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.
I’m starting (I think) to get things turned around and pull out of this slump. Not to throw myself a pity party or anything, but it’s kinda been rough. Leaving my family, coming home to a terrorist attack with a busted knee, the death of one of my sweetest little helpers… it’s been hard. but these hard things do have a way of bringing out the finer things in life, even though sometimes I feel guilty, maybe, for finding pleasure in such sad things. But I know it’s necessary, otherwise, a person would just drive their mind into the ground with negativity and sadness. Anyways, this blog isn’t about the sad things, it’s more about the lighter side of dark incidents.
First of all, leaving everyone back home – tough as always. I have learned that saying goodbye is one thing that refuses to improve, despite endless practice and preparation. This time, however, it was truly more of a “see ya later” than a “goodbye,” like last time. In fact, only about 10-15 weeks until I’m reunited with my family on American soil. Can’t complain a bit about that – sounds a lot better than 10-15 months, eh? Plus, I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful that I was even able to attend the wedding! Peace Corps policy clearly states that no travel outside of the community, let alone the country, will be permitted during the first and last 3 months of service. This trip fell within my last 3 months of service – but alas, the PC Gods had mercy and accepted my request. I promise to never break another policy for the rest of my life! (sound familiar?)
Next on the list, Westgate. I know that many of you have been following (or have at least caught the headlines) the terrorist attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi. This is still a really, really sensitive subject to me, as well as many other Kenyans. While I was in Germany, a major shopping mall in Nairobi was attacked by Al Shabaab, a branch of Al Qaeda (responsible for 9/11). They not only attacked the mall, but planned and executed an incredibly intricate siege of the upscale mall, which PC volunteers visit regularly. In fact, I took my mom here when she came to visit… I come to this safe haven almost monthly, and have made friends with some of the shop owners and regularly contact you guys from Artcaffe, a Panera-like restaurant with wifi. It was horrifying to see footage of this attack on a place I relate to safety and security – a place I truly consider to be my home – my neck of the woods. The attack began while I was in Germany and was still underway when I left to return to Kenya – 3 days later. It made for some stressful goodbyes and restless traveling.
As soon as I touched down in Kenya, at 3am, my phone exploded with messages from my colleagues and friends all over Kenya, checking on my safety. It meant a lot to me, even if I had scared the hell out of them by not responding for several days while the attack was ongoing. Pole sana! But I truly appreciated the concern.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here – before I got to Kenya, I had a dancing catastrophe that resulted in a pretty injured knee. I really can’t tell you much about how I hurt it, but I fell, and it swelled… and swelled… and swelled. I am not exaggerating. I had to peel my jeans off after touring Frankfurt. And the swelling didn’t subside for over 48 hours! It was a pretty inconvenient injury, but I still managed to get the most out of Germany and Istanbul. Thank god for parachute pants & painkillers. At any rate, I could hardly walk when I arrived in Nairobi. The cramped airplane on top of LOTS of walking and touring was a terrible combination, and it resulted in a crippled Kelsey. I touched down in Nairobi at 3a on Monday morning, caught a few hours of sleep at a hotel before making a trip to medical at 8:30a. Fortunately, things are now ok and I’m getting around just fine. Could have been a lot worse.
So, after having my knee checked and cleared, as well as other routine medical exams for end of service, I began my journey back to Siaya. I started around 9am on Saturday and reached Kisumu by 7pm. Shortly after settling into my hotel room, I received a call informing me that Evans, our top performer in first grade, had passed away. I really don’t have anything to say, other than there is nothing in this world that makes sense about the death of a child. He was diagnosed with Typhoid the day before he died. Apparently he fell ill on Thursday evening, and the housemother took him to the doctor Friday morning where he was diagnosed and given medication. Friday evening he was still sick, but OK. Saturday morning he was not well, so his mother was called to come get him. She came at 5pm and he died in the matatu shortly after reaching the pavement.
I found out Saturday night. Ambalo came to meet me in Kisumu Sunday morning, along with my colleagues Jeph, Sirawa & Ruth, and together we went to Evans’ home to visit the family. Imagine the saddest thing you have ever experienced in your life. This was worse.
And then we went to view the body at the mortuary. I decided to skip this tradition and wait in the car.
Afterwards, Ambalo surprised me by organizing to take us to lunch on the lake (after we changed his tires, fixed his trunk and a broken lock). This was one of the best memories I will treasure from Kenya – honestly. Ruth, Sirawa, Jeph, Ambalo had organized to treat me to something nice, despite the tragedy, to help my return to Kenya be as pleasant as possible – and just this tight little net of people protecting me and caring for me – it’s priceless. These people are why I’m here, and these people are the ones that I’m going to carry with me for the rest of my life. That day, the high’s and low’s of it, that’s what my experience in Kenya is all about, and those people are the ones responsible for making this beautiful piece of my life.
Mom arrived in Nairobi on Saturday, April 7. I met her at the airport and the following morning we departed for Siaya, taking the Easycoach bus direct from Nairobi to Siaya (1400 Kshs ~$14 USD). Our bus left at 7:30am and we arrived in Siaya around 5:30, and fortunately had great weather, which permitted fabulous views of the Great Rift Valley. Once we arrived in Siaya, we hustled through town to purchase some produce before the rain began. My headteacher, Ambalo, met us at the bus station as drops of water threatened to arouse the mud. He drove us to Nina as the mud grew deeper and helped us unload our luggage in my house. The kids were seeking shelter from the rain in the dormitory, which prevented us from meeting them until the following morning.
That night, I cooked mom’s first Kenyan meal – sukuma and sossi (kale and soy meat). We relaxed and sipped on some tea from Anjeline, the housemother, who rushed it over as soon as we arrived at the house, claiming she had prepared it in the morning and waited all day for us to arrive 🙂 After dinner and tea, we fell asleep to rain drumming on the tin roof.
Monday morning: we woke up to the sounds of my kids excitedly getting ready to go home. After some breakfast and tea, we opened my door for the kids to stop by as they pleased. With all of the rain from the night before, it was too muddy to be hanging out with them outside, so the brave ones knocked on the door for introductions while the shy ones sneaked glances in my house as they passed by. Jeph and Ruth, two of my colleagues at the school, also came to meet mom and visit. The rest of the teachers were at a sports competition at Maseno, a town between Siaya and Kisumu. Parents came and collected their kids throughout the day, and by lunchtime most had gone home. Mom and I joined Ruth and Jeph for lunch, sukuma, ugali and omena (fish similar to minnows) before locking up my house and traveling to Siaya town.
Once in Siaya town, we visited the bank to exchange USD for Kenyan Shillings. Because Tuesday had been declared a national holiday (inauguration of the new president, Uhuru Kenyatta), the lines at the bank were horrific. We waited for over two hours in the VIP waiting room before making the 2 minute transaction. Afterwards, we explored Siaya town and visited my local supermarkets, tried some street food (samosa, sim sim, roasted maize) and visited Pastor Edward, my local shoe fundi (craftsman). We returned to our hotel, the Siaya Center, just before the rain began. Here, we enjoyed fish and chips (french fries) and sukuma (cooked kale) with chapati (flatbread similar to naan or pita). Once our bellies were full, we returned to the room, where we actually watched TV before passing out.
Day 3: Tuesday. Fortunately, despite the rainy season, we experienced beautiful, sunny days. After eating breakfast at the Siaya Center, we prepared ourselves for the matatu ride from Siaya to Maseno, where my kids were competing for Provincial Sports. This being mom’s first experience, I made sure she got a good seat where she wouldn’t be getting in and out repeatedly, or sniffing the touts fragrant armpits. I sat in the back while she sat in the front row, and we bounced, jiggled and jolted for about an hour, until we reached Maseno. Once we arrived, Ambalo and Dorine met us along the road and guided us to the field where the kids were competing. We were seated with several other teachers under a shade tree near the finish line (it was track/field day), right beside of the loudspeaker, which fortunately (only for the hearing, I suppose. Still wondering why bother hiring/paying a DJ for a deaf event) blared more music than commentary. We spent about 4 hours watching the kids compete with other deaf schools before deciding to return to Siaya. Once we decided to leave, Ambalo insisted on showing us Maseno School for the Deaf, which was only about a 20 minute walk from this field. This school was huge and inspiring, with over a dozen separate classrooms, a real kitchen and dining hall, separate dormitory facilities and a large milk cow project. Again, fortunately the weather cooperated and we were able to board the matatu back to Siaya just in time to avoid the rain.
Day 4: Wednesday. This was our last day in Siaya. On this day, we went to visit a friend of mine, Stephen, and his family in Ulafu. Ulafu is a small village between Siaya and Nina, along the dirt road I commute regularly. Stephen works at Nina, chopping firewood, slashing grass, cooking, helping with the kids – pretty much anything you could imagine, Stephen does. So anyways, mom and I went to visit his family at their home. He has two boys, Arnold and Daniel, who are both under 5. We enjoyed a homecooked meal here before returning to Siaya for our last night.
I began writing this post just as we left Siaya, but seeing as I just took mom to the airport for her return flight to America, the days have become a bit blurry. I can’t be as detailed now, looking back, which is probably to your benefit.
After Siaya, we passed through Kisumu and caught a bus to Nairobi. The trip into Nairobi was probably the worst I have ever had, only due to traffic in Nairobi, which was actually typical. Normally I alight before entering Downtown Nairobi, and therefore avoid the atrocious traffic jams. But since we had luggage in the boot of the bus, we were forced to continue the trip to the final destination – the stage in downtown. It took hours (seriously, 2 hours) to complete a journey which takes only 30 minutes in light traffic. Part of the reason was simply rush hour (with schools closing, all kids were traveling home from boarding school to be with their families), while the other part was corruption. Our driver was actually arrested in Nairobi and forced to go with the police for about 45 minutes while we passengers remained on the bus, pulled off to the farthest lane of traffic in effort to NOT block already jammed roads. It was a fiasco. We were supposed to arrive at the stage at 4 and we made it around 8.
Anyways, after that experience, we decided to investigate flights to the coast. Fortunately, it didn’t take much investigating to establish that this would be the more practical option.
Watamu. Malindi. Heaven. It’s all the same. Check out the pictures if you need proof. While we were here, I made sure that we tried pretty much every single Kenyan dish out there. We also experienced almost all forms of transportation – walking (a lot!), tuk tuk’s, matatus (which were so much nicer than the ones in Siaya), taxis, and maybe a few others. Because it wasn’t peak season, several of the shops and restaurants I had planned on showing here weren’t open. Despite this, we were still able to do TONS of shopping and eat lots of great food. We spent the days alternating between lazing on the beach (or by the pool), shopping and eating. What more could a girl want? We even got pedicures by the pool one morning. Seriously, heaven on earth.
But all good things must come to an end, or at least to a pause. Despite extending our stay an extra night, we had to face the fact that as heavenly as Watamu may be, it’s not our home. After 6 days, we had to pack our bags (or should I say stuff?) and return to Nairobi for mom’s departure.
We were able to explore Nairobi a bit before she left, visiting the National Museum and several of my favorite shopping areas and restaurants. And now it’s over, and I’m back in our hotel room wondering where the last 2 weeks went.. funny how time goes. I’ll be home before I know it.
This week I took two of my girls and a counterpart, Dorine, to Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) in Kisumu. It’s a camp started up by Peace Corps volunteers just a few years ago and is growing like a weed. It’s all about empowering the girl child, particularly with sex education, HIV/AIDS and condoms. There were about 50 or 60 girls here, plus maybe 20 volunteers and counterparts – all staying on this nice church compound outside of kisumu. Both hearing and deaf girls attended, and each day had a central topic – for example, Monday was communication and saying NO, Tues was future planning/goals, Wed: sex, Thu: HIV/AIDS and Fri: condoms/rape. Packed week, but so important. Classes went until 4 every afternoon in separate groups (our deaf girls had their own classes separate from the others) and then the afternoon was games or field trips.
So, that’s the outline and too much really went on to give much detail, but it was possibly the best week in Kenya so far. Tiresome, yes, but also very productive and rewarding. We had 14 deaf girls from all over western Kenya and it was so great to see them grow through the week. Monday they were so shy, not asking questions or anything, not volunteering to participate at all…. and then Thu and Fri we couldn’t even teach all of our lessons because they had SOOOOO many questions and comments, and they were hanging out together all the time and storying. It was awesome to see them come out of their comfort zone.
This week was also really eye opening about a great need throughout Kenya – sex education. Even though we often laughed at the questions/comments we received from the kids (and even counterparts), it was actually pretty shocking at the lack of knowledge/information shared regarding this particular topic. At the end of the week, even though we didn’t really have enough time to really thoroughly communicate all of the details and specifics we would have liked, all of the kids went home with new information, and hopefully the ability to make better decisions and improve their lives.
Friday was the best day here at camp, I think all campers would agree. For one, we were tired of teaching and ready for a break, but also, like i said, the girls were really outgoing and mingling, storying, having so much fun. We went to the Impala Sanctuary (don’t let the name fool you – there are more than just impalas there) and the airport after our classes. Not only was it MY first time seeing some of those animals, but also for the kids! They live here are haven’t even seen all of those animals! It was pretty cool to see their reactions. I spent the day roaming with Nefrine, my class 7 girl I brought from Nina, and it was just so special. We went from pen to pen and storied about the animals, identified all of their strange features (like, the rhino’s huge penis, which she said our condoms would not fit on) and then even had time to revisit the monkeys – her favorite. It was so nice and relaxed, the perfect ending to a hectic week.
On the other evenings we had a talent show, dance party, pad making, arts and crafts, sports, and visited the deaf VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing for HIV/AIDS). The VCT was pretty awesome, too, because all of the workers were deaf and the kids couldn’t believe that they were deaf adults. They insisted that the adults/workers were lying and that they could really hear, which was pretty entertaining. They all watched the process for testing for HIV/AIDS and were able to ask the deaf adults questions about their education and families. It was a pretty informative trip.
So, on top of all of the benefits of sharing new info with the kids and seeing them really grow and make new friends, it was awesome to spend time with MY friends, too. I shared a room with Kia, who lives pretty far from me, so I don’t get to see her much – and this was the perfect opportunity to get caught up and share stories, frustrations, highs and lows with someone who understands and goes through the exact same situations. There were several other volunteers here, too, so it was just a good chance to let loose and be yourself – regardless of how strange it may seem to Kenyans. It was a safe place, a fun time and an overall extremely successful week..
I’m sitting in a cyber cafe in Kisumu with a belly full of pizza and couldn’t be happier. This week all of the trainees shadowed actual PCV’s throughout Kenya to get a better feel for what their job would be for the next two years. I totally lucked out and got to shadow the volunteer I will be replacing, in Siaya! It was AMAZING! Tomorrow we head back to Machakos, and tonight we stay in a hotel here in Kisumu, so my apologies for this being the least detailed blog so far. I’m writing it on a whim and paying for every second I’m typing.
Our entire group went shadowing last week, in pairs to different sites throughout Kenya. We all departed from Machakos together and there were 12 volunteers in our matatu. We had an insanely turbulent matatu ride from Machakos alllllllll the way to Kisumu, which took about 10 hours. I think 8 of the hours were on a paved road. Check out a map and you will see that we trekked clear across the country! The latter part of the trip was the part without pavement, and it was from Kericho to Kisumu. The funny part is that there is a “tarmac,” but it is apparently under construction, so there are signs that say “DIVERSION” and you just drive off the side of the road, through the bush for about a mile or so and then you come back on the pavement for about another mile until you see “DIVERSION” again. It’s much crazier than it sounds, especially at night. We made it to the hotel around 10-11pm, way after dark and only one person puked. Great.
In the morning, my friend and neighbor Sarah and I departed from the group to head towards Siaya on another crammed matatu. I have learned that a matatu is NEVER full. A van equipped for about 12 people had 21 at one point, and the sliding side door was open and men stand with their head in and ass out. We also pass as often as we can, even when cars are coming the other way. I’m glad that I won’t be relying on matatu transportation much. This trip took 1-2 hours, and the scenery was amazing. I think of it as the West Virginia of Africa. There are mountains and lakes, trees and animals EVERYWHERE. Most of the animals are cows and goats, strangely. But we did see one Zebra and a few baboons.
Whitney, the current Deaf Education Volunteer at Nina School for the Deaf met us as soon as we squeezed out of the matatu in Siaya. We decided that since the site is about 10 km away we would spend the night at a hotel in Siaya and go to the site in the morning. We had a fun, easy going night and took our first ride on a bado-bado – which is really just hopping on the back of someone else’s bicycle and cruising. It was awkward, and I didn’t want to do it, but cheap and easy. I better get used to it, looks like I’ll be doing a lot of “bado bado-ing” in Siaya. We also met the headmaster that night – he came to meet us at the hotel and in the morning he drove us to Nina.
The headmaster – Mr. Ambalo. He is AMAZING! I can’t even begin to tell you how lucky I am to have such a great headmaster. I can’t wait to work with him. And he has a beautiful family, which we met. He lives between Siaya and Nina, and he has a car – which comes in handy when your only transport is a bike. But even past that – he is just a truly awesome, trustworthy guy. Whitney told us how great he has been with her, and how much he supports her while still encouraging her to be independent. He truly cares about the kids and his job, and he loves his family. I had so much fun last week in Siaya with Sara, Whitney and Mr. Ambalo.
There is really too much for me to tell right now, so let me work on it at home and get back to you on the details about my site. I can say, though, that I absolutely love this place and as much as I miss all of you at home, I’m absolutely blown away by how much I love it here. Pictures on Facebook and more details to come soon!