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Archive for March, 2009

Day 11

This past weekend I joined the first group of interns on their midterm retreat to Lake Nukuru. It was an amazing drive as we went through the lush green forests around Kakamega and through the drier Rift Valley to get to Nukuru. On the way we passed a refugee camp for people who were displaced by the post election violence. The camp still exists even though that was over a year ago. When we were buying our park passes monkeys jumped into our matatu and raided our food supply within the span of about five minutes.

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The next day we headed out for an all day safari. Lake Nukuru is famous for all of the waterfowl it has, specifically pelicans and flamingos. We saw thousands of birds but was told only a small percentage are currently there. During the peak part of the season three-fourths of the lake is covered with flamingos. Throughout the day we saw zebras, water buffalo, impalas, and gazelles. We also saw a lone hyena strolling at the water’s edge. In the afternoon we saw a family of white rhinos that were absolutely huge. We also saw numerous baboons; once in the distance we saw a group of about 100 moving across the fields. The late afternoons highlights were giraffes and the illusive black rhino. We also saw the famous Nukuru tree lions. They like to chill out on the top of trees but given the intense heat we saw them hanging out below in the shade.

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We stayed in a guesthouse in the park so right outside our door we could see zebra and water buffalo. In the morning there was a large family of warthogs with a bunch of piglets running around, very cute. That evening we went to town and saw Jua Cali, a famous Kenyan rapper perform at a club. It was fun to see what a club in Kenya was like, lots of dancing.

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Day 8

I’ve started work at a non-profit called Western Education Advocacy and Empowerment Program Kenya (WEAEP-K). Their mission is to support and empower women, girls and young children. Half of the program works on women’s issues such as economic empowerment, domestic violence, literacy training, etc. The other half focuses on street children, orphans and those that support them.

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Today I had an amazing experience where I accompanied one of the staff members to a women’s literacy group meeting. At these meetings older women gather to learn how to read and write; they also participate in revolving funds. These are funds the women use as a savings account to then access in times of emergency or to create a small enterprise. Most of the time these loans support the purchase of seeds; they are very small loans but they can help the women become self-sufficient.

The group was gathered next to a small garden sitting on benches made of split trees. A community volunteer trained by WEAEP-K led the discussion they were having on rights and legal terminology on a chalkboard propped up against a fence post. The women were all dressed in brightly colored lassos, which are large bolts of fabric they use both as skirts and head-wraps. After introductions were made the women sang a song to me to welcome me into their group. It was such a wonderful feeling to be so graciously accepted; definitely a moment I will never forget.

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Although the women’s groups primarily focus on literacy education, they also discuss topics such as family planning, human rights, gender equality, HIV prevention, nutrition and money management. Volunteers who have been trained by WEAEP-K lead the meetings and then report back to the staff members. The staff members manage the revolving fund aspect of the group; working with the group’s treasurer on making sure balances are kept current and everyone is participating properly.

Day 5

Completed orientation and am getting settled with my host family. Their home is very nice and comfortable. We have a lot of modern conveniences such as a TV and a refrigerator but most of the cooking is done on a jiko (a wood charcoal stove), I take bucket baths and there is a pit latrine. Also, the chickens like to run into the kitchen whenever the door is left open. They have a daughter who is nine who is assisting me with my Swahili and is very excited to have someone’s hair to braid. They also have live-in house help. She doesn’t speak that much English but we can communicate well enough.

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Day 1

I have made it to Kakamega after an interesting day in Nairobi. I stopped at a bank to get some cash from an ATM and the machine ate my card. For a moment, I totally freaked out but luckily there were some American students behind me that helped me. One watched the machine and the other helped me argue with the bank guard to let us into the bank even though it was closed to get my card out of the machine. Her perseverance and arguing skills got me into the door and I got my card back thankfully. I decided not to risk any more adventures in Nairobi and joined them at a coffee shop instead until I had to catch my flight.

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At the Nairobi airport I had to walk out onto the tarmac to get on the plane. The flight to Kisumu was very beautiful. The hills are densely covered with a patchwork of fields. It looks as though every piece of land it used for farming, lots of deforestation. I also saw a lot of fires burning, clearing the land for farming. Kisumu is situated on the banks of Lake Victoria so there was a nice view of it through the smoke. The Kisumu airport is just one runway and a tent for a waiting area. The FSD staff met us there and we took a ridiculously bumpy road to Kakamega.

We are staying in a guesthouse for a week of orientation before we join our host families. Throughout the week we’ve been having a bunch of sessions to better prepare us for life in Kakamega. We’ve also been taking Swahili lessons. I’ve noticed two main things that I think will take me awhile to get used to. First, it’s the massive amount of garbage that is everywhere. The ditches are filled with garbage; the roads are ingrained with it. It’s just everywhere because people liter here or they throw their garbage in a hole where it blows out or gets flooded out by the water. Also, the amount of people everywhere. Every road has tons of people walking on it. In town the main roads are lined with men on bicycles. There are just tons of people everywhere and I’m definitely not inconspicuous so everyone stares at me. I’ll definitely get over any crowd phobias I may have harbored or any self-consciousness I may have had!

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