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,

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Karibu Kenya

I’ve been in Kenya for just over two weeks now, and after assuring many people back home that I did indeed intend on blogging while abroad, I’m finally writing. And so it begins...

After perhaps the most stressful departure I have experienced (I don’t recommend trying to travel with a ticket where your name has been misspelled – TSA doesn’t especially appreciate it), my long layover in Amsterdam was perfect. I found my way to the center of town and met a dear friend for lunch outside on one of their first real spring days, followed by a bike tour of the city, complete with several stops for beer. One more overnight flight, and I made it to Nairobi, only to find out that my luggage had not left Amsterdam. Whether or not this was my fault, I’m still unsure, but there was nothing I could do except talk to the desk to figure out when/how I could get my luggage and be thankful that I’d thought to pack a spare outfit in my carry-on.

I arrived in Kisumu and was greeted by Peter, my supervisor, who remarked as to how well I had heeded his advice to “pack light.” Hah. I explained what had happened, and we were off to Kakamega, my new home.

My position with Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) is only a six-month contract, so this international stint has already been very different from my experience in Lesotho. No pre-departure staging in Philly. No group of volunteers to travel with, to compare anxieties and aspirations as we crossed the Atlantic and the equator. No central training center to stay in, no official language instruction, no other Americans. This time, I’m largely in charge of my own training, doing a lot of learning on the fly.

Kakamega is a town of about 80,000 (I’ve seen different numbers from different sources), just across the equator from Kisumu. The neighborhood where I’m staying is definitely in a nicer area of town – it’s mostly pretty quiet and very safe. Unlike my home in Lesotho (which I very much liked for the most part), I have reliable running water, semi-reliable electricity, a hot shower, a fridge, and a few other kitchen appliances I never could’ve dreamed of in Lesotho (microwave, toaster, waffle maker?!). Plus a TV and DVD player in my sitting room! I’ve been reminded, however, that although I pay rent, I am in no way am I the sole inhabitant of the house. At least one rat lives in the ceiling, and I’ve seen three slugs (one was at least six inches long, and the other two made it into my bathroom and bedroom), a handful of gecko/lizards, many (big) moths, and countless other insects. At the end of the day, I’m thankful for the mosquito net above my bed.

The FSD office is in the busy part of town, a 15-20 minute walk from my house, depending on how long it takes to cross the two main roads, which can be quite an undertaking as there are bicycles, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, plus normal cars and trucks, all competing for space, traveling different speeds (along the left side of the road), equally unconcerned with pedestrians. I’ve discovered that if I can time my crossing to coincide with that of a local, I’m usually safe.

Work has been a lot of reading, trying to learn my way around both geographically and in terms of policies and procedures. The first interns won’t arrive until June 11, but there’s plenty of prep with host organizations and host families. I’m working on learning Swahili, but it’s slow going without formal instruction, and my brain commonly reverts to Sesotho or Spanish. I went with my supervisor to see the host organizations last week, and meet with the individuals who will be guiding our interns and their work. I’m reminded how well I learn both by seeing and by doing. The others in the office laugh at my requests for them to show me where something is located on a map (I think I have my father to thank for the map infatuation).

Speaking of running, it continues to be how I truly wake up in the morning, and for that I am thankful. My mileage is down from where it was before I left, but that's to be expected. I had a nice break between leaving Minnesota and the day my bag (with all my running clothes) arrived. I'm settling gradually into a routine: my alarm goes off at 6 and (usually after a snooze - old habits die hard) I stumble out the door by 6:30, as the sun is starting to rise. I’m acclimating to being at mild altitude; the challenge now is really just the temperature and humidity combination. I'm told this is the cool season, and that it will heat up again once the rains stop, maybe mid-June, so I've got that to look forward to. It rains most afternoons, and again sometimes later in the evenings, never on any sort of predictable schedule, but the sky always gives it away. When it doesn't rain one day, the next is noticeably hotter. Gotta love the weather.

As my iPhone is finishing its reboot (I'm practically holding my breath that the power doesn't go out and take the WiFi with it while it's still updating), I've got some other stuff to check on while I have WiFi. I've got regular (low-volume) internet access, so shoot me an email! Skype with video is a bit more of a novelty, especially with the time difference (I'm 8 hours ahead of CST), but is definitely doable.

I miss everyone from home, as well as screens on windows, fresh salad greens, craft beer, and good ice cream, but I'm still confident that my decision to be here was the right one for this point in my life, which is a really encouraging feeling.


Friday, July 12, 2013

July 12, 2013

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two full weeks since I last updated… but I guess it has. Happy July, Happy Independence Day, and Happy Last Week of Data Collection (that last one is only recognized by the three of us and those directly involved with our project here, in case you were curious). July has been pretty action-packed so far, let’s see if I can re-cap…

Junín - Work:
            The project has continued to go well, for the most part. It’s been sort of hit or miss with organizing focus groups and interviews, but we’ve got a lot of really good information. We made it to all of the communities around the lake except for one, because the president of that community gave us a phone number that was short one digit. After guessing a few times unsuccessfully, we decided to just let it go. Most places have just been interviews with the president of the community and frequently another member of the community as well, either the VP or someone who is said to know a good deal about the lake. Much of the information is the same from each place, but it’s still really good to get.
            This is not to say that the past two weeks have been a walk in the park (even if they had, it would be a huffing and puffing walk in the park, thanks to the fact that there is something like 2/3 the oxygen here as there is at sea level – how nice!). On the 4th of July, we had an interview set up for one of the communities on the other side of the lake for 9am, meaning we would leave Junín at 8am to make it in time. Now, I’m not much of a morning person, especially if I can’t run, shower and have coffee. I managed to run (though it was super early) and we were on the road in plenty of time. We arrived shortly after 9am to find the president of the community had not even read the letter we’d hand-delivered probably a month prior. He asked us what we were doing and what we were hoping to accomplish, why we wanted to talk with him, etc. Never mind the fact that we had anticipated a group of 8ish people waiting for us to hold the focus group, this was a bit of a disappointment. Finally, after we managed to convince him that we were not working for the municipal government, he agreed to let us talk to someone else. And this someone else wasn’t going to be in town until 12, supposedly. So we waited around (doing surveys and drinking lots of coffee at a cute little café) for 2.5 hours until 12, when this man, who, we were told, knew much more about the lake, was to arrive. At 12:30, the president emerged from a meeting and told us that the guy wasn’t there yet, but he would probably be there around 1:30… so we got his number and called him to verify, and to make sure he knew we were waiting for him. The weather was awful – raining/hailing off and on, fairly windy and just unpleasantly cold – so we sat in the car for another hour. At just about 2pm, we were tired of waiting (at that point, it had been almost 5 hours of waiting), so we started to pull away, and finally the lake-smart man appeared. Needless to say, we were all slightly upset. Not only had the president of the community not read the letter we dropped off weeks earlier, he told us 9am, knowing full well we were coming from an hour away, and then he wouldn’t even talk to us, he pawned it off on someone else (who did know a fair amount, and I’m glad we got to interview him, but still). Thankfully that has only happened once. The guy we did talk with was very helpful and agreed to arrange a focus group for us, so we’re returning to that community tomorrow morning to finish up. Hopefully we’ll leave there on a more positive note…
            After that meeting tomorrow morning, we’ll be heading to another community whose president has also been very helpful. He took us out to lunch a couple weeks ago to get more information on what exactly we’re doing, and see how he could help. I’m fairly confident that tomorrow will be productive, but I guess time will tell!
Sunday will be an easy day, a non-work day (I hope), though probably a planning day. We’ll have 10 days to finish transcribing and translating and then compile our report and get our presentation ready… Like I’ve said, I think we have a good amount of information for a very rich report; it will just be a matter of making sense out of it all and forming it into a report. Next week we have an interview (as interviewees, not interviewers!) that will be broadcast on the radio and probably also the local TV station to promote our report and invite people to the presentation, which will be on the 25th in the morning… I’m slightly nervous about presenting in Spanish to a full room of (hopefully) very interested parties. It’ll build character, I’m sure.

Junín – Non-Work:
            I’m almost finished knitting my first scarf, and I must say, it’s quite pretty. It’s been a learning experience for sure, a couple screw-ups plus my stubborn perfectionistic tendencies have been a bit of heartache and lots of backtracking on several occasions, but I have no regrets. I wish other things (like hats or mittens or leg-warmers or anything with a non-rectangular shape) were easier to make… Not sure how much I have left, maybe a foot, maybe less. Next up: another scarf! (And I’ll have to be very careful since Janelle, my saving grace when it comes to knitting, probably won’t be with me to help me fix my mess-ups…)
            Food continues to be very starch-heavy, but every Tuesday, I load up on the good stuff at the market. I have a dozen tangerines, a kilo of apples, half a dozen bananas, several kiwis and grenadillas, a handful of limes, and a bunch of avocados to tide me over when I can’t stomach the starch. I also finally got around to toasting the peanuts I bought several weeks back, not realizing they were raw. I also discovered that there are a couple women who sell almonds at the market. They’re expensive treats, but they’re totally worth it. I’ve also tried a couple new fruits – one of the perks of being near the selva I guess! One is a lucuma, which is just… heavenly. I don’t know how else to describe it, but sometimes we have it blended with bananas for breakfast, and it is seriously, dangerously delicious. We’ve also had it in pies and cakes and it is absolutely delicious.
Another is the chirimoya (sp?), which I only tried yesterday. It’s a strangely lumpy green fruit that you break open, and there are lots of white sort of stalagmite-looking things that form the flesh of the fruit. There are a few black seeds, and you don’t eat those or the skin, but the white flesh is really very sweet. Another is the grenadilla. I’ve had grenadilla-flavored things before (Lesotho loved it), but never the actual fruit. It’s sort of like a pomegranate in that you eat the seed-things, but it’s a lot easier to open – you just smack it hard on the table so the shell cracks, and then scoop the insides out. I got scolded when I chewed them, so I’m still not exactly sure the proper method of consumption, but nothing bad has happened to me as a result of chewing the seeds, so oh well.
            There are also lots of herbs they make tea with (including celery leaves – bleh!). Each has its own purported purpose, but I drink them because I just like drinking warm things when it’s this cold outside and inside (so long as they taste like herbs and not celery water!).

Running has continued to improve, even though the mornings are considerably colder now, and it’s still hard to get out of bed. I have to catch my breath less frequently, and my lungs don’t hate me quite as much as they did several weeks ago. I’ve been seeing some cool animals on my excursions, too – lots of birds! The latest (and most exciting since that of the flamingos) sighting was the famed (and endangered, unfortunately) zambullidor de Junín (grebe), a small fluffy duck thing with red eyes, almost loon-esque in shape and diving abilities. I saw two in the canal along the road where I run, both yesterday and the day before, and when the close one saw/heard me, it dove and came up maybe 20 feet away. They make a cute little noise as they swim. When I got back to the Parroquia, I was excited for having just spotted them, and one of the hermanos here told me that if you see a zambullidor, it means you’ll have good luck, especially in love. Ha, I guess we’ll see about that…

            I’ve started making travel plans for after we finish here, and I am getting really excited. After our presentation, overnight on the evening of the 25th, I’ll take a bus down to Lima to meet up with a friend from home, who will have arrived the evening of the 25th. From Lima, we’re bussing to Cusco, which will be a solid 20+ hours in a bus – but we have second floor, front row seats, so hopefully we’ll at least have some good views! We’ll spend a week in the south of Peru: Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, Ollantaytambo, and (of course) Machu Picchu (with an added excursion up Huayna Picchu, which also looks stunning). I’m counting down the days. It’ll be nice to only have to wear one pair of pants at a time, and not worry about layering up quite as much. It’ll be nice to be able to breathe more normally, to be able to run a more normal pace and maybe even get my legs tired after a run (instead of just my lungs), and to be able to (hopefully!) run with people. It’ll be nice to be able to be active during the day and not be completely exhausted as a result. I’m hoping for good running, plenty of hiking, maybe some biking, possibly some canoeing or kayaking and lots of photography.
            There’s still a good amount to plan, and I love seeing everything come together. With that said, we’ll still have a good deal of flexibility with what we do each day… I’m stoked to see another region of Peru. At the end of our week, the plan is to fly back to Lima (90 minutes in a plane sounds better than 20 hours in a bus, no?) and then home!
Time is such a funny thing – right now, two weeks sounds like a long time to wait until traveling and adventures, but if the past two weeks are any indication, the time will surely fly, which is a good thing since the temperatures have dropped even more. There were several mornings we heard the overnight temps dropped to -10 C, around 15 F, no big deal (BRR!)

I think that’s really all I have to report; the countdown to the end has begun, but we definitely have plenty to keep us busy until then! Fingers crossed for no more sickness (food-related or otherwise) and lots of sunshine (cloudy days are rough).
Love from Peru!