Follow up!

Hello friends, far and wide! Today I received the most wonderful email from my former Associate Peace Corps Director, Enos. I’m including it below for your enjoyment, and to thank you once again for being so supportive and generous throughout my service in Kenya. The awesome thing about this email (there are actually several awesome things) is that it doesn’t only cover the accomplishments during my service, but also those of previous Peace Corps Volunteers. Nina is truly the epitome of a success story! Ero kamano, friends!


By Nina Special School for the Deaf

Nina School for the Deaf started as a unit in a regular school way back in 1995 in North Alego location of Siaya County; Nyanza Province of Kenya. This school struggled to make headways of growth till the arrival of the first Peace Corps Volunteer in December 2006. The arrival of Madam Elizabeth Urquhart kindled a great light of hope to the school. Locally known as Achieng, Elizabeth from Wisconsin State, United States of America became a real inspiration in the development of deaf social welfare in Nina. During her stay the school saw the construction of a dormitory by the Ministry of Education, courtesy of her proposal writing skills, lobbying and advocacy skills, and relentless spirit that she passed on to her colleagues. These efforts saw the deaf children move from a one four-walled room that provided classes for multiple grades, into their own fully built and gated school compound.


Her passion for the welfare of the deaf was obvious. It extended to building partnerships with the local community to accept and extend arms of comfort to this population. The starting of a Deaf adults’ church at the Siaya Baptist Church which exists to date was one of the results of these partnerships. Her prowess on matters of improvisation of teaching aids cannot go unmentioned. Save for the post-election violence in 2007/2008 that cut short her stay, the completion of her service would have been of extensive benefit to the deaf learners and community. Beth Achieng (Elizabeth Urquhart) was evacuated due to safety reasons amidst a lot of denial from her community.

January 2010 saw the arrival of another God sent Peace Corps Volunteer: Whitney Holmes from California. She arrived in a style, almost suggesting that she had been sent to complete what Beth Achieng (Elizabeth Urquhart) had left behind. She kept the fire of the teaching aid improvisation burning. She silently observed deaf children fetch water on their heads one kilometer away from school with a lot of remorse. Whitney was so moved that she proceeded to assist the school raise funds and sink a water borehole in the school compound. “Today we can stand tall and boast of a clean water supply in our compound, also benefitting the surrounding community”. It is our pride that learners no longer walk across the traffic on busy roads with pails and basins on their heads to fetch water every morning and evening. The villagers from around the school are not left out. They fetch water from this source at a minimal fee which the school uses for the maintenance of the water pump. That was her dream and she surely achieved it! Whitney’s local name was Akinyi. This name has remained popular to-date especially when people discuss water matters. “We call her so to date as we sip the sweet waters of her sweat”. One community leader exclaimed.


Things did not stop at Akinyi’s departure. Peace Corps sent yet another angel to rekindle the glowing splint in December 2011 after Akinyi’s departure. Kelsey Adhiambo Nyar Siaya (Adhiambo the daughter of Siaya), the ever smiling lady of West Virginia in the United States of America was the replacement. Her real name is Kelsey Full. She proudly blogged about Nina Special school for the Deaf and put Nina in the global web platform. She loved her pupils and taught her classes with such deep passion. Adhiambo, a lover of black tea mixed with ordinary natural lemon fruit reserved the luxury rich milk tea for her pupils: She constituted a proposal and for a dairy project and successfully acquired two dairy cows that initiated the joy of milk tea for the deaf children and extra income for the school. “We report with pride that black tea became a thing of the past in our school”. Part of the milk from this project is sold to the community. The income is used to enhance acquisition of learning materials for the pupils. Adhiambo left Nina shoulder high at the successful completion of her two years of service. The cows have since then given birth and increased in number and milk production.


The school saw great improvement in learner admission from fifteen pupils when the first Peace Corp Volunteer arrived to eighty two when the last one left in December 2013. We still look forward to welcoming other Peace Corps Volunteers to enjoy our hospitality as we share lots of experiences from across the continents.

The school has every reason to thank the Peace Corps organization in Kenya for consistently recommending our school for hosting Deaf Education Volunteers. We are thankful for the American government for allowing its citizens of great repute to come and offer themselves selflessly to the service of the less fortunate in Siaya.

I did it!

It’s official. I’m no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer. I can now join the elite club of RETURNED Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV). That part of this transition is way awesome. But the other part is still pretty scary. I feel like I owe everyone who’s been riding along with me for the past 2 years an update on how my service closed, so here is my first attempt. The truth is, there are way too many feelings, thoughts, ideas, concerns involved to really go into much detail about what it’s really like to complete your Peace Corps Service. Anyways, I’ll skim over the big ones and then we can chat about it in person in a month :-)

First: I DID IT! Yay me!! It’s still, to this day, 27 months after the heart wrenching goodbye the night of my sister’s wedding, impossible for me to fathom that those 2 years have already passed. In a way, I feel like I’ve been here FOREVER. On the other hand, I just got here yesterday. The days drag, but the months fly. To be honest, coming into something like this you really don’t know if you will make it. As an American, we are cultured to believe that anything is possible, shoot for the sky, the sky is the limit, etc etc etc. So coming into this, I thought “why not?” It never hurts to try… and if you don’t try, you’ll never know. Guess what? I tried, and I succeeded. Pretty crazy, huh? And to be honest, I can only recall one point where I was actually low enough to consider making that phone call which would land me with a ticket home. That was the only time I really had any doubts. Of course there were other challenges and difficulties, but never anything devastating or upsetting enough to actually persuade me to leave Kenya. And I want to add that those challenges and difficulties probably would have been a lot worse if I didn’t have so much support and love coming at me from all directions – from my family, my friends, Peace Corps Staff, my counterparts, and even just my acquaintances here in Kenya. Without all of you, this wouldn’t have been possible, and I wouldn’t be here in Kenya today, wishing for just one more week. Thank you all so much for the gifts, cards, emails, messages, etc. I can’t thank you enough, honestly. Until you live in another country, away from all that you know, you won’t understand how special a direct facebook message just saying “hey, hope you’re doing ok” really means. Even if I didn’t always have the chance to respond, those messages meant a lot to me. Thank you.

About leaving: It’s so bittersweet. I feel like I’m having to leave right when I’m really getting the hang of everything here and feeling comfortable. I know the learning process is never ending, and even if I stayed for 5 years, I would probably still make the same argument. Regardless, I think that now is when I’m making the most out of living here. Maybe it’s because I know I’m going home and I’m letting all of my guards down and really pushing to make these precious last days count, but maybe it’s because now I know better ways for communicating and utilizing my time/resources effectively. Idk. But either way, these last weeks have been so awesome, and I’ve really enjoyed my time with my Kenyan friends and counterparts. I’m going to miss them all so much.

You know me, and I love making lists. So here is one I’m going to leave you with:

Things I’m going to miss:
Market day! buying awesome second hand clothes from piles on the street, getting fresh produce from local mama’s for 5-50 cents.
Bargaining. I’m going to miss hunting for the best deal, and if I can’t find it, give someone else the task of finding it for me.
Transportation. I know this is a funny one, but it’s kind of nice to NOT have to drive (sometimes) and it’s awesome to just wave someone down and they take you to your door.
Cooking with my jiko. I’ve developed a special relationship with my charcoal stove, and cooking without it just won’t be the same.
Forced creativity. In the beginning it was a pain, but now I enjoy having to come up with a new way to cook onions, tomatoes, and the “daily special” (potatoes, eggs, fish, squash, beans, lentils, etc)
Tea. Not just tea, because I know I can get that back home, but the concept of sharing tea with my friends or “tea time.” Some of my favorite memories are just having tea in my house with Mr. Ambalo late in the evening, or going to visit a friend and the first thing they do is whip up some milky chai. It’s the social factor that I’m going to miss, even if there’s not a lot of talking going on, it’s just special.
Appreciation? I don’t know exactly how to phrase it, so I’ll elaborate. Back home, we take things for granted. We all know this, and I knew it when I came, I know it even more now. I’ve lived 2 years without electricity, running water, a toilet, internet, freedom to talk on the phone any time, TV, driving, personal transportation, going outside at night, cheese, ice, etc. When I get to Nairobi, I’m ECSTATIC about having a toilet and shower. Even more if that toilet really flushes and the shower has not-cold water. I appreciate these things and look forward to them. I get excited about them. They aren’t a right, like most Americans are raised to believe, they’re a privelege. I know when I get home, it’s going to be something I take for granted once again…. but I really have enjoyed looking forward to those treats and I’m going to miss how much I appreciate them, if that makes any sense.

There are many, many more, but for the sake of time and your sanity and my need to not start missing them already, I’m going to stop there.

In the meantime, I”m soaking up the sun in Diani, South Coast. I’ll be here until Zach arrives on the 11th, and I think from there we’re going to visit Nakuru for a few days. Vietnam on the 15th! Woo Hoo! Home in one month, so I’ll be seeing all of you soon!


Titles are hard!

I don’t know what to call this post. It’s really hard for me to capture how I feel right now, because I don’t even know how I feel, which makes it impossible to try and explain to someone else. But I do know this: I love my friends here, and saying goodbye to Mr. Ambalo, Dorine and Mr. Sirawa is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. One of. It’s tough. Like, really tough. Tougher than coming to Kenya. Anyways, I just wanted to brag on them a little and tell everyone back home about how awesome they’ve made not only my 2 years in Kenya, but especially these intense, stressful few weeks leading up to my farewell. There’s gonna be a sappy post about it coming soon, so just consider this one as the preview.

My last shopping trip in Siaya.


Last time getting my own fresh milk from our backyard.


Bags are packed… Country Roads, take me home!


Partying with Dorine on my very last night in Siaya.


Dancing with Ambalo on my very last night in Siaya.


This one goes out to the amazing man who kept me in Kenya for 2 whole years!


My dance partners in Siaya


Last song! Last dance in Siaya. Such great company! I’m going to miss these nights.


In the morning, before leaving Siaya, I had to get a good picture of a butcher to show everyone at home. Here it is!


Lunch on the lake with Ambalo in Kisumu! They wash your car while you eat, whether you want them to or not.


What did you do for Thanksgiving?

So how did you spend your Thanksgiving? Eating turkey, watching football, dozing on the couch? I plan to do the same next year (minus eating the turkey), but this year, my third and last Thanksgiving in Kenya, I was fortunate enough to spend it at Obama’s grandmother’s home! Ever since I found out while staying in Machakos over two years ago that I would be coming to Siaya, I was bombarded with Obama enthusiasm. Finally, 26 months later, I have seen the home for myself and met Madam Sarah, Obama’s grandmother. Here are a few pics marking the day:

With Mama Sara Obama.


We brought a gift for her orphanage, 10kg of sugar.


With Sirawa, standing next to Obama’s father’s burial site. In the background you can see her new house.


Touring her garden. The grasses are grown for her dairy cows.



She is such a wonderful woman. So down to earth and genuine. So many people go crazy when a sack of money falls from heaven, directly into their empty lap, but Mama Obama has maintained her Kenyan lifestyle and given almost everything right back to the community. Obama has assisted her financially since he became Senator. He has even visited the home a few times before becoming president. The first thing she did when she received money from her grandson was purchase iron sheet for all of the houses in her village. She now operates a few orphanages in her community and continues farming and gardening within her original family compound. In fact, until just recently, she even stayed in the same house. Recently a new one was constructed directly behind the original, and it is still very modest. It was such an honour to meet her and hear her tell stories about when Obama’s father was young. Such a memorable Thanksgiving :-)

Before I went to visit Obama’s place, I was surprised by 2 of my students, Rehema and Alice, who came knocking at my door early this morning. It was actually perfect timing, because I had just completed my millionth trial pack and had eliminated a few more things from my suitcases – which I bagged up and sent them home with. Here is a picture of me with Rehema’s family:


OK, so just a few more pictures of how I’ve been spending my final days in Kenya. As I mentioned yesterday, I went to the border of Uganda yesterday with Mr. Sirawa. He lives in Busia, the city bordering Uganda on the Kenya side. We took a short stroll from his house to the border, where we had a few interesting conversations with the police, snapped a few photos and skidaddled back to Siaya. Before coming home though, I met his beautiful family and had lunch at their home. It was a pretty awesome day all around. Memorable, for sure :-)

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My Big, Pink Farewell celebration

With George as he signs my surprise pink farewell banner

Opening my gift from my headteacher, Mr. AmbaloDSCN0387

Accepting my gift from Ben, one of my friends in Siaya (he wore pink just for the occasion)DSCN0403

Slow dancing with Mr. Sirawa

Getting down with my colleagues


My awesome dance partner, George, who was the only one brave enough to take on Golddigger, Kanye West with me :-)


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Being given a certificate (it’s also pink) from a colleague.DSCN0477

Wedding VIP


Above: with my awesome headteacher, Mr. Ambalo. Thanks to him for all of these pictures! (and for explaining to everyone there that calling white people “mzungu” makes them feel bad)

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Above: Greeting one of the adorable little boys from the wedding party. He was following me around and hiding every time I looked at him – too cute!


Above: with the best man (left) and groom (right)

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Above: with the cute little kids from the wedding party. They were trailing behind me, too shy to actually talk to me, so Ambalo asked them if they wanted a picture and they all came RUNNING! I squatted down and they all grabbed a wad of my hair before he snapped the shot. So funny!


Are we there yet?

As the end of my service approaches, what am I thinking? 

Well… for starters… “has it already been 2 years?!?!” which I immediately chase with “it’s about freaking time.” Then the more meaningful, complex thoughts begin emerging, which if left unattended will absolutely consume my mind and my thoughts. So, then, what am I thinking? What’s for supper? What am I gonna wear tomorrow? I wonder if it’s going to rain… then I’ll have to wear my sneakers. Maybe Ambalo will be late so I can wear leggings. I hope we have mandazi at tea break. How did I gain 10 pounds? 
So basically, coming home isn’t something I’m giving much thought. It’s going to be tough. 
But since I’m not really into thinking about that, and I’m not really into boring you to death either, I’ll talk a little about how things are going at school.
Class 8 (8th graders) just finished their KCPE – possibly the most important week of their lives, marked by hours of sitting in a classroom with an armed police officer guarding the door and 3 adult teachers sitting and staring at them as they select ABCDE for 50 questions, 6 exams. It’s a pretty stressful time for all involved, but thankfully it’s now finished and they are preparing to go home. All students will be going home this Wednesday, November 20th. Parents will come in the morning and have some meetings, receive their children with report forms in tow and vanish into the village until January, when school reopens, sans Kelsey. 
But now I’m getting ahead of myself again. What else is new here… 
Both of our cows have now given birth! As many of you may have seen on facebook, the first to birth was Lucy (the mean one) on November 8th. In fact, I went to the harambee with Mr. Ambalo, and when we returned we immediately went to check the cows. It started raining and we became stuck in the cow stable, waiting for the rain to stop, when we realized that Lucy was going into labour. Baby Kelsey was born before dark with no problems at all. Here’s a cute picture of our new baby girl: 
Today, at 4:07 this morning, Michelle gave birth to another baby girl. 
So now we have 2 baby girls and 2 big mama’s to milk. I help our worker, Christopher, with milking every morning and evening. Michelle turned out to be a little sassy, but I think that she’s settling down now. The kids are all thrilled to be able to drink milk every evening after supper, and since school is getting ready to close we will be making quite a bit of money selling the milk every day. Lucy is producing about 15liters every day, and today being the first day we milked Michelle, we can’t really guess how much she will contribute, but I’m expecting her to surpass Lucy. We’ll see. Either way, it will help offset expenses for the parents who can’t afford to pay school fees! THANK YOU to every single contribution! You guys are the ones who put these cows here – thank you a million times over!
In other news… all of my kids are healthy and strong. Denis came back to school and is putting weight back on. He finished his exams last week and has been helping take care of the cows. None of the kids have started milking yet, but they all pitch in when it comes to bringing water and working in the garden where we grow grasses to feed them. In fact, today all of my kids helped dig flower gardens along my house and the office. We worked on it this morning and even lined them with small rocks collected from around the compound. I’ll add a few pictures for you to see.
While Denis was at the hospital, I met a man who worked there and knew of another deaf child staying at home in his village. He was curious about what services were available, or what people do with such children, so I explained that normally we treat them like humans and educate them. We exchanged info and on Monday of last week, Ambalo arranged to have him brought to school. He’s a feisty little thing, terrorizing all of his agemates, but it’s good he came this term to adjust to school life so when he returns next term it won’t be so shocking to him. 
So, that’s life at Nina. Let’s have a countdown: 
5 more days with my kids
6 days until my farewell party
16 days until I leave my home in Siaya (to Nairobi for close of service procedures)
21 days until I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer
30 days until I say goodbye to Kenya and hello to Vietnam
55 days until my feet touch American soil for the first time in over a year. 
Soooooooooo, what am I gonna wear tomorrow?