Thursday, 30 August 2012

Last dance

It is officially our last night in Kenya. I guess one would call this feeling bittersweet… though for us, it’s a lot more bitter than sweet. We are not ready to leave! But, school awaits. It has been quite a while since I last posted – mostly because we have been busy and having lots of fun. We just returned yesterday from a week long vacation in Uganda. In a word, I think amazing would suffice. It is truly just a beautiful country. Bu before that let me back up. On our last full weekend in Kenya, we decided to do an overnight on Lake Naivasha, located just about 2 hours away from Nairobi. We arrived on Friday evening and stayed at a cool campsite/hostel place called Camp Carnelly’s. It is a beautiful property right on the lake with lots of room to camp, bungalows to rent out and dorm rooms with beds to crash on. 

Lake Naivasha at dusk
We (obviously) went the cheap route and opted for the dorm. It was fine… except for when we were attacked by biting ants during the night. Thankfully we survived the attack and got a little sleep. Camp Carnelly’s had a really great bar/restaurant area with big comfy couches, huge pillows, lanterns a nice camp fire. Perfect spot to spend an evening drinking beers and playing cards. In the morning Ellen, Ben and myself headed in to Hell’s Gate National Park. (Poor Nate had some sort of food poisoning and had to miss out on the fun.) Hell’s Gate is a really unique place in many ways, the first being that you can bike around the entire park. And bike we did – about 20 km in total. When you first start off on the bike path/road through the park you think to yourself “oh this is lovely, fresh air, nice scenery”… and then you come around the first bend. And everything changes. Some of the largest and coolest rock formations I have ever seen in my life. The scenery was just breathtaking, so massive, so much wide-open space that my photos could never do it justice.

Did I mention the animals? They were everywhere, just hanging out on the road or just off to the side. On our ride we saw I don’t even know how many zebras total – 200? 300? Something like that, maybe more. Warthogs, antelope, giraffe, baboons (tons!) and more. Not to mention the birds. It was really special to be on bikes because the animals don’t really hear you coming. It made for a more natural and surprising experience… both for us humans and the animals. 

Question: when a baboon crosses by you on a dirt path then waits on the side of the road right next to you, what do you do? Run by fast? Walk by slow? Wait? we waited until he walked away, pictured here.
Lunch time

At the end of the trail we chose to take through the park was a place called The Gorge. Literally just a huge crevice in the earth (carved by a river) that you can hike down in to and follow along through it’s winding path. Again, the unique beauty down there is not really something that can be captured on camera. We had lots of fun hiking around, climbing on, over and around rocks, and dodging the tour guides who were trying to lead us around (for a price of course). We prefer to make our own adventures.

At the end of our hike – we didn’t go all the way through the Gorge, as it was getting late in the day and Nate was waiting for us back at the camp – we climbed up out of the Gorge to one of the most breathtaking views I will probably ever see in my life. We could’ve sat there all day, that’s for sure.

OK, speeding up a week. As you’ve noticed I haven’t talked much about the challenging (and rewarding) work we have been doing in Kibera. There are a few reasons for that. Mostly, I have trouble motivating to write these blogs at all, and the fun stuff is more easy to show in pictures and I think more interesting for most people to read. Hopefully when I am back in the US I’ll do one more post about the work and all that I’ve learned (and perhaps unlearned from school) here. That said, if you’re interested in talking with me about the work – just ask! Anyways, back to the fun… UGANDA. Oh my, what a ______ (insert strongest positive adjective you can think of here) trip. We just had such a great time. On Friday of last week after finishing up our work we hopped on an overnight bus from Nairobi to Kampala. A bus seat is not the greatest place to sleep ever, but we made do. We arrived in the morning, got some Ugandan shillings, grabbed some food, and boarded yet another bus that was crossing the country to a place called Kabale, right near the border with Rwanda. Little did we know, we chose the worst bus company in Uganda. (Not my qualifier, we were told this by many Ugandans after the fact). The bus was supposed to leave at 11am and take 6 hours. Or so we were told. What happened in reality was it left at 2:30 and took over 8 hours. But alas we made it. And on the other end were greeted by Nate’s family friend Stan and his son Sam, who ferried us to our hostel. We all slept hard that night and in the morning headed to our real destination – Lake Bunyonyi. One of the coolest lakes I have ever seen – so many islands (27 I believe) and really cool shorelines. Our cab driver out to the lake let us stop at an overlook… what a spectacular view. 

Lake Bunyonyi from the overlook. Gorgeous.

Dirty Helen and the Hongs
We were met on the shore by two men in dug out canoes who helped us paddle across the lake to where we were staying for the night - on one of the small islands at a hostel/resort called Byoona Amagara. This might have been the best decision we made all summer – what a place! All these little cabins and geodomes built into the lush vegetation on the island, with spectacular views. The bar/restaurant was fantastic and cheap… overall just a perfect place to relax for a few days. And that we did. The next day we rented a canoe ourselves and paddled around to a bunch of the islands. We even came across a rope swing (on private property but open for public use!) and had a grand old time playing around on that.

Our island home

That evening we headed back to Kabale, where we were treated to a home cooked meal by Stan and his family. It is always so nice to be welcomed into someone’s home, but I think never more than when traveling. It was a great meal and good company, followed by a great night sleep back at the hostel before hopping on yet another bus back to Kampala. We arrived late on Sunday afternoon and had just a bit of time to explore the capital city, eat some delicious Indian food and head to bed… we needed a good night sleep before our day of rafting on the Nile. Yup, you read that right. We went white water rafting (first time for all of us except Ben) on the Nile.  It was the most badass thing I’ve ever done. No doubt about it. Nile River Explorers company does a really great job and our guide Henry/Loco was awesome. They have several guides on kayaks who travel with the rafts, both for safety and to take your photos as you crash down the 8 rapids (levels 4 and 5). Here are a few…

 All in all a great day, and we stayed at their awesome hostel camp that night, right on the Nile with a gorgeous view. Again, a great spot to drink beer, play cards, and spend the whole next day relaxing before another overnight bus back to Nairobi.
view from the bar on the nile where we stayed. paradise.
And that brings us to now. Our last full day. Sigh. We said lots of good byes today, paid some grant money we owed to contractors and the like. Feeling quite lucky to have spent my summer getting to know these wonderful people (Anthony, Rina, Sylvia, Chris…. So many more) and the community of Silanga, and I could not be more sad to say goodbye. They all wish we were staying longer to do more work and the feeling is mutual. I can only hope there will be an opportunity in the future to return and, as Chris put it to me today, “see what happens with the seeds we’ve planted”.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

wow, that's nice

After a few week hiatus, I am back on the blog. Between our travels and a busy schedule - not to mention the fact that we are coming to the end of our time here - it's been getting more and more difficult to find time to write. Oh, and our power keeps going out at night so that doesn't help either... though it does make for some great card games by candlelight. 

Anyways, last time I updated we were headed to Kisumu to do a hygiene training with a group of midwives there. I am happy to report it went really well! We actually stayed outside of Kisumu in a small town called Ahero, and the training took place in another, even smaller village called Achego. It was a pretty awesome group of ladies - there were some things they knew a lot about, but were eager to learn more about hygiene practices and improving community health. It is especially important for the midwives to be in the know on these issues, as they serve as prominent health care providers in areas where there are very few formal health facilities. Teaching them to make soap was so much fun - turns out that unlike in Kibera where soap is just expensive, it is next to impossible to come by in the village markets. Not only will selling the soap be an income generator for these ladies, it will truly benefit the community as well. I think one of the most fun parts of this training, for us, was how much these ladies loved to sing - and how beautiful it was to hear! They are all part of the same baptist congregation so most were church songs, but with a Kenyan flair. Well, I guess a Luo flair to be exact. All of these women were from the Luo tribe and spoke their native tongue almost exclusively, as opposed to the Swahili we have gotten accustomed to. Luckily, our girl Sylvia came along for the trip - she is Luo and was able to do all of our translating during the trainings. 

View of the Great Rift Valley from an overlook on our drive to Kisumu. My iPhone pic doesn't nearly do it justice.

Rift Valley again. Thanks to our awesome driver, Saidi, for stopping. Side note, he looked exactly like Damon Wayans. Smiley as can be... so great!
Lucky for us, our trip went through the weekend and on Sunday, we had the day to sightsee in Kisumu. The ladies, of course, could not miss church so our training resumed on Monday. Shem and Daniel, the two guys who run the church's volunteer group and organized for us to come do the training, took us all around the town. We started by seeing a hospital where Daniel runs the pharmacy. It seemed pretty well run, but he took us through the pediatric unit which was rather heartbreaking. After that we spent the rest of the day around (and on) Lake Victoria. So beautiful! Hard to imagine how big the lake is.... considering all you could see was water on the horizon, and Kenya only houses 6% of it! There were lots of pockets of beautiful water hyacinths, and the lake is known for having tons of hippos. We rented a boat for an hour and they took us on a hippo hunting tour! We were lucky to see a family of hippos and they kept coming up to say hi! After the sightseeing we headed to a lake side restaurant to gorge ourselves on fresh fried tilapia. Yum yum!

Hyacinths on the edge of Lake Victoria.

Sylvia, Rina and Nate being weird before we got on the boat. Turns out, Nate is even better at carrying things on his head than the Kenyan ladies.

The crew, ready to set sail. Gotta love Daniel's cheesy grin... very un-Kenyan of him.

Hungry hungry hippo!

So awesome! Again, iPhone just does not do this beautiful creature justice. Also, I need to learn how to keep my finger out of the photo when using said phone.

Deeeelicious fish! Sukuma on top and a yummy sauce to go with it. Also, can't forget the Stoney's. Hands down my favorite soda ever. I am considering starting an import business to bring them into the US. This ginger drink is especially delicious when mixed with whiskey.

So that was our lovely Kisumu trip in a nutshell. Since we've been back we've been quite busy finishing up projects here. Renee, our professor, headed back to the US last week so we've been holding down the fort. But this has been a long enough blog post so far, so I'll write again soon with actual work we've been doing - more pad trainings, water governance interviews, bringing in a new 10000 liter tank, business trainings, incinerator installations and more. 

I will leave you with photos of our awesome chapati making lesson last night. Our project manager/BFF Anthony came over for dinner and was kind enough to show us how to make our favorite Kenyan staple food. Apparently he hadn't made them himself in 10 years.... since he got married. As Anthony is absolutely hysterical and a joy to be around, we had a lot of fun. The first half of the process was done by candle light, as our electricity has been having some issues this week. But luckily it came back on.... and our chapatis were fantastic!

Dough by candlelight.

Me, Anthony... and my very first CHAPATI

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Destination Mombasa

Last night we arrived back into Nairobi from a great trip to Mombasa, a beautiful city on the coast of Kenya. It was a mixture of work and play... and we were all very happy to get some play time in. Work wise, we checked out the construction site of a new bathroom facility in a slum there called Bangladesh. They have a fantastic community based organization (CBO) there who are taking on the management of this facility as part of their activities. It was pretty cool to see a facility under construction, as we have only thus far seen the finished product. It was also really interesting for all of us to experience how different this slum is from Kibera. In addition to having a much smaller population, the slum itself is much less dense - spread out over a large territory, open space everywhere which you are hard pressed to find in Kibera - the construction of buildings seemed much better and there was quite a bit of agriculture. Overall I think you could say we were experiencing a bit of slum culture shock. 

OK on to the fun part. I'm going to tell this part mainly through photos because 1) we are leaving for another week long trip tomorrow morning and I am running out of time and 2) I was able to take photos before I dropped my camera and it died. Sad, I know. Anyways...

After spending a night in Mombasa town, we headed out to Diani Beach where were settled in to this lovely little cottage for the rest of the weekend. Fun story - there are lots of monkeys who inhabit these trees. I mean LOTS. And Monday morning, what did we wake up to? A monkey who had gotten into our house, had eaten ALL of our bananas... and proceeded to hang out for while. He was not small. But it was hysterical.

The view from our porch of the Indian Ocean.

The beach, with Rina's name visible in the sand.

Nate, Rina, Anthony and Renee chillin on the beach. I had fun teaching Anthony how to look for shells (treasures) on the beach. Turns out he's pretty fantastic at it and it's now his favorite thing to do. He also now thinks I am a pirate.

Camels on the beach. They charge a ridiculous amount of money for people to take a very short ride down the beach on them, but they are funny to look at.

Rina in front of her parent's newly built retirement home, in the lush highlands of Mombasa. So beautiful! We were lucky to meet her mom, Angelina, and spend an evening there.

The incredible, delicious meal Angelina prepared for us. Like I said we were lucky... and very full by the time we got home. Pictured here: chapatis, chicken, sukuma, corn, cow peas, lentils, potatoes, kachumbari. Yum Yum Yum. I wanted to move in.

And finally, sunrise on the last morning of our trip. Unfortunately the clouds were not cooperating, but it was still beautiful (my camera had died at this point and my phone doesn't really capture it). Luckily the clouds all went away shortly after sunrise, so we got in a few more glorious hours on the beach.

OK friends, that's all for now. Time to get ready for the next trip. Off to Othoo (spelling? we're not sure) a small village outside of Kisumu where we will be doing a hygiene training with 100 midwives. We'll also have some time to explore Kisumu and check out Lake Victoria :)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A weekend in Nairobi

So this weekend we were unexpectedly treated to a full weekend in Nairobi. We were scheduled to take a trip down into Masai Mara to visit a new rural health center that's being built. The organization in charge is hoping to enlist Global WASHES to do some health and hygiene trainings for the community once the center is up and running. Unfortunately the guy we were supposed to travel down with had a family emergency and so the trip was cancelled at the last moment. Fortunately, we have a running list of things to do and see in Nairobi so we took full advantage! 

On Saturday we headed a bit outside of the city to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - otherwise known as the elephant orphanage! It was awesome. Their mission is to rescue baby elephants from the wild - typically those whose mother's have been poached or killed before the babies are able to fend for themselves. They care for and raise the elephants until they are old and strong enough to be released back in to the wild. What's really cool is that they group the
elephants, so they form a family (the natural way that elephants live) and are released together so they can maintain the natural elephant social grouping. The orphanage is only open for an hour each day, when they bring the elephants out and let you see them up close, and the rangers tell stories about each one - where they were found, how old they are, etc. All in all it was pretty great and seems like this trust is doing incredible work. If I had brought enough money with me, I totally would've adopted one :)

After the elephant orphanage we headed to the Kazuri bead and pottery factory. It's a business that employs single mothers to create beautiful handcrafted jewelry, pottery and other trinkets. We got to tour the whole place and see how their beads are made from start to finish - quite an operation. In addition to providing single mothers with a solid source of income (and a social network of support) they also provide free health services on site for their families. The store was completely overwhelming, as I wanted to buy pretty much every single piece in there. But I kept it to just a few gifts... for others and myself. 

On Sunday we took in some of Kenya's culture, history and art at the Nairobi National Museum. We all really enjoyed it and learned a lot, it's quite a museum. (Though getting there was a bit hectic, when a matatu dropped us off on the side of the highway and told us to cross over 4 lanes and walk up the on ramp. Alas, we made it.) There were some great exhibits on the Kenya's political history, the transition from British rule to independence, and the history of the many tribes that exist (and still play an important, sometimes tense role) throughout the country. My favorite part of the museum focused on early human history, with tons of castes of human fossils and skulls and tools that have been found in Kenya, particularly in the Rift Valley and in the north near Lake Turkana. I can't claim to know much about our first human ancestors, so it was pretty fascinating. After the museum we made our way over to Nairobi City Park to lay in the grass and people watch - or should I say monkey watch - for a while. This park has monkey's everywhere. In the trees, running around on the ground, stealing people's food and children's toys. It was pretty hysterical. They are totally accustomed to people and have no problem just walking up and climbing on you out of nowhere. It made for an entertaining afternoon.

This week we have been doing another hygiene training, this time in a new community in Kibera where our project has not been before. The people are really in to it so it's been pretty awesome to experience. Only the second day and they were asking about how they can take this info and train other community members. Really couldn't ask for more! Tomorrow should be exciting - we'll be watching a huge water tank get moved into Kibera... basically by hand over roof tops since their aren't any "roads" wide enough to get the tank through. I'll have photos to share after that!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Kids, textiles and strange encounters

Classroom at Undugu School
Time is really flying by here! Hard to believe we have almost been here for a full month. We spent the end of last week performing a hygiene training with the students of Undugu School in Kibera. Undugu is considered an “informal” school – meaning that many of their students either have not been successful in the Nairobi City run schools, or they cannot afford them (many require attendance fees and uniforms, which is an unattainable cost for some families). The kids we trained are all part of a health and hygiene club at the school, about 40 in total, with varying levels of engagement. We went over things like the spread of diarreahal diseases and potential solutions, water treatment methods, soap making, proper handwashing practices and the like. My favorite part was definitely the handwashing section, where kids make up a song to educate others on how to wash your hands – we take for granted that handwashing means ‘qwa sabuni’ – with soap, but that is not the case here – and the five key times when you should always wash your hands. We also did a section of the training on how to manage a toilet facility. One of the bathrooms that was started by the Global Washes project is located at the school. It is not open to the community, only the students, and they do not have to pay. We are hoping that the students in the club will take on the responsibility of keeping the facilities clean, and also organizing soap making to not only provide soap for the school but to also purchase materials like toilet paper (a uncommon commodity around these parts).

Kids posting their own hygiene messages
Additionally, at the end of the regular training, we took aside just the girls to talk about menstruation and sanitation practices during your period. Yes, an awkward topic for girls around the world – teenage girls are all pretty similar! But to my girlfriends reading this who remember how awful it is when you first start getting your period, imagine it with out pads, without soap, without a bathroom in your house. No fun at all. Our friend Sylvia, a woman my age who we work with in the community, helped us out with this conversation so it could be done in Swahili. She was fantastic. We had brought with us some samples of pads that are made in Kenya, and that the Rotary Clubs (one of the funders of our project) has a hand in distributing. Our plan is to work with them to get a year supply of pads for all the girls in the school. Pretty awesome, right? Sylvia would keep all the pads at her office in Kibera, and the girls could come there and get them from her throughout the year. Learning from other organizations past experiences, when the pads are kept at school they tend to get stolen, and many of these girls do not even have room in their homes to store them, and so this seems the best solution.
Ben and Rina (our awesome friend and hygiene trainer extraordinaire), modeling their Global WASHES shirts, complete with hygiene messages in Swahili :)

Small section of the maze of textiles
So that was last week. Then the weekend hit, and we had too much fun! Saturday we spent the day in downtown Nairobi – visiting a Masai market (bought a beautiful painting) and the textile market. The textile market was overwhelming and pretty awesome. Soooo many beautiful African fabrics. I bought 6.5 meters of Kengala material for 1200 bob – under 15 USD – which I plan to use to make some curtains and pillow covers. That night we attended a birthday bbq one of our expat friends was having at her home. It was a great party – they roasted a whole goat – and once again I was reminded what a small, small world this is. The party host Megan (from the US) is married to a Kenyan man. His uncle (originally form Ghana) happened to be in town and was at the party as well. And where does he happen to live? PROVIDENCE, R.I. I couldn’t believe it. He is even neighbors with Buddy Cianci. Neither of us could get over the coincidence and it made for some funny conversations. No matter where I go, can’t seem to escape lil Rhody 

Birthday boy Junior with Ellen and his friend Edu
After we left this party, around midnight, we met up with our friend Junior and headed to a club to celebrate his birthday. In fact, there was a lot more to celebrate than that. Junior, a Kibera native, is engaged to a girl named Kelly who worked on this project a few years ago. He has been working for 2 years to get a Visa to join her in the US. And he has finally been successful! We’re all very excited for them. We ended up dancing the night away until 3 am when we finally decided it was time to go home. I would be lying if I said we went right to bed – us crazy mizungus decided to jump in the outdoor pool when we got home. We probably woke up the whole apartment complex, and it wasn’t exactly warm out, but so much fun nonetheless.

The team enjoying a night out with TUSKER
One more funny story before I sign off. So about two weeks ago, we were leaving the local grocery store and walking back to our apartment. We’re all chatting, not paying much attention, when we noticed Nate had stopped in the center of the parking lot and is holding a large sign with the number 3 on it over his head. As we are all watching in confusion, two small Kenyans dressed as soccer players run in front of him, jump up and slap hands. We then realize… we are being filmed!! The crew tells us it’s for a prank show. So we laugh about it and continue our walk home. I think we had forgotten about it until Saturday night when we get a call from our project manager Anthony. He was enjoying a quiet night at home when something catches his eye on TV…. US! Haha that’s right, we are not famous television personalities in Kenya. Hopefully the show will post the video on their website soon. We can’t wait to see it!

So that’s all for now. Lot’s going on with work and several trips coming up – we are booking out through the rest of the summer already! But I think I’ve written enough for now. I’ll post again soon!


Thursday, 12 July 2012

Adventures in Meru

So here it is, Thursday morning, and I am finally getting around to writing about our awesome trip this past weekend. Suffice it to say we have been very busy working this week, but we'll get to that stuff later. This past weekend we all had the pleasure of traveling into the higher altitudes of Kenya, to a town called Meru - the lush hometown of our project manager Anthony. We all piled into a rental van on Friday afternoon and made the 5 hour trip down. Upon arrival at Anthony's home, we were greeted by chickens, goats, his 7 year old son, his beautiful wife.... and the most amazing home cooked Kenyan meal. Words don't describe how delicious it was, and so sweet of Margaret to spend all day cooking for us. We dubbed it "Kenyan Thanksgiving". 

We spent the weekend at the Hotel Incredible (right across the street from the Glorious Cafe.... clearly the most amazing block ever) in Meru town. Saturday morning the real adventure began. We woke up while it was still dark, around 5 am, to travel in to Meru National Park. I don't think any of us were prepared for what lay ahead of us. A day in the park turned out to be pretty much a full on safari... except better than a safari because it was in a natural environment. No animals flown in to make it more exciting, and the rangers don't coax out the animals with food and stuff like the do at other places. We thought about getting a guide to drive through with us (they recommend that because it's sort of difficult to find your way around) but we decided against it - and just got lucky on our own. Here's the rundown of everything we saw.... the day started off with a bunch of giraffes (so many of them throughout the park) along with a rhino and a baby rhino!!! This was really awesome, since we learned that to see rhinos - especially with their horns - is extremely rare. 


The rest of the adventure continued with even more animals... let's see, we saw: many more giraffes (so cool the way they move), lots of zebras and water buffalo and gazelles, some ostriches, lots of beautiful birds, an elephant butt (he refused to turn around for us) and some hippos sleeping under the branches of a tree in a stream. 

Perhaps the most incredible part of the day happened when after deciding we'd had enough excitement (after about 7 hours). We were beginning the long drive out of the park when Margaret (who has eyes like a hawk) spotted a female LION! We only caught a brief glimpse before she hid from us (we think she was hunting) but long enough to see her whole body, tail and her beautiful/fierce face. Icing on the cake for an incredible day. The best part was Anthony's son's immediate reaction to a lion was to throw open the van door and climb out. It was hysterical. But, I admittedly, that was 100% a learned behavior from us crazy mizungas - we must have jumped out of the car at least 10 times during the day and (technically) you're  not supposed to at all. OOPS.

Here's the whole crew in the park. From left: Nate, Margaret, Elton, Me, Renee, Ben, Rina (one of the ladies we work with here) and Ellen. Such an incredible group of people to work with... not to mention explore, learn, and share days like this with!

On Sunday, we made the long drive home back South to Nairobi. But what a beautiful drive it was! We went around Mount Kenya - unfortunately during the winter (our summer) months it is typically too foggy/cloudy to see, as was the case all weekend, but the drive is luckily though some of the most lush and beautiful parts of Kenya. We drove over the equator, stopping to take photos of course, and also had the pleasure of stopping by Anthony's mother's home. She has a gorgeous piece of property in a small village, with all sorts of trees - papaya, coffee, banana, avocado - and all sorts of animals - goats, cows, chickens, kittens. And we were lucky enough to have a cousin climb up in an avocado tree and give us about 20 avocados to bring home. Definitely the freshest and most delicious I will ever have the pleasure of eating.

So I think that's about all i have regarding this weekend! Feeling so lucky to have experienced all of it. This week has been full of lot's of work - starting on a project in a new community in Kibera, called Kambi Muuru. It's been really refreshing, I must say, as everyone is totally engaged and excited to work with us. Many reasons for that, including it's a step-up income wise from where we have been working, but more details on that to come later. We'll be spending lots of time there in the next few weeks. We are also in the midst of doing a hygiene training at a school in Kibera. It has been a lot of fun, and I have fun photos and videos to share soon. I'll post soon! 

Thanks for reading!