Archive for the ‘Mia in Kenya’ Category

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Mia: Cute kids and nasty viruses

November 3, 2011

So as I type this I’m literally surrounded by cute but screaming watoto (children) at the school I’m interning at for the next 5 weeks. They’ve never seen a computer before, they’re fascinated. I’ve actually been here for about 1.5 weeks, and a lot has happened, so I’ll try to make this brief (and organized!)

Sunday: Arrived at hut compound, met family, and realized I don’t have a pillow or a door. 

Monday: Host sister (also boss), took me all over town to her school, the clinic I work at on Wednesdays, the HIV clinic I go to support group meetings at, and the school for deaf children that I lecture at on Fridays. Whew, long day. 

Tuesday: All day at the school…I realize that teaching preschoolers is much harder than it looks. Props to all pre-K teachers, it takes a LOT of patience. 

Wednesday: First day at the lab in Ambira. They showed me around, and I took names and information for each patient as they pass through (and get hit on incessantly by lab techs. Gotta love Kenyan men!)

Thursday: All day at Alice Hope again, this time in ECD 2. Trying to teach someone how to draw numbers correctly is also harder than it looks. 

Friday: Rough day. Started off with a pikipiki accident (nothing serious), I get to the school late, and then I get lost on the way to the deaf school, Sega. I arrived 45 mins late for that, and then went home after teaching. That night I was bitten by the watchdog of the compound…thankfully it didn’t break the skin because I never got rabies shots. 

Saturday–Tuesday: Sis and I go to Nakuru to see her husband and children, and get groceries for the month. On Sunday we went to a Jehovah’s Witness service (interesting), and watch some movies (they have a TV!!!). On Monday we went to the market and get enough vegetables for the month, and the on Tuesday we fit it all on the 8 hr bus ride back to Ugunja. I honestly didn’t think it was all going to fit, and neither did Lilian, but 6 boxes later we were happily boucing down the road home! That is until we came upon a traffic jam caused by not 1, but 3 semis stuck in the road. That took a few hours to fix, but we got home before dark. That night, I went to John’s homestead so he could use the internet and we could have some mzungu (white person) time. And watch Gilmore Girls!

Wednesday: Worked at Alice Hope in the morning, and worked in the lab at Ambira in the afternoon, this time using the CD4 machine and microscope to check for malaria. It doesn’t look any better microscopically…Also sorted though some spewtum and stool samples. 

Thursday: First talk to class 1 and 2 about HIV. We couldn’t find a banana, so we put the condom on a blue bottle. The kids loved that. 
This weekend I’m going to Kisumu to work on my papers and hang out with Chelsea and Kaitlyn, and hopefully wander around the coast of Lake Victoria. 

Overall things are going great, but everything moves so slowly here. Once the sun goes down there’s not much to do because we don’t have electricity. However, I’ve never seen so many happy people before. Everyone always has a smile on their face, and sincerely wants to know how your days is. It seems like the people here really enjoy their work, which is something I don’t see a lot of in the US. They also seem to value people as entertainment, probably because most people here don’t have computers or TVs. What this means is that you can get to know someone in a very short time, and entertain each other for hours. 

It’s certainly a different lifestyle, but it’s starting to grow on me. More updates as I’m able…electricity is fickle here.

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Mia: It’s the end…

October 17, 2011

…of the classroom phase of the semester! Our internship starts next week, so we have our Swahili finals tomorrow and Wednesday, and the rest of the week off. It’s been more than 6 weeks since we arrived here, which is hard to fathom. 

I decided to spend the last weekend in Maasai Mara (there are pictures here), and it was amazing. Well worth the cost, and we even got to step foot in Tanzania for a little while. 

As for the business end of things, the research proposals are almost done, and all of the research papers have been started! I’m not sure how much I’ll get done before the week is out, but I’m sure not a lot is going to be accomplished in the field, so I’m trying to wrap everything up. 


The new digs

I finally have more information about my internship- I’m going to be teaching children under 8 how not to contract HIV, and I’ll be giving special lessons to the deaf children at the school. I’ll also be working with PLWH (people living with HIV) in the community, and talking about health issues. 

I’m very excited about this, but it’s going to be hard to leave my host family. They’re really great, and on top of the warm fuzzy feelings, they JUST got cable and internet. Sad day. But at least I’ll have 300 channels to surf when I come back from my hut! 

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Mia: More Kenya antics

September 29, 2011

So on Monday, I decided after not being able to run or exercise outside of house aerobics (squats down the hallway are a blast) that I needed to get a good workout. I pulled a random circuit/muscle-building workout off the internet and went to the nearest, cheapest gym, which happens to be 5 minutes from my house, outside of Kenyatta Market. It’s only 250 shillings a day for students, and 3000 a month (the exchange rate is about 102 shillings per dollar right now). 

It was a great workout, but the people in the gym seemed puzzled at my confusion as they were trying to introduce themselves to me…as I was on the treadmill with my mp3 player on. I think the gym is more of a social scene here, as everyone was having a conversation in the weight/treadmill/water room. But it’s a great value, and because of the unsafe running areas around the house, and the hot showers at the gym, I’ll be going back there frequently. 

I was actually going to return to the gym today, but research got in the way of that. I’ve been sitting at my computer for about 8 hours now trying to find ‘scholarly’ sources for all these term papers, and the concept paper for our research proposal. For some topics, finding free sources (mostly studies), is very easy. Apparently American foreign policy in Africa during the Cold War is not one of those topics…JSTOR has failed me again (honestly, who the ^%@* wants to pay 25 dollars for an article), so I’m going to the University of Nairobi’s Library to attempt to find some of the sources I found online. But I’m sure there are other topics with more available resources, so I’ll just have to play it by ear.

On a lighter note, I’ve been having hair issues lately (I took the braids out, and my hair is longer than it’s been in 3 years), so I bit the bullet and got a straightener. I wasn’t expecting much (it was 30$, only heats up to 290 degrees, and is tiny), but I was definitely in for a surprise. When I plugged it in, it heated up within 5 seconds, and made my hair the straightest I’ve ever seen it haha…I think it’s one of the nicest ones I’ve ever used. Kak harasho! 

Well, blog break’s over, now I have to get back to writing my literature review for the concept paper. The group settled on researching refugees in northern Kenya, and I’m focusing on where and how the children are getting educated. Fun stuff, I’ll probably put something about it on here next time. 

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Mia: Security, beads & research papers

September 24, 2011

I can’t remember if I mentioned this, but my house got broken into a few weeks ago, so my mom decided to tighten security a bit. Formerly, we had a glass door with a sliding metal grate, and a solid metal door that opens (it’s about 7 feet tall). There was a space of about 8 inches between the top of the metal grate and the cement above the door that wasn’t secured, and that’s how the thief got in. 

She had a metal grill put in above the metal grate, and soon I’m going to have a metal grate on my window as well. However, I ran into trouble today because I locked the keys (to everything, it’s one keychain) in the yard outside of the aforementioned security measures. The metal grate is secured with a padlock, and there’s no other way to get out to the lawn, so I had to break out of the house. Thankfully mom wasn’t home, or she might have had a heart attack (I’m still not sure how I’m going to explain this…I’m thinking it might be better left unsaid). 

On the upside, I look like a bead hoarder now because my desk is covered with jewelry for the fundraiser. Now when I come around the bead ladies give me crazy discounts because they know I’m coming back. They’re pretty nice too, so hopefully they’ll sell. 

We have a Swahili midterm this week, and several papers (short ones) due at the end of the week. We also have about 5 term papers due at the end of the program, which I’m not looking forward to writing…15 page research papers aren’t my favorite. It also looks like I may have to write them by hand, and then copy them, because I won’t have electricity at the new digs in October and November. Although there’s a solar powered netbook that just came out here that I’m almost tempted to buy…

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Mia: the word of the day is “frustration”

September 18, 2011

We got out of class very early today, so I decided to come home and change into warmer clothes (it was very cold today) before going out to get tortillas to make quesadillas for my family. The paper was on the table when I got home, so I sat down and started reading it. When I turned the page, I saw an article that really pissed me off, and I’ve actually been pissed off for several hours now. Looks like the quesadillas are going to have to wait. 

This article described the sadness of one of the firefighters at the Sinai fire, and goes on to quote him saying that it’s the worst thing he’s seen in all his days of firefighting. This is understandable—over 100 hundred people have died so far, mostly because they were either in their houses, which are right next the river in the slum, or they were trying to get oil out of the river to sell later. Some of the pictures I’ve seen of the bodies have been horrifying—people literally burned to a crisp, with entire bones showing through the blackened flesh. It’s enough to make you want to buy every single person living in that slum a house to themselves so that this never happens again.

As I was considering what I could do to do just that (not the house part), that only thing that came to mind was that I can’t. This seems to be one of the many things in this country that I want to help with, but can’t change, which let me tell you, is maddening. I spent the next several hours trying to find some kind of NGO online that helps people in poverty pay for their medical bills. Google tells me there isn’t one, as does the State Department. This would seem to be encouraging, because it opens the door for me to start one, but then the problem arrises as to how exactly I would go about that…

The idea I have for this NGO is an organization that gives small loans to people in Nairobi to pay for their medical bills or the medical bills of their deceased family members. It’s a huge problem here, and getting loans is next to impossible for medical bills. This organization would start off with a small amount of money, loan it out, and when the money is returned, reuse it with other loans. This seems like a good idea in theory, but the work it would involve, and the paperwork that would be needed, is mind-boggling. Especially for one senior in college, in America, in ROTC. Simply put, it’s not possible for me right now. 

So that’s unfortunate. But maybe, I thought, I could keep the idea in the back of my head, and do some research while I’m serving out my time in the Air Force so that I’ll be well-prepared to attempt this venture later. Thankfully, something like this has already been successfully put into action in the form of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which loans money to the poor, and is almost completely owned by its owners. Seeing such a successful example of what I might want to do, I thought, maybe an internship with them would be a good idea? Judging by how long it’s taking the current commissionees to go active duty (in layman’s terms, it’s going to be 9-12 months before I have a job after I graduate), I would have time. 

Looking at their site, I discovered that an internship is actually fairly easy to get, and not too expensive. The idea actually seemed to be feasible. And then I looked back at the last few months of my life, and realized that if I actually go through with this, I will have studied/researched in Russia, Kenya, and Bangladesh within a year of each other. This brings me to more frustration.

To most people, it probably seems like I’m just bouncing from country to country with no direction, and to an extent, that may be true. I’ve tried to find connections between Russia and Kenya, and believe me, there are no connections. Russia is developing, and Kenya is developing as well, so the streets and buildings may look the same, and they both enjoy tea, but the similiarities end there. The only connection that I can find is myself (and how JFK funneled money into Kenya to stop the spread of Communism during the Cold War, but that’s another term paper…). I went to Russia to polish up my Russian, and I’m in Kenya to study development and try to bring back enough expertise and experience to educate other people, specifically people in the military. However, it’s beginning to seem to me that I may have tried to do too much, something that probably sounds familiar to most of my friends.

So, frustration. Frustration that despite taking 10 semesters of Russian, I can’t score well enough on the military’s language test to get foreign language pay, frustration that I don’t have enough time and resources to start the NGO that I want to, and frustration that on paper, it really looks like I’m throwing darts at a globe to decide where I’m going next. But most of all, frustration with myself that I’m trying to do all these unconnected things at the same time. And that I got REALLY off track with that quesadilla-making.

These problems aren’t things that can be solved overnight, so I can only keep chipping away at them, and hope that eventually all the work will pay off. Oh, the troubles of a middle-class white girl… Well, I’m going to go get that tortilla, and make some Russian and Swahili flashcards.

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Mia: Updates from Nairobi

September 15, 2011

Updates: I’ve been going to Kibera, I got braids, I gave blood at the hospital yesterday, and I’m going camping tomorrow. 

I started going to Kibera with Jeremy to help with the girls’ play, which was this Saturday. At first I was incredibly pissed off that people lived like that in the slums, and that no one was doing anything about it. But after being with the girls for a while, I realized that yes, it sucks that they live in a place like that, but they’re making the best of it, and they’re doing a great job of it. It’s incredibly inspiring to see a group of young girls reap the rewards of all their hard work (the entire event was to benefit them).

That same day, in the morning, I visited the giraffe center and got to kiss some giraffes. They let you put giraffe food in your mouth so the the giraffe takes it from you! 

After the play, some of the other students and I went to an Egyptian restaurant and enjoyed some Tuskers while watching the Wisconsin football game online…until we lost the feed. Then we relied on updates from Grace’s boyfriend, and Roy gave me updates on the OSU game. We stayed out for a while, and Chris and I had an unfortunate almost run-in with some men with AKs, but the night ended with all of us happily in our beds.

Also, I managed to find time to get braids last Friday. I sashayed into Kenyatta market and plopped myself down in front of several women that were all too happy to braid a mzungu’s hair. At one point there were five ladies working on my head, it was quite the experience! 

On a darker note, the hospital put out a need for blood a couple days ago after some oil got into a river inside a slum and exploded. Over 100 people were killed, and many more were injured. A lot of the MSID students went to give blood and food to the hospital, and there were tons of people lined up there when we arrived. The hospital staff said the response had been great, and that they’d reached their goal for blood. 

Tomorrow I’ll be going camping with Simon’s (one of our coordinators) family, in Ngong Hills. It should be a great time! We will be matatuing out there (a kind of crazy bus), and then piki-pikiing (a motorcycle) to the camp site. Apparently we’re going on a guided hiking tour, so I’m ver excited for that. 

Also, I’ve finally decided what to do with the reception that I paid for, but don’t need anymore. I’m going to be holding a fundraiser to benefit the Longonot Initiative, a NGO co-founded by Kyle, the ROTC guy that went on this program last year. So far the plan is to have it on Dec 18th, and sell tickets for 20 dollars. We’re working on a contract with the hotel, and finding entertainment. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by like-minded people that are very happy to work with me on it.

It can be overwhelming to look around here and see everything that’s going wrong, but it’s impossible to ‘fix’ all of it, and it may not look like it, but people ARE trying to make things better. It’s just difficult to see sometimes. My host mom says that all the kids that come here get overwhelmed and try to do everything at once, and I think she’s right. We’re not expected to come in and make everything better—we’re expected to learn, and hopefully to contribute something in return. Hopefully, that’s what we’ll all be doing by the end of this. 

That’s all for now, I’m off to write some papers for class.

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Mia: Nairobi! Kenya believe it!?!

September 6, 2011

So getting internet took a really long time. I’m actually writing this on the 3rd, because I couldn’t get to an internet cafe, and the service stores close early on Sat and don’t open on Sun. So I’ll tell you about my day today!

I met my host mom, she’s an adorable Kikuyu woman with a 17 year old son. Her husband died about 16 years ago, and she lives alone with her son, but has a househelp come once a week to clean and do the laundry. We watched soap operas and the news all day, and had lots of rice and masala tea. By the way, the soap operas here are English-dubbed telenovelas (figure that one out), and EVERYONE watches them. It’s very odd haha, but I did enjoy watching them with her. Tomorrow I’m going to meet a group of women that she’s part of who loan each other money to start businesses and help each other out.

My mom also does HIV outreach in the slum (Kibera, it’s the biggest one in Africa), and I’m going to try to tag along one of these days. One of the boys, Jeremy, works in the slum with the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy, which tries to keep girls safe by putting them on soccer teams after school. It’s a great program, I might go see them too. I’m very excited by all of this, and I really like Kenya…it’s so beautiful, and the people are so honest with you. I get stares everywhere because people have never seen a whitey (‘mzungu’) before, but everyone I meet has been friendly.

The city itself isn’t that different than the worst parts of Kazan, and the house I’m in is actually bigger than anything I saw in Kazan. I’ve got my own room, desk, and queen sized bed. However, there’s rarely running water because the government rations it, and the electricity is sketchy. But it’s a good trade off—and I have a yard to play in! Also, I’m about 20 feet from a golf course…the Air Force followed me after all.

I doubt I’ll be drinking here. The city is reaaaally unsafe at night, and being drunk after dark, even in a group, is a really bad idea. Some guys got robbed last year, and some guys this year almost got carjacked, so I’m going to be keeping it real with the studying and telenovelas.

Update, 5 Sep 11

So I decided that running by myself during the day wouldn’t be too risky, and went for a 3 or so mile run on the streets. It’s hard to run here. It’s a mile higher than I’m used to, and there’s smog everywhere. But I feel much better now (it’d been two days since I ran).

I talked to Jeremy, and I’m definitely going to the slum with him tomorrow to work with the girls’ soccer school. We also have 4 hours of Swahili lecture tomorrow (the director, Jama, swears up and down that it’s 2 hours straight, then another 2 hours straight, but my experience with Kenyan time leads me to believe otherwise…). I’m very excited to start learning again. 

I’m thinking about getting braids with Barb next week. I know they usually don’t look good on white girls, but I’m hoping to find a style that don’t look too ridiculous. I’ve always wanted to try them, and everyone has them here so it won’t look out of place (even on a mzungu).

I picked up internet today, and I won’t mention names, but it’s awful. Splotchy, slow, and aggitating in general. But it works sometimes, which is all I need. The MSID office has wifi, so I’ll be skyping there. It’s about a 40 minute walk away, so it’ll be very rare.

I’m watching a random American movie with the host fam right now (my brother has lots of them, most of them are recent, and I don’t watch movies so I haven’t seen any of them). It’s great bonding. We watched ‘Friends with Benefits’ last night. It was interesting to watch it with my brother, he got almost all of the random American pop culture references, which I wasn’t expecting. American culture really has permeated Kenya.

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