Monday, March 19, 2012

Yes, It's Still Hot.

I have been very lax in my writing lately. After being here for a year and a half, everything I want to talk about just seems repetitive. In case you were wondering: yes, it’s still hot. Today, I am driven to write because it is Saturday and the stima (electricity) has been out for hours. I am running out of things to do around the house. I went to town this morning to pick some food and supplies for the week (It must be spring Down Kenya because there are green peppers the size of my fist and mangoes as big as my feet!). I forgot to pick up toilet paper. That was unfortunate; you really do not want to know what I will be using this week. I am recovering from a cold. I had a fever and stayed in bed a couple of days last week. I feel better now but had almost no voice at all over the weekend. I didn’t mind, it gave me an excuse to lie in bed all day and be antisocial. After going to town, I came home tired and attempted to take a nap. The neighbor kids, Galgallo and Abusu, who had woke me up at seven am this morning, prevented that by wanting to come in and play with all my stuff. And when those two want something, there is no point in resisting or they will scream and throw rocks at my door. At only four years old, they think that is ‘playing’. Nap plans abolished, I went and greeted the neighbors who had been gone for over two weeks. I had heard from others that the father, Abdi, had lost his sister while she was in childbirth. He and his family all got together at his mother’s house in a nearby village for the funeral. Afterwards, he left to return home, stopping in Marsabit town on the way. But that is as far as he got; while in town, he received a phone call saying his mother, very grieved with the loss of her daughter, had died. And so the family returned for a second funeral. As I spoke to him about his loss he seemed stoic, saying “But death is a part of life. We are not meant to be here for long. We go through the world, just passing through, until it is time for us to leave this life.” Now, I am sitting on my porch watching Galgallo drag his younger brother, Guyo, around in a home-made racecar. It is made by cutting a hole in the side of a 20L jerry can and pulled via a rope attached to the handle (engine noises provided by Galgallo). I’ve done enough laundry to get me through the week; I hate that activity a little more each week. And I made the most time consuming lunch I could think of (fajitas, because making the stack of tortillas takes and extra thirty minutes). My cell phone network is gone, which happens at least a few hours every day and, at least twice a week, it goes for the entire day. That means I can’t text my Down Kenya friends to entertain me. I did watch some local women rebuild the Stick-and-grass hut on the church compound. That was pretty interesting. They take long, bendable branches, and, using bark as rope, lash them together in a large arc. Then they add horizontal, straight sticks for support. Finally, they weave grass into thick mats to tie over all the gaps. They also make benches and curved armchairs for furniture to go inside. This is the second time I have seen them rebuild the meeting hut. Because the Borana are a traditional nomadic tribe, the huts are only intended to last a season or two. To make the huts more permanent, most people in my village cover the walls with mud or cow dung. The roofs get protected by old trash bags or plastic tarps. I also see a lot of cardboard box reinforcing. I had a conversation the other day with my Rendille friend, Joseph, about the tribal fighting in our area. Joseph is a Peace Worker working at the local primary school and so I asked him if he felt unsafe being a Rendille living in an exclusive Borana area. He said that no, living here was fine because our village is safe. But he is wary of traveling. When the fighting was going on a few weeks ago, Joseph, Martha (his village mate), and another friend were having an event at the primary school. The three needed some supplies from town and decided that the friend would be the one to go pick them up. Martha also gave the young man a message to pass along to her mother. The young man left Diribgombo on a piki (motorbike) but was ambushed on the way to Marsabit town by a group of Borana men. They shot and killed him and an old man who was with him. Each time someone is killed, the tribe must revenge the death by retaliating. So far, there have been three Borana deaths and four Rendille. Joseph says there will be no more attacks because his tribe knows that the fighting doesn’t solve anything. That philosophy did not help the tribes in the town to the north of us, Moyale, where the fighting killed many and drove hundreds across the border into Ethiopia for protection. And in Isiolo, the town to the south of us, hundreds have been killed over the last few months. Here in the Marsabit region, and Diribgombo (my village) in particular, every time there is fighting we feel the effects. Food shipped from Down Kenya is disrupted on the roads and the market becomes empty. The food that is there becomes more expensive. The fear of attack keeps the market mamas away. This week, one of my tasks is to speak to all the classes in my school about the increase in use of skin bleaching creams. The creams are a problem for many reasons. The first, and most important, reason is health. The creams contain mercury and the students are unaware of how that will affect their health. Unfortunately, the creams work so the students want to continue using them. I informed them of the health dangers and also told them how the creams only work temporarily. I asked why they used the creams and was told “to be beautiful.” That is an obvious answer and so I asked them to be more specific; if the creams only make you lighter by one or two shades, what was the point? They said that very dark skin was ugly and light skin was always better, even slightly lighter. The worst was when a student said “we want to look like you.” I pointed out that no matter how much cream they used, they would still be much, much darker than me. I also told them that in America, us white people go to tanning booths and use creams to make us darker. In America, the tanner the better. They laughed at the notion. I tried to paint the scariest scenario for them. I said if they used bleaching creams, besides the mercury danger, there was a possibility of irritation and acne resulting from the harsh chemicals. Already some of the girls were having those effects. I also talked about the consequences if the cream actually worked. They would be lighter skinned and more susceptible to UV related skin damage and sunburns. I mentioned freckles (showing them my many freckles) and wrinkles. I told them about skin cancer and how it can affect even young people. I dramatically made those creams sound like an express train to old age and death. Judging by the gasps from around the classroom, I think it worked. I then had to spend the next half an hour analyzing the ingredients of their other lotions, powders, and oils to make sure they all were safe for regular use. The pharmacy business in Kenya is very unregulated. Anyone can buy dangerous chemicals or prescription medications over the counter with no explanation. Just another strange Kenya practice. Three more weeks in the term. I am looking forward to four weeks relaxing in Down Kenya with my Peace Corps friends. And of course, I am waiting for the upcoming rainy season with great anticipation. I need a little rain in my life.

1 comment:

Sara said...

My name is Sara Reeves. I am an RPCV (Samoa '07-09) and will be in Kenya this summer from May through July. I am managing an Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) program that will bring 14 graduate students to (mostly) Western Kenya for a course on project design and internships with local partner organizations. We will be headquartered in Mumias, just outside of Kisumu, and most of our students will intern in the Western area, we also have one partner organization on the coast outside of Mombasa.

I am reaching out to PCVs in Kenya in the hopes you might be willing to provide advice/recommendations I can pass along to my students. About four months after our COS, my husband and I traveled for three months in Thailand and Cambodia. Beforehand I also reached out to PCVs in the area. They were able to provide invaluable advice and we were also able to meet up with many of them (which allowed us to stay in rural villages, rather than being trapped in the tourist spots).

If you would be willing to share insights into Kenyan culture and living and working in Kenya, that would be wonderful. In addition, any suggestions for a packing list are also welcome. I relied heavily on the Peace Corps Kenya Welcome Book when creating the handbook for my program. However, if I remember correctly from Samoa, the packing list in the welcome book does not include some of the most important things (and doesn't provide the context, so you do not realize until you arrive without an item on the list, you thought was silly, just how important that item is).

I appreciate your consideration. You can reach me at

Thank you,

Sara Reeves
(RPCV, Samoa '07-09)