Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mountain Kilimanjaro

This is the school where Deaf Eds had classes way back in training in Loitokitok. It was a gorgeous town, a gorgeous school (tho the classrooms are a tad dirty and the desks aren't all that comfortable ...)
This is exactly 180 degrees opposite of the view in the first photo - and that is one of the peaks of Mt. Kilimanjaro. So, yea, we had gorgeous views from our classroom, literally.

This is on the way to Outward Bound Center, what we call the hub, for the days where all the sectors (math/science, Deaf Education, SEDICT) meet for the day, usually for a workshop or training that applies to all sectors.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

my house ...

What my american mama wants, she gets! She wanted a few pictures of my house, the area around my house, and here they are - only a few - as uploading is still a pain in the ass. I've given up on trying to upload photos in the order they were taken, so you'll get what you'll get!

This is the chicken / duck house of my neighbor - you see this on your left as you exit my house, and that is the beginning of the path toward town.
This is the school - you see this on your right as you exit my house - the building on the far left is the dining hall, and the center building is where the preschool through standard 3 classes are held, and the far right is the computer lab, vocational tailoring school, and the temporary Form 1 classroom. The field that the kids are playing on is the football field. On the side of the center building is a world map painted by the volunteers who were here from 2002 to 2004, I believe.

And without futher ado, my front porch! the door enters into my living room, the kitchen is on the left, and then on your right is a hallway that leads to two bedrooms and the bathroom. I'll post some more photos of my abode at some point ...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A Walk Through Town

Locking the pink lock on my door, I thought about the shopping list for the next few days – reminding myself that I had enough ginger and garlic (I had plans of making eggplant stir-fry for dinner that night).  I started walking on the path toward the back of the school compound, toward town, passing a group of chicken clucking and looking after the baby chicks which hatched a few days before and a group of ducks belonging to my neighbor, who I greeted with a wave. 

Exiting the school compound through a rust-colored gate, I check out the progress of the building of the secondary school that just began, noting that the walls were up, but the roof was nonexistent. I also looked over the school’s shamba and greeted some of the people who reserved a plot (some teachers and some other employees of Kibarani).  Complaints of the lack of rain and responses of the fatalistic it’s God’s will were seen in conversations between farmers in various corners of the shamba. 

Going past the shambas, I go through several lots in varying stages of completion and wealth – from half finished cement houses to complete mud huts with matching mud kitchen and mud bathroom and choo.  Trees pepper the landscape, which has become greener over the past few weeks because of the rains.

As I approach the Mombasa – Malindi road, I enter a patch of woods littered with trash and waved to a few regulars I knew only by sight.  I also nodded to a couple of boys who were trying to persuade the group of cattle to move to another spot.  

Walking onto the road, looking both ways to ensure I do not get hit by something, I cross the street and chuckle for the nth time at the town dump with the “no dumping” sign in the front of it.  I walk through a few stalls of women selling vegetables and sardines.  Nodding to a couple of the sellers, I walked down a back street, passing broken down matatus and lorries, a few goats, and a few secondhand clothing stalls.  Waving and smiling at a few cute children running around, I also waved to the women sitting around cooking street food with babies slung on their back in lesos.

Seeing the main road of the town of Kilifi appear, I started walking alongside the road, greeting the carpenter who built my bed and sitting room furniture, passing a few nyama and kuku choma joints, and then stopped to talk briefly with the Deaf man who owns a DVD booth.  A few minutes pass as we exchanged pleasantries, bemoaning that a good number of the colorful and lively stalls selling some food, lesos, and odds and ends, were removed by the government because they were deemed unsightly.  With a wave and a couple of shakes of my head, I left the DVD booth and continued walking down the now quiet street.  I stopped by the supermarket to pick up a few staples, and then went to the open-air market, with its narrow aisles and stalls manned by Kenyan Mamas. 

Looking over the variety of produce available at that time, gesturing and bargaining, I spoke with a few sellers and picked up some fresh produce to last me for a few days.   Double-checking my list, I confirmed that I had everything I needed for dinner that night, and started walking back home with a smile, thinking about cooking a great meal.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Mombasa Road

Riding the bus along the Mombasa Road for the first time ever, on 14 November 2008, when we were all jetlagged and exhausted, everything had a surreal essence to it. We gasped at the conditions of the buildings, the animals, and the people that we passed.

When we found out our sites and started to travel there two months later, Paul, Erin, and I went along the road for the second and a half time (we took half of the road back to Loitokitok after our first week, immersion week, and met the Peace Corps vehicles in Emali), and I realized that I saw a lot more now that I was not focused on the shacks, the other things that originally held our attention. On a few occasions we asked each other, "Was that always there?" "Whoa, I didn't see that before." I think the combination of being crazy ass tired and experiencing a few completely new things did us in the first time around.

Now, I've traveled on that road five times or so, (and will go on that road many more times during my service, as that is the only road to Nairobi from Mombasa, hence, the name) and the occasional baboon and zebra is starting to become ho-hum, and the surrealism is not there anymore. The pictures that are posted on this entry was taken the first time we went down that way, and for some reason, the photos has a slight touch of surrealism, which reflected the way we saw it at that time.

Monday, May 4, 2009

IST in Nairobi

Entering the hostel that a good number of Peace Corps Volunteers have been using for the past few years (if not longer), I checked in, went out back to the tent that I was sharing with a few other PCVs, and dumped my stuff with a huge sigh of relief. I had been traveling for eight hours from Mumias, and I was ready for a beer and a chat with a few of my fellow PCVs.

I was going through a whirlwind of emotions – excitement about seeing the other PCVs, wondering about the classes and what we would learn in IST, worrying about not receiving word about the new niece that was overdue, trying to process the experiences I had throughout the Games, and just basically trying to stop my head from spinning.

After celebrating with the eleven / twelve odd PCVs, we all headed to Kopling Center the next day, excited to see everyone else, to settle in our rooms, hoping that we would get hot showers. I was especially excited to be able to unpack my bag and stay in one bed for ten days, rather than living out of my backpack and take a few hot showers.

Standing under the showerhead for my first hot shower in five months, I thought about how being Deaf has brought me to that point – being in the Deaf Ed program in Peace Corps, having the friends I have, the smallness of the Deaf community – I stayed with a Deaf teacher at Mumias because she was a friend of a friend of mine, and staying over was only awkward at the first introduction, and after that it was smooth sailing. We had that common bond.

I was reminded by an experience I had when I visited a dear friend in Bristol in the UK when he was studying there – we were out at a pub with a couple of his friends having some beer and chips, and then because I was jet lagged (I had landed that very day), we decided to turn in early. As we walked to the house that we were visiting in London, we realized that we didn’t know anyone living there – the friend who we came with was still at the pub – the man who opened the door was not someone we recognized, but as we started signing and explaining why we were at his doorstep, he simply said, “Deaf? Come on in.” We grinned at each other and went in.

As I became extremely philosophical in the shower, I was very inconsiderate of my roommate, because the hot water ran out and brought me back to reality, and therefore, IST.

IST was great – I had a great time listening to Matt’s stories about rabid dogs and his students (but not together, thank goodness), talking about our frustrations, the cultural adjustment, the amazement that we all had with the fact that we were not the same people that we met or were when we were in Philadelphia.

The older PCVs who came out to help with IST was probably the best part of the IST – their wealth of experience, the sessions that they led were very helpful, and helped us get a grip on what we were going to do, and think about what we could do, what projects we were going to do.

At IST, we also found inspiration. We talked about how to make training better for next year’s group of Deaf Ed Volunteers, projects that we would be working on this year – a couple of summer camps for some of our students, revising the Deaf Education manual, reorganizing the Deaf Ed resources, creating new resources for HIV / AIDS education for the Deaf, and rebuilding relationships with a variety of community organizations that works with the Deaf in Kenya.

When the election violence occurred in 2008, Peace Corps evacuated all of their volunteers from the country, and a lot of resources were lost, relationships severed, and this year the task of rebuilding the relationships with the country is on us – it is one that we eagerly look forward to, as it provided us an opportunity to update those relationships, talk about new projects, and basically shake up the Deaf Education project.

We were sad to leave each other at IST, but we were excited about eventually going back to our sites (as many of us had a few vacation plans), and implementing some of the ideas we came up with at IST.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Deaf Games: Kilifi, Mombasa, and Mumias / Kakamega

After the departure of the last of the folks from the Coast Deaf Ed (plus two) trip yesterday, I tackled a bit more of the mountain of my laundry (I am happy to say that it is now down to a manageable level, rather than the get-eaten-alive-by-the-mountain level), watched a couple of movies and read a bit, I am finally sitting down on the computer with a couple of cups of coffee to finally start writing. I did not realize how much I missed writing – usually I will write in my journal or for the blog a few times a week, but over the past few weeks, I did not have any time or chance to do either, so you could say I am definitely catching up for lost time.

So, let’s start at the beginning, when the whirlwind all started – right here at Kibarani! Sarah came out here for a week during the last week of March with her students – we were to “compete” and practice together to develop a team representing Kilifi District. Now, Sarah’s unit is relatively new (started in 2006), so some of the teachers here at Kibarani was still a little resistant to the idea of including her kids, so that was a challenge right off the bat, and I should have seen that as a sign of things to come, but, naturally, hindsight is 20/20. Regardless of the issues between her unit and Kibarani, it was grand having Sarah here, meeting her awesome kids, and cooking up a storm.

As the pieces fell in place, the 80 kids were picked to represent Kilifi District, and the 10 teachers were picked to accompany (including Sarah and me), we were headed to Mombasa, at Ziwani School for the Deaf (Paul’s site) where we would meet upwards of 500 children from various districts throughout the Coast to compete and create a team representing the Coast. After panicking slightly about packing for a month and tying up all the loose ends here before I headed off, I buckled down and packed, cleaned up the place, and was ready the next day.

We piled up a meter or two of mattresses on the top of the bus, crammed the children and teachers in the bus, and drove the hour and a half down to Mombasa. Communicating via the secret language of the high beam flashers known only to the drivers of Kenya, our school driver got us all there in one piece.

Upon arrival, I was not only excited about the Games, but also to see the other Peace Corps Volunteers and trade stories. We got into Ziwani, after a couple of hours trying to figure out where the kids are sleeping, where the teachers are sleeping, and where the PCVs are going to sleep, we finally got everything settled up. Paul’s tiny one-bedroom place has been assigned as the PCV headquarters, and originally seven of us (but later we found out one could not make it), was expected to sleep crammed in there.

Hey, we told ourselves, we’re PCVs! It’s all good! This began to become our mantra for the next few days (and my mantra for the next few weeks).

The first night, we found out that there was a major miscommunication (to put it nicely) between two of the PCVs that worked with Malindi District and one of the teachers about the dates of departure (Sunday versus Monday), so that was frustrating for us. The communication difficulties did not end there. We worked hard, spending time with the kids, trying to figure out how it all worked, how to make sure all the kids are where they should be, and constantly talking with the other teachers. Marveling at how smoothly and effortlessly the older PCVs interacted with their children, I had to keep reminding myself that they all had been here for one year longer than I had, and I would get to that point sometime in the future.

Regardless of the smoothness of the interaction with the kids was, all of us PCVs, including the older ones, had a struggle with the clear communication with the people who were running the competition. Cultural differences definitely plays a huge part in the whole thing, as it seemed to bother us PCVs much more than it bothered the other Kenyan teachers / Deaf Kenyan staff.

In addition to the communication issues, there was a huge problem at Ziwani, in where Paul has labeled, “The Water Problem,” and it is exactly what it is – there was not enough water for the people staying at Ziwani. As Paul mentioned, there was not enough water to begin with for the 150 students and the teachers of Ziwani, not to mention the additional 400 children and 80 teachers, so needless to say this created a very interesting situation on its own, but when you throw in equatorial heat and track and field at high noon, it created an even more interesting situation.

Making sure that the kids of Kilifi had enough water and glucose to prevent dizziness was a task upon itself, working with the kids on dealing with the choo issues (not enough water plus 500 kids plus too few choos creates a huge mess), trying to deal with Paul’s choo (which was invaded and clogged), it was definitely an obstacle course that we had to run.

Regardless of the communication issues, “The Water Problem” and a major case of sleep deprivation, I had a great time meeting the kids of the other schools, chatting with my kids, watching the games, the performances and dances, celebrating Megan’s birthday with a cake that Sarah and I baked on my stove, eating a few meals out in Mombasa, and just basically celebrating the fact that I have survived my first three months at the site (which, supposedly are the hardest three months next to training).

Kilifi District did well in many areas, and we sent off quite a few kids to represent the Coast Province, and I was proud of the kids representing Kilifi. After the trophy ceremony (which we waited five hours for – in training they told us to make sure we had two pocketfuls of patience – I think this piece of advice paid off that day), the kids and teachers going to Mumias / Kakamega was chosen, and then the rest of the children and teachers started making preparations to head back to their schools, and then home.

I was planning on going to Mumias on my own if not chosen to head there with the Coast folks, and after buying tickets to head over there, I received word that there was an problem with a friend, and the trip was delayed for a couple of days. After hanging out and trying to figure out things, I finally got a ticket heading to Nairobi, sleeping over, and then continuing another eight hours to Mumias.

As I reached Kakamega, the bus broke down, and they put us all on a matatu continuing to Mumias – I arrived at St. Angela’s School out in Mumias, and met with the teacher who I was to stay with. West Kenya was outrageously gorgeous – the weather was cool and perfect, a contrast to the hot and humid Coast.

St. Angela’s did not have “The Water Problem” as it rained (or as Paul aptly puts it, free water falling from the sky!) everyday we were there, and the kids of the Coast Province happily reported that the choos worked just fine. All of the events were held at the academy in the Mumias Sugar Factory compound (that was the huge sugar company of Kenya, where practically everyone buys sugar from, so that was kind of cool to see where it was all produced), a few kilometers from St. Angela’s.

I arrived in Mumias the night before the day of the cultural performances, and saw the Coast perform superbly regardless of the insanely long day, talked with a few Deaf teachers, and just basically took in the whole scene. The communication problems continue to rear its ugly head, and after talking with a couple of the other teachers, they told me that it was the norm for these events, and it just is what it is.

In addition to checking out another part of the country, I got to meet another PCV that I have been corresponding with for approximately two years (we were put in touch by a mutual friend, and a number of factors prevented us from meeting face to face over the two years), and it was nice to finally meet him in person.

Watching another lengthy trophy celebration, cheering when the Coast won the cultural events day, talking with some of the students who complained about the lengthy bus ride back home, I realized that almost three weeks has passed since the Games technically began in Kilifi, and two weeks since the beginning of the Mombasa competition.

At that point, I also realized that the next day I was to be headed to Nairobi to meet up with a few of the fellow PCVs for a celebration and then a good majority of the PCVs in PC-Kenya at our ten-day inter-service training, and as a result of that, I would be jumping into a completely different world.


This blog consists of my personal thoughts and opinions. It does not in any way reflect the position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.