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Archive for April, 2009

Day 51

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One of the other interns received a grant to put in a water catchment system at a local informal school.  Today they finished the installation of the tank and rainwater catchment system so I went for a visit to see it.  During the rainy season there is plenty of water but it’s not very accessible.  They will be able to use the water collected in the tank instead of drinking contaminated river water.  The final process involved covering the tank with grain sacks and chicken wire, which were then covered in waterproof cement to protect the tank.

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I was more of an observer, not very useful, although I did attempt to help make tea.  Tea is an endeavor here.  One of the boys got a large tree pole that was then chopped up for firewood.  Inside one of the school rooms, one of the women helping with the project got a fire going to boil the water/milk/tea/sugar mixture.  Probably not the healthiest to have a bonfire indoors but that’s the way they do it.

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Day 50

Today I visited our Mumias office again for a proper tour from the Coordinator there.  He just recently started; previously he had been working in the Nairobi slums with the street children there.  I got a full tour of the new building that will hopefully be finished soon.  It has space to house battered women in need of shelter, some of the street children and a health clinic.  There is also space to have meetings and trainings for the women’s groups.

I hung out with the boys at the drop-in center there for a bit as well; they love hamming it for the camera.  They just recently got new bunk beds and bedding.  Before their mattresses were on the floor.  When the new beds arrived he gave a hygiene and chores training for all the boys so they would understand the importance of taking care of themselves and their surroundings.  Many of the boys arrive in pretty bad shape.  The coordinator recently recruited a boy whose feet were so infested with jiggers, burrowing bugs, that he couldn’t walk.  They are all gone now and he can walk.

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He also took me to the mechanic workshop where we have three older boys apprenticing.  We don’t have enough money to cover all of the older boy’s expenses so WEAEP has been able to work out a deal with an establishment in town that the boys go to in the morning and in the evening.  There they do a bit of manual labor in exchange for breakfast and supper.  For lunch they come to the office and eat with the younger boys and they are able to sleep on the property of the workshop they train at.  It’s not perfect but they at least have a place to stay and food in their bellies.  Hopefully, when they complete their apprenticeship they will be able to be gainfully employed and self-sufficient.

Day 48

The other day I was in downtown Kakamega walking home from work and spotted a familiar t-shirt on a little boy.  It was one of the boys from the Ambalemba drop-in center.  He had his requisite bicycle tire tube and stick that all young boys have here to play with.  I called out his name to get his attention and the look on his face knew he was caught.  The drop-in center is about a half hour walk from downtown and he’s one of our youngest boys, seven or eight.  Clearly he was not supposed to be wandering around downtown by himself.  I motioned for him to come along, which he quickly did for fear of punishment and we walked back to the drop-in center together.

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His story is similar to many of our boy’s stories.  He’s from an area village and wandered into Kakamega because his home life was in shambles.  When home-tracing was completed it was found that his father runs an illegal brew distillery out of their home.  It’s not like moonshine of the olden days but more like the meth of the modern days.  Pretty much every chemical they can get their hands on is put in this stuff, including formaldehyde.  His mom is also alive but, as they say here, a drunkard.  Our social worker deemed it unsafe for him to be at home so he now stays at the drop-in center.

Day 47

So being a farm girl from Iowa, one would assume that I would be used to having animals everywhere but I wasn’t really prepared for what everywhere meant.  And here it means everywhere.  Chickens in the house, chickens in the yard, chickens in the matatu.  Wherever there is a free bit of grass there are sheep, goats and cows tied up.  In all of the ditches, on every side of the road, in people’s yards; animals are their lawn mowers and their garbage disposals.  I’ve had people try to talk me into eating meat here because it’s free range aka healthy but I’ve seen way too many animals getting their lunch via the garbage in the ditch.  I can’t believe they don’t have more animal deaths via plastic bags.

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Previously, I’ve had a hate/hate relationship with cows because I have been chased multiple times in multiple settings by very large cows.  Here the cows are smaller, not quite as intimidating and are very used to people because they are regularly herded down the road to the next open patch of grass.  I’m always amazed at the boys herding the cows; they are young, tiny things, like seven or eight, moving five head of cattle down the road with a switch made out of a tree branch.  Animals aren’t just a country thing here, goats wander about downtown; I’ve seen cows moved down the highway creating a traffic jam.

There are also a ton of stray dogs, as well as all of the dogs people keep as guards.  They aren’t really viewed as pets here; they get scraps maybe but mostly just scavenger.  Their main job is to bark at all noises that could be potential intruders, meaning they bark all damn night.  It’s a symphony of barking dogs.  We have two at the home I live at.  At first I was nervous that their barking meant someone was trying to get into our gate but after continuous nights of barking I know that their job is to just sound ferocious.  And they have very ferocious names: Jimmy and Tommy.

Day 46

Today we had a women’s empowerment event for the Makunga area women’s groups. About 250 women showed up to play legball, aka soccer, and netball, aka basketball. There were also sack races and bottle balancing races for the older ladies. The goal of WEAEP’s sporting events is to offer the women a day of enjoyment that breaks up their routine and also lets them play sports that are usually designated for men. It was a lot of fun, we had music for dancing and all of the women were having a great time. It was wonderful seeing these women play their hearts out in their skirts and bare feet. They were very serious, competitive and talented! We even had an announcer calling the shots that heightened the excitement.

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Most area villages have a soccer pitch near the school so we were able to play there. We borrowed school benches to use as spectator bleachers. The basketball court constituted two posts with metal rings nailed to them. The women used hoes to carve out the boundaries and the free throw lines. Given the huge number of community members present, a few area assistant chiefs came by to say a few words. Being the mzungu guest I got to address everyone at the awards ceremony as well. Afterwards we went to lunch with the assistant chiefs where I politely declined cow intestines and instead just munched on chapatti.

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Day 45

A lot of days I show up at work with no real idea of what I will be doing.  I’m along for the ride, always with a book for the long stretches of down time.  Today, one of my co-workers asked me if I could accompany her to an event to take her daughter’s picture.  I said sure because nothing else was planned.  We get there and it ends up being the opening of a children’s court in Kakamega, the third in Kenya.  Her daughter was chosen to present the Chief Supreme Court Justice of Kenya with flowers as he arrived for the ribbon cutting ceremony.  Randomly, an agriculture representative from the Netherlands embassy was there as well because the Netherlands co-funded the creation of Kenya’s children’s courts and he happened to be in the country.  A bunch of my co-workers ended up being there as well because they deal with the court system in regards to orphans and abused children.

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It’s a great concept, to have a separate court to hear children’s cases.  Previously, the children would have to sit in the same court room as their assailants, making a very uncomfortable and intimidating situation for the child.  This courtroom is set up with a room with mirrored glass so the child doesn’t have to see the defendant.  There are also toys and games available for the children to play with and an area they can be housed.  Before, they would just have to stay at the prison because there was no place for them to go.

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Day 43

I live kind of near the children’s drop-in center so I will stop by in the mornings on the way to work to see if any other staff members are there. On the way, I got stopped by some boys who launched into a story in Swahili. I was like I don’t understand; luckily one of the boys spoke enough English to tell me about the boy with him. That both of his parents are dead and that he needs help. They just stopped me because I was the white girl walking down the road but I was actually able to say come on, let’s go, I can help. We got to the drop-in center and the staff member was able to process him and he is now staying there until they can check out his story and complete a home tracing. He will be able to start school with the other boys next week. All of this was completed in the span of a half an hour.

According to his story, his parents had died and his grandma went to Nairobi and left him. The area chief told him to walk to town because there a good Samaritan would help him. Luckily, he had only been in town for five days and hadn’t fallen into the wrong crowd, which usually leads to a lot of behavioral issues.

Most of the boys are around during the day this month because school is on break so today I attempted to teach them how to play Frisbee while in my skirt and heels. My younger cousin had given me a Frisbee to take along to give to them and it was a perfect way for them to pass the time.

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Day 47

I’m getting to a point where nothing surprises or startles me anymore. Gecko running around my room, no problem. This morning I go out to the bathroom and there is a man using a machete to cut our grass, the entire yard by machete! Everything can be done with a machete here. Last weekend the boys redid the chicken coop with wooden plank walls instead of mud. All done with a machete, it was used for sawing the boards to length, hammering the nails, everything.

I then went back into the house and there is a chicken on the couch. Whatever, no worries. It had been herded into the kitchen to get butchered, another task had to be dealt with so it tried to make it’s escape by going into the living room.

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Headed out to work, get totally covered in sticky mud, again, just normal. Walk past a cow and a few sheep standing in the ditch munching on garbage. Women passing me with huge bags of charcoal or baskets balanced on a rolled piece of fabric on their heads held up by their ridiculously strong neck muscles. Shake a few children’s hands; answer ‘how are you?’ about 50 times. Jump off my boda and walk down the road to work, buy some bananas from a lady on the side of the road. Navigate around the cows to get to the front door of our office. Get to work, check my email for five minutes then the electricity goes out for the next four hours. All just normal stuff.

Day 42

There is definitely gender inequality here and rampant sexual harassment but for me personally it has been more entertaining than offensive. I get a lot of I love yous and will you marry me. I also enjoy the ‘hello Ms. Obama’. My favorite was one of the other interns was asked if she wanted to create the next Barack. Some have definitely been more lewd than I will get into here but it’s been very entertaining for the other interns and me to compare stories over a Tusker beer.

I have one co-worker that continually hints at his desire to marry me although one incident may have deterred him. We were having a tea break and one of our co-workers was teasing him about the fact that he was wearing shoes with no socks and that he needed to get a wife so that he would have clean socks available. He said that maybe he would get an American wife for this. I quickly informed him that no American wife would be washing his socks for him and that he would have to wash them himself. He responded indignantly and went on to ask me about laundry, cooking, etc. in the US. I told him whoever gets home first cooks, whomever needs laundry done just does it. Utterly astounded, he responded, ‘that’s not a marriage, that’s a partnership.’ In which I replied, ‘Exactly!’

He wasn’t too sure about what he thought of this but I think marriage was banished from his mind completely when he asked about multiple wives, which I told him was illegal in the US. He comes from a family where his father had fourteen wives; polygamy is a regularly occurring practice still although it is now illegal to have more than four wives. He then stated that he would like to visit the US but could never live there.

Day 40

Just got back from a very fun weekend in Uganda. Kakamega is relatively close to the Ugandan border so it made for a nice long weekend Easter break. We first headed to Jinja, which is a town at the source of the Nile. As soon as we arrived we headed to a restaurant since we had all reached our ugali wall and were desperately craving something that was different then the food we get in Kenya. We went to 2 Friends which had a fantastic ambience where we plopped ourselves in overstuffed chairs under palm trees and proceeded to eat and drink for the next seven hours. It was pure bliss. We had a wonderful conversation with the owner of the restaurant; she is Icelandic and told us what it was like building up a business in Uganda.

The main reason we were in Jinja was to go class 5 white water rafting on the Nile. Given that it was Easter weekend, it was a busy time on the Nile. There were ten rafts. It was a little weird being surrounded by that many white people in normal clothes like pants and tank tops since in Kakamega I wear a skirt all of the time. We were joined on this trip by our monkey researcher friend and her friend that is a hyena researcher; field researchers are filled with great stories!

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It was a full day rafting trip, 25 kilometers, 10 rapids. It was absolutely beautiful. The Nile is huge at this point and the banks are covered with lush growth. We passed many people doing their laundry right in the river with the banks then covered with clothes lying out to dry. Half way through the day a torrential storm caught up to us. We pulled up to an island, jumped in the water to keep warm and hid under the boat. It eventually cleared up and we proceeded. There were a lot of birds along the way and one island that was totally covered in fruit bats. The rapids were scary and yet really fun; the whole trip was so beautiful.

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The next day we headed to the city of Kampala, mostly just to see it and eat some more good food. It was a very nice city, beautifully landscaped. Uganda seems a bit mellower than Kenya; less people, less congestion, less rubbish everywhere. We had dinner at a real Chinese restaurant and then bagels for breakfast at a New York bagel shop. We were all happily satiated and not ready to go home!

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