Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Last post for a while...

I've been putting off writing on this thing because I don't really want to accept or write about the fact that my Peace Corps experience has been put on hold... indefinitely. I don't want to talk in detail about what it is like to be back in MN in the middle of winter, having not had the chance to go back to Umer to get all my shit or (more importantly) say goodbye to anyone. Writing about all of this gives me a chance come to grips with the fact that I have NO idea what I want to do with myself (my life). It makes me think about the fact that I spent over a year preparing to become a PCV, and now, a mere 8 months in to it all, I am back in the states... bashfully explaining to people why I'm here. I'm embarassed; I forget this wasn't my choice or my fault (or anyone's). Bottom line: this situation SUCKS. And there's nothing I can do about it.

After two weeks of being in limbo (in Tanzania) the powers that be in DC decided that it would be better for us to be in limbo in the US (because... well... I won't speculate, but I don't necessarily feel that our best interest was in mind). I don't know what happened to all the options they gave us before. All the talk of humanitarian work, of site changes... we were given so much hope. And then were told that we, within the week, would either have to take interuption of service (IOS) and go back to the states indefinitely; take IOS and hang out in Africa (on our own dime) and wait for Kenya to reopen, or do a direct transfer to another country and "never look back," even if Kenya became OK again. Here I am. I'm waiting for PC to call and send me back to my site; I'm expecting PC not to call; I'm expecting that if they do call, they will not send me back to my site (something about them saying "going back to your site, at any point is HIGHLY unlikely" gave me that impression...). So... yeah. Damn.

They say they will send us weekly emails, updating us on the situation and our options. We'll see. I'm trying to enjoy the comforts that I thought I'd be doing without for the next couple years, as long as I'm here... it certainly is comfy:)

That's all for now... I'll let you know if, by some miracle, I end up on a plane somewhere warm (Kenya, please??) any time soon.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

Update from Tanzania

I just wanted to write a note to update you all as best I can on what's going down.

We made it to Tanzania (via private jet) on the 4th and have been holed up at a bed and breakfast resort type place on the coast ever since. It is nice here. Very nice. Hot as hell. But, yes. Nice. Do I feel good about being here? No. Am I complaining? No. Well. Not outloud. It's just hard to see Kenya on the news, to talk to my family back in Umer and be...soo...removed.

On a darker (related) note, we met with our country director this morning, who made it pretty clear that it was pretty clear that they would be closing sites in Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley Provinces (my site is in Western). Pause. Pause. Yeah. The group moral was low before he said that outloud (we are all going a bit crazy being in limbo like this). Now my spirit is just.... gasping for life.

The options for us potentially "displaced" volunteers are MANY. We can go back to the states, no questions asked. We can try to get a new site somewhere in Kenya and essentially "start over;" we can try to get a temporary placement with a relief organization in Kenya, helping displaced people (there are over 250,000 reports have said) and then go back to our sites, if situation permits, or back to the US, if situation doesn't permit. We can try to get another assignment in another country. The list, believe it or not, goes on. It's hard to absorb and consider all this, though.... I mean... we don't even know definitely that we won't go back to our sites (it just... really REALLY seems like we won't).

The word is that they are going to try to get us back at least to Kenya by Wednesday or Thursday this week, so that we can be in one big group with all the other volunteers who can't go back to their sites... that way they can talk to us and deal with us all together rather than in many smaller groups. I don't know where in Kenya we'll be kept, but... somewhere. I am ready to be back in Kenya. I miss Kenya.

Anyway, more news to come; I'll share it as I get it. Thank you for all your kind words and thoughts...


Thursday, January 3, 2008

I just won the Peace Corps lottery

Just got a call from our country director: they have decided to send me (and the 6 other volunteers I'm with), a group of 11 volunteers currently in Kisumu and another group of volunteers currently in Kakamega to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the next two weeks!

They chartered us a flight from Kericho to Kisumu tomorrow morning, then a direct flight from Kisumu to Dar es Salaam. We'll be there for the next two weeks to "decompress", our country director said. Amazing.

I know next to nothing about the city, other than it's on the coast and is beautiful. Again I say: amazing.

Peace Corps Tanzania is holding their in service training while we're there, so we are going to attend; other than that, I plan to work on my tan and my Kiswahili.

The ODM rally (scheduled for today) was postponed until January 8th-- I'm praying that things settle down in the next two weeks so that I can come back to the Kenya I used to know and get back to work.

PC isn't evacuating the whole country, just those of us here, in Kisumu and Kakamega. I think it'll be around 30 people.

Anyway... that's the update here. I'm feeling better. And worse. And excited. But not. At least we have a plan now. A plan that involves the beach.

Thank you all for your concern.... keep Kenya in your hearts (as I will). More to come.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Is this the Kenya you used to know...?"

That was the question posed to me by a group of four or five men standing in an abandoned gas station the other day. I walked by with my friend Rachel (we had gone out in search of more charcoal and food) and we exchanged nods and acknowledgements of the sort that you can only share with people who are experiencing exactly what you are experiencing in the place and at the time you are experiencing it. Only a few seconds had passed after those sympathetic nods and crooked smiles when one of the men (wearing an orange, ODM hat) turned to us and asked, "is THIS the Kenya you used to know?" Though I've only called Kenya home for 7 months and, in my heart, only considered it home for much less than that, I couldn't help but turn to him, half smiling. "No," was all I managed to respond.

We just got moved to an incredible house on the tea plantations just outside Kericho. We were picked up this morning by a private, gov't vehicle, and they dropped us all off here. Things here are, to say the least, comfortable. The compound we are on is owned by the Walter Reed Project, who have a base in Kericho (I really don't know much about the organization; something from the US and military related). We are actually staying in one of the two guest houses. They should really be called guest mansions. I'm feeling really guilty, actually, having raided all three of the fridges (one is full of frozen meat and chicken), messed around with the satellite TV, and claimed one of 4 hardwood floor bedrooms. There is a kitchen the size of Marcus' entire house, complete with 2 ovens, 2 microwaves, a stove top and panini sandwich grill; we've got a grand dining room, a HUGE sitting room with couches and the aforementioned TV, two full bathrooms, 2 walk-in pantries (not full, but we did find 3 cans of tuna, some cereal, 3 packs of ramen noodles as well as about 100kgs of rice-- incredible), a washing and drying machine, a veranda (I'm sitting on it right now as I write this), and fresh milk. And pet dogs. Like I said, I feel guilty.

Things here are.... sad. Really, really, incredibly sad. There is this feeling of shock, defeat and injustice in the air... along with the tension that often chaperones those sentiments. It is eerie. Because it's been pretty quiet the past couple days (at least in Kericho), we've been able to walk around (not in to town, but down the road a little). There are abandoned kiosks and overturned bus stops; road blocks made by lining rocks and boulders accross the street. A few days ago I saw people dragging all their possessions (beds, mattresses, couches--evertying) out to the road, hoping to catch a ride anywhere. Yesterday, I saw several young men wheeling the same things back in towards town on huge carts. I'm not sure if they had looted other people's things or if they were bringing there own thigs back.

I've talked to my family in Umer a lot. When I called to wish them a Happy New Year, all they said was, "...this new year is not happy...". They are safe, they said, just.... upset. "We need our President [ODM's Raila Odinga]," my friend William said. "They are giving us false results," my 19-year old brother, Joseph told me. I asked him if people are fighting and he said "not yet. We are waiting for Raila to speak to us." That is, of course, in my village. People in Kisumu (and all over Kenya, for that matter, have not waited for anything. People are dying. People are displaced. Supplies are limited and dwindling. And as much as I hate to be so negative, I can't see it getting better before it gets worse.

Even police officers we have talked to have not been shy about sharing their feelings that "justice is necessary. If people think there is injustice, they must fight for what they believe is right."

We had the chance a few days ago to watch the news at a nearby hotel. In all honesty, things look MUCH worse on TV than they feel here. I mean, I'm not in Kisumu or Nairobi, but.... a lot of violence has gone down in Kericho, too.... and at least from where we sat, I NEVER would have described "how things are" as the scene that I saw on the news. It makes me sick to see it. I really am heartbroken. Perhaps the saddest thing for me is how ominous the future looks; I can't see how it will be resolved (if it can be resolved) and I certainly don't see it getting better before it gets worse. I don't think that one police officer is the only person who feels that way about justice. And it's becoming more and more apparent that there was (and remains) a lack of it.

It's really hard, on a more personal note, having no idea what is going on (really) nor what will happen. We've spent HOURS speculating. That's really all we can do. Will they evacuate us? Will we ever get to go back to our sites? If they evacuate us, where to? When? How? And what about all our crap at our sites (when I packed for this trip, I thought I'd be back in a week, it's now been over two...and if we do leave the country, I won't get back to site before that)? And what about all the PEOPLE at our sites? The thought of leaving Kenya without at least saying goodbye to the people who have been my life here is... awful. It's bad enough knowing that, at any point, we can up and leave; knowing that we have people whose entire JOB it is to figure out how to get me out of here safely, should things get worse. But the thought of leaving people I love who don't have anything near that option, right when things get worse... it's hard to deal with.

Anyway. There is so much more to say... I'll save it for another installment. Tomorrow there is a huge ODM (that's the opposition) rally planned in Nairobi. It will really be a pivotal day. If that rally goes through... things could get much worse. But if that rally is prevented from happening... things could get much worse. So... look for an update tomorrow. I'll let you know, if at all possible, where I'm going (if anywhere) and what's going on (if anything). If I'm unable to post for whatever reason (power, as we know, is... unreliable), I've been talking to my parents every day... so bug them for info (hope that's OK, Mom and Dad).

Please know, above all, that I am OK. We are all OK. I just, really REALLY hope Kenya is, too.


Just an Update

I just wanted to write a quick note to tell you all that I am alive and well, inspite of the mess Kenya is in right now. I will write a long message in the next few days (everyone is waiting to use this computer at the moment), but... thank you all so much for your concern. I am really fine-- more heartbroken for Kenya than anything, really. Not much news on what will happen (to me, my program, etc.)-- for now, I am on lock down in Kericho at Marcus' house with 6 other volunteers. We'll be here at least until Jan 5th... who knows, after that.

More to come....

p.s. The six of us just firgured out how to make CornNuts using the 4kgs of dried maize we bought from the only open kiosk near Marcus' house (it was the last of one of the only things we could find). So.... yeah. That was the high point of our day. CornNuts are.... delicious. :)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Wooo hooo!

At long last.... I'm back in the lap of luxury (Marcus' house) and able to update my blog. I know you all have been waiting in EXCRUCIATING anxiety for me to post again (especially you, Dad:), so I'm happy I can, albeit quickly, as I'm off to Lake Baringo to camp for the week. PC is giving us pretty much this whole week off without it counting against our vaca--they want us to go somewhere and stay there through elections. So...kar'BU vacation!

First things first: I have named the bat. In an attempt to remain culturally sensitive, I have, after much thought and internal debate, decided on "Popo." In the end, I narrowed it down to two choices: "Wewe" (translation: "you") and "Popo" ("bat"). Wewe is what I scream at it as I'm flailing my arms and running around my house...when it flies around before I'm safely under my bed net. It also can be used to shoo cows, dogs or small children. I decided on Popo, though, because I like the ring of it and I like the fact that it applies only to bats, as it means bat. In Kiswahili. Or Dholuo. I'm not sure which. I heard Baba refer to it as Popo a few times, so... I gathered (because I'm a cunning linguist, you know) that it means bat. In trying to get the true meaning of my bat's name, I asked Baba the other day if Popo is the word for bat in Dholuo or Kiwahili. He replied "yes." I pressed on... "So... it's the word for bat in Kiswahili?" ... "Yes." "Or.. is that how you say bat in Dholuo?" ..."Okay..." "Wait, Baba, I'm confused... Popo. That word... is that a word in Kiswahili or Dholuo?".... to which he replied "Nice time."

In other developments, I have started putting a little mat down every night in the spot where Popo pees and poos, so that I don't have to sweep it out the door every morning. The first night I did it, Popo didn't pee or poop. So the next night, I didn't put it down. And Popo peed and pooped like he hadn't done it for two days. I muttered, "wewe...." and swept it out the front door, laughing, because Popo clearly has a sense of humor. After that night, though, I decided I would just put the bat mat down every night, regardless... and now Popo seems ot understand that it is ok for him to go there. So... all is well on that front.

Since the last time I posted, I have been to Nairobi and returned (we had a week long training there). The training was... okayyyy.... the best part of it, to be honest, was returning to Umer after it. It was just nice to really miss life there. And to go back and feel like I had really been missed. Right when I got off the matatu in Bar Ober, some people I didn't even know ran up to me and shook my hand and said "Ann! Ann! Where have you been! You have been lost!! Welcome back! We have really been missing you!!" It was nice. Note: I know my name isn't Ann, but that's what people call me here. And when I got back to Umer, my mamas were laughing and clapping and dancing... and they hugged me and it was just... a nice moment. There was so much joy there.

I really feel like a different person when I'm in the village. A better person. And I didn't realize that until I spent that time in Nairobi and came back. In Umer, I have so many fewer concerns, but the concerns I have seem... more real, somehow. More important. More worthwhile. In Nairobi things are fast and dirty and busy and all over the place. It's easy to fall right in to that "go go go who what where" mentality. In fact, you kind of have to to not get eaten alive. But when I'm in Umer, I feel like I can breathe, and take time to look at the sky and to look at people-- I mean, to really look at them and smile at them and wave and ask them how they are and really care about their answer. And it's a wonderful feeling. I don't know that I've ever really had that or felt that. Don't get me wrong, I've definitely felt those things before, but never all at the same time or continuously as I do here.

As far as work is concerned, I've got big BIG plans for January. I started meeting with a guy named George who lives and is from Bar Ober. I have no idea how we got connected, but he basically (er...literally) showed up at my house one day... and we started talking. And it turns out that he does work in community development (he studied it in University in Nairobi) and that he has been trying to get people together to help...change things. He heard that I was here doing similar things, so he thought "two is better than one" and decided to seek me out and see if we could join forces. I said of course. George is educated (in agriculture, too...) and dedicated to helping his community and he understands where I'm coming from, from a community development standpoint, which is... a really, REALLY nice thing. He understands that money is a quick and often sloppy solution to many of the most common, deep-rooted issues in our community, but, because his family lives here and in poverty, he has helped me understand why people think and say many of the things they do. And he is punctual. Which I am not used to at all. But it's great.

So... George and I are now a team. And our first project is to gather some baseline data about the state of our community so that we can better know where to start developing. In other words, we're doing a "needs assessment" in the form of guided interviews. We've been working to develop our questions, using some standard community surveys I got from the PC and adapting them. We're going to spend January (and however much longer we need) to visit houses and talk to people. And then, we're going to analyze our little hearts out. And thennn... develop a plan of action, based on what people have told us. The plan for developing a plan of action will in large part depend on what the interviews reveal, but... of course, the idea is to be as participatory and community-based as is possible (because... my Mom has taught me well:).

I am really excited to do this, partly because I love meeting and talking to people, but also because I am interested to see how people percieve their life and their community and what they have to say when they have the opportunity to say.... anything. I've been really excited about helping get the dispensary built, and about getting a protected water source and about helping the primary school... but... maybe we'll find that something else is more pressing or more important to the community. Who knows.

Speaking of the dispensary, I found out how I can make it so that people in the US can make a contribution to my project through the PC (tax deduc. and all that). I have to write a proposal and get it approved, and then... PC will put a link on their website with my name and project information... and anyone in the world can go to the website, read about what I'm doing and donate (or not). That's another thing I'm going to do in Jan/Feb... (unless I find out through my interviews that no one in my community really wants a dispensary)... so I'll keep you all posted on that front. If anyone is interested.

Other than all that.... ahhh, well there's so much more I have to say, but I'm trying to get all my things together so that I can get camping. I'll have to write more next week(ish). And I promise to do so.

Happy Happy Happy Holidays.... keep your fingers crossed for a safe and successful election here, too (Dec. 27th!). Love and miss, as always.

xoxoxo H

Monday, November 26, 2007


Yayyy! Pictures!

It takes FOREVER to upload pics from this computer... but I'll do as many as I can before I go crazy. I'll do commentary, too, where necessary. Enjoy:) H

Sooooo, this is....me.... making chapati. (Traditional Kenyan food. Kind of a cross between a tortilla and naan. Really greasy. Really tasty.) Mmmmmm.

This is Manu (Emanuel), my sister Emily's baby. He's not even a year old yet (December), but he is a big boy. Cutest kid in the world. We are friends. I know it looks like he's crying, but I swear, I didn't do it. He stopped crying right when I came. Really.

This is our boar hole (I talked about it in the most recent post). It looks a little sketchy here, but the water is crystal clear. I still filter and treat all my drinking water. So does my family. Except for Baba right then. :) He's alive and well, though. No pun intended.

Some community members who came for the clinic; Jackline, in the middle with the maroon head scarf, makes and sells porridge and nyoyo (maize and beans) for people who come.

A few community health workers (CHWs), not to be confused with commercial sex workers (CSWs). Sometimes I get those abrrevs. confused. It's really unfortunate when that happens. This is clinic the "reception" area.

This is the building where our clinic is held. The woman standing in the back is waiting to see the Dr. The arm sticking out in the middle is...a man talking to the nurse (where the meds are distributed). The lady in front is....pregnant. [Note: This is not the dispensary that I want to get built... this is a temporary structure that we're using. The "dispensary" as it stands now was behind me as I took this picture.]

This is the Rotary Drs.' magic time machine. Actually, it's just a car. But they do work magic...

The shamba crew, taking a photo break. From left: Resila, Helida, Conslata, Jen and Lilian (the chairlady of the women's group, Umer Women Against AIDS [UWAA], I work with). This pic was taken at about 7am. These are the strongest women I have ever met in my life. Have I mentioned that before? A few thousand times? They are wonderful.

Umer Primary School. This the better of their two classroom buildings. The students in the window are Standard 8 (8th grade) students. 10 of the 15 enrolled students in that grade are orphans.

The worse of the two classroom buildings. This classroom is supposed to be used for Standard 4 (4th grade). Yeah.

So... I was trying not to disrupt classes when I went to take these pictures. As you can see, I did very well. Right.

I think these are Standard 3-5 students. I told them to make a silly face. The kid on the far left is my favorite.

Ok. That's just the beginning... I'm off to go be productive for a bit. More pics and stories to come.