Week 1

My first week in Kenya has passed exceptionally smoothly. I wake up every morning at 7 to find breakfast waiting for me. Most mornings, I eat with someone from my family, whether it is my mama, baba (dad), or dada (sister). There is always bread with margarine and jam, and occasionally an egg or oatmeal. Tea is also a staple for every meal and provided between meals as well. I am loving the tea so far, but many claim to get sick of it. It is a dark tea in whole milk. We use the milk from our own cattle and it is always served hot, even over cereal (corn flakes). After I have breakfast, I quickly dress and my sister accompanies me on the walk to my friend Sara’s house. We have language lessons there from 8-10. The walk has been extremely muddy lately, as the roads are neither paved nor graveled. It is less than a mile, and it is a well-worn dirt path through fields and wilderness, and homes are scattered throughout the area. Many people travel along the muddy road by foot, but occasionally a personal vehicle or piki piki (motorbike) passes. Children often wander alone, or in small clusters, and almost always stop to stare at the white girl. Some children call out “mzungu” which means white person, and then other children immediately look or come closer, often waving and saying “hawaryu!” It happens here on these muddy roads as well as in the town. When my training group walks past schools, children from the school grounds run to the fence and they all stare and shout “hawayu, hawaryu mzungu!” Even though it is very strange, especially at first, it is not offensive and not meant in a rude or demeaning way; simply an unusual sight for the kids in this area.
There are only 4 trainees, including myself, in my language group plus my instructor, Sam. We sit on couches and sofas in the living room of Sara’s family’s house, which is a fairly new home to the area. After practicing language, we walk about 1-2 miles beside a paved road, in the mud, to Machakos. Once in Machakos, we meet with our fellow trainees (11 total) and instructors to review cultural norms and medical/safety lectures. Initially we met in hotel conference rooms, but we now meet in a classroom at Machakos School for the Deaf. The school is in the city, on about an acre of land. There are a few buildings built around a small open plot, which is where they play. There is very little yellow, dry grass trying to grow through the thick mud and dirt. Some tires are settled into the ground, which once served as a playground. Far different from the playground to which Americans are accustomed. The children live at the school, and dormitories surround this play area. Our classroom is large and has a concrete floor and concrete walls. There are dated handmade signs hanging with large pictures of clothing articles and words labeling various pieces and types of stitches. Several sewing machines have been clustered into one corner to make room for our group of trainees. Two walls are lined with windows and another has a large experienced chalkboard covering it. They have placed three benches in an arc, facing the wall with the chalkboard for the trainees. During this session, we have had several guest speakers talk with us about what to expect while teaching the deaf community and working in rural schools. To be honest, none of it sounds very encouraging, but at the same time, it is very motivating for us to leave a footprint. Most deaf schools in Kenya have speaking teachers who try to force the deaf children to speak as well. Teachers in deaf schools do not know any sign language and try to teach the children using voice. We have been warned that most teachers will know less than we do about sign language and will resist changes we try to make.
The first time we came to the school, the children were playing outside. They are all wearing their school uniform, which is a fire truck red sweater and a darker skirt or pants. Having never been to a deaf school, I was shocked by the silence. There were probably about 50 kids outside and after a few ran towards us, the rest followed and they all stared and waved. So precious. During lessons, they kept peeping in the door and a few would sneak in and take one side step at a time, closer and closer until a teacher shooed them out. I have several pictures from the first day at the School for the Deaf, which will come later. They were very curious about us, and asked for our names and even assigned a sign name for me. It makes me excited to begin my job here, as a teacher for deaf children.
We have about an hour to get lunch, and at first our trainers escorted us to clean, safe restaurants and we now have the freedom to choose whichever restaurant we please. So far, a restaurant called Melodie’s has been a favorite amongst the trainees. The city is busy and shops line the small streets, and unfortunately it always seems to be raining when we go to get lunch. This being the case, our heads are usually turned to the ground while we try to walk quickly around mud holes and garbage to avoid becoming completely soaked. It must be quite a site for the locals, watching a large group of mzungu’s zig-zagging along the streets, walking in front of cars and nearly running over other people. Anyways, once we get to Melodie’s, we all crowd in the front door (which is open) and try to find a seat in the small restaurant. We usually have to break up in smaller groups, and sometimes have to sit at tables with strangers. Everyone stares. There are cats darting around our feet and hiding under tables. A waitress comes to take our order, for 4-8 people, and NEVER writes a word down. She understands English, but it is a little difficult to understand what she says. Later she brings food items one at a time, forgetting a few things each trip. Eventually it all arrives, and she brings one check for us. We try to separate it ourselves, but we can rarely read the handwriting, which results in mass confusion. Now we keep in mind how much we owe as soon as we order, because even though they write it down later, it is easy to get mixed up. Also, just because it is on the menu does not mean that they serve it. The first time we ate at a restaurant in Machakos, my entire table had decided what they were going to have from the menu, only to be told that they did not have any of the items we chose. Samosa’s, which are pastries filled with sausage, have been a favorite amongst the group and are always available, but my mama advises to avoid them because they are not popular for locals to order and therefore may be old or stale. However, she recommends ordering stew and ugali or chapatti since they are popular and almost always fresh.
After lunch, we return to the school for a final session, where there is normally a guest speaker. We usually end session between 4 and 5, and are free to do as we please as long as we are at home with our families by 6:30. We have a curfew for now, mainly because we are still new and unfamiliar with the area and unable to distinguish normal behaviors from aberrant behaviors, which makes us targets for theft. We also do not travel alone, so sometimes after session a few will go to the cyber café to check our facebook and email, then return home together.
There is a group of volunteers living in Mumbuni, which is where I live. There are 4 of us (the same people in the language group) and we travel together and spend a lot of time together. The others live on the other side of town and we see each other when we go to the School for the Deaf. Beginning next week, we will no longer have lessons in KiSwahili, but will be learning Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) instead. We will be mixed based on our level of KSL and have different groups, which will allow us to spend more time with other trainees. I’m very excited to begin learning KSL, and have been told that my lack of experience with ASL will not be a hindrance. They even said that sometimes those without any knowledge of sign language learn KSL the quickest since they don’t have another form of sign to confuse it with. I am also excited to be working with other trainees, though I do love my trainees from my language group. My awesome training group has made this transition so much easier than I could have ever imagined.
Today marks my first weekend in Kenya! Yeah! I was so excited to sleep in past 7. I talked about it all day yesterday and have been looking forward to it since Wednesday, only to wake up at 7, again. But I did decide to lay in bed for fun until 8:30. Dogs are heard throughout the entire night, every night. When I ask my family if they heard, they say they never notice. There are several dogs in my compound. The “compound” simply means my living quarters, I guess, including my yard. Once you turn off of the paved road, you are on a larger muddy road. Then there are driveways and branches off of the big muddy road onto smaller ones. Mine is not far from the paved road, and once you turn onto my driveway you come to a large, metal gate. There is a fence above my head on both sides of the gate so that you cannot see what lies behind it, and the fence is overgrown with bushes and smaller trees. These gates are at almost every home. I will have to get a picture because my description isn’t really very accurate, but it’s unlike anything I know of at home. The gate doesn’t symbolize wealth or anything, but it is a form of protection. My house was built in 1996 by my mama & baba. The newer homes have barbed wire or glass on the top of the fences surrounding the homes. This gate opens, with a bolt like lock, two different ways. There is one way to open it so that the big doors swing open wide enough for a car to drive through, and another smaller door that opens alone to allow people to walk through. There are a few dogs inside of our compound. I really don’t know how big our fenced in area is, but the dogs roam and you don’t always know where they are, so it must be kind of big. We don’t pet them. I have been warned not to try because they are guard dogs. I was absolutely terrified the first time I had to come in the gate by myself and thought for sure that would be the end of me, but the dogs don’t seem to mind me at all. However, at night I can hear them barking and howling constantly. Very eerie. We had a full moon a few nights ago, and I actually was so scared that I put all of my important belongings in my wardrobe and slept at the foot of the bed, away from my window (ha!). Our safety and security advisor had told us horror stories (the same day) about people breaking in through the windows, and that sometimes thieves have sent small children in the window to grab the valuables. There are bars on all of the windows and doors, but it’s still pretty scary when you are here by yourself, in the dark, alone, with a full moon and dogs are howling out in the bush.
Anyways, about my first Kenyan weekend! I had a lovely breakfast of oatmeal and chai, then my sister and I got ready to go to town. I needed to go to the bank to exchange currency as well as get things to wash my own laundry – by hand – and we both wanted to stop at the cyber café to check up on email/facebook. First we swung by my mama’s school. Ok, so I told you all that she was an English/KiSwahili teacher, but I just found out today that she was being modest. She actually founded a school here, in Mumbuni, called Brightway Girls School. She is the principal, and my baba is the director. Crazy, huh? Crazy awesome! So we went and looked at it and I met a few of the students, who are about 15yo. The girls live there, and apparently it’s a good school – Sandi said that girls come from Nairobi, Mombasa, and even Tanzania to go to this school. I was very impressed. Then we went into town and did our shopping and such, but since I was with my sister, we took a matatu. Words really can’t describe a matatu. If I used a word to describe it, I would say deathtrap. But we cram in, it’s the size of a mule or gator, but with a roof and walls like a car, and has 3 rows of seats. They always seem to carry more people than it should. We bounced around, my seat wasn’t anchored to the floor, so I swayed and rocked the whole way (less than 10 minutes). Once we got to our stop, Sandi’s seatbelt wouldn’t unfasten, so we had to have the driver play with it to get it unlocked. I hate them, but it’s part of the Kenyan experience. When I’m with my trainees, we walk. Anyways, we managed.
I want to say that I am so glad that you all take time to read my blog, and to be honest, if it weren’t for your comments, I wouldn’t even bother with updating it. I know that one day I will be appreciative of these posts and thankful that I wrote about my experiences, but your comments and interest definitely motivate me to keep it up. I write the blog posts while I’m at home and then bring my USB to the café to upload it. The Internet in the cyber is so slow, painfully slow, it makes me want to rip off my fingernails, but getting your messages and comments makes it worthwhile.
Anyway, we just call it the cyber, because no food is served despite having a sign with “cyber café” hanging outside. There are about 8-12 dell computers lined around the walls of a room about the size of a bedroom, and every time someone tries to walk behind you, you have to lean forward and basically press your face against the smudged up screen to avoid getting a purse to the back of your head. So worth it though, ha. It’s probably the highlight of my week, just to hear news from home. We took a matatu back home. Sandi knew some of the people at the matatu “station” (a mud pit where matatu’s are parked, waiting to get full before taking off) and was talking to two of them, trying to pick the “right” matatu. They were talking in KiSwahili, but I kept hearing “mzungu” and a lot of laughing and excitement, and finally we picked one and everyone continued excitedly talking about the “mzungu.” I got to ride up front. Normally, that’s awesome (shotgun!) but this sucked. It meant that people outside could stare at me from in front and on the side. But once we got off, I asked Sandi what they were saying about the “mzungu” and she said they just wanted to “carry me” whatever that means. It’s kind of hard to get a direct answer here sometimes, but oh well.
Once we got home, mama showed me some of her plants around the house and began cooking lunch.. It had been sunny up to this point, but now clouds are moving in so we set buckets out to collect rain, one of which is mine, and will be used to purify my drinking water. Others will be used on my laundry tomorrow after church. We had a delicious lunch, which I took a picture of, and then everyone here decided to sleep until 5. Heck yea, my kind of Saturday! So instead of taking my nap, I though I would share my experiences from my first week as a Kenyan with all of you.
I know this is long, and if you’ve made it through the whole post this far, thanks for reading. There are a lot of other things I’d love to tell you about, I want to say it all but there are just so many things to talk about. I think about all of you at home ALL the time and I just can’t tell you all how much it means to me to get on here and have comments and posts, and to know that you are interested in my life over here.

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8 thoughts on “Week 1

  1. I look forward to reading your new posts each week, so keep it up! I am glad you are having a great time and I think of you often. Everything sounds so exciting and I just think of all the awesome experiences you are getting.

  2. Thank you so much for your posts. I get so excited when I check my email and your post is there. Look forward to the pics!!! 🙂

  3. I love reading all your posts. I miss you. Im so excited for you. Take care and look forward to reading your updates. Love ya.

  4. Thank you so much for all the updates! I’ve read them all so far, and I can’t WAIT to see pictures! All the walking you are doing must be grueling at first, no? I have all these pictures in my head of your neighborhood, house, and all the foods you talk about. I got chills when you were talking about the full moon, and the bars on the windows, is that intimidating? I can’t wait to hear more!!!

    -Amber

  5. Wow! that is so awesome. I love getting on here and seeing you have updated! Its funny to think about the little kids all lining the fence to look at you! I cant believe that your mama FOUNDED the school! that i amazing. How are the bucket baths going? I think about that when i have a shower, that i a so lucky to have the rinky dink little shower that i do have! It sounds like you are having a GREAT time, how is the vegetarianism going over there? have you been forced to eat any poor little animals yet? :-p miss you and think about you all the time!!

  6. This is amazing to hear. I love reading your post and check on your post everyday! I miss you and hope you do what you want and learn everything you can so you can bring it home. I see Jordan and I think of you and how you are doing. So keep the post up because you are my friend and I wounder how you are doing. I am proud of you for taking this big step! Love You friend.

  7. I thought of sending you a journal until i had seen you were posting. My advice was to write everything down and you are right you will be very greatful for it later. I cant tell you how many times i have re-read things from my mission trip and it has re-grounded me in the lessons I learned. Letters from home were nice too for keeping up spirits! Keep safe.

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