Sunday, December 11, 2011


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving. I am sitting outside my hotel room in Nairobi watching the rain. I had pizza for dinner and a Spanish omelette for breakfast. I am waiting to get on a matatu that will take me to Loitokitok where I will be helping the new Peace Corps trainees. I had planned on being in Mars by myself for the holiday so I couldn’t be happier. I will get to spend thanksgiving with PC volunteers. I have never met them and they have probably never heard of me but since we are all peace corps, they are part of my extended family and I am very happy that I will get to spend Turkey day with family. There won’t be stuffing, or turkey, or cranberry sauce, but at least I will be with family. I left my village so abruptly that I didn’t really have time to mentally prepare. I know it sounds strange, having to prepare to go to someplace as innocuous as Nairobi but I have been living in Mars and it really might as well be another planet. I hadn’t even been to Marsabit town in weeks and weeks. I just don’t like the hustle and bustle of town life. I like to stay quiet and easy in my little village. The last time I went to town was to pick up a package from the posta. This being a very small village, the guy at the post office saw the package and told his daughter (who is one of my students ) to tell me to come get it. Also, the posta gave a notice to a man who drives a truck for a local NGO who came to Dirib and gave the letter to my neighbor who gave it to me. My principal also knew. While I appreciate the efficiency of the ‘word-of-mouth’ system, the problem comes when the people in charge of opening my mail to inspect it write a detailed list of everything that is in the box on the notice slip. So everyone in my village knew that I was getting shoes, snacks, and a sampling of small liquor bottles. The customs guys were very thorough in writing exactly what type of alcohol (three bottles Smirnoff, Jose Cuervo, Malibu, Jack Daniels… ). By the time I got the box I had at least five people who asked me to share. That day, I also went to town to stock up on food. The rains had stopped for two days which was long enough for a truck to get through and bring bread back to Marsabit. I visited my fundi (seamstress) because she is also one of only two or three places I know of that sells Kenya souvenirs. I bought a bunch of handmade jewelry for future Christmas gifts. I felt like I spent a lot of money but then I realized that I bought gifts for every friend and family member and I had spent less than 10 bucks. Converting to America money always slays that buyer’s remorse. I also went to the area of the market where they sell spices to buy some incense. I was tempted to buy some of the traditional medicines that are sold in small piles all over. They look like piles of kindling or bundles of sticks or even piles of ground colorful powders. I asked what each did and some are for ulcers, some are for arthritis, and some are for malaria. They are all taken by boiling into a tea which is drunk by the patient. While I was tempted to buy some, I figured it was probably useless at best, and dangerous at worst, so I walked by without purchasing. Last Tuesday, I went to school to invigilate an exam. On the way, I had a conversation with a Borana woman. I am very excited and proud to say that it was my first real conversation in kiborana. I can officially communicate in three languages (four if you count me being able to say three full sentences and a couple of swear words in Kenyan Sign Language). The convo was pretty short and nothing impressive but I am still going to be excited about it. There are some days when my life feels almost normal. I get up, get dressed, make coffee, commute to work, etc. And then there are other days when I realize “wow, where do I LIVE?” One day last week, when I arrived at school, the teachers were all excited because they had killed an “olokhe”. They didn’t know the English or Kiswahili name for the animal. They proudly walked me over the hole where the creature had gone to die while regaling me with their stories about how the animal has been prowling around at night, digging holes everywhere, and finally they were able to kill it by stabbing it twice with a spear. When I saw the animal I realized that the olokhe was a spiny anteater ( I think, its head was pretty deep in the hole). And it was HUGE. It was the size of a dog and had human looking feet that could fit into size eight shoes. The body was flesh colored and had sparse, bristly hairs all over. Its tail was long, thin and hairless. If I didn’t know better I would have said it was an “el chupecabra” (google it). I accidentally taught Galgallo, the adorable three year old, how to swear. He now knows “dammit” and “ass”. I am usually pretty good at controlling my language around Kenyans. No one here swears, its very strange. I have been replacing many swear words with the word “awful”. It works to replace $h*t in sentences like“I feel awful”; and it replaces the F word nicely too “I feel awfully awful”. But when I am in my house and talking to myself (yes, I talk to myself), I use the opportunity to get all my swears out. It used to be fine around Galgallo, he was too shy and young to understand what I was saying. But now he is at the age where he repeats everything people say. It is fun to hear him learning three languages at once. But when I kick over my water jug and swear, he is always in my doorway to repeat the word with a big giggly smile on his face. The taxi is on its way to come get me and take me to a matatu headed for Nairobi so I am going to go. I wish everyone in America a Happy Thanksgiving. And Family: I miss you guys so much and I think about you every minute of every day. On holidays, I think about you twice every minute. Love you! One last thing: the best student answer for final exams was from a Form One student who, when asked about the definition of temperature said: The higher the temperature, the cooler the terminology

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mvua Ilinyesha (The Rain Rained)

I went out for a walk around the village during a lull in the rains and I realized what an entirely new world had emerged. My village looked like other places in Kenya that I have visited. It was green with lush, tall grass. Purple and yellow flowers dotted the fields, children played in puddles and vines crawled over everything. It is beautiful and I wandered around looking for a place to relax in the sun. I found this one place that seemed quiet. It was out of site of the road and overlooked a hill with no grass huts nearby, and therefore no kids constantly yelling at me. I stood there and said to myself “THIS is my new spot”. I was going to go there often with a good book and get away from everything. I stood there for a moment, overlooking my new spot, when before you could say “habari yako” a mother and her son walked up behind me and started chatting. I greeted them and then sidled away down the hill closer to the road trying to be out of sight of all people. But then rush hour started. Everyone and their mother started heading home. I saw a group of my students, a man who asked me what was wrong with me (a person cannot be alone or inactive in Kenya without something being wrong), mamas with their babies tied to their backs, people carrying bags of rice, and lots of Muslims heading home after various Idd celebrations. I had to head home after a half an hour of people staring and laughing at me. I am sure they are thinking “look at that ridiculous mzungu! She’s standing in a field! Just standing! Silly!” Idd is a Muslim holiday, I am not totally sure what it represents, something about the fifth pillar of Islam (Hadji) when people make the nine-day trip to Mecca and something else about the ram that God gave to Joseph to take the place of the son in the slaughter. Anyway, like many holidays, it involves lots of visiting friends and family and lots of feasting. Lokho’s family killed a goat, but by the time they saw me to invited me over, all the good meat was gone. The family cannot afford rice so I was handed a tin bowl filled to the brim with intestines and one small boiled potato. It was one of the most disgusting things I have ever tasted. I do not mind all organs. I actually like goat liver (mmm, iron), and I think the kidney isn’t bad. But everything else just looks grey and bumpy, like toad skin or raw octopus tentacles. Most people do not use spices for cooking, maybe salt if you are lucky. And this goat had some nice yellow fat. Every time I get served matumbo, the taste gets worse. It is too tough to cut with a spoon, so I had to take nice big spoonfuls and then chew for a few minutes to get it to small enough pieces to swallow. I used the potato to cleanse the palette every few bites but my brain could not stop trying to identify each bite (“Is that the gall bladder?”). They do not usually serve drinks with meals either, so no washing anything down. I had to be polite, after all, it is very generous of them to feed me the little meat they have. Lokho tells me that they only get meat on very special holidays. I ate for about half an hour before I just couldn’t eat anymore. There were a few bites left, including one huge chunk of what looked like stomach wall with a border of yellow, bubbly fat. I left it and Mama fed the rest to Galgallo. I really hope she wasn’t offended by my lack of appetite so I made a comment later about how I usually do not eat meat. I don’t think it helped. I hung out for awhile with the family learning new kiborana words. When I stole Galgallo’s favorite rock and playfully held it out of his reach he giggled adorably repeating “not yours! Not yours!” and when he and his little brother (who is one and barely talks) played with the creepy crawlies that were everywhere, I learned my favorite Borana word thus far “coco” which means something scary. After a couple cups of chai to kill the matumbo aftertaste, I went home and as soon as I got in my door, Lokho followed me in. She said she had been outside when I left her house and she had just seen a large animal run by that she thought was a hyena. That freaked me out though she seemed completely calm. A hyena? On my front porch? Yikes. These people are crazy walking around at night. I did see that my neighbors had a big ‘animal poking’ stick which must make them feel safer. They used it recently on a pack of nine or so wild dogs (not Wild Dogs but feral dogs). Dogs scare me the least, but nine were in the compound this morning at 5 am howling like wolves. The leader of the pack ran past me. Most of the dogs here are scraggly and thin and diseased looking. This one looked like a cross between a pit-bull and a grizzly bear. The hyenas are afraid of people but the dogs aren’t. I toss out the remains from dinner and within seconds, the dogs are sneaking up to eat it. At least the hyenas are smart enough to run away when they see you. I haven’t gone to town in an entire month. I really have grown to hate town. Next year I am going to try to find a way to avoid town as much as possible. I just have to find a way to stop needing food. This last month without town was nice. I really enjoyed having the extra time to relax. I am finally remembering how to sleep in, though I am still up at eight AM and getting people coming to my door asking why I am still sleeping at such a late hour. But its better than waking up before six like I have been doing. I haven’t really intentionally been skipping town. I need to go at the very least to buy toilet paper (there are only so many creative alternatives). The first week was the Brother’s fault, it was pouring rain and they didn’t want to drive in it. That was a very good decision. The next week, it was raining and I didn’t want to go, so I stayed in my pjs and purposely missed the vehicle. The week after that was probably my fault as well but I can’t remember the reason I skipped, most likely laziness. This week, however, I had fully planned on going. I even wrote out a grocery list (it said “everything” in capital letters). It was raining but I wasn’t taking my chances. The Brothers usually go around ten o’clock so I got dressed and was out the door by nine to call them and double check that they were leaving despite the on and off rain. I walked around my compound in a leso (colorful cloth wrap) and flip flops searching for service while the rain had paused. I was still hearing this loud rushing noise and finally figured out that it was the river (well, what is normally a rocky gully). It was shockingly high and fast with waterfalls and rapids all over the place. I was watching mamas collecting water in jerry cans and noticed the kids running back and forth on the banks throwing rocks. I thought that was pretty risky behavior and the mother instinct in me had me standing there watching them from afar. All of a sudden, all the kids started screaming. I knew immediately what happened. One of them fell in the river. The kids were jumping up and down in a panic and every adult in the area ran down to the river to see if they could help. Everyone on my side (the wrong side) of the river also ran down. I took my shoes off and slipped through the mud with everyone else. The only word I could understand was “ijolle” (child). Some of the men carefully and slowly crossed the waist deep river, holding onto any flotsam they could find. I did not attempt to cross, I would have been washed away. I stood on the banks with the rest of the village trying to careen my neck enough to see what was happening. The village chief came by and finally told me, in English, that the young kid was pulled out of the river and was going to be fine. But he was worried because everyone needed to get from one side of the river to the other, and clearly it was too dangerous. He and the assistant village chief rounded up all the strong men and found a place where the river was narrow but swift. They made a human bridge, slowly passing each person across. Twice, a mama fell in the water and the whole village panicked. But eventually, everyone got across. I walked back to my house covered from the waist down in thick mud. I took a quick bath, changed all my clothes, and went to St. Pauls to catch the vehicle. Of course I missed it. As a consolation prize, I hung out in the Brothers house for awhile eating mandazi. They later apologized for leaving me and gave me a two day supply of mandazi to make up for it. I am still desperate to go to town, at least to get a package from America that has arrived for me. This is a very small village and the guy who works in the posta told his daughter, who is one of my students, about the package. Also, I got an official notice from my principal, who passed it to a fellow teacher, that listed everything that was in the package. So the rumor spread and now everyone I know is aware that I have received a package full of "energizer batteries, shoes, and miniature alcohol bottles". Thank you, Amanda! It has been raining paka na mbwa (cats and dogs) for the last few weeks. I am trying to hold on to my love of the rain, but it gets more difficult each day. The road is deteriorating to the point where I actually cannot get to school if it is raining. It is just too dangerous to cross the rushing rivers. And when it is clear enough that I can make it, the mud is still ankle deep in many places. My teachers are always impressed that I show up to school, especially when I show up with only my shoes being covered in mud. I have found a use for the constant crowd of children that follow me around. Since they spend their days playing, they know all the best routes across the rivers that will prevent you from getting completely soaked. It is a very handy thing. You just walk up to a creek, peer around you for a second, and from out of nowhere a child will appear to guide you. Its like magic. This Friday was a rough day and almost made me curse the rain. I had already missed Tuesday and Thursday because of the rains and I spent the days cleaning and doing all my laundry. Friday was the last day of classes before exams so I had to get to school to at least review with my students. The clothes I hung on the line on Thursday were still damp when I went to bed so I left them on the line thinking that, if it rained, they would just get an extra rinse and there had to be some sunshine before the weekend. But I was very wrong. Over the night it started to rain very, very, very hard. It was a real storm complete with lightening. I have no trees in my yard so one end of my laundry line was hooked to an open window. I woke at 3 am to remove my soaking wet couch cushions and move my coffee table out of the splash zone. I had no choice but to let the rain flood that corner of the living room. I got up as soon as the sun was up and went outside in the rain to take down my clothes so I could shut the window. I stepped outside into the storm and my mood immediately dropped. My clothes had gotten so wet that the line couldn’t hold them. Sometime during the night, the line had snapped, leaving all my clean clothes on the wet, muddy ground. Wonderful. Grumbling, I picked up everything, (I am going to have to rewash it all…), and took down the line (…and I’ll need to buy a new laundry line). I went back in my house and got ready for school. It was foggy, cold, wet, and muddy. I was not at all looking forward to the walk to school. I put on leggings and a loose skirt that would dry quickly if it got wet. My freshly washed shirts were all muddy and wet, so I had to wear a white button down blouse. Great for wet t-shirt contests. I put a large, yellow plastic bag with a picture of Aladdin over my backpack (I made sure Aladdin was facing outwards, you know… fashion first!) and set off for school. As I passed Lokho’s house, she came out and gave me my bright yellow umbrella back. I like that umbrella because its yellow and has Japanese writing and baby dinosaurs on it (isn’t it amazing the stuff you can find in a used clothing market?). It wasn’t really raining as I started to walk, so I tucked the “Adventures of Qiqi and Keke” umbrella between my body and the backpack. I crossed the first river, the one that usually prevents me from leaving my house. But today it was just a small, unbelievably muddy creek. As I was slipping down the road towards school, I noticed that, since the power was out and I got dressed in the near darkness, I had my leggings on inside out. Awesome. I was alone on my walk to school, presumably everyone else was being smart and staying inside. I crossed two more small rivers, managing to avoid getting too wet or muddy. I was listening to my ipod and cruising along getting lots of friendly waves from people standing in the doorways of their manyattas. How awful would it be to have a stick roof and a mud floor during the rainy season? I would expire from pure grubby frustration. By the time I got to the last big river in between me and Sasura, I was really tired of walking the really long way around to find a dry path. I went to the water’s edge and studied it for a moment. It didn’t look too deep; surely those are small rocks causing those eddies. I looked around, I knew from experience that it would take me 20 minutes to find a path over the water, and it would be very muddy. So, I thought, its only about six big steps to the other side and I would be, at worst, stuck in wet shoes for the day. So I charged on through. And, Oh, how very wrong I was. The first step took the water to my knees. The second step was up on a rock and I only had time to think “Oh, that first deep step was a fluke” before I took a third step that brought the water up my thighs. I sent a quick thanks to the big guy upstairs that no one was around to watch me practically swimming across the road. I surged the last couple steps onto the firm-looking bank only to find that it was not firm at all. Not even a teeny bit; it was the furthest thing possible from firm. I would have rather gone back through the river. The ground was mud/quick sand. I had one foot knee deep in muddy water and the other foot sank knee (KNEE!) deep in the juicy mud. I paused for a split second to consider my options. I figured speed was the key and tried to run up the bank. Needless to say, I was, of course, wrong. But, strangely enough, my tights are made out of some magic material that (sorta) repels mud. I escaped with mud thickly coated only from the shin down. I walked the rest of the way in a strange mood, I was happy. Somehow, fighting with the environment gets my mind effectively off any other stresses. And plus, I had that spring in my step that comes from when you just know you look good. I mean, seriously, if my high school nemeses could see me now. I had mud up to the knees, wet up the thighs, I was holding my skirt up high, I had tights that were inside out, a backpack covered in a plastic Aladdin bag, I was twirling a baby dinosaur umbrella (when it wasn’t packed like a sword in a scabbard), and I was singing, loud and most-likely off key (I had headphones on, I couldn’t hear myself). I felt like Sam Gamgee from Lord of the Rings (I love Sam, but lets be serious, he’s a dork). Or a hobo. I got to school, got laughed at by the teachers for my stupid “I’ll just walk straight across the river” idea, chastised by my everyone for attempting to come to school today (I was able to reassure them once I explained that I was quite proficient at swimming) , and made fun of for my inside out tights by my students. Then I got to spend the entire day with squelching shoes that were full of river water. When it was time to head back home I walked through Kubibagasa (the village where the school is) and was stopped by a whole crowd of people. They asked me if I knew there was a river to cross. I said yes and I asked if there was a way around. There wasn't, so I said "hakuna shida" (No prob!) and marched off to the river with the crowd laughing at me. I probably shouldn't have crossed the river, but what was I supposed to do? I put all my stuff in the Aladdin bag to keep it dry, hiked up my skirt and prepared to go in. The crowd followed me down to the river to watch and just as I put one foot in, a young man came up and told me to wait. He gallantly rolled up his cuffs and took my arm to lead me into the water. He slowly and carefully took me across. It was a good thing too, the river, while still looking shallow, had gotten waist deep. I am making a promise to myself that I will no longer try to cross a swollen river. I am not going to risk it. This week, one of my students asked me about homosexuality. In Kenya, homosexuality is very taboo. When I said that in America, many gays and lesbians get married, the girls gasped like I just pulled a unicorn out of thin air. The questions that arose were amusing. I got asked “when two men marry, who becomes the wife and who becomes the husband?” I was asked about homosexual sex, and I tried to gloss over the topic. But the girls wanted details. It was really difficult to explain how homosexual sex works without sounding like a cheap porn novel. They wanted to know if two men could have children. And, since America is clearly allowing all kinds of sin, is it legal to marry your brother or have sex with animals? And worse, can you marry outside your clan? And importantly, isn’t it illegal to have sex before marriage? When I answered “no, it is not illegal”, the student asking the question, called me closer, cupped her hand around her mouth to whisper “No, I mean… is it legal to have sex with someone who you are NOT planning on marrying?” This is the last week of school. We are doing exams and then everything is finished. I am hoping to fly to "down Kenya" the day after Thanksgiving. I am going to celebrate Thanksgiving a day late and hopefully have some delicious non-Kenyan food with some American. That is about as close as I'll get to tradition. I am still very much looking forward to it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

DikDik: the Other, Other, Other White Meat

Before I came to Kenya, I didn’t know anything about termites. Literally nothing. But I am starting to learn about them. For example: they are attracted to light, just like moths. Unlike moths, they are good at crawling as well as flying. This means that while the moths are flinging their bodies against my windows and door, trying futilely to get inside, the termites with fling themselves heartily into the door, fall to the ground and crawl underneath the giant crack under the door. Once inside, they will fly crazily around bumping into things. I have started stuffing dirty clothes under the door to prevent them (and those frisky spiky legged beetles) from coming in. This is very effective but in the morning when I remove the clothes, I discover that hundreds of termites have ripped off their wings and left them in a pile right outside the door in what I can only assume is a protest. “You don’t like us in your house, Ryan? Fine, we’ll just leave our wings here until you change your mind. Hope you enjoy sweeping first thing in the morning!” Why do they do that? What could the species gain from having wings that just fall off that easily? It is a mystery but leads my brain to fun imagination stories where the termites are flying when the wings drop, causing the termite to spin out of control like an airplane when its wings fall off. I hate the termites. I leave my lights off as much as possible but every evening at least two or three people come to my door to greet me, or sell me eggs, and I have to turn the light on and stand in the open doorway chatting for 15 minutes while all the termites in a five kilometer radius take advantage of the situation and decide to come in and share my dinner. Its annoying sana. My Rendille friend, Joseph, came over the other day to charge his cell phone and so I asked him if he knew why termites lose their wings. He said no and then, wanting to show me just how easy the wings come off, he caught a termite out of the air and proceeded to rip the wings off. Then he dropped it to the ground and let it scurry around, poor thing. I asked him if he ate termites and, to my amusement, he said, with mild disgust in his voice, “Nooo, we Rendille do not eat termites! We are not like those people from Rift Valley Province.” The tribalism here baffles me. Kenyans tend to be very loyal to their tribe and pretty harsh to other tribes. With 50+ tribes in Kenya, it all gets a little confusing. People will tell me things like, “Oh, I don’t like him. Why? Because he’s black.” And every time I hear it, I laugh out loud and point out “you know you are ALL black, right?” And then they laugh and are perplexed as to how I can’t tell the difference. Though, after a year, I am starting to tell the difference. I can tell who is Rendille and who is Borana, and not by their clothes but by their faces. I have trouble with differentiating between Rendille/Samburu because they are closely related. I can even tell, most of the time, someone from Meru or someone who is a Luo. Anyway, back to eating termites. I thought it was amusing that Joseph was so grossed out by eating termites when his tribe is known for drinking camel blood. But who am I to judge? I, after all, enjoy eating potatoes with the skin on, put sauce made of MILK on my pasta, and drink my tea cold. Heinous! Joseph had also come over to brag that he had caught a dikdik in his housing compound the other day. A dikdik is a tiny antelope-type creature. They are adorable, and apparently quite tasty. He was very proud of his accomplishment, even though all he did was trap the thing when it came in to nibble grass. But he promised that the next time he caught one, and surely it would be soon, he would be sure to bring me an entire kg of meat. I am actually looking forward to it. I would only very reluctantly eat a fried termite, but I would gladly eat a dik dik. What if it tastes like a delicious steak? (I doubt it tastes like steak, it probably tastes like goat) He also told me that if I wanted some tasty meat, I should get a slingshot and take care of those pigeons who defecate on my porch all the time. A delicious meal and I get rid of the annoying pigeons? Now wouldn’t that be killing two birds with one stone? (Yes, terrible pun, but I couldn’t resist.) Last Saturday was a long, rough day. I woke up at the usual time, around 6 am, and slowly made coffee and pancakes. I was savoring my delicious cup of hazelnut kahawa (a friend sent me powdered creamer and it was the greatest day of my life). When the little neighbor kids came by yelling and throwing rocks at my door. I ignored the adorable little bastards, trying to train them that throwing rocks will not get my attention. But it wasn’t long before I heard a horrible sound; it was the grating metal of the outside door bolt. I ran to the door but it was too late, I was locked in. I opened the window and tried to get the kids to come back. But the only words I know are “kot! (come)”, “lakisa! (stop that!)”, “Lon! (cow)” and a few other equally unhelpful phrases. I did say “es demt?!” which means “where are you going?” but they just giggled and said they were going home, before running away. They didn’t come back. I, not having cell network in my house, had to wait until a Kiswahili speaking person walked by who I could ask to open the door. What time was that? 8 pm. Yup, I was locked in my own house until eight o’clock at night. Every other day of the year will bring a visitor every hour but the one day I need someone, everyone decides to give me a break. That’s just my luck. I had to make good use of my night-time, lets-not-get-eaten-by-jackals-on-the-way-to-the-choo bucket. In addition to the embarrassment of the situation (seriously, who gets locked in their own house by a bunch of four year olds?), I also missed my chance to go to town and get food for the week. Though, that was more a problem for my tastebuds than an actual crisis. I am getting pretty good at making something out of nothing. (garlic mashed potato pancakes breaded with stale breadcrumbs fried in blue band = super yum). By the time Lokho came by to let me in, I was settled into my isolation and was fine and happy. But I was grateful to her, I didn’t want to explain to anyone what happened if I didn’t show up for school on Monday. That same evening, Lokho and I were watching some movie on my computer and I was multitasking and marking exams when all of a sudden a GIANORMOUS scorpion walked out of my bedroom. I have had quite a few scorpions in my house over the past year but they were all only a few inches long. This sucker was as big as the palm of my hand. Its claws looked like mini boxing mitts. My first thought was to take a picture and I wanted to make sure that there was something in the picture to give it perspective, so (my mother is going to kill me) I threw a pen at it. It had the expected reaction, coiling up with its boxing mitts up and its tail poised. After a few photos, I went about trying to catch him and take him outside. I wanted to kill it but I didn’t want to have to clean up a large handful of scorpion goo. Lokho, who was reading a book at the time, was standing on my couch squealing like a normal 13 year old girl and yelling for me to go get help and to be careful and to not touch it and that she heard someone died from being stung and they were deadly. She didn’t believe me when I said I was unafraid. I explained that even if I went and got a neighbor, they would do the same thing I was doing, and find a way to get it outside. So with her on the couch, I tried to catch the big black scorpion in a bucket. That part was easy, but when I tried to slide a piece of cardboard under the bucket and flip it over, the scorpion scrambled out. I’ll admit, that startled me, and I jumped about a foot in the air when it nearly crawled over my hand. Lokho screamed and then admonished me to at least put shoes on. I figured that was a pretty good idea. Once armed with shoes and the bundle of stiff grass that is my broom, I found the scorpion hiding behind my bedroom door. I felt like a knight with a sword (broom) in one hand and a shield (bucket) in the other. I herded it out of my room and to the front door. I whisked open the door to sweep him out into the night and was immediately assaulted by a million termites- the big red ones. They had been attracted to the light and now poured into my face. At that, I panicked. I jumped back and started swiping at them with my broom, completely forgetting my plan to take the giant scorpion outside and execute it. I kept the door open long enough to get the scorpion out and then I slammed the door shut and stuffed a pair of pants under the crack. I spent the next couple minutes twitching and swiping at the bugs as they flew around the room. Then, I went outside to finish off the scorpion. I turned off the light in my living room, whipped open the front door and danced through the cloud of termites to the porch light switch. I flipped it on then danced, swiping frantically at termites, out of the pool of light and into the gravel. I realized belatedly that I should have been watching to make sure I didn’t step on the scorpion, but I was lucky and the thing had run off. I searched the area and found him sitting on the edge of my porch. I approached, hefted the thickest shoe I owned in my hands, took careful aim and slammed the shoe down on the scorpion. I lifted the shoe and the scorpion walked away without a care. I slammed it down a second time and pissed off the scorpion; he attacked the sole of the shoe with its tail before walking away, annoyed but uninjured. I hefted the shoe a third time and waited till the scorpion was on a nice clear patch of ground, then, with a battle cry of “DIE!” I slammed the shoe down, then stood on it and ground it into the gravel. Then I scooted the shoe back and forth a bit, to smear the scorpion into the dirt, before lifting it again. Nothing; I think the scorpion was laughing at me by this point. Lokho suggested I try a rock. I picked a nice heavy stone, swung and smashed the scorpion. I lifted the rock, and, I’m not lying, the scorpion was fine! What in God’s name are those things made of?! I tried one more time, I SLAMMED that rock on the scorpion; this time I felt some goo land on my hand. I lifted the rock from the now crushed scorpion and crouched down close. It was dead. Finally. I stood up with a sigh and faced my front door. I could not bring myself to walk back through the cloud of termites so Lokho and I stood outside for a little while catching our breath. After a few minutes, she went over to the scorpion and poked it with a stick. “Ryan? Its still alive.” I could not believe it. I told her it was just the remnants of muscle activity but when I went back to the creature and performed a scientific examination (I poked it repeatedly with the stick) I found that, indeed, the bastard was still alive, curling and uncurling its tail. The thing had been hit with a shoe THREE times and a rock twice and it was still kicking. I gave up and went back inside my house, after making Lokho go turn off the light so I wouldn’t have to walk through the cloud of termites. Man, I hate termites. Dates are delicious. I had never had them when I was in America, I didn’t really know what they were covered in and I didn’t like eating things with pits. (like olives). Here in Kenya, dates are common in places like Mombasa where the date stalls line the streets, but here in Mars, they are extremely rare. I don’t know where you can get them. But one of my neighbors came over and brought me a whole bowlful of them and it turns out they are super delicious. Its like candy! (We don’t have much candy in Mars) Then one of my fellow teachers gave me a few dates. It was the teacher who I find attractive and it was really hard not to giggle girlishly when he asked, “Ryan, would you like a date?” (My favorite corny pick up line is “Hey Baby, want a raisin? No? How ‘bout a date?” ) I just smiled and said thanks, like a normal person. The form 3 biology class is learning about genetic disorders and the topic ‘albinism’ came up. The teacher, Mr. Hassan, was lecturing on the topic when one of the students commented that I must be an albino, you know, cause I’m white. Hassan told the students to ask me if I am actually albino. It is not the first time I have been called albino but it is just as amusing the second time. I get to explain that albinos have no color, not in their hair, not in their eyes, not in their skin. I also get to let them poke at my freckles and show them that I am as black as them, the difference is that I am only black in tiny, circular areas. In the staff room, when the teachers finished laughing at the idea of me being albino and having freckles like a leopard, we started talking about actual albinos in Kenya. The albinos here suffer from extreme discrimination. In many parts of Kenya, they are killed. In Tanzania, an albino person can be sold to a witch doctor who uses the body parts in ‘traditional medicine’. Many albinos are killed and eaten to make others rich. This week, I also had a serious discussion about FGM with my form one students. I do not remember what topic I was teaching, but one of the girls asked me to explain why I was not circumcised and why I thought it was bad. I remember a Life Skills lesson that I had at the beginning of the year about FGM and I remember asking how many of them had gone through the procedure. I remember being shocked and horrified about the number but in the months since, I convinced myself that I was wrong. I just couldn’t stand the idea of every single one of these girls having to go through that. But they have. Every single girl in my school, all 150 of them (minus maybe one or two girls from outside the Marsabit area) have had female genital mutilation. They were also shocked that I had not done it. Apparently, some of them were told that without the procedure they would be unable to give birth to children. I assured them that was not true at all. I also explained everything negative I know about the topic. I feel a little guilty because I became angry and indignant, not at them of course, but at their tribal elders. I know I should be open minded to other cultural practices but I just cannot help my abhorrence from expressing itself. I explain that the common name for female circumcision is ‘Female Genital Mutilation’, and then I had to explain what the word ‘mutilation’ meant, because they didn’t know. I told them that some reasons that FGM is dangerous is because of the possible infections, high blood loss, and pain. When I mentioned pain, a couple girls exclaimed, asking if I have seen it, if I really knew just how extreme the pain was. The remembered suffering was so clear on their face that it made my stomach drop. I ended my discussion by begging them to not let their future daughters go through that completely unnecessary procedure. Life in Kenya is never (never, never) dull. Tedious, maybe, but never dull. On Friday, I was in my last class of the day when the sky opened up. It is impossible to teach when the rain is deafening on the tin roof. I finished the lesson using charades; my class thought it was hilarious. I knew that I’d have to walk home soon, as the afternoon went on it was only going to get colder. And since it had been a thousand degrees out just that morning, I had on a light nylon skirt and a t-shirt, no jacket. I wrapped my backpack in a bag and started off home. I was soaked to the skin in ten minutes. The road to Dirib was decimated by the river of water. There was only slippery mud, bare rock, and brown rapids where the road used to be. I made my way along slower than usual, finally making it to a large hill above my house. The last distance should have taken five minutes but it took me over half an hour to get to my door. First, I came across a woman as wet as I was. She was wearing no shoes and had a baby goat under one arm and a panga (machete) in the other. She was clearly frustrated, running back and forth trying to get her herd of cold, unhappy goats to walk down the hill. Half the goats had gone down the hill, some had run up the hill to escape the flood, and some had taken shelter under a scraggly acacia bush. I asked if she needed help and then climbed down into the mud to prod the goats out from the bush. The littlest ones were too tired to walk, so I picked up one and she picked up the other and we went down the hill. My goat was so tired, it was an adorable thing, covered in mud and he rested his head on my chest and bleated softly as we walked. We caught up with the rest of the herd standing at the edge of a wide, deep, fast stream bisecting the road. The woman and I waded in, it was knee deep, and we carried our baby goats to the other side. We went back and forth carrying small goats and pulling big goats across. Once we all made it to the other side, I said goodbye and took a short cut over another hill to get home. I climbed to the top of the hill and saw that the normally rocky valley that I cross to get home was now a river. You could easily go white water kayaking in there. I went back down the hill to find a way around and it took me through three manyattas (housing compounds). But I finally found a way to cross three more knee-deep streams each a couple meters across. It was actually a little scary. I walked parallel to the giant river, walking on the narrow mud bank only a couple feet wide, holding onto the fence in case I slipped on the mud. I made it home safely, but stayed outside in the rain for another half an hour to fill all five of my 20 liter jerry cans, both my buckets, and my wash basin with rain water. I thought about doing some laundry and maybe washing my hair out there by standing under a flooded gutter, but I started to get very cold and figured if I died of pneumonia because I was busy washing my hair in the rain, people would make fun of me. I went inside and spent the rest of the evening drinking hot chocolate. By Sunday, the rain had stopped and everything is back to normal. And by normal, I mean, unpleasantly and disgustingly hot. As much as I hate to admit it, I smell like a camel. The deodorant/ antiperspirant here in Mars is, sadly, not up to the task of either antiperspir-ing or deodor-ing. Or maybe its just hit its limit, maybe it stops working at 10,000 degrees Celcius.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pull of the Wings and Fry 'em up like Popcorn

It rained today. The sound of the rain hitting my tin roof woke me up at midnight last night. The din was so loud and I was so surprised that I had to get up and step out the front door with my palm out to believe it. I sleep deeply for the first time in a long while. I got up this morning with a smile on my face. It was my one year anniversary. I have lived in Kenya for an entire year. It feels strange. One part of me can’t believe I made it this far; another part thinks I still have an eternity left to go. I am still waiting for the day when my time remaining doesn’t feel like an eternity. I walked to school in the rain without an umbrella so I could feel the drops on my head. It was misty and foggy and the earth smelled delicious. It is my favorite smell in the world, the smell of rain-soaked earth. (Well, its tied for favorite with the smell of car airconditioning and clean sheets.) The mud was outrageous. The fine dust turns into a reddish brown crust the same texture and sticking power of cement. My shoes were about three pounds heavier by the time I got to school. Later in the day, after school, as the rain waxed and waned, I went outside to my favorite spot out of sight of my house near this crooked, old tree and sat on my favorite rock. I watched the steam rising from the warm ground; I sat through two waves of downpours, letting my clothes get soaked and feeling the water run down my face. When the rain finally stopped, I watched the termites come out. Every tree, every stump, every hole in the ground, is full of them and they have been waiting for the rains to come so they can stretch their wings. The air is full of millions of tiny, fluttering, silver wings. Termites of all sizes crawl out by the thousand and take flight. There are tiny ones, small enough to get sucked up a nostril if you aren’t careful, medium sized ones with long black bodies, and large reddish ones that look to heavy to be carried by the two pairs of delicate looking wings. The locals love the termites and catch them by the bucketful. They pull off the wings and fry them up to eat like popcorn. I haven't yet had that delicacy, but maybe I'll get around to it. I have been here for a year and have been walking past bare fields and stepping of scruffy, stunted acacia bushes. After only one day of rain, every square inch of mud is covered in tiny green baby plants. It is very cool, this instant verdant carpet. I am told that the goats will eat this new grass and, for some unknown reason, many will die soon after. The roads are all washed out, temporary rivers run over the road, removing mud from some places, leaving bare rock, and piling it in others. One of the thatch houses collapsed, leaving a wet pile of sticks. All the furniture inside, also made of sticks, was also ruined. People are already complaining. As much as they needed the rain, now that they have it, they are exposed to a whole new barrel of problems they have to deal with. Many people are sick, coughing and sneezing, and the line to the clinic is out the door. Most everyone is diagnosed with malaria, despite the fact that none of the symptoms follow. Lokho was told that she ‘tested positive for malaria’ and when I asked her if they drew blood, she replied in the negative. She wasn’t tested for anything and she was still put on malaria medication, as was her 1 year old cousin. It’s a frustratingly inefficient system. I really admire volunteers from the 70s and 80s, I can’t imagine dealing with everything I have to deal with and not being able to call a friend on my cell phone to talk about it. Some days, I can just barely handle the stuff I’ve got to deal with. It’s never life threatening or tragic, but it is always a million little things that make you smack yourself in the forehead and beg for the universe to cut you a freaking break. For example, after a particularly rough week and with the rain preventing me from calling anyone for support, I was trying to call my mother to let her know I was still alive. I went out in the dark evening (it was morning for her) with my flashlight with its crappy, weak batteries. I made it to a spot out in the dark were I got waxing cell phone service only after walking painfully into two acacia bushes and one boulder. I called my mom, and talked for 3 seconds before I ran out of cell credit. She called me back and we spoke for 3 minutes before I lost network and had to wander around for a bit till she called back. Once she did, I couldn’t hear her at all; then she couldn’t hear me. I tossed my hands up in frustration to find that a giant, 3 inch long, black beetle with really spiky legs and giant horns was crawling up my chest. I panicked and tried to brush it off but it had gripped on tightly with its giant spiky legs and I only ended up hurting my fingers on his spikes. I could hear my mom worrying on the phone “You…..sister….call….bread….worried?” While I tried to get the damn bug off and tell my mom not to worry, my phone battery died. Grumbling to myself, I fought the bug off and stomped, frustrated, back to my house. I tripped on the way back, twice, dropped my flashlight and lost the batteries, and somehow managed to walk into an acacia TREE. Trust me when I say there is no blacker dark than rural Africa dark. Back at my house I got my backup cell phone, new torch batteries, and went back out to my spot. I managed to talk to my mom for another ten minutes, spending the entire time getting the garbled message across that I would call back some other time. Then I went back to my house to find that while I was out there, the bugs had taken over. There were black june bugs everywhere and two of those 3 inch black, spiky beetles copulating on my laptop. I guess they also enjoy How I Met Your Mother reruns. I swept them all out of the house, especially all the rated R beetles, and then stuffed dirty clothes under the crack in my front door to prevent more from coming in. Finally, I killed the housecat sized cockroach that was in the corner creeping me out and settled down on the couch. For the rest of the evening I got to hear the ping of the 3 inch spiky beetles smacking into the windows; it sounded like someone outside was throwing rocks. The other day, I was talking to one of my students and I had asked her if all the girls here get their ears pierced. She told me that traditionally they do and when I asked how they do it, I was treated to a stomach-clenching story about how very painful it is, how they use an acacia thorn and how sometimes it gets stuck or requires more than one try. These people must have an incredibly high tolerance to pain. In addition to that, there is the much worse public circumcisions. I heard that if a boy cries out in pain while being circumcised, it is so shaming that he will be laughed at about it forever and may never get married. I really hope that is not true because I can’t imagine prepubescent boys going through that without any kind of anesthetic and it not hurting like a sonofabitch. And of course, there is female circumcision. FGM is a very common practice in my village and recently there has been a big push in the surrounding villages to educate girls and eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation. My village, like many in Kenya, has made fairly good practice getting girls to refuse to be circumcised. Unfortunately, the focus has been on girl child education and neglects boys, so when the time comes for the girls to get married, the boys refuse to take an uncircumcised girl. Because of this, there is an increasing number of girls actually requesting FGM so that they will be able to get married. It is very sad, and a pretty big step back on the road of progress. The man who was telling me about the FGM issue was a religious leader whose job included going around to schools to give leadership conferences. He was at St. Paul’s Secondary School teaching the boys about leadership, drug use, HIV/AIDS, and other topics. This man was from a country in northern Africa and he was commenting on the difference between the nomads here in Marsabit and the nomads from the countries up north. He called his nomads the “modern nomads”. The nomadic lifestyle is still very common up the continent, but these days instead of using camels to transport their homes, the nomads travel across Libya and Chad in Land Rovers with their wives and children and belongings. They still have camels and use them for milk and trading, and they still live in temporary homes, but these days they use expensive SUVs to travel the desert. He said that if you offer them a place to stay for the night, they will park outside your house and put up their shelter outside in your front yard. It is a strange and interesting sounding lifestyle. It sounds just like American Rv-ers.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Campbell’s Cream of Goat Face Soup (Now Heart Healthy with Less Sodium!)

Turns out: finding an eyeball was easier than even I expected. I asked our lab guy, Jarso, on Monday if there was a local place I could get an eye (I figured that trying to get one over the weekend and then attempting to keep it fresh for four days would be a futile effort). He said he would take care of it. Tuesday, he went to town and picked up an entire goat head for only 250 shillings (that’s less than three bucks). I was really surprised at the price but he was upset because it was expensive. I guess that before the ridiculous increase in food prices around here you could get a goat head for 60 bob (67 cents). I was a little perturbed and strangely exited to attempt to remove the eyeballs myself, what with them being all attached to skill and muscle and brain. But Jarso said that the teachers would remove the eyeballs for me that night so they could use the rest of the head for ‘soup’. I put soup in parentheses because while it is technically and by definition ‘soup’, it is nothing you would see with a Campbell’s label on and probably most people wouldn’t want to drink. I’ve had ‘soup’ quite a number of times. I don’t mind the taste, the cook usually adds enough salt to make it taste like ocean water, but it always has a strange animal-y taste. And the chewable skin of not-quite-liquid fat on top is always off putting. I do my best to not think about what it is. It is, simply, the entire head of a goat, boiled in salt water. That means, once the bones are clean, that what you are eating in mostly dissolved goat brain. This is the stuff the Kenyans say will give you children and if you drink two cups, you’ll get twins. This time, I did not take soup. I went to the lab on Wednesday to check on my eyeballs and saw they were sitting in a beaker already starting to go off. To preserve them, I filled the beaker with alcohol and noticed a few baby maggots float to the top. After one day! As I was doing this, Jarso and I were chatting about soup. I was declining his offer to share. He said the teachers hadn’t eaten the soup yet, they were waiting until this evening. If my eyeballs already had maggots, I could not imagine the skull full of brains could be much better so I said I would pass on the soup saying that it was too salty. Jarso said that the salt was optional, if I wanted to still partake. I can only think of one way to make over-salted, two day old, goat face, bone and brain water less appetizing and that is to remove the salt so the other tastes can take over. I said no thank you. I was made dorm mistress this week. That means I am now in charge of all the students in the dorm. I have a Dorm Prefect (just like Harry Potter!) to tell me all the issues and then I decide how to fix them. It seemed like a pretty easy job. On my very first day I went to the meeting with all the students and told them the new rules and what was what. It took five minutes and I walked away satisfied. On my second day I had a meeting with the Asst. Dorm Prefect who told me the following problems: girls not making their beds, not listening to the prefects, noisemaking at night, talking in mother tongue, not cleaning properly, lighting one girl’s shoes on fire, leaving beds at night, stealing innerwears (I’m still not quite sure what an innerwear is), girls sticking their used pads to the windows, the used pad bucket not being emptied, the used pad bucket being stolen (?!), the bathing room being flooded because of girls disposing of used pads in there and clogging the drains, girls using the bathing room to urinate causing it to smell and making other girls refuse to clean it. That was all on the second day, which fortunately was Friday so I have the weekend to figure out how to fix everything. Is it just my perspective or does my life get more glamorous every day? I have always wondered what it would be like to get caught in the center of one of those cool dustornadoes. Would it pick me up Twister style? When I was a little girl living in Arizona we had them and someone told me that you would get taken up a few feet and hover. I, of course, believed them and have ever since wanted to try it. Well, yesterday I unintentionally did it. I was walking home from school up this rocky hill when I heard the loud roaring woosh over the sound of my ipod. I looked up and saw this big dust funnel a few feet away. I thought about jumping out of the way but the boulders surrounding me would have tripped me. I closed my eyes, turned my head away and let the twister take me. And no, you don’t get to hover a few feet above the ground while staring up through the swirling dust to the heavens. You stand there eating dirt and getting pelted in the face with sticks and small rocks. Stupid, no fun dustornadoes. On the plus side, the dustornado startled a large herd of goats and I got to see a stampede. It was pretty amusing to see them running full out through the village as people jumped out of the way and a group of men, women, and children chased them down.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Eyeball Logistics

I am on the hunt for an eyeball. Two eyeballs would be better. In my Form three (that’s 11th grade) physics class we are studying lenses. Part of the syllabus involves the human eye. I thought it would be cool to dissect an eye to see all the parts. I did an eyeball dissection once when I was in seventh or eighth grade at a science camp. And yes, I was that girl- the dork who went to science camp and loved it. Anyway, I remember dissecting a sheep’s eyeball and how hard it was (not hard as in difficult, hard as in firm); the lens of the eye was a hard orange-ish sphere and I took it home as a souvenir but my mother, quite rightly, made me throw it away (have I mentioned how big of a dork I was?). Anyway, back to my eyeball search. I imagine finding an eyeball might be slightly easier here than in America. I don’t suppose you can run down to Wal-Mart and pick up goat eyeballs. Then again, maybe you can. Maybe they are in the deli case next to things like hooves, tongues, stomach and other things only desperate people, or the French, eat. But here in Kenya, eyes are in great abundance, I think. There are butchers everywhere with large slabs of (sorta) fresh livestock hanging from hooks in the shade. People here eat every single part of the animal without shame. I am sure I can easily find an eyeball or two when I run into town on Saturday. The thing I am worried about is what to do with the eyeball. I don’t teach the physics lab until Thursday. What am I supposed to do with a pair of fresh eyeballs for four days? Despite Science Camp, I don’t know much about eyeballs. Will it go moldy? I have this image of it dissolving into an opaque gooey liquid the consistency of soft-set Jello. Can you dissect something that oozes like an undercooked egg? Can I freeze the eyes and defrost them the day of the lab? And also, why didn’t I choose to be a math teacher? I don’t think math teachers have to worry about eyeball logistics. We’ve been having a mosquito outbreak for the last few weeks. It is immensely annoying and incredibly itchy. I counted almost 50 bites on my left foot and every day there are more added. They are out during the day and at night and even when it is windy. It is really not fair. I accept that mosquitoes have a legitimate purpose on the earth that makes it necessary for them to annoy the living crap out of me but I thought they had to stick to their rules. Day time bloodsucking in giant flocks? Really? The drought is still here and as bad as ever so I don’t know where they are coming from. The tribal elders, the weathermen of Kenya, say that the mosquitoes come from the Chalbi desert where it is raining and are blown here on the strong winds. They say they have seen seasons like this before. They predict that we will get rain soon, the acacia trees are turning green in preparation, and then the mosquitoes will bring elephantitis that is followed by the “death of many”. I put that in quotes because that is exactly what they told me. That was the order of coming events: rain, more mosquitoes, elephantitis, death. Recently, I have seen a few cases of elephantitis and all the acacia trees are indeed turning green so I am not sure how accurate the elders’ prediction is. We had a few cold days that were cloudy and windy. Of course, instead of rain, the strong winds just brought the usual intense dust storms. In a five-hour staff meeting on Wednesday, we were having a debate about what to do about the students who were guilty of vernacular speaking. Also known as ‘mother tongue speaking’, vernacular is thought to be the biggest contributor to the majority of students failing their classes. While the teachers were arguing about what to do, I was busy thinking about cheese. This is not unusual, I think about cheese often. I imagine it like a first love, forever remembered and forever missed. Every time I eat a meal consisting of a giant pile of rice with a tablespoon of cabbage, I scrutinize the bowl and think “you know what would make this meal awesome? A half pound of shredded cheddar.” Today I have cheese o my mind because I got a text message from my in-town PCV, Curtis, that simply read “mayo and cheese… hell yeah”. I knew instantly what that meant. My favorite store, Baslum, run by three young Indian guys, had cheese again. About once every three months, the place will get five or six packages of Laughing Cow processed cheese wedges. Every time, I attempt to buy them out and then spend the next three months pining for more. So to hear that we have cheese AND mayonnaise in Marsabit is a dream come true! Just think! I could have grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, or real tuna melts, or cheesy casserole. Me and cheese is like Winnie the Pooh and hunny or Homer Simpson and beer. When I was in America, I, until recently, did not like cheese on my hamburgers. I am sitting here in Kenya wondering what the heck I was thinking. I wasted so many years, so many delicious, charbroiled, special sauce smothered opportunities. When I get back to America I am planning on putting cheese on everything, including breakfast cereal. I also plan on gaining 150 pounds in the first three months and then having a myocardial infarction. I have pigeons and doves living on my roof. I don’t like them because I have a tin roof and when the birds fly in it sounds like a helicopter is landing. They roost right outside my front door and every time I step outside, the take off in a burst of feathers and coo-ing that startles me every time. Also, they defecate on my porch. Monday, one of the doves died. I heard it fall over and slide down the roof to thud on the ground. I went outside to investigate and saw the bird lying uninjured on the ground. His eyes were closed and his wings neatly folded. It looked like he died in his sleep. I had this great plan to bury the bird in a deep hole for a few months and then dig up the skeleton to use in my school’s science lab. It was getting dark, so I decided to dig the hold in the morning. When I got up and went outside, I discovered the bird was gone. Presumably, it was eaten by some animal, mongoose maybe. The animal left no blood or anything, but did pull out all the bird feathers to leave in a scattered pile all over the place. I presume the animal did it just for fun, but it made me think that the bird was not eaten, but rather it exploded. Lokho wrote a poem about AIDS for a school assignment. I think it is very good, especially considering that English is her third language. I asked her if I could put it up online and she was very excited about the idea. She thinks it will make her famous. Fear of AIDS by Lokho Sora, 13 years old We know you as detrimental to education Dragging behind progress without question Entering every place with your deadly deformation Storing of poverty in our dear generation Knocking on our doors in all versions Pretending as if to bring us salvation Hatred is your tool of aggression Be aware we know you as Mr. Aids We know you as a person A terrible fire that never pardons Stronger than heavy boxer Tyson More dangerous than a dragon Moving in Africa like passion Seriously affecting our bodies with poison Why are you wandering in Africa? Why start from Liberia and Somalia Causing disaster in Sudan and Ethiopia Taking the role of master in Nigeria Trying Kenya like uncontrolled diarrhea Entering Marsabit through unknown media I suppose you are not awarded a degree of honoree What could be your cause? You must have come on a fast horse Providing Africa with your dose Letting the sons of Africa mourn For the cause that is never known Anarchy is the seed you’ve sown And impatient we have grown Get lost from our face, We have no room in our place We have no words to give you Let us all participate in the chase To remove AIDS from our space Making development all our race Creating love as our base Unified with peace in every case

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gadamoji

Last week I went to a Borana tribal celebration called Gadamoji. It took place near a small village called Kubi Dibayu and was extremely crowded. There were hundreds of people all dressed up in traditional tribal clothes. Most of them looked exactly like my neighbors look every day. The celebration was a coming of age ceremony and retirement party that only occurs once every eight years. The event was a month long in preparation culminating in singing and dancing and feasting. Every eight years the tribe celebrates the life of all the oldest members of the tribe; they are called mzee (pronounced em-zay). The people come from surrounding villages and set up a temporary house in Kubi Dibayu. Each family that has an old man to honor will build a hut out of sticks and grass. Because of the drought, there was no grass to cover the houses so everyone used discarded plastic bags. There were about fifty little houses in a row and I was told that the family can build the entire structure in less than an hour. The houses were large enough for the whole family to fit a little uncomfortably and each hut was connected to the one next door so all the families could socialize. The huts were elaborately decorated on the inside with traditional decorated pots and baskets. The women and young girls of each household put grease in their hair to make it shine and wear a traditional watertight basket on their backs made for carrying camels’ milk. Some of the women wore leather belts decorated with the shells of large land snails. All the women wore their hair down and some had their hair partially braided to signify they were married while others had a piece of metal, similar to tinfoil, in their hair for every child they had. The men of the family carry spears and carved walking sticks and on their heads wore turbans and a strange headband that, I thought, appeared like a large silver chess Queen protruding from their foreheads. The morning of the celebration, the old mzees shave their heads and put the hair in a two foot high, compact, mud cone outside the hut. Then the mzee goes into the hut into a special room separated by a curtain. He has to remain in the room for three days. Meanwhile, outside all the youngest members of the family are also busy. The little boys and girls have their hair put in dreadlocks and colored with henna and are given leather and shell headpieces to wear. They wear them all day and then, in the evening, they also have their heads shaved. During the main part of day, the sons of each household go from hut to hut, chanting and singing while an announcer recites details about the mzee’s life. Details that make him revered are killing elephants and lions, how many children he has, and whether he is a tribal elder. When the men come to the door of the hut, the daughters of the household join in the singing. The men go into the hut looking for an item of significance; it is like a treasure hunt. The women have put a symbolic item in the house representing the mzee’s spirit and it is protected by the women. The men have to find it and the longer it takes the more luck the mzee has. During the hunt, some people get very emotional and start shaking and crying and fainting. The men who become upset get very violent and start fighting that scares all the spectators into running away. Once the item is found, everyone cheers and the women ululate. In most cases I saw, the special item was one of the small traditional baskets with some camels’ milk inside. The men each dip the end of their spears into the milk and then taste it. Once everyone has had some of the milk, the item is returned to the family for safekeeping and the men move on to the next house. After all houses have been visited, there is a big feast. This time, because of the drought, there is not enough food to feed all the guests. But the families of the mzees all get plenty because part of the tradition is to bring a goat or young cow as a gift to the family. I had a great time; it was very fascinating. I also enjoyed not having to make conversation with strangers. Almost no one spoke Kiswahili or English so I was able to wander around and take pictures and smile. I was the only mzungu in the group of hundreds and hundreds of non-English speakers. Needless to say, I got a LOT of attention. I even got to use my newly learned kiborana phrase “Larisa” (Don’t do that) when people were playing with my hair. Everyone around me just laughed, they just think it is hilarious when I speak kiborana. I was also surprised at how many people I knew. My deputy principal was there, her father was being honored. I saw our laboratory technician, a bunch of teachers from surrounding schools, my neighbor, and many of the women that I usually pass on my way to school. After spending the day at Gadamoji, I went back to my village and spent some time with Lokho, my neighbor. She has been having a rough time lately and I felt that I should give her someone to talk to. She told me this story about her only friend from school who used to be very in to studying and school but then got a boyfriend and changed her attitude. Lokho tried to warn her friend that this guy, who happens to be Lokho’s older cousin, had many other girlfriends and was just using her. Lokho told the girl that there was nothing that the boyfriend could give her that was more important than her staying in school and focusing on her studies. But Lokho could not get through to the girl and she went with the boy and stopped being Lokho’s friend. Lokho was very sad and angry at the girl. Lokho said that she found out recently that the girl, only thirteen years old, now has HIV. To make matters worse, the cousin who gave the friend HIV was now living in Lokho’s house and telling Lokho that she really needed a boyfriend and that he would be very happy to “do it if no one else will”. It made me absolutely sick but at least Lokho is too smart to listen to the guy. She said that she now avoids the cousin and refuses to talk to him. She said “we are no longer family” and sadly she said I was now her only friend. The very next day, another cousin of Lokho, the one year old Guyo, came down with malaria and had to go to the hospital. The Aunt and Uncle took the baby to the hospital leaving Lokho at home with the cousin and the toddler, Galgallo. As soon as they were alone, the cousin kicked Lokho and Galgallo out of the house and refused to let them back in. They had to sit outside under the scorching sun all day with no water. By the time the aunt and uncle got home, Galgallo was crying hysterically and Lokho had been begging the cousin for hours to let them come get water. The aunt and uncle immediately kicked the guy out of the house but poor Galgallo has been nearly silent and crying a lot for the last couple days. Whenever he is asked why he is upset he says “I am just remembering.” Some days this place just breaks my heart. There are no more camels. It is raining in the Chalabi desert and so the herders have moved on to literal greener pastures. There are also no more cows. But I am told that they are all dead. The only livestock left is skinny goats and dirty sheep. All there is left for them to eat is garbage.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Four More Days of Lassitude

I have been in Mars for a week now and all I feel is apathy. I don’t even know if apathy is the right word. When I thesaurasize ‘apathy’, looking for a more appropriate word, I get the many choices: boredom, laziness, lack of interest, lethargy. All those seem to describe my feelings quite perfectly and I am much too lazy to pick just one. I do not know why I feel like this; maybe having a really awesome vacation lends a boring pallor on anything that comes after. All I know is, I don’t feel like doing anything. I don’t want to get out of bed, but staying in bed is equally unpalatable. I can’t stand being in my house alone all day but the alternative is to go outside and see people, which is just slightly worse. If I could go do something or go somewhere and not have to work so hard at being polite or understood, I would do it. I want to go for a hike, but there is no destination out here. Friday I walked to town, all 15 km, because I needed an activity and that allowed me to be alone with my thoughts and still be productive with my time. I was able to get to town in a little over two hours but many Kenyans thought I was crazy. And apparently, the road to town is dangerous, even in the day time. Not only by sketchy locals (the Boranas tell me that Rendilles are hiding in the forest) but also, as I was warned by some kids, from marauding elephants that are out to “shika mtu” or “take people”. I am not sure I believe any of the warnings. Is it more dangerous to be on my two feet, capable of running away, or to be perched atop a lorry that is going 80 km an hour on the bad road? Or hitching a ride with strangers on an old, rusty tractor, sitting precariously above the wheel holding on with one hand? With those alternatives, I’ll take my chances and go on foot. In case you are wondering why I have to go to town at all, the reason is not only to kill some hours in the day, but also to get food. During the term, I have always depended on the Brothers of St. Paul to take me to town in their nice land rover. But the Brothers are not here. I am kinda on my own, fending for myself like a true Peace Corps volunteer. The Brothers are in “Down Kenya” along with all my English speaking neighbors, every single one of my friends, and all my colleagues. I am pretty much alone except for the kiborana speaking women in my small village. I do have one neighbor who is here to talk to. Lokho and her aunt and uncle. And the toddler, Galgallo, who is an endless source of smiles and entertainment. The whole family is Muslim and invited me to celebrate Eid, the end of Ramadan. And, since they know me so well, they waited until the large crowd of strangers left to invite me over. None of the strangers speak English and I get pretty uncomfortable when being obviously talked about and laughed at in Kiborana. So I did spend get to spend a day talking about America and religion and why I do not have a religion. One thing I have been doing with my free time is practicing my Kiborana. I figure, if I can actually communicate with my neighbors maybe I can find a side project in my village that is productive. I am going very slowly because I don’t have an actual teacher. I listen to Galgallo and have Lokho translate. Lokho speaks English and Kiswahili and despite being very good at all three, she sometimes gets confused. So I don’t know what an “amosi” is except that it is an animal big enough to kill chickens. I know “makankeen” is something to do with names but I don’t know if it is “what is your name?” or “my name is”. I do know how to say “es demt” which is “where are you going?” But with my limited skills I can still only talk to children, and even they just laugh at me like I said something hilarious. I did meet a man on my way to town who spoke a little English. He said “where are you from” and when I answered “America” he said every American thing he could think of. “oooOO-BAMA! Hilory Cleenton! Buffalo soldier… super power, independence 1776, BUFFALO SOLDIER! Two parties, republicans like war! First president George Washington! George Bush Senior, fifty states, ILLINOIS! Buffalo soldier!” He was very excited, in particular, about the song “Buffalo Soldier”. He sang it repeatedly but only knew the words “Buffalo Soldier”. It was a strange ten minutes we spent together. On a sad note, my village is not doing too well. There are the dead corpses of cows killed by the drought scattered around. Everyone I talk to, even if it is just greetings, only has the lack of food and water to talk about. This area hasn’t gotten rain in six years and there is no reason to hope that the rainy season coming up will be any different. It makes me feel sad and ineffectual. Here I am complaining because my phone won’t update facebook and the people here are actually starving. And those who are not starving are dying in other awful ways. In the last week, I know of four people who have died in my village alone. One, a fifteen year old kid, was killed in a pikipiki accident on the road. An old man, whose house I can see from my front door, died from tuberculosis. Another young kid, in Lokho’s class, died from suspected yellow fever. He just had a headache one day and then died before he got to a hospital. I don’t even know how the last person died but I could hear the cries of mourning all day. My local dispensary is working with Food for the Hungry to try to provide relief to the people. Every two weeks they come and provide a cup of porridge and some oil to every child under five years. The program is supposed to go on until December. But I don’t see how it will be enough. During the Ramadan celebration there was supposed to be a big feast. And my generous neighbors opened their home to many people, giving each person who came by a plate piled with food. They apologized to me because they said they wanted to slaughter a goat in celebration but they couldn’t afford it. They still gave me a large pile of meat, mostly globs of fat, on top of rice flavored with a single chopped tomato. I ate in front of the family, who had eaten earlier. I felt terrible because there was the Aunt, nursing the frightened baby, and four toddlers, all just staring hungrily at me while I ate. Galgallo knows me and was unafraid to get his own spoon and share off my plate. I fed some of the rice to another little girl who had a cough and some skin infection on her legs. I snuck the globs of fat to the two other young boys who were watching; they were two of Lokho’s 7 brothers and were a little afraid of me so stood by hugging each other refusing to touch me except to shake my hand. My neighbors lost a couple of chickens last night. They are being killed by the creature they call an amonsi. I am not sure what it is but I think it might be similar to a mongoose. I know that there is another animal, a civet, which lives around here too. I saw a civet one night; it was making strange noises outside my house. I don’t know what a civet is really, I only know what my Kenya guidebook tells me, but I am staying away from it. Even in the early evening there are creatures that are cat-sized, but not cats, running around my compound. They are not skittish, but I am, and so I no longer like to be outside after dusk. The hyenas and jackals have been coming out early too. I never thought I would say this, but I miss peeing in a hole outside, because the alternative is peeing in a bucket in my living room, and then emptying it in the morning. Just like in medieval manors. Or nursing homes. School starts in four days. I will be glad to get back to work so I have something productive to do. This week I have already read three books, gotten halfway through the “animorphs” book series, watched all the episodes of Glee, finished season two of Modern Family, started P90X, built an extra shelf on my paper mache cabinet, sewn new covers for the cushions on my couch out of lessos, fixed some rips in Lokho’s favorite Muslim dress, had a solo Glee soundtrack dance party, quit P90X, gave Lokho an eye test and when I learned she has eyesight almost as bad as mine, gave her my old, slightly scratched glasses, learned how to make yogurt, and walked to and from town (that’s thirty kilometers) twice.

Friday, August 26, 2011

From a Sea Level Paradise to the Top of the World

I left Marsabit on a very windy day. I was so excited to go on a trip that I had barely slept the night before. I got up at seven am and finished packing and cleaned my house. By 8 am, I was sitting on my couch twiddling my thumbs. I called for a taxi to come get me at 9:30 knowing that, this being Kenya, the taxi driver would be almost half an hour late. I had been told that the plane would be leaving at 10:30am and I wanted to get to the airport at 10:00, just in case. This, you know, being Kenya, I got to the airport and sat there for two and a half hours until the plane came. I didn’t mind too much, I chatted with the aid workers from the US and Ireland who were up in the area setting up food distribution for the drought stricken citizens. When the plane got there I was very excited to see that it looked like an actual airplane. Not the two seater, NASCAR seat belted, wire controlled puddle jumper I am used to. This looked like an actual airplane. When we got on, the pilot for his safety debrief said “there are oxygen tanks under your seats, just like the ones on real airplanes. I know they are there because I just put them there this morning. I’ll tell you if we need to use them… probably by screaming something.” I was comforted by the fact that we were all protected just like those lucky people on ‘real’ airplanes. But we took off without incident and made it to Nairobi. I even managed to doze, just like when I travel on ‘real’ trips. I got to Nairobi and immediately took a taxi to the train station. I bought my ticket for second class to Mombasa. A step up from the cattle car, but still required to share a room and not provided with dinner. The train departed at six and we boarded about a half an hour before. As we walked through the train station, I felt like I was in an old Cary Grant movie. Or Harry Potter. After we crossed onto platform 9 and three quarters and boarded the train, we all hung out the windows as the train started to chug out of the station. I wished I had someone to wave enthusiastically to. We wandered the train’s hallways for a bit, enjoying the “I think I can, I think I can” rattle of the wheels on the track. The hallways were insanely narrow and the cars weaved crazily from side to side, tipping us painfully into walls. It was also very bouncy, like a trampoline. It was like walking through a fun house while drunk. The bathroom was fun too. The toilet had a sign above it requesting “please do not use toilet when train is stopped”. Which I thought was an odd request until you look down and see that the toilet is placed over a hole in the floor. All waste is excreted straight onto the tracks. Nice, eh? That night, we went to sleep four to a compartment. The top bunk had straps like an insane asylum to keep you from being tipped out of bed in the middle of the night. Early in the morning, the morning of the sixth, my birthday, just before dawn, a man came down the aisles ringing a bell. One of my friends was sure that it was the bell warning us about bandits. It turned out to be just the breakfast bell. We all got up and weaved drunkenly to the breakfast room where the waitress sloshed coffee all over the table every time she attempted to pour with the swaying car. We watched the sunrise as we ate our egg and toast and even saw a herd of elephants off in the distance. It felt very romantic. Because it was my birthday, we all went back to the compartments and took a shot of wine. My friends thought it would be a great way to turn 26, by starting drinking at seven am. Cheap red wine is not exactly a good breakfast drink, I’m more of a mimosa type girl, so after the one sip, we all just decided to hang out the train windows and watch Mombasa roll towards us. The view was beautiful and green and we chugged through tiny towns with names like “Maji wa Chumvi” which means “Water of Salt”. There were many kids on the tracks begging for money or sweets. We just yelled for them to give us sweets instead. We smelled the ocean before we saw it, the cool breeze was full of salt when we rounded that last bend and saw the gorgeous blue Indian Ocean. We got off the train in Mombasa and found a TukTuk to take us and all our luggage to our hotel. PC must have felt we deserved a nice vacation during the conference because the resort hotel they put us in was the nicest hotel I have ever been in in my life. We pulled up and our jaws went slack. As we were staring at the vaulted ceilings with dark wooden beams and the koi pond and the monkey filled- jungle trees outside and the cages of African grey parrots, a bell hop dressed in stark white came up to us and offered to carry our luggage. Being Peace Corps and used to lugging around an outrageous amount of crap, we allowed him to help, but also started to pick up the heaviest stuff and follow him to the registration desk. But he stopped us, refusing to let us touch the bags. He walked us to these comfy chairs in the lobby where someone brought us cool, moist hand towels to wash our faces and someone else brought us chilled, fresh squeezed pineapple juice. As we sat in the lobby waiting for the bell hop to check us in, we stared at the large open space where the restaurant was. On the right was the restaurant, on the left was a conference area and in between was a pool/river. The pool was a river running through the hotel lobby out into the sunshine where it turned into a big deep pool. When it rained a short, cool tropical shower, the water poured through the open ceiling into the river in the center. Beyond the big pool which was surrounded by grass and flowers and jungle trees, was the soft white beach full of beach boys, tourists, and camels you could ride on. We finished check in and were shown to our rooms which were on the “club” side of the resort. That side had a 10 ft deep pool connected to a shallow pool connected to another 10 ft pool through a series of waterfalls. It made for an amazing obstacle course. The rooms had giant fluffy beds with a mosquito net that was on a track so it made a mosquito room around the beds. It had a hot shower and a balcony overlooking the pools and AIR CONDITIONING that we immediately set to “Arctic” and complimentary water bottles that we immediately started hording. All food was free and amazing. Dinner had an actual dress code, and so we girls had an excuse to trade clothes, put on eye makeup, and look beautiful every night. Each night had a theme: Italian, German, American, and Indian. And breakfast always had a waffle bar. The day we arrived, Saturday, was my birthday and seeing all my friends really was the best gift ever. I did get some very creative presents though. One guy got down on one knee and proclaimed me the most beautiful woman in the world and said he was honored to spend the day with me. Then he sang me a song. I got a hand drawn comic of my friendship with Cindy from the day we met at the airport. She also got me a box of Cheezits (Ain’t she the best!?). From Riley and David, the class clowns of the group, I got fifteen minutes of uninterrupted eye contact. They literally did not take their eyes off of me for fifteen straight minutes. It was amusing, and very, very creepy. My favorite part of the night was at dinner. All the lights went off and it seemed like the perfect time for someone to start singing. So my friends all started singing “Happy Birthday”. The entire dining hall joined in, including all the tourists. It was very sweet but at the end we all realized that the lights had gone off because the wait staff was supposed to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone else. We completely stole their thunder and no one sang to the other person. Whoops. During the first two days of the conference, we got to have language training. I did one day of more advanced Kiswahili and learned the grammar that makes fun words like “sikukukumbuka” (yup, that’s three ku’s) which means “I did not remember you”. Then I learned Kenyan Sign Language which is a ridiculously fun language to learn. The conference was all about HIV/AIDS and was very interesting and controversial. Each volunteer had brought two Kenyans that they work with and so the discussions sometimes got a little heated. One man, a principal of a girls’ high school, said that he thought the education of girls was contributing to the breakdown of society. Another man said that, since he paid for her (dowry), his wife was his property and therefore should submit to his every need whether she wanted to or not. It was, needless to say, a very informative and eye opening experience. There were Kenyans on both sides of the spectrum and I like to think that everyone learned a lot. We also got the chance to visit a home for sexually abused children, and a drug rehab center. Every night after dinner, my PC friends and I went out looking for a good time. We would walk down the beach and find a resort that had club music pouring out onto the sand and we would dance carefree and ridiculous until we were exhausted. A few times, we took over their dance floor and made spectacles of ourselves. Once we were hot and sweaty, we would all run into the ocean, fully (or half) clothed, and continue the dance party out there in the waves. After a wonderful week in paradise, I left Mombasa to do something completely different. From sea level sunshine, I was going to climb 4985 meters to snow and ice and rocks. Before I climbed Mt. Kenya, it wasn’t really something I imagined myself doing in my lifetime. Me climbing a mountain? It seems a little absurd. When I signed up to do it I thought, for some strange reason, it must not be that difficult. I stupidly assumed it would be a cakewalk. I prepared in the absolute worst way possible: by spending that week lying by the pool of a beach front resort in Mombasa eating all the free food my stomach could stand. As far as the equipment I needed for the climb, I borrowed a lot of it, and the rest I bought cheaply from a market in Nairobi. I am sure none of it was meant to climb a mountain. For example, my gloves were too small and had a couple of large, badly stitched holes. It wasn’t exactly REI stuff. I found out a little before I left that Mt Kenya is the second tallest mountain in Africa. It wasn’t going to be the cakewalk I had been anticipating. But I was excited. I was going with a great group of friends. David, the funniest guy I’ve ever met; Mark, super fun and also a human jukebox; Carlyn, the chemical engineer slash hippy artist; Ali, with the best dry wit; and Alyssa, the sweetheart of the group. On day one of our climb we met our two guides. We also got a cook, an assistant cook, and six porters. There were ten people to help the six of us up this mountain. The first day was easy. Half a day walking through a forest in slight rain. We talked a lot, laughed, and sang every song in our repertoire from the instrumental parts of Lion King to Aretha Franklin to Bob Marley to N’sync to Lady Gaga. From there, things got a little harder, I had had a minor cold while in Mombasa, and when you take a minor cold into high altitude with lots of uphill exercise and singing, it turns into something very nasty. The views from the hike were absolutely amazing. It was the most beautiful place in the world. The whole climb I felt like my lungs were the size of ice cubes. I had a horrible, uncontrollable cough. And I could feel the fluid in my lungs. But it was still one of the best things I have ever done. Every turn was so gorgeous it seemed unreal. It was like every adventure movie you’ve ever seen. I saw marshes like Lord of the Rings, mountains like Homeward Bound, valleys like Lion King, grassy plains like Out of Africa, forests like Jurassic Park, and strange plants that were surely from Journey to the Center of the Earth. Every day we would get up at dawn, put on a few extra layers (have I mentioned yet that it was COLD) and ate breakfast. Our cook was awesome and we had sausage (Kenyan sausage which tastes a little like hotdogs) and pancakes or French toast and eggs and porridge. We also had a hot cup of chaicokahawa (Chai, cocoa, kahawa- coffee) which is a drink that Mark made up. Its got a tea bag, coffee, cocoa, sugar, milk, and hot water. It’s delish. After breakfast, we would start hiking. The hikes were not too difficult, but with my lung infection, I needed to take lots of breaks. My legs were fine, but not being able to breathe really made things difficult. We would usually hike until about 2pm and then stop for the day. We would eat lunch at camp, hot soup and sandwiches, and then sit out the sleety rain huddled in the tent playing “truth or truth”, a less adventurous but more informative version of “truth or dare”. Each day it got harder and harder for me to breathe and I, very generously, gave my cold to three of my friends. On summit day we got up at 2 am and packed up. I knew it was going to be a hard day so I didn’t eat much breakfast. We put on every layer of clothing we had and started walking. The summit ascent takes about 4 hours and I was having trouble breathing after about ten minutes. We had two guides and they decided to split the group leaving me with Michael and the rest continue on with Benson. I was pretty out of it for the rest of the climb. I was dizzy and coughing and I couldn’t stand up straight. At some point some stranger passed and gave me a walking stick which I used as a crutch. Michael practically dragged me up the mountain. He refused to let me lay down, which is all I wanted to do. I will admit to my weakness and tell you that I vomited four times on that mountain. I think it was my body’s reaction to hypoxia. I felt like death but when I came in view of the top, the feeling was euphoric. Michael dragged me past the glacier, up the ladder, and then I was there. It was so incredible to watch the sun coming up through the clouds. My friends and I took a shot of brandy there on the peak, took a couple pictures, and then couldn’t take the cold anymore and started back down. Descending was easier, but not easy. It was very steep, snowy and all scree. Scree is the tiny rocks that make you feel like you are just going to skid all the way down the mountain. With my fancy walking stick I was able to do pretty well. But the time we got down the other side of the mountain and to our camp, it was around 9 am. Our porters had beaten us to the camp and set up the tent already but we were so exhausted that we couldn’t even crawl to the tent. We just passed out on some rocks in front of it. Eventually we made it into the tent were we napped most of the day. From there the trek was easy, 15 km a day, speed-walking downhill through the most beautiful landscapes. One view had a narrow gorge with falcons soaring. There was a green lake at the bottom that I am sure is where Nessie has been hiding. There are no words to describe how amazing and awesome the vista was. The closest I can get in description would be to use the perfectly epic words of my friend, David “Dudu” Burns. He said it was “big”. After we finished, it felt almost unreal. I still can’t believe I did it. Now I can never complain about having to walk 3 km to school every day. Darn. After Mt. Kenya, I went back to Nairobi and hopped on a plane to Marsabit. And now here I am. Back home and slightly depressed. Having such an exciting vacation really makes coming home alone seem pretty lame. I am sure, in a few days, I will have more Marsabit adventures to keep me entertained. But for now I am going to be working my way through the entire Animorphs book series that a friend gave me. For now, that is as exciting as it gets.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Another Day, Another Dust Storm


Over the weekend I visited the Catholic orphanage which I thought would be a depressing place. But it was an amazing experience. There were 34 children there, all but one under the age of five. These kids were the happiest kids I have seen in Kenya. They were used to getting visitors and flocked to me and my companions as soon as they saw us in the door. They wanted what every kid wants: love. They wanted hugs and kisses, they wanted to be picked up and never put down. They wanted to be pushed on the swing, and a piggyback ride, and to play pattycake. I went with the volunteers from Spain and one of the Brothers and the 8 of us each went to a corner and played for an hour. Steve was in charge of the swing; pushing each child for ten giggle-filled passes. Alfonso, a guy with a big lap and a bigger heart, was bouncing four children at once on his knees. Vicky was listening to a small group proudly recite their ABCs. I spent most of the time having my hair pulled out by some enthusiastic future beauty stylists.  The first sad part was hearing that many of the children actually have parents out in the manyattas who are too poor to keep them. The second sad part was leaving. The kids wanted to be swung in one more circle, give one more sloppy kiss, or to hold hands for one more minute. 

On Sunday evening a dust storm started up. The wind blew hard like it does during a New England blizzard. Instead of snow swirling around getting in my eyes, it was red dust. I returned home in the evening and it was pitch dark. The dust had obscured the moon and stars that usually light up the way. I struggled against the wind to get my laundry off the line before it blew away. I succeeded, only losing one sock that I found the next day stuck in a bush. On the way to school that morning, I had to hunch over against the wind. With my eyes squinted nearly shut to discourage dust, I tripped more than usual. I got to school very thirsty. Of course I was thirsty, it was  a moisture-sucking dust storm. I always bring a nalgene full of water but today I noticed when I got to school that the water that I had left in there from a couple days before had turned mouldy. It was super gross, chunks of mold freely swirling around. I really didn’t want to drink that. Unfortunately, there was no other water to be had. My school provides a 20 L jerrycan of water for the staffroom to drink and use for washing hands. It tastes absolutely awful, like soot, but is better than nothing. Today, however, there wasn’t much water left and I knew it was important to be able to wash our hands. My school doesn’t have any spoons, so we have been eating rice and cabbage with our hands. I washed my hands, and tried to ignore my thirst. The lunch was slim as well, only a couple tablespoons of cabbage on top of the rice. By the time I finished eating and picking rocks out of my teeth with my fingers, I had a headache from the thirst. I went to class, still trying to ignore it. I walked to the lab with my students, we were planning on testing the effect of impurities on the boiling point of water, when a dust tornado formed in the clearing between the classrooms and the lab. It was big, at least 15 ft high, and fat. The two students, the lab guy, and I all ran to the door of the lab. It was like a scene from Twister. One girl was struggling with the keys to the lab as the rest of us pressed against the side of the building urging her to hurry. The dust got closer and closer, and Arbe panicked and tried to run away to escape it. The lab guy and I were urgently looking from the dust tornado to Halima with the keys slipping in the lock. She finally got the door open and we all piled inside. The tornado was on us as we yelled for Arbe. I grabbed her arm and yanked her inside and slammed the door. The windows and door rattled as the tornado hit. We all took a deep dusty breath and giggled at our close call. After class I returned to the staffroom and looked longingly at my water with the leisurely swirling clumps of mold.  I resigned myself to drinking it anyway. I have some iodine pills that are meant to kill bacteria. I used two of the small brown pills and shook the bottle to ensure all the moldy microbes were murdered. I emptied a couple of red Gatorade packets into the mix, thinking it would mask the strong iodine flavor and, maybe, hide the dead, but still large, clumps of mold. Then I let the concoction settle. I was pretending that all the mold clumps would settle on the bottom of the bottle. I told myself that it could not be any worse than the weevil-eating incident of a few weeks ago. I took a deep breath, lifted the bottle to my lips… and then a miracle occurred. I saw, out of the corner of my eye, the dust cloud that heralds an incoming car. I put the mold-iodine-juice down and breathed a sign of relief. A car meant I would be able to catch a ride home. A car meant I wouldn’t have to walk home through the dust cloud and I would be there in 10 minutes instead of forty. And most importantly, a car meant I would be able to drink plenty of mold-free water when I got there.  I lament the loss of two packets of Gatorade, but I’m sure it is a worthwhile sacrifice and probably much better for my health.