Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Olivia!

I'm trying to write this post about how fast one year has passed, and everything I write sounds trite, and nothing I can write really shows what happened, but here's my shot at it.  

Olivia, last year, I waited for you, and was overjoyed when I received word that you were finally born, healthy and while the birth was tough, that your mom pulled though too.   I remember sitting on my bed in the hotel room I shared with another PCV and basically jumping up and down in joy when I finally got the email.  I think she was secretly relieved that you finally came - she was probably tired of me talking about you and checking email on my phone five or six times a day. 

I watched you grow over the course of the year with photos posted in Facebook by your dad, photos sent to me by your grandma and great-godfather, and I was excited to finally meet you over the holidays.  

This year, I'll be thinking of you as we relax after our white-water rafting trip down the Nile, enjoying my second last term break before my service ends.  Regardless of the fantastic year we both have had - you traveling to SF, meeting all the relatives and enjoying life with N & M, moving into a gorgeous new farm house just before your birthday, and everything that has been happening out here in my life in Kenya, I have only one small regret - I wish I was in a position to see you more often!  Well, hopefully that'll be the case after I COS. 

So, baby Olivia, I just wanted to wish you a fantastic birthday, and make sure your mom and dad give you some delicious chocolate to celebrate!  

Miss you!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Plastic Bag Man

Every town in Kenya has its own resident harmless crazy person.  I remember in Loitokitok when the Deaf Eds would meet up to head somewhere to practice our KSL, sometimes we would meet up near the bank, and the local harmless crazy man would come up to us and try to talk with us.  He would wave pieces of papers acting like they were important documents and “talk with us about” these documents.  The first time we met him, I have to admit, he scared the shit out of me (regardless of six years working with the mental health population).  After seeing the man, wearing a headband as a pair of sunglasses, do the same to all the other trainees and the local Kenyans (who humored him and then told him gently to scoot), we all relaxed. 

Kenyans tell stories about the crazy person in their villages, and the crazy things that they do.  I ask about why they’re so matter-of-fact about these people, and they say, well it’s a part of life here.  There’s no good mental institution, no real form of mental service out here, so the people who need treatment are not getting treatment unless they are really violent or harmful to the community, and for those … they just trail off before they finish the thought.  I then ask if it’s like a part of the social fabric of towns across Kenya, and they say, oh hell yeah.  Just like the crippled man sewing the clothes, the Deaf woman who marries into a rich family, the students who have to work early in the morning to herd cows before school, they’re just like a character in their town.  I ask about the families who hide kids with issues such as this, and unfortunately, this does happen, but in many communities, they try to take care of their own. 

I realize that this is true at my school.  We have several mentally handicapped students, who may or may not be Deaf – but are put in our school because our headmaster has a bit of a soft spot regardless of his tough exterior and mannerism.  The teachers love these students like if they are our own; some of these students actually become a favorite of not only the teachers, but also the other students.  We have a new boy who came a couple of months ago and the teachers have named him after a character on a television show because he acted so much like him.  We learn how to manage these students so that their lives are less stressful, and a sort of peaceful co-existing community occurs. 

As for Kilifi, we most definitely have our own crazy man.  For lack of imagination or other descriptive words, I have dubbed him The Plastic Bag Man.  Anyone who has seen him would most definitely agree. 

The first time I encountered this man, he was laying in the divider between the tarmac and a parking lot, and I actually thought he was just a pile of rubbish.  If you have ever visited Kenya, a random pile of garbage is not all that unusual.  Then it moved.  I must have jumped three feet and then realize that it was a man, dressed in plastic bags.  I started seeing that every now and then, almost every inch of his body, except for his face covered by plastic bags.  When my friends visit and we walk down that street, they reacted much the same way I did, and after getting over the fear, we wondered about him. 

At the time of this writing I’m sitting on my couch, sweating like there’s no tomorrow, with the fan facing directly at me, and I’m still hot.  How is he able to stand the heat at high noon in the middle of Kilifi?  Who was he? What was the situation that made him who he is?

I asked around among the teachers about him, and one of the teachers said that he is the brother of the owner of a gas station in town.  I then asked whether there was a falling out or if the family was supportive, and he said that nobody in the family knew why he was like that.  Something just snapped one day and he was like that – the family continues to do what they can to help him, with food, with other necessities. 

He asked me why I was asking about him – and we started talking about how people become such a part of the town, like in Colorado, when I lived there, this man in a knight costume always walked around at one specific intersection, and how that kind of thing occurs in various communities all over the world. 

He said, “Well, you know, it’s life.  He’s not doing any harm, and he seems to be happy doing what he is, so we just let him be.”

Sometimes when there’s not that many options available, maybe it’s just best to let it be.  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Games

The Provincial Games were held at Sahajanand Special School at Mtwapa, the school where another volunteer, Mary works at.  This year was like night and day in comparison to last year's experience in the Games.  I was relaxed, I knew what to do, I knew my kids, and I knew what to expect.  We had a lot of water (so nothing like The Water Problem at Ziwani last year), insane amounts of cake (seriously, people, two huge chunks of cake at every meal), and everyone had a good time (regardless of the major epidemic of pink eye).

Kilifi District rocked, and sent many kids to the Nationals which will occur this week in Thika, not far from Nairobi.  This year is also the first year that Pwani Secondary has participated in the games, and because there are no other secondary schools in the Coast, most of the kids who are competing will go to Thika to compete with other secondary and tech schools in Kenya (of which there are only four others, if my numbers are correct).  I'm proud of my kids.  

Kids waiting for balloons and face painting.

They were a total hit with everyone - from the 8 years old to the 20 years old.

Kilifi District's tent - watching the track and field activities.

Kilifi boys playing football against the Malindi district.

Mary talking with a few students from Pwani Secondary.

Joyce and Shukurani braiding my hair while we watch the Pwani Secondary boys play football against the vocational program at Ziwani.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Random Mida Creek Photos

A few weeks ago - maybe more - a few of us got together to check out a park just south of Gede, and this was a great opportunity to really break out the XT as there's not that many people around gawking at me carrying that camera around.  Regardless - I had a lot of fun experimenting and here are a few photos that I'm willing to post.  The park is gorgeous - it is sort of a marsh and part beach, and home to many different birds and other animals (of which we did not see much ...).  

We had to walk across several very rickey rope bridges over the marshy area in order to preserve the area and to reach the beach - we visited when it was at low tide, and it truly was low tide.  The bridge is approximately 15 feet above the sand. 

These snails / shells were all over the marsh and the beach. 

Are we still on planet Earth? I was just thinking how amazing that there are such a variety of ecosystems within miles of each other.  This is a photo of the beach when we walked ten minutes into the ocean.


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.