Slow dancing with Mr. Sirawa
My awesome dance partner, George, who was the only one brave enough to take on Golddigger, Kanye West with me 🙂
Slow dancing with Mr. Sirawa
My awesome dance partner, George, who was the only one brave enough to take on Golddigger, Kanye West with me 🙂
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)
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)
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!
It is impossible for me to imagine anything worse than burying a cardboard box containing my dead 2-year-old daughter. Today, I attended the funeral of baby Whitney, my friend Ojwang’s youngest child, where this actually happened.
After tea break, it was my plan to go to Kisumu to run a few errands and meet a friend for lunch. When I was ready for my outing, with windows locked, bladder empty, water bottle full and raincoat in hand, I called my friend Ojwang to come pick me up and take me into Siaya to catch a matatu. Actually, I sent him a text message, because our communication – though much improved – can sometimes be a challenge, especially when he is trying to talk to me through the wind in a moving vehicle. Once he received my text, he responded with a call and explained that today he cannot come for me because he is preparing for the burial of his lastborn. Hold the phone neighbor – did he just say “burial?” as in: dead, funeral, body? And was that really coupled with “last born,” meaning his baby, whom I knew to be just toddling? After stammering out many apologies in every language I know (which is only 3, if you were wondering: English, KiSwahili and Luo, which still didn’t feel like enough), our phonecall ended and I tried to absorb what he just told me.
Naturally, I needed to talk about it, so I immediately went to our staffroom where all teachers were gathered, taking tea. Rather undiplomatically, I blurted out the situation and asked if anyone else was aware. To my surprise, no one had heard about this tragedy, and in fact, Dorine had seen him delivering milk to her neighbor this morning. Jeph said she saw him yesterday night with his wife holding a child wrapped in a blanket on a motorbike, heading towards their home. The teachers admitted that it was sad and went back to their conversations. Unable to let it go, I interrupted again to suggest we take a collection for the family. Dorine made a few phone calls to confirm the time of the burial while Jacky made a round to all teachers and workers, requesting any donations they could make to the family. With money in hand, Dorine, Jeph and I left the school to attend the burial at Ojwang’s house.
When we arrived at Ojwang’s home, several clusters of people were gathered in the shade of the trees edging his compound, seated around tables with mandazi and tea. His house was at the far end of the compound, opposite the entrance. The burial site was right next to the house, facing the entrance, and here women stood and sang around the family and the hole in the earth. At first we could not see the hole, or the rickety box lying next to it. We joined the group of women singing, and before long, someone brought me (and my company) chairs and suggested resting in the shade. From here, I could see through the legs of the women – and this is when I saw the box. And Ojwang’s face. And the box. And the faces of his other children. But most of all, the box.
The singing continued and prayers commenced. After resting in the shade briefly, someone else came and invited us into Ojwang’s empty house for refreshment. All of the furniture had been moved outside of his mud house, so we carried our chairs in with us. Then they brought us a table. And mandazi, bread and tea. While we drank our tea, we listened to them throwing dirt on top of the box on the other side of the wall, just behind me.
After refreshments, we carried our chairs back outside to the shade under the trees. From here I could see them throw the last of the dirt on the mound – and this is when I saw the mother fall to the ground wailing. And the women carry her to the shade and comfort her. And the children following, bawling.
Then it was over. The singing women escorted Ojwang into his house (the mother would have gone too, had she been able) where they prayed for the family. Once the prayers were finished, the women came out and visitors came in few by few to speak with the family, share condolences, give money. We were the first to go in and talk with Ojwang, who, I must say, is an incredibly strong man. He told us what happened with his daughter. She became sick 2 days ago, and last night around 10:30pm they decided to take her to the hospital. She died on the piki before they even reached the paved road. So they turned around and came home. He thanked us for coming and said “Kelsey, you did not go to Kisumu?” and I couldn’t even say anything back. What do you say? What can you say?
We walked back to school where I was finally free to let my guard down, in the comfort of my own house with my mom on the receiving end of my emotional eruption. Glad I went, but so hard to understand.
Traditional Dances performed by college students at Eregi Teacher Training College in Western Province of Kenya. Each tribe had a group of students represent their culture through dances, songs, narratives and skits.
This year I spent my second thanksgiving in Kenya, away from my family. Second thanksgiving with Claire. Second thanksgiving watching Kenyan dancers. Second thanksgiving with a best-of-my-ability thanksgiving dinner. Most memorable thanksgiving ever!
I came to Claire’s on Wednesday evening, after seeing all of my students off at Nina. Ambalo drove me and my luggage to Ng’iya to catch a matatu destined for Luanda. He helped me secure two seats – one for myself, the other for my luggage – before saying goodbye. It was actually kind of emotional, leaving him with all that luggage, because it really resembled the ultimate farewell, which will eventually happen, where I take as much as I can in those same suitcases with America as my final destination.
Anyways, I reached Claire’s house in the evening. We spent the evening getting caught up and planning our Thanksgiving day festivities. The college where she stays – Eregi Teacher Training College – was having an end of term cultural festival, celebrating all tribes in Kenya and having a program packed with traditional dances, songs, narratives and displays. The first event on the agenda was bull fighting, a Luhya tradition, starting at 6:30am. We woke up and gulped some tea before meeting her “baba,” Father Lwangu. He escorted us to the stadium, where we waited anxiously for the bulls to arrive. Within the fifteen minutes, the first bull arrived, snorting and pawing, escorted by a crowd of men. The crowd grew and more bulls were escorted into the stadium by men chanting and shouting, ringing bells and blowing horns. Once 12 bulls arrived in the stadium, the fights began. I really can’t accurately depict the events that took place, but I will say it was not as horrific as I imagined. Pictures will be posted.
After the bull fighting, we came to Claire’s house to get ready for an afternoon of entertainment on the other side of the compound. Again, Father Lwangu came to escort us to the main event, where we were awarded with “Guest” badges and given special seats with the Guest of Honour – front and center, in the shade. The college students had prepared elaborate group dance performances based on their respective tribes. We cheered exceptionally loud for the Luhya (Claire’s), Luo (mine), and Masaai (gorgeous men). It was awesome to get a taste of so many cultures in one sitting. They had also organized showcases of tribal artifacts and traditions throughout the campus in the classrooms. Each tribe had a room filled with pictures and diagrams of the clothing, tools, compound arrangements and other artifacts, as well as a buffet of traditional foods typically found in their culture. It was a pretty awesome display.
After the performances, we came home to prepare our thanksgiving dinner, made possible by Grammy – Claire’s grandma. We had mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing as well as a kale salad with dried cranberries, followed by Fiddler on the Roof. Even though it’s hard being away from home, especially during the holidays, this has been a thanksgiving I will never, ever forget.
Like most days in this term thus far, today was wonderful. Every day here at Nina has been awesome lately for no particular reason at all. I’m enjoying my kids so much this term, I feel kinda crazy. I remember when I started my Peace Corps experience, I heard all of the volunteers say that the kids make it worthwhile. Seriously, I mean every single volunteer I contacted before coming to Kenya and all those whom assisted with training and helped prepare us for the challenges ahead – every single person said that the kids were the best part of the job. “You don’t know me!” came to mind, but it turns out, perhaps they did.
I have never really been a kid person, as most of my family would adamantly agree. Generally I don’t particularly enjoy the company or energy of children, and therefore they have never particularly gravitated towards me. It has always been a mutual understanding: don’t bother Kelsey and Kelsey (usually) won’t bother you. Even during my first two terms, while I did find the kids here cute and often charming, I generally considered them to be tolerable – part of the job; part of the Peace Corps experience. Something changed though – I’m assuming in me, because kids are just kids, but at some point I started liking my kids. Liking them to the point that I think I really do love some of the kids here, like a mom would love her child. It is the most unusual feeling I can honestly say I have ever experienced, but let me try to elaborate a bit.
I think the first time I vaguely experienced the “mom” feeling was my first term, when they were constantly knocking on my door, showing me fresh wounds, ancient scars and birthmarks trying to earn a band-aid. For the first few days it was cute, followed by a few weeks of “go show Anjeline” and then finally just caving in and passing them out like candy. Somewhere in there I realized that I rely on their dependence on me – I crave it. When they aren’t knocking on the door begging for band-aids, I start to wonder why they are afraid to come to my door. Despite the annoyance of getting up 500 times to answer the door (a simple “come in!” doesn’t work here), I need to know that they need me. Otherwise, I feel useless.
Second term, I began mending their old clothes. The kids each have two school uniforms and two play outfits. Every single day they wash a school uniform and change into one of the play outfits immediately after school. Needless to say, the clothes get worn very quickly and often sport tears and holes. After stitching up one of the small girls uniforms during class one day, nearly half of the students brought me an article of clothing in need of repair. At one point I had over thirty garments to stitch sitting in a chair in my living room. Some were beyond repair, and some probably looked better before I sewed in the mismatched patch, but by the end of the term everyone had their turn being “mothered.”
This term, I have yet to discover exactly what the defining motherly trend will be, but I can truly say that I think I now know what it means to unconditionally love a kid, just like being a parent. The other day I was sitting out in the sun while I was on duty and my class 3 Calvin joined me in the heat. Because there is normally a small swarm of kids around me whenever I remain stationery for any extended period of time, I initially didn’t find it unusual. I had my ipod out, playing some River City and drawing in my notebook. Calvin picked up my speakers and held them to his ear. Many of the kids like to pretend to be singers or celebrities they have seen on TV/magazines and do goofy things, posing with any of my belongings. I really didn’t pay any attention to Calvin at first, but after a minute or so he was still holding the speaker to his ear. The song changed and Black Eyed Peas “Imma Be” came on and a smile cracked across his face. He started bobbing his head with a jack-o-lantern grin across his face. I asked him if he could hear it and he enthusiastically nodded his head, then stood up and started moving with the music. I know it sounds so ridiculously sappy, but I actually teared up and had to go inside. I have NEVER in my life wanted to share something so bad, and all I could think was I can hear this and he can’t, he never will… at that moment there was nothing in this world I wanted more than to give him the ability to really hear that song, his own voice, the birds or a car. It was so strange.
Similar situation – I teach Class 3 science. Calvin is my little smart pants and learns way faster than I ever could. Sometimes I like to show movies that knock their socks off, like “Blue Planet” documentary. There is nothing in this world like seeing their faces when a whale comes across the screen, or the first time they saw a dolphin emerge from the water and spout water into the air. It’s so precious. So this week I was showing one of the documentaries and pausing it frequently to explain what was happening, give them some new vocabulary or ask them what they predict will happen. The predictions are always entertaining. One time a cheetahs were chasing an ostrich, which, mind you, I thought was terribly sad. It was obvious that the ostrich was the underdog. I was glued to the screen, hoping that this time (unlike the previous 9842 times I’ve watched it) the ostrich would spread it’s wings and fly to safety. Before reaching the climax, my wishful thinking was interrupted by an eruption of laughter. Puzzled, I looked at all of my kids, who were impersonating the ostrich. It really isn’t the most graceful animal on the planet, but at such a stressful moment you can hardly blame it for looking so frenzied. Shocked by their insensitivity, I paused it and asked them what was going to happen. They had rather graphic, disturbing predictions (which turned out to be correct) and I had them do a skit in front of the class to share with the others. It was cute.
We continued the series and spent quite a bit of time discussing the arctic. Ice. How in the world do you really capture the concept of ice and accurately depict it to kids who have NEVER experienced it before? Like in this documentary, seals are swimming under the ice and there is just a tiny hole where they can come up to jump out (seals are a whole other topic – we have spent days discussing seals). I just can’t really convey the concept of this huge, land-like mass of ice to kids who haven’t even had ice in their drinks before. It’s just so challenging. And then my mom moment came, where I was randomly blindsided with the thought of going home unexpectedly (elections) and I briefly panicked – how in the world can I just abandon these kids? I have this weird feeling in my heart where I just want to bring Calvin with me, I want to share ice with him, let him sit in a movie theatre, take him to a park to play with other kids, sit on a swing or go down a slide. I want him to go to school every day and have a teacher teach. I want him to have a family that cares and comes to school on parent day. I want him to be surrounded by people who support him and encourage him and believe in him. I want him to have that, to have a chance. Gah. I choke up thinking about it.
Anyways, I guess now I’m just like everyone else – like all those other people I met when I first came to Kenya… the kids really are the best part of the job; the best part of the Peace Corps. They are the reason I came here, and when I leave, that’s what I’m going to remember most. That’s what I’m going to miss the most.
“My roots are grown, but I don’t know where they are.”
That pretty much sums up how I feel right now. Nairobi was awesome, Nina is great, but it’s absurd how complex my feelings can become in such a short period of time. Especially when it’s just me, in the absence of any modern distraction, including lights, music, sound in general, phones, or even just food…. sitting in the dark, staring at a wall for hours in my house at Nina. Wow. I almost wish someone could take a glimpse of what goes through my mind on these nights, but the better part of me knows that if that were possible, I would be institutionalized and friendless. Ha. But seriously….
So, Monday night I came back to Nina. I actually returned to Siaya on Saturday and spent my first night at home, on my lonely compound with only the company of our new Mr. Nightwatch. Ambalo came through that afternoon and insisted I come stay with him since Nina was so lonely, so he left me with his cell phone (mine was lost in transit) and made me promise to use it to come to town on Sunday. I agreed. Sunday morning was spent trying to clean my house, organize my thoughts and sift through my emotions. Of these tasks, the easiest and probably even most enjoyable (which was honestly NOT enjoyable at all, but more so than the mental bologna) was housework. I had really left it a wreck after sports, before going to Nairobi. It was embarrassing. After a lot of sitting and staring at my wall and a little cleaning here and there, I packed my bag and headed to Siaya. That was around 4, before the rain, before organizing my thoughts and sifting through all those emotions that seemed to be multiplying. I was able to go to the cyber that day, but forgot to do most of the things I intended to accomplish during that time. I also forgot to lock my door when I left, but lucky me- our new Mr. Nightwatch checked it out, put his own padlock on it and then tattled on me to Baba Kelsey, which resulted in a mini-lecture… but good to know they look out for me.
After spending the night at Ambalo’s, where I forgot my phone (but I did remember to purchase a new SIM card phone line) he brought me back to Nina. It felt good to be home, but at the same time, it was slightly depressing to feel so disconnected from everything again. Unfortunately, Mr. Nightwatch didn’t decide to clean my house while inspecting my locking habits – so it was still trashed. My solar has been functioning properly only about 40% of the time, and this week, it absolutely refuses to cooperate at all. In fact, when I arrived home on Saturday, the battery was gurgling and spewing everywhere. Needless to say, it now fails to be useful in any form at all – I can’t even do practical things, like sit my plates on them while I’m cooking or use it as a shelf anymore, because of the acid spray.If it’s not going to light up my house or at least power my outlets, it should be good for SOMETHING… I’m ready to dump the whole thing down my choo – if only that battery would fit through the hole. It would be a goner. Anyways, shortly after returning home, all electronics were dead/lost and I was cut off from civilization. A few kids (and workers and teachers) trickled in on Monday, and the numbers continued increasing throughout the week.
In fact, I had a sleepover with little Lavenda from class 1 on Sunday night. Sweet girl. She was the first (and only) child to arrive that day, so she came and stayed at my house. We watched Despicable Me and drank hot chocolate before bed, then had a dance party in the morning and spent hours chasing a bouncy ball from Jeff and Renee around my house. One of my favorite days at Nina so far, actually. It’s weird how much you can love some kids, just flat out weird. I never would have imagined being that type of person – the kind of person who just loves kids for no real reason at all.Miracles happen, I suppose. I offered to let her stay, but I know it wouldn’t really be fair. She even cleaned around my house while I was at a meeting with Mr. Ambalo. By cleaning, I mean moved everything from my lantern table to my bookshelf, but it was still sweet. I’m still finding little surprises tucked away in funny places, like my nail polish in my shoes, dental floss in my bag of yarn, and a pen in my thermometer case. Cute little things.
Wednesday, Dorine and I searched the village for deaf children. Ambalo had heard through the grapevine that two young girls arekept at home rather than sent to school due to shaming the family name. We knew the villages in which they live, but other than that, had no idea where the homes were located. As we roamed, we asked passers-by and residents if they knew where the deaf kid lived. Some were compliant and helpful, but others demanded to know why we wanted her. A stigma still exists about deafness here, and like I said, it is often kept a secret.
The first home was in the bush, a true Kenyan village. We squeezed between overgrown bushes and shrubs, down a narrow mud path, past small gardens and mud houses with thatched roofs. We passed chickens, cows and goats and sheep. Children/adults alike stopped to watch the parade of strangers with a mzungu passing by. At the very end, we came to a small mud house with thatched roof with another structure made from reeds next to it. Several small children ran out of the tiny mud house, the last being about 2 years old (just toddling) and stark naked. Dorine made the introductions in Luo and we were welcomed to sit in rickety chairs under a tin roof in the reed structure. Children surrounded the structure, peeking through the gaps in the reeds, curious about the visitors, whispering, “mzungu!”
Dorine forced the young deaf girl onto her lap and began making her pitch to Mama. Baby girl sat still as a statue the entire time, not even looking at me when I held her hand or stroked her arm. Not so much as a smile or even pulling away.Same reaction to Dorine’s attention – just staring away, at nothing, no change in facial expression at all.Soon, Baba came, too, and Dorine continued explaining why it is important for baby girl to be in school. Naked baby climbed up on Mama’s lap, pulled her breast out of her shirt and began nursing. Chickens were darting around our feet, and another baby started crying in the house. Baba agreed to bring baby Immaculate to school the next day, and even provided the neighbors phone numbers, should we need to be in touch.
Next stop, Omala. We stopped at the market to ask where the deaf kid lived and thosemamas made it clear that deaf kids don’t live in these parts (actually, at least 46 of them live less than 20km away). Our friend, Ojwang, split from me and Dorine to try and get more information, since here, men are normally taken more seriously than women. Anyways, you just never know about those wazungu- always suspicious, nosey, up-to-no-good kind of people. He had better luck than we did, so before long, we were on another narrow path through the bush, passing bigger shamba’s and larger mud houses with thatched roofs. Tethered cows blocked our path, causing several diversions. About half an hour later, we arrived at a cluster of the mud/thatched houses. Puppies started barking as we approached the homes. Mama and Baba invited us in. This home was much nicer than the last home and we sat on wooden couches with cushions, much like my own at Nina. A baby girl shared a bowl of rice with a puppy on the floor between us and Mama and Baba, sitting across the room.
Apparently, Baba had inherited his second wife, meaning he had been married once, and then simultaneously married another woman. That woman, the second wife, passed away, therefore he inherited her sister as his next “second wife”, who already had a child. That child, the one that is not biologically his, is the baby girlwe were looking for. So, after this long discussion he informed us that he is unable to make any decisions about her life because she is not his. This is a big Kenyan lie, because in this particular region of Kenya, what baba says – goes. No questions asked. “Baba may I?” He just didn’t want to accept responsibility for the child he has been neglecting for various reasons.
He continues to invent excuse after excuse as to why baby girl cannot go to school. All of his other children (including his children with the inherited wife) are attending school (and paying fees), but blah blahblah, can’t pay this, can’t pay that, transportation, school fees, mattresses, uniforms, boarding, etcetc. I eventually took everything off the table, saying he didn’t have to pay a damn thing – just send the kid to school, I even offered to take her. That was when he passed the responsibility and sent us to meet the inherited wifein Ng’iya (after asking me to pay his fare to that location).Had I known Luo, or the man understood English, we would not have stayed for nearly so long, enduring so many meaningless excuses. After an hour of arguing amongst those speaking Luo, we decided to go look for the child in Ng’iya – about 5 km away.
So, now we get to Ng’iya – Me, Ojwang, Dorine and Baba. He takes us to the house where his wife is working as house help (which is a nice apartment, by the way, with electric, a TV and refrigerator, and a sink with a tap) then bails – pretty sure he just wanted a free trip to Ng’iya. After introductions, baby girl comes right up to Dorine and I, so inquisitive and outgoing! She came right up to me and we started slapping hands, tickling, etc. Such a doll, I immediately fell in love. Mama listened to Dorine, and finally asked about expenses. Dorine assured her that baby girl could come as is, only bring a school uniform, hygiene supplies and a blanket – since mattresses have been purchased (thanks everyone!). Mama quickly complied and said she would be there the next day.
That was yesterday. This is today. And we don’t have any new kids. I guess I should have known not to get too excited, but it just means we will have to pursue. It’s a shame for them to be sitting in a home where they cannot communicate whatsoever. I hope to make a trip Saturday, if the weather cooperates.
Today, I decided to actually do my job here and teach. It was kind of shocking, to want to do your job, and I still don’t really know how I feel about it or what came over me, but I figured I’d give it a shot. It was bizarre, I just woke up and thought, “I’m going to go to class today and give my kids something to do,” even though 1) they aren’t all here yet and 2) no one else has started teaching yet. In fact, I could easily get away with doing absolutely nothing until Monday. But sometimes you just have to give into these crazy feelings, especially when it’s doing a good thing, like teaching. So, as crazy as I was already acting today, I decided to tape up pictures from coloring books on the board upside down and make them draw them the right side up. Sounds stupid, it is, but it also forces their brain to do acutely abstract thinking. They really thought I was nuts when I taped the third one upside down. It was pretty cute, they all started giggling like when a girl comes out of the bathroom with her skirt tucked in her underwear… I played along like I thought they were the right way for a while, but then I explained the assignment. Surprisingly, all of them understood the assignment after the first explanation (there were only 5 kids). It was successful. There will be repeats, until I come up with new “crazy” techniques that make everyone around here laugh. I’m trying to accept that I probably really am weird, it’s not just that they don’t get my culture. Eh. They’re weird, too.
I storied with Sarah, a class 7 girl who is probably 16 years old for a long time today. Normally, I don’t particularly enjoy storying with the older kids, because they sign so much different than I do, which makes me feel inadequate. Plus, I never really have anything to talk about with them, but the little kids, on the other hand, are fun and easy to story with – lots of jokes, lies, tall tales. So, today Sarah came to story at my desk with me – and 2 hours passed before I decided to start my bath water. It was nice, I would say an improvement over last term already. I feel more confident in my signing ability. My time in Nairobi helped, as well as signing with other adults/kids during sports before break. It feels good to know you’re improving.
I also had my house cleaned today, from tin roof to cement floor, and all of my clothing washed, including sheets. I had 2 sets of sheets waiting to be washed, the latter set due to a lizard I found under my pillow – AFTER I woke up in the morning. Yeah. That was fun. I actually didn’t find him til the following night. Around 10pm, I spread my mosquito net and tucked it in all around my mattress, crawled into my little net cave (having only my torch) and rearranged my pillows when I spotted it – a giant lizard, under my pillow! At least 6 inches! I shrieked and slammed my pillow back down on him, then scrambled out of my mosquito free, lizard infested not-so-safe, safe-place. Debating about how to handle the situation, I paced my livingroom. Finally, I decided it would be too stressful to mess with that thing tonight, I would just sleep on the couch. But then I started thinking (which never leads to anything good), if that was a big lizard, maybe a mama or baba lizard, there are probably other lizards lurking around – and on the couch without my net, they might not just be under my pillow – but on my face… So, I needed to find someone to help get rid of the little devil hiding in my bed. Fortunately, as soon as I opened my front door, Mr. Night Watch was coming towards my house (shining his torch at me, saying “loud”). I tried to explain that there was a monster in my bed. Judging by his mild reaction, I’m pretty sure the language barrier prevented him from getting the true severity of the situation. I then grabbed him by the arm and led him to my bedroom, saying “lizard” and “assist me” repeatedly. He probably thought I was going to rape him, looking back, just grabbing his arm and pulling him through my house, straight to my bed. When we got to my bed, I pointed and shone my flashlight on my pillow, shoving him in front of me. He reached forward and yanked my pillow up quickly. Little lizard man just sat there – and then the smell revealed he had passed away. I’m no expert, but I’d say at least 24 hours ago, probably suffocation (I’m not that fat). It was raunchy.
Mr. Night Watch performed the burial while I rearranged the sleeping quarters. I stripped my bed, flipped my mattress, then slept with my head at the foot of the bed without a pillow. And I had to leave my window open, because the smell was nauseating. The whole situation was weird, and knowing that I slept with a lizard under pillow kind of freaks me out. I mean, teeth are one thing, but lizards – dead or alive – are entirely different. Ew.