Friday, October 8, 2010

...back in the US and no time to blog...

Well I am sorry I haven't written here in a long while. I'm sure many people won't be looking here as my adventure in Kenya has ended and the US just doesn't seem to be as interesting. I would beg to differ...

I have started a masters program in Education called Prevention Science and Practice. You ask what that means and I say I'll tell you when I get the degree. :) My hope is that I'll learn a lot about program planning, evaluation and implementation. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that I am often reminded about what I want to do by day to day interactions with friends and strangers.

The other day a friend was telling me a story about an altercation they had with a stranger. Apparently the stranger was indignant over having to share a space. This person attacked my friend verbally and after antagonizing my friend to a point of saying "shut up" this person got an authority involved. The altercation continued to the point where the stranger called my friend a very offensive name and eventually was removed from the facility. First of all I feel like the stranger's attitude was wrong from the start. I think a lot of people walk around with this kind of grumpy, antagonistic, "I'm gonna hit before I get hit" attitude making any dialogue difficult to begin with. But to step away from blaming the situation on someone's bad attitude I'd like to say that the situation was not necessarily handled in a way that might transform this person or help us avoid similar situations in the future. Punishment rarely changes attitudes or behaviors. I want to acknowledge people and their attitudes, good and/or bad and care for them despite their attitudes. I think the things I am learning are clues to figure out what bad attitudes are telling us about how society treats people and how, in turn people cope with society. Kids are the same, just less set and honestly more resilient.

Another example of inspiration I had was in learning about a local community center, which had internship opportunities for high school kids to participate in a day camp for younger kids. Apparently on one of the first days a fight broke out between a couple of the younger kids. The older kids didn't do anything. No one told them to. After the incident, some of the leaders of the community center realized their mistake in not preparing the older kids to take a little more responsibility with the younger kids. They quickly re-examined how the older kids might be good role models for the younger kids and took steps towards training them to do so. I think this is a brilliant and natural strategy of working with youth. They have an innate social capital with each other and where an adult can be a good mentor for older kids, the older kids can in turn be great mentors for younger kids. Another benefit from this is teaching kids responsibility, leadership and that their voice in many situations is valuable. I really want to be involved with building programs like this, that call upon the talent that is already there. Whether it's working with youth or working with adults I think building on potential is more powerful than taking the time to wipe the slate clean and force individuals into a model that doesn't always make sense. Who am I to tell anyone what's best for them or how to go about achieving it?

We'll see if I can learn to solve the problems of the world in just 9 months. If not then I guess the fun will just begin!:)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My last week in Kenya...

Well here I am winding down my six month adventure in Chogoria, Kenya. I certainly have mixed feelings about leaving such a beautiful place and all the wonderful news friends I've made. But I am also looking forward to my new venture at Harvard and devising a way to come back. ;)

The past month has been amazing and harrowing all at the same time. I finally got to climb Mount Kenya! You can see that it was a beautiful three day hike to Lanana where the terrain went from somewhat African to simply alpine. Each night was incredibly cold but that just inspired me to get up and hike each morning. We really lucked out with beautiful weather and got a great view of the sunrise. I am so glad I did this!

The new Global Health Fellow also arrived this month. Her name is Liz and she's great! I am so excited to see where she takes the Public Health Program in the next year. When I went to pick Liz up from the airport I wanted to renew my visa so that I would at least be in the country legally when my flight leaves. However, I was informed that Kenya does not allow foreigners to remain in the country past 6 months, unless they have a work visa stipulating a longer period of time. Of course I worried the entire next week about how to deal with this. We decided to plan a trip outside of Kenya in hopes I could renew my six months upon re-entry. Although the idea of traveling to another country is usually enticing for me, I was looking forward to spending as much time in Chogoria as possible before I have to leave. On the way to Tanzania I decided to stop at the immigration office to make one final try to getting an extension. I was overjoyed to find a wonderful man who gave me until July 31 and did not even ask for a bribe. It's always nice to be reminded of the benevolence of humans and I am truly greateful.

I'll see some of you very soon and I hope you enjoy these pictures!

Monday, June 14, 2010


First of all thanks to my Mum and Pops for coming to visit and taking me on a Safari and the Walter and Marsha for adding to the fun!
Some of the feelings I experienced in the past couple of weeks while out in the parks and reserves here in Kenya are indescribable. I think I was most affected by the fact that most of the people enjoying similar experiences were not Kenyans. I hope to make enough money one day to come back and take a couple of my friends in Chogoria for a Safari.
We saw so many animals and I am still awed by the graceful giants. Elephants are so big and yet so peaceful. They travel several kilometers each day to get to water and then to higher, dryer ground at night all the while eating grass in harmony with so many other animals. Giraffes are like strange fixtures off in the distance sometimes standing in the same position for several hours fooling the observer that they are trees. The gazelles and zebra pepper the grasses and once in a while we even spooked up an adorable warthog running frantically with it’s tail in the air like a flag. The dik diks so small and delicate, it’s amazing they can survive among so many large predators. The lions, I have to say were pretty boring, just lying around paying no mind to anyone. I guess it’s good to be the king. ;) Whoever said hyenas are ugly never set their eyes on the adorable cubs we came across one afternoon. If I didn’t know any better I would have scooped one up to take home. We were lucky to see a cheetah and rhinos both seemingly less social and both amazing to see. The hippos were the most verbal and when we ventured out onto Lake Naivasha in a boat, they just observed us from under the water with only their eyes and noses peeking out. Of course there were monkeys and baboons who have been known to take food from a muzungu but ran at the sight of any Kenyan. It was a spectacular two weeks but the experience tempted my palette without fully sating it. I half joked and was half serious about coming back to volunteer for the park service for a year. I’d love to see the animals and countryside as they change with the seasons. Hmmmm…

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Well it’s been another busy couple of weeks with the addition of two new staff members and planning for a series of entrepreneurial trainings for groups to be funded by the VHI micro-finance program. I’m also getting ready to go for a Safari with my parents who arrive in Kenya on May 24!! I am looking forward to some time off and will hopefully be positing some interesting animal pictures the next time I write here!! J

So the past week took us to visit a number of people who are members of HIV groups. These are difficult people to visit for many reasons but logistically they generally live quite far apart from each other and they always seem to be in the upper reaches of the mountain just before the forest. I think I have mentioned before that HIV still holds a very bad stigma, in fact I have found that several members of these HIV groups will claim they have not be tested or they are negative. I find this curious as I am told the members often meet each other when they go to the clinic for their ARVs (Anti-RetroViral drugs) and start their groups that way rather than teaming up with neighbors. I imagine many of these folks are afraid of what I may think and are perhaps fearful of their status getting out to their relatives and neighbors. On the other hand there are many who say they are “positive living positively!”

So on a more observational note I wanted to write about how I really dislike the schooling system here in Kenya. As you know my apartment is about 15 feet away from an all girls’ primary boarding school. I am generally an early riser at about 6am and find the lights to the school already on and the girls saying their lessons, singing or cleaning their classrooms, often awaken me. They are up by 4 every morning and work until 9pm every night! I’m not sure how much free time they get and they are in classes both Saturday and Sunday. The academic year is divided up into trimesters January 1 to March 30, May 1 to July 31; September 1 to November 30 with breaks in April, August and December. These month-long ‘breaks’ often include a period of 2 weeks called “Tuition” where the kids are basically ‘studying’ rather than having time off. I am not sure the percentage but I think more than half of the Kenyan youth in school are attending a boarding school. These schools are often far away from home where their mother tongue is not spoken. I’m not saying boarding school is bad, it just seems the value of family is overshadowed by it.

Living so close to a school has certainly increased my awareness of how strict it is and how much time the children spend there. I must say that during the month of April I was actually able to meet school aged children while doing home health visits. It was lovely! I realized how much I missed kids. I’m not talking about a classroom of children staring at me and saying hello with an annoying nasal intonation, but kids at home with their parents or out exploring with their friends and doing things kids do! I remember the time I spent in Senegal was enhanced by the presence of children. They have a lot more patience than adults and when they are left to be kids, they have a lot more time too.

Recently I’ve been talking with some of my Kenyan friends about Meru culture and how it seems to be dying out. When the only singing you hear is old English hymns and dancing is pretty much non-existent and the schools in town are looming and closed off and exclusive its no wonder the culture is dying. It seems that globalization and access to images of foreign things that represent success and gratification add to the problem. This is not to say that globalization is all bad. Without it I would not be here now distributing mosquito nets in an attempt to lessen the occurrences of malaria and malaria related deaths. But as I do this work and reflect on my few experiences living outside the US, I am constantly brought back to the question of, how people survived and evolved for thousands of years without any of the conveniences of modernity when we cannot seem to now?

Sunday, May 2, 2010


It’s May 2 and I have less than 3 months left!

The past couple of weeks have been busy orienting a new Community Health Nurse and getting ready for two new Group Coordinators to start tomorrow! Somehow I got the task of developing the orientations. I guess it has a lot to do with knowing what I missed when I started and wanting to make the transition easier for everyone else. I just hope I’m up to the task…

So unfortunately I never relocated my camera. L But at least VHI has been kind enough to let me use the office camera and I’ve included some pictures here.

As you can see (and imagine) support for Obama is strong here. I even found this small restaurant aka hotel far off the beaten path. I wonder how many Americans know Obama is their 44th President? Impressive… Also the baby I’m holding was named Michelle by her big brother in honor of our 1st Lady. J

All this support for Americans aside I have to say I am not so happy about what some American politicians are doing here in Kenya today. Currently Kenyans are registering to vote on a new draft of their Constitution. As always in politics there are people who are against change and with so many controversial aspects, people begin to nit-pick rather than look at the document as a whole. What gets me is when certain groups use their influence to sway the populace when their role should be anything but political. All in all I don’t have the right to judge as I am not a Kenyan and morally I should not try to influence anyone by giving my opinion. However, it would appear that some political groups from the US are pouring money into the debate and meddling in affairs where they have no business. Perhaps I am naïve and I know this is how politics have been done for time in memoriam. Nevertheless, it still grates my nerves.

So on a lighter note…

For the Community Health Nurse’s first week we did our Home Health Visits in pretty mountainous terrain. It was lovely as you can see from my pictures. I also fell in love. His name is Lenny Muchui! He’s an 8-year-old orphan whose grandmother was our guide for the day. Muchui accompanied his grandmother and sat in the front seat of the Land Rover next to me. Needless to say he got lots of sweets that day from yours truly.J Muchui sang his ABCs and was engaged with us all day when most other 8 year olds would have been bored out of their minds. He also provided an excellent segue for our nurse and what her role with our organization will be. Apparently Muchui has some hearing problems. Fortunately it is caused by impacted earwax and can be relieved by a very simple and inexpensive procedure. However, if Muchui doesn’t have this taken care of soon, he could sustain permanent damage.

Like so many hospitals and doctor’s offices, the hospital here in Chogoria deals with a lot of patients and has a few doctors and nurses to deal with their needs. This causes for problems like Muchui’s impacted earwax to go untreated. Fortunately Muchui has a scheduled visit coming up and our nurse will connect with he and his grandmother to advocate and guide them to get the treatment he needs. I hope to see him again soon too!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

government positions...

So is it a global pre-requisite that people working in government public service positions be gifted at giving the stink eye? I had to travel to Nairobi on Friday to renew my visa for another 3 months and had the pleasure to interact with the shiny people at the immigration office. First of all I asked where I needed to go and the woman looked at me as though I committed a sin asking her to help me. She waved her hand and told me I had to go to another side of the building "somewhere". This treatment continued throughout the process. Each counter had a person 'working' and about three or four other people laughing, reading the paper and otherwise wasting time and not really addressing my needs or making me feel welcome. I laugh because I am reminded about the way I often feel when going to get my driver's license renewed or vote absent tee. I guess it's nice to know that we aren't so different after all. I just figured (hoped?)our similarities were nicer...

Anyway, folks I may have lost my camera.:( It's a shame too because I had a picture of a really huge tree I saw when out doing home health visits. Keep your fingers crossed I relocate it. In the meantime I'll try to be as descriptive with my words...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


On the bus trip down I was reminded how small people always strangely seem to take the most space. Seated next to a freakishly small boy, I was awakened several times to a pointy elbow in my back or side, a knee or shoulder encroaching heavily on my space. All in all he was rather cute and aside from waking up one time by him coughing in my face, I didn’t mind the elbows. We arrived in Mombassa around 7:30am. I was delighted to see my first baobab tree since coming to East Africa. After 12 hours of sitting I wanted to walk to my hotel. The bus station conductor thought I was crazy, especially since I had never been to Mombassa. Aside from the early morning hustle and bustle of any city, it felt good to wander if a bit aimlessly. Besides the best way to find your way around I always say is to get a little lost first. My first set of directions led me very far off course but fortunately I asked someone who directed me first right then left and then right and finally left to get to the hotel. It’s a miracle I made it. J

So Fort Jesus was my first excursion. Mombassa is very much a tourist town and as a single muzungu walking down the street every potential tour guide is ready and insistent on showing you around. I wasn’t really in the mood and was successful at brushing most of the guides off except one who adhered himself to me by just following me around and not saying much. He was knowledgeable and I was glad to get a little more information about the “Swahili” people and learn that the language is about 70% Arabic. Mombassa was a major port long before European influence settled in East Africa and there is a lot of historical and cultural influence from trade with India, Persia and the Arabian Peninsula. The architecture has elements of Arabic, Swahili/Bantu and Portuguese styles. The old town kind of reminded me a bit like a mix between New Orleans and Lisbon. My guide told me it was the Portuguese who brought the Baobabs to Eastern Africa. I’m curious if this is indeed true.

Later my first day I made it to the beach and had my first dip in the Indian Ocean. The water was about as warm as the outside air temperature which was quite hot. I couldn’t help but think about how far I am from home. At least when I swam in the Atlantic Ocean while in Senegal I could imagine the US on the other side, this was not so much the case here.

Anyway, as my adventure continued I found that all the tourists in Mombassa to be not friendly. I did make a lot of Kenyan ‘friends’. They were mostly young boys working hard to pull one over on the naïve American girl. It was fun to chat with locals and get some attention. I did get to see some animals in a kind of reserve/park/zoo. I fed a giraffe and waited for the hungry hippos to get their evening meal.

The trip was good and aside from losing a ring, forgetting my umbrella and not getting any sleep on the way back to Chogoria, I was happy to return. It was the break I needed and though it would have been more fun to share the experience with someone else I am glad I had it.