Saturday, June 11, 2016

Pics from Saiwa Swamp National Park

Friday evening sunset

These guys saw my camera case and asked right away if I had a camera. The two in the center are brother/sister and walked with us for a while before we went back for dinner.

Entrance to Saiwa Swamp National Park - the guys on the gate are sitatunga. We arrived shortly after 7 and found the gate locked, even though the park was supposed to open at 6:30! 

Black-faced vervets -- cute, but very naughty.

Crested (or crowned, I can't recall now) crane -- national bird of Uganda 

In the very middle, you can see a fluffy white tail hanging down - this is a black and white colobus monkey

The light on this photo is a bit better - another shot of the colobus

I believe this is a grey heron...

Crane gang, gossiping in the treetops 

Here's a de Brazza monkey (this is one of the most rare monkey species in Kenya, as our guide told us), check out that beard!

No animals here (I don't think!), I just found the light to be very pretty. 
Female sitatunga (before she noticed us creepin' on her)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Lots of Things!

The interns are coming! The interns are coming! ...finally.

I've been in the country 10 weeks tomorrow (whoa), and finally, I will feel like I am doing the job I came to do. Of course there has been plenty of preparation, getting the training materials ready, preparing both host families and host organizations, meeting with internship supervisors, and learning my own way around Kakamega and the surrounding area -- even a tiny bit of Swahili -- but the interns are actually going to be here starting tomorrow.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to travel with an American friend, sort of a last hurrah before she left Kakamega (yesterday), and the last weekend before the madness begins for me. We stayed in a safari tent at a charming little guesthouse, owned by a British family who has been in Kenya since the woman, Jane, moved here (at a very young age) back in 1929. She and her son Richard are in charge of the place now, with their six little jack russell terriers running around, and it's absolutely picturesque. Imagine an estate with beautiful (fragrant!) gardens, and a quaint cottage with heaps of books, magazines, and maps saved from years and years ago. It felt like another world. We had some great conversations over tea and supper, especially with Richard, who has traveled all over the world and had some really incredible stories. What I found especially fascinating was that the family was here before Kenya gained independence from Britain. They have seen the country before, during, and after independence. It really struck me as a unique perspective on a country that has been home to them for decades. So cool.

On Saturday, we spent the day hiking in the Cherangani Hills, a stunning part of the country north of Kitale (it ended up being about a 4-hour drive from Kakamega on Friday afternoon). In order to get to the places where our guide wanted us to hike, we took pikipikis (motorbike taxis). The guide got one, and Robyn and I ended up sharing the other. It was pretty cozy with three of us (including the driver), but I think the bruises on my butt are finally healed. The seat is cushy, but I was back far enough that I was sort of on a metal rack part... It's enough of a spectacle to have one mzungu on a piki, but two! Wow. We got stares and yells and lots of waves as we puttered around the hills on the dusty gravel roads. We also got very dusty.

The next day, we went to Saiwa Swamp, one of the smallest national parks in Kenya. Still, we saw plenty of animals (I'll post pics in the near future, promise), including three different types of monkeys (black-faced vervet, colobus, and de brazza), some very pretty birds, and a swamp-dwelling antelope thing called sitatunga. I could've happily continued walking around, or just sitting still and watching the animals we did find, but we'd gotten up extra early to be sure not to miss the wildlife, and we were both hungry. All in all, a very nice weekend. I appreciated the chance to be somewhere else, somewhere completely different for a few days.

Susan (local program coordinator) and I checked out the guest house where we'll be staying with the interns during orientation. It's very simple (more basic than I expected I think), and I suspect I will miss the lifestyle here I've come to appreciate, especially having my own bedroom. Some of the other rooms have the shower head positioned almost directly over the toilet in the bathroom... the interns are in for a treat! But for real, the facility looks nice, I just haven't cooled down from being outside.

The rainy season has apparently ended, which is funny to me because whenever I asked people how long the "long rains" lasted, they would say until July or August. Um, okay? It's early June. It rained maybe 30 minutes last night (naturally right as I was walking home), offering minimal relief from the nasty dust. There are no clouds in the sky again today, so it may be a while before we see any more rain. I guess there's no winning - either it's hot and dusty, or the temperatures are cool(er, still quite hot in my opinion) and the more rural dirt/gravel roads are pretty much trashed and the rains prevent afternoon/evening activities. Sigh.

It struck me last night that I'm not going to be home at all for any of the MN summer. Yes, obviously, I knew this before I left for Kenya, but it hit me again last night. It's pretty much perpetual summer here, so I have no sense of what time of year it is or what season it should be. The temp in April is the same as the temp today is the same as the temp in July, August, September...

Let's see, other (minor) triumphs: I made a chocolate cake on Wednesday (I miss having my own oven, but I guess that's what friends are for). The angry dog doesn't bark quite so angrily at me anymore. I've sort of befriended a man and his wife who sell fruits and veggies along the side of the road on my way home -- they even saved me a bunch of kale the other day because otherwise it's gone when I pass at 5:15. I helped a really cute little kid fix his backpack this morning on my way to work. Vacation plans with my mom and sister are coming together for July and I can't wait!

Lots of ups and downs each day, but overall, life is pretty decent. I'll try to post photos from Saiwa soon. In the mean time, wish me patience and wisdom as I begin phase two of this adventure...

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day & Madaraka Day

Although it is only Tuesday, I can tell you right now one of the highlights of my week: I got to talk to my Grandma last night. She's pretty tech-savvy (though she hates her computer more than just about anything else in her house), and we've been emailing back and forth a bit since I've been here, but my sister was having what we call a "Princess Weekend" (staying over at Grandma's and being treated like royalty), and so I got to talk to them both. Technology continues to astound me -- with even the most basic internet connection (through the cell service here), I can call anyone with the same app, and talk as if we're across the street instead of across the world. Thank you, internet, for allowing me to stay connected even if I am incredibly isolated.

Yesterday was Memorial Day, and while they don't celebrate that here (duh), we do have a holiday tomorrow, Madaraka Day. It "Commemorates the day that Kenya attained internal self-rule in 1963," (thanks, Wikipedia) but it's not their true independence day -- that comes later.  I don't think I've ever legit celebrated a holiday midweek (except maybe the 4th of July some years?), but I think working two days, taking a day off, working another two days, and getting a full weekend has got to be the dream. We (the expats) will celebrate tomorrow like Memorial Day, complete with a grilled burgers and hopefully some volleyball. I'm excited to sleep in.

If I was home, this past Sunday would mark the unofficial beginning of summer, with my mom's side of the family all convening at the cabin to get things opened up, cleaned off, and ready for the season. I'm not sure how warm the lake was (I'm assuming it was fairly cold), but from what I've heard, MN has had a lovely spring. Actually, now that I think about it, it was probably a pretty small group at the cabin since many of my siblings/cousins are still in school, out of the country, or otherwise busy. Usually there is at least one weekend over the summer when we're all at the cabin together, but I'm not sure that'll happen this year, mostly because I'm scheduled to be here through the end of September. Bummer.

After several days of not much rain and warmer temps, it rained heavily last night. I don't love being caught in the rain on my way home from work, but I find it to be a really pleasant backdrop as I'm falling asleep (provided there is no hail). It also cooled things down nicely, and I was almost (almost) chilly when I started my run this morning. Two things made me smile while I was running. 1. An older woman carrying a young child on her back called out to me as I passed her, "That's good! That's good!" (So much better than the motorcycle taxi guy: "Good morning, babe." Barf.) I smiled at her and we exchanged greetings, and her little daughter smiled and waved. So cute! Later (in a quieter part of town with fewer motorcycle taxis and just generally less commotion), I saw a man walking on the other side of the road. He was carrying something in a plastic bag (sidenote: Kenyans call plastic bags paper bags, which confuses me to no end), and reached down to pick up a piece of trash on the side of the road! I was completely floored. I don't know if I have ever seen an African pick up trash of his/her own volition (apart from the crews that are hired to sweet and clean the streets). For all the people who saw me (and/or stared at me and/or yelled at me) on my run this morning, those two positive encounters drown out all the others. It was a solid beginning to my Tuesday.

Then I got back home and started in on the morning routine, making coffee and breakfast and trying to figure out which skirt I'm least tired of wearing. Around 8am, my phone rang. My immediate reaction was that my boss was calling and we were going to the field and either I should hurry up or he would be picking me up from work to save time, but it was a number I didn't recognize. The last time I got a call from a number I didn't know, it was the director of one of our partner organizations, calling to talk through their grant proposal. Little did I know, it was my "friend" from a couple weeks ago, the one I made the mistake of sharing my number with, and oh, the one who showed up at my house two weekends ago.

Rewind. Obviously I'd blocked his number the first time. Then he started calling from a number that couldn't be ID'd (which I ignored, that was easy enough). That weekend (a week and a half ago now), as I was leaving my house on Sunday afternoon, I got a "No Caller ID" call, ignored it, and continued to walk out. As I was opening the compound gate, who should I see walking towards me, but that guy. Oh man, I was livid. He asked why I had been avoiding his calls ("I'll give you one guess.") and then said that he had just been wanting to talk to me so he came to my house. I told him he is absolutely not welcome at my home without invitation and stormed off down the hill (with more adrenaline than I've felt in a long time). Did I mention I was mad? Dude, take a hint. Anyway, I didn't hear from him after that, so I figured he maybe got the message and was going to finally leave me alone. Apparently not. He called me again this morning from a new number (which my phone could identify), and I promptly blocked that number too. Ugh.

Let's pause and do a little cultural comparison here. Obviously, I'm not a guy, so I maybe don't have the same perspective, but I feel I can relate nonetheless. You're out, at a bar or a concert or wherever, and you meet an interesting girl. You two chat and by the end of your conversation, you've convinced her to give you her number. Whether or not she is actually into you is unclear, but you have her digits. Now. Think. How long do you wait to call/text? If popular culture has anything to say about it, probably a day or two. Or maybe you're feeling really ballsy or maybe you think your connection was super deep and meaningful, in which case you call her that night. If she answers, great, you talk. If not, she's maybe busy with something else and may or may not call you back. If she does call back, you're lucky; if she doesn't, you probably don't continue to text huge novels professing your love, bragging about yourself, oh, and finally asking her name because you were too busy talking about yourself to ask her name when you were chatting earlier... Again, I'm not a man, so maybe I have the wrong expectations, but as a woman, I assure you, it can be super off-putting when cultural communication styles/expectations/understandings/perceptions are so vastly different... and when "No, I'm not interested" may or may not actually mean that.
Note: I do still feel very safe where I live and work; I don't walk anywhere after dark; I'm careful with how I dress/accessorize. It's unbelievably frustrating (especially since I am nowhere near used to getting anywhere close to this much attention), but I do not think I'm any less safe for it.

Back to happy notes -- July family vacation plans are falling into place ever-so-slowly, and I might even have a fun weekend hiking/camping/adventure trip with friends coming up! I still have not contracted malaria (knock on wood), meaning I only have to make it four more months without it, and I'll be safe! But really, life is pretty good, even if it is a bit slower than I might like right now. I of course miss MN (how could I not, especially now that it's prime patio season), but it's almost always patio season here too (provided you have mosquito repellent)!

Cheers to Memorial Day, Madaraka Day, and the beginning of summer,

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Wednesday Frustrations (or: Men here are the Worst)

Yesterday was a frustrating day. Actually, it just involved a really frustrating few hours, between 5:30pm (when I was almost home after a long day) and 7pm (when I got to where I was meeting a few friends for dinner). One wouldn’t think that much could happen in 90 minutes, but hey, this is Kenya.

I’d turned off the main road I use on my way home, and greeted my neighbor, commenting that rain looked imminent (as it often does in the afternoons, if it’s not already raining). A few steps later, a young man (probably mid-late 20s) had approached me, “Hey, white woman!” I’m not sure if this was merely him trying to prove that he was above calling out “Mzungu,” (“European,” but more commonly used for any “white person”) or what, but I wasn’t especially impressed. I responded with something along the lines of, “What, black man?” He laughed and launched into a huge introduction, explaining his name, and then gave me this spiel about how he was an author and an artist, and he had been following me for a while because he really wanted to talk to me, but not around all the people who were on that main road, and he likes having friends from other cultures and backgrounds because he likes learning, and blah blah blah. Then it was, “So can we continue this conversation sometime?” to which I responded “Maybe.” Perhaps leaving it open like this was my first mistake, perhaps it was my third or fourth; looking back, I’m still not sure. He persisted, and in very good English (for which I had to give him some credit). I was pretty tired, and apparently my judgment was impaired and after we talked (read: he talked at me) some more, ended up giving out my phone number (which I ended up immediately regretting, and regretting some more later on down the line). Dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb. He kept talking probably another ten minutes before I managed to convince him I was done with the conversation and wanted to go home and rest (and have my afternoon/pre-dinner snack! I was getting hangry). He insisted we would meet again. I guarantee we will not.

I made it home, greeted the dogs (the two who were around and happy to see me), had some yogurt and sat down to relax and look through some articles to maybe send to some of our interns. Got a text from a friend asking if I wanted to meet up for dinner… Sigh of relief because it wasn’t that guy I had just encountered; yes of course, dinner would be great.

I then made the mistake of leaving my house before confirming mealtime, and when I got the second text message, I was probably halfway from my house to the restaurant with 30 minutes to spare. I turned around and headed back towards home, figuring I would just wait around outside along the road/my driveway and watch the colors in the sunset (which was really pretty!).

A couple guys came up the hill and started talking to me. Sure enough, within a few minutes, they too had asked for my name and number. This one was a much more obvious “no,” and after assuring me we would meet again, they eventually went on their merry way. Sidenote: One of my favorite responses to the question, “So, can you give me your numbers?” has become, “Why? What are you going to do with my phone number?” Usually I get something along the lines of, “So I can greet you!” You’re talking to me right now, dude, and I’m not convinced I want you to greet me.

I stood on a big rock and watched the sky for a while, then decided to see if there was a better view down the hill a little ways, and of course (with my luck) there was a man walking up the hill, talking on his phone. I acknowledged him politely (greetings are pretty important here) as we passed one another, and he continued slowly up the hill. Once I realized that the best view was in fact going to be on the top of the hill (actually on the rock I’d been standing on earlier), I went back up. “Madam, are you lost?” I explained to him I was watching the sky because I like sunsets. “Ah, then I think you can help me. You see, I am looking for a wife from the other side…” (“The other side” can mean many things; in this case, it meant he was looking for an American wife, and believed I would help him). He too introduced himself, and assured me he was Bernard Lagat’s brother-in-law (HAH, I’m sure), and that he had family in Texas, and that he had applied for a green card, but if I could only help him find a wife, it would be much easier for him. At this point I had to start walking to dinner (and I was getting rather tired of these encounters), so I sucked it up and walked with him for a while before turning off.

The sky had started getting darker, and while I knew I had enough time to get to dinner, I started walking at a more American pace (I was done talking to people, plus it was cooling down, and I was trying to stay warm). I passed a man carrying a big stick (reminded me of the ones Basotho commonly carried – and occasionally beat students or cattle with – in Lesotho). I was fully intending to ignore him, but he greeted me in solid English, so I responded, and in trying to be friendly (mistake), asked why he was carrying the cane. Turns out, it belonged to his grandmother who he had just visited in the hospital, and he was carrying it home. I had passed him, but he started walking faster, though still a few steps behind me. Then came a question I’d not heard from a Kenyan before: “Do you go to the gym?” I was a bit caught off guard as there aren’t many gyms around and working out doesn’t seem like a common thing around here, but I told him that I liked to run (many people have seen me in my neighborhood area, so I wasn’t divulging any grand secrets). “I can tell, because your legs look very sexy and strong.” Perfect. I’m in long pants and a sweater (not even the skirt I’d worn to work!), and this is the attention I’m getting. UGH. Ignore it: “Okay, goodnight sir.”  I’d reached my destination and could not have been more relieved to enter the gate.

(Naturally now, sitting at my desk and fuming again, I can think of a handful of much better responses to that comment: “My legs are strong – watch out or I’ll kick you where it hurts,” or “I hope you didn’t plan on having kids”… )

Dinner was great. Good to see friends and unwind a bit, reminisce about life back home, and we even made plans to go hiking one of these weekends.

After I got home I checked my phone, only to find one missed call and four very long text messages from the first guy who approached me several hours earlier. He had just wanted to hear my voice, and say goodnight to me in person, but in lieu of that, felt like writing two novels would suffice (I think my favorite part was the last line of the last text where he asked for my name, because he had been too busy earlier talking about himself to actually ask anything about me).

Apple and iPhones for the win – there is a “Block this Number” option. Check plus.


Unfortunately, as I have come to understand first through Lesotho, and now Kenya, this is part of being a white woman in Africa. I don’t love it. In fact, I really struggle with it. Some of my closest friends at home are male (duh), but for the most part, as a woman, I just don’t have that option here. And that sucks. Many people from home have been asking if I’ve made friends since I’ve been here. I definitely have, but this gives some insight as to why (for now, anyway) they seem to either be the young women in the office, or other expats in the area.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Kenyan Food, African Dogs, and Kakamega Rains

I said I would try to write weekly, and I did mean it… I’m just on Kenyan time (meaning: it will probably get done, just maybe not when you thought it would… or it won’t get done, but don’t take it personally).

In any case, happy Tuesday. May is more than halfway over, and we’re 3.5 weeks out from the first batch of interns arriving. I won’t lie and say we’re incredibly busy with preparations, but there is still a good amount to be done. Maybe it’s the procrastinator in me, but I still don’t feel much pressure in terms of getting everything ready. I’m guessing that statement will bite me in the butt in about 3 weeks, but for now, things seem relatively calm.

I’ve now tried most of the “typical Kenyan” foods, though there are still some dishes or combinations I’ve heard about and am curious about, but don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to try them. There’s a surprising amount of rice in the Kenyan diet… eaten with beans, vegetables, ndengu (green grams, sort of like lentils), or pretty much whatever you want. I find it sort of amusing that they eat rice with potato stew… not my favorite day. If a meal doesn’t include rice, it might have ugali, which is like papa of Lesotho (maize meal cooked up into a very thick porridge, to be mixed with the other dishes and typically eaten with hand). My personal favorite is chapati, a tortilla-esque bread-thing, but cooked in oil instead of on a dry skillet. Some are a touch too oily for my taste, but the Kenyan chapati is a great snack. Last week I also got to try mandazi, which are like doughnuts – typically triangular-shaped fried dough. Also very tasty. Basically, as in many poverty-stricken places, there are lots of carbs. Still on my list of things to try are the local or indigenous chicken (which I will not even try to spell here). I’m told it’s very sweet (an odd descriptor for meat, I think, but I’ll roll with it), it takes a long time to cook, and it can be really stringy.

On an unrelated note, the four dogs on the compound where I live have gotten to know me a bit. There are three that look similar – the most common brand of mutt in Kenya, a mostly brown dog with a few black markings, smaller than most labs, but with pointy ears instead of floppy ones. One of these guys likes me and will sometimes approach me to play after I return from my morning runs. One is still a bit wary of me, but recognizes that I get along with his friends, but the third one just absolutely hates me. He growls as I lace up my shoes in the morning (even before I open the door to step outside), and barks non-stop when I return home in the afternoons or later in the evening. I don’t love that dog. Part of me wants badly to gain his trust and befriend him, but a bigger part of me realizes he will probably always hate me. The fourth dog is completely awesome. He is short but fairly round for an African dog, black (with flecks of tan dust) and super fluffy. If he moves around too much, or you pat him on the side or back, you'll see clouds of dust, almost like Pigpen from Charlie Brown. He always waddles over to greet me before flopping down under the vehicles or in the dirt. That dog is old.

What else… It rains a lot. Like, an amazing amount. Usually in the afternoon or evening, but it’s not always predictable. Sometimes there is thunder and lightning, and sometimes it’s just rain; sometimes it passes very quickly, and other times it’ll start in the afternoon and continue into the evening. Those days are frustrating. It seems like it starts right around 4:30pm, in enough time to turn the non-paved roads and paths to complete mud before we leave the office at 5, to try to get home before the sprinkles turn into a downpour and everything is drenched. On the other hand, I find the days the rain starts after I’ve left the office to be fascinating. There’s this unique energy in the air around town and on the roads. People know it’s going to rain (the sky is often very telling), it’s just a matter of the exact moment it will start, and everyone bustles about, trying to get where they need to be before the clouds open up. It’s raining right now, fairly heavily with intermittent thunder. I managed to get home while it was still toasty and dry, the first time in over a week!

Not a tremendous amount to report otherwise. I got word over the weekend that my family's cabin is open and functional (even if the water is a bit chilly). I’ll be sad to not make it up there this summer, but my mom and one of my sisters are hopefully coming to visit and travel around at some point in July, so I’ll have that trip to plan look forward to (in a big way).

Love from Kenya,


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day, and the Crying Stone

Most importantly: Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there, be you mine or someone else's! I'm getting to that age where some of my friends have kids, and that's a new thing to think about, a little strange, but only because I'm just in a different stage of life. Mothers are amazing, and deserve to be celebrated!

I realize it has in fact been two weeks since my last update. Oops -- so much for writing every week. Apologies.

Life is pretty good. I hit a little rough patch about the time I last wrote, but things have definitely improved since then. Work has gotten busier, for one. Those of you who know me know I do best when I'm busy, when I have things going on, goals and projects and events. When I first got here, there was enough new to keep me busy, but eventually that slowed down, and life got a little dull, which was frustrating... but like I said, work has picked up, I've met a handful of other expats in the area and made several new friends, and it has been really encouraging.

It's still about a month out from the arrival of our first batch of interns, but this means that developing calendars and setting meetings actually makes some sense now; there's a little more urgency. We're meeting with host organizations to make sure they're ready to put an intern to work "from the word 'go'" (as my supervisor likes to say). We're meeting with host families (not so much me as my local counterparts) to make sure they have adequate setups for their new family members. There is actually quite a lot to do and take care of before the interns come!

Another fun personal fact: I love Mexican food (insert Trump-Hispanics-taco bowl joke here). Some of the other expats and I threw a Cinco de Mayo dinner on Friday evening, and I had forgotten how good black beans taste with melted cheese. I dragged out the Peace Corps cookbook for my old reliable tortilla recipe, and braved flour tortillas (which turned out surprisingly well - they actually held up well when used in a burrito - I was so proud). I also roasted sweet potatoes with some spices, and made black beans (which were not as tender as I wanted, but we were hungry and all the other food was ready). There was also guac, several kinds of tortilla chips, and plenty of veggies. I made new friends, and we feasted. I went home very full, and very content.

Today, the current intern and I went to the site of perhaps Kakamega's only legit "tourist" item (apart from the forest, which will have to happen at some point in the future), called "The Crying Stone," because (when it rains) the rock looks like it is crying. It was quite an ordeal getting there (we took piki-pikis, or motorbikes), and in her words, we ended up paying pretty much the whole village. There was one guy who guided us to where the trail to the stone was, and he needed something. Then there was another guy who actually brought us up to the stone and taught us about the history and stories of the rock, and he needed something. Then there was a woman who merely lived by the stone, and supposedly starred in some World Cup 2010 something something something, and she needed something (that one seemed like a stretch to me). Then there was an old guy, perhaps a former tour guide, who was sitting on his butt and doing nothing, and he needed something. And then once we got back to town, we were told there was a "waiting fee" for the piki drivers, who opted to wait with us while we were there. Ridiculous. What's more, we were there early enough in the day that it had not yet rained, so the "Crying Stone" was not even crying! It was dry. "It cried yesterday." Perfect. Oh well, cross that one off my list - I feel no need to go back and see it again, that's for sure! (Check out some photos below)

Another neat thing! The current intern (we only have one at present) had the final training workshop as a sort of finale to her projects here. It was a two-day poultry training and workshop; the other program coordinator went on the first day, and I went the second day. The woman leading the workshop, someone from the ministry of agriculture, or at least educated in those topics, seemed like she was completely in charge, and very good at her job. She was writing notes in English, and holding a very interactive training conversation with the woman who were eagerly scribbling down everything she wrote on the flipchart paper. It was very endearing to see all these older (middle-aged at least) Kenyan women in their brightly colored, mismatched outfits, sitting and taking notes like they were back in high school. They were definitely more engaged than my students ever were in Lesotho, so maybe I was a little jealous of that... At the end of the workshop, a pickup truck pulled into the lot, and there were close to 80 chickens in the back, just walking around, softly clucking and trying desperately to hide, especially when one guy started picking them up and handing them to the other guy, who then deposited them in boxes, and counted to make sure each box had six before it was handed off to one of the lucky recipients. It was awesome. The women were so, so excited to be receiving these birds, and I really think/want to believe the project will continue after the intern has gone. I think my favorite image of the day was watching these women as they all went off together, carrying chickens in ratty cardboard boxes wrapped in beautiful Kenyan fabrics, on their heads.

Alright, that's all I've got for now. Time to go home and cook dinner!
Love and peace from Kenya,

This doesn't really fit with the theme of the rest of the photos I've shared here (it's not chickens or a crying stone or me on the back of a piki - note I rarely take/post selfies), but Lake Victoria is beautiful, especially at sunset.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Birthdays and Earth Day

Gosh, it can be weird starting (and ending) a blog entry. I've started this over at least three times now, which is silly, so I'll just jump in.

I'm glad this week is over.
I am feeling increasingly comfortable with my role at FSD, and this week I started feeling like I was running out of things to read and do to prepare myself, especially when we won't see interns until early June. Yes, you read that right, early June. It's been really interesting working as part of a team in Kenya when the other half of operations is ten hours behind. I guess it's nice in that if I don't get around to doing something right away in the morning and have to put it off until the afternoon, it's not always a huge deal, since they're sleeping and won't see it until I've left work anyway. It can be frustrating though, since if someone is out of the office, or doesn't respond within the day, it means another full day of waiting. The first few days this week involved a lot of waiting. Welcome back to Africa, Katie.

Thursday was tough for other reasons. Even my run in the morning wasn't great. I woke up feeling off, and was on the verge of getting upset with myself, but when I got to work and realized the date, I understood (or at least partially rationalized). It would have been Dan's 29th birthday. It's interesting - I think that because some of my fondest memories with him were traveling around Europe, and some of my most enjoyable travels after studying abroad were with him, he's on my mind more when I'm traveling or in unfamiliar places.

After almost three weeks in country with little "real" social interaction (spending time with people, by choice, outside of work, for the purpose of enjoyment), I decided it was time to venture out of Kakamega to meet up with several friends from grad school who are also working in this part of Kenya. In fact, one had a birthday on Friday, so I met a handful of the expat staff and we had a lovely potluck dinner. I was also fortunate to be able to lump this visit in with an invitation from One Acre Fund to come to Bungoma and see where they operate, as well as some of their programs. If you're not familiar with One Acre Fund, look them up. Really, do it. They're an incredible organization, working with farmers in four different African countries, and doing seriously amazing work.

To give some idea of the scale of what they do: I had the opportunity to go into the field with a field officer (one of over 30 for Bungoma's south district alone), who is the contact person for 110 local farmers; some field officers work with closer to 140 farmers (in Kenya, they work with ~135,000 farmers... that's quite a few). We were driven (along with two others from the office) maybe 20 minutes outside of the center of town along rural (very bumpy) dirt roads until I was completely turned around, and then got out at a field where half a dozen people were planting. They were not One Acre farmers, as One Acre farmers had received their farming inputs and planted a couple weeks prior, but told us they were using One Acre methods, and hoping that they could enroll next season, as they had seen the benefits of being One Acre farmers. They then invited me to help them plant a row of maize.

Let's talk for a second about humbling experiences. Seeing the rope they'd stretched the width of the field (with knots tied every 8-10 inches to mark where each individual seed should go), and seeing how they worked across the field, perfectly aligning the deepest part of each hoe-swing with the little knots in the rope was pretty remarkable. I was then handed the jembe (hoe) and they insisted it was my turn... to take the jembe down the row, followed by a small scoop of fertilizer in each hole, then covering it up with a thin layer of dirt before placing one maize seed in each hole and covering it with more dirt. Wow.

My family has always had backyard gardens with the iconic summer fruits and vegetables (lettuce, carrots, raspberries, tomatoes, etc), and I've helped plant those. I even had my own garden in Lesotho, and a shared garden in Minneapolis, but this was something entirely different. This maize in this field likely represented a fairly significant portion of their entire livelihood, and not only were they planting it seed by seed, they were entrusting a portion of that to me, a mzungu (white person) with zero legit farm cred (as could be seen in my crooked row, unevenly spaced maize seeds, and embarrassed laughter). Maybe maize is something that even I couldn't really screw up, and they weren't really risking much by letting me work that row, but I don't think that would've changed their dispositions or eagerness to share their pride in the field and in their work with me.
Opening the bag of fertilizer

Apparently dirt feels good on your bare butt

The marker stick - you can see the knots along the rope

Demonstrating how to appropriately space the spots for seeds

My turn to try!

Laughing because it is more difficult than it looks

Small scoops of fertilizer into each hole

Another demonstration: how to cover something with dirt :)

Planting maize seeds (which are pink!)

I realized later that it was Earth Day, and couldn't help but grin.

Weeding the older plot
Two weeks old! So cute.
From there, we saw the plots of a farmer who did work with One Acre, and I was again handed a jembe - this time to weed the rows, which had been planted earlier this month. It was neat to see the progression, from bare field to little green sprouts in neat rows (with lots of other green - weeds - in between the rows).

Lots of chickens - 
The last stop on my tour was the livestock research station, where they grow and experiment with several kinds of feed for cows, as well as different breeds of cattle and chickens, including one they call the "local" breeds. They had an adorable 2-week calf, who I befriended, and almost a dozen other very curious cows. There were five different chicken coops; the birds were separated based on the type of bird and amount/type of food they received. From the coop/house, they had long, narrow stretches of ground, which extended into a sort of yard, and there was no fence enclosing the far end! Apparently the chickens knew enough to return to the same yard and house each night, even if the food was different on the other side of the fence. I don't know a ton about chickens (even as the egg lady at my school in Lesotho), so I don't know if we call it smart or dumb, but I was really impressed.

Seeing familiar faces (and meeting new faces) in the evening was a treat, and a very enjoyable way of ending the day. I know some very motivated, talented people who are doing some really meaningful work. Even a slight change in environment has been refreshing. The gorgeous banda (round hut) where I've stayed the last two nights has wifi (not to obsess over having internet access or not, but wow, is it nice), and I've been able to stream the Current's Prince tribute while writing this... it feels right.

I'm optimistic that this next work week will be busier and a little more interesting. It's hard to believe that May is just around the corner.

Love from Kenya,