Sneaky sneaky stuff

It’s been a good two months since I’ve written a blog and with good reason! Peace Corps has some pretty strict travel and vacation policies in Kenya and I did a few things going against them so now I want to tell you about them that I have an “R” for returned in front of my PCV title.

First, my boyfriend’s friend Scott came out to visit in May. Having friends and family come visit is a highlight in anyone service cause you get to share what your life is like or atleast take them on all the awesome touristy stuff there is to do here. The boys went off to successfully summit Mt. Kilimanjaro and then I met them for a safari in the Masaai Mara.

I am sooooo glad we got to do this!!!! I had been on two game drives at Amboseli national park as a trainee and done a bike safari at Hell’s Gate national park but the Mara is the mother of all of Kenya’s parks. I thought it was truly incredible! Since it’s been a few months I’m a little fuzzy on the details but we did about three days worth of game drives and saw all of the big five with the exception of the elusive leopard.

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I thought the entire safari was incredible and I’m so happy I got to do it but probably the highlight was that we got to see two seperate lion hunts and one kill. First we saw a pride of lionesses track and encircle a zebra but it got away before they could attack. Then shortly after we saw another pride isolate a buffalo from the herd encircling it and then killing it. It was truly one of the most sad, gruesome and awesome things I have ever seen. Another buffalo tried to defend the injured one but it was too late. We actually drove back the next morning and the carcass was almost nothing but bones that a few cubs were nibling on and quickly after we got there the lionesses dragged the body away to a more hidden location.

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About a month after I went to the Mara for the safari I headed one last time to Kenya’s beautiful coast once again without asking for vacation from the boss man. This time it was because my boyfriend finished his service June 28 and we wanted to spend some time together before he left. I went to a small celebration his organization had for him in his village and then we headed to the other side of the country to the beach!

We relaxed, ate seafood and said our goodbyes until we see each other in America.

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After Henry left I didn’t do too many more sneaky things but I only had a few weeks left myself. I sold most of my worldly possessions to people in my village and said a few goodbyes of my own. I worked with my site mate to host a World Malaria day soccer tournament, and do 3 different solar cooker demonstrations. My goal was to sell solar cookers that Peace Corps donated to me in order to fund painting a world map mural at the girls secondary school in my village. Before I left we sold a few so I’m hoping she will continue the efforts to do the project!

Leaving Kenya was a whirlwind of paperwork but on July 17th I successfully completed my service as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya! Look for one more blog post from me reflecting on my service.

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(Belated) World Malaria Day

World Malaria Day is April 25th and some of you may remember that last year I was able to help out with an event another volunteer in my province hosted. This year as part of the Stomp Out Malaria (in Africa) initiative and through partnership with PSI and USAID Peace Corps volunteers were able to get messenger bags, soccer balls, and t-shirts to help them in organizing an even to commemorate the day.

Due to some trainings and Peace Corps conferences I we had to postpone until Saturday May 18th but I partnered with my site mate Najima and we were able to host a soccer tournament at the Primary school in our village also inviting the secondary girls school to come. We had a great turn out of around 200 people and we were able to have primary and secondary students play soccer games, volleyball, and netball. Furthermore, we set up a tag game were some kids play mosquitoes trying to bite you and the “safe zone” is under a mosquito net.

In addition to all of our sporting events we were able to invite our district’s Malaria Control Coordinator and he gave a speech for the crowd about malaria prevention and the importance of sleeping under an insecticide treated mosquito net.

I also did a solar cooker demonstration with cookers that were donated to me from Peace Corps a while ago. I am hoping to sell them in my community (they reduce the burden on women to find and carry firewood or to purchase charcoal for cooking) and use the proceeds to paint a world map at the secondary school Najima teaches at. Her school is currently under construction and the map would not only beautify it but it would teach the girls about geography and where these volunteers in their village come from!

On another note, I am still looking for donations for my water project I completed in February. I was fortunate to receive a few big donations in April because my old roommate Rachel had her work donate money form their weekly “dress down day” and two of my other old roommates donated as well. But I am still $175 shy of being fully funded! Follow this link to donate. http://www.appropriateprojects.com/node/1425

If I’m able to get funding in enough time before I finish my service I may reapply for the grant and do another tank in my village, so help me out!

Lastly, I’ve often wished during my service that I had more communication with friends back home. I typically can only call people on weekends because of the time difference and weekends are when I frequently travel…not to mention I live on $4 a day so I don’t have exponential funds to call America. Most of my friends don’t use Skype (inspite of my efforts in the last two years to get them too) and I guess calling cards don’t seem to be in the budget either. My boyfriend recently gave me a phone he wasn’t using and I was able to download “Whatsapp” a messenging application that lets you text me anytime for free (it’s .99 cents after the first year)! I have loved being able to freely talk to some of the volunteers in Kenya who have gone home (my training class has lost 20 people including all of my closest friends) and my friend Liz who was kind enough to download it right away. So now I’m asking you to give it a go and make communication a two way street! That’s all for now!

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America the Beautiful

After 21 months of service and two long weeks of a security consolidation for Kenya’s elections I got to go home (just for a visit!). I had never planned on going home during my service and to tell you the truth when I applied to Peace Corps I didn’t realize that was allowed! Luckily with the help of my tax return, my boyfriends skymiles, and my mom padding my bank account I made it!

Getting off the plane I sported a dress I had a tailor make for me in fabric showing tribespeople and some of the big five on a border along with lots of beaded jewelry. Unfortunately, I was underdressed for the weather! The majority of the time I spent home it was unseasonably cold snowing several times! It was overwhelming to see my mom after so long. There have been times during my service that I have just wanted a hug from her so badly that it caused a tangible ache in my body.

I spent the first week of my stay in Kansas City, where I am from. I happened to be there on St. Patricks Day and I happened to have some great friends who made the time and effort to come and see me. My friend Liz who I studied abroad with in college took time off from school and came up for several days from St. Louis. and my best friend from growing up, Angel came in for a couple days from Denver. I also go to be there to celebrate my friend Laura’s boyfriend getting his medical school residency match and in a few short weeks we can officially start calling him Dr.

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My boyfriend and I went home together and he’s the whole reason I took the trip in the first place. He encouraged me to try to make it happen, to nurse my homesickness, and to be his date at a wedding I’ll get to writing about shortly. So, that also meant that he came to Kansas City to see what the midwest was all about. It was great to have him meet friends and family and have a little fun outside of Kenya.

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For St. Pats we headed to Northtown’s annual Snake Saturday parade and I took Henry out with friends for some Kansas City bar-b-que that night. The rest of the weekend I got to hang out with Liz and her sister Jessica who had recently moved to Kansas City. We took her daughter to the aquarium and got to grill out one night.

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A few days later it was my turn to go to Charleston, my boyfriends hometown. I’d never been to South Carolina and when I conjure images of the state I mostly think of toothless people who wave confederate flags and hate Abraham Lincoln hahaha. However, Charleston was beautiful. We spent most of our time there on Kiawah, a private island where his family owns a beach condo and also the sight of the wedding we were going to. Henry’s cousin got married on the beach and he served as a groomsmen.

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When we talked about this in Kenya the whole thing seemed fun and like no big deal, I don’t usually scare parents away and I like to dance at receptions…BUT I underestimated how overwhelming it would be to attend a weekend long southern wedding while staying in a house full of his relatives, not knowing a single person, meeting atleast 100 friends and family, and having him constantly occupied with wedding party stuff, while I’ve arrived straight from a Kenyan village. To say the least I was a little uncomfortable and feel bad that I wasn’t more myself.

Once everyone said “I do” we headed back to Charleston where I could relax and we had a lot of fun together. We went out for seafood, went barhopping and walked around downtown Charleston and the next day we took a carriage tour of the battery and some historical buildings and the “slave market” where they sell sweetgrass baskets. Over the weekend I sampled all kinds of local dishes including: shrimp and grits, sheet crab soup, low country stew, shucked my own oysters, and even had some flounder.

I headed back to Kansas City and was preparing to leave when we decided to extend our time on US soil another week for security reasons. The last week was just a low key breather because by that time I had seen everyone and done everything I needed too. So I went to see aunts and uncles, had lunch with college girlfriends, and went to movies with my mom. Life as usual.

I have to say all of this made it pretty tough to get on a plane, especially with only four months left in my service but I thought I have to see it through. And honestly, it feels pretty good to be home. There are all of the annoyances and the lack luster of village life but I can see out the rest of my service and hopefully do a few more small projects during the rest of my time.

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We Have Smart Latrines!

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If you’ve been keeping up, then you know I’ve been working with a school near my village to build new latrines. We decided to do something a little different and built Ecosan rather than regular pit latrines. Pit latrines are just a hole dug in the ground with a concrete slab over it and when it becomes full you cover it up and build a new one. They typically last only a few years. Ecosan is an above ground concrete chamber where the by-products can be used for fertilizer making it sustainable because the pit never becomes full!

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I am proud to say that this project was finished with great success! After about a month of construction the school now has 3 double chambers for girls as well as boys. The school also now has two handwashing stations that are built onto the latrine and sustained by piping rainwater into the tanks. Furthermore, the school is starting a garden that can serve to supplement the school lunches available for class 7 and 8 or serve as an income generating activity if the school decides to sell the vegetables.

We conducted a 2 day training for the school so that they can learn how to use a composting latrine. You have to apply ash after long calls and then store waste for 6 months before applying it as fertilizer. The school also trained a health club of older students who will be responsible for the garden, toilet maintenance, and training new students how to use the latrines.

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This project was incredibly challenging. I began working on it in August and was able to receive funding by the end of December thanks to wonderful donations and support from people I know and people I don’t. From there the community had to raise their %25 of  the project costs so that they take ownership and reduce donor dependency. It was a struggle and something we were still working towards through February but we were able to do it. I was incredibly happy with the contractor we worked with to build the latrines. It’s difficult to find reliable and honest skilled laborers in Kenya and he made managing the project so much easier by being so great to work with.

I’ve often felt in Kenya that I’m not doing enough or that my projects aren’t significant enough or won’t make a lasting impact. Although things weren’t always smooth this project made me feel like I’ve done something worthwhile in my service. I worked very closely with 4 Kenyans on this and we were able to give a school that was nearly closed new sustainable latrines to keep its doors open and make it a cleaner, safer place to go to school. And deserving they are. Public schools in Kenya often have unreliable teachers and more impoverished students and typically underperform compared to their private counterparts. However, Eshitsakha Primary is a public school and has ranked first or second in the district for the last several years making it one of the top performing schools in Western Province.

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On another note, I will get to return to the school in April to see how things are coming along because Kenya was able to hold peaceful elections under their new constitution. In 2007 thousands of people were killed and displaced after election results were contested and violence broke out across the country. People die for their right to vote in Kenya and people including police and election officials still died this election but %86 of the population still came out to express their opinion. And they stayed calm while waiting in 2km long lines and waiting for ballots to be counted over a period of 5 days. Uhuru Kenyatta is now Kenya’s fourth president. Unfortunately, he has been indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity. Namely, his actions in the last election which resulted in people’s deaths so that he could obtain land. I often see friends complaining about American politics on facebook or other outlets. No government is perfect and many are often corrupt but I’m more thankful that mine provides me with water and roads, allows me to own land and I won’t die voting for a candidate of my choosing. Something worth thinking about and being grateful for.

For now I am off to the US for two weeks and my first trip to American soil in 21 months! It will strange and good to be home and I can’t wait!

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Kageno, Place of Hope

This past week I headed back to Rusinga Island for the first time since I left in late June. Henry and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day there and it was a perfect opportunity for me to go back and visit. When I left for my site change, things were heated and I was upset, however many people asked me to come back and visit. When I first moved to Butere I missed living with the Luo tribe, being on the water, the fishing culture, and the beauty and quiet of the place that I lived. Going back, we went to Kolunga Beach where my old host organization’s offices and dispensary are. They have made quite a few changes since I left! They added a laboratory and hired a clinical officer and lab technician. My supervisor looked really good and seemed genuinely happy to see me. My former counterpart and I had a lunch of Omena (small fish) and ugali, a traditional Luo meal. I got to go around the beach and greet the Mama’s that I used to buy my fruit and vegetables from, there were a few kids there that I remembered, and I also went by the nursery school that I did an art exchange program. Everyone remembered me and greeted me in mothertongue.

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After catching up with my former colleagues on the beach we headed to Rusinga Island Lodge, an upscale resort on the island. When I lived there, I had been there for a business lunch and a few meetings but other than that I didn’t have any interaction and thought of it as just another of Kenya’s tourist resorts. However, we had a great time. The rooms are beautiful and it was he best shower I’ve had in Kenya! The resort is owned by an ex-pat from Nairobi who works with various women’s groups selling handicrafts made from recycled materials. They were able to work with us to give us a resident rate that was somewhat more reasonable on a Peace Corps budget. We had a relaxing Valentine’s dinner that night.

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Henry made me a tumblr with music and pictures and memories from Peace Corps and the last year that we’ve been dating and then got me a pair of cotton pants made from some purple and blue Kenyan fabric. I in turn bought him a massage at the hotel spa. The next day we took the Lodge’s speedboat out for some sight seeing and fishing. We went around what’s known as Bird’s Island and uninhabited island full of all sorts of birds like fish eagles, kingfishers, Egyptian geese, Egrets, and so on. We tried our hand at fishing off the back of the boat but didn’t have any luck so we headed past Takawiri Island, home of the beach where I used to take friends who visited when I lived on Rusinga.

In the afternoon, we got to do something I always wanted to do while I lived there and never got the chance! We once again took the speed boat and unfortunately, the water is rough in the afternoon and I was a little scared about some of the waves we were catching! However, we made it to Mfangano Island where there is some ancient rock art said to be drawn by the Wasamo clan of Kenya’s Abasuba tribe. The art consists of red and white spirals which supposedly represent the sun and moon. It is said that the Wasamo clan sacrificed an animal and then used its blood to make the art and bring rain. We also learned about how they lived in caves and that other clans believed they controlled the rain.

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After coming back from Mfangano we had dinner on the dock and it was beautiful.

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All in all it was a great relaxing weekend and I’m really got I got to go back to the island. Here’s a little quip from NPCA about dating a Peace Corps volunteer.

http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/2012/02/12-reasons-to-date-a-returned-peace-corps-volunteer/

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Iko Tayari, It’s ready!

So, if you’ve been keeping up with me then you know about a month ago I applied for a grant through Water Charities that funds small water projects for Peace Corps Volunteers. I am in love with this grant! The application process was super simple, and they fund projects based on donations without waiting for volunteers to raise all their own money, meaning its speedy!

If you would like to donate to water charities go here! http://www.appropriateprojects.com/node/1425

So, I was really interested in doing a rain water catchement tank with a school because it helps eliminate the need for the students to carry water to school everyday and because rainwater is a relatively clean water source. I eventually got hooked up with Shibuche Primary, a school in my village. From the get go they have been awesome to work with!

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The school’s previous water storage

The Deputy (vice principal) took the initiative to contract a fundi (carpenter) and make a project budget with him, Meaning, I did none of the ground work, it all came from the school! This is exactly the kind of initiative we want to see. Furthermore, he has been on time for all our meetings (a rareity in Kenya) and went on to discuss with me his goals for water access and the development of the school. The school currently has a tree seedling project, some of which they have planted on school grounds and others they sell and in turn use the money to supplement non-government paid teacher salaries. This is great because there is a big deforestation problem in Kenya, and the seedlings are something their new tank can help supplement watering. Not to mention I’d much rather see teacher salaries paid through a school income generating activity, than through school fees from a supposedly “free” primary education in Kenya.

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Construction has been underway, and today it is finished! Last week we were able to reassess the materials we needed and set a contract with a plumber to install the piping from the gutters to the tank and install a tap to access the water once it’s collected. Now, they have all worked very fast and the school has an operational water tank! We also discussed the possibility of putting cement around the tank to protect it from weather damage or vandalismbut there wasn’t room in the grant budget to do so. However, when I showed up at the school today it was done! The deputy was able to find some wire mesh in the fencing that was becoming weak but could be suitable to use for the cementing around the tank, and it turns out there was enough cement to finish it! It is awesome to see leadership within the school, a willingness to contribute, and that they are not treating like like a gift from a donor they are really owning and invested in it. Now, we just have to wait for rainy season to start! I am really excited to have been a part of this project and thankful for the support from back home.

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As a gift to me for my help with the project, the school gave me a chicken! I was very excited, not only that they were thoughtful enough to give me a gift, but because I have been wanting to slaughter one! Now, let me say that before Peace Corps I was a vegetarian for 7 years and growing up in a city of 2 million people I never had a very intimate relationship with where my food came from. Slaughtering a chicken is practically a Peace Corps right of passage and I was all about it! I proudly took the chicken home and displayed it to my supervisor. When his wife came home, we prepared boiling water for defeathering and she helped me get the chicken in position and handed me the knife. It was the moment of truth and to tell you the truth, it wasn’t that big of a deal. I cut til I hit bone and kept my feet firmly planted on its wings and feet until movement ceased. We deafeathered and then my supervisor showed me how to properly take it apart, which seemed a lot like my high school anatomy class. Then we had a delicious chicken and rice dinner together! This is one of those moments where I like to joke that “I have become an African woman”.

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Stumbled across this today as well, an open letter to prospective volunteers. A great summary of the Peace Corps experience! http://thesharpiemarkerapproach.tumblr.com/post/42420977797/an-open-letter

Lastly, check out this great video I recently found! It gives a great perspective on life in the US. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxyhfiCO_XQ

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Packing Revisited

When I left for Kenya, I wrote a blog including a semi-final packing list I constructed based on other blogs, Peace Corps requirements/suggestions, etc. Now, that I’ve been here for 20 months my ideas are a little bit different and I’ve been thinking it would be useful for people who are preparing to leave to have a new slightly wiser post!

This is definitely for a female volunteer in Kenya…I can’t speak for other countries and in reality its hard to know until you get here/to your village and everyone has personal preferences.

Essentials:

  • Headlamp – More and more volunteers end up having access to electricity in their homes but I haven’t my whole service and its useful even if you do. Night time trips to the choo, power outages, visiting friends without power, camping, etc. Mine is marmot brand from REI.
  • Rainjacket – Parts of Kenya are very dry but most volunteers are clustered in the western part of the country where it rains March-June and August-December sometimes everyday. Mine is Patagonia.
  • Sturdy shoes – I brought a pair of Teva mush flip flops I wore around the house and used for bucket bathing, busted after 8 months. I also brought a pair of Teva Neota’s that I wore everyday around my village and they busted after 19 months…for that reason I would recommend Chacos! You can buy flip flops in country and tons of cheap pretty beaded sandals for something dressier. A few other suggestions…something closed toe like chucks or Toms works well for village wear and keeps your feet cleaner than sandals. I never bought gum/rain boots but I brought waterproof hiking shoes which worked just as well for rainy season mud, they also got use hiking Mt. Elgon, going to Hell’s Gate National Park, hiking Kakamega Rainforest, and climbing Mt. Kenya-I would definitely recommend bringing some. Running shoes, I am a runner so this was a priority for me if you plan on working out during your service or doing any road races bring a good pair of shoes. Heels, if you like wearing heels in America bring a good sturdy pair (wedges) that go with everything. Your social life won’t be nil, there are plenty of opportunities to go dancing or dress more Western when you’re not in your community. However, stilletos won’t work well for the poorly maintained roads/sidewalks in Kenya.
  • Sleeping bag – I used this throughout my homestay (Loitokitok is cold in July and they didn’t provide bedding for me), also great for crashing on other volunteers floors, camping, etc. I brought an REI travelsack which was great for portability but not good for cold weather. If you’re planning on climbing Mt. Kenya or Kilimanjaro you might want to bring a bag with atleast a 30 degree rating and a liner.
  • Electronics – Even if you don’t have electricity at your house, you should have access somewhere in your village or organizations office. Bring a laptop/netbook you’ll need it for work and entertainment. I would also suggest bringing an external harddrive, volunteers trade movies, music and tv shows like its our job, mp3 player, basic kindle/e-reader, flash drive, speakers (preferably rechargeable ones) for parties, etc., digital camera.
  • Misc hygiene – You can basically get any medication you need from Peace Corps for free and other stuff you can easily buy. However there are a few things to bring…Aloe Vera, if you can find it at all its really expensive and if you’re fair skinned you will get some crazy burns! If you wear contacts, bring the supply you need and plenty of solution. Tampons, these are taboo and most Kenyans use pads. Personally, I use a Divacup.
  • Household – Peeler, good set of knives, potholders, leatherman, quick dry towel, duct tape, ziploc bags, sewing kit.
  • Bags – I brought an internal fame backpack and daypack both from Eagle Creek which were awesome and I use constantly. It’s also useful to have a messenger bag to take to work. And a simple purse (you can also buy them in Kenya) I brought a leather cross body purse for its durability and less stealable qualities.
  • Clothes – You’ll have to satisfy Peace Corps by dressing professionally during training but don’t base your whole warddrobe on buttons downs and khakis. Bring a few essential items like skirts below the knee, cotton t-shirts, plenty of bras and underwear, sports  bras,  yoga pants,and leggings. If you wouldn’t wear it in America, don’t wear it here. Kenya has second hand clothes markets in just about every village where you can get things like H&M for 50bob, your warddrobe will expand! Also, you can get clothing made at tailors here. I bought expensive cotton slips unnecessarily! If your skirt has a liner, you don’t need a slip and its just as acceptable and more comfortable to wear spandex shorts/biker shorts under skirts to be culturally appropriate. Its also typically ok to wear pants and tank tops. Avoid, short skirts, spaghetti straps, low cut/cleavage, and white gets dirty and stained easily. However, when you’re in bigger cities going out you can wear a dress or cute top to go to a club or nice dinner doesn’t hurt to bring one or two! To work out, I wear running shorts over leggings or capris and I have wicking shirts that are great. Bring a swimsuit! In addtion to beaches in Kenya there are pools everywhere that you can go to for around 200 bob and bikinis are acceptable.
  • Water bottle – I have a Nalgene but any brand works.

Re-Thought:

There’s plenty of stuff I brought and didn’t need, or never used. That includes books…you can trade them get them at the PC Office and a kindle is a better option. Swahili guides…your training is enough and you might end up somewhere where you use English or a dialect more. Money belt…never used! Hammock…never used! You can also buy tents in country. Solar shower…I found I preferred bucket bathing because of the lack of water pressure with the shower. Shortwave radio, also rarely used and didn’t work well.

A few other notes…Kenya has a large chain store called Nakumatt that is in every reasonably sized town and is basically just like Walmart. You can buy everything from Oreos to dish soap to Pantene Pro-V. So…don’t pack that stuff but I would suggest bringing a shampoo supply for training. You can get all kinds of things sent in care packages…so packing less is more! Parts of Kenya are hot and parts are cold…you won’t know what your climate will be like until you get your village assignment during training so, bring things you can layer.

 

Personal Preferences: Pillows…in Kenya suck. If you have to have an awesome pillow, bring one. Make-up if you wear it bring a good supply. I’m glad I brought things like face powder, eyeliner, and mascara although I typically don’t wear them in my village. Hair Products – you can get hairspray in Kenya but other hair products are either hard to find or poor quality so if you want them bring them. Also bring elastics and bobby pins.

That about sums it up, hope this helps and feel free to ask questions!

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Water is Life/ Maji ni Maisha

Hey Hey!

Project updates! Late this week the funding for my latrine project was released to me so I am hoping to get things kick started with the school on Monday!

I have also started another project I’ve been wanting to do for a while. I’m a volunteer in the “public health” sector of Kenya Peace Corps and while there are so many health issues here (malaria, diarrhea, HIV) my favorite is water and sanitation because I think it makes a difference in all of those other areas. I think access to clean water and good hygiene can make a big impact on people’s lives. So, that being said there is a great NGO called Water Charity that gives grants to Peace Corps Volunteers doing all types of water projects.

I applied to help a school in my community get a rainwater catchement tank. Because there is no infrastructure for running water access in rural Kenya people either collect the water from nearby sources like rivers, streams, lakes, springs, or boreholes/wells if they’re there OR they might have a rainwater catchement system. Personally, I have the little boys on my compound bring me water from a protected spring near my house and they get candy in return :) Or if its raining hard enough I collect water in buckets outside my house. On my to do list before I finish my service is carrying water on my head! Rainwater, boreholes, and protected springs are clean sources of water although it should still be treated but the rest are not so much and lead to child mortality and the spread of disease.

Also water usage is a big deal here because for most people getting water is an exhausting task. For example, I use 3 pitchers full of water (4 if I have to wash my hair) to bathe….how many do you think go in a bathtub or a shower in the US? There’s a joke I’ve posted on one of my previous blogs: Some say the glass is half empty, some say the glass if half full, a Peace Corps volunteer says, I could take a bath in that! Also, I treat all of my water so I don’t get sick and I have a special filter I use to make drinking water. However, many people don’t and they suffer from things like diarrhea which can lead to dehydration and death.

All the above applies to schools. Schools need water for drinking, cleaning, and if they provide lunch, also cooking. They rely on students to carry it from whatever distance there everyday. I happen to live in an extremely rainy and green part of Kenya so a rainwater catchement system is perfect! The tank being installed holds up to 30,000 liters alleviating the students need to carry water and providing a cleaner source than their current one  (an unprotected spring) and providing stored water during the dry season. I am really excited about this project.

Now that I’ve told you all about it you can check it out for my information on the project on this website and please consider making a donation to my project to get it underway!

http://www.appropriateprojects.com/node/1425

PS: I will be in Kansas City in 52 days!!!!!!!

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Mountains and Beaches

I am back in my village after a Kenyan holiday adventure!

For Christmas a group of 7 of us Peace Corps girls decided to climb Mt. Kenya, it is the second tallest mountain in Africa and we reached the summit of 4, 985 meters or 16,355 feet! Our group was joined by a guide from The Netherlands who was awesome for answering our questions and laughing at our mountain antics and another girl climbing, originally from China but currently working in a development company in Nairobi. We started our venture over 5 days passing the equator and taking a long hike on the first day. The mountain felt like we were in a different world. The vegetation wasn’t like any other I’d seen in Kenya and we actually needed to wear jackets and eventually get all bundled up! The majority of us had gotten altitude sickness medication from Peace Corps Medical and we quickly discovered that a side effect is having to pee every 30 minutes. This meant that our guides and crew got to know us very well as we were marking our territory all over the side of the mountain!

We went with a company called Mohakin Climbers which we were very happy with. They were willing to work with us on the price since we are on a Peace Corps budget and they offered us the option of staying in huts rather than tents. I am so glad we got to stay in huts because I can’t imagine how cold we would have been in a tent! They were dorm style rooms with bunk beds and a flush toilet…nicer than my house in my village! Also, they provided plenty of porters to carry our bags…I also can’t imagine climbing the mountain while carrying my own pack. They would heat water for us to carry around in our water bottles and the food was great!

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We went up for another day, and did some acclimatization on Christmas and spent one more night at our same camp. This was the first time we got to see snow! I actually jumped up and down I was so happy, it was the first time I’d seen snow in two years. We even tried to make snow angels.

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Then on the fourth day of our trek we summited! I have to say that summiting the mountain was harder than running a marathon. We woke up at 2am and left the hut by 3 so that we could reach the top at sunrise. Seeing the snow capped mountain backdropped by a million stars was breathtaking! We started our vertical climb, hiking over snow and rocks and the air was only getting colder and thinner. We would take a few steps and then stop to catch our breath. Once we reached the top, the sun was up and we were above the clouds and awesome view!

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A few things they don’t tell you about climbing the mountain…the altitude will make you gassy! Let’s just say no one wanted to stand downwind from eachother! Also, from not showering we all had layers of skin coming off when we got down. Even if we got to fill our water bottles from mountain glacier water…we still had to treat it We came back down the mountain after summiting spent one night in a lodge with a shower! And the next day we hiked for a few more hours then headed out to Nairobi.

After finishing up Mt. Kenya we immediately headed to the coast to celebrate New Years. I would highly recommend going to a beach after you’ve climbed a mountain. We were tired and sore and a little sun and sand was exactly what we needed. Unfortunately, after coming down from a high altitude and spending 10 hours on a bus we all ended up with the largest cankles you have ever seen! I have never had me feet swell up like that before and it was a good 3 days before they returned to their normal size!

First, we made a quick stop in Kilifi to break up our trip towards the north coast. We stayed at a great hostel called Distant Relatives Ecolodge where they had the type of composting latrines I’m trying to build in my village! Kilifi turned out to be a lot more relaxed and much less touristy that Diani Beach where I had been in July. We took a couple cute photos ;)

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After resting up in Kilifi we headed to our final destination of the beautiful island of Lamu. Historically, Lamu was a port used by Arab traders. It has a strong Arab/Islamic culture, beautiful stone buildings and mosques, and great seafood!

We ended up staying a hotel called JamboHouse where the owner is a German guy who helped us set up everything we wanted to do while we were there. We shopped around and bought great fabric, visited the islands silver smith, ate prawns, tafi, coconut rice, and fresh juice. And on our second day there (New Years Eve Day) we arranged to take a Dhow boat ride.

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We took the boat out sailing to another beach where our captain cooked up a delicious meal of chapati, veggies, coconut rice, white snapper, and a grilled chocolate banana for dessert. After spending some time on the beach and having lunch we headed over to the Takwa ruins, a century old stone town where you can see a kings tomb, wells, and the mosque used in the community.

Once we finished up our dhow boat ride we headed back to Lamu to get ready for New Years Eve. We headed back to the beach where we spent the day and celebrated with the locals on the sand. They had drums, a bonfire and music to dance too, it was a cool experience. On our last day in Lamu we relaxed and took a donkey ride down the water front! This was a first for me and definitely not the most comfortable experience but its something to laugh about!

I’m back in my village now and I’ve recently learned that my latrine project has been funded! Thanks to everyone who has donated and promoted this project for me! I am waiting to get the money from the US so I can get started with the school and hopefully see this project be a success. A great way to start the new year!

 

 

 

 

 

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Little bit of Awesomeness

First things first, I need donations!

https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=615-206

As some of you know, I have been working with a primary school in my community to help them build new eco-friendly and sustainable latrines. I attempted to apply for a grant but missed the funding cycle, so I’m counting on you to help me get this project going!

Next up, I have gotten a chance to do some really cool things in the last few weeks and want to fill you in!

For Thanksgiving I went to Kakamega Rainforest where we stayed in Bandas that had ovens and a kitchen with running water so we got to cook a real meal!

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After cooking up a big meal we went on a hike through the forest. Kakamega is very green but you won’t see a lot of other color, I was hoping to see some colorful birds or monkeys but we missed them all on our hike! We went out to a waterful before sunset and then hiked back to our camp.

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DSC00857A week after Thanksgiving I headed to Kisumu to run the World AIDS Day marathon. After not finishing the Lewa Marathon I attempted in June (85/200 full marathon participants dropped out!) I decided to train again for a full marathon. This was easily the most disorganized and hectic race I have ever done! First, it started an hour late…not something you want to happen when you’re running a marathon directly on the equator line. Myself and another volunteer, Deidra, were the only PCV’s doing the full and a big group was doing the half marathon. The full marathon participants were asked to gather up before the start at which point we realized we are the only wazungu running the full and all the other participants look like they should be on a podium taking a gold medal!

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Once the race started, I felt fine and took a nice easy pace. However, the disorganization was only beginning. First there were no toilets the entire race…when you’re running for more than 4 hours and taking in water you’re gonna need to go. I solved this around mile 12 when I waltzed into a mid-scale tourist hotel pretending like I belonged there and used their lobby bathroom…meanwhile I saw quite a few other people popping a squat! Next, the water stops were frequent enough but the water was in open large buckets and being handed out in clear plastic bags that you had to rip open with your teeth, it left cleanliness to be questioned but I didn’t get sick! Also, there was no fruit, etc. to replace the carbs and sugar your body used up…luckily I had a gel pack! In addition the race course was poorly marked if at all in some places and not blocked off at all in town. This means we were running through matatu traffic…I got asked if I needed to board one to go to Kakamega, I also encountered cows, pigs, dogs, goats, etc. and we rain through slums dodging people and kids and at one point the course even went through road construction that I had to climb a 2 foot drop down (did I mention this race had wheel chair participants??!). Once the loop came around to finish the half I was looking for the continuance of the course and was utterly lost to follow it. I asked several police officers and ended up running a few more miles in a big loop! I came back to the finish and race staff were completely unhelpful so I threw in the towel! I think its a sign that I’m just not meant to run a full marathon in Kenya! Afterwards we met up with Peace Corps and distributed some educational health materials to community groups raising awareness at the event.

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As you can see from the photos I took the plunge and had my hair plaited! I had a lot of fun with it and took some of the braids out to rock a mohawk.

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After finishing things up in Kisumu the next weekend was Henry’s birthday! We decided to head to Lake Naivasha and do a bike safari and hike at Hell’s Gate National Park. I absolutely loved it! Naivasha is a beautiful area in Rift Valley and Hell’s gate is famed for the gorge where Tomb Raider was filmed and some of the animation for the Lion King was inspired. We got to see a lot of zebra’s (there are no big cats in that park, hence the biking!) wart hogs, and gazelle.

I wish I could put more pictures in but alas my African internet. That’s about all for now, I’m just spending a few weeks in my village, keeping track of fundraising for the latrine project before heading off for some more traveling for the holidays.

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