tuonane Project's help. As one outreach worker talking about the needs in a certain area, he mentioned, "...the number is whelming over there."
In addition to working with the Tuonane Project and their on goings, I've also started going to one of the rehab centers that we work with, helping their clients get a better understanding of HIV/AIDS and what they can do about it.
Port Reitz is doing pretty well these days, nothing really exciting for me, but the school is excited about a new prospect. The organization, World Computer Exchange, is working together with us so that the school can get 21 previously used computers sent from the US. It's been quite a process; going to customs to make sure we aren't charged exorbitant prices, figuring out how the banking works, trying to make sure that it doesn't look like the money is coming from me or the Peace Corps (you would think that the school would be shouting from the roof that they're paying for it all on their own!), and trying to help people understand that the computers won't be here right away, that they need to be packed in the US, and then shipped over by sea.
In addition to the college I've tried my hardest to start to work with the public health office, yet this is quite a task. They suggested that I help them with a seminar, which seemed great to me, but then I had to tell them that it didn't mean that I should be replacing someone else's session. Since then, all the civil servants have been on strike in the country and thus no work has been done in the Public Health office.
Life in general here has been pretty good. The family that I've gotten really close to has now assumed me as another one of their daughters. In fact, I'm not even allowed to help bring food to the table since that's not what a daughter's role is in the family. For a while there I felt stuck as to what to do - How do I help this family since they are constantly inviting me to eat and spend time with them? I finally figured it out - The mother of the family is now my new 'Mwalimu' (teacher) and so I can pay her for her helping me with my Kiswahili. I think it's a neat trade off as she doesn't know much English and thus makes me learn it faster, and it's empowering to her as it's an extra income she can bring to the family. I love it!
Transport has gotten pretty bad here in the past few weeks - especially due to the rain. Our non-paved road washes out with every rain, leaving sharp rocks, huge ditches and potholes all over the road. What used to be a 20 min. drive is now about an hour - maybe even more if some of the matatus refuse travel on the road, thus making people shove and push to get on the few matatus that come. Spending more time on the matatus though has allowed me to study them a bit better. My favorite one is altered to have the lights where you would honk the horn, the horn on the window wipers stick is, and the gear stick where the blinkers should be. I've never seen a manual-transmission matatu with the gear stick used on the side of the steering wheel...
So that's about it from this end for now. So many things are happening and it's all going so fast! I can hardly believe that I've already been gone from all you for a whole year!!! Amazingly it seems like each month is shorter than the last -in no time I'll be headed home again! Crazy! So if you hear of any jobs..... Just kidding, I'm not quite there YET!
In the next few weeks there's quite a lot going on. One of my good friends, James is about to head home in the next week so we're partying it up soon, the new public health group is here and I'll be headed out to them to do some public health training, the VAC meeting will occur with the handing over of responsibilities, a DPS meeting will also happen during that time so we can try to figure how to best help our volunteers, there'll be a 4th of July party in Nairobi put on by the American Business group, and then I'm trying to throw a small 1-year anniversary/relax/4th of July party on Diani beach the week of the 4th.
So there's that. Lots to do in the next few weeks... I'm quite excited about it all though - it's nice to be busy and running around all the time. Of course, through this all I'm still trying to change my site so that I get to work with the Tuonane Project full time... I hope you're all having a wonderful time wherever you are! Everyone have fun at the 4th of July festivities for me and tell me all about it! Blow a kiss to Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops for me!!!
Lots and lots of love and aloha,
Leilaniback to index
Phew. Those are the 4 letters to best describe June, July and August. P-H-E-W as in; "Phew, a lot has happened!" Some wonderful, some great, some good, some not-so-good, some exhausting and some downright strange.
The 3rd week of June I headed out of the warm coastline of Kenya to cold Kitui and frigid Nyeri to help train the new PCVs on some Water/Sanitation and HIV/AIDS skills (and lend an ear to any that were having adjustment problems). The new group of public health volunteers are really, really nice and have quite a hometown feel to them. It was amazing to realize just how far my group of PCVs has come in integrating into our communities and actually making progress in our activities (even if they're sometimes hard to measure). One of the most amazing parts of the week was to visit the Joe Muriuki Training Institute where Joe was the 1st man to publicly announce his HIV positive status in Kenya. We were able to have a whole morning with his wife, Jane, who is possibly one of the most inspiring women I've ever met. She described to us, as she and Joe are a discordant couple, how she decided to stick with him and told us in detail about just some of the trials they have had to endure after he disclosed his positive status. Another amazing experience was a 'walk' to what the locals there called 'THE SOURCE.' The walk to the source, as it turns out, was a hike to the water source of a 1st rate water system sourced from the Aberdares. Our 'walk' turned out to be a 2 or 3 hour hike through and down the Aberdares, dodging Stinging Nettles (fern like plants that burn your skin), giant piles of elephant dung, and half falling/half sliding down in our 'presentable enough to meet officials' clothing. The best part? Piling into the bed of a truck for a ride back up the mountain (having to duck so our heads wouldn't be taken off by branches and feeling our hearts catapult into our throats as we felt the wheels slip up the steep grade - Eek, what fun!).
On June 26th just south of Mombasa in Likoni, we celebrated the UN declared 'International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking' with a parade, ceremony and yummy biriani chicken lunch! The parade was great with an impromptu drum/bugle quartet and children joining all the other NGOs and health clubs participating in the parade. It was fun to be with the people of the Tuonane Project outside of the work setting and I even got a chance to teach them all the 'How funky is your chicken, How loose is your goose?' cheer!
Don't worry, nothing dangerous, well, no physical danger at least. OK, so the handover meeting of the Voluntary Advisory Committee went well. I even have a scepter to bop people on the head with during meetings! Really though, the group before us did a great job smoothing over bad relations between volunteers and PC offices in Kenya. Our first meeting went well and no shouting matches or bad feelings were incurred, so I feel pretty successful. Unfortunately through all these meetings (I also had a DPS meeting during this time) I stopped into the medical office just to ask about all the bites/itchy bumps that I've been having. Unfortunately showing them this produced quite a 'Phew' and not a good one. They sent met straight away to a dermatologist, who also had a 'Phew' reaction and prescribed about 10 different medications. PC medical, with the view that, 'prescribing more medication doesn't make you a better doctor,' reduced the amount and after a week or so the bumps went away! (Phew!) Unfortunately (Phooph!), two weeks ago the bumps came back and now don't seem to respond to medication. So we'll see where it goes from here. We may just have another case of "Leilani has a strange body." As PC medical says, the next step is to probably do a bit more investigating to see what this is all about. I'll keep you updated :
Yes, yes, yes. Once again I get to spend my 4th of July celebrations with hundreds of other Americans staying in Kenya - all hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce. Like last year the day was filled with all-American types of activities (hence the apple pie and brownies… of course in addition to softball, tug-o-war and the sight of many drunken 20-30 something year old Peace Corps Volunteers). Celebrating the 4th during the day was fun, but the big event was the Prom that evening. With an 80's theme and 'Stairway to Heaven' being our song, I felt quite satisfied with my prom attire: sunglasses, long dangly clip on earrings, purple/pink/blue makeup, a hot-pink plastic necklace, hair all up and sticking out, black rhinestone studded black tank top (with 'Material Girl' in glitter across the front), big blue plastic bangle bracelets, black and white polka dot hand covers (think gloves with no fingers), a pink belt tied to the side atop my pink tie-dyed micro shirt, and to top it all off, legwarmers I made from a child's old Power Puff Girls sweater. Best comment of the night? "You make the 80s look…. Cool!?!" Compliments just don't get better than that!
As I think I hinted in the last letter, I had planned on having a nice, big beach party after the 4th festivities. Unfortunately, timing seemed to be against all of us as only 3 other people were able to make it. Fortunately this meant relaxation time for those of us that were there - including 45 minute massages on the beach (for $5 how can you beat that!). It was fun to run around without any worries for a bit - especially since I knew a big change was coming (see future 'Phew' regarding Tuonane Project).
Well, I finally got to see one of these weddings that everyone is talking about! I went to the female side of the wedding of the sister of one of the rehab counselors. Fortunately some of the women who also work at the Tuonane Project were there so I followed their lead like a child (for the reasons that I had no clue what to do, nor what to expect!). As we entered the hall (think hundreds of folding chairs all facing the stage) we were given a soda and a package of yummy bites (meat pies, baked goods, etc). Even though many of the women wore bui-buis (like the birka) to the event, as soon as they were inside off came the bui buis and out came some of the craziest prom dresses I've ever seen! Spaghetti straps, low cut backs, sheer up to the top of one's thighs type skirts - 'Scandalous' was the word that kept popping into my head.
After a few minutes of relaxing and eating, some of the women got up to dance, forming two circles in front of the stage. This went on for about 2-3 hours (mind you that since this was a Muslim wedding, no men were allowed) and women would get up, dance around the circle and then rest again. At one point a camera crew (comprised of two women) showed up to tape the event and all the women scurried to put on their bui buis and duck down to cover their faces. I asked some of the girls I was with (all unmarried) what they were all doing and one explained to me that they might have had husbands that were not in the country and thus would get into trouble if her husband knew she had gone out while he was away. It was a bit strange to me as the row I was sitting in was one of the only ones not ducking… I almost felt like I should at least pretend to have a distant husband so I could at least duck down with everyone else! Another amazing event during this dancing time was the random lady from the area who obviously couldn't tell very well what was appropriate and not. For about two hours she proceeded to walk around the hall talking and dancing with herself. When she finally tired, she plopped down next to the stage and pulled out a bright green plastic bag and started chewing Miraa (a stimulant from a plant - illegal in Kenya and usually used by men). Through it all, even though the family seemed visibly worried, she was never spoken to and was treated with as much respect as any other guest there.
Finally the big moment came where the bride is to walk down the aisle and make her appearance. Minutes before she was presented, the curtain hiding the stage was drawn - revealing the most elaborate get-up for a couch I've ever seen. The love seat was up on the stage on a raised platform. Behind it was a gigantic… headboard? No, more like a light scene from a musical about an 80s roller-skating extravaganza. It was pretty amazing. Really, I felt like I was in a Bollywood film! Anyway, this setup is for the bride and as the bride walks down the aisle everyone is able to look at her (they haven't' seen her in weeks as she's usually hidden from the public. Everyone is there to 'see the bride' and many leave right after she slowly passes their row. Fortunately for me, we stayed till the end and I even got to go up and sit with her for pictures on the love seat. It really was amazing and I can't wait to go to another. Of course as I write this I'm staring at my hands and arms as they are painted and dyed with henna and picco in preparation for 2 weddings this weekend…
*Since I'm slow at writing this letter, it's now the 29th, after the weddings. Well the weddings I went to were amazing. One was a friend of mine, Ruweida, 24, who married a man about 60 and now has a daughter exactly her age (she's a 2nd wife). The other is a 15-year-old girl who's marrying a 25-year-old man from Sudan. Although I've been having a hard time with the actual facts around these weddings (especially as they both didn't know their husbands before the wedding), the stories behind them make it a bit less perturbing. Ruweida, due to her history with men in the area, is glad she has found a successful man who has asked her to marry him (she hadn't had too many proposals). The 14 year old (who's the daughter of one of the Tuonane Project workers) is marrying into a really really nice, educated and wealthy family and her husband seems like a very great guy. It's also comforting to know that Ali (the TP worker) definitely has his concerns about the marriage but was trying to make the women in his life happy - namely his wife, mother and daughter.
The day before my birthday I headed off to the beach with the Tuonane Project and it's workers. It was quite a hassle getting everyone there (about 40 people) and even harder getting the food its own transport. Luckily a wonderful doctor from the US (she even did her MPH at BU!) was there and gave our food and ceramic plates, glasses and silverware a ride there. It was quite a scene, all of us sitting there at the beach with our catered chicken byriani and fine dining utensils. It was the 1st (and probably last) time I'd ever washed dishes in the ocean… so that's one more thing checked off my list of things I never thought I'd do. The day was topped off with a decorated birthday cake and all the traditions that could possibly be associated with it (the song, cutting of the cake, feeding people with your hands, decorating each others' faces with icing, you know the usual…).
On my actual birthday I had an extra special treat since two of the guys in Peace Corps here in Kenya invited me out for my birthday (nobody think anything of it - one's married and the other is Mormon). Upon realizing that the Public Health group one year ahead of me were all here for their close-of-service medical exam they were also invited, as well as the PC medical staff! We all ended up going out to this yummy Indian buffet and gorged ourselves to the point of discomfort. All the PC kids there signed a birthday card (one inscription asked me to be his 1st wife… what an honor :-), as did the people from the Tuonane Project. I even got a birthday gift (a coffee table book about Kenya) from PC Medical. It was definitely quite a wonderful and happy night… I can hardly believe it was my last birthday here in Kenya!
Apparently not the president of Kenya. Ok so that's a bit harsh, but apparently it's the 2nd time in 2 years that the president was supposed to visit a certain exhibit put on by the National AIDS Control Council and went right past it not even stopping in for apologies. It was amazing as we all had to wait for 4 hours to be ready for him, all decked out in HIV/AIDS gear and under the strict scrutiny of the presidential security. Anyway, for whatever reason the president didn't make it there and we just caught a glimpse of him on his way by (everyone was dumbstruck and silent with their jaws wide open… except my supervisor who was laughing/talking out loud 'Where is he going!?… He's going?!…. He's not coming here?!…. I can't believe it!!"). The good thing that came out of it was that I got to see 'The Show' which is like a country fair. Lots of exhibits, vendors and home town (city?) fun.
Yep, no more box # at the PC Mombasa office cause… there will be no more PC office in Mombasa. Due to budget cuts (thank you very much Mr. Bush) at PC Kenya, they are closing our Mombasa resource office. No more PC computer, no more emergency driver and vehicle, no more resource library and no more meeting at the PC office. Nope, definitely not a good thing. Unfortunately though, there's not much we can do about it so we'll just have to live with it. So… Starting December looks like there'll be just 2 places related to PC on the island of Mombasa. My house and another volunteer's house. Unfortunately this also means I'll have to now change my address (I'll probably be able to use Tuonane Project's address - details at the bottom of the letter).
So the PHAST training I went to is definitely paying off. I've been able to train quite a few people and it's been great so far. I encourage anyone working in areas with low literacy rates to try the PHAST materials (more info can be found on the WHO website), as they are appropriate for all ages, education levels and SES. It's also been great to watch Rodah, my counterpart, teach others about PHAST as I feel I'm watching 'sustainability' right before my eyes.
"That" being my old site! Yep I've officially transferred sites and have moved away from Port Reitz. I'll still help them with the procurement of computers through World Computer Exchange, but as far as sitting around and teaching Microsoft Word, that's no longer!! It was hard to say goodbye to the families around me, especially the one I went to every night for dinner, but now I'm doing so much more - and I get to visit them whenever I want because…
Now I know as an only child I probably got whatever I wanted… but to get something you want - no, need as an adult. My it's an amazing feeling. SO yes, I'm officially now a PCV working full time with the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime for the Tuonane Project (for those of you who know Sera Bonds and her work in Vietnam, we're funded through the same PEPFAR funds). SO how did this all come about you ask? Good question!
So you all know that I've been working with the Tuonane Project along with the CCV (Crisis Corps Volunteer) who is directly attached to the project. Well, the CCV, Clem, officially finished his 6 month stint on August 1st. Due to the nature of the contract between UNODC and PC, apparently they were supposed to have at least one more CCV volunteer (CCVs are usually more specialized than PCVs as they have already served as PCVs and also hold some form of post-undergraduate work). During a meeting with UNODC, and PC on what to do, Clem recommended that I take over the CCV position as a PCV. After I had a mini interview with the people from the UNODC it was agreed that I was to take over Clem's role in the project. SO yeah, I'm now fully immersed in Tuonane Project business - helping run the outreach program, VCT (HIV testing) center, rehab referrals, post detox care, helping set up the outpatient treatment facilities and many other projects. It's awesome. I really just love working there and find myself becoming a work-a-holic spending upwards of 10-12 hours dedicated to work there. It's also nice that Clem has been hired on by the UN as an international consultant and thus is leading me through the ropes and helping me understand what to do. It's really a great learning experience and I am so grateful that Clem is here to lead me through it. Also my supervisor/co-worker, Murad, is really an awesome person and is fantastic to work with. Really it'll be a wonderful experience for all of us I believe.
With all the changes in work come changes in housing too. This means that I now have an apartment in Mombasa (on the island of Mombasa) with running water (usually) and electricity. Even have a flush toilet (flush, flush, flush!). No hot shower but I hear I can somehow make my cold shower into a heated one by doing something sounding only reasonably dangerous. It's worth a shock… I mean, shot…. Right?
Living in town also means… more visitors and the ability to go out. In fact, this past weekend I went out with some friends to a gigantor (thousands of people) beach party till 5am. We didn't even have to stay in a hotel as we just went back to my house after we tired. What a luxury. I'm pretty sure I'll get tired of my apartment having a revolving door (since arriving I've only had about 6 out of 24 nights alone with a total of 13 guests) but I'm enjoying the company for now.
It's really gonna happen - I'm going to get to go to Cape Town, SA and Swaziland in October! Yep! Dad's coming to visit in October (save postage and make Bob Johnson carry your packages directly to Kenya) and then we'll be headed towards the south for a bit of work, touring, and visiting. It should be a really awesome trip for him as he's coming right at the end of Ramadan (Id) and there'll be plenty to celebrate! What fun!
So… sorry that this update has been such a long time coming. I've been so so so busy… and it's been wonderful! I'm not actually that sorry about it! Unfortunately when one is busy though, I forget that I should relax and take time to catch you all up. Know that all is super-dooper well here in Mombasa and that you're all in my thoughts even if I don't get to express it very much.
So just a reminder: Bob Johnson (my father) is coming out here mid-October and has agreed to bring things from there to here for me. I'd encourage anything that you were thinking of sending to be sent to him (think ahead it'll be cheaper for you and I won't have to pay any customs fees either). But please! Only if you were going to send it anyway! This is in no way a plea for packages!!!
He can be reached at:
90 Coventry Wood Road
Bolton MA 01740
Phone 978 779 2918
Also, since the Peace Corps office is closing, my new post office box will be through the Tuonane Project/Reachout Centre Trust (Reachout is a rehab facility). If you still want to put the religious notes on the outside of the packages you're welcome to… even more welcome to have them be appropriate for all religions as so many people here in Mombasa are of Muslim belief.
Leilani Johnson, PCV
Tuonane Project/ Reachout Centre Trust
PO Box 34211
I know, I know, it's been quite a while since my last letter, I do apologize. Life just seems to get busier and busier as the 2 year-stint begins to 'wind down'. I would have thought that things were supposed to be busy during the beginning and calm towards the end. In any case, I'm very glad for all the events that are happening right now as I always enjoy being ridiculously busy rather than idle.
Since the end of August all sorts of things have happened. Most of my time is spent at the Tuonane Project (and its affiliates) although this past month I did take my first official vacation when my father came to visit. So here's my life in the past few months:
Since moving full-time to this project I feel I can't ever again say that I'm bored, have nothing to do, or feel like I'm not making a difference. Working with the Tuonane Project has definitely made me rise to become one of those 'site rat' volunteers whose life seems to revolve around their work. Not such a bad thing when you're attached to such a great project.
Sure sure, we've had our challenges… quite a few of them in fact. We've lost about half our team to all sorts of problems; relapsing back to heroin use, stealing from the project and members affiliated to the project, bribing families of addicts in order to 'get services to them more quickly', medical related troubles from the outreach workers themselves (many times related to complications of HIV/AIDS), smuggling in marijuana to the clients in the rehab centers, etc. We've actually only had one (out of about 10) person leave on 'a good note' as he found another job. I thought we might lose another outreach worker, Lion, the other day when we got a call from him saying that he'd been arrested (he was formerly a big-time dealer). I rushed down to the police station (and happened to ask one of the higher-ups for directions - thus giving me a bit of a head start in trying to 'free Lion') in hopes that I could catch him and straighten things out before he was locked up. Fortunately he actually was never brought in as the police finally believed his badge and documentation saying that he's a Ministry of Health worker helping reduce the spread of HIV by targeting drug users. Unfortunately he never called back to inform that he was released & his father and I spent half our evening waiting for the last truck to pull in before we gave up and went home. So Lion is safe and sound for now, unlike the other two who were apparently beaten and are still awaiting their court date as they had stolen goods on them (in addition to their being known drug addicts).
One of those that have left was a supervisor. This was quite a blow to the project as now there's only one supervisor and he has quite a list of things to do. Right now the project has been thinking of hiring a new supervisor after I finish my time here, but I think it would be better (and more sustainable) for them to hire someone in the near future… So we're working on that. I think the hiring of the new supervisor will come after the training of a new group of outreach workers (as our numbers have dwindled so greatly) - then we can really concentrate on a decent hiring process.
Things haven't all been gloomy though. Lots of great things have been happening also for Tuonane Project. Reachout Centre (my supervisor's rehab center) had its grand opening towards the end of August. It was quite the ceremony: unveiling of a plaque, radio station DJing the event, speeches from many of the top donors about their personal investment in the project, and finally a tour of the gorgeous, new rehab center.
Another important outcome of the Tuonane Project is, of course, its clients. So far we've reached over 2000 people, many of them HIV positive. Since the project provides free outpatient counseling, free rehab stays (for positive clients), and an outreach program to reach the general population, I feel pretty good about the effects of the project. It's sometimes hard to see the overall good outcome of the project sometimes, especially with all the challenges we face; yet sometimes one really gets to feel good about their work. For example, one very nice-but-bi-polar man keeps frequenting the rehab centers. His first visit he became focused on doing a 6 month rehab program, the second he was interested in the out-patient treatment program, the third visit he became irate and decided to throw a tantrum and verbally abuse me and a counselor there, the fourth visit (and many of the subsequent visits) he's arrived battered and bruised (I believe from just getting into fights with people on the street) and profusely apologizing for his actions towards the other counselor and me. It really is a whole different world that some of these guys live in… Now I think he's actually headed for a mental institution for some in-patient work. As nice a guy as he is, I think I'll be a little glad for his being absent from the drop in center for a little while.
So the new house is very much like an apartment in a city: Two bedrooms (or one bedroom and one sitting room), kitchen, toilet, shower room & strange hallway-type room with a sink in it. In any case, it's a great place, close to a main street (but not right on it) and in a safe location (even includes a guard that can't say Leilani, but can say 'Lei LAN'… close enough for the time being). It of course has its quirks as any residence does… water is a bit unreliable, mosquitoes seem to plan their invasions for the few opportunities when the door is open, and it's hot as heck since it's on the bottom floor of the apartment complex. Fortunately though, during dad's trip he spent some time installing a ceiling fan in my 'sitting room' thus allowing me to cool off a bit sometimes.
Peace Corps has been, well Peace Corps. There's a new public health group here now, bringing two more PCVs to the coast region. Unfortunately though we have just lost our last year's PH group and one of my best friends here from my PH group. It was quite unfortunate her leaving… Peace Corps medical found something that just couldn't be handled here in Kenya and so she was 'Med Evac-ed' back to the US. It was hard to see her go, even harder to watch her saying goodbye to her community as I went to help her pack up. She literally had about 1 day to pack up, give all her stuff away, and say goodbye to her friends that she thought she'd see everyday for the next year. Fortunately though, she's getting the medical care she needs back in the US… I've since heard from her and she seems to be doing alright - still a bit sad that she had to leave, but glad to be able to start feeling well again.
The two new PH volunteers seem to be really great people - one's a Mormon-turned-Buddhist from Utah, another, a Tulane grad who spent her last year in Cape Town, SA. As the Tulane girl lives in an area that isn't so safe right now (see Constitution below) she'll be staying with me here in Mombasa for a week and a half. Should be a fun time though as she's really easy to get along with and pretty 'normal' for a PCV. ;^)
VAC, ARC, DPS… Yes, all those committees. They're all doing pretty well. VAC has had some criticisms from other PCVs that we're not 'fighting' against PC Kenya Administration enough. Unfortunately for them I'm of the thought of mind where fighting something gets you nowhere… and actually working on a solution or compromise is the only way people will be interested in change. I feel this more than ever dealing with all the budget cuts that PC Kenya has had to deal with. I feel it's a bit risky to 'fight' against PC Kenya when they're already looking for excuses to not hear out PCVs as it seems to cost so much money (they were thinking of getting rid of some of the volunteer committees). In any case, somehow I think it's all working as PC Kenya has actually made some attempts to get volunteer input before laying down the laws (just recently we had a 'lost' PCV who made tens of thousands of US dollars disappear when he was just on vacation for 3 months without telling PC Kenya… Thus we now have to review our vacation policy to make sure it's up-to-par with what Washington wants…). It's a good experience though, I'm learning a bit more about how difficult it is to deal with a huge money-gobbling program on a reasonably small budget for almost 150 volunteers…
What a great experience!!! Dad's trip here started with just 2 or so days in Mombasa, then off to Cape Town for a week and a half, then Swaziland for half a week, and then Mombasa again for 4 days. He got to do all the same kind of stuff that I do here - no special tourist stuff really, which is probably the best way to get a feel for the Mombasa life. He even went out to the field with outreach workers, talking and listening to the addicts. Of course, what's a visit from Bob Johnson without something getting fixed, so that's what he did in his spare time; fixed an electrical problem with my supervisor's computer, hooked up a new LCD projector to run off the TV so that the all-important soccer matches could be watched on a big wall, and then of course the new fan in my sitting room. He was going to tackle the plumbing problems but decided against it… probably a good idea since he only had 4 days left when he looked at it.
As in true vacation style he also got to feast on all the different foods available here. This was especially true as he came towards the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Iid. He got his fill of Arabic, Indian, Kenyan and Swahili foods!!! Probably a good thing that we got him we got him new trousers from the tailor that I usually go to…
Can there be a more beautiful city? I must say, Cape Town is the Stockholm of Africa. Beautiful, clean, safe, funky, and just all around wonderful! I'm just sorry that Dad had to be in meetings for so much of our time there. Luckily that didn't stop me. Abseiling (or belaying, or rappelling or whatever you call it) off of Table Mountain, Tours of the wine making areas, Turkish baths, walking through the gardens, shopping on Long Street, beautiful waterfront, seals, penguins, great shopping, movies, McDonalds, hot showers, you name it, they got it! Ok, Ok, I know, the last three things are not all uncommon… but I haven't had Mc Donalds in more than a year, a hot shower in more than 3 months, and well, movies are just fun (even if I don't end up remembering half of them!).
Dad and I did get to have some time together in Cape Town. We did the Robbin Island tour, visited some townships (they were so clean!), and possibly Dad's favorite, watched a ship get out of a dry dock (this took about 3 or 4 hours…).
My greatest realization while there? I may have been taught how to say 'milk' from a South African. They not only say milk with an 'e' instead of an 'i', but they also SPELL it that way!!! Melk! Who would have guessed!
The trip to Swaziland was… one word: Wonderful. It was fun to spend so much time with Holly (PCV & BUSPH grad) and Connie (BUSPH grad from Swaziland) during our time there. Dad rented a car so we had a fun time driving around (and being able to chauffeur Holly around during her last few days in Swaziland). It was so much fun to see bubbly Holly speaking her Siswati in the markets, people just loved to talk to her! She really seems to know how to bring out the best in everyone. Now here's just a quick warning, I bought lots of placemats - so when I get back I will just have to have a special dinner (for maximum of 12 people….) or dinners (thus the number invited can be endless) - as the place settings that the women make in Swaziland are just out of this world!!! I never thought I'd be a collector of place settings!!!
Although we tried hard to see more of her, Connie unfortunately was tied up with her Ministry of Health duties and only got to see her two times. For all of you that know Connie, know that she's doing well and is quite the smart dresser (when she doesn't have to bulk up for those cold, Boston days!) at work! The last night there Holly, Connie, Dad and Connie's two sisters went out for a nice dinner, providing us with the opportunity to reminisce about all things Boston and BUSPH.
The drive back from Swaziland to the airport in Johannesburg proved interesting as Dad got pulled over for speeding. The cop was going to give us a ticket… but apparently because of my father's inability to understand the policeman's accent, and the fact that the policeman thought that we were terribly lost and would never find our way to Jo'burg, he let us go. In fact, Dad's misunderstanding happened two times as after my father insisted we get the directions to the police station to pay the fine the police man finally came over, showed us what would have been our ticket, and said clearly that he wasn't going to issue a ticket because we were just 'so confused'. What a funny/crazy/confusing episode! Needless to say, we made it to Jo'burg fine, only a bit late due to a traffic jam (which used up the time we wanted to spend at the Apartheid Museum). Between the traffic jam (which I had forgotten even existed) and my last McDonalds meal (which I hope to never forget), our last 24 hours in the south of Africa was, if nothing else, interesting!
The holy month of Ramadan was more interesting to see this year as I lived in the city and got to see all the excitement that happens during the month. The food spread when they break fast (around 6.20pm) is amazing. Probably no less than 20 different dishes to choose from. They really make up for one not being able to have any food or water during the day. I fasted during the first two weeks as I felt like it was the right thing to do, yet broke the fasting when my father came to visit. The first two weeks seemed to be OK, people were agitated (especially with the heat) but it was the last week or so when everyone was just so tired and exhausted. By the time our afternoon meeting rolled around everyone's voice was barely above a whisper! The Iid celebrations (end of Ramadan/new year) were wonderful as the city really came to life. People were shopping till about 3 am, there was a carnival for women and children, and everyone was buying new items (clothes, house ware, etc) for a new beginning. What a beautiful sight!
As many of you have probably read, there is a new referendum to the constitution being proposed for Kenya. This has led to quite a rift for the people of Kenya and there has been the beginning of some violent riots due to the referendum. I really probably shouldn't write much more about it as we're not allowed (as PCVs) to get involved in any way. Just know that I'm safe, so safe in fact that there is another volunteer that will come to stay with me during that week of the voting/results/scheduled riots. Should anything happen we'll probably just be re-located to somewhere else on the coast, but know that PC Kenya is taking care of things, as well as my supervisor (he says he'll watch over me and Tara like daughters, making sure we do check-ins every once in a while). So we'll be on lockdown for Turkey Day, but at least I'll have Tara around and…I'll be spending new years in Lamu…Lamu makes up for all the troubles in the next few weeks.
- Banana peels are slippery. Yep folks. You'd never really guess it cause, well, it's not too common that you'd actually find a banana peel on the street, but here, well, it's not impossible. Hence why I've found out first hand that yes, banana peels are slippery. (Don't worry, no injuries were incurred.)
-To call someone not very smart (dull) - people call them a 'tube light' which is the equivalent of a 'florescent light' Now in the US it takes a while for the florescent lights to turn on, here it's even longer due (I think) to the humidity - thus, if you're not very 'bright' you're a tube light.
Just a few more matatu names for you: Am Happy, Soft, Praise, God Help Me, Desert Flower, SuperTwist, ABBA (but in the ACDC logo), Uncle Junior, Deep Love, Behold, Pesco, Virgin, Sleve Shadow, and my favorite, the New England Patriots Matatu which has super bowl champions stickers- what an awesome matatu.
Well that's about it from here. I guess I have about 8 more months here, quite a while but I think it's going to go quickly. What's after Peace Corps you ask? Good question. How about Antarctica? No, really, I'm serious. It might be a fun half-year stint. We'll see… I feel like there's no limit to the possibilities right now!
Plus, the penguin I saw in South Africa was pretty cute!
Love and aloha,