I learned how to say "God-willing" in two languages last week. In Swahili,
mungu akipenda. In Arabic, inshallah. Anyway, sorry for the long silence. I
hope some of you have been checking my blog as that is really the best way
to spy on what I'm doing. There is only one internet connection in my town
(technically I think it qualifies as a large village) and it doesn't handle
Yahoo's address book very well, which means you get less spam from me. So
until (if) I get all the kinks worked out I'll try to post to my blog once a
week or so.
First, congratulations Phillippa and Francois! I am really sad to miss your
wedding but I wish you all the best in San Francisco, Paris and wherever
your life together takes you. And Phil, drop me an email sometime and let me
know your post-wedding plans. Second, happy birthday, Michelle! I don't know
if you'll be able to see this from your aircraft carrier but I hope the film
is going well and you haven't dropped any equipment overboard. Ha!
So here is the lowdown on the new address/mail situation. I can still
receive packages tax-free until Sept 28. If you sent me something and I
haven't acknowledged it yet, it's probably because it is still sitting in
Kisumu waiting for me to go pick it up (this weekend, mungu akipenda.) Any
lightweight, dried food, especially Asian stuff, is much appreciated, as are
those spice packets and teabags that you've been hoarding for 15 years but
have never used (no ketchup, please.) Also, sample size lotions and such are
also fun, since everything with a scent here smells like rusty baby powder.
And of course you can't go wrong with chocolate. I will try to send out my
new address to each of you when I'm in Kisumu (real, bug-free internet
access + Yahoo address book) since I don't want to post it on this blog.
Anyway, the Nairobi address that y'all have will still work, but it will
take a long time to reach me because it gets routed to the regional Peace
Corps office in Kisumu, and then I have to go pick it up. Kisumu is actually
only about 25km away as the crow flies, but because of the roads here
(non-existent) it takes about 3 hours to get to Kisumu from my town. Since
it rains everyday, mud is a problem on the roads, or I should say the clunky
two-wheel drive matatus are a problem. Each time we hit a patch of mud, all
the men get out, tie a rope to the front of the matatu, and pull. All the
women just sit inside and read the paper, except for the mzungu who is
tightening her seatbelt and muttering, "Oh my God, oh my God." Last weekend
we hit a large patch of mud that was too deep to cross, so everyone got out
and we walked the rest of the way home.
Last Friday we had two widows come into the VCT to be tested. Both of their
husbands died of AIDS last year. One was older, and very sick. She came with
her son, who carried her on his bike. It was very sad to see her after she
found out her status. She just sat there completely still and emotionless,
although I also wonder if she was just too weak to emote. The second woman,
Mary, was 30 years old with three children. The two younger ones are also
HIV positive. Mary found out she was positive right after her husband died,
but she went to a traditional herbalist, who charged her 5,000 shillings for
herbs that she claimed would cure her of AIDS. Well, a year later Mary is
still carrying the virus (of course) but doesn't have the 400 shillings she
needs to travel to the district hospital to get ARVs (anti-retroviral
drugs). The saddest part is that most people in this community are just like
Mary, uninformed about HIV and AIDS, with devastating consequences.
On a lighter note, I'm settling into a daily routine here, trying to get a
feel for the community, the VCT and my cozy new home. I'm learning about the
two main tribes in my village, the Kalenjins and the Luhyas. The Luhyas are
known for being a bit chicken-crazy (maybe I'm actually a Luhya, and I have
noticed that the chickens here are a lot prettier and fatter than the
chickens in other parts of Kenya. Coincidence?
Chickens are a part of every tradition and ceremony in the Luhya culture,
and there are specific rules about who gets to eat what part of the chicken.
The gizzard always goes to the man because it's the best part. Women and
children are only allowed to eat the less valued parts (wings, neck?). My
co-worker Hillary (a man's name here in Kenya) has promised to bring me a
couple of hens this weekend, so I am looking forward to having fresh eggs
soon. Hillary told me that because August is the month of the Luhya
circumcision ceremony, chickens are more expensive this month. One chicken
is slaughtered for each boy who is circumcised, and then additional chickens
are slaughtered for the general celebration. Luhyas also use chickens as
part of their naming ceremonies - each chicken is given a name, and they are
all thrown onto the roof of the house. The child is given the name of the
first chicken to fly down from the roof. The Kalenjins are the runners -
tall, skinny and fast. They are also shy and reserved compared to the
I'm also starting to get compliments about how well I wash clothes, do the
dishes and hoe dirt. My supervisor, Indiazi, even commented the other day,
"You are just like the African women." Woo-hoo!! Take that, Kitui homestay.
Right now my co-worker Justine, who is also the counselor at the VCT, is
teaching me how to carry things on my head (no hands of course). These women
are amazing. She put my Nalgene bottle on her head and walked all around the
office, jumped up and down, and talked to a bunch of people, and it never
fell off. By the time I leave here I want to be carrying a 20L jerrycan full
of water on my head.
Hillary took me on a short tour of some of the shambas and homesteads right
outside of town. We went to a pineapple farm and he showed me how to
identify a pineapple seedling and peel away the dead outer layers to expose
the roots for planting. Pineapples are really common here, and one of the
local farmers gave me seven pineapples today, so I think I will be making a
lot of pineapple jam, pineapple curry, pineapple pie, pineapple meatloaf,
pineapple soup... So send along those pineapple recipes! Hillary also
pointed out the toilet paper plant - a local plant with really soft leaves
that the Kalenjins used to use for toilet paper.
Well, I'm off to finish digging a new trash pit for my house. The gossip
around the school compound where I live is that I'm not a normal mzungu
because I can dig my own moat and trash pit, I eat the local vegetables, and
I use the choo instead of the toilet. Just wait until they see me carrying
10 kilos of maize on my head. The headmaster will adopt me as his own
daughter for sure.