It seems like I was just getting ready for sports at Nina, and now I’m sitting in Claire’s new house, trying to remember my name and how I ended up here – am I in Africa? What? Who am I? Sometimes it STILL overwhelms me to think that my life is now progressing on a different continent with an entirely new habitat– friends I can’t picture having never met, the lack amenities I never could have dreamed of living without, in a house I wouldn’t have considered acceptable just one year ago. And the most amazing thing about this scenario is how much I love it. How much I love my friends, my village, my life. I’m supposed to be here.
Anyways, the entire Peace Corps Education group reunited in Nairobi for the past 10 days for IST. Initially, I was kinda dragging my feet about the whole thing – with the mindset that it would be extremely difficult to share my experiences with others who might have it better or worse than me, or just not understand me. Being misunderstood happens here a lot, and it is a great source of frustration to me. So often I feel misunderstood, by my kids, my colleagues, Kenyans, even my family back home… In the back of my mind, I assumed that my fellow PCV’s would also be unable to understand my hardships or my seemingly insignificant success stories. As the bus approached Nairobi, my heart sank. I wasn’t ready to talk about everything that I did throughout the term (or didn’t do, which seemed to be a more likely topic of conversation). We arrived, just before dark and made our way to Afralti to join the group just in time for dinner.
The first night was a little overwhelming; to see everyone you feel so close to, even though you’re essentially still strangers. We ate dinner, then Claire and I went back to my room to watch a movie before calling it a night. Traveling is exhausting in any case, but when you take away pavement, speed limits, air conditioning/windows that open and throw in a driver smoking half a pack of cigarettes every 10 minute break, the amount of energy required to survive is multiplied.
After a hot shower, we met for breakfast at 7. The great thing about staying at Afralti is the availability of food. Kenyan food, albeit, but free food is good food, and it always has more of a selection than home (sukuma and ugali). Sessions began at 8:30 every day and lasted until about 4, with breaks for tea at 10:30 and lunch from 1-2. Not a bad day. These sessions were more useful than those during PST, even though some seemed to be a bit redundant. Our counterparts from school came on Tuesday to go though a few activities with us and observe some of the same lectures. These days seemed to be the most useless, because it was covering the same material the volunteers learned during PST, but it was good to make the counterparts aware of this information and out background. Most of it was discussing HIV/AIDS prevention and reducing stigma amongst those having positive statuses. It was good information, just not exactly time well spent, seeing as we had only 10 days together in Nairobi and that information had already been covered. And covered.And covered.And covered.
After sessions ended, we normally had about an hour of free time before evening events began. This could mean free dinner at Afralti – starting at 6:30 – or choosing a group to go into town with. Our PC group has about 30 people, so normally at least two groups made plans to venture into the city. Fortunately, a few volunteers from last year’s group came and advised us where to go: cheap places, expensive places, best burger, good sushi, drinks, foreign food, ice cream, etc. Critical information. Pretty sure we tried out every single one of their suggestions, and therefore, returned home from IST essentially broke. We even had delivery pizza one night that actually tasted and looked like pizza. Where am I?!?!
On our last night, we gathered at Steve, our Country Director’s house for dinner. He has such a beautiful home, and it was so kind of him to invite all of us and prepare a fabulous meal of fajita’s for us (with cheese, real cheese!), because you know, American’s do love that Mexican food. It was the perfect end to a long week of training and sessions, busy business, yadayada… and we all convened here, both volunteers and staff, and just relaxed and listened to music while hanging out in this ridiculously nice home. It felt like home, home-home. I won’t say America, but it just felt like I had what I missed the most all here at once in this house – my new friends, my American amenities, the Kenyan culture, it was a perfect fit. After the party, we went back to Afralti for our last night together. Several of us hung out in my room and watched a movie on my laptop before going to bed.
Leaving Afralti was a relief in a way, but it was also much more difficult saying goodbye this time – much harder than they goodbyes following swearing in. First of all, we’re all closer now than we were then, I believe. We have had to help each other through our rough spots and by doing this, have built strong relationships. Also, we don’t really know when for sure we will be meeting up like that again. We have Cross Sector Training in August, but that isn’t mandatory, and many people have family/friends coming to visit at that time and therefore won’t be able to meet up. And honestly, it’s only been 6 months in country, but things are moving so fast. It’s hard to imagine going home and not having this group around me. I can’t picture leaving this network. Gah.
Not only was IST awesome because of the social interactions, but as far as my productivity being a volunteer goes, it was extremely beneficial, too. I now have a bag full of tricks to take home and share with my school; new ideas for ways to improve my site and projects to begin working on NOW. I have learned about writing grants and starting projects, which will generate income for my school or individuals in my village, particularly the students. I am hoping to organize a camp to educate deaf children from a few surrounding schools (collaborating with fellow volunteers) about health, hygiene, how to communicate effectively with hearing doctors, etc. We will begin planning now so hopefully next year we can host the camp. I also hope to be the catalyst for creating a little more independence for our school by purchasing milk cows and chickens, which will serve as income (or less expense, in the case of the milk) while giving the kids an opportunity to acquire skills that could help build their future. I have a few other ideas, like getting a grant to purchase a few old computers for my school to teach class 7 or 8 how to type and use basic documents, like Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc. I am trying to think of their future, and ways for them to get jobs other than joining the sex industry. Ideas or references/contact information very welcome! I do have access to writing grants and ways to fundraise through the Peace Corps website, so let me know if you have had an experience or know a person who might be able to give me some ideas.