Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Scorpion and the Goat

I am tempted to start this blog with the same phrase as always, “Nothing much happened this week so I do not have much to write…”, but I know that as soon as I start typing, my brain will take over and fill the pages with my rambling. So I will just say “good morning,” and let my brain do the rest.

There was a scorpion in my house last night. I had heard they were here in Kenya, and plentiful in my desert, but I had not seen any so I thought maybe I would be spared that one pest. But it was not to be. I found the little bugger coming under my front door. When I say “little” I mean he was three inches long and a shiny black. I poked him with a stick, you know, for fun, and he ran towards me. Man those suckers are fast! As punishment for startling me with his speed, I smushed him with a shoe. Now I am on full scorpion alert; I check all my shoes before putting them on, and no more walking around the house in the dark. The Peace Corps medical handbook I have says that scorpions are not deadly, just painful, and I would be fine if stung. But I do not believe them one bit, I am staying far away with things that have stingers, poison, AND claws. My house no longer is a safe zone. I have already experienced cobras in the desert, the packs of wild dogs who roam around my school, the hyenas that laugh during the night, the civet on my porch (which looks like a panda bear, but probably eats human flesh), the wasp family that lives in my choo, the rabies-full bats in my rafters, and herds of deadly camels that look at me with the evil eye like they are waiting for an opportunity to trample me with their dinner plate-sized feet. My home was the only place I could relax and not be on the lookout for danger. But that is gone now; it started with the moths, those pesky beige butterflies that crash land into my dinner. The moths brought in ants to carry away the bodies of their fallen brothers. And now the scorpion has arrived. I am not sure why. What does he want? Dead moths? Ants? Me?

Last Sunday, my school threw a party for absolutely no reason. We invited some local teachers, slaughtered two goats, and stayed out all day. We had it at my school, down in the desert under this big scraggly tree that was growing over some big boulders. It was shady and cool because of the desert breeze. I got a little sunburnt, my first since coming to Africa. I wanted to see the slaughtering of the goat but I came too late. Since there is no refrigeration here you have to kill and eat the same day. I arrived as they were cutting everything into pieces. I have never seen so many flies in all my life. I once saw the dead body of a cow three days after it had been sitting in the sun, and there were fewer flies on it than I saw on this day. When I commented on it one guy said “desert flies don’t have bacteria, there is nothing in the desert to get bacteria from”. In America, I would have gagged and then thrown the meat out. But TIA, and we just waved at the flies until we could see what we were doing. Everyone had a job, Hassan, a fellow teacher, would bring over a huge chunk of meat, like the spine, or the shoulder. Mugambi (teacher) cut it into manageable pieces with a dull knife. Manageable pieces means anywhere there is a bone, so he separated ribs, vertebrae, tibia, etc. My job was to take the manageable pieces and cut them into bite sized morsels. The large bones were put over the coals to cook. The meat was suspended over the coals by a grill made of a frame of large sticks with a open wire grid on top. The smaller pieces were put in a sufuria (cooking pot). The outside of the pot was smeared with mud to prevent it from getting black with soot, and the pot was placed on the coals. In addition to butchering, I also played waitress and served everyone drinks, poured water for handwashing, and served the food. One of the teachers said that he had a great time simply because he was served by a mzungu. The meal was very large, it had five courses. All of it was eaten Kenya style, you pick up some chunks with greasy fingers and stuff it in your mouth along with whatever side dishes are there. Its messy and delicious, and leaves you with a nice sheen of grease on your face. The appetizer was goat ribs and the chunks of slightly burned fat from the big pieces. Second course was a bowl of meat eaten family style; everyone’s hands in the bowl grabbing the juiciest bits. For the third course, they cooked some of the small meat chunks with a tomato paste, green pepper, onion, water mixture. It turned out so amazingly good, it tasted like real American barbecue! The BBQ meat was served with a pile of the plain nyama choma (grilled meat), ugali, rice, potatoes and tomato/onion salad. Fourth course was another bowl of meat with the large bones available for gnawing. I know it sounds odd, but the large bones are the best tasting; like a dog, I could chew on them all day. The fifth course was “soup” aka goat juices and goat fat in a mug. I was full after course number 2 but I ate everything and loved every bite. Now I have a double chin. I did skip the mug of goat fat, but I got a lot of flack for it. Everyone kept telling me how healthy it was for you. One man told me that you could drink a mug of it and then run a marathon without getting tired. My principal said “if you are newly married, drink this... And that’s your son!” The men thought that was hysterical. One added “drink a glass and a half and you’ll get twins!” I stayed far away from the mug of fat.
If you are wondering what happened to the rest of the goat, i.e. the head and innards, you will be pleased to know that it did not go to waste. At the end of the party, after I had left, the remaining teachers ate all the organs. My principal got the eyes, and everything else was shared out. I was asking how they decided who got what, and I got some very interesting insights. They said that in their culture there are many superstitions that determine those details. For example, a first born cannot eat the kidney. We decided that this was because there are two kidneys and could be divided among the less important children leaving the spleen, which is healthier, for the first born. Also, never eat the tongue unless you want to have a child that talks a lot. Men should never eat the bladder or they will become sterile. I am not entirely sure if it is good for anyone to eat bladder. This discussion led to an explanation of all the strange superstitions the locals have. “Don’t sweep your house at night.” “Do not go to the choo at night or you will be attacked by a demon who will spray water on you.” That one was created to keep kids safe from animals that would hurt them. Though I don’t know why they had to make up a crazy story to convince kids. There was one that said “never milk a cow from behind or you will have bad luck”; I think your bad luck will involve you getting kicked by a cow. They say “men should never carry small children on their laps because they will get the child’s fear in their heart”; the reason for this one had something to do with not being able to run from enemies. “Don’t stand with your back to the fire or you will go blind.” Actual reason: you might fall in the fire or get burned. My favorite was “if you pee in the river after circumcision, you will have extreme pain”. It was to keep the drinking water clean. It reminded me of the American myth, “if you pee in a swimming pool, it will change color and everyone will know”. There were more myths but I cannot remember them all. My teachers said that they did not believe any of these superstitions but that many, if not all, of the local people do. Very interesting stuff.

Alright, I will end there for today before I continue to ramble on. This is the last week before exams and it is crawling by. I cannot wait until end of term when I can go to the coast and relax on a beach. It is so close, I can taste it. Next week is exams, and right now I am off to class to play “Physics Jeopardy!” for review. The prize for the winner: a real American dollar bill!
Thanks for reading and have a good week!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vacation is Coming up!

Another week down, two more to go until vacation. I have started my Nairobi shopping list and it is all food items. Mostly spices, I am tired of food without flavor. Next term I was to start a small herb garden next to my house. My neighbors have one, though theirs is just full of sukuma wiki. The growing season is long here, I never have to worry about winter destroying my plants. There is a danger that goats will get to them, but I can make a fence out of acacia branches. The inch long thorns will keep anything away. Hopefully, if my food is more flavorful, I won’t have to eat so much just to feel satisfied. It is amazing how my appetite has grown. I no longer fit into half my wardrobe, anything that is not a loose, flow-y skirt is now in a can’t-fit-over-my-butt pile in my spare room. I don’t really mind the weight, I don’t have a mirror and no one here will notice, but I have no place to go to replace my diminishing wardrobe. I can’t run down to walmart and pick up some new jeans. I am going to try to get in shape, and I’d like it if that shape was not a circle. You’d think that walking 6 km a day through a desert would be effective for working off the pounds, but you’d be wrong. Either I am walking too leisurely, though I think I might sweat to death if I try harder, or I am really just turning into a gigantic pig who eats everything she sees.

Last weekend, Curtis, my fellow mzungu teacher who lives in town, finally was able to come to my village for a visit. The Brothers of St. Paul who run the school next to me have a vehicle and they invited him for dinner. It was the first time he has been able to come here. I felt a silly sense of pride when showing him around. I really feel like this is my place now, it used to be just the place I was staying. But now it is home. And it is mine. My little house, my little goat neighbor, my oceanic view, my camels, my desert. Curtis was also properly awed with the distance I have to walk to school everyday, the remoteness of the open desert, and the beauty of the scrub brush dotted with thatch huts. I am looking at my tiny town and my huge desert with new appreciation and love.

The term ends in two weeks and I am planning my trip away from here. I have been aching to escape for weeks, but as the days count down, I am starting to think about leaving and I think I will really miss it. So many times in the last two months I have been unsure if I could really do this. Living here has been so hard and many times I was just holding on to the thought of vacation. There were times when I wanted to go home so badly I had to argue with myself and force myself to stay. But now, I feel stronger and more able to do this. I think I can do it. I can live here with no internet, terrible cell service, and no cheese. I have gotten used to seeing more camels than cars, and now the alternative is what seems odd. The thought of Nairobi and all the stuff that it offers is very exciting and a little scary. I am nervous about the culture shock even though I have only been here for 3 months. Marsabit town seems loud and too busy for me; I can’t imagine how Nairobi is going to freak me out. I go to town once a week and I am starting to not enjoy it. I like the unlimited internet, and the cold beer. But I do not like shopping, or walking around. Everyone is calling to me, there are too many places to buy vegetables, and too many stores to go to. I always end up forgetting something because I am too uncomfortable to bargain with the women and keep track of my grocery list. Actually, I had not even thought how much I disliked town until I wrote it down just now. This revelation kinda freaks me out. How much have I changed in the last three months? Am I really that uncomfortable? I guess when I meet my American friends for vacation, they will let me know how weird I have become.

As of March 13, I have been in Kenya for 5 months. This is so close to the 6 month milestone. Before I left America, I told myself that if I absolutely hated it, I could come home after 6 months. 6 months seemed like a decent amount of effort and an acceptable stopping point. Now that I am getting close, I am so certain I can make it through my whole service. The first 6 months is supposed to be the hardest. Once that is out of the way, the rest will go by so fast. Training in Loitokitok for 3 months seemed like it lasted an eternity. The first two months here in Marsabit seemed faster, but they still crawled by. I feel like I can remember every single day of the first two months at my site. But this last month has started to pick up the pace, the days are starting to blur together. I just know I can make it through the remaining 22 months, and I know that it will go by too fast for comfort.
Again, I start writing thinking to myself that I have nothing to say. The week has been slow and nothing interesting has happened. I sit at my computer and somehow my brain takes over and fills up the page with things I did not even know I was thinking about. I always plan on writing only a few paragraphs, and I always end up with a much longer diatribe. Anyway, I am going to make myself stop now, I can feel my brain has more to say, but I need to go write my exams and eat a gigantic, carb-full lunch. And then maybe I’ll try to sew myself a skirt that will fit me.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

No Matter How Big the Crocodile, It Is Hatched From An Egg

I don’t feel like I have much to write today. It has been a slow week. I took a mental health day on Thursday and skipped school. I sat around my house and read books. I attempted to make skillet cupcakes and doughnuts. The doughnuts didn’t turn out that great, but the skillet cupcakes were delicious. Who says you need an oven?

Here in Mars, there has been a change of season. If this was America, I would call it spring. They do not have spring here, it is just nearing the end of the dry season. The branches on the tree outside my window have budding leaves. The local birds are pairing up and making nests. The local feral dogs are now fighting amongst each other and joining into packs. I am seeing more and more baby goats, cows, camels, and donkeys. Last week I saw a cow give birth right on the road, and the day after I ran into a herd of cattle that was all babies with no adults. The biggest change is the moths. I do not know where they have been, but now they are everywhere. I keep my windows closed starting at sunset so I won’t get a bunch in my house, but they find a way in anyway. They creep under my door and head straight for my fluorescent light. When I was in America I had an irrational fear of moths. Something about them getting into my hair and dying there just creeps me out. You would think that a hundred strong flock of the beasts flying chaotically around my living room would send me into a panic. But TIA, and I have bigger problems. When I go to the choo, there are 4 inch flying cockroaches trying to get between my feet. When I go outside at night, bats confuse me with a tasty meal and swoop towards my face with a screech. There is something that lives in my house that I can’t see but it keeps stinging me and leaving a painful stinger and burning welt behind. The mosquitos in my house are so numerous that their buzzing can keep me awake at night. In light of all that, I will happily tolerate some moths. They are annoying for sure, though. They find a way to dive spectacularly into my Nalgene while I am drinking. They land on my laptop keys, get their tiny feet caught and require me to delicately rescue them. They also really seem to enjoy landing softly on my face. They flutter their wings as they walk lightly across my cheeks, giving literal meaning to the phrase “butterfly kisses”. Like eyelashes, they tickle and I brush them delicately away, freeing them to careen wildly around the room, crashing their tiny bodies violently into objects with a painful “ping”. The crowd outside trying to get in the window makes a cacophony that sounds like rain tinging on my tin roof. Many of them do not make it through the night, and every morning I get to be the moth undertaker and collect and dispose of their bodies.

Yesterday, I rescued my neighbor’s baby goat from a painful death. My neighbor had tied him to a small tree outside my living room window and then left him to graze. She went back to her house and could not hear his cries. After about an hour happily munching on the few leaves, he got himself very tangled and the rope wrapped around his little neck and started to strangle him. I heard his little cries and ran outside to help. He was lying flat on the ground with his tiny black hoofs splayed out; he could not breath and his little pink tongue was sticking out as he bleated weakly. I tried to untangle him but I could not, so I ran back into the house and grabbed a knife. I had to cut the rope in three places just to get it off him and the whole time the poor baby was laying still and not breathing. I have not been that scared in a long time. I didn’t realize how attached I had gotten to that baby goat. I had even named him Chakula because I think that will be his fate. Chakula means ‘food’. After I cut the rope, he just laid there. I picked him up and gave him a hug as he recovered. He is normally afraid of me but he let me hold him. After a few minutes he was fine and happily munching on the frayed end of his rope. I tied him to my laundry line and went to tell my neighbor. She only speaks kiswa and I do not know enough to say “Your baby goat got tangled in the rope and almost strangled to death. I cut the rope and he is fine. Here is your rope, sorry I had to cut it, your goat is tied to my tree so do not worry.” So instead I said, “mbuzi yako, ili…” then I mimed wrapping the rope around my neck, “Nilihitaji kukatakata, mbuzi ikosawa sasa” That translates to “your goat, he was… I needed to cut, goat is fine now”. I only got out “your goat…I needed to cut” before my neighbor panicked and ran to find her goat. I think I scared her with my miming and coming to her with an apology, a knife, a piece of rope, and no goat. But all is well, and Chakula is back to bounding around on the rocks and coming into my house to stare at me with his square pupils.

I have been doing a pen pal type exchange with a high school in Vermont. They have written letters to my students and my students have written to them. I told my girls that they could write about anything they wanted and encouraged them to ask questions. All the letters I sent are wonderful, inspiring, thoughtful, and funny. I do not know if my girls intended to write them that way. One letter was a complete physics quiz, she was testing the Americans to see if they learned more than Kenyans. (I will tell you, Kenyans learn more, Americans learn better.) Another girl asked if there were any guys whom she could marry. One girl just made up a bunch of knock-knock jokes. All the girls thanked God for the opportunity to talk to an American, and all of them wrote as if they were talking to their very best friend. Each letter is full of advice, poems, and inspirational sayings. Some are full of praise for me, which embarrasses me, but makes me feel loved. I can’t write all of the great stuff so I took one letter and transcribed parts of it here. I corrected the spelling so you could understand, but the words and thoughts (and bad grammar) all belong to Halima Godana, unless she plagiarized.

Little keys can open big locks
Simple words can express great thoughts
Big problems have a small solution
Hope my simple wish can make you great

Be smart, get a job

When God gave friends, He tried to be fair
When I got you, I got more than my share
You’re a treasure
Given to me without measure
I love you so much

Be yourself
Remain second to none
Put ones shoulder to the wheel
Turn over a new leaf
Pick someones brain
Make ones mark
Look for a needle in a haystack
Have heart and soul
Have the game in ones hand
Have a go at everything
To be a better person in future (eg like Miss Ryan) do you have the ability?

Education is like an ocean
Beginning as a mountain spring
Becoming a stream
A river and the sea
Then becoming oceans which
Never dry

No matter how big the crocodile, it is hatched from an egg

Receive my warmest greetings which is sweeter than honey, brighter than stars, deeper than pacific ocean, and valuable than gold.

If you ever feel lonely, look to the sky always know that I’m somewhere beneath that sky wishing you the best.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Part of the Community

I am physically and mentally exhausted this week. My life is starting to get very busy. I am actuallynglad of this, it makes me feel like part of the community. Previously, I would go home from school as soon as I was finished and hide in my house to avoid talking to my neighbors. Weekends were spent in town shopping alone, surfing the internet, alone, and hanging with Curtis at Pale Pale, the bar. And on Sundays I did laundry in my house, to avoid the neighbors. The last two weeks have been completely different. Saturday I spent with fellow teachers, and Curtis, at Pale Pale having a good time. I went shopping with Peter, my favorite Brother who is in training to be a priest. I visited the Sisters and had chai, talked to the teachers from the primary school, and ate breakfast on Sunday at the Father’s house. During the week I am very busy as well. I used to come home as soon as I could to hide in my house. Now I have to stay at school all day. This week I am helping to grade midterms. I also have two or three counseling sessions every day with students. I have finally gotten my bicycle fixed, so I ride home at about 6 pm, it is uphill the whole way and I almost blacked out the first time I tried. I get home all sweaty, dirty and disgusting and take a nice cold bucket bath. Then I sit on my porch, rehydrate, and greet the neighbors. I have become friends with Galgallo, the 2 year boy, the adorable little girl whos name I keep forgetting, and Lokho who is 12. Lokho wants to learn English, so we meet every day for about an hour to read the Princess Bride for practice. I also help her do her school work. In return she teaches me new Kiswahili and kiborana words. I have restarted my Kiswahili practice in earnest; I am starting to get embarrassed by how little I use it. It is just too easy to answer in English, I always know how to answer in kiswa, I just don’t for some reason. I need to stop that. I study kiswa for about half an hour, then make dinner. While cooking, I clean my house, anyplace maggots might want to spawn. Then I eat dinner while watching something lighthearted on my laptop. After dinner, I attempt to grade more papers or make lesson plans. I am exhausted and ready to go to bed at about 8pm, but I never get finished before it is near 11. I go to bed and sleep until my bladder wakes me up at 5:30am. Then up with the sun, Blue Band and Zesta sandwiches for breakfast, chug a cup of coffee, and I can coast off to school on my bicycle. Its all downhill so I can arrive fresh and only slightly sweaty for the 7am assembly.
Yesterday, on my bicycle, I had to ride down this narrow path on my way to school. It has some mud huts on one side and a fence made of acacia bushes on the other side. It was very sandy and I was afraid I was going to fall over. I was being careful and watching the ground when I almost ran into a camel, literally. It was the largest herd of them I have seen here. There were 17 of them and they were way too close to me; after being kicked by one a few weeks ago, I am more wary. I can not get over how big they are close up. They are at least as big as moose, maybe bigger. I was nervous to be riding down this small path with all these camels looking at me. Because of the sand, I had to weave in between the camels like they were slow cars on a highway. It ended up being super fun and I did not fall over or get kicked. The local kids who were running after me thought it was hilarious; I think they would have enjoyed it more if I had been injured.
Last week I wrote about Fatuma and her problem with falling asleep in all her classes. I had her write me a letter as to why. Yesterday, Fatuma came and gave it to me. It was a great letter. She opened it by saying “Dear caring mother,” and then thanked me for my concern. Fortunately, she did not mention witchcraft; I would not have known what to do with that. She said the problem was stress and discouragement, which is what I thought it was. She was worried about her poor family at home and how they had had to sell everything they owned to send her to school, leaving her other siblings at home, and the pressure that put her under to do well. She was failing all her classes and became depressed because she doesn’t feel she can catch up. She has trouble sleeping at night because she feels she is letting down her family, she spends all her free time copying notes from friends because she doesn’t understand in class, and then during class she falls asleep because she doesn’t know what is going on and she is exhausted. Then when the teacher leaves class, she said she sometimes cries because she feels so bad. She feels terrible for letting down her teachers who are only trying to help her and her parents who love her so much they sent her to school so she could have a better life than theirs. I am very limited in what I can do, I offered to be her tutor and help her in her classes. I do not have the knowledge to teach her in every subject, but I am hoping to teach her some skills to help her learn. I am going to teach her reading comprehension, English vocabulary, study skills, and active listening. I have to download information on how to do that, since I never studied in high school and am still not quite sure what active listening is. But if I can show her some things, maybe she will give herself a break and not worry so much. If she will be less stressed, maybe she can sleep at night, and maybe stay awake in class and take her own notes, then use her free time to actually study.
Yesterday, one of my students fainted in class. I did not find out until lunch time, when she had been completely unconscious for 4 hours. I asked to see her; they had put her outside under the shade of a tree with her feet slightly elevated. She was completely non-responsive and her only movements were when she cringed in pain and her spine bent backwards and she held her clenched fists to her chest. Her only sounds were wimpers of pain. She had something wrong with her kidneys and had been in pain for awhile. This was not the first time she has fainted, the last time she passed out she was prescribed medicine for epilepsy, without being tested. After I sat with her for another 3 hours, the school was finally able to find a vehicle to come and take her to the hospital. It was just in time too, she had begun to have small seizures. She did wake up a little when the car arrived, she could nod her head when spoken to, and knew where she was. They took her to the hospital where she will finally get tests. I am afraid that she will not be able to afford it, she was already having financial trouble. I am going to keep track of her and I hope that she will be okay.