Friday, August 05, 2005

Hello There I'm In Transit to Site

Greetings everyone! I think it’s been awhile since I spammed. First let me say thanks to people who sent me mail. I may or may not have already thanked you. Patrick, thanks for the CDs and peanut M&Ms. Nandita, thanks for the chopsticks and Pico Iyer essay. Antti, thanks for the letter, chocolate, and copy of your article. My host family thinks I’m some sort of supermodel because my picture is in a magazine. And my host brother said, “Finnish looks like Swahili.” Mom, thanks for the letter with the update on how my investments are doing. ;) Lynn, thanks for the long letter, pictures, samples, newspaper clips and article about the toilet-themed restaurant.

I am in Nairobi in transit to my permanent site. This is the big weekend – tommorrow we swear in as real live Peace Corps Volunteers! On Saturday we disperse to all corners of Kenya for a shopping spree at the regional Nakumatt (the Kenyan Walmart) to buy housewares, and then make our way to our new homes with obscene amounts of stuff. Fortunately the whole town will come out to witness the mzungu unloading all her wordly possessions from the matatu (minibus), and
they will realize that everything I have in my house is equal to the GDP of Rift Valley province, and I will never be lonely again because people will be visiting me daily asking for money for school fees, food and medicine. And when I say, “Pole, sina pesa,” (Sorry, I have no money) they will just look at me like I’m the biggest lyingest mzungu they’ve ever seen.

Anyway, saying goodbye to my host family in Kitui was a bit bittersweet. They are a pretty reserved bunch but I think I detected some sadness that I was leaving. I gave them some thank you gifts - chocolate, a world map with cutout photos of them and of me, pointing to our respective countries, some postcards of San Francisco, some jasmine tea from Yank Sing Chinese Restaurant in SF, and a nice Hallmark card that said “Thank you” in six languages – Spanish, French, Italian, English, Swahili and Kikamba…yeah, I
wrote in the last two by hand. Then, as ridiculous as it sounds, they gave me some thank you gifts as well. Thanks for what? For using all their water in a region rife with famine because it never rains? Anyway, they gave me Kenyan bedsheets (two flat sheets that never stay tucked under the mattress) and a wooden giraffe carving, and my mama baked me two cakes, which is a minor miracle considering no one has ovens here. My 19-year-old brother wrote me a nice letter that said, “God willing, in five years I hope to have a college
degree and a good job and I will send you an email using a computer, the way you explained to me.” Because I spent an evening diagramming internet servers and the world wide web for him, which is a bit hard to explain to someone who has never used a computer before. I also gave a speech in Kiswahili at the Host Family Appreciation lunch (see blog post for text), which made my family think, “Damn, all this
time she could speak mad Kiswahili but she always spoke to us in English.”

So the next three months are what has been described as a period where we “do nothing.” In reality this just means I will hang out with my colleagues at the VCT, accompany them when they go into the surrounding villages, and basically get to know people in my community and the issues affecting them. I’m not supposed to start any projects, apply for any funding, conduct any training or anything else until I understand what is going on and get familiar with what resources are available to address their needs. This
is all just Peace Corps speak for poking around town having chai with people and getting to know all the local gossip. Anyway, on the matatu ride into Nairobi today my PC friend Pat befriended the conductor and ten minutes later was explaining the ABCs of HIV/AIDS
to this guy. Then another trainee whipped out a condom, and I whipped out a Snickers bar, and Pat started giving a condom demonstration. The Peace Corps at work.

Well they're closing up here so I better run! Hope all is well!


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