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.