Friday, July 15, 2005

Ukimwi ni ukosefu wa kinga mwilini = AIDS is a lack of

Hello everyone,

I was going to post this to my blog but the geniuses at Google seem only to be able to design websites that work when you have a good internet connection. So hopefully one day in the next two years I'll be able to post to my blog again, but for now I'll have to spam your inboxes with 45K text messages.

I am in the gleaming metropolis of Kisumu now, wrapping up a week visiting my future site, meeting my supervisor and colleagues, and familiarizing myself with people and resources in the community. I will be posted to a rural town in the Rift Valley of western Kenya, working at a VCT (Voluntary Counseling and Testing) center. The VCT provides counseling and HIV testing, but I will mostly be doing community outreach
and education on AIDS, malaria, and how to avoid eating poop. The area is lush and cool, with rolling hills carpeted with velvety tea plantations. It looks a lot like the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, for those of you who received postcards from me while I was there. For those who have asked about visiting me, January is the driest and hottest month, which means about 85 degrees with a light sprinkling of rain
everyday. Oct-Nov are rainy, as are Apr-May. In the Rift Valley, rainy season means lots of mud, and currently my town is only accessible via a dirt road. Right now it's winter so the weather is really pleasant, and at night I sometimes even bust out the fleece. I am near the Kakamega Rainforest (seven different kinds of monkeys, rare birds) and not too far from Lake Victoria, Kisumu, and Mt. Elgon.

I know I told some people I'd be disappointed if I went to the Peace Corps and had hot water and electricity, but you know what? I HAVE HOT WATER AND ELECTRICITY (except on Mondays)!!! Who needs to feel like a ruff-n-tumble granola girl when instead I can buy a fridge and laptop to watch DVDs and store MP3s and digital pix? It is in the same compound as the town hospital so it is gated, guarded and my neighbors are nurses. I have a shamba (garden) that I'm hoping to grow spinach, tomatoes and pineapples in, and I'm thinking about getting chickens for eggs, a cat to chase down mice and cucarachas, and maybe a dog. I even saw some Chinese people paving the main road leading into town. So, in summary, all are welcome to stay with me at my bucolic pastoral home. I have a spare room, flush toilet, a choo for those who prefer to squat, and a yoga mat. Karibu nyumbani yangu! (Welcome to my home).

Before I came here I told everyone that I was going to come back to the U.S. with a Kenyan runner in tow, and guess what? My site is in the land of the Nandi, the tribe that a lot of Kenyan runners come from. I've already seen a couple people jogging around town and yes, they are fast.

I wonder if learning Swahili has actually improved my Chinese because everytime I try to think of how to say something in Swahili, I end up thinking of how to say
it in Chinese. It doesn't help that "ni" means "I" in Swahili and "you" in Chinese. "Si" is a negation in Swahili and means "yes" in Spanish. "Tu" means "we" in
Swahili and "you" in French. "Tosha" means "enough" in Swahili and "thank you" in Taiwanese. In Swahili, "dada" means sister, not father, and "kaka" means brother, not poop. Fortunately the Spanish "mesa" and Swahili "meza" both mean the same thing, table. "Yeye" means he or she in Swahili and grandfather in Chinese. You form the past tense with "li" in Swahili, with "le" in Chinese. The Kambas (the tribe in Kitui) confuse their "r"s and "l"s just like the Chinese, which is how I ended up thinking for the longest time that there was a lock near Kitui marking some
historical event.

My supervisor and co-workers took me to see some of the public health organizations in my community, including the public health office, dispensary and an AIDS Club at one of the girl's secondary schools (which, incidentally, could really use a less
stigmatizing name). I was also accosted by a local pastor two days in a row, who kept asking if I had decided to be saved. This is a conversation that I've already had with other pastors in Kenya, and it's always some variation of this:

"Have you decided to be saved?"

"No, not since you asked me yesterday."


"I don't go to church. I don't practice Christianity."

"You don't pray?"


"Is it because you have everything you want in life? Isn't it? Because you are American so you have everything. Money..."

"I don't have money." (You idiot.)

"Just let me ask you, let me ask you this. You have money, you have food, you have clothes so you don't have to pray to God because you think you don't need anything else, isn't it?"

I said, "You don't pray to God because you want something," (you idiot), "you pray because you are grateful for what you have."

"Ah, so you are grateful because you have everything you want."

"I'm grateful for everything I have, and I don't think prayer is for asking God for more things."

"Ah, so you do pray!"

"I don't practice a religion. I will not decide to be saved today or ever in the next two years."

"Ah, well, we shall see each other, then. My home is over there. Come over for tea sometime."

Christianity in Kenya is at once aggressive, threatening, and manipulative, and yet amicably forgetful ("What religion are you?" "I told you yesterday..." "Sure, karibu kwa chai - come over for tea.") But one thing is for sure, people can't grasp the concept of not practicing a formal, organized religion. Damn those British colonial missionaries.

Off to buy a bus ticket back to Nairobi. Plan to stay at one of the backpacker hostels in Nairobi tommorrow night, to check out how my traveling brothers and
sisters live, instead of staying at one of the overpriced Peace Corps-endorsed hotels in the mzungu ghetto. Will take notes for those of you who plan to stop in Nairobi on your way to visit me. Heheheh.

Tutaonana badaye!


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