Monday, November 5, 2007

Rest in Peace Kuel

A few people know this already, but on our trip as we were leaving Turkana our bus was stopped by two bandits, one of whom had a gun and had it pointed at our bus. All they were after was money, and they didn’t even come in the bus. The people who worked with the program, both our program and that of the travel agency, were amazing. They were extremely calm and sensible, and took such good care of us, both before and after the event. We all gave a few hundred shillings (3 or 4 dollars) and then we were on our way again. The event itself occupied a very small part of our trip, but the memory of it is the most salient in most of our minds. I guess that’s just the way the mind works. I guess trauma takes precedence over happiness. And trust me there were many happy memories. It’s frustrating thought that two young punks were able to ruin so many memories.

I know that I promised to finish the blog entry about Turkana, but at this time I just can’t.

Last Monday we found out that another one of the trips to Lake Turkana (though in a different area of Turkana) was met with another bandit. But this time it didn’t. According to the people who were there, one man stopped the bus and was asking for water. When the bus stopped he pulled out a gun and shot Kuel, the cook for the travel agency in the chest, killing him. We were all pretty close to Kuel, so his death hit us pretty hard. He was one of the sweetest men I’ve met here, and he had such a good heart.

It’s so hard to have these memories conflicting with the remainder of the memories from our trip. A group of us went to his funeral on Saturday, which gave us some time to process. But it’s still hitting us pretty hard. Kuel was so sweet, we know he wouldn’t want us to be sad, but it is taking some time for us to process.

I don’t want anyone to worry about me, or my safety. These were isolated events, and I’m doing fine.

If you think about it pray for Kuel’s family, he leaves behind his wife and young daughter, Jacinta, and I know that death is something that happens pretty frequently in Kenya, but that doesn’t make it any easier for us or them to deal with.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Turkana Blog part 1

Hello all!!

As I write this I’m stuck at home with a stomach bug. Everyone else on our trip has had it, so I guess it’s only fair.

Lake Turkana was an amazing experience. In one week we got to see more of Kenya than most Kenyan’s will ever see. Every day we drove through amazing extremes, from lush forest to desert, from no man’s land down to the Rift Valley. Kenya is fantastic and beautiful.

We went with a group called Gametrackers, which leads a lot of different tours around Kenya and East Africa. We took what I think is a converted lorry, there was a separate cabin for the driver, cook and assistant cook (who were all amazingly sweet, and made delicious food too) We sat in the separate back area that had all the seats that we sat in, along with Steven our tour guide. To get to the back area you had to climb up a small ladder. All of our supplies for the week (including about 400 liters of water) sat underneath the sitting area.

The first day we drove from Nairboi north past Thika, across the equator (where I fell off the bus and got a beautiful bruise on my arm!) around Mt Kenya, which we couldn’t really see because it was cloudy, and up to Samburu National Park. Along the way we stopped in a few different towns for bathroom brakes and the like, and at one point our tour guide turns around to us and says, “this town is know for being the last town with paved roads.” And sure enough, it was in fact the last town with paved roads. Roads in Nairobi are often filled with pot holes and are known for being awful, and interestingly enough these roads were probably better off than some of the paved roads that we’ve driven on.

We stayed in Samburu for two nights. The first full day we were there we went on a morning and evening game drive, which was amazing. We saw so many elephants, zebras, giraffes, dik-diks, oryx, hornbills, gazelles, baboons, and a number of other animals. My favorites were the elephants. So adorable, plus they’re matriarchal, which doesn’t hurt. At one point we watched a few baby elephants play fighting. There were also a lot of really cool birds, including ones that are called suberb starlings.(or something) they’re bright blue with green bellies. It rained during our evening game drive, which was pretty cool because a lot of the animals came out after the hot day. We saw a cheetah with three of her cubs, and 2 leopards lounging in the trees, along with the usual assortment of other wildlife.

During the day we went to a local Samburu village that survives by having visitors pay money in exchange for a tour of the village and a few cultural dances (cultural tourism is fascinating, and is both frustrating and awesome…I’m still not sure how I feel about it, and we visited three villages that week….) when we got there the women from the surrounding clans came and put necklaces around us. First the moran (warriors, men between the ages of 19 and 29, or from circumcision until about 30) did the dance that they do about hunting and strength, which is combined with a few very high jumps, and then the women pulled our hands and made us join them in dance that the warriors dance with the young girls of the tribe. After that the women sang the welcoming song. We took a tour of the village, sat in people’s houses, saw the classroom, and the blacksmith’s workshop. The we were made to run the gauntlet of women and young girl trying to sell us way too expensive jewelry.

It was interesting to see that way that people decorate themselves. The Moran like to decorate their hair a lot, and we saw one man who had sewn plastic flowers in his hair as a Mohawk. It was awesome. It was also really interesting to see what life is like. The Samburu are related to the Maasai people, they speak the same language, with different accents, and look very similar. However, while the Maasai have largely stopped female circumcision (which was outlawed in Kenya in the last 10 years or so) the Samburu still practice it. A girl is circumcised on the day she is married, usually about age 14. Men on the other hand are circumcised at around 15, but not married until late twenties early thirties. Our tour guide Steven, was samburu, but despite living in Nairobi still wanted to marry a 14 year old circumcised girl. Girls younger than 14 usually are the girlfriends of moran, and are free to have sex with them…and people believe that girls this young can enjoy sex. The man who showed us around the village had also studied in Nairboi, and because of this he doesn’t want to marry a girl who is circumcised, but he knows that if he brings a girl from another village to his village to marry he can’t leave her alone because she’ll be circumcised while he’s not there. Very very interesting.

That next morning we work up to an interesting surprise. Right next to our outhouse, which was pretty close t o camp itself. Were huge piles of elephant poop. Apparently elephants walked right next to our camp, and none of us noticed.

There was also a family of baboons that keep trying to steal food from us as we were eating, and while we weren’t looking they snuck into our bus and stole some of our food. We’re still not entirely sure how they got in there.

The next day we drove up to Marsabit national Park, stopping to see a few different volcanic craters. It was really interesting to drive through the dry savannah land only to drive up a mountain and end up in a forest where everything is lush and green. We stopped by a place called Paradise Lake, which isn’t really a lake anymore, because there’s been so little rain recently. On our drive to Marsabit we drove by two mountains that are sacred to the Samburu..when it hasn’t rained in a long time people go there to pray and with in a few months it rains again. It’s called Blue mountain (I think). We also had our first experience “Checking the tire pressure” otherwise known as bush toilets, which became increasingly more hilarious as the week went on and there was less and less vegetation.

well this about covers the first third of the trip...i'll be posting again later this week with the rest!
miss you all!

Monday, October 15, 2007

i'm alive!!

Hi all!!
i just wanted to let you all know thati'm alive.
i'm still trying to get down my trip to Turkana in words, so here's an blog that i wrote before i left for you all to read.
miss you all!!!
African Picasso

There’s a phenomena in Nairobi called Maasai Markets. On Tuesdays it’s in the city, on Fridays it moves to Village Market (also known as UN market because of the people that shop there), on Saturdays it’s in a parking lot behind the Hilton Downtown, and on Sundays it’s at Ya-Ya center.

The markets are fun, with so many different things for sale: jewelry, bowls, picture frames, scarves and batiks. At every market there’s at least one person selling batiks who claims to be the African Picasso. They attack you as soon as you arrive in the market, asking you to please come and see their batiks, because not only do they make their own, but they’ve mastered the skill to achieve the same level as that of Picasso.
If you tell them that you’ve seen many other African Picasso’s they assure you that they are in fact the original ones. There’s a market nearby that’s open everyday, and a man there has a sign that says that he is the original African Picasso.

A few weekends ago a few of us went to the market behind the Hilton, which is huge, and the people there were so pushy that we got pretty frustrated pretty quickly. One man had been following us around since we got there (wamunzungu usually are easy targets they didn’t understand what things should cost, or how to bargain). When he first told us that he was the African Picasso, I was so fed up with everyone saying that they were the African Picasso that I kind of freaked.
“Why Picasso?!” I yelled. “Why not the African Monet, the African Matisse, the African Van Gogh, the African Renoir, why just Picasso?!?!”
They all kind of started at me like I was crazy, and a guy that walked by yelled “I’m the African Matisse!” at me.

We happened to walk past the man’s stall and he stopped us and he said, “look I’m the African Picasso, looking is free!” (they all say that, along with “touching is free, almost everything is free!!”)
I got a little frustrated, probably unreasonably. His artwork is was good enough, it just wasn’t Picasso at all. They were pictures of animals, and they looked like almost everything else around. I turned and looked at him and said, entirely seriously “Picasso was abstract, do you understand me, abstract.”
He looked at me and said, “Ok! I’ll show you my abstract drawings.”
“No, no,” I said, “he was a cubist.” This was met with a blank stare, to which I responded “you find out what cubism means, and then we’ll talk.”

I probably overreacted, but if you’re going to pick an artist to name yourself after, at least try to understand what their artwork looks like.

We’ve met some other really nice people at the market however. At Zebra market (which is nearby, and open everyday, instead of once a week) we met a woman named Eunice. I was with my friend Liz, and we told her that our names were Elizabeth and Mary (sometimes it’s just easier) and she looked at us and said “You’re sisters right, no cousins.” People are always mistaking any of us on the program for cousins, sisters, etc, so we weren’t surprised. After we told her that we were just friends she said, “No, in the bible!!” Kenyans have mandatory religious education, called CRE in the majority of the country (Christian Religious Education) although in the Muslim areas it’s called IRE (Islamic Religious Education). Kenyans know their religious texts. Eunice was so sweet. We didn’t even have to bargain with her or “her sister” (who knows if they’re sisters or not) who was in the stall across the way. They gave us amazing prices because we just chatted with them (we even tried to use our Kiswahili, which I think won them over more!). Since then my friend liz has gone back to visit her, and she asked where I was, which is so nice!! A good deal of you will probably get presents from Eunice or her sister.

Some observations about Kenyan and music:
American hip-hop is HUGE, especially that song Beautiful Girls (or as we call it, Suicidal). We hear that everywhere we go.

Classic Rock stations on the radio will probably only play hip-hop and R&B from the late 1990s/ early 2000s.

Reggae is huge, and is sometimes used to bring across a point. There was one we heard on a matatu the other day that had a chorus that went “Abortion is a crime, it’s not a human right, you would punish parents that kill there kids, so punish women that have an abortion.” A very interesting way to get your point across.

Our favorite radio station is called “Black Supremacy” and their tag line is “We’re taking over”

miss you all!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It's october already?

I can’t believe it’s already October! September flew by with out me even noticing!! October’s going to go just as quickly I fear! Especially because we have two class trips planned. Man, it’s going to be December before I realize.

This last weekend was a blast! On Friday we went to the top of the Kenya International Conference Center to see a bird’s eye view of Nairobi. It was really cool to see how everything fit together, and to see the different parts of the city from up above. Afterwards we went to the memorial park for the bombing of the US embassy. It was pretty powerful.

On Saturday we went to Art in the Park, which is kind of what it sounds like. Basically in the middle of Ngong Forest Sanctuary a bunch of artists made really awesome art out of different things found in nature. A lot of the art focused on the need to protect nature, such as old tree trunks that were stuffed with dried grass to make smoke stacks called “global warning.” In general it was pretty awesome. There were a lot of school children that were running around the forest. It’s really interesting because people in Nairobi live around so much nature, but they never see it because it’s so expensive to get out to it.

Speaking of which on Sunday, we took a day trip to Lake Nivasha, which was fantastic!!! At first we were a bit skeptical of what the trip would be like because when we left the house (at 6:30 in the morning) it was raining and gross. It started clearing up during out hour drive to the park, and it actually turned out to be amazing, because the clouds made the day slightly cool which meant there were a lot of animals out and about. We did a walking safari through Lake Nivasha national park, called Hippo Lake. We walked through an open field, and through a clearing of trees, and all the sudden there were a ton of animals. No lie, it was like a scene out of the lion king. There were water bucks, impalas, giraffes, water buffalo, and zebras. We got pretty close to all of the animals (with the exception of the water buffalo. You don’t go close to those), and it was awesome. We then went to the lake and saw so many hippos. That was pretty awesome. We saw a baby hippo, baby giraffe, and baby zebra. We had the park pretty much to ourselves which was pretty cool, except at one point a group of about 8 small boys ran through the park. Totally random.

After the walking tour we took a boat tour of a different part of Lake Nivasha, and we saw more hippos, and we went by Crescent Island which is an island where animals are brought in to live, probably for tourists, and we saw more of the animals listed above plus wildebeest and gazelles, and pelicans. In general it was an amazing day.

It was really nice to get out of city for once, breath some fresh air, an see wild animals. We felt like such tourists, but considering how we spend most of our time, we didn’t feel too bad. It was so awesome to be around all of the animals, and so peaceful.

In other news...

I think to a large extent I can sum up my time in Kenya as such: I never expected to miss the US so much. (that may just be culture shock talking) This revelation has been hard for me, because my goal in life since I can remember has been to leave the US as soon as I graduate and not look back.

I also didn’t expect to miss AU in particular. For the majority of sophomore year I pretty much hated AU. I don’t even know the number of times I considered dropping out, or transferring, or taking time off. It was on a pretty regular basis. That all changed at the end of sophomore year, but it took me the entire summer up until now to realize that.

I know that most of you probably only want to hear what types of experiences I’ve been having, but for me it’s hard to separate the events of the past weeks with the internal experiences that I’ve had. For every experience that I’ve had in Kawangware, or at USIU or anywhere in Nairobi, I’ve had an equally important moment of self revelation. And as much as I want to tell all of you about all of those actual physical experiences it’s also hard because I know that there are so many things that I’ll leave out just because to me it seems normal. And frankly, life here is so completely different that, not to be mean, you’ll never be able to understand entirely what the experience is like. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but I don’t know how else to put it.

Every thing that happens here has a direct impact on the rest of my life, and frankly that’s exhausting. I’ve spent so much of this trip just being so so tired, and I think that I’ve finally understood why. My brain can’t process all of it, so it takes it out on my body.

I’m not saying any of this to complain. I hope that it helps you all understand, I can completely understand now how I will be a completely different person when I come back, hopefully a much better person.
Miss you all! See you in a few months!


Thursday, September 27, 2007

just a thought.

A lot of people have told me that by being here, I’m going to change so many lives. After spending some time here, I don’t think that’s the point at all. If anything, my life is going to be the one that changes dramatically. People here are resourceful in ways that I never imagined, and I have so much that I can learn from them. I’m a college student, I have very little of value to teach someone else. Also, I think that’s the problem with Western development. We come to the developing world with grandiose notions of exactly what this place or that place needs, without ever consulting the people that live there, or understanding what it is exactly that they feel they need.

Here’s an example, one that I learned yesterday. The clinic that I work at receives medicine and medical supplies from various organizations. However, the foot the bill for most of the everyday medicine that they use. Save the Children wanted to donate medicine, and Ray of Hope was pleased, however, when the medicine actually came they found out that most of it is bizarre medicine that is rarely used. While Save the Children did a good thing, Ray of Hope still has to pay for almost everything that it uses on a daily basis.

Then there’s the American equipment that’s brought over by American donors, that sits unused because they can’t find the right power converter, or because part of it breaks and they can’t find an equivalent replacement part in Kenya.

There are so many examples that I’ve seen first hand of good intention gone awry, it really makes me think about my own desire to do development work. I’m not exactly sure that that’s what I want anymore, but the question now is, what do I want?

I’m not saying that all foreign aid should stop. It’s just that “development” work has acted as a crutch for so long that in some ways it’s inhibited the people who receive it. It’s still needed to a large extent, but it would be so much better for countries receiving it to be part of how it is used. And it’s sad to see Americans and others from the Global North take jobs away from Kenyans while working in the development field.

As much as this semester leaves me with more questions than answers, maybe it’s good that I still have three semesters left. I should look in to becoming an anthro major. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel then like I had to doubt the benefit of everything that I do in the rest of my life. And I wouldn’t necessarily be taking jobs away from Kenyans either.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

One month anniversary!

Last night we celebrated our one month anniversary in Nairobi.
It's hard to believe that it's been a whole month, it's gone by so quickly. so much has happened.
my friends like to call it baptism by fire, and it's so true. the people at work speak to me in as much swahili as possible, which is hard sometimes, cause i still understand so little. Also at work, i've become known as the "midwife" because they found out how much i want to be a midwife. i've assisted in the stages leading up to labor, including learning how to tell how dilated a woman is (you can probably imagine what this entails)

On Friday we went to the Giraffe center, where you can pet giraffes, feed them, and give them kisses. check out flickr for photos!
on saturday we found an amazing second hand market, and i got some awesome shirts.
on sunday i met a traditional midwife in Kawangware (the slum i work in). she told me that one day i could come an help her out with her procedures. i never would have guessed that i would be able to experience this much midwifery. never in my wildest dreams!

anyway, just a short post to tell you that i'm alive. also check flickr, i updated!

if you want email updates email me at mir (dot) wood (at) gmail (dot) com
love to you all!!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

'Never say Bread, say SupaLoaf'

So my internship and classes have started, and so far they’ve both been very interesting in different ways.Classes present a new challenge because of the scarcity of internet around here (and the cost/viruses that abound), so that makes it hard to do assignments online. Also, I’ve had classes for a week, and so far only one professor has come (but he only came for one class), and I don’t have a single syllabus yet.

Here’s a little glimpse of the start of one of my days.

Wednesday was fun. I have to take a matatu ride to work, and that morning I got on one matatu that was going out of town, but wasn’t actually going to where I thought it was going. I was the last person on the matatu, and the tout (the one that takes the money and tells the driver where to stop) looked at me and shrugged. I asked him if it was going to Kawangware (pronounced Cow-an-GWAR-e), and he told me that it wasn’t, and he was nice enough to tell me which matatu to take to get there. The second matatu that I got on decided that they didn’t feel like 1) waiting in traffic, and 2) going all the way to Kawangware. We weaved a lot in between the two lanes of traffic, and a few people were angry at our matatu and would point their car right in front of ours so we had to get back in to traffic. That was pretty fun. Most of the way to Kawangware there were two of left on the matatu, so the driver just decided to give us back our money and turn around. Thankfully a nice woman helped me find my way on to another matatu that finally made it to Kawangware.

Thankfully, I’ve been lost so many times now that I pretty much know my way around. Hopefully I won’t get lost anymore!! The more I walk around Kawangware the more I know my way around.

On the way back the matatu was so beat up that there were rusted patches on the bottom of it, and the door didn’t shut all the way. This is a pretty common experience, but it still amuses me every time, and reminds me of good old Shadowfax… man I miss that car.

My internship is going well so far (granted I’ve only been there two days). I’m not sure how much I’ve already described about Ray of Hope, so here’s a longer explanation. Ray of Hope is a clinic and community center. The clinic does everything: from fixing small wounds and helping HIV/AIDS patients to delivering roughly 60 babies a month and holding free vaccination sessions for infants every Friday. The community center has two parts, the first is a learning center that works with children orphaned by HIV/AIDS, or street children, etc, the second gives food, medicine and support to the community members through community meetings and individual counseling through home visits. A woman named Hendrica, runs the home visits, and community center, and she is my idol. She is a combined social worker, birth attendant, and counselor. She visits homes, gives of her own money, takes people to the hospital, sees death pretty frequently, and is generally a saint. She’s the one that wanted to start the learning center, because she saw so many orphaned children whose parents couldn’t afford the school fees anymore that she wanted to do something so that these kids could get some education and have some fighting chance.

The people at the clinic found out that I want to be a midwife, so now they’ve been planning how to get me to see as many births as I can, including taking me to a nearby women’s hospital that has a very busy labor ward.

It’s been so much fun to get to know everyone at the clinic and school. They are all so nice, and are extremely sweet and caring. The first day I was there I saw a pelvic exam of a woman who was having labor pains, and heard the baby’s heart beat. Most of the time in the clinic I sit and try to understand what everyone is saying in Kiswahili. Occasionally they realize that I’m sitting there and decide to catch me up on the last 20 minutes or so. One day we had a lunch of beans, potato and corn, and they told me that when you eat a lot of beans you fart a lot. I then taught them the American rhyme “beans beans the magical fruit…” which they loved, and made me repeat to everyone else around me.

Hendrica also took me with her as she visited some of her clients, which was so interesting to see what life is really like in Kawangware. I’ve kind of become Hendrica’s assistant, which is cool, because it’s interesting to see how she works, and what life is like for her.

Kawangware is crazy. All of Hendrica’s clients live in corrugated tin shacks that are 10 feet by 10 feet, and the rent is 2,000 Ksh a month (about $30, which may not seem like much to you, but to the average Kenyan living in the slums that’s a HUGE amount). There are generally more than 6 people that live in these houses, and on the day that it rains the roads are made up entirely of mud (and it’s been raining for the past week, thank G-d for those rain boots I got!!), so the houses become muddy also. Everything is cooked over charcoal, which creates a lot of smoke. Trash is also burned everywhere you go, which creates a very distinct odor, and adds to the pollution here (hence the black boogers).

I’ve also sat in on the nursery classes at Ray of Hope (which are children age 3 to kindergarten although there are a few older kids), which was fun. The children mostly stare at me and laugh, which is adorable, although somewhat frustrating. The first day I had to draw pictures, while they guessed what it was, and every time there was one that looked somewhat like what it was supposed to be they would sing a congratulation cheer. It seemed almost like they were mocking me, but it was hilarious.

So that’s pretty much what’s been happening so far! Once I spend more time at USIU I’ll fill you in on everything that’s been happening, and whenever something interesting happens at Ray of Hope I’ll be sure to let you know! (especially when I get to see my first birth!)

Miss you all!!!!