Tag Archives: Nyanza

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!

We’ve got MILK!

Finally, one of our cows has given birth to a beautiful baby girl named Kelsey! I was able to help with the delivery and see her first steps – and even give the udder the first squeeze 🙂 Here are a few pics from her first few days.

Newborn baby Kelsey!

Day 1

Milking on the second day

WIth Christopher, the cow worker


Last week, early Monday morning, I woke to a knock on my door. Everyone’s been sick lately, so I can’t ignore these early morning calls anymore. I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the door to find the headgirl explaining that Denis is weak. She only said weak, not sick, and when I asked her “problem what?” she said that he was beat by another teacher on Friday, and perhaps that was the cause. Denis has never complained, and I have never known him to be sick, so I knew something was up. She said she thought he might have been vomiting during the night. I proceeded to get dressed and have some tea before making my way through the mud to the dormitory with my bright pink pitcher of oral rehydration solution.
I found him in the housemother’s quarters, perched rigidly on a bench as Anjeline darted around the room in search of something. Without greetings, she said “Full, this boy is so sick,” which is pretty significant from our staff here. Anjeline continued talking and searching, telling me to determine where he hurts, what his problem is. I greeted him, and he responded with “fine,”  so then I asked him “problem what?” and he said “fine” again, and again, and again. I got a little closer and began feeling him – he was hot. I gave him a cup of the drink, still observing him, and as he lifted it to his face his arm jerked and sloshed the entire drink onto himself and the floor. Alarmed, I grabbed the cup and helped him get his shirt off.  He was fumbling with his buttons, arms still flailing around. Once the shirt was off, I started questioning again. This is when I realized he couldn’t see very well, and was pretty disoriented/confused.
I called Ambalo and told him to come immediately, mainly concerned about the convulsions and fever. Apparently he began complaining about the eyes on Saturday, along with the fever. He was taken to the dispensary and tested for malaria, which he did not have. They gave him drugs (I don’t know what) and was being given meds for the fever.
I got a few small sips of the drink in him, we put dry clothes on him and helped him to bed, where he rested until Ambalo arrived.
As soon as Ambalo arrived, he roused Denis, who immediately spewed vomit everywhere. We changed his clothes again, packed his things and put him in the car with Anjeline to go to the hospital.
I came to my house and had a little meltdown. Less than a month ago we buried another student after a very similar illness. I waited until after 11 before going to Siaya myself to visit him at the hospital.
When I reached the hospital, I found that they had just discharged him. Apparently they released him with Anjeline, saying he should go home to rest. This didn’t sit well with me at all, so I had a my second meltdown, which had better results than the first and led to someone going for Anjeline and Denis, bringing them back to the hospital.
They arrived about 10 minutes later, Anjeline leading a stumbling, disoriented Denis by the arm. I tried signing with him, and he was able to respond, though it was awkward, like he wasn’t recalling some things and said he didn’t know people, like his aunt, who was now present. I suggested the doctors have another look at him, Anjeline immediately agreed. She said he was still fevered and unwell, so we requested our friend, Dr. Osore (he came to Nina last year to learn sign language) to please have another look at him. Dr. Osore took his temperature, which was high, and agreed to admitting him. Relieved, we went into a small room to begin the paperwork. Anjeline stepped outside to talk with the family, who apparently wanted him to come home for “traditional treatment.” After a few minutes, she came back into the room and said that they weren’t going to admit him.
Bring on meltdown number 3. I called Ambalo, spouted off a little steam before giving the phone to Anjeline and proceeding with the admission process.
Once admitted, they lead us to the male ward. The mother still cannot be reached, so it is just me and Anjeline with Denis. He lies in one of the beds and eats a few bananas before they request to relocate him to a different bed, closer to the desk (since he is deaf). During that transition, he begins violently vomiting, spraying it all over the windows, walls and mosquito nets. I rush to the desk and ask for a basin for him to vomit into, and they tell me I should have brought my own – that the hospital doesn’t provide them. So there he is, just spraying all over the place. When it stops and he gets settled into the new, now drenched bed, I start looking for drinking water. It’s 4pm and he hasn’t had anything to drink since this morning at school. I inquire the desk again – this time for water – and again, they tell me I should have brought it from outside. The hospital does not provide drinking water. That’s a first. So now I send someone to get water from Siaya.
Jeph, one of the other teachers at Nina, joins us at the hospital around 5. She immediately begins chasing down the mother and whipping everyone into shape. Thank God for this woman. Within an hour, the mother is at the gate of the hospital and Denis is sleeping under a blanket and mosquito net with a basin under the bed. We stay until 7:30pm.
The next few days are sheer hell. I can’t even tell them apart. He went into a coma for 2 days. They inserted a feeding tube (after another epic mzungu meltdown). No one wanted to use the feeding tube, so I stayed in the hospital from 8am to 8pm to help. My colleagues were amazing and came every day long to check on him and help with his treatment and bring him things to put in the feeding tube.
I cannot even tell you how difficult this whole process was. I wish I could. I just can’t. It’s impossible. But the bottom line is that today, 8 days later, he was released from the hospital, and he’s going to be fine. We still don’t have a specific diagnosis, and he was treated for a variety of things I’m not convinced were necessary, but he’s ok and hopefully will be coming back to school in a week.
In the meantime, we have sent 7 other kids to the hospital for similar illnesses, though fortunately none of them have been as severe as the case with Denis. I keep a pitcher of ORS ready and a mattress on my floor, and the kids are knocking on my door from morning to night reporting the sick ones. It’s a nightmare. It’s the kind of thing they make horriblescary movies about – the movies I refuse to watch, but now am forced to experience first hand. But at the same time, I know I need to be here and that now is when I’m going to make the biggest difference. It’s hard to feel good about it right now, but I know I will NEVER forget the moment Denis sat up in bed. Right then, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. When he stood up for the first time, I knew I made a difference. And when I go to the dormitory every night with my ORS and flashlight, I know that I’m at least making memories for the kids and setting an example.
I can’t tell if it’s a good note or a bad note to be leaving on, but regardless, it’s going to be meaningful farewell.
Denis, sitting up in bed to greet me on Saturday morning.
Denis, sitting up in bed to greet me on Saturday morning.
Denis and his mother after he brushed his teeth on Saturday morning.
Denis and his mother after he brushed his teeth on Saturday morning.

The Village Life


The road connecting my house to civilization. About 15km of this lies between Nina and Siaya.


The path I follow for my afternoon walks, which also leads to my local market. It’s a tight squeeze when the cattle come through!


The traditional Luo hut – one of many lining the roads in my village. I pass this hut every day on my daily afternoon walks.


Fresh fish from Lake Victoria! This one was bought in Ugunja, with Dorine. They flash fry it before spreading them out in the open air market. Once it’s sold, they wrap it in newspaper and tuck it in your purse. I cooked it with onions and tomatoes, like a stew. Delish!


One of the biggest perks of living in the village – fresh produce! Okra from my own garden, avocados from the tree shading my house, potatoes from Dorine, lemons and tomatoes from local mamas, brought to me by Stephen.


Deworming day at Nina! Here, little Alvin is taking his deworming tablet with a gulp of water.


Cooking mandazi (donuts) in our school kitchen. All of our school food is cooked over these small fires, with 3 large stones supporting the sufurias (cooking pots). Can’t wait to show off my cooking skills around the campfire when I get back!


Another shot of me cooking up a storm in our school kitchen. You can see on the left, water is boiling for tea for the kids. The two buckets have water for cooking, which was collected from the borehole about 100m from the kitchen.


The eternally beautiful Dorine – in her house, after she cooked a lovely lunch for Daisy and I.


Miss Daisy, ready to dig-in to Dorine’s famous dengu & chapati.


Post-Lunch makeover for little Suzy in Dorine’s house.


One of my all time favorite pictures – Dorine’s nephew and sister, relaxing in the shade of one of the houses in her family compound.


Admiring newborn baby, Beryl. Notice that she is just laying on the couch – no one is holding her. This is one major difference I’ve noticed between Kenyan and American cultures. In America, the baby is passed from one visitor to the next, with little or no time left alone. Here in Kenya, it’s typical for the baby to relax on the couch while visitors take turns admiring from a distance.


Is there anything this woman can’t do? Our housemother, Anjeline, plaiting Lavenda-tall (we have 2 Lavenda’s – known as Lavenda small and Lavenda tall) during her free time.


One of the school’s fabulous cooks, Joyce, shredding sukuma for the kids’ dinner. In the background you can see the pot used for cooking an enormous ugali and the dishrack.


Steve, another jack of all trades, working on cooking a monster ugali for the kids. To the right, in the yellow bucket, you can see the ground maize flour he is about to use to make the ugali.

DSCN1255Undoubtedly the biggest bananas I have ever seen in my life. Tons of them. Enough for everyone in my school to get one, including staff and teachers. These came from a local mama, brought directly to the school on the top of her head.


My little buddy, Paul, sporting the ‘stache. After drawing it on his face, he showed it off (to everyone’s amusement) for about an hour before asking if he could wash it off. I told him it was a tattoo, just like mine, and it wouldn’t come off. He believed me and ran away crying. When I found him, I helped him clean up and took a picture of his clean face to prove it. (He’s still my buddy, and in fact asks for a new one almost every day)

the bath-house terrorist

After spending two fun days with friends, exploring a beautiful new city and finding unbelievable deals at the market (psychedelic leggings, authentic Vans sneakers in my size, and a pair of purple/black checkered skinny legs jeans that fit like a glove), I endured 6 rather excruciating hours on a matatu (2 of which were spent waiting, with the engine off, packed like a can of sardines, where I also incidentally lost my camera) back to the village. After being dumped at Nina, my wobbly, sore, bruised legs slowly led me towards my house, where I hoped to continue sitting, lifeless, for the remainder of my afternoon. However, I happened to arrive just in time (only 1 hour late for a meeting which averages 3) to attend one of our delightfully dull staff meetings, always designed to encourage/reprimand our laziest teacher, which we all must attend and assume some responsibility for the faults he has created which inevitably leads to these meetings.

I dropped my things in my house and rushed over, where I immediately realized no one was interpreting for our deaf staff member, Vincent, who is also required to sit through these lengthy agony festivals. I definitely don’t mind interpreting, but the frustrating part is that I’m not the best signer in the school, and once I begin to interpret, those who are supposed to interpret (and admittedly do a much better job) watch me, which is always a little stressful. Anyways, at least he got some of the information, since it was kind important, once we reached the actual point of the ramblings.

Eventually, the meeting was adjourned with a word of prayer from Dorine, which I was unable to interpret, and most teachers bolted for the door to go home. Not wanting to seem rude, since I did just return from my journey and would be expected to linger and story for a while, I mosied to the door and began sneaking towards my house when I overheard the housemother, Anjeline, shouting “poo poo! Poo poo!” repeatedly. Now this had my attention – rest and relaxation could wait! To make sure I was hearing correctly, I looked at one of the older students, Christabel, and asked what was going on. She explained that someone pooped in the bathing room. I started laughing, while Angeline emerged from the bathing room, still shouting “poo poo! Who!”

Christabel rounded up the little girls and began the interrogation, “poop, bathing room, there, who?” and all of the little girls just smiled and nodded at her, much to my enjoyment. Christable continued trying to explain by squatting and pretending to poop, where all the girls just giggled and pointed at her. Finally she resorted to taking them on a field trip, where she led them to the scene of the crime – the bathing room – where the smelly evidence remained, neatly piled by the door. As soon as she opened the door, the girls peeked in and all shrieked. Ashley, little baby girl, came running over to me as though she had seen a ghost, frantically yanking her dress up and squatting right in front of me, pointing wildly to the bathing room. Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately, for the perpetrator, since it likely would have resulted in corporal punishment) we were unable to determine exactly who vandalized the bathing room with their bowel movement, but after about an hour of explaining to adorable little devils, I think they got the idea: poop here (bathing room), and you will pay.


Safari with Mama

Mom made it to Kenya!

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.

Karibu Kenya, mom! Waiting for the Easycoach bus in Nairobi on her first day. Next stop: Siaya

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.

Ugali and sukuma

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.

Edward’s hand crafted sandals displayed in his shop window in Siaya Town
Siaya Center hotel & restaurant. Great for creeping on unsuspecting pedestrians from the dining area balcony

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.

At Maseno for Provincial Sports with my friends and colleagues, Dorine and George.
At Maseno for Provincial Sports with my friends and colleagues, Dorine and George.
My little Emelda, #1 in the sack race!

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.

Stephen holding Arnold, and his wife Beatrice holding Daniel

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.

DSCF1038 DSCF1061Watamu. 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.

Tuk Tuks, waiting for business
With our taxi driver, Nicholas

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.