Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Kissed a Giraffe- and I liked it!

Slyvia, the medical officer, is a wonderful person. She knew Ana and I were depressed about being stranded in Nairobi for Christmas. She wonderfully invited us to her house for the holiday to spend it with her and her family. Her husband is Dutch and so we will be having a traditional Dutch Christmas, whatever that means. She also felt bad that Ana and I have no money to do anything but sit around in our hotel room eating mayonnaise and Pringle sandwiches. Wonderful Sylvia arranged for a cab to come pick us up in the morning today and drive us around to wildlife sanctuaries all morning. And she paid for it. It was a great day. On the way there, as we drove out of the city, there were troops of Baboons with their blue butts in the air and their babies clinging to their backs. As we pulled into the elephant orphanage, the baboons stopped to look at us and then ducked the fence to escape. We were early for the baby elephants, so we hung around in the parking lot chatting with our taxi driver. As more and more ridiculous looking tourists showed up, Ana and I became very uncomfortable. Way too many shorts, white skin, and English for us. We hung in the back and spoke Engwili (or Kiswinglish) to each other. Then all the park guides started yelling at us to hide behind benches and bushes. We all stood up excitedly and then started scrambling to get behind something. A young rhinocerous named Shida (“Problem”) was wandering around the parking lot, poking things with his horn. As he shuffled back and forth, less than a foot from us, we scuttled behind insignificant shelters both trying to escape the rhino, and also to get a really good picture. It was poa sana (very cool) and a little scary. After the guides herded Shida back to bed, we went in the sanctuary. First we passed a family of wild boars (just like Pumba!). The baby Pumbas were dusty and adorable. We walked up to this clearing where there was a herd of about 10 baby orphaned elephants being bottle fed and playing in a mud puddle only 5 or so feet away. It was the most adorable thing I have ever seen. They made cute honking noises when they wanted more milk, they pushed each other in the water and rolled on their backs. They have bad balance and little control of their trunks. I want to live at this place. Each baby elephant gets his own room (because, like all babies, some always want to play and don’t like naps) and a park employee sleeps in a bed next to them. This is so the babies aren’t lonely at night. The human companion will also feed the baby if he gets hungry and put a blanket on him if he is cold. The orphans are all rescued from around Kenya, some from poachers, some from wells where they had fallen, and some from hyenas. They live at the sanctuary, being taken care of by humans and interacting with other wild elephants so they learn how to take care of themselves. When they are a few years old, they get attached to a wild herd and are set free in a park somewhere else in the country.

After the elephant orphanage, Ana and I went to the Giraffe Center. There is a Rothschilds Giraffe breeding program. We just stayed long enough to pet and feed the giraffes. I even kissed one, he used tongue. In case you were wondering: Giraffes have very long, rough, warm tongues. And they slobber. I never realized how huge they are! Their heads were easily half the size of my whole body. And they have beautiful eyelashes.

I was going to go on to tell you about the guy we saw get hit by a car – no one stopped, they just swerved around. And that would lead me into a rant about Kenyan drivers. Insanity! But I will have to leave it until next time. I could go on and on and I have already taken up enough of your time for today. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stuck in Nairobi

Okay, so there are worse places to be stranded than this city. I have gotten over the disappointment of being stuck here. Peace Corps has set me and Ana up in a nice hotel with down comforters and pillows. There is free breakfast and free wifi. Peace Corps is also going to give us 1600 shillings per day to spend on food and fun. Ana is feeling better and we are having fun watching movies, eating cheese burgers, and watching more movies. Yesterday I even got to have sushi. We have also been hanging out with other PCVs who are in town. We went to dinner with some education volunteers that we know and some public health guys that we didn't know. They are as crazy as all the rumors say.

There is only one problem with being here in Nairobi. I did not know that the Peace Corps office would close on Friday at two in the afternoon. This is an issue because everything I own is locked in that office until Monday. I have only my toothbrush, laptop, and one outfit to wear. I have been wearing that outfit since Thursday and will be in it until Monday. Gross. I also have no shampoo or conditioner and no comb. Surprisingly, my hair looks not nearly as bad as I feared. Though, I would not say it looks particularly good. Lastly, I have no cell phone charger. So everyone who I told I would call is out of luck. Pole! That includes Caroline, the Medical office, and my supervisor in Marsabit. Oops.

I'll keep this post short and go upload some photos to Facebook. Finally.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From PCT -> PCV

I am now officially a Peace Corps Volunteer! I am so incredibly proud of myself and all my fellow volunteers. This has been an amazing week. Nairobi has reminded me so much of America and I have had a wonderful time. We arrived here on Sunday and got to the hotel which has private rooms, hot-ish showers, and free, slow-ish internet.

On Tuesday, I met my counter-part who is the person who will show me around my new home town, help me buy stuff and settle in, and introduce me to people. Her name is Grace and she is the assistant principle of my school. She is very nice and very nervous that I won't be able to handle Marsabit. I assured her I would be fine. I asked her about my house and she said, "It is.... modest". I am guessing that means small. But it does have electricity! Yay! I also enquired about Marsabit Town. It is up the slopes of the mountain and is green and cool, beautiful and moist. But, Grace said, I am not near the town, I am 15 km away. Where I am there is no rain and it is very hot. She was very concerned when she found out PC was sending a female volunteer to them because my house is 3 km from the school and I will have to walk. I assured her that I was stronger than I look. She said, "okay, but... it is very hot". I will probably buy a bicycle to make her feel better. My house is on the Catholic church compound. There is a Kenyan Father, a Mzungu (white) father, and a bunch of Indian nuns. There is a garden on the compound (I am very excited about this) where the nuns plant sukuma wiki and cabbage. I am going to try to have my own garden so I can grow garlic, zucchini, and as many herbs as I can. If anyone wants to send me seeds, I would love you forever.

On Tuesday night, I went to see Harry Potter at a local movie theater. I got a bucket of popcorn, a hotdog, a soda, a milkshake, and the ticket for $7.50 American. Not too shabby.

Wednesday was the Swearing in Ceremony. It was held at a fabulous mansion. The biggest house I have ever been in. These people were seriously rich. The kitchen alone could seriously fit the whole bottom floor of my American house inside it. And the garden was larger than anything I have seen outside a British castle. There was a picture on their wall of their 10 year old daughter with Nelson Mandela on his birthday. Amazing. The actual ceremony was outside and I wore my target dress, actual make-up, and even had gel for my hair. I look fantastic (compared to usual African me). We pledged our allegience to Peace Corps and swore a bunch of stuff that I don't remember. We got certificates, just like graduation. It was a hundred times better than my college graduation. My favorite part was when a ministry official stood up to officially accept us into his country and he told us he had been taught in secondary school by some Peace Corps Volunteers. He even remembered their names. He told us we could have no idea the impact we will have on the lives of our students. We are all very proud to be here.

After the ceremony, there was a Karibu Kenya cake, maybe 20 kinds of home baked cookies, tiramisu, real coffee, and juice with real, frozen ice. I ate one of everything and made myself very sick. Us, new volunteers, went home and had PCV naptime, then went shopping. Nakumatt is the greatest store on Earth. It is a cross between Heaven and America. It is larger than any Wal-mart, and has everything you could ever want from Kenya, or America, and stuff from Europe and Indian too. I spent almost a third of my moving in allowance. I bought a french press, coffee, olive oil, wine, cheese, ranch dressing, a new camera, and as many spices as I could carry. I also bought a duffle bag to carry it all in. It was the best shopping spree ever.

In the evening, we had pizza delivered (yeah, delivery is the greatest). Then we went out to a club. As PCVs, we have no curfew, so we stayed out till 2:30 am. In America, I loved going out dancing with friends. Sometimes there are creepos, and you usually have 5 or 6 friends. This bar had no creepos, the only guys we talked out outside our group were from Stanford. There were about 30 of us and we had an incredible time. Dancing and singing with 30 of the best people I have ever met. The best.

Everyone departed for their new homes early Thursday morning. There were a lot of tears, and I still am trying to not be sad. It was very hard to leave. The worst part is that I didn't actually leave. I am stranded in Nairobi with only Ana, who has bacterial gastroenteritis. I am annoyed and depressed. This is what happened. On Tuesday, I was stung or bit by something on my foot (I am going to say scorpion or deadly spider to make the story more interesting). It hurt a ton, bad, burning pain. But it only lasted 5 minutes and then I was fine, no swelling or itching. Then Thursday morning, I woke up in incredible pain. I had a delayed allergic reaction to the sting and my foot was hugely swollen and I could not even walk on it. My toes were all numb and my foot was completely freezing. I went to medical and they were all worried and decided to keep me here for a day to watch it. I took benedryl, ibuprofen, and steroids, and I was fine. But my ride to Marsabit left without me. So I am flying to Marsabit. Since it is in the middle of nowhere, flights only go up there once in a while. I am stranded until Tuesday. I am depressed and bored. Nairobi is only fun if you have friends to go out with and money to spend. Curtis has called me a couple times to tell me the road trip has been beautiful and they are getting two armed guards to escort them the rest of the way. He will be home in a few hours and gets to have a great adventure. Bastard. Oh well, TIA right?

I am going to go figure out something to do for the next few hours. I'll let you guys know whats going on. Have a good weekend!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Almost Done with PST

Hey World! So I have only two more days until my Swearing In ceremony and I am ecstatic. Last week I took my final language exam. It was rough, I was pretty sure I failed. We are required to achieve "intermediate low" as a level to be sworn in as volunteers. I am sure that I am at least at that level and intermediate mid on a good day. The woman who was my tester was from the coast where they speak even faster kiswahili than people in Tanzania (yup, that's fast). She also talked quiet and used strange vocabulary. I know that that is the point of the exam, to see if you can speak in actual situations with actual people who are not the kind trainers who know what words you can say. So anyway, I thought I failed and would be sent back home to America. But I did not fail!! Yay!

Yesterday was my last day in Loitokitok. I said goodbye to my wonderful host family. Despite all the frustrations of the last nine weeks with them, despite me being incredibly eager to leave and be an adult again, I will sincerely miss them. Mama made me cake as my going away breakfast. I have never seen a cake made like this. This is how you do it: make a paste out of sugar and blue band, add half a cup of flour, add seven eggs, pour into a pot and cook on jiko until done. In case you missed that, I said SEVEN eggs. And no milk or water. It was very odd, but incredibly delicious. Mama made it on Friday night and I excitedly asked when it would be ready. Mama said "we will not eat until breakfast"; the reason being, "you will get sick and die if you eat cake the first day. You will get diarrhea and die." I did not understand this logic but agreed to wait. Later during dinner I asked, "so we really cannot eat the cake until the morning?" Mama laughed and said, "Ryan you are so silly! Do not make me laugh!" So I thought maybe she was kidding with me the whole time and I had fallen for it. I laughed back and said excitedly, "we can eat the cake then?" And she, very soberly, said, "no, you will die." Then half an hour after dinner... she gave me a slice of cake. Sometimes this language barrier can be very confusing.

Saturday, after a breakfast of Blue Band and white bread sandwiches and Day Two cake, I finished my packing and walked up to Outward Bound for Host Family Appreciation day. I wore the gift Mama had given me: a Masaai skirt and headwrap. I wore my new Masaai earrings and necklace. Almost 3/4s of us PCTs got fancy outfits from our families. We looked amazing! Oh, the colors and patterns!! We had to do a talent show, which was hilarious and the families enjoyed- when they understood the jokes. We ended by all singing the Safaricom song. Go look up the YouTube video, seriously. It is an amazing commercial and we did a great off key rendition for our families.

When it was time for the families to leave, I gave out my hugs and told my family I would miss them. Kenyans, and especially my family, do not show a lot of excess emotion. I had to make my brothers give me hugs and the goodbyes were very, very short. When my Mama got home she found the letter I had written to them. It was just a simple goodbye and thank you card. This is the response I got via text (her English is not that good): "Hi can u imagine i hav never droped tears 4 smal things but ur letter make me so( thanx times a hundred). that letter wil stay with me forever I think it wil be my best gift cu"

Now, tonight, I am in Nairobi until Wednesday. I am in absolute heaven. First we went to Nakumatt, which is like Walmart. It has BBQ sauce, olive oil, twix bars, cheese puffs, and everything else you could ever want or need. I just walked around in awe. I did not buy anything except some sour gummy worms, I just stared. There were Christmas decorations, the first I have seen, and Christmas music, the first I have heard. I had a strong coffee for the first time since coming here and it was as delicious as anything from Starbucks. We went to dinner at this small, fancy, Italian place called Mediterranio. It was all painted like the streets of Italy inside, we had real roses on the table, the waiters wore uniforms, and there were cloth napkins. There was olive oil and vinegar to dip bread in, and breadsticks that were the first actual crunchy thing I have eaten since arriving in Kenya. For dinner I had an amazing pasta dish with actual sauce, vegetables, and CHEESE. It was spicy, filling, and flavorful. The garnish was a wonderful aroma of herbs, which I tried to eat because they smelled delicious. I had a glass of wine with dinner and an amazing chocolate mousse for dessert. I am the happiest person in all of Kenya right now. best day ever. Tomorrow after some boring sessions and meeting my future boss (EEK!)we get to go shopping again. I am going to start stockpiling supplies for Marsabit. Very exciting stuff.

So to recap: I passed my language exam, I got a Masaai outfit, my family loves me, I left Loitokitok, I am in love with the Kenyan countryside (did I mention that on the drive I saw a herd of giraffes, including some baby twigas, a wildebeest, and a greater Kudu?), I am in love with Nakumatt, I saw Christmas, I had an amazing dinner, I got to drink wine, and I have a private room with a hot shower and western toilet tonight! Best weekend ever!


PS: "Twiga" is the kiswahili word for Giraffe. :)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

American Dinner and Bacterial Dysentery

I know I just posted yesterday, but when it rains it pours. I have two quick things I wanted to mention, my American dinner and dysentery. Despite the title, these two things are unrelated.

First I wanted to tell everyone that I found out what I was sick with a few weeks ago. Yup, bacterial dysentery. Exciting, right? I found out that was what it was because last week, during Model School, eleven of my fellow PCTs came down with it. The Medical Office was not happy with us as she had just told us that we were the sickest group in Loitokitok she had ever had. Oops.

Now about my American dinner. Last night I made spaghetti and garlic bread. It turned out fantastic. Salt and sugar were the only spices I had, and I overloaded it with delicious sauteed onions and garlic. Mama was trying to 'help' me half the time, which really messed me up. The spaghetti was all congealed and sticky because she added a bunch of dried noodles halfway through cooking because she thought there wouldn't be enough. Then she wanted me to make a second loaf of garlic bread, after I was finishing up the first loaf, so she sent my brother out to get more bread, which took half an hour, so the sauce was cold. I told her that we should start eating or at least put the sauce back on to heat up. She would not let me and said she would show me how to heat it up very fast. After the rest of the bread finally came, and I finished cooking it, I asked her to show me how to heat my sauce up. She said, "Ryan, you are the cook. Please don't ask me anything! I will sit here till you serve me." Arrggg. So the sauce was the only thing that was hot. Oh well, I loved it. It was the best meal I have ever made, ever. Annndd.... they hated it. They ate all the garlic bread, but could not stomach the spaghetti sauce. Only two of them even finished their plates. They had these hilariously long explanations as to why. "Spaghetti is so filling!" I was warned by friends that no Kenyan has enjoyed this meal and I was prepared to be the only one to like it. So I was surprised when I realized I was actually a little hurt. Hey, I always ate everything Mama put on my plate no matter how weird it was (chicken appendix, anyone?). And I paid for all the food myself, and spent two hours cooking it, and I heard them giving it to the dogs after I went to bed. Oh well. TIA. Six days left!!

Thats all for now. Have a good day!

Mimi ni Mwalimu

I apologize for not writing in so long. Time has been going by so fast and I have been very busy. I have only one week left in Loitokitok and then I leave for swearing in, in Nairobi. I have been meaning to write to tell you about Thanksgiving and also model school. This will be a long entry. Pole! (‘po-lay’)

First I will talk about the holiday. Thanksgiving was an amazing day. All of us PCTs went to Outward Bound for the day. We went up there in the morning and set up tents off in the woods. We played football, frisbee, and volleyball until the beer showed up. They we played much more energetically. The staff at Outward cooked most of the meal for us, but some of us were allowed in the kitchen to make special things. My contribution was a last minute gravy that turned out pretty good (Dad would be proud). The meal consisted of: chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, chapati, sukuma wiki, Curtis’ spaghetti sauce, and pineapple-avocado salad. For dessert we had no-bake cookies, brownies (both regular and peanut butter flavor), pineapple crisp, and mango crisp (we could not find apples). It was an amazing meal. We sat down, all 26 of us, plus two from the Deaf ed group, some current PCVs and some staff, at one large table and went around and said what we were thankful for. My favorite was Sajeena saying she was thankful that we were all a lot dorkier than she expected us to be. We all cheered to that. After dinner, we had a big bonfire. But after a few hours, it started pouring rain and we all scattered to our tents. There were a bunch of small 3 person tents and one huge one with 8 of us in it. When we ran to the huge 8 person tent we found that it had flooded. So we vacated that one and all cramed into the small tents. My tent was relatively warm and dry, and only had four people in it. But some had 7 people and some flooded. Needless to say, very few people slept that night. And those who did were woken up at 4 am by someone (I won’t name names) singing “God Bless America”, in their sleep. It was a great time and my absolute favorite day of training.

Now I’ll tell you about Model School. Last week I was a teacher for the first time. Students came from all over Kenya to be taught by us newbie teachers. I taught the internal structures of the leaf, the light stage of photosynthesis, and a physics lab to a class of about 30. The students knew more about the subjects than I did. I learned as I was writing my lesson plans. I think that my first time in front of actual students was not a complete disaster. I talked too fast, they could not read what I wrote on the board, my activity failed, and I ran out of information after about 20 minutes and had to make stuff up on the fly. But the students said they enjoyed it and they understood me well enough. The second time I taught, photosynthesis, I talked slower, but still too fast. I ran out of information too early and my experiment did not work, again. I also played a review game that was totally unfair and I ran out of candy to reward them. But I was not nervous at all and really had a great time. The students had fun and most did surprisingly well on the test. I even got to practice my discipline when I caught five of the girls cheating. I felt very comfortable in front of the class, which I did not expect. Now, I am even more excited to go to my site.

I feel I should mention how I am doing with the language. When I came to Kenya, I knew one language; now I know zero. I am slowly forgetting English and I am still not very good at Swahili. I have merged the two into what I’ll call "Kiswinglish”. I no longer use contractions (its all: do not, cannot, and will not), I talk pole pole (slowly) like Kenyans do, and when people ask me how to say some things in english, I almost always have trouble remembering. Also the following phrases are completely eliminated from my vocabulary: Sorry (Pole), I don’t know (si jui), hello (hu jambo!), no problem (hakuna shida), and thank you (asante). I have my final language exam on Wednesday and I am only a teensy bit nervous. I am sure I will do okay, but I there is always that fear that I will be the only one who fails. I’ll let you know if that happens.
Today I am cooking American food for my family. I am making spaghetti sauce and garlic bread. I am 90% sure they will hate it, but I am still looking forward to it. I went to the market this morning and bought all my supplies and now I am just waiting to begin cooking. After the market, I felt I needed some space and I went to my special spot. That is where I am now; I am writing this the back of my shopping list. My spot is up the hill from my house, past all the streets and houses, at the end of the road. Here there is a rock at the very edge of the drop off where I can sit. Mount Kili is behind me, almost completely obscured by dark rain clouds. I will have to go soon as everything I own is hanging on the laundry line. But for now it is sunny and very hot; I’m guessing about 900 degrees (why did I think it was a good idea to bring black t-shirts to Africa?). There are some kids at the bottom of the hill waiting for me, but they are keeping their distance. In front of me the land is hilly and very green. It reminds me of Italy. The verdant hills are covered in farmland and dotted with trees. There are butterflies and swallows floating around. There is also a bird with a bright blue body and a bright gold head, I don’t know what he is. Beyond the farms, the rift valley stretches out almost to the horizon. There are big, fluffy, clouds that look drawn by Pixar casting long shadows on the valley. And at the very edge of my vision, almost fading into the sky, is a mountain range on the other side. I have only been here for 20 minutes, but with the view, my iPod, and my tiny bag of Skittles (thanks Alyssa’s mom!) , I am totally content. When the little girl with the dirty yellow dress and runny nose finally gets up the courage to come say “how are you?”, I will be ready to go home.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Perfect Weekend... sort of

So Kenya and I have been having a battle. It has been trying its hardest to get me sick, and so far I have prevailed. But on Thursday, Kenya finally won. Mama had made the usual Thursday night dish: Ugali (like a cross between instant mashed potatoes and Playdough, but with less flavor). She did it with a twist though, instead of overcooked beef chunks, she made goat. It was very tasty, and a weensie bit more tender than the beef. She also replaced “Black Night Shade” (which sounds like poison but is actually just a chopped, bitter, type of green) with Sukuma wiki (a nearly identical chopped, bitter, type of green). I really enjoy this meal normally and this time was no exception. After dinner, I went to my room to relax and avoid watching Kiswahili- dubbed, Spanish soap operas by pretending I had homework. After chai, I started to feel a little nauseous and took both Pepto and some anti-nausea pill from my handy-dandy first aid kit. Neither worked; I lost dinner, and the pepto, and any vestiges of lunch. I vomited at least once an hour all night. And just for fun, I had a terrible migraine, body aches, and a mild fever. At eight in the morning, I called Medical and they helpfully told me that it must have been something I ate. She asked if I had an indoor toilet (of course not), said that she would move me to a hotel, and told me she would keep in touch. 20 mins later, there was a guy at my door with a car. I was wisked off to Kilimanjaro Guest House where the Host Family Coordinator met me with actual anti-vomiting drugs and ginger ale. I had a very nice room with a great view of the mountain. I slept all day in peace, I had a hot shower, and a western toilet. It was heaven. It was the first time I have been actually alone since arriving in Kenya. I was only disturbed for dinner and chai. It was heaven, I just watched movies, read and slept. And by evening I felt fine and asked if I could go home. I was told I was not allowed to leave, and I stayed the night. Did I mention it was heaven? Almost worth getting sick. Later Saturday afternoon, I met up with some other PCTs and we had a big, American lunch. It was incredible. Curtis made spaghetti sauce and garlic toast. The rest of us made Chapati- burritos with beans, rice, guacamole, and pineapple salsa. For appetizer, we had toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. All was cooked on a jiko (small, coal-burning, stove-thing). It was the best meal I have had in forever. Yum, yum, yum! It was also a lot of fun. No Mama looking over your shoulder telling you that you are doing it wrong and that you will most likely die from starvation in Marsabit.

So, that was my weekend. And now we are in week six. Tomorrow we are doing a language exam, which I am confident I will pass. Wednesday is Hub day! Which means medical sessions and no language, it is a wonderful day. Thursday we are tested on our ability to cut vegetables, mop a floor, wash clothes, and light a lantern. It will be another easy day. Friday we are celebrating Thanksgiving by going to Outward Bound and having traditional (well, as close as we can get) dinner. We also get to stay the night in tents. No 6:30 curfew! Then is week seven, which is model school (I’ll explain that later), then final language test in week eight, then done with PST! It is so close I can taste it! I already have my shopping list for Nairobi (wine, books, coffee, etc).

I should go home now. Being sick all weekend did have a downside, I didn’t do any laundry. I am off to my home to wash clothes. Kwaheri!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

T.I.A. (This is Africa)

Hey everyone! I have been so busy and yet I feel like I don't have much to say. I will start with the title of this entry. T.I.A. It is what we say after almost everything. Example: "A swarm of two-inch long, winged termites invaded my kitchen", "Oh well, TIA, pull off their wings so they can't fly into the chai." Or "I spent 3 hours on a matatu meant for 20, with at least 40 people on it, leaning against Sarah with a Kenyan sitting on my shoulder" "TIA, at least you didn't have giardia at the time."

This weekend we went to Kibwezi for HIV/AIDS education. We sat through some pretty boring lectures and it was very hot and rainy. But I didn't care, I got to see my deaf-education friends from Machakos! It was a great time. Karl even brought us cheese!! We did get to meet some teachers who are living with HIV. And we were entertained by some old women at and HIV support center who did some local dances. We even attempted to join them. They were not impressed when we broke out the Electric Slide.

Now I am back in Loitokitok. I did not miss the mud at all. Or the children screaming "how are you! How are you!!" over and over again. I am really looking forward to getting to my site. Speaking of which, I promised I would tell you about it.

Marsabit. The best description I have found is in the Lonely Planet Guide to Africa. I won't write it here, but go look it up. Marsabit is in the far north of Kenya. My Baba, when I told him where I was going said, "That's not Kenya, is it?" and another Kenyan said that I would get to be a Ugandan. Lucky me! The town is located in a shield volcano, and surrounded by desert. They do not speak Kiswahili there, so I will have to learn another language. It will be either Kisamburu or Kisomali. There are many camels up there (I am hoping to get one as a pet). Marsabit town is a microclimate. It is surrounded by desert but has an almost rainforest ecosystem. I don't know how close my house will be to the rainforest or the desert. But the rainforest is known for its elephants with giant, mammoth-like tusks. There is one famous elephant who had ten foot long tusks and was followed around by armed guards for his whole life to prevent poaching. He is gone now, but his relatives are still around. I was told by someone to never pay for a safari, because everything you would want to see will be in your backyard. The North of Kenya has the worlds largest population of Grevy's zebras. People also get eaten by lions a lot. I will try not to do that.

As far as the school goes, I will be teaching in a girls boarding secondary school. I will teach Form One (Freshman) Physics and Form Four (Senior) Biology. My principle is very environmentally excited and recently planted hundreds of trees on my campus. He is really receptive to having me implement environmental clubs and programs, which is awesome. I will not live on the school compound, but 3 km away in a Catholic church compound. I hear the monks are real party animals and drink a lot, and are also very friendly, which will be nice. All in all, I am really looking forward to it. No complaints!!

That is all for now, I will try to write again soon! Kwaheri!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Halfway Through PST

Hello everyone! I apologize for the lack of updates. The internet cafe is here, though a little slow, and we have electricity most of the time, I am just so busy I have no time. Everyday I have 4 hours of language training. It is pretty intense, one teacher, four students. I am finding the language extremely difficult, but today I had an oral test and I am now "novice high" in proficiency. That is only one level below where I need to be to pass. Final test is in four weeks. After language, I go to lunch with friends, it is usually rice and beans (wali na maharague). Lately we have been going to this field where there are really dirty sheep and chickens. We lay in the grass in the sun and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Then we have class in the afternoon where we learn about Kenya and how to be teachers here. There is only one of us who was an actual teacher before Peace Corps. After class, I go home, help Mama cook, watch terrible mexican soap operas dubbed into kiswahili, and then go to bed early. I am on the malaria meds that sometimes keep me awake at night, and sometimes make me paranoid, or anxious. Mostly, the drugs give me incredibly vivid dreams. This can be a very good thing, or a terrible thing. Last night I had a dream that half of the people in Loitokitok were trying to kill me. I was terrified. But those dreams are thankfully rare. And at least I won't get malaria!

We have lost two people since the beginning. One went home the first week, and another just last week. It was pretty sad. Our group is so incredibly close, it is amazing to think we have only known each other for a few weeks. We all have been having ups and downs. I am feeling really good today, but the past few days have been pretty frustrating. It is very, very hard for me to live in this fishbowl. Everywhere we go we are yelled at and asked for money or sweets. At home, my family thinks I do not know anything. I have yet to wash my clothes without my 15 yr old brother telling me I am doing it wrong. And yesterday, Mama told me she was worried because I didn't know how to cook. I had to explain that I actually do know how to cook, I just don't know their recipies. I proved it by getting up early to make pancakes. I burned them... but the fire was way too big and they use a spoon as a spatula. My knuckles are also burned. But in a different place from the blisters I got while washing my clothes.

On a positive note, I get up every morning to go for a run (I am training for the Losai marathon, during which we get to see lions) and I am up before the sun rises. As it does, the clouds which sank into the rift valley overnight are painted pink and orange. It looks like heaven. As the clouds float up and the sun gets higher, Mount Kilimanjaro is dyed pink. If it has rained recently (which, it being the raining season, it always has) the whole top of the mountain is covered in snow. It looks like a big pink cupcake. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my whole life. In the evening, when I am walking home through the most mud I have ever seen, I can see the rift valley spread out in front of me. My Baba says that after the rains, hyenas come up from the plains and we won't be able to go out at night. Also with the rains, come the elephants. I can't wait to see them.

Speaking of animals, everyone is asking what I have seen so far. On the drive to Loitokitok from Nairobi, we saw a couple giraffes, some antelope, and a herd of ostriches. The first night in Loitokitok, we were higher up on a hill, and we could hear elephants in the early morning. There are also beautiful black and white colobus with long bushy tails in the trees. The birds here are also incredible. Bright irridescent blue or dark blue with gold wing tips. Even the insects are pretty. There are huge horned beatles and these flying bugs with a bright metallic red bow on their backs.

I will end the post there for now. Mama wants me home early so I can learn to cook Ugali and Chapati (the first is a bland, white lump made from maize flour, and the second are sort of like thick tortillas). Next time I will talk about my site where I will spend the next two years. It is called Marsabit and it is extremely remote. While most of my fellow PCTs are placed on the coast or near Lake Victoria (one is even in an 8 room house!), they call me and the others placed near me the "northern frontier pioneers" because it is so rare for them to send people up there. In the history of PC, there have been 4 people placed that far north. I am extremely excited. But I won't get into that now.

Please send me letters and packages! Even if I don't know you, mail is very exciting to get. I wish I could tell you everything I see and do. I am taking hundreds of pictures and will post them when I can. Have a great weekend! I will be going to the market to practice my bargaining skills and then I am going to learn how to make a skirt. Yay!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Made it to Kenya

Jambo everyone! This is Ryan writing to say that I have officially made it to Nairobi in one piece. The flight was long and very uncomfortable. I am staying in a hostel that has hot showers, indoor toilets, and INTERNET! The food is good and I slept for the first time under my mosquito net. The weather is beautiful, a little chilly in the mornings and then it turns sunny and hot. I had my first day of training. I got some vaccinations and my malaria meds. I am taking doxycycline, which is NOT the one that causes hallucinations. I am a little disappointed, it was going to be a great adventure. I love my fellow PCTs, by the way. We are already like a little family and I am having a great time. There are 38 of us and not one is unpleasant. One of the current PVCs commented that she was very surprised to see how close we have gotten already. It is a nice feeling, having so many people who feel the exact same as you. Tomorrow is the last day we all have together, we are getting split in half and I will be going to Loitokitok with the science education people. I am sad to be leaving some of my new friends (I might cry!). On the bright side, I heard there were elephants there! I can't believe I have been in Africa for almost a whole day and I have yet to see a giraffe. Hopefully that will change tomorrow. I would love to write more, but I am starving and I have a hankering for a large bowl of spaghetti. I will settle for rice, beans, and some chicken or beef chunks. It is actually quite delicious. Bye!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Kenya: Home Sweet Home??

Hi everyone!! I made it to Kenya safe and sound! I am exhausted and jet lagged and I am finally off the planes, out of airports, and in a hostel in Nairobi. So far it looks just like the US. Gas stations, restaurants, Abercrombies, and everything in English. I don't yet have any more details about my training or my host family but I love my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer's. They are all so friendly and we are all going through the same emotions! I love them already!   I will be in Nairobi til tomorrow and I have no idea when and how much I will be able to contact everyone once I leave here. I'll keep posting as much as possible! Love ya! xooxox

Monday, October 11, 2010

Ryan is off to Kenya

Alright. Okay. I am officially done packing for my Peace Corps service. If I haven't stuffed it into my bag, I will have to live without it for the next two years. I am pretty confident I will be fine with what I have. What I really will miss is my wonderful friends and family. And Sushi Studio. Saying goodbye has been impossibly hard. Some days I wonder what in the world I was thinking in applying to the Peace Corps. And more often I wonder, what were they thinking in accepting me! This will be the hardest thing I have ever done. Yet, I know it will also be the best thing I have ever done.
Tomorrow I leave for Philadelphia, then Wednesday I will depart for Kenya. Goodbye America, goodbye Starbucks, goodbye Kate, Caroline, Mom, Dad, Ev, Harris, Jasmine, Julie, Amanda, Lindsey, Bobbi, everyone at VESH, McDonalds fish sandwiches, Millys, Gin n Tonics, Twix bars, and Glee!

Please send me letters and packages. My address for the next 9 weeks will be:
Ryan Keith, Peace Corps Trainee
P.O. Box 698-00621
Nairobi, Kenya

If you send me letters, I will love you forever. Good luck with everything and thanks for everything. I will certainly miss you more than you miss me. My next post will be from Africa and maybe by then I will have realized my dream and seen a real-live lion (I didn't want you to forget how dorky I am :) )

Miss you, Love you, Bye!!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ryan's First Post & the Beginning of her Peace Corps Adventure

Hello! This is my first official blog entry. I am new to blogging and I thank my sister, Kayte, for allowing me to share her space. My entries will be focused around my Peace Corps experience. I am leaving in October to spend 27 months in Kenya. I welcome advice, tips, letters, and care packages. Right now I am in the packing stage and I need all the help I can get. Anyone know anything about solar chargers? Or have a small backpacking tent they want to give away?

The first thing I want to post here is my application timeline. It was incredibly helpful to me during the process to see what everyone else was going through. I hope mine can help someone through that taxing period when we are told to be 'patient'.

April 8, 2010 @ 11:30pm: Submitted my online application and Heath Status Review

April 12: Received intro packet in the mail asking for supplemental info

April 13: Spent all day working on it, got fingerprinted, worked on skill addendums (they sent me six!)

April 16: Received an email from my recruiter. She told me I have three weeks to send the packet back and then we will set up an interview. Must finish soon!

April 19: Sent back supplemental packet.

April 23: Got a call for an interview!! Yay!

4/28: Interview today in Boston. She was very nice, the interview was very nerve wracking. I was well prepared, had answers for everything, but one question. I couldn’t think of a ‘rule that I disagreed with’. I was disappointed, but the rest of the interview went well. My interviewer asked me where I wanted to go and when I was ready to leave. I said, Africa and NOW. So she looked up all positions available in Africa and the last assignment leaving before next spring was going in August. I accepted and she nominated me for a science teaching position. I got the last spot!! I am officially in!! Now I have to wait for the medical packet. Whew!

5/4: Today I got back from a short vacation in FL and still haven’t received the medical packet. My online Toolkit says it was sent on 4/30. I made my doctors appt anyway.

6/3: Finished all my doctor appointments. The last thing on my list is to read my TB test 8am tomorrow. I needed a Polio vaccine which took forever to track down. I was never required to get it while growing up, but the Peace Corps assumed I would have. Through a stroke of luck, I got it when I went to get my TB test read. Plan: send packet tomorrow AM.

6/4: Sent packet, should get there Monday

6/7: Notification that they received the info

6/8: Dentally cleared!

7/1: I have heard nothing yet. It feels much longer than a month. I am trying to be patient.

7/19: Got an email at 4 am notifying me that my Toolkit has been updated.

7/20: Under “Medical” it says “we have reached a decision regarding your medical
 clearance”. From what I can gather from the internet, this most likely means I am medically cleared.

7/21: Official email saying I am medically cleared and my file is now being processed in the Assessment and Placement Office.

7/21: Official letter in the mail saying the same thing.

8/4: Received email asking me to rewrite my cross cultural essay.

8/12: Received email saying the preliminary review of my file is complete. Now I have to answer some questions on what I have been doing to prepare and how I am feeling about service now. I also need a resume tailored to my nomination assignment.

8/15: Sent email with all the questions, and found out that my placement officer is on vacation till the 23rd.

8/24: Email from my recruiter, my invitation is in the mail!!!

8/26: Received invitation! I am going to Kenya on October 11th. Wow! Now the real work begins. 

Number of Days: ___________________Actual_____Average
Application to Nomination______________20_________62
Nomination to Kit Received by OMS________40_________87
Kit Received to Medical Qualification_______43_________54
Medical Qualification to Invitation_________35_________38
Invitation to Acceptance________________3___________9
Acceptance to Enter on Duty_____________46_________85

Above chart based on the numbers on

Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Queen & I

After much panicking (admittedly a bit unfounded), I have joined the ranks of the employed!!  In fact, I have joined the minority of folks who actually use their degree!  This is indeed rare across all degree fields, and I couldn't be happier. Every since I learned about what Public Diplomacy was, I've loved the field.  I became a PD believer from the start, learning all the different PD tools that could be used from international politics to international business. I would like to offer myself as proof of the value of the USC Master's in Public Diplomacy program, as it was my distinguished Director, Nick Cull who notified me of the position and the valuable classes which prepared me for the job.

As Communications Officer for the British Consulate-General in Los Angeles, I will be managing, among other things, the Digital Diplomacy strategy. This includes the Consulate website, Facebook and Twitter feed. I am pleasantly surprised to discover the social media savviness, or, at least, receptiveness of the Foreign and Common Wealth Office. But like many, I am scrambling to devour every piece of literature about using social media in public diplomacy. It's easy to end up spamming your audience and turn them away. There is truly an art to Digital Diplomacy, and I have been charged with mastering it. I look forward to my social media mandate for the Queen's government. I'll keep you posted on what I learn -- literally.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Twelve reasons gay marriage is wrong:

1) Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning. Also apparently those homosexual animals have picked up some unnatural behavior.

2) Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

3) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

4) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

5) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britney Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

6) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

7) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

8) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

9) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

11) Gay marriage should be decided by the people, not the courts, because the majority-elected legislatures, not courts, have historically protected the rights of minorities.

12) Civil Unions, providing most of the same benefits as marriage with a different name are better, because a "separate but equal" institution is always constitutional. Separate schools for African-Americans worked just as well as separate marriages for gays and lesbians will.

From the Facebook Group,"Gay Marriage killed the Dinosaurs"

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Letter to Laura Schlesinger

At the risk of upsetting and offendmany, I had to repost this email I received:

In her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to Dr. Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny, as well as informative:

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,

James M. Kauffman, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus, Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education University of Virginia

(It would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian :)

Monday, July 5, 2010

PD and Human Rights

New Summer Issue of PD Magazine is out and it is a good one! PD and Human Rights:
"Public diplomacy serves as a force multiplier for nonstate actors seeking to affect change within global civil society.  To better understand the role of nonstate actors in promoting human rights in the international sphere, it is vital to first examine the theoretical frameworks within which these actors operate.
The authors in the lead section of Pursuing Human Rights Through Public Diplomacy provide us with an understanding of the positioning of nonstate actors in the diplomatic landscape and in international humanitarian law.  Professor Geoffrey Wiseman, a former program officer for the Ford Foundation and diplomat in the Australian Foreign Service, revisits his concept of polylateralism and the evolution of actors in the world of diplomacy. He creates avehicle for understanding how the respective contributors in this edition connect within the international system, reflecting on the specific challenges of tackling human rights issues from the state and nonstate level. Meanwhile, Dr. Dieter Fleck, former Director of International Agreements and Policy at the German Ministry of Defense, looks at the legal structures that define human rights and set boundaries for humanitarian aid, particularly during times of conflict. He examines the different interpretations of humanitarian legal principles by state and nonstate actors and their potential political consequences.
The rise of nonstate actors as agents of change marks an evolution of the international diplomatic and legal structures. Authors in this lead section tackle some of the most pressing structural questions that have appeared along with these new sets of actors.  Combined with the case studies and examples offered in the rest of this edition we hope to create a deeper understanding of the role nonstate human rights actors play and the various ways in which they can use public diplomacy to carry their messages further"
Check out the issue which has many important and interesting articles.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guest Blogger: Faris Alikhan & Afghanistan

The Virtual Student Foreign Service is full of internationally focused students such as myself. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my colleagues, Faris Alikhan, through the program. His work with the US Mission to NATO is very interesting, as it deals with Afghanistan. I invited Faris to guest blog about his project:

My friend, fellow intern, and crosstown college rival (Go Bruins!) Kate probably has been telling you about her internship with the U.S. Mission to NATO. Since September, both Katharine and I have been working with the State Department and the U.S. Mission to NATO on Public Diplomacy programs. Kate's focus is mainly on Europe, but mine is on another part of the world, one you might not immediately think of when you hear about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--Afghanistan.

2001 was the first time NATO's Article 5 was invoked, and since then, NATO member nations including the U.S. and partners like Australia and Uzbekhistan have provided invaluable support to Afghan efforts to secure and rebuild Afghanistan.  Unfortunately, beyond history lessons on the Cold War, quite a few people on both sides of the Atlantic are unaware of the vital role NATO plays in Afghanistan.

As part of my internship, I will be producing (along with directing, filming, editing, and being that "key grip" guy you always see in the credits) a video interviewing ordinary students here at UCLA (sorry USC). I hope that, by getting ordinary college students like myself interested in NATO's role in Afghanistan, I can show audiences on both sides of the Atlantic--and in Afghanistan--that ordinary college students care about the world around them. Hopefully, I'll be able to share the opinions of my fellow college students with their college counterparts at universities in other NATO member countries and in Afghanistan. I'd like Afghan audiences to see that American college students are committed to and care about, well, a world not their own.

I'll be finishing up my History degree at UCLA and graduating in June, but in the meantime I'll be filming and key-gripping my way through this video, and hopefully you'll all get to see it soon!

Thanks, Faris!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

America's New Past Time

So as I officially finish my Master's in Public Diplomacy, I leave with a true sense of accomplishment and, well, mastery. Time and time again, for the last two years, I have been assured that my hard work, diligence (and expensive tuition for a BA and an MA) will pay off and I will have no problem finding a rewarding and lucrative career. So far, it seems like someone lied to me. The hours I have spent on cover letters and resume tweaking have resulted in maybe one call back. Hiring practices are getting more stringent and complicated; employers want a cover letter, resume, references, salary requirements (what if I've been a student and shamelessly been working for free or next to free hitherto?) Then the interview process involves at least 3 rounds, with projects that are assigned. And if you are lucky enough to get the job, much less actually have a human being look at your resume, out of the 700 other applicants, you get a measly wage.. because they can- your so grateful for actual employment. As my friend Paul Rockower observed, only in America is looking for a job, a job in itself. So true. Sending out hundreds of resume packets, calling every professor, former employer, internship for leads. Attending every job fair, emailing every friend of a friend, only to receive the infamous "Dear Candidate, Thank you for your application. We regret.." email. This while Sallie Mae sends me daily reminders that my loan deferment is about to run out. Tick, Tock. And all my friends, family, advice columns, professors offer me their advice, all of which I have heard a thousand times and has yet to help me get a job. Fortunately, my classmates, professors and alumni have been really accessible to me.  Trying oh so hard to be supportive and helpful, some suggest I go to law school instead. This is usually when I lose my patience. I thought going to college mean security. I thought grad school would pay off. Society told me if I work hard and get an education I would be okay!

I get some sick comfort in a recent NPR report that top law school graduates are having the same trouble finding jobs as I am. I am not alone. I know that I enjoyed my program much more than I would have enjoyed law school. The contacts I made, my wonderful classmates and professors, and a industry a truly believe in were all worth it. But it seems my friend Denise was right when she observed that our society tells young people that they have no choice but to be in debt for the rest of their lives. One can barely survive without at least a Master's degree today, and you'll never be able to pay for it.  I'm trying to remember that it's only been two weeks since I have graduated and it takes the average person six months to find a job in a good economy.  Welcome to America's new past time: job searching.

In case you are reading this and know of a job opportunity, here's my resume. ;)

Friday, May 7, 2010

World Travelers as Public Diplomats

As many of us public diplomats know, travel is exciting and educational, it is also the best public diplomacy. Travel allows us to see other worlds, other cultures, other walks of life. I have often found, when traveling to another country, there was so much that could be learned from travel that cannot be understood from a book. Have you ever been to a country that was completely different from how you imagined it? In Israel and Palestine, I was surprised by people's attitudes about the conflict there. Lebanon, was not the desert of anti-American extremists some might expect, it was full of lush green forests and American friendly people. I know that travel has been a key part of my education. In the interest of promoting understanding and education through travel, Foreign Policy has added a new World Traveler section:

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."— St. Augustine
World Traveler
The value of international travel can vastly exceed its short-term costs; the benefits of exposure to a wide range of cultures and history are often profound and enduring. The past two years have brought financial challenges, and travel is often one of the first expenses to be cut from corporate and household budgets. But for many, trips to extraordinary destinations become some of the most memorable occasions of their lives.
This World Traveler sponsored section introduces readers to some examples of the experiences that are available—travel opportunities that not only change the scenery but also broaden perspectives and deepen understanding. This kind of travel is intellectually adventurous—it opens up cosmopolitan Shanghai and culturally rich Beijing. It encourages travelers to connect with historic events, like so many did in 2008 for Israel’s 60th anniversary and in 2009 for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It places travelers in unforgettable experiences, taking them from Peru’s metropolitan Lima to its ancient sites like Machu Picchu on the luxurious Hiram Bingham Train, from Costa Rica’s active volcanoes to its rainforest’s vast biodiversity, and from South Africa’s renowned Cape Town winelands to its wild landscapes on elephant-back safaris. Other opportunities combine education with exploration—for example, an immersion trip to the Middle East with the experts and world leaders who help shape policy. The variety of new travel experiences available today makes travel opportunities more accessible than ever before.
Click here for a PDF download of the section, or follow these links to explore the unique experiences featured in the first Foreign Affairs World Traveler:

Friday, April 23, 2010

Transnational Advocacy Networks and Public Diplomacy

I am sitting in the Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars annual conference which, this year, deals with transnational advocacy networks and public diplomacy. Anyone in the LA area, please feel free to come join us at USC. I will be Tweeting the conference from here: and will be blogging as well for those who are unable to join. You can find the conference program here. A great line-up. The keynote speaker, Colin Robertson, a fellow at the Canadian Defense and Foreign Affairs Institute, discussed the "Canadian Experience." Here are some of my favorite highlights:

"It costs $1 million to keep a solider in country; It costs 1/3rd that to keep a diplomat."

Roberts outlined 5 points of public diplomacy, his sixth.. "have a good woman on your team." It takes a real man to admit this. ;)

And from an audience member, a good reminder for those practicing PD, the principals of good public diplomacy, ""1st Listen, 2nd Learn, then lead."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The travelling Israeli Wall of "Genocide"

Letter to the Editor; USC Daily Trojan:

I was startled to see a familiar wall on the USC campus this week. In 2008, I graduated from UC Irvine, the original location of this particular wall. UC Irvine has experienced a lot of controversy because of this traveling wall.  Almost as much as the wall it is meant to replicate, which was built by Israel to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks. Many argue that the wall violates international law but Israel insists it has saved lives. At UCI, this wall and the controversial speakers and protests that have accompanied it has caused a lot of negative feelings and bad press. So much so that the Muslim Student Union, the organization that constructs this wall on the UCI campus every semester, is rumored to be investigated by the FBI. Also, Anteaters for Israel, the UCI Jewish student group that takes the upmost offense to the wall, launched a law suit against the school for Antisemitism. Though I am very supportive of the Palestinian cause, and feel that it is important for USC students to be aware of it, I am extremely disappointed to see this wall as the way of sparking this conversation. I feel that this wall is not productive, it is a hostile, in-your-face, accusation that offends many people. Maybe this is the point, but I offer this food for thought: In 2007 a group of UCI students, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Jew and others decided a more productive way to educate UCI students about the conflict -- what is really going on -- was travel there and talk to those who live the conflict. We formed the Olive Tree Initiative and traveled to Israel and Palestine for two weeks talking to people from both territories. I learned so much for the people there, but what was most important was that Palestinians- and Jews -- do not want, nor need, us to be fighting their conflict on our campus. They want to get jobs, go to school, travel the world and raise family’s – in peace and without violence. Last week I traveled to Lebanon and visited a Palestinian refugee camp. Those refugees didn’t hate Israel, they didn’t hate the Jews. I asked them what they wanted, what I could do for them. All they wanted was dignity, to be treated equally, to get an education, to be able to get jobs and to see the world. That is the cause we should be helping them with, not vilifying Israel. There is enough of that. I agree that Israel, the US and the world has wronged the Palestinian people, but fueling hate towards Israel doesn’t right these wrongs. I hope those who look at the wall, and those who brought it to USC, will ask how it helps the Palestinian people achieve these goals. There are real things people can do for the cause. And I hope those who care about Palestinians, and Israeli’s, and ending the conflict in the region will look into the Olive Tree Initiative on their campus or find some other way to bring peace to the conflict. 
You can read my blog posts from my trip throughout Palestine and Israel here.

Katharine Keith
MA in Public Diplomacy Candidate, USC
Co-Founder, Olive Tree Initiative, UCI

Click here to read my friend and colleague, Paul Rockower's letter to the editor on the same subject. Well said, my friend.

Also, watch our very short documentary on the Olive Tree Initiative:


Wow...  loss of words... I think John Stewart said it best:

"You don't have to appreciate ALL input. If someone pisses in your iced tea, that is input that, really, could very well go unappreciated."
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Fear of a Black C-SPANet
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Monday, April 12, 2010

The US Mission to NATO

Over the last 8 months, I have been working as a Virtual Student Foreign Service Intern for the US Mission to NATO. I have been working with USNATO staff in Brussels to develop a public diplomacy outreach program for students in the US and Europe.  Although NATO has important operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and the African Union, it is not discussed nearly enough in the media or in the classrooms.  My impression is that most students are unclear of what NATO actually does beyond their history lessons. 

For those who don’t know, NATO is a political-military alliance of 28 nations around the world who come together to deal with issues of global security and defense. Founded in 1949, the NATO Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs meet regularly at the North Atlantic Council (NAC) to discuss security issues of mutual interest. Any decisions made are decided by consensus of the members. The next meeting is this month in Tallinn, Estonia. NATO Heads of Government meet at such forums-- another meeting will be held in Lisbon in November of this year. I am hoping to blog more about this month’s upcoming meeting in Tallinn. I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Thanks, Burger King for this amazing public diplomacy campaign (again, desperately in need of a sarcasm font)

Burger King's new ad campaign for Saudi Arabia. As if American's needed any more help with their image as ignorant cowboys.

Thanks to Paul Rockower for bringing these to my attention!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Art Dubai

This week, the city welcomes Art Dubai, the largest contemporary art festival in the region.

Art Dubai 2009 from Art Dubai on Vimeo.

To learn more about how this art festival will help spur culture in Dubai, a city of immigrants, we visited an art gallery.  We had a very interesting talk with the owner of the gallery, as well as the government official in charge of culture. The art scene in Dubai is small, largely because funding isn't available for full time artists. We had a very interesting talk about art in Dubai and how it could act as a public diplomacy tool for Dubai itself. The representative from the Ministry of Culture explained that until Dubai knows its own culture, it will be difficult for it to export it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lessons from Emirate Royalty

Wednesday brought us to one of our most exciting interviews. We were in the presence of royalty. We had the great fortune to meet with her Excellency, Reem Al Hashemy in Emirates Towers. A surprisingly young woman, Al-Hashemy was sworn in as a Minister of State in the Cabinet of the UAE. It is common for young people to have important positions in the UAE if they are smart and talented.  Al Hashemy was clearly both. In fact, the population of the UAE is fairly young in general. 
Educated at Harvard, her Excellency spoke eloquently, and with only a slight accent, from underneath her black hijab (traditional dress for Emirate women). Many Emirates are US educated, and many have a good opinion of the US. Unfortunately, more so than the American public's opinion of the UAE. The UAE's regional neighbors criticize the country for being too westernized and close to the US.

According to Ms. Al Hashemy, the UAE was created by Sheik Zeyad in 1971. She explained that Emirates are a tribal culture and that each of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates. Some of the Emirates are more modern, like Dubai, which is very western and business minded.  The capital, Abu Dhabi, has the biggest population of Emirates, and Sharjah is much more religious. (To find out more about the UAE see here)
Financial Crisis
Like most of the world, the financial crisis hit Dubai. Particularly, its banking and real estate sectors. International media speculated disaster for Dubai, claiming it was done. The Government failed to respond to what Ms. Al Hashemy called exaggerated accusations. 
Combating Terrorism
As the US Consul General had told us a few days earlier, the UAE works closely with the US to combat terrorism. Dubai has the largest US Navel monitoring fleet and 100% of shipments that leave Dubai are checked by US Costumes agents. Mrs. Al Hashemy spoke of how little the global public, particularly Americans, new of this. Surprisingly, in 2006, the UAE was the only Middle Eastern country to deploy Special Forces in Iraq. Her Excellency spoke of the difficulties of trying to get Americans to realize the UAE matters. She has spent much of her career lobbying in the US for better opinions toward their country. Many public diplomacy efforts have been implemented to this aim. At one point, a group of Rabbi's from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in LA visited the UAE.
Green Initiatives
Although it is not an important issue to the Emirate public, the Sheik of Dubai has introduced an effort towards green technology for his city. This includes the construction of the world's first completely green city. The UAE also won the bid for the headquarters of IRENA. This will be the first multinational organization in the global south.
(I highly suggest this 60 minutes piece on Dubai for more information.) 

Watch CBS News Videos Online
In conclusion, her Excellency explained that, like it or not, the Middle East will continue to be very important. She explained that the Sheiks have tried to build a very different Middle Eastern country. One with an open society, both culturally and religiously; One that empowers women in work and education. The Sheiks foundation, Dubai Cares, works on education issues throughout the world. But she added the caveat that it isn't just important to make the UAE exceptional.
"You can never have a great house if it is a bad neighborhood. The UAE is a good house."
Therefore, she says, the UAE has a direct interest in developing the region as a whole. I asked her if she felt that the UAE could act as a moderator between Middle Eastern countries and the ME and the US. She agreed they most definitely are already. But she said most efforts in this regard are behind the scenes and that she couldn't elaborate. She added that the UAE had to be strategic about their methods of improving the region. 
"Arab culture is super sensitive about others telling us what to do." (A point the US will learn the hard way.) "Instead, the UAE says, 'Here is what we've done, look at how successful it has been. Maybe you'd be interested in trying it."
In no way does the UAE think it is perfect. Mrs. Al Hashemy admits:

"Are we democratic? Hell no! And there is a long way to go to be more democratic. But we are aware of this and working to address it."
 But she insists that they are a model for the region. 

"Dubai is seen as very welcoming and successful on the 'Arab street.'"
From my visit here, I can see why. Myself and many of my colleagues on the trip mentioned we could see ourselves moving here. We felt very comfortable in this country. Maybe I'll start editing my resume. ;)