Tag Archives: Peace Corps Problems

And you wonder why I’m a vegetarian?

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Are we there yet?

As the end of my service approaches, what am I thinking? 

Well… for starters… “has it already been 2 years?!?!” which I immediately chase with “it’s about freaking time.” Then the more meaningful, complex thoughts begin emerging, which if left unattended will absolutely consume my mind and my thoughts. So, then, what am I thinking? What’s for supper? What am I gonna wear tomorrow? I wonder if it’s going to rain… then I’ll have to wear my sneakers. Maybe Ambalo will be late so I can wear leggings. I hope we have mandazi at tea break. How did I gain 10 pounds? 
So basically, coming home isn’t something I’m giving much thought. It’s going to be tough. 
But since I’m not really into thinking about that, and I’m not really into boring you to death either, I’ll talk a little about how things are going at school.
Class 8 (8th graders) just finished their KCPE – possibly the most important week of their lives, marked by hours of sitting in a classroom with an armed police officer guarding the door and 3 adult teachers sitting and staring at them as they select ABCDE for 50 questions, 6 exams. It’s a pretty stressful time for all involved, but thankfully it’s now finished and they are preparing to go home. All students will be going home this Wednesday, November 20th. Parents will come in the morning and have some meetings, receive their children with report forms in tow and vanish into the village until January, when school reopens, sans Kelsey. 
But now I’m getting ahead of myself again. What else is new here… 
Both of our cows have now given birth! As many of you may have seen on facebook, the first to birth was Lucy (the mean one) on November 8th. In fact, I went to the harambee with Mr. Ambalo, and when we returned we immediately went to check the cows. It started raining and we became stuck in the cow stable, waiting for the rain to stop, when we realized that Lucy was going into labour. Baby Kelsey was born before dark with no problems at all. Here’s a cute picture of our new baby girl: 
Today, at 4:07 this morning, Michelle gave birth to another baby girl. 
So now we have 2 baby girls and 2 big mama’s to milk. I help our worker, Christopher, with milking every morning and evening. Michelle turned out to be a little sassy, but I think that she’s settling down now. The kids are all thrilled to be able to drink milk every evening after supper, and since school is getting ready to close we will be making quite a bit of money selling the milk every day. Lucy is producing about 15liters every day, and today being the first day we milked Michelle, we can’t really guess how much she will contribute, but I’m expecting her to surpass Lucy. We’ll see. Either way, it will help offset expenses for the parents who can’t afford to pay school fees! THANK YOU to every single contribution! You guys are the ones who put these cows here – thank you a million times over!
In other news… all of my kids are healthy and strong. Denis came back to school and is putting weight back on. He finished his exams last week and has been helping take care of the cows. None of the kids have started milking yet, but they all pitch in when it comes to bringing water and working in the garden where we grow grasses to feed them. In fact, today all of my kids helped dig flower gardens along my house and the office. We worked on it this morning and even lined them with small rocks collected from around the compound. I’ll add a few pictures for you to see.
While Denis was at the hospital, I met a man who worked there and knew of another deaf child staying at home in his village. He was curious about what services were available, or what people do with such children, so I explained that normally we treat them like humans and educate them. We exchanged info and on Monday of last week, Ambalo arranged to have him brought to school. He’s a feisty little thing, terrorizing all of his agemates, but it’s good he came this term to adjust to school life so when he returns next term it won’t be so shocking to him. 
So, that’s life at Nina. Let’s have a countdown: 
5 more days with my kids
6 days until my farewell party
16 days until I leave my home in Siaya (to Nairobi for close of service procedures)
21 days until I am no longer a Peace Corps Volunteer
30 days until I say goodbye to Kenya and hello to Vietnam
55 days until my feet touch American soil for the first time in over a year. 
Soooooooooo, what am I gonna wear tomorrow?

Toughest job you’ll ever love.

      I’ve only attended a total of 4 funerals in my American life. Three of which for adults, one for a high school friend who died in a car wreck. Since I’ve been in Kenya, I’ve been to more funerals than I can even count, but of those, two were for children. That’s something worth noting. And something I wasn’t prepared for (who could be?) or expecting when I joined the Peace Corps. The slogan clearly states “The toughest job you’ll ever love,” and today, I feel that could not be more accurate.
      This morning I woke up at 5, getting ready in the dark for the procession to Kisumu for the funeral and burial. We chose 20 kids to take with us, including all of Evans classmates in first grade, as well as the prefects for each of the other grades. Funerals here are viewed much differently from those at home, and they are a great social event, and the more attending the better – because it’s physical proof of how loved the person was. So, we brought as many as we could fit in two, 14-passenger vehicles. We divided the boys from the girls, and somehow I managed to be the only staff in the girls car, along with the Superintendent and a student’s mom. Both vehicles left at 7:30, ours following the boys, destined for Evans’ family home in Kisumu.
      About half way there, after stopping twice to get pocket-change quantities of fuel and once for a bush bathroom break, we come to a routine police check point. The first vehicle with the boys passes through without a problem, then the police come to peek in our windows and get a good look at the white girl. He then shouts at the driver about the “speed governor” (speedometer) and demands to see the license for it, because obviously every vehicle should have a license to be observing their own speed. Unable to provide the license for our speedometer, we’re forced to the side of the road while the driver and the Superindendent go try to resolve the issue at the police station (pay a bribe). The mama goes somewhere… and I’m left in a van with 10 kids, along the busy road in Maseno…. for 3 hours.
      Eventually, another teacher actually leaves the funeral in Kisumu to come pick us up in the first vehicle, the one that carried the boys, because our driver is in court. We get to the funeral just in time to see Evans one last time, as my boys carry the coffin from in the house to a stool in the middle of a tent for everyone to walk past as they exit to their vehicles. After that, the coffin is tied to the top of the van we came in from Nina while all of the adults cram into the back of a large truck, equivalent to a livestock carrier, hanging out of the top, calling out to announce the funeral as we pass through town on our way to the cemetary. The vehicle with the coffin is in the front, followed by about 10 motorbikes, all honking and screaming, then the large trailer crammed with people singing and screaming, and lastly the van with me and my kids… which isn’t making any noise at all.
      We literally drive through the bush, across land that would make an excellent setting for a film set on the moon. Our van scrapes several times as we descend some rocky ledges, and the cattle trailer in front of us sways and loses a few passengers who were hanging onto the sides and top as it advances towards a patch of land that has miraculously sprouted a few flowering trees. Here, the parade stops, and the coffin is unloaded from the van while the crowd moves through the bushy trees to the freshly-dug grave. We all crowd around, some standing on markers of other graves to get a better view. The mamas start singing beautiful hymns while the men lower the coffin and begin scooping the dirt back where it belongs.
      One of Evans classmates comes and puts his arms around my legs, face pressed in my thighs. We stand like that, in the blistering sun, until the ground is level again. Then some of us circle the grave while a prayer is said, and we leave.
      All I can think is kids shouldn’t die.
The final prayer at Evans funeral.
The final prayer at Evans funeral.

(Trying to) Keep on the sunny side.

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.
Evans in the front, with the red shirt and yellow shades.
Evans in the front, with the red shirt and yellow shades.

One of those days..

“Just one of those days.” Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

As soon as I got back to my house today, this thought immediately crossed my mind: “one of those days..” even though I’m 100% certain I’ve never had a day quite like this. Here goes.

This morning I woke up way early, which is pretty typical for me. It’s Eid Mubarak, so we don’t have classes. That doesn’t really mean too much for me, since I live with the kids on the school compound, so as usual I could hear them up and about before the sun could even light the ground. I untangled myself from my mosquito net and stumbled through my dark living room, into my kitchen to put water on for tea and try to find something to eat.

Last night the girls got into a fight in the dormitory, so I spent most of my evening over there settling things down before taking the culprits into my house (per the housemother’s request) to do some late night therapy. The spotlight of my torch really set the mood – I actually felt like a cop. First shining it any myself while I try to sign “Nefrine, tell me what happened,” and then shining it right on her while she signs her side of the story. Back at me, “Why did you do that? That was wrong.” Back at her for her explanation while the other fighter, Judith, sat in the dark observing until it was her turn. I imagine that’s what it was like in the old days; a dramatic crime/thriller movie set in the 30’s, with a police officer interrogating suspects in dark room with one-way glass. Anyways, point is that I didn’t get to eat dinner last night so I woke up starving with no eggs (my staple breakfast food), no milk for tea and no sugar or splenda. This creates a tricky situation for breakfast. And a very grumpy Kelsey. After scavenging my shelf one last time for any hidden remnant of something quick to eat, I decided my only option was lentils and black tea, no sugar.

While I was waiting for breakfast, I sat in the dark in my living room. I realized I was completely out of airtime for my phone, which prevented me from checking emails/facebook or contacting anyone outside of the compound. That rarely happens… but today was just “one of those days. “ Someone came pounding on my door, which I answered dazedly without any pants on. I peeked my head through the crack to find Nefrine, saying they didn’t fight any more last night. “Nice,” I signed before shutting the door and digging around in my dark bedroom for anything to cover my lower half. Did I mention I was out of candles, too?

Once breakfast was ready and pants were on, I brought Debora inside to play with the stuffed animals. She cried when I told her to go to the dormitory after dinner last night instead of letting her come back in to play, so I was sure to let her get an early start today. She came and started dressing them in my scarves and headbands while I went to wash my dishes, glad I could trust her to play by herself in the living room.

After dishes, my shoe fundi called saying my shoes were ready. I had placed an order for a pink pair for myself as well as 2 pairs (different colors) for my friends. He said “but only 2 are ready, the other 3 will be ready tomorrow.” What? 5 pairs of sandals? Huh? Yeah, apparently he made 3 of the same exact style for me…. As well as the two different ones for my friends. I guess you could call that a convenient miscommunication… I do love his shoes.

After hanging up the phone, I realized there were visitors outside. I simultaneously realized that Debora had become fascinated with my dental floss and unraveled the entire thing and strung it around my living room – through my shoes, around the stuffed animals, around my candle holders that weren’t actually holding any candles, through the handles of every mug I own… basically through and around everything in my living room. Cool. I kicked her out and decided to wait until someone called for me to come greet the visitors. In the meantime, I decided to go for some popcorn.

This was when I realized that there was a wasp in my living room. Usually I just nip it in the bud and whip out the can of Doom, but for some reason I let this one go. Mercy. That’s what it was. I let him buzz around, just watching him from the couch as I snacked on popcorn and occasionally swung my oven mitt at him when he got too close. When I had finished my popcorn, I decided that Mr. Wasp had worn out his welcome and went to get the can of Doom from my bookshelf. As I reached for the can, the wasp dove at my head, causing me to thrash my arms in the air wildly, hitting myself in the head with my big can of doom while knocking half of my bookshelf’s contents to the ground. I ducked down and looked around above me for the monster producing the hellish buzzing…. The wasp was stuck in my dreads. I jumped up and flipped my head over, shaking it like an 80’s rockstar while scrambling to my bedroom where I have a compact mirror. Freaking out, my judgment might have lapsed slightly and I began spraying my head with the Doom. Probably not the best idea… but who wants to get stung on the head? He fell out and I quickly calmed down to see the visitors standing right outside my window. Huh. Hope they missed my little show.

I quickly patted down my hair and spritzed a little body spray before going out to greet them. Jacky, our secretary, explained that they are here to talk about circumcision and that they would like for me to interpret for the boys. I said, “umm it’s a little early for that, don’t you think? And today is a holiday…” But they were pretty adamant about it, and said they only had 15 minutes before they had to move on to the next school. Ok. So I rounded up all of the boys and signed “penis” and “snip snip” more than I care to repeat. They snickered and giggled, and the ones who have already been circumcised stuck their chests out and strutted away. The few, the proud, the circumcised.

Once the visitors left, I asked Jacky to call Ojwang to carry me to Siaya (since I didn’t have any airtime). I wanted to buy a fish for supper, as well as airtime, candles, breakfast stuff. When he arrived I grabbed my sweater from the hook in my living room before heading out. We stopped to pick up his wife, which was a bit uncomfortable. Me, sandwiched between him and his wife on a bike. Cute. Once we reached Siaya, I dashed around to pick up everything on my list before calling him again to take me back. Again, he and his wife came and I hopped on the back this time before we took off. A quick stop at the butchery to pick up some dead animal and we were on the path back to Nina.

“Pssshhhhhhht….” That’s our tire going flat, right as we pass a herd of cows. Being on the back, I’m supposed to get off first, but these cows have huge horns. After they all passed, I alighted, followed by the wife and finally Ojwang. Cows are everywhere, herds of them going in all directions around us. I huddled up close to Ojwang and the bike with my bag of fish and eggs. About 20 minutes later, another bike comes and Ojwang tells me to use this one. He’s wearing a Santa hat. Awesome. So I get back to school without breaking a single egg and collapse as soon as I enter my house. My mom, Bruce, Terri & Bobby might be the only ones who understand how taxing it is to go on these excursions. Another wasp is buzzing around my chair. I don’t waste any time blasting him with Doom. I unload my goodies and change into my “play clothes” when I realized that there is actually a wasp nest on the back of my sweater. Huh. At least it wasn’t in my hair.