S: Africa, and a little more 2013
FC: Africa, and a little more 2 0 1 3
1: In January of 2013, I embarked on a 3 month journey to Africa to volunteer with an HIV/AIDS and women's empowerment organization. I experienced poverty like I had never before seen, met incredible women who did not let their struggles stop them by succeeding, lived with the most welcome and adorable host family, and saw the sheer beauty of Kenya. In March I traveled to Malawi to visit an old friend. The untouched landscapes and calmness that I felt there was refreshing. My travels took me to Istanbul, Turkey where I ate my way through the city, spent time with a childhood friend, learned about other religions, and fell in love with the city.
2: AND SO THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS | January 3 | Time has flown by and in mere 9 days I will be boarding a plane to Nairobi, Kenya. Oddly enough, my nerves have remained completely neutral; I’m neither excited nor scared nor feel any other emotions. However, I’m sure that once I get dropped off at the airport my feelings will change altogether. For now I’m attributing my lack of emotions to the ridiculous amount of life changes I have experienced in 2012. My world has done a complete 180 since January of last year: I’ve said far too many goodbyes, graduated college, left the city I lived in for over 4 years, and am making decisions as to graduate school for the fall. All of these things have made me feel brave and ready to face Kenya head-on. Part of the reason I decided to do the HIV/AIDS program in Kenya is because it felt like a great way to dive into the realm of public health, the field in which I’ll be seeking my masters. I’m intrigued by infectious disease and will be focusing my education on planning for and/or managing disease outbreaks, analyzing statistics about the spread of diseases, and studying populations most affected. Thus, going to a third world country and working with the people who are most impacted by HIV/AIDS seemed like an obvious first step to developing an understanding | of all the things I want to study. While I haven't received my exact placement yet, I do have an idea of the type of work I will have the opportunity to do while abroad: I may provide HIV education to individuals, whether they be students or adults, to help them understand how the disease works and how they can protect themselves, or if already infected, protect others from passing on the disease. I may actually perform blood tests on individuals at a clinic. Or perhaps I’ll be working with HIV-positive women to create income-generating activities. All these possibilities sound wonderful to me, and I’ll be sure to update this blog once I know the specifics of my work! The organization I’m going through, International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ), is an umbrella organization based in New Zealand that partners with local organizations in various countries, from Asia to Africa to even Mexico. The local organization then determines where your help is most needed and they send you to a specific project. In addition, they set you up with a homestay, meaning I will be leaving with a local family and hopefully some other volunteers. I’m excited to live with a family because I think it will provide me an incredible experience to learn more about the culture, foods, politics, etc. Before I end this post, I want to thank all of my friends and family who have donated money to support HIV/AIDS education and provide much-needed supplies. I have raised $450 so far, bringing me super close to my goal of $500!! If you want to learn more about what I’m raising the money for, see my previous post or click the donate button at the top of the page. Until next time,
3: PLACEMENT AND HOMESTAY INFORMATION | January 10 | Last night I had my first breakdown. Remember how in my last post I had no emotions? Yeah, so much for that. Mainly I’m anxious about not knowing anyone and feeling lonely, as well as not being able to stay in touch with everyone at home the way I want to. I’m confident that my anxiety will disappear soon after arriving! I woke up this morning with an email from the director of the local volunteer organization in Kenya providing me with info about my placement and homestay. I cannot tell you how much better this made me feel– it’s exactly the type of work I want to do! Further research online of the homestay family revealed several things, first and foremost that the couple I’m living with are amazing people who live in a secure, gated neighborhood that has running water, a flushing toilet, and, get ready, a HOT shower! I realize I’m going to have to “rough” it but let’s be real, I’m sort of high maintenance and would prefer these conveniences. Here is what I was told about my placement at the WEEP center: A quick Google search of Mlolongo revealed it as being a major truck stop located about 30 min outside Nairobi, which means it is also a hub for prostitution. I learned a lot about this while researching for my capstone paper last semester and I feel like there will be a lot of opportunities for me to make a real difference. So excited to get started! I also received information on two programs the volunteer organization arranges: safari and outreach weekend. Both sound amazing! The outreach weekend trip will start a few days after I arrive and includes visits to an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp and slums where you help feed the extremely poor people living there. I’m prepared to get very emotional these days. In addition, we get to do a bike ride and walk through gorges in Hell’s Gate National Park. Last but not least, I finally got around to packing. I tried to condense as much as possible but my bag is still completely full and feels pretty heavy. My flight is on Saturday at 7:35 pm from JFK and I arrive in Nairobi at 9 pm local time on Sunday. I will get a connecting flight through London to Nairobi. My dad spoiled me by allowing me to use his air miles to fly business class for the second part of my trip, so my seat will turn into a bed and I get much better food. It’ll be the last over-the-top thing I get to do haha! Next time you hear from me, I will be in Africa!! Until then, | It’s an HIV/AIDS program located in Mlolongo. It was started by a nurse who realized that there is a lot of stigma in the community for those who are HIV Positive. She is now the Director at WEEP Center. She will be guiding you on what duties to do but basically you will be teaching the women on health education, good nutrition etc. At other times you will be going out in the slums to visit those who are sick and weak and cannot get to the centre. | " | "
5: ARRIVAL IN KENYA| January 13, 2013 | a November 7 | Hi everyone! I’ve safely arrived in Kenya and am starting to get settled. My flights were not bad at all, especially the business class one! My seat turned into a bed so I was able to get some sleep, and the food was amazing! I don’t know how I’ll ever go back to coach class on long flights (just kidding, Dad!). As soon as I reached customs I saw a girl, Katie (American), who looked as if she may be part of my program and it turns out that not only is she with IVHQ, but she’s also at my exact placement and homestay!! I felt SO much better once finding someone else. We then found another girl, Julia (Canadian), who looked lost and were picked up by George, who was sent by IVHQ to take us to our temporary homestay in Ngong. We will be in this little city until tomorrow when we have orientation in Nairobi. This morning 3 more volunteers arrived from Scotland, Australia, and Canada and we’ve been off wondering around town. I can’t begin to explain what the town is like– literally I’ve been no where like it. It is pretty breezy and dusty so I must remember to carry around sunglasses because my contacts are a bit bothered. There are tons of little shops crammed together, most are the size of a small room, about the size of my bedroom in Boston. There are also goats wondering around for sale. People keep saying hi to us and trying to get us in their shops. Clearly we stick out like sore thumbs! Haven’t yet been able to locate a legitimate cell phone provider store so I’ll probably wait until we head to Nairobi tomorrow. Alrighty well I’m going to continue exploring the town. Not sure what we will do after but just taking everything in is enough for now!! Until next time,
6: PHANG NGA BAY, PHUKET | November 7 | ORIENTATION AND HOMESTAY| January 16 | Hello from Mlolongo, Kenya! I have so much to update you all on so I‘m going to back track to a few days ago. I last left off at an internet cafe in the town of Ngong. After leaving the cafe, a few of us volunteers (Julia, Jack- Aussie, Kate- Scottish, & Alex- Canadian) went for a drink at a bar that had outdoor seating and overlooked part of the town. The drink I picked was coincidentally a hard cider! After chatting there for a bit we headed back to the homestay to relax. A few hours later a girl who had been volunteering for a month returned and invited us to accompany her to the orphanage she was working at. The kids were SO cute and fun! Their ages ranged from 2 until 16 or 17. We spent a few hours there playing with the kids and learning a bit about the orphanage. At one point I took out my camera and a few of the kids got excited and asked to take some pictures so I passed it around. Upon returning to the homestay, our host had prepared us dinner: rice, cooked veggies, and a meat stew. Guys, you would be SO proud of me for trying the stew as it was a grey colored meat, probably goat. Overall, it was a really great way to spend the first day in Kenya. Yesterday we had orientation and were picked up early in the morning to head into Nairobi. There were about 50 volunteers total– a really big group for January apparently! We met the N.V.S (national volunteer services) team, which is the local portion of IVHQ, and they talked to us about the country, homestays, placements, and different options for trips we can partake in. I’m hoping to get to go on all of them! Once orientation was over, we split up into our permanent homestays and were driven there. It was sort of sad to say goodbye to the other few volunteers I had been hanging out with! My homestay is in Mlolongo, the town I briefly talked about a few posts ago. Two other volunteers are here with me, Katie and Jamie. Jamie is only here 3 weeks but Katie will be here for the entire time I’m here. Our house is located in a gated community with security about a 10 minutes' walk from my placement. We have a housekeeper, Ann, who cooks our meals and keeps the house clean. Our host parents are Bishop Joseph and Pastor Geraldine. They are SO nice and welcoming! They seem genuinely excited to have us here and have been talking about some of the places they will take us including a service on a Sunday at their church, other towns, to their parents’ houses, etc. Today Joseph took the three of us to our placement at Living Positive, which includes the WEEP center as well as a few other programs and projects. We met Mary, the lady in charge, and to she talked about the people they help, projects going on, their goals, etc. Seems like there is a lot to do and we will have the opportunity to choose what fits our goals. As of now I’m thinking I want to be involved in the group discussion for women, any HIV education, slum visits, and maybe help build/fix/paint the daycare center. Tomorrow we will go with some of the ladies to visit sick people in the slums which should be quite an experience! After we left Living Positive, Joseph took Katie and I to get cell phones and a USB modem so I can have internet on my computer! We took several buses and made a few stops because of course no one place had everything we needed! On the way back we rode a matatu, which is a large van that holds like 14 people but is often squished with more than that. We were warned to avoid these vehicles as pickpockets are known to steal from you on them, but as we were with Joseph it was fine. I must say, both the bus and matatu had very small aisles they would totally not work for fat Americans! After some struggle I got the USB modem to work and I am able to upload this post! I can also officially call you guys in the U.S.! It’s super cheap to call home from here, like 2 cents per minute! Or you can always call me via skype! My Kenyan number is 011 254 732928199. If you use skype I believe you only need to enter 732928199. Can’t wait to talk to everyone :-) Until next time,
8: My Homestay | 297 Menengai Lane, Valley View Estates, Mlolongo
9: Despite it only being a few days since my last post, I have an insane amount of things to update about! Shortly after I posted I started feeling really homesick and all I wanted to do what shorten my stay here. It didn’t help that election nominations occurred on the day we were due to start working at our placement because all volunteers were told to stay inside at their homestay to avoid the potential for violent protests. Back in 2008 during the presidential elections, a civil war occurred in Kenya and there was a ton of violence. So, to be safe we avoided areas where crowds could gather. That day ended up consisting of us sitting around bored, which further made me doubt my decision to come here. I felt exponentially better after Friday when we started our placement at the Living Positive Center. The three of us (me, Katie, and Jamie) met with one of the social workers at the center, Abigail, who took us on a 40 minute walk to the daycare they run. The daycare is located in a slum in Mlolongo for children of women who can’t afford to send them to school elsewhere, and many of these children are the kids of the HIV-positive women who come to our center. The kids were so excited to see us mzungus, or English-speaking white people. Pretty much any time we walk by kids they excitedly shout out “mzungu, mzungu, how are you?” to which we respond, “zuri sana”, meaning “very well”. They always laugh when we try to speak Swahili. The classrooms, if you can even call them that, are built from tin walls and have a few wooden desks and chalkboards. The classroom of older kids didn’t even have a teacher so they basically sit there all day and occasionally another teacher will stop in for a bit. It was so sad. Yet, the children seem so positive and enthusiastic, especially considering | FIRST DAY OF WORK & TOURISTY WEEKEND| January 16
10: the challenges they have in their lives. After the daycare we went further into the slum to do home visits with women who are part of the Living Positive program. Penina, one of the women who lives in a larger home in the slums, served as our and Abigail’s slum guide. She herself is HIV-positive, but revealed that she has kept this a secret from her children as she doesn’t want the stigma to follow them. Our first stop took us into the home of a woman who has 2 children with tumor growths. One is in the hospital receiving treatment for cancer, while the 1-year-old baby girl is at home because they simply have no money to pay for hospital care. She has a large growth coming from her cheek and another on the top of her head. It’s so hard being there, not only because the families so clearly have nothing and need so much help, but also because they expect us, as “rich” white people, to give them money. I want to help everyone but it’s simply not an option. For now I’m waiting to give out donations until I have a better idea of where the money can be most beneficial. Our second home visit was just outside the slum in another home built of tin. I wish I could do justice describing what the homes and slums are like but I honestly can’t. They have literally nothing and live in one room with random clothing and food and maybe an old mattress or couch. During this visit, Abigail spoke to the older daughter of the woman whose house it was, for she herself had a daughter but no husband. Abigail tried to empower this young woman by telling her she does not have to be dependent on a man, and that she shouldn’t latch onto the next guy who gives her attention. I’m sure she said a lot more but it was in Swahili so we only received some translations. We then began our 40 minute walk back to the office and decided to grab lunch out. Abigail brought us to a restaurant where I got a not so great chicken sandwich. But hey, protein is protein and I have not been getting enough of it at my homestay [side note: at our homestay we essentially eat bread, peas, carrots, cabbage, rice, and potatoes in various forms every day, for lunch and dinner. Going to get so fat...]. I should say a bit about Abigail– she is 22, a social worker, and loves talking to women in the community about empowering themselves, improving their own lives, etc. She’s a really wonderful person. We then returned to the office to attend a women’s group session, but unfortunately the women were running very late because they were voting. Anyway, another mzungu showed up and we chatted with her. Her name is Kate and she is 22, from England, and has been independently living here in Mlolongo for several months. We were so impressed by her because she has seemingly no fear about being in Kenya or traveling alone. We will hopefully meet up with her on Sunday as she knows the fun spots to go.
12: We had to leave work early as the three of us were headed into Nairobi for the night– Jamie was getting picked up for Safari early the next day in the city, and Katie and I decided we wanted to do some tourist things there. Another of the volunteers that we first met at the airport, Julia, was at a homestay in Nairobi so we spent the night there. It was so different from the house I’m at– much larger and with more volunteers but no real relationship between volunteers and host family. The area where the volunteers stayed was sort of gross, especially the bathroom, and it made me appreciate our place. We hung out with the other volunteers there for most of the night just chatting and hearing about each others’ lives back home as well as experiences so far in Kenya. Today me, Katie, Julia, and another volunteer staying at the house, Alex T., went around Nairobi with our wonderful driver, Anthony, to 3 popular tourist sights: Shedrick Elephant orphanage, Giraffe center, and a local park to feed monkeys. The elephants were so darn cute! They ranged in age from several months to 3 years old and all had been found either abandoned or injured. The goal of the orphanage is to raise the babies until they are no longer dependent on milk and
13: can be released into wild and adopted by a herd of elephants. We took so many photos and I got to pet a little one!! After this we went to feed giraffes. You basically stand on this raised platform, grab a handful of pellets, and let the giraffe eat from your hand. Boy oh boy was that a slimy experience!! Also, giraffe tongues are ridiculously long. I was hoping to get a giraffe “kiss”, but that particular animal was off duty... oh well! After a quick lunch we headed to what was a regular old park with wild monkeys running around it. We bought peanuts to feed them and it was quite an experience- the monkeys will jump onto your back for the peanuts and it can be a little scary yet amazing! They are little thieves and stole my entire bag of peanuts from my purse. Overall I had an incredible day! One final quick update: I have decided to shorten my trip by 1 month. Not because I’m having a bad time, but because I really won’t be able to travel when I thought I could and at that point I was only here for 2 weeks more, and would be missing my graduation and cousin Jamie’s wedding. So, SURPRISE! I will be attending both and am due home sometime at the end of April!! Until next time,
15: UPS AND DOWNS | January 22 | The last few days have been quite busy! On Sunday Katie and I met up with the British girl we met, Kate, who I mentioned in the last post. She took us to Connections, a bar/hotel/pool/club(?) located in town, and pretty much the sole reason why she lives here. For 200 Kenyan shillings, which is approximately $2.3, we had access to the pool for the day. The water was so cold that I really couldn’t stay in for long but it was a nice respite from the intense heat! A few other volunteers whose placement is in town stopped by for an hour or so to check out the place. I think the Connections pool may become a regular weekend activity if not much else is going on! Monday was back to work at Living Positive. We went with the other social worker, Katherine, to another slum where we did some home visits. Just like Abigail, Katherine is a super cool person to work with. She’s 26 and very driven. In fact, she hopes to one day get her Ph.D. and help make policy changes. Afterwards we went with Abigail to the daycare that’s located at the first slum, Kicheko. The cook, referred to as “shoo shoo” or, “grandmother”, was preparing the kids’ lunch as we arrived so I sat down next to her to watch. She was cooking ugali, which is a very typical Kenyan food consisting of flour, water, and some salt. You literally throw the flour into boiling water and mix until it’s not longer sticky. As you can imagine, it’s not flavorful at all and is much better when eaten with a stew or broth so it can sop up those flavors. I’m not the biggest fan of it. Ann (our housekeeper) has made it a few times to my dislike. Anyway, I helped portion out and distribute the ugali and boiled kale into bowls for the kids. For some, this may be the only meal they receive all day. After returning to the office we met with Mary (head of Living Positive), Katherine, and Abigail to tell them what we each wanted to do while working there. I also discussed how some of the money I’ve raised will be used. Once I know specifics I’ll post more info here. The projects that I’m interested in are: building the new school, painting posters to hang in the classroom, attending group therapy meetings, any health education opportunities, and home visits. Today was a very busy and long day at work. We worked on a letter for a bit that will be sent to a company asking them for some financial support for some of our projects. Afterwards we went with Abigail to the slum and daycare. The kids were playing a game somewhat similar to duck-duck-goose when we arrived so we jumped right in. Of course all of us mzungus were picked by the kids and had to run around the circle. We hung around a bit and played with some of the kids who were not in classes until it was finally time to do some more home visits with women infected with HIV. They are all so generous despite not having anything. One woman gave us each our own mango. Other women we’ve visited are generous in that they take in other children despite not having enough to support their families as it is. OH! I nearly forgot to tell you all my Kenyan name! Abigail named me Mwende Muthui, meaning “beloved” and “rich”, respectively. So, for now on you can all refer to me as Mwende. Just now after dinner we were all sitting and talking with Geraldine and she told us the funniest thing about Kenyan weddings and dowries. People here give some number of goats, maybe 100+ and some fabrics, etc to the woman’s family. She was so enthusiastically telling us about all these things that seem crazy to us. I’m glad I get a ring and not tons of goats! All the walking outside has given me horrible sunburn. I mean, the worst I’ve ever experienced. The big problem was that I didn’t pack sunscreen with me (I know, dumb.) because I assumed I could just pick some up at a local supermarket. Silly me! Kenyans don’t wear sunscreen, like, ever and so they don’t stock them at the stores. I picked some up when I was at the Junction over the weekend but unfortunately the damage was already done. Yesterday and today it started to bubble and peel. Nasty, I know.
16: So last but not least, my homesickness is not yet gone like I had hoped. It comes in waves and has been pretty severe yesterday and today. I think the main reason for this is that coming here is the first time I’ve really done anything major by myself. Every other time I’ve traveled I’ve been with someone I know well. Everyone, send me messages about your life so I feel connected to you all back home!! I mean it, I think it will make a huge difference. Being here has also confirmed that I want to go to Boston University for grad school. I love my life in Boston and really want to return to something I know well, rather than starting all over again and going to Emory. Plus I’ve heard great things about the program and professors and will be able to dual-focus in infectious disease epidemiology AND environmental health! Until next time,
17: On Wednesday Katie and I got picked up at our placement by Mary and her husband. We sat in the back of their little truck thing that has no seats so it was quite bumpy! We first headed out to speak to a priest about a donation. We didn’t really end up doing anything there as Mary’s husband seemed to take care of everything. Abigail and Catherine met up with us there too and we all four squeezed in the back of the truck. Then Kate met up with us at a gas station. Imagine the 5 of us squished in the truck. QUITE hilarious! Oh, and as we were waiting for Kate the president of Kenya drove by in a motorcade. Didn’t see him but it’s still cool. We then headed to land in Lukenya that Living Positive bought and plans to start building an orphanage on. It’s located in the middle of nowhere, literally. Like, we saw zebras, giraffes, gazelles, and buffaloes on the drive there and back! First time I had seen these animals in the wild so it was a really cool experience for me! A team of volunteers from Sweden will be coming in early February to start building on the land and I’m excited to see the progress they make while I am here. We walked over to a school somewhat near our land and met with the headmaster briefly. It was around this time that I encountered my first hole-in-the-ground toilet! I know it sounds obvious how to use it, but I was not expecting it and so I had to ask Abigail what to do haha! I’m actually surprised that I went 2 weeks being here without using one of these. Anyway, on our drive back to | the office we got a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully Mary’s husband had the tools to fix it! Soon after getting on the road Mary decided to take us all out for lunch at this super nice, resort-like place. The greenery and flowers were so gorgeous! They ordered fries, ugali, and goat for the table. For the first time since getting to Kenya, I really enjoyed the meat! It had a great sauce and was super tender, unlike most of the previous meat I’ve had here. It almost tasted like brisket! Our discussion during lunch centered mainly on the difference between how domestic animals are treated here versus in the US and UK. To sum up what was a really lengthy and hilarious conversation, the main difference is that we treat our pets like royalty and Kenyans don’t at all. Catherine at one point said something like “if you get sick of them you just poison their food”, which was bizarre to us Westerners. We laughed in shock. All I could think about the whole time was how obsessed my family is with our pets and how they are like family members. Overall we had a very good, long day seeing some different things! Thursday and Friday were dedicated to Outreach, which is a program run by the volunteer organization (N.V.S.) I’m here with. Katie and I got up extremely early because we had to meet at the Junction at 7 am. Of course, with Africa time we didn’t end up leaving until an hour and a half later. Anyway, almost 60% of | OUTREACH WEEKEND | January 26
19: our orientation went on the outreach so it was nice to see some of the other volunteers. We loaded up in 3 vans to make our way north of Nairobi. Our first stop was to the Rift Valley, where we saw an active volcano and had a really nice view of the landscape. Next we went to Naivasha where the KCC slum is located. A few volunteers are placed at a school there so they toured us around the slum and told us some information about it. Basically, it has been there since the 1970s and is home to many families. It’s more “built up” than the slums we had been to with our placement in that the structures were more secure and larger, and there were established little shops within it. Also, the people here like to keep it clean of trash, which is very different from the | other slums I’ve seen. We went to a community center in the slum that teaches women how to create and sell jewelry. They use old magazines and epoxy to make beads. I bought two pairs of earrings to support their cause. After a lunch stop where I had realllly delicious samosas and chicken, we went to Hell’s Gate National Park to do a 10 mile bike ride and a hike through some gorges. The bikes were really old, did not fit, and had broken gears, so it was really difficult. That, coupled with the intense heat, made me call it quits after less than halfway. I took the van the rest of the way up haha. Anyway, we got to see the real Pride Rock from the Lion King!! Some of the volunteers climbed it so I snapped a few photos. The bike ride took us to the start of our hike, where we climbed down and through gorges. Navigating my steps proved tricky at times! The view of the gorge was beautiful and it’s amazing to think that it was created by water flowing through. After the hour long hike we had to ride our bikes (or take the van) back. I had to pick up the bike where I left it on the ride up and ride it back down to the start. It was more uphill but less hot out so I managed. And actually it was super cool because zebras crossed the road about 5 feet in front of me and buffaloes were about 30 feet away for parts of the ride! Also, there were tons of baboons near the hiking area, so I got to see lots of animals this day! Everyone was exhausted, covered in layers and layers of dust and dirt, and hungry by the end of the bike ride. We stopped at our hotel for the night where we each got our own room (what a great surprise that was!) and showered quickly before heading out to a buffet dinner. The hotel would probably be 1-star or less by our standards but it sufficed for the night.
21: Pride Rock
22: On Friday morning we got up early to pack flour and butter-like-grease into plastic bags for distribution to people later in the day. We first stopped at an internally-displaced persons (IDP) camp. These people were displaced during the 2007/08 Kenyan presidential elections. A ton of violence arose between people who voted for the government and those who voted for the challenger, and many people lost their homes and everything they owned. Years later they are still without much at all. We distributed food to them and the women thanked us by doing a dance. It was a little bit demeaning to me actually. After this we went to the Kioto garbage slum. I have never seen anything so sad in my life. These people literally built their homes next to and within a garbage dump. After the garbage trucks dump trash here, the residents, including children, pick through for food and other items. There are also ugly large storks who scavenge through it. In addition to it being unsafe for obvious reasons, there is no access to clean water, which is a necessity for life. We walked through the garbage to get to the homes. I started to tear up at one point because you look around and all you see is garbage and rotting food. We gave out food to some of these people here. Well, that about wraps up Outreach weekend! We were dropped off at the Junction where Katie and I hung around for just over an hour until our taxi driver came to take us back to our homestay in Mlolongo. Today we went with Joseph into downtown Nairobi to register our SIM cards at the mobile store. Kenya requires that every SIM card be registered which is a hassle. He was such a great tour guide, pointing out various buildings and give us some background on them. He also taught us how to take the matatu to and from Mlolongo into Nairobi. That’ll save us quite a bit of money! We successfully navigated home on our own too as Joseph had to run a couple of errands in the city. This part of Nairobi reminds me a bit of other cities I’ve been to, as it has taller buildings and is more built up. You can still tell that it’s a third world city though.
23: So I had an epiphany the other day about why I am getting so homesick. Basically, I think a big part of it is culture shock. I feel like my subconscious was affected and I didn’t realize it. I haven’t done a great job explaining what life here is like... it’s just one of those things that is impossible to explain. There are a lot of people just sitting around, a lot of shacks and stalls on the side of the road, and few paved roads. Many roads, even major ones, are super uneven and made of dirt, which makes it hard to drive fast and can sometimes seem dangerous. There seem to be few if any traffic laws either. Also, I feel like there is not much for people to do here besides work, cook, clean, and go to church. There aren’t really movie theaters or bowling alleys, or any other fun things to do, at least not in most areas. It seems like people do not have hobbies and so I really don’t understand how they keep busy. Actually, part of the reason why there are so many rapes in the slum areas is because the men are bored. I’m used to a very fast-paced environment with many enriching opportunities, so this is just so different than I’m used to. I’m hoping that realizing these differences and thinking about them differently will reduce my homesickness! On that note though, thank you everyone for writing me messages!! I probably received 15 emails and Facebook messages from family and friends and it was such a wonderful feeling! I’m hoping to respond to them all very soon! In other news, I’m debating whether or not to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. It’s a really big, and expensive, commitment. A few other friends will be climbing it in early March and it sounds like an absolutely incredible experience. The mountain is the tallest in Africa, reaching just under 6,000 meters. My hesitation is due to my concern over my abilities to handle the physical challenges. The altitude can affect people in all sorts of ways as you have less oxygen, and some days will require 6+ hours of hiking. I’m actually pretty scared and so I need to do some heavy thinking about it! Until next time,
24: Kioto Garbage Slum
26: Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp
28: I was going to center this post around how incredibly delicious the mangoes here are but then I wound up learning all about the Kenyan medical system firsthand and figured that was more interesting After arriving home from our host family’s church today, which I’ll get into later, Katie started to have really bad pains and thought she had an infected gallbladder. The pain grew increasingly worse and she kept throwing up, so we finally decided to go to the hospital. Joseph called us a taxi to take us to a somewhat small, local hospital a few towns over from Mlolongo. The service was on the slower side than I’m used to at home, but it wasn’t terrible. Poor Katie though, she was in such horrible pain! Finally the doctors there, with Joseph’s influence, decided her appendix was the problem and that she should be transferred to Nairobi Hospital, one of the premier hospitals in Kenya. This one resembles hospitals in the U.S. much more than the local one did. So Joseph, Julia, who just moved to our homestay, and I hopped in the ambulance with Katie. By this point she was on plenty of drugs and a bit loopy, which only caused Julia and I to crack up. As I write this I am sitting in the waiting room waiting to find out if Katie has appendicitis and needs surgery... how insane! Good thing she’s such a trooper! | MY FIRST KENYAN AMBULANCE RIDE | February 3 | Now I feel I should backtrack a bit to the past week. I only went to work Monday through Thursday because Katie and I were heading into Nairobi Thursday through Saturday to meet up with friends and do some touristy things. I was a bit bored with work this week because the novelty of homevisits has worn off and it just felt quiet. Also, I’m starting to experience the infamous “Africa time”, except instead of things being hours late they just get postponed a week. For example, we were supposed to escort a bunch of kids from the slum to a boarding school on Tuesday but that never happened and is supposedly scheduled for this week. I decided it would be nice to spend a day or two volunteering in a hospital but as I have no medical experience, I’m not sure if that will work out. I’m hoping that my lab experience will allow me to assist in a hospital lab at least! This week at work should be very busy though as a group of people from Sweden have come to start building on the land Living Positive bought and we will be helping. Plus, Julia is now living and working with us so it will be exciting to show her the ropes! Oh, I nearly forgot to mention that I have used the donation money to buy some things for Living Positive. Currently we bought plywood and paint for the daycare as well as some beads for the women to make jewelry with and then sell. I’ll be turning some of the plywood as blackboards while others will be painted as educational posters for the classrooms. So as I mentioned, Katie and I went into Nairobi on Thursday afternoon. Two and half hours and 2 matatu rides later, we made it to the Junction!! Along the ride I was continually poked by this man who confessed that he “loved white women” and wanted to marry me. Unfortunately for him I had to reject his proposal and firmly tell him to stop touching me. I just don’t understand why skeezy men think women like that! Woo me, don’t creep me out! Anyway, there were a ton of new arrivals at the home we were staying out in Nairobi because they were attending orientation the next day. I have never met a bigger bunch of whiners in my entire life! The key to not whining in Kenya is to have low expectations. That way you can never be disappointed. These volunteers, however, expected to have the same amenities and quality of life they experience back home. My group of friends (Katie, Julia F., Alex T., Brad (an Aussie), & Julia S. (a Canadian)) ended up just
29: UPS AND DOWNS | January 22 | hanging out amongst ourselves and had a great time. We were actually supposed to go out to a club but low and behold, half of us were too tired (yes, I’m guilty). Friday we went to the big supermarket at the Junction called Nakumat and loaded up on munchies, mixers, and alcohol and spent the remainder of the afternoon playing drinking games. A quick rest later and all of us but Alex went to this awesome restaurant called Carnivore for dinner. The place had a cool ambiance and decorations, and sort of reminded me of a Brazilian Steakhouse in that the servers came around with giant skewers of different kinds of meat and you kept taking until you were full. The meat ranged from normal things like chicken, beef, lamb, and sausage, to exotic meats like crocodile, ostrich steak, ostrich meatballs, and ox balls (yes, literally the testicles). You will be happy to know that I tried everything!! Surprisingly we all loved the ostrich steak, and I have to admit that the crocodile had great flavor! We were all stuffed and super tired by the time we got back home. We had to say goodbye to Brad before we went to bed because he was flying to Tanzania early the next morning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Speaking of, I decided not to climb it. I’m not great at pushing myself to do things when I’m physically uncomfortable and tired, and the climb will demand that of me 24/7 for 6 days. Saturday Katie and I took Julia to our homestay where she unpacked and started to settle in. We are so excited for her to live with us and our group dynamic is just great! Today we got up early to attend church with our host family and Ann. Both Joseph and Geraldine are extremely religious and it meant a lot for them that we wanted to go with them. My church experience was absolutely insane. I’ve never heard so many “praise Jesus” quotes in my entire life. There was dancing and singing and some readings from the Bible. At several points Geraldine, who is normally very cute and speaks with a quiet voice, began to loudly praise the lord/Jesus/etc and blessed people. One woman literally fell to the ground because she was overwhelmed. It was straight out of a movie. I’m glad I went because it was an eye opening experience but the service lasted hours and there was no lunch. Speaking of my host family, I just wanted to express how much I love them. The housekeeper, Ann, is hilarious because half the time she doesn’t understand what you say, and the other half of the time she’s laughing or being a trickster. I love messing with her! Joseph is a brilliant, very learned man with an endless appetite to learn more about all things. When I told him that I was Jewish the first thing he said was that he wanted to learn Hebrew. We’ve had such great conversations with him ranging from how he used to be fat and have long hair (which is simply unbelievable when you see him now) to his many past jobs and experiences to religion. I love the way he tells stories; he pauses at just the right moments that you just can’t tear yourself away. Geraldine is just adorable and gets so excited when she’s talking to us. I recently found out how much she loves dessert so I’m going to buy her chocolates and cake every so often because she will just brighten up so much. It’s obvious how much the two of them love each other and I can only hope that I too find such happiness and true love in my own life. Until next time,
31: Quite a few people have inquired as to Katie’s health condition so I figured I should write a post updating you all. She ended up having appendicitis and needing surgery. Julia, Joseph, and I were at the hospital until 6 am on Monday morning just waiting to find out what was wrong and to get Katie admitted into a ward. Anyway, Katie is recovering just fine and is planning on remaining in Africa for the duration of her trip!! Her mom actually flew in this morning (good thing we were all forced to buy travelers’ insurance because they covered some of her mom’s flight!!) and will be staying for 2 weeks, which is super nice for Katie! All I would want if I was sick would be my mom too. | A BRIEF UPDATE | February 6 | In other news, today I had to go to the orthodontist because I’m pretty much the biggest idiot in the world and forgot to pack my retainer. You’d think after having braces three times I would have remembered to bring it, but no. My mom sent it but after 2 weeks it has yet to arrive and already my teeth are starting to shift! I could smack myself right now. Anyway, the orthodontist here will make me a new retainer. Thankfully Joseph went with me because I would have gotten so lost! I met him in the city today and even finding him was problematic as the bus I took dropped me off at some random place. I would have panicked but a nice gentleman, Boniface, who actually lives in my complex and got on the bus at the same place as me walked me all the way to where Joseph was. He even gave me his number and told me to call him if I ever get lost again (which I will, because I am the most directionally-challenged individual alive). After leaving the orthodontist, Joseph decided we should go to the Nairobi Synagogue since we were passing by and I wanted to check it out. Security wouldn’t let us in today but they told us to return Friday evening for Shabbat services. Joseph is excited for it as am I! He had a meeting to go to after walking me | back to the part of town I am more familiar with, so I took a matatu home by myself. I felt so independent being able to navigate without any help! A really nice lady named Dorothy started talking to me on the ride home. She invited me to her uniform shop in Kitengela, a town not too far from Mlolongo. I actually think I will visit her! We talked about many things such as how Kenya and the U.S. differ, Obama’s positive influence on the Kenyan people, her family, my family, etc. At one point the matatu slammed on the breaks SO hard to avoid hitting a truck that stupidly decided to change lanes and we nearly died. For real, though. Another nice man sitting next to us then joined our conversation because we were discussing how having too many people and luggage on the matatu actually saved us by weighing the vehicle down and thus allowing it to stop before hitting the truck. I really met some friendly people today! Until next time,
34: SAFARI | February 13 | Safari in the Maasai Mara game reserve was amazing, to say the least! We were picked up the first day in Nairobi over 2 hours late (Africa time after all) and began our long drive to the Maasai Mara. We had two awesome drivers, Mike, the man in charge, and Pablo, who is being trained to be a safari guide. Go figure on the way there one of the other vans we were with broke down, meaning we all had to stop and waste another few hours. This prevented us from going on an evening game drive and made a few people grumpy, but hey, what can you do, right? We went straight to our lodging for the night which were these little huts complete with beds and a bathroom. We all went to bed super early that night because we were to begin our game drive at 6:30 am the following day. I ended up not getting any sleep because my poor stomach was going haywire but on the bright side, I had safari to look forward to! We loaded up the vans and headed into the park. The roof of the vans lifted up pretty substantially, thus allowing us to stand up and get nice views and photos of the animals and scenery. Pretty much right away we saw a family of cheetahs and the mother looked as if she was about to start stalking gazelles. She was moving closer to the herd and was getting lower down into the grasses, but unfortunately the gazelles noticed her presence and ran off before she could even begin the chase. It was still cool to see, plus the baby cheetahs were adorable. Mike continued to drive us all around, stopping any time we saw animals so that we could take photos. We drove by a large herd of elephants and as a lover of all things elephant, I was just taken aback. They are just absolutely gorgeous animals and seeing them in their natural habitat was amazing! Our drive continued with a search for lions. We had a little delay as the van became stuck in mud and had to get some help to get out of there. Shortly thereafter we spotted lions! And not just any lions, but very horny lions! I can now say that I have seen two lions having sex multiple times. Apparently 3 seconds is a lengthy duration for lion sex and they will take a break in between multiple sessions. The next thing on our safari bucket list was to see a kill. We must
35: have arrived about an hour late because we found a lion enjoying a feast of a buffalo it had just killed. While not as cool as seeing the kill itself, it was incredible to see the lion just tear right into the buffalo’s bloody flesh. You could hear the ripping and tearing sounds because we were so ridiculously close. It was interesting to see the male lion get first dibs since the females are the ones to make the kill. For the remainder of safari this day we saw zebras, giraffes, hippos, tons of birds, ostriches, buffalo, a hyena, and more! After the safari we went straight to a Maasai village. The Maasai people are one of the tribes of Kenya and they have kept up their traditions much more than the other tribes. The Maasai men did a dance and showed us how to make fire, and then the women performed a dance of their own. I found it to be overly touristy, especially after we were taken into their homes in small groups and asked to purchase jewelry. At least I learned a little bit about the Maasai culture. The men then got hold of a cow and held it down while they used an arrow to poke its jugular vein. They then filled up a large cup full of cow blood and proceeded to drink it. And by drink I mean gulp after gulp after gulp. Man oh man do they love their cow blood! Both Julias were crazy and decided to taste take a sip too. After leaving the village we returned to the campground and had dinner before going to bed. The third day was some peoples' last, so we made the most of their remaining time by going on another early morning game drive. The highlight of the morning was seeing a large family of momma lions and their cubs. We were hoping to catch sight of a leopard as they are one of the big 5 game animals (elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards, & rhinos) but in the process we got chased by the park security who rightfully accused us of going off road, which you’re not technically supposed to do but that everyone does anyway. We left the park soon after and parted ways with those people who only signed up for the 3-day safari. The rest of us drove to Lake Nakuru to spend the night in a hotel. Our fourth and final day consisted of a drive through Lake Nakuru National Park. The lake itself is massive and home to many species of birds, with the highlight for me being the flamingo. I was expecting them to be much more colorful than they were but actually they were mostly white with just a little pink. Bummer! We drove super close (like 7 feet away!) to some black rhinos which was both terrifying and awesome. One rhino noticed us at
38: and I was panicked that it would attack but we moved a little and it just returned to grazing. We drove up to a raised point that overlooked the entire lake and provided us with tons of photo opps. I couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful scenery in front of me! After leaving the lookout we drove around in a futile attempt to find a leopard. We did run into a bunch of monkeys with funny looking tuchuses and another lion! Finally, we headed back to the hotel for lunch before embarking on a very long car ride back to Nairobi. Overall I was very pleased with my safari experience: I saw 4/5 of the big 5 game animals, got up close to many other animals, had hilarious drivers, and enjoyed the group in my van! Until next time,
44: A BIZARRE COINCIDENCE | FEBRUARY 19 | On Friday Julia and I brought the posters and blackboards we had painted to the daycare. The teachers and kids were so excited to see them! The posters were of various topics including weather, animals, numbers, letters, parts of the body, etc. After they chose which posters were to go in each classroom, we nailed them to the wooden boards in the rooms and voila! Just a note that the supplies needed to make them were donated by you guys, so thanks! After returning to the office we were sitting at the computer when the door opened and in walks a new volunteer. I immediately recognized her and said just that, and then BAM! both of us had the realization that we went to overnight camp together like 10 years ago! Her name is Megan. What a small world, aye?? I’m still in disbelief because what are the odds of that happening?! On Saturday Julia and I met up with Ashlyn, Alex C., and Alex T. in Nairobi to go shopping at the Maasai market. It was actually really annoying trying to haggle prices with the vendors. I bought so many souvenirs and am not sure how I am going to get it all home! Oh, prior to heading out to the market we met everyone at Java Café and while eating a late breakfast a German girl, Sophie, approached our table. She’s new to Nairobi and the person she was supposed to meet at the cafe did not show up and so she ended up joining us for our shopping trip! Hopefully we will see her again because she was very nice! After Nairobi, Julia and I took a matatu to our boss, Mary’s, house. We had never
45: before been there and she gave us really vague directions so of course we get on the wrong matatu and get dropped off in literally the middle of nowhere. Thankfully these two nice women selling fruit at a stand along the road allowed us to sit in the shade of their shop as we waited for Mary to find us. An hour or so later, she picked us up and took us to her house. I literally don’t know what would have happened to us if we hadn’t found those ladies because I couldn’t have explained to Mary where in the hell we were. Dinner at her house was really fun as everyone working at Living Positive was there! The food was really tasty too! Sunday was spent relaxing at the pool with Julia, Megan, British Kate her Kenyan roommate Caro, and the Swedes. I’m not sure if I mentioned the Swedes yet but they’re a team of 4 girls ranging in age from 21 to maybe early 40s. They raised money and started a small foundation for a project they are working on with Living Positive so they came here 2 weeks ago to start it. I haven’t gotten to spend much time with them as our schedules were very different (ie. they were on safari, then we were on safari). That’s why it was nice last night when us, along with them and the rest of the Living Positive team went out to the land in Lukenya where the Swedes are building their orphanage/school/farm on and stayed there overnight. We camped out like 3 to a mattress, had two cooked goats and other typical Kenyan foods, and just hung out! It was fun though I woke up this morning feeling really terrible and it has only worsened. Go figure we could not leave as early as I would have liked because the tire on the sole vehicle we had was punctured and the men had to walk to the nearest town to get one. That takes a long time when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Anyway, I made it back and have been resting ever since. I’m just hoping that I get better before Thursday morning because myself along with several friends are going camping and climbing Mount Longonot. Fingers crossed for me. Until next time,
47: MOUNT LONGONOT | FEBRUARY 23 | I returned a several hours ago from a fun-filled few days in Naivasha, a town located near Mount Longonot. The mountain is an active volcano that last exploded in the 1860s. On Thursday a group of us (me, Katie, Julia F., Julia S., Alex C., Ashlyn, Alex T. and his friend Kyung) met in Nairobi and headed north to Fisherman’s Camp, our home for the next two nights. There we checked in and were put in bandas, which are huts with a bathroom and some beds. The campground itself was so nice and peaceful, and sat along the shores of Lake Naivasha. Monkeys, tall ugly birds, and hippos roamed freely around the area (alright, so maybe hippos were not everywhere but Alex C. did see one last night in the water). There was actually an electric fence surrounding the lake to ward off hippos from entering the campground area at night and killing us. Phew. After settling in a bit we went to the Fisherman’s Camp restaurant where we were all overwhelmed by food options. They had everything from pizza to pad thai to traditional Kenyan food! And let me tell you, when given such a choice of foods after not having had a choice in a while, it is a tough decision! I settled on pizza and an appetizer of hummus and chips! Nom nom. We all went to bed shortly after dinner because we were getting picked up at 7:30 am the following morning to begin our hike! We were met Friday morning by a hired matatu driver to take us directly to the base of Mount Longonot. After paying the high entry fee ($20 for non-residents!!) we began the trek upwards! Let me tell you, I am more out of shape than I previously thought and that’s saying a lot as I never thought I was in shape to begin with! It was a tough 45 minutes upward but we made it in good time! After refueling on water and snacks, we broke into smaller groups to hike around the rim of the volcano's crater. It was much longer (7 km around) and harder than I anticipated! As it’s a volcano, much of the path was ash, meaning for every step forward you took, you went back half a step. That, or you slipped and fell. It worked muscles I never knew I had! There were a few steep uphill climbs where we had to use our hands to maneuver around the rocks. You can probably imagine how ashy and dirty we were by the end of the hike! It felt great to reach the summit of the volcano! We took photos there, obviously, and then continued our hike around the rim. I thoroughly enjoyed this part as it was mostly downhill and was much shadier than the first half (I’m not even going to get into the part where I forgot to apply sunscreen and turned into a lobster). Finally after everyone had completed the hike, we started down the mountain. Yet again, compared to the climb up, going down was a breeze! Alex T. and I hiked it together and had a great conversation which just made it all
50: the more fun! By the time we returned to Fisherman’s around 4:30 pm, all of us were exhausted and completely covered in dirt. We showered, had dinner, and passed out by 8:30 pm! Today Julia F. and I decided to rent kayaks at the campground and boat around Lake Naivasha for an hour. It was really fun and I’m glad we decided to do it because it felt great to be on the water. The sounds you get on a lake are so refreshing and calming. The boat men who hired the boats out expected us to row across this thick floating plant mass that separated the lagoon from the lake itself. HA! We were just like, um, no. So they had to pull us via motorboat which made for a funny picture. After our time was up, the two of us made our way back to Nairobi. Everyone else had left earlier as they were not kayaking. It took us 4 longggg hours to get home but finally we made it to Mlolongo. I was so relieved to get back home! Until next time,
52: So I know that I’ve always wanted a half-Asian, half-white baby but I’m now reconsidering after having spent some time with the cutest little Kenyan babies. Yesterday Julia, Meg, and I had the pleasure of visiting a newborn, 3-day old baby in one of the slums. The baby, named Duncan, seems perfectly healthy & happy, and just a bit sleepy! We all took turns holding him and oo-ing and ah-ing every time he did anything cute. Gosh did my heart melt. The story isn’t all happy, unfortunately. His mother is a 14-year old girl who was essentially raped by a man at least twice her age. My understanding is that while the girl’s mother was in the hospital for a prolonged period of time, this man enticed the girl, possibly with gifts or the like, and coerced her into having sex with him. Seeing the mother with her newborn, you can tell how young and outright terrified she is. I would feel the same at her age I mean, when I think back to the person I was at 14, well, there was just no way I could raise a child. It’s so sad, especially when you consider how small of a chance of success the girl had in life to begin with as she lives in the slums. Now, with a newborn baby and no money, it’s hard to imagine that things will ever improve for her. I used some of the money I raised from all of you to purchase some things for her and the baby. If anyone is interested in sponsoring the lovely young woman to attend high school in May, let me know. While I’m on the topic of donations, I wanted to update everyone about what the rest of the money has gone towards. A chunk went towards purchasing food, some of which | DONATIONS GALORE
53: FEBRUARY 27 | we distributed to the woman at our meeting today. Others went towards supplies for the daycare. And finally, the remainder has gone towards medical kits. I purchased most of the items today at the supermarket and pharmacy. The kits contain: anti-bacterial, anti-fungal ointment, antiseptic ointment, 500-mg acetaminophen tablets, soap, cotton wool, and gloves. These kits will be distributed during home visits to sick women. This little project of mine has been a while in the making so I'm glad it's done! Transitioning now to a new business idea for the women- Megan and Julia brainstormed the idea last week of creating a business focused on tourism. Currently most women who own businesses sell produce, make jewelry, or sew clothing. Competition in these fields is too great to allow success. We presented the idea to the women today at the group meeting and they liked it! We want to bring small groups of tourists into the slums and show them what “real” life in Kenya is like. Today, many people don’t travel simply to see and do the tourist-specific things. They also want the uncensored and raw version; that is, they want to truly experience the culture. Our plan is simple– tourists will be picked up from their hotel in a matatu and taken to the slums where our women will show them a traditional dance, teach them how to cook, clean, make crafts, and participate in a group discussion. In addition, the tourists will be served a traditional Kenyan meal for lunch. There are still a
54: ton of logistics to figure out, but it is clear that if the woman are dedicated, they can make a lot of money compared to what they make now. I’m eager to see how the development of the business goes over the next few weeks I’m here. Tomorrow Meg and I are heading to Ngong to visit the other Living Positive center. It’s more established and bigger so I’m interested to compare it to the one in Mlolongo. On our way home on Saturday we are stopping at the Karen Blixen museum and then proceeding to get an early dinner in Nairobi at a drum roll please CHINESE RESTAURANT!! My mouth is watering already. Last but not least, I am half way done my time here crazy! Until next time,
55: LIVING POSITIVE NGONG & THE TOWN OF KAREN | March 2 | On Thursday around noon Meg and I began our trek to Ngong. If you’ve been reading my blog since I’ve been in Kenya, you’ll remember that this is the first town I stayed in upon arrival. Coincidentally, this is also where the original Living Positive center is located. We wanted to spend a few days checking out the center and seeing if there was anything we could learn and bring back to Mlolongo. While we were eating mangoes and waiting for someone from LP to pick us up in an outdoor market, all the shopkeepers suddenly abandoned their posts and started running in the same direction. We were confused and a little scared because we didn’t know what was happening and thought there may be danger. The mango seller explained that Uhuru, one of the presidential candidates, had just driven in and was speaking to the crowd. As cool as it was to be near the potential future president of Kenya, we stayed back so as to avoid the crowd and potential for pickpocketing/violence. Shortly thereafter, one of the LP employees, Felicity, picked us up and took us to the office. I was immediately impressed by the building. First off, it was HUGE! There were 3 staff offices, a room for training the women in sewing, a production room for women who were already trained, a decent sized sitting room, a rather spacious entryway or hallway, a gift shop, two bathrooms, and two small kitchens. The office in Mlolongo is a fraction of the size so I couldn’t get over it! After a quick tour, Mary, the woman in charge whom I will from here on in refer to as Mom, took Meg and I to the daycare in the slums. Yet again, compared to the daycare run by LP in Mlolongo, this one was massive and just much nicer! The center here is also constructing several 2-bedroom homes in the slum on a piece of land they received from the government for free that will be given to very ill women. I’m not sure if the local government in Ngong is different from that in Mlolongo, but we have not been able to receive any free land! What a big help that would be for our ladies! We then met the 4 volunteers that are placed at the center, 3 of which are living together at the volunteer house there, and headed to their | home. Amy (Canada), Aurelie (Canada), and Kendall (USA) were lovely people to stay with and very welcoming! Mom lives in an apartment below them and is very involved with her interns. She treats them like her family. Mom actually came up and hung out for a while which was nice because she’s fun to be around and has a contagious laugh. On Friday morning I went to the Ngong sub-district hospital with Amy and Meg to learn about medical treatment of HIV/AIDS (finally!!) among other things. An awesome nutritionalist showed us what she does, which is to weigh patients and measure their height, then calculate their BMI. Many of them are malnourished so she gives them a fortified powder or grain. We then went to the maternity ward where we held HOURS OLD BABIES! Talk about cute. There were about 5 mothers resting in a room with their babies, but there were no family members present, which struck me as odd. Another mother was in labor all alone, no husband or family in sight. She bore her pain in silence. We had to return to the LP center shortly thereafter to attend a support group meeting. Four women shared their stories with us and they were nothing less than incredible. For example, one woman’s husband became verbally and physically abusive after she divulged her status, threatening to “cut her up like cabbage” in front of their children. Thankfully she was finally able to leave him. Another woman’s mother verbally abused her because she was HIV-positive. Can you believe a parent would do such a thing!? After this rather emotional session, the women started to sing and dance with us in celebration of our being there and supporting them. Then we sat through a 2 hour presentation on family planning that was in Swahili. It was a bit rough to sit for that long but great to see the high attendance (40 women) and their genuine interest in learning and bettering themselves with knowledge. I am so impressed with the Living Positive center in Ngong. It is several years older than our center but far ahead of us. They have a
58: very intensive 18-month program in which the women spend the entire day every day learning trades (eg. sewing, candlemaking). Upon graduation, the women can continue production of their craft at the center or start their own business elsewhere. The microfinance program lends out money to them to get their business going. Other programs at the center include sponsoring children to attend school, giving out food to members, and more. I hope that Living Positive Mlolongo is able to grow and provide the same support and services to its members soon! I feel so motivated after going to Ngong and seeing just how great of an impact LP has had on the womens' lives. Friday night I spent hanging out with the other interns watching movies, eating a delicious dinner, drinking sangria, and chatting. They sounded interested in maybe joining me and my friends when we go to Mombasa in a few weeks so I’m hoping to see them again soon! Today Meg and I set out early for the town of Karen (aka mzungu central) to visit some tourist attractions. It’s known for being the home to a high number of wealthy white people. We were taken aback by the beautiful landscapes and homes in the area. Our first stop of the day was the Kazuri handmade pottery factory. Anyone who knows me would know that I had an absolute field day there. I’ve been searching for a pottery center since I’ve been here and it finally happened!! A guide took us around, showing us everything from clay production (which, oddly enough, I knew nothing about) to the creation of beads and pots to glazing and firing to jewelery making. Women were producing perfectly shaped beads of all shapes and sizes with their hands! Some of the men were using molds to create plates, vases, bowls, mugs, etc and then finishing them off on the wheel. Other people glazed the beads and other pieces with the most gorgeous of colors, while more still were stringing beads into necklaces or earrings. There was one room where people sort through all the billions of beads, making sure each one passes inspection. The majority of beads are exported to stores such as One Thousand Villages. I found inspiring is that the founder of Kazuri hired mostly single mothers in need of jobs and created a medical clinic at the factory that uses proceeds to provide free medical care to all employees. With this in mind, I did not hold back at the gift shop. My experience at Kazuri truly made my day and has inspired me to create ceramic beads and African-themed ceramic items when I return home to Kaji Aso Studio!!
59: It was hard to leave Kazuri, but the Karen Blixen museum awaited us! We walked about 15 minutes through a very wealthy area covered in trees, flowers, and lush grass. The air smelled so pure and fresh I never wanted to leave. We had a private tour guide who told us the story of Karen Blixen (the movie Out of Africa is about her life), a Danish woman who married her second cousin and moved to Kenya to start a coffee plantation. Her life was extremely interesting and filled with many horribly sad events. Her marriage was not great, and her husband gave her syphilis, resulting in her being unable to have children. She had a long-term love affair with an English game hunter, Denys Finch Hatton, who ended up dying in a plane crash. In addition, the soil was not suitable for growing coffee and the factory itself burned down. She did leave quite a legacy, however, for her close relationships with the Kikuyu tribe and starting a school for nutrition, among other things. The estate was incredible and had a lovely view of the Ngong Hills. My day would not have been complete without a visit to a Chinese restaurant in town. Yes, I have had plans to go for Chinese food for weeks. And yes, I realize I have an obsession. We recruited Kendall to join us, and Katie came into town especially for the occasion. Well, the presidential election is on Monday and things have the potential for going crazy so I will keep everyone posted about the situation here. Until next time,
61: THE TEA FARM | March 11 | The past week or so has been pretty slow due to the presidential elections that took place a week ago. We played it safe and spent more time indoors in the safety of our home than I would have liked, but it actually wasn’t all that bad. I was super productive and applied for lots of summer jobs so that I can waste no more time being away from Boston and my friends! Hopefully I start hearing from employers soon. Anyway, we were able to return to work on Wednesday though we were unable to visit the slums or have group meetings with the women because of the potential for violence there. So, I got a lot of office work done such as creating the website and a brochure for the womens' tourism business. On Saturday, Katie and I were supposed to meet up with Alex C. and Ashlyn in the city center to go to the National Museum, but because election results were being announced that morning, we decided to avoid the crowded city and skip the museum. It was unfortunate because we were supposed to say goodbye to Ashlyn, who leaves next week, but I'm sure we will meet up again one day! Anyway, we still | wanted to do something fun so we ended up going to the Kiambethu Tea Farm where we had the most perfect girls’ day! The farm itself is owned by an older British woman named Fiona and is 35 acres, 2 of which is used for growing tea. Her great-grandparents purchased 300 or so acres in the early 1900s and tea growing has been a family business ever since. Fiona welcomed us into her home, an incredibly gorgeous building surrounded by tons of flowers and plants, with tea and cookies. She then discussed the process of tea production from picking the leaves to the oxidation process that gives tea its familiar taste and smell to the exporting of tea to countries like the U.S. and Britain. I had no clue that the various leaves on a tea plant produces different quality tea, nor did I know | that green and black teas come from the same plant! The process is just slightly different. Following this discussion on tea and Fiona's very interesting family history, we were | guided by an older Kenyan man whose family has worked for Fiona’s for many years into an aboriginal forest on the property. The guide pointed out the flora and fauna, providing us with the scientific and Kikiyu (one of the tribes) names for each. We then returned to the main house for wine and lunch. I liked the intimacy of the lunch, for it was Katie and I, Fiona, 3 volunteer girls from another organization, and 3 medical volunteers. We sat around a lovely wooden table and were served a 3-course meal of bread, salad, green beans, cooked carrots, rice, a tasty beef stew, and homemade desserts (ice cream, lemon mousse, and some sort of stewed local fruit). We were all in food heaven! By the time we left Kiambethu Farm, I felt very full and so spoiled. What a great day! Until next time,
63: I honestly don’t even know where to begin or how to express how incredible the past 5 days have been. On Thursday night, Julia F., Katie, Julia S. and I took a taxi into town to catch an overnight bus to Mombasa, a city on the coast of Kenya. The drive was not all that pleasant, but thankfully I managed to sleep a decent amount. We arrived around 6:30 am, hopped in a tuktuk (the last form of Kenyan transportation I had yet to try! It’s like a golf cart, sort of.), and headed to the ferry to Diani Beach. Our journey continued with a long matatu ride from the ferry drop-off point to the town of Ukunda, and from there another tuktuk ride to the hostel. So much transportation in one day! Upon arrival at the hostel we met up with Sophie, the German girl we met a few weeks ago randomly in a café. It was great to see her again! There were a bunch of other cool people staying at the hostel too, plus a few other volunteers from our organization, so we all hung out a ton! Us girls all hopped in the pool right away, hoping to find relief from the outrageously hot temperatures in the cool water, but unfortunately all we got was warm water. | MOMBASA | March 20 | things got crazy! We then hopped on bodabodas to another bar that was supposedly having a wild party. Turned out it was pretty calm and our group was the party. Our group was dancing and chatting and have a grand ol‘ time! What a great night! I spent the following day sitting in the pool the entire day. Not kidding. The amount of hours I was in there is a little outrageous. It was nice to get to know my fellow hostel-ers more. For dinner a bunch of us (the Julias, Katie, Sophie, Wesley- from the Netherlands, and Thomas- from Canada) went to a restaurant called Stilts where you can feed bananas to little monkeys called Bushbabies. The food was absolutely incredible! Side note: food along the coast is heavily influenced by Arabic and Indian cultures and is therefore incredibly delicious! After gorging myself on food and feeling sick (what’s new?), we walked over to a beach bar called 40 Thieves. We sat at a picnic table and enjoyed ice cream and some drinks before calling it a relatively early night, for we had big plans for the next day! Nine of us were picked up early Sunday morning for a day-long boat trip to Wasini Island. Along the way a large family of dolphins swam next to our boat! We arrived at a good spot along the coral reefs and spent a few hours snorkeling and seeing some pretty great sea life. By the time we were done snorkeling, everyone was starving and thoroughly excited for our seafood/chicken lunch!! We sailed around the | Ugh. We then decided to try the beach, in hopes that the ocean water was refreshing. Yet again, disappointment. The beach itself was nice but the water was so warm! I thoroughly enjoyed laying out in the sun though. After a quick shower and some relaxation, it was time to partayyy. It was a really amazing night, as everyone at the hostel was hanging out at the bar (which, by the way, is built into a tree!) drinking and playing drinking games. Let's just say that
67: island to where the restaurant was, then took a little rowboat to the shore. The food at this place was exquisite. We started off with chapati with a seaweed curry. Apparently the island is the only place where it is made, and hot dayum is it tasty!! Then came out rice and a coconut curry sauce, followed by crabs and chicken for us non-seafood people. I also ordered a tasty cocktail made of fresh orange and pineapple juice, sprite, and grenadine. Julia S. and I had the brilliant idea of swimming from shore to the boat on a completely full stomach. Yeah, I know but in my defense, the distance looked a lot shorter than it actually was! We nearly drowned but we made it!! Finally it was time to turn the boat around and head home. We dropped Katie and Sophie off in Ukunda because they were heading to Mombasa for a ride back to Nairobi that night. The rest of us returned to the hostel and chilled in the pool all night.
68: On Monday we did almost nothing. I must say, I enjoyed the sheer amount of relaxation that we did during this trip. As an over-planner and person who struggles when there are not activities to do, this trip was great for me! Around 4 pm a few of us drove out to Shimoni where we sat on the edge of a cliff watching the sunset. It was beautiful! Tuesday was our last day at Diani Beach. The Julias, Thomas, and I went back to Forty Thieves to hang out by the beach there. The water was finally cool and felt so refreshing!! Us girls rode camels along the beach!! The best parts were when the camels got up and sat down. It was a bit scary! We got lunch at a local place Thomas had been too. It was super cheap and really yummy! Then we returned to the hostel, showered, and packed before embarking on the long journey to Mombasa. As our bus wasn’t until 10:30 pm, we killed about 4 hours in a restaurant where we shared a pizza, 2 orders of chicken fingers, fries, and some curry thing. Oh, and ice cream! Let’s just say that I gained some weight from all the food I ate this weekend. Thomas left for his hostel and the rest of us took a tuktuk to the bus station. The ride back was brutal I barely slept at all. Julia F. and I said goodbye to Julia S. since we won’t see her again before we leave, then headed to a cafe for breakfast. All in all this trip was one of the best I’ve had and a highlight of my Kenya trip!! I loved meeting so many new people. It’s crazy, but you really form close relationships quickly when traveling! In summary, I got 23 bug bites, a 2nd degree burn (which validated my semi-pricey first aid kit purchase!) from a bodaboda, and a large purple bruise on my thigh from getting out of a matatu. Also, I have now been in 3 different oceans! Quick update: I am officially going to Istanbul, Turkey for 3 days on my way home from Kenya! My good friend from home, Ruthie, who’s been in Israel for the past year, will be meeting up with me! I’m so excited and it’ll be great to spend time with her since we don’t ever get to! Until next time, | Shimoni Forest
70: KENYA'S PUBLIC HOSPITALS: AN EYE-OPENING EXPERIENCE | March 26 | Today marks the end of my second to last week volunteering in Kenya. Crazy how time flies, no? Early tomorrow morning I’m leaving for Malawi where I’ll be spending just over a week visiting with my friend Chloe. I met her while we were both studying abroad in Sydney, Australia and then visited her while in Scotland two summers ago. Now we meet again, this time on our third continent together! I’m looking forward to spending time at the lake there, going out, and hanging out with Chloe’s family! Chloe’s friend Robyn will be joining us from South Africa too which should be fun! I’m eager to see how Malawi compares to Kenya for one thing, it’s much smaller, and secondly, it has even worse poverty, from what I’ve heard. I’ll be sure to document my observations in my next post! Today was a really interesting day for me at work. Lately I’ve felt that work has been a bit redundant and that I wasn’t getting that much out of it anymore. However, today Meg, Abigail, and I took a very ill woman, Josephine, to the hospital. She has been sick for a few months now, but we only just started doing frequent home visits to check on her. I’ve never seen such a sick person in my life, and so it has certainly been eye opening. Josephine is HIV+ and her condition has greatly deteriorated, possibly due to the fact that she stopped taking her ARVs (antivirals used to fight HIV) because she was feeling healthy. We aren’t exactly sure if that’s what happened, but I would not be surprised because there is a lack of proper education about good health practices. Josephine has been in lucky in one regard– she has an incredibly caring husband who has stuck by her side through her sickness. He feeds her, bathes her, and does everything else because she cannot even move. We all have such respect for him, especially when you look at other sero-discordant couples here where the husband has become abusive or just left after the wife revealed her HIV status. Our experience at the district hospital was, well, not anything like what you’d find in a developed country. Other than the long waiting time to be seen that is unavoidable anywhere! The facilities at the hospital were utterly lacking: there were few fully-functioning wheelchairs, an apparent lack of hospital sterility (ie. blood not cleaned up after dripping onto the floor), and doctors who barely glanced at the patients before determining what needed to be done. In addition, the protocol for paying for hospital admission and procedures PRIOR to them actually doing anything, was ridiculous and unnecessarily time consuming. After several hours of waiting in a shared room with some crazy patients (one man possibly in drug or alcohol withdrawal, a lady who was suffering from hallucinations and flashing her nether regions, and another lady with TB who was trying to die despite having children), Josephine was admitted. We left the hospital shortly thereafter, both happy that she would be receiving treatment but also concerned about the quality of the treatment. The whole experience made me appreciate health care in the U.S.; even though we have our fair share of problems, you won’t die because it took too long to receive treatment or because you can’t pay, and you will receive decent care, regardless of where you go. Until next time,
71: MALAWI | March 27-April 4 | DAY 1 I woke up super early to catch an 8 am flight from Nairobi to Lilongwe, Malawi. A nice taxi driver drove me to the bus station and helped me purchase my ticket to the other main city in Malawi, and the one in which Chloe lives, called Blantyre. My first observations of the country as I drove to the station where that it is utterly gorgeous and much less developed than Kenya. Every way you look is a lush landscape spotted with small mountains and lots of bushes and trees. Also, the “slums” we drove by look like the stereotypical image of an African village: huts with thatched roofs arranged in a community setting surrounded by corn fields. The huts are made of bricks, whereas the ones in Kenya are made of fabric or tin, and the village area seemed so clean! I was impressed, especially considering that Malawi is less developed and so poor. The bus to Lilongwe felt forever, but actually was only 4 or 5 hours long. I was just uncomfortable because the man’s seat in front of me was broken and leaned back way too far. Anyway, I survived and Chloe and Robyn (Chloe's friend from school who now lives in South Africa) picked me up. It was a really nice reunion with Chloe as we hadn’t seen each other since I went to Scotland in the summer of 2011. We headed directly to Chloe’s little sister, Annika’s, school musical. It was surprisingly funny! Afterwards we grabbed drinks at a local bar with some of Chloe’s friends. DAY 2 Day 2: Chloe had to work on Thursday so Robyn and I spent a few hours together by the pool at the Blantyre Sports Club. Then we walked through town trying, unsuccessfully, to find an ATM that accepted VISA and would give me cash. We spent some time hanging out in a super nice hotel until Chloe finished work and picked us up. At night we went out to a hostel/bar called Doogle’s for drinks with a bunch of Chloe’s friends. DAY 3 Today we headed to Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi for the long Easter weekend. Apparently it was the place to be as everyone and their mother was going. The drive took just over 3 hours and upon arrival at Fat Monkeys Lodge, we immediately set ourselves up on the lake shore. The lake is massive, stretching from Malawi to Mozambique and Tanzania. It’s actually the 9th biggest lake in the world! I was stunned by the reflection of the sun in the water as it set. We were all pretty exhausted from the day so we wound up going to bed early.
72: DAY 4 We spent the early afternoon relaxing on the shore of the lake. Then Chloe’s brother, Sam, and his friends came and picked us up on their boat. Those teenage boys must have just loved having three older ladies in bikinis on their boat. We swam off the side of the boat and then headed to Chembe Lodge, which Sam’s friend’s family owns. There we had lunch and hung out before returning to Fat Monkeys to relax and have dinner. That night was a huge party that everyone on Cape Maclear was going to. Our plan was to “pub crawl” from one little hostel bar to another until finally reaching the party. Unfortunately my stomach was not having alcohol so I headed home before reaching the party. Sounds like everyone had a really good time though! | DAY 5 While Chloe and Robyn were recuperating from their night out, I woke up bright and early and started to tan by the lake. The boys picked us up and we swam and tanned by a little island. We even got to watch the sunset from the middle of the lake which was beautiful!! I got so tan this weekend, let me tell you! And minimal burns considering the strength of the sun and amount of time I spent in it. We relaxed the rest of the evening before going out that night. All Chloe's friends including the Peace Corps girls and various others joined us at Fat Monkeys for the night. I really enjoyed hanging out with everyone and getting to know them more. Also I decided to ignore my stomach issues concerning alcohol and just went for the bottle of wine. Good decision, I say. | DAY 6 We had to check out much too early considering we drank the night before, so the morning was a bit rough. We ate breakfast and chilled in the shade until heading to Chloe's friend's house. Her friend's father is the owner of tobacco fields and the wealthiest man in all of Malawi. Their house by the lake was the most incredible thing. They generously served us lunch before we hopped in the car for the journey home. It took longer to get back to Blantyre due to some of the heaviest rain I've ever seen- it was actually pretty amazing to watch! There was essentially no visibility at times so props to Chloe for driving through that! | DAY 7 Chloe had to work Tuesday so Robyn and I went out for lunch and ran some errands for me and Chloe's mom. I bought my bus ticket for the following day since, as everyone knows, I get travel anxiety and was worried the tickets would sell out We also watched a documentary on the NGO Chloe works for, Mary's Meals, which brought tears to my eyes. Essentially the organization provides a meal a day for children at schools, which provides incentives for them to attend school. The rest of the day was spent watching Food Network! Boy oh boy did it make me miss cooking and inspired me to try all these ambitious dishes. For dinner Chloe, Robyn, and I went to Bombay Palace for Indian food. Robyn had been raving about the food for days so I was eager to taste it. I was not disappointed! Nom nom nom.
73: DAY 8 I got a 7 am bus from Blantyre to Lilongwe because I had to catch my flight the next day from the Lilongwe airport. The ride was much more comfortable this time around! I got a taxi to Mabuya Camp Hostel where I was spending the night. I was the only short-term visitor there when I arrived so I felt sort of awkward as the rest of the people had been there for months! It was a little weird. Gradually more people checked in and I had a good time. I also learned to play the game of Bao. It's somewhat similar to Mancala, if you remember that from childhood. I had great beginners' luck, winning the first 4 games I played in a row! DAY 9 I found three really nice guys to share a taxi with to the airport, thankfully, for it is quite pricey! Jamie and Bill were from England and Sebastian was from Canada. All of them were so friendly so it was really nice to hang out with them! Sebastian and I were actually on the same flight to Nairobi and our seats were next to each other so I had company. I really love how friendly and sociable hostel-goers are. And even cooler are the stories they have from traveling. If anyone is still reading after this novel of a post, thank you for your attention span. I'm now down to the last week of my time in Kenya if you can believe it! I am definitely ready to return home but it will definitely be bittersweet. Until next time,
74: LAKE MALAWI the world's ninth largest lake and home to more species of fish than any other body of freshwater.
76: THE FINAL COUNTDOWN | April 9 | As you probably guessed from the title of this post, I’m down to my last few hours of my time in Kenya. 31 hours to be exact. The reality of this really set in today as Julia, who has become a very close friend to me, left for her trip to Europe. The emotional rollercoaster has officially begun. But before I get too sad, let me fill you all in on the past few days. On Friday, the day after I returned from Malawi, I went with Meg and Abby to Kenyatta Hospital where Josephine is staying. As you may remember, we had taken her to a district hospital the previous week after she had become extremely sick and weak. Much to our pleasure, Josephine was transferred to Kenyatta Hospital and has stayed there for nearly two weeks. It’s a much bigger hospital with better doctors and the ability to do more advanced procedures. The hospital is pretty strict on visiting hours, so we made sure to arrive punctually. Once the clock struck 12:30 pm, the big crowd of visitors quickly started towards the patient wards. We skipped the long elevator line, opting instead to climb 8 flights of stairs behind some very slow Kenyan ladies. After some confusion in locating Josephine’s room, we finally found her. She looked so frail and sickly, which is definitely at least partly due to the fact that she refuses to eat most food because it irritates sores in her mouth. Abby managed to feed her some rice and yogurt we brought her, which made us feel a bit better. No one at LPM knew what the diagnosis was, so we made sure to bother all the nurses and doctors in sight until someone finally told us: she may have leukemia. That was a hit to our morale, for a poor woman from the slums would never be able to afford treatment. It is basically a death sentence. The doctor told us that they would do further testing within the next few days. We promised Josephine that we would be back on Monday to check in. On Saturday Julia, Alex, Katie, Meg and I went to the tea farm again. Katie and I had talked it up so much that the other girls just had to check it out. Obviously the two of us had to return as
77: well, for the food and company and setting were just too perfect to skip out on! This time there was a big group, as opposed to the group of 8 of us last time, so the dynamics were different and lunch was served buffet style rather than around a dining room table. I’m glad we got to experience both! Keeping with my recent tendency to overeat and then feel sick (all accidentally, my eyes are ridiculously bigger than my stomach), I helped myself to seconds and large servings of everything. In my defense, the food is just out of this world. Anyway, after enjoying some wine, good food, awesome tea, and time in the wonderful garden that is Fiona’s house, we set off back to Mlolongo. The plan for the night was to meet up at Kate’s apartment (remember, she’s the Brit who moved here) and then proceed to go out to the bar at Hotel Connections. Kate has been trying to convince me to go ever since I arrived 3 months ago, so it was about time. The girl has talked the place up so I went with high expectations. Sadly, I wasn’t that impressed. Guess it’s all relative though, as there aren’t many other bars like it in the area. I’m just used to a certain type of bar setting. We managed to finagle getting free food and drinks from the super drunk owner so no complaints there! As Joseph and Geraldine do not allow alcohol and/or intoxicated people into their home, we had a little sleepover at Kate’s. On Sunday Julia, Katie, Alex and I went to Chicken Inn for me and Julia’s last meal there. If you’re not already aware of me and Julia’s addiction to Chicken Inn, then I’ve done a really bad job updating this blog. I think the word addiction is an understatement. The thing is, the food isn’t even THAT amazing it’s just that the local cuisine is so repetitive that eating different foods is always a special occasion. We didn’t just stop at getting popcorn chicken and fries... no way! We had to go overboard with a peanut buster sunday. Holy ice cream! I apologize for my tangent about fast food but man oh man is it tasty. Definitely going to miss that place and their slogan, “love dat chicken”. The remainder of the day was spent digesting the unhealthy food and relaxing at home. Julia and I went to work on Monday (Alex and Katie had to go into town to renew their visas) where we met Meg and Abby before heading to the daycare at Kicheko slum. Unfortunately, as rainy season has begun, the path to the daycare was insanely muddy and I quickly realized that my flip flops would be insufficient. I turned around and met the girls at the matatu stand a little while later. We then began the trek to Kenyatta Hospital to visit Josephine. The journey there took forever due to horrible traffic. I don’t know why but lately the traffic has been worse than usual! For example, on Saturday, Alex and I were stuck at the matatu station for over an hour because it was unable to leave! I shall never complain about traffic at home again! Back to the story– we eventually made it to Josephine, who at this point is all skin and bones. Meg and I brought some things for her: lotion, face wipes, energy supplements, yogurt, and a teddy bear. I was a little embarrassed to give her the teddy bear since she’s an adult but I think it definitely lifted her morale a bit!! We sort of talked to one doctor
80: who said they now thought she may have anemia, which is definitely better than the previous potential diagnosis! But yet again, they needed to run more tests. It’s so frustrating that the testing and prognosis are taking so long! What is even more frustrating is that it is pretty clear that Josephine has little desire to live. The fight is just not in her, as evident by her recalcitrance to eating despite everyone telling her she needs to if she wants her condition to improve. As it would be my last visit to the hospital, I said goodbye and knew by her response that she was really appreciative of my visits. That made me feel really, really good. As today was a public holiday in Kenya due to the swearing in of the new president, LPM was closed. The girls and I went to Village Markets Shopping Center for food and mini golf. The day was really fun but also sad as I knew my time left in Kenya was dwindling. When we got home, Joseph was cooking samosas. Alex and I had him teach us the basics. Then we all had dinner (our favorites: black beans, cabbage, chapati, and samosas!) and chai tea, and relaxed a bit before Julia got picked up to go to the airport. We had our taxi man, Jacob, take a group photo of all of us. My plan for tomorrow is: go to work in the morning to say goodbye to my coworkers and some friends, eat lunch at a local Kenyan restaurant next to our office, print my boarding pass, go home and pack, take a nap, then head to the airport at midnight. My flight to Istanbul leaves at 3:45 am so it will be a long, busy day for sure! Leaving Kenya is certainly a bittersweet feeling I am happy to be returning and think 3 months was the perfect length of time to be away, but I’m really going to miss my host family, coworkers, friends, and the country. On the bright side, I get to see all you guys in a matter of days!! Until next time,
84: Istanbul, Turkey
86: Istanbul, Day 1 April 11 | Let’s just say that I am completely and utterly exhausted from traveling. As my flight from Nairobi to Istanbul didn’t leave until 3:45 am, I was forced to stay awake WAY past my Kenyan bed time of 10 pm. It was a struggle, to say the least. Katie and Alex were good friends to me and stayed up until my taxi came at midnight to take me to the airport. We played many rounds of Bananagrams and taught Joseph and Geraldine the rules too. It was a great way to spend my last hour with my host family an friends! I was too exhausted to be emotional when I said my goodbyes but I think once I get home and everything hits me, I’ll start to feel sad. The flight itself wasn’t too bad, though I was only able to get a few hours of interrupted sleep as it was a relatively short overnight flight only 6 hours long. Visa and passport control were a breeze, as was getting my luggage, and I was soon off to Taksim Square in the heart of the city via shuttle bus. I then found my way through the narrow, steep roads to my hostel with a heavy wheelie bag. It was a challenge to not run myself over. I must say, there’s something so satisfying about arriving in a brand new city and being able to maneuver from here to there completely independently. After checking in with
87: View of Hagia Sofia | Galata Tower | Fish market by the Bosphorus
88: the hostel desk guy, I met up with Ruthie in our room. It was so great to see her after nearly a year!! A quick shower later and we were off to lunch at a local place around the corner from the hostel. The food was sort of served buffet style and we were pleasantly satisfied with the tastes and selection. Then we made our way via tram to the Grand Bazaar, a very large, covered marketplace where they sell all sorts of things from scarves to bags, decorative pieces to huge oriental rugs, to jewelry and more! The place literally goes on forever and you can easily get lost in the many turns. The shopkeepers, mostly young men, loved us and kept thinking we were from Spain, Turkey, Brazil, and everywhere else but America. It was pretty funny. Ruthie and I both bought awesome scarves at a great price after bargaining! Woo, glad my Kenyan bargaining skills can still be used. Our next stop was the Egyptian Spice Market. Getting there proved to be an adventure in itself as we received many different directions that were generally just a hand pointing this way or the other. Surprisingly, English is not commonly used here. I mean, it is to some extent but so many fewer people speak it than I would expect. I feel like every time I go to a foreign country, people easily switch to English but here it seems many people don’t know it! We had some funny exchanges where the direction-givers just started speaking to us in Turkish and we nodded and pretended we understood. Anyway, we made it to the Spice
89: Market finally. It was love at first sight for me. Ruthie was head over heals over the varieties of Turkish Delight and I was excited about the many flavors of loose tea and spices! We received some free treats here: Turkish delights, apple tea, and a free spice test tasting session that is normally reserved for larger groups. The spice lady was so cool– she was educated in the U.S. and brought her knowledge back to Turkey to apply to her family’s spice store! She was fun to talk to and was a great seller: I bought some Turkey-specific spices for my Dad (can’t wait to try what he makes with them!) and tea for myself. I loved all the colors, shapes, and textures of things being sold at the markets. My eyes were constantly darting to this and that and the over-stimulation was addictive. We then crossed the bridge over the Bosphorus Strait that separates part of the city to get to the Galata Tower for excellent, 360 degree views of the city. Afterwards we decided to get tea at a nearby café. I tried rosehip tea and Ruthie tried linden flower tea. The lady sitting next to us introduced herself after overhearing our conversation about us being from Philadelphia. She had received her Bachelors’ from Temple University! What a small world. She is an American ex-pat who has been living all over for a number of years, and has been in Istanbul the past 3. She recommended we go to a wine bar that was close by and invited us to her friend's shop tomorrow night for some more wine. I love hanging out with older ladies haha! Since we weren’t yet hungry for dinner, Ruthie and I figured we might as well have some wine so we went to the wine bar and had a fabulous time with great drinks, conversations, and laughs! We met a nice 30-something year old Turkish woman who has lived in NYC the past 13 or so years. She gave us recommendations for things to do and convinced us to go to a Turkish bath. We will fit that into our Saturday itinerary! By the time we left the wine bar, I was mildly drunk and ready for dinner. We decided to get fish from one of the little hole-in-the-wall places along the Bosphorus. I’m not much of a seafood or fish person but wow! The fish was so incredibly fresh and tasted amazing! It was a perfectly sized portion and cost a mere $4. In fact, all the food and most of our purchases have been super cheap. You can get great meals for so little money that I can’t help but eat a bite of everything in sight! It’s not every day you’re in Turkey, no?
90: By this point the two of us were ready for bed and headed back to our hostel. Though it has only been one day, I can say for certain that I am already in love with Istanbul. The city is maybe the most amazing place I’ve ever been to and it’s hard to describe why I feel that way. It has a very old-world-meets-new-world feel to it, and just seems very unlike other European cities I have visited. Maybe it’s the people, maybe the food, or maybe just the atmosphere. Not sure, but I love it. Until next time,
91: LIFE IS A JOURNEY | Travel is adventure
92: "Life is a journey not a destination." - RALPH WALDO EMERSON | Hagia Sofia
93: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page." - Saint Augustine
94: What an exhausting and incredibly productive day we have had in Istanbul! Our morning started bright and early as we began a tour of Topkapi Palace. The palace was the main residence for sultans for hundreds of years. The grounds are huge and contain a bunch of different buildings. Our first stop was to the Harem, which housed the eunuchs and women (both wives and concubines alike). The building was made of stone and covered in tile mosaics | Istanbul, Day 2 April 11 | from ground to ceiling. The colors and designs were stunning. We walked through different areas including living quarters, privies, courtyards, and sitting rooms. After exiting, we explored the the palace grounds, walking through gardens full of bright red, yellow, and purple tulips, cool arches and stairs, and various rooms that house ancient artifacts like clothing, swords, and jewelry boxes. Other interesting rooms included a circumcision room (self-explanatory, no?) and a sitting room used by the sultan to watch events occurring in the garden area. There were pretty fountains and great views of the Bosphorus as well. The second stop on our agenda was the Hagia Sofia, a basilica-turned-mosque-turned museum. The ceiling design immediately caught my attention, and further exploration revealed old mosaics and an exhibition on ancient calligraphers. After grabbing chicken donor sandwiches for lunch, we made our way to the Basilica Cistern. Ruthie and I were in agreement that this was a highlight of our trip so far. A cistern is an underground water storage chamber that collected rainwater and would supply water to various locations in the city. The cistern was beautiful: there were tons of pillars lined up in a grid
95: The Harem
96: Making Memories. | Topkapi Palace
97: Basilica Cistern
99: on a large pool of water. As we were underground, there was no natural light and so the pillars were lit up by small red lights. It just looked so cool down there and you really weren’t able to capture the ambiance or appearance by camera. At one end of the cistern are two large heads shaped like Medusa that form the base of the pillars. It was cool to think that we had been walking over the cistern and had no clue it was there! We headed over to the Blue Mosque after leaving the Cistern, but unfortunately we arrived during prayer time and had to wait about 45 minutes until it was open to tourists. The line to even get in to the mosque took so long to get through! I realized it was probably because you had to remove your shoes upon entry. All us women covered our heads with scarves out of respect. It was super cool to get a taste of a new culture like that! The mosque itself was massive and covered with carpets. There are separate areas for men and women, and we saw a few stragglers praying. Not sure how they can focus when hundreds of tourists are encroaching on their prayer space! Oh, I forgot to mention that just outside of the entrances to the mosque were a row of faucets and stools upon which the men would wash their hands and feet before entering. As I had never before been inside a mosque, I found the whole experience very intriguing. It was around 3 pm when we exited
101: Let the journey begin
102: the Blue Mosque, and we weren’t scheduled to go to our next activity for another hour, so we decided to make a second visit to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar to pick up some additional souvenirs. I sampled some incredibly delicious baklava and obviously had to bring home an entire box. I got it vacuum sealed and everything so the freshness will be preserved! We both just love walking around the bazaar, and the mens’ comments only further our entertainment. The best comment was this one guy who said to Ruthie, “hey, you dropped something [as she looks around her feet] my heart”. Worst pick up line ever? I just love it. Just before heading to the Bosphorus for a little boat tour, I picked up a Turkish pizza. I honestly don’t even know what was on it but it was a very interesting flavor. Not sure I’d choose to get it again but I didn’t hate it! Our boat cruise was an hour and a half long and took us along the Bosphorus, bringing us close to both the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. In case you were unaware, Istanbul stretches across two continents, and the sides are separated by a body of water whose name I don’t know. I was underwhelmed by the cruise, for I was hoping there would be nice views of all the major sights we had seen earlier in the day. We did see some dolphins and colorful buildings. It was also super cold by the end and as I came from Kenya, I don’t have appropriately warm attire.
103: Oh well! We were both so exhausted from the day that we went straight home after the boat and spent half an hour relaxing before figuring out our dinner plans. We wound up walking to Taksim Square and explored Istiklal Street, which is a super long pedestrian street filled with stores like GAP, Top Shop, and some really high end stores. Spotted between these are cafés and restaurants, little markets, art galleries, and music shops. The area is so hoppin’ at night I’m not kidding, the stores were filled and the streets were so crowded! After dinner we checked out a store called Mango which I’d heard of but never been to before. Based on my spending, it is evident that I was in shopping withdrawal. Guess that’s what happens when you go from three months in a third world country to walking on a major shopping street, all within 2 days of each other. It’s dangerous I tell you! As you can see, we accomplished so many things today! We were pretty impressed with ourselves and our time management. It helps that all four major sights were located in the same general vicinity and that the public transportation makes getting around so easy. Also, after just one day we had become somewhat familiar with where things are and how to get places. After day two, I love Istanbul even more and I’m tempted to drop everything and just move here indefinitely. Too bad grad school awaits. Tomorrow is my final day in Istanbul so we are going to make the most of it! Until next time,
104: Dolmabahce Palace
105: "A travel adventure has no substitute. It is the ultimate experience, your one big opportunity for flair." -Massow
106: Istanbul, Day 3 April 13 | As today was my final day in Istanbul, Ruthie and I made sure to take advantage of every last second. We started off by walking to Dolmabahce Palace, which is located on the waterfront and a 15 minute walk from our hostel. This palace was the home for sultans starting in the mid-nineteenth century, when they decided to move from Topkapi palace, which we visited yesterday. This palace was nothing like Topkapi; first off, it had a lot of Western European influence on it, from the massive, 4-ton chandeliers to the style of the furniture and architecture to the the furniture. Also, everything is located in one massive building as opposed to Topkapi where things are spread out over a chunk of land. Dolmabahce reminded me somewhat of Versailles while Topkapi was so much more influenced by Ottoman Empire culture and styles. We had a 45 minute guided tour during which we saw various rooms and learned a bit about the sultans and their families. As with Topkapi, eunuchs served as guards and the wives lived in separate apartments. I found it interesting that the sultan’s wives were not legally married to him; they were actually captured during wars, recruited from within the empire, or brought in from neighboring countries and then promoted to different statuses of concubine.The concubine with whom the sultan shared his bed became a member of the dynasty and was given the title of “the favorite”, or “the wife”. After completing our tour, we took a ferry from the European side of Istanbul over to Üsküdar on the Asian side. How cool is it that I will have been to 4 continents in 4 days?! Our mission over on the Asian side was to go to a traditional Turkish bath house. Finding the place was an adventure in itself, for even fewer people seem to speak English on this side and so we settled for pointing. That meant we had to ask probably 10 different people at
107: various points of our journey for directions to confirm that we were going the right way. Our walk was about 45 minutes and took us up a very steep path. Guess that’s what happens when your city is built upwards! We finally made it to Cinili Hamam (hamam means bath). Let me preface the telling of our bathhouse adventures by saying that it was one of the most hilarious, awkward, and fascinating experiences, partly due to the fact that no one spoke English. We walked in to this lobby-esque room where ladies of all ages were sitting in bikinis or were fully clothed. Using hand gestures and the word “massage”, we communicated with the lady in charge and she signaled for us to go into this little room to change and put our things. The door of the room was a window so really there was no privacy. Initially we were unsure what we were supposed to wear. Google the night before had informed me that people usually go in topless or completely naked. We peeked into the room to confirm the appropriate wear (mostly topless, but some in bikinis) and proceeded to enter. The room itself was essentially an octagon-shaped sauna with a large, octagon-shaped stone slab table, called a gbek ta (tummy stone), in the middle. At each wall of the room were stone basins with faucets above them for us to clean ourselves with soap and water. We were really confused as to what to do and the older women in charge just kept pointing. Ruthie and I were hysterically laughing as they went ahead and dumped water on us because we just had no idea how the whole Turkish bath thing worked. While waiting our turns, we watched the women around us getting scrubbed head to toe by the massage ladies. They literally scrubbed everything except the nether regions, unlike a massage back home where they avoid other certain private areas. Anyway, finally it was our turn. We were both assigned a massage lady who first scrubbed us with this sort of rough glove that removed dead skin.You could literally see the clumps of gross dead skin on you. Next we rinsed all of that off. Afterwards the ladies gave us a really nice lathery soap massage.
110: A quick rinse later and we were all done! We could have gone inside a warmer sauna room and spent more time relaxing but we both felt faint from the heat and needed cool, fresh air. The experience was unlike anything I’ve done before and I would definitely go again! (The photo of the inside of the hamam is from google- obviously we couldn’t take photos as there were half naked people inside!). We were quite hungry by the time we left the hamam so we stopped for lunch at a place serving Turkish pizza, donor kabobs, and more. As the menu was in Turkish, we didn’t know what to order and ended up speaking to one of the guys, named Ferhat, that works there and spoke a bit of English. He took Ruthie into the kitchen so she could pick what toppings she wanted on her pizza thing and also wound up eating lunch with us. He suggested to me that I order this dessert called Künefe, which is a cheese pastry soaked in sweet honey syrup, and I loved it! Then he offered to take us to this area on the water where you have a nice view so we | said sure, why not. The spot he took us to was pretty neat; it had layers of seats with cushions and a little café at which to order drinks and snacks. You overlooked the water and it was very relaxing! We didn’t spend too long there as we had plans to return to the European side for last minute souvenir shopping. Ferhat walked us over to the ferry and we said our goodbyes with the typical European double kiss on the cheek. The Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar where we went to search for postcards and some other goodies was ridiculously crowded today to the point that I started to get really bothered. We pushed through the crowds and finally found some little shops selling what we were looking for. I now have all the souvenirs I need! We asked this guy where a mailbox was so I could send a postcard and he told us he owned a ceramic art gallery on the next street over. Obviously I had to go see it. Upon entering the shop we were offered free apple tea (yum!) and the guy tried to set me up with his son. He tried pretty hard and even showed me a bunch of photos of his son haha! I was like, next time I’m in town, we’ll get together! The ceramic pieces and oriental rugs can take up to
111: 10 months to make and cost upwards of $4,000! We headed back to the hostel after this, had a quick bite to eat, and are now relaxing before bed. My flight home tomorrow leaves at 7:30 am so I’m getting the 4 am shuttle bus. It’s going to be a really tiring journey so I hope I’m able to sleep on the plane! It hasn’t yet sunk in that I’ll be seeing my family and returning to the U.S. in less than 24 hours. While I am super excited to go back, I’m really sad about leaving Istanbul. I’ve never felt this way about any other place I’ve visited. I sort of seriously want to up and move here. The people are so friendly and nice and the city itself just makes sense. The public transportation and food are good too and there is so much to do culturally and socially! I plan on returning here as soon as possible. Until next time,
112: REFLECTIONS | April 21 | One week has gone by since I returned to the U.S. and I’ve had some time to reflect upon my experiences. I prepared myself to have intense reverse culture shock and to struggle re-adjusting to all the modern conveniences, plethora of options for everything, and way things function here. Shockingly to me, I haven't noticed myself experiencing any culture shock at all! I know I’m not the most observant person but still, you’d think I would have some issues and feelings over overwhelmingness! I’ve been able to look back at my time in Kenya through memories and blog posts and really analyze my experience on the whole. There were a lot of times, especially during the last month or so, that I was feeling frustrated with limitations on what we were able to actually accomplish. For example, the business plan we had for the women was not following our schedule for development at all and at times I wondered whether it would succeed. In addition, I felt that I wasn’t really contributing or making a difference in the womens’ lives or Living Positive. Yes, I would visit the women and hear their stories, but I couldn’t actually improve their lives. It took me a long time to be able to see how I was making a difference, but once I altered the way I was thinking, I felt better. No, I couldn’t change the womens’ lives by 180 degrees or even a little bit. No, I can’t make Africa time disappear so that our business followed the time frame. What I could do, however, was learn as much as possible and share all that I absorbed with people back home. That alone is important because it not only opened my eyes and made me more aware of how people live in other areas of the world, but it teaches others as well. Hopefully we can all take the time to really appreciate what we have, because we’re truly lucky. As anyone not living under a rock knows, Boston experienced a horrible tragedy this past week: the Marathon Monday bombings and resulting violence and manhunt. Seeing the way that the greater Boston community came together and stayed strong was so inspiring and made me wish to return to the city, which I really do consider my home now. I am moving back to Boston this Wednesday and while I’m a bit apprehensive about reacclimating (it’s always a bit hard when you’ve been away a while), I’m so eager to see my friends again and walk down the familiar streets. Last but not least, I want to thank everyone who read my [sometimes too long] blog posts and followed my adventures all over the world. While I mainly write these blogs for myself so that I don’t forget what I did and my thoughts and feelings while doing them, it is a wonderful thing when people tell me that they’ve enjoyed following my posts. Stats on my blog revealed an impressive fact: people from 18 different countries read my blog (US, Canada, Australia, Kenya, UK, Austria, Germany, Israel, Turkey, Malawi, Czech Republic, Italy, Netherlands, Thailand, Spain, Chile, Denmark, and United Arab Emirates). It’s incredible how my travels have given me friends all over the world! For the last time,