Saturday, August 6, 2011

Feasts and Riots

Hi All!

Sorry for the bombardment of posts. There was a storm, which isn’t very favorable for relying on solar panels to charge our electronics. But here you go!

This past weekend was amazing. We went to Auindo, which is about 3 1/2 hours away from Matoso. We ordered a private car because the public transport is also what carries the fish for the 2 hours to Migori. It was so hot and I was so grateful that we paid the extra $4USD to have our own “luxury car.” Well, it wasn’t really a car so much as it was a minivan. A minivan that had to fit 18 people and their overnight bags. That was quite the experience. We were jam packed in!

The ride was worth it. We went to another one of Semi’s really amazing friend’s houses. Her name is Jane. She worked for the BBC in London and was also involved in journalism in Japan. She is so well traveled and smart. It was so refreshing to meet a progressive and proactive African woman. Her whole house is green. She gets her water from the earth. I don’t know exactly all of the technology, but she essentially drilled down until water. Solar panels and a windmill power her house. Everything she eats, she grows. She has four fishponds, cattle, goats, lamb, chickens and turkeys.

She gladly opened her house up to 18 people. To me, that speaks volumes. Ontop of that, she had a full banquet for us. Literally, a rain tent with tables and chairs covered with beautiful linens. We ate like kings that night. I have never been so well fed in my life! Well, in the past 4 weeks.

It was great! I used a REAL toilet that flushes. I took a shower with running water. I slept inside a home. I could not believe all of the effort that she put into having guests.

It made me reevaluate my standards for hosting!

This week should be really interesting. I went to Migori on Monday. There was a riot. I was pretty scared. People were so angry and outraged. All I could hear people yelling was, “this is how we do things in Africa.” That in itself was frightening. Then to top it off, people were putting up roadblocks…and we were stuck! Our car was stuck in the middle of it all. As it turns out, there was a really bad accident and a few people died. There is a lack of driving laws throughout Kenya. People go as fast as they want and yield to no one. The community was so sick of people speeding through their town that they decided to stop traffic and create cement speed bumps. The two hour drive took us an extra 2 hours because we were trying to take the ONE back road, which everyone else was on. It was quite the experience! I am so glad everything turned out well.

That is all for now!

Love to you all!

Light in Darkness

Hi All!

It has been a very interesting few days. There was a massive storm, so our solar panels were not available to charge computers. Needless to say, there is a lot to fill you in on.

I planned to take the orphan Matilda to the local health center to get checked out. Her stomach looked as if she was being eaten alive by worms. It felt really strange too. I decided to take her down to get checked out. Turns out she does have worms and a pretty serious case of giardia. Her check up and her medicine all came out to cost under one US dollar. I was shocked. She just finished her last round of medicine yesterday. There is a night and day difference with baby! I love it. She is so happy and running around! It was also really great because the health officials let me go into the lab and look in the microscope at the different tests we ran on her. I got to see the giardia protozoa wiggling around. I also got to look to see if she had Malaria, which she luckily does not!

I firmly believe that Kenya is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been to in my entire life. But it is also one of the most ugly and darkest areas. I have thought a lot about how much I should divulge in my blog. But I figured it was most important to be honest. This next part is very sad and incomprehensible. While we were at the health center I kept hearing these wails of severe pain. It was coming from a baby. One of the men that is taking our computer literacy course is a doctor at the health center. He came up to class later in the day and apologized because he could not make it today. Apparently, the screams that I was hearing were in fact coming from a baby. A five month old had been raped and she did not make it. I cannot even fathom whom or why anyone would do that to an innocent baby. It is the most cruel and disgusting thing I have ever been so close to. Of course, I have heard devastating stories. But I have never been in the same location as someone like I was on Friday.

I swear that I can be having the best day and it will literally crash into shambles within five minutes. Conversely, I have these moments that reaffirm my faith in humanity. The redemption came Friday night. There are some other CDWs (community development workers) in the area. They were flying home to Germany on Saturday and there was a going away party to celebrate all of their hard work. We were previously engaged so we decided to go – despite the terrible news. There had been a lot of rain and lightning on Thursday. The lightning was not uncommon. We see lightning a lot at night. We left Matoso around 9 to go to the party. The weather was awesome. As we keep driving, the lightning really picks up. But it seems so far away. But as we keep going, the lightning is brighter and more frequent. One of our piki pikis got a flat tire, so he went to Matoso to bring us a new motorcycle. As he pulled away, there was a TORRENTIAL downpour. The raindrops had to have been the size of grapes. The wind was roaring and taking no prisoners. We were about 15 miles away from camp, so walking was not our best option at this point. We walked to a house and one of the motorcycle drivers asked if we could come in. Mind you, it was 10 o’clock at night. This old woman, who was 78, answered the door in her white nightgown with the biggest smile. She made us tea and offered to sleep on the floor so we could have her bed. Her generosity towards complete strangers was absolutely astounding. I have never ever experienced the kindness that I have in Kenya.

Once a new piki piki returned, we decided to brace the storm and just get back to camp. It felt as if we were riding in the eye of the storm the entire time, which did not work to our advantage at camp. The few people that stayed behind to get a good night sleep were soaking wet and trying to gather all the electronics from all of the tents so they did not get ruined. I am very grateful that they did that. Who knows how I would be typing this blog if they didn’t! :)

We had a great big sleep over in the community center. I have never been so appreciative of sleeping under a roof than I did that night.

That is all for now! I will try and post again soon!

Love to you all!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hi All!

It has been a great few days! The weather has been more “mild.” I only put it in quotes because mild in Kenya is not exactly what you expect. But, it is nice to not be in a state of persistent sweat. The mornings and nights (after 1 am) are reasonably cold. I enjoy every minute of the cold though.

Monday was amazing. We went to Ratieny Primary School for a Q&A session with the students. It was supposed to be just Grades 5-8. Within 15 minutes, the class was flooded with students – more students than I could imagine being present in one room.

At first the students were very shy. It was amazing when they warmed up to us. They had some really thought-provoking questions. Some of the most notable questions were the ones regarding HIV/AIDS. There is a general lack of knowledge across the board regarding HIV and AIDS. I was shocked by some of the questions they asked. But, like I have said before, it is hard to explain without opposing the local religious ideology. Also, they were asking how could they expect to have a bright future for themselves, if no one else believes in them. One girl asked to be my pen pal to stay in contact because she has no one to support her here and wants to know someone has faith in her. I will gladly correspond with this girl.

We had our first computer class on Monday. It went really well! I mean nothing by this, but they learned way faster than I expected. It bears no difference that they are from Kenya. I am just used to my father’s basic understanding (or lack there of) of computers …and he has had more than 4 computers in his house for over 10 years. Brittany and I have our work cut out for us. But, I know that it is going to be great!

Today, Brittany and I were invited to go to the Ongoro Primary School closing ceremony. Our Piki Piki ride was very interesting. The “road” we went on was carved from water run off. So you can imagine how sturdy we felt ;) But we survived! We were then the impromptu commencement speakers and we were giving the top students their awards. It was hilarious and such an experience!

Love to you all!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Hi All!

I thought I would give a run-down of a typical day in the life of a community development worker in Matoso, West Kadem, Kenya.

- We wake up with the sun. Or until the rooster or cow does the job. There are so many chickens, roosters, cows and goats that just roam freely – everywhere. But somehow people still know which is theirs and no one steals them. We typically eat bread and butter for breakfast. Or these little fried “donuts.” They also have a delicious chai tea, which is more like hot chocolate every day. I am thankful I packed so much granola or else I would probably be one of the only people to go to Africa and gain weight.
- Breakfast is at 8 (which isn’t always the case. Well, it actually never is the case because we are on African time which adheres to no standards)
- We typically have a group meeting and then a respective meeting about our majors with the group leaders (Cory, Jess, or Kevin) and work with the community until 12:30
- Lunch is at 1. We normally have cabbage, eggs, and rice for lunch. We sometimes get papaya or pineapple. Very rarely do we get pineapple.
- After lunch, we typically have meetings with members of the community or surrounding areas. But for Brittany and I, we will be having computer classes every day from 4:30 – 6:30. So meetings might be moved to the morning.
-5:30 our work day is over. This is our free time. All of the children come to play with us. I am seriously so happy to play with the children. They all call me Vee-Kee. As if it is two words. We just set up a volleyball net, so the SCHAP compound has been attracting new faces, which is always welcomed and exciting! We also read and do arts and crafts.
-We eat dinner around 7:30 or 8. We have ugali, which is a Kenyan staple. It is like a bread, fluffy, carbohydrate. We normally pair that with cabbage or potatoes and fish, beef or chicken. Beans and lentils are typically served with chipate – which I am no longer allowed to help the women make because I am so bad at it that my help is actually not advantageous.

I have learned a lot since being here:
- There is no wasting of any food, especially meat. I cannot even chew through the beef. I do not eat the beef anymore because I saw it at the market one day in a plastic bag in the heat. I am not sure if my stomach could handle any E. coli right now. The fish is DELICIOUS. It is always fresh and amazing. The chicken is a sight. They eat everything: the tongue, cheeks, stomach, liver. The whole she-bang. There are a few adventurous guys who will eat all of that. I used to stick with the thighs until I ate one that felt so tough that it was like eating a body builder’s muscle. (Sorry for the vegetarians out there).
- Buy local food. My friends Sara, Brittany and I always buy fruit and eggs together. We hard boil eggs and eat mangoes and pineapples to give our poor diets a break.
- No water here is clean except the water we buy. The shower water has algae, sticks, and dirt in it. No amount of boiling will take that out. At least the bacteria is gone.
- We all have jobs to keep the camp organized. We have people in charge of “flushing” our “long call” bucket. Some are in charge of filling our hole with ash for our “short calls.” Some are in charge of the hauling up lake water every day to the camp for our make shift water purifier. And me? I got really lucky and am in charge of the showers. I literally just organize the showers and the order of people going. 20 guesses who always weasels her way into a warm shower. I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I am not upset about it.
-When in doubt: walk. The motorcycles are called “piki pikis.” I have had motorcycle knowledge force fed to me since before I could talk. I can always hear when things don’t sound right. And, let me tell you: nothing sounds right. I also always get on the piki piki on the side opposite of the muffler. Plenty of my cohorts have some pretty vicious burns.

Well, that is all for now! I hope this post serves you all well!

Love to you all!
Hi All!

Everything is going really well here in Matoso! We have all had a lovely weekend off. Last week was brutal to say the least. My major partner, Brittany, and I were all over West Kadem visiting local schools and having meetings with the headmasters and teachers.

Brittany and I are trying to figure out ways to make education more accessible. The government run schools are overpopulated and less engaged with the community as a whole. The private schools, like SCHAP, struggle to get the fees from the children, especially considering the amount of orphans and extreme poverty in the area. We are going to hold literacy programs for the adults to emphasize the importance of education to the community. Well, hopefully. We will see if there is even a market for it. From my experience, there are a lot of people that I have encountered in Kenya who just expect people to fix things for them. SCHAP can donate time, money, and resources for years on end, but the community will not be sustainable. There needs to be the desire for a holistic approach for change. It is there in a few people: the seed has been planted. But, it is going to take time.

The week was really enlightening and we met so many amazing people. We met a lot of people who are interested in becoming computer literate, which will open to doorway to many different avenues – not just in their respective job fields, but for more specialized job opportunities. Brittany and I are busting our behinds trying to put together a computer program. We have 4 people signed up for the beginner program. Those people have literally never seen a computer and do not know how to turn that one. Then we have 5 people in our intermediate class. Those people have used computers. We start our 6 series workshop TOMORROW! I am so excited!! We have beginner class Monday, Wednesday from 4:30-6:30 and the intermediate is Tuesday, Thursday 4:30-6:30. Fridays are days for labs. We will have assignments and more access to the teachers for practical training.

I will keep you all posted on how well it goes!

Love to you all!
Hi All!

I am slowly figuring out different ways to post blogs more frequently. My friend Sara Williams brought her computer and is letting me use it! :) Ero Kamano, Sara!

After being here for over two weeks, my senses have been on overload. Now that all of the excitement has sort of died and we are in more of a routine, I have become more aware of the problems plaguing West Kadem. Everything seems to be rooted in lack of education. We are a stone throw away from Lake Victoria, which is amazing for the sunrises and sunsets. However, it is a huge deterrent for children staying in school. (I am very biased because that is my “major” for SCHAP while on the trip)

There is a chance to make a lot of money at a young age on the lake. It is hard to highlight the importance of education. Because of the “get rich quick” allure, there is a high rate of adult literacy. I am actively trying to get together a literacy program for adults, which would help people get more secure jobs through the government.

Also, one of the most devastating affects of the fishing community is the rampant spread of HIV. There are three stages to the fishing market in Matoso: the actual fishing, the transportation from the lake to the cars, and the trip to the nearest big city, Migori, to sell. There are so many women available and eager to make money off the transportation to the cars that there is an exchange of sex to ensure fish. Then the women with recently caught fish have to have a similar deal with the car drivers to ensure that their fish goes to the market before it gets bad. But, there are not very many cars and not much space. So, the spreading of HIV is a vicious cycle, especially considering that the majority of these women have to work because their husbands have died of AIDS related diseases.

AIDS has wiped out an entire generation here in Matoso. My friend Miranda Adler is working to provide orphan solutions while we are on this trip. She said it is estimated that a majority of household has about 3 orphans. I am pretty sure that nearly half of the children that attend SCHAP Community School are orphans too.

It is so sad to see all of the school children in their uniforms from all of the neighboring schools walking to the orphanage. There are about 50 of them walking together.

I just wish there was more we could do. It is particularly frustrating because contracting HIV is “God’s Will.” It is always a sticky situation when religion is involved. One of our group members went to church last weekend with one of the locals and apparently the pastor was advising people to not get tested for HIV because if it is God’s will, then they should not fight it. Many people in the area were tested last week for free, which I thought was extremely positive and proactive. We were encouraging anyone and everyone to go. However, all of my enthusiasm and optimism quickly subsided when I heard that once men found out they were positive, they slept with 10 people to ensure that they would not die alone. There are a lot of prostitutes desperate enough for money to have sex without any protection. I completely broke down when I heard that the organization responsible for HIV tests left the dirty, used syringes down by the lake. Sara, Miranda, Brittany, and I went to go check it out. We didn’t see anything at first. Then we saw a child playing with a syringe – squirting lake water at his friend. We immediately spoke to people in charge and the elder said “that is too bad for the kids.” I went back to my tent and cried so hard.

I have been loving my experience here in Matoso. I wholeheartedly believe in the goodness of SCHAP and our undertakings. But, I also get very discouraged and sad. I need to stop focusing on the negative aspects of the community. I need to fully accept that I am one person doing the very best I can in the time that I have. That is all I can do. (Even though I wish I could do more …)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quick Update

Hi All!
Everyone is doing well over here.  We have all survived our first
sicknesses.  It must have been a 24 hour bug.  I am so glad that we
are all doing better.  Caitlin is on a different page.  Her sickness
comes in waves.  She has easy nights and then like last night, she was
up all night with convulsions again.  Really scary, but everyone has
been taking night shifts to hold her down if she wakes up with
As for the living arrangements, everyone is in a tent on the SCHAP
facility.  There are a few houses of the Agono family (who own the
land) and then the community center and classrooms.  There is no
electricity and everyone runs around with headlamps after 7 pm.  But,
the beauty of no electricty are that the stars are out of this world.
I have never seen so many stars...not even in Michigan!  I am not sure
if I have mentioned it, but the sunrises and sunsets are AMAZING.  So
It is so hot during the day and I get really cold in the night.  Well,
not right away.  I wake up at 3 am normally and I feel cold.  Luckily,
Dad made me pack a sheet -- thinking that I would only use that.  But
I use it for extra warmth ;)
The funniest thing to note is the names.  The children are all named
the Loa equilovent of morning or night if they are born at the
respective times.  There is a woman that works for SCHAP that is
pregnant.  If she has a girl, she is naming it Vikkee.  I told her to
be careful naming her child after me.  Haha :)  The two funniest names
I have encountered have been "Post Bank" and "Fidel Castro."  No joke.
 There are also a lot of children by the name of Michelle or Obama.
There is Obama fever.  His grandma's village is really close to where
I am!  I guess all international aid is flowing in there, which is
great!  But I wish it would be more spread out.  There is Obama
apparel and car decals.  It is hilarious!
Everyone in Kenya is so nice and generous.  If you go to anyone's
home, they give you so much food.  For people who do not have much,
they give everything.  It is really refreshing and unnecessary!
This is all for now.  We are going to figure out Internet schedules,
so I will be able to post more routinely.
Love to you all!  A very big shot out to my Grandma who just
celebrated her birthday!  I love you!
There is also Obama fever