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Day 51


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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!