Monday, January 26, 2009

Hajambo from kakamega!

Hello from the kakamega cyber cafe! I started a post yesterday but about 20 min into it, it started raining and the power at the internet cafe went out (this is normal). i'll be careful this time and save as i go, though i think it's stopped raining for the time being.

so much has happened already i could spend hours writing about it, but i'll pick a few things...


the first thing that hit me getting off the plane in Nairobi was the smell. it reminded me so much of India, a bit like grain fermenting or decomposing. very ripe. also, once in the terminal, another familiar India scent: serious BO. Deodorant has not reached east Africa, I'm afraid. in the guest house where we're staying for orientation, every time someone walks by, their scent precedes and follows them. good stuff.


today we had a couple of firsts with damarus and angie, two of the three kakamega program coordinators. 1. our first kiswahili lesson -- it turns out that the language is kiswahili and the people are Swahili. who knew. kiswahili is very phonetic and a lot of fun, but my head is swimming with vocab and phrases and i'm so afraid that i'll wake up tomorrow and remember nothing.


at lunch today, we tried eating with our hands kenyan style for the first time. there's a white corn mush called ugali, that you use to wrap around other pieces of food and pick them up with. i really liked it. angie is easing us into kenyan food: until today, all the food has been familiar at the guest house restaurant- curries and omelets (sadly no cheese). We've been having meat at every meal but once we're with our host families after orientation, meat will be less common.

But no worries about not getting enough to eat -- apparently all the women in the program GAIN wait, in reaction to all the starchy and fried food. The men lose weight. (weird.) Fortunately Trina's skirts have drawstrings, heh heh.


The A-1 highway and a few other roads in kakamega are paved, but the rest are dirt. The town has two gas stations, a few restaurants, and people everywhere. there are bike taxis, bodabodas, all over the place. they have a little padded seat on the back that you ride, sidesaddle if a woman. boda bodas and these little vans with four rows of seats, serve as public transport. the "conductors" of the vans, aka matatus, mash as many people as possible into them, (i've seen four per row and these things are barely wider than a minivan), so the strategy is to find one that's already pretty full so you won't have to keep stopping to pick up more people along the way to your destination. angie also advised us to put on a seatbelt as soon as we get in so that we'll only have to share the row with two other ppl (there are three seat belts per row) and also to avoid getting a pricey ticket if pulled over.

the matatu we took from the kisumu airport had rusty floors and tacky curtains but was outfitted with a flat screen tv. during the 1.5 hour ride, which was one of the bumpiest in memory, we were treated to music videos of p-squared, this hip hop duo. u-tube them and you'll be in for a treat. a lot of matatus also have crazy decals on the sides with random english words or phrases. ours had "respect" on it. word.

speaking of english, all the signs and more than half the tv here is in english (we had british cnn this morning covering the SAG awards). i don't know what i was expecting, but i'm surprised that english is so prevalent. everyone in the streets speak kiswahili, but also know pretty decent english. i guess that is what happens when you are a former english colony (also like india).

kakamega feels a lot like many of the indian small towns i visited in 2006. i'm glad to have had that introduction to rural developing country life, or it might be a little shocking thinking that this is my new home for six months. there are vendors along the roads selling their fruits, vegetables, bike parts, used purses, locks, used books out of makeshift stalls (tree branches and weather-worn plastic sheeting) or just on some plastic on the ground.

attire ranges from perfectly pressed fancy dresses for church (yesterday was sunday), to ratty t-shirts and dirty slacks to |smart| oxfords and ties for students. a lot of the women wear one or two inch heels despite the dirt roads. also, though the sun is really strong, i havn't seen a single pair of sunglasses and only a few hats in the form of baseball hats on guys. very odd. i haven't noticed any kakamegans in regular glasses either, but my fellow intern and roommate, Katie, said she saw a few people wearing them. cancel that, the guy who just sat next to me and is checking facebook has a nice pair of glasses that would do reilly proud.

going to sign off for now and get some of the amazing mango juice from the vendor downstairs. so far my stomach has been fine, but i'm armed with tums, pepto, imodium ad and cipro if/when delhi belly hits.


ps the internet connection here is horrible, so i haven't been able to look at all my email as it takes about 4.5 min to log into g-mail and another minute or so to open an email. hopefully when i'm at my host org or house next week one of them will have a better connection. in the mean time i figure this is probably the best way to reach as many of you as possible.

also, i'm not doing much editing in the interest of time, because i want to share as much possible. so sorry if the writing's not great.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Leavin' on a jet plane...

Hello from Heathrow! I finally have time to do a blog post! My latest news and rants:

Moving sucks. I absolutely hate it and it never gets any easier. The only good part is the purge that accompanies moving. I estimate I got rid of a good 20% of my material possessions, if not more. Though when Shawnte saw all my boxes in the living room she said, "Norris, you've got a lot of crap." Yeah yeah... I come from a long line of hoarders, er, collectors, so I think I'm doing pretty well.

It's been a shopping frenzy for me and Will this week - we hit Ross to get sandals I can wear to work ($19), a waterproof jacket for the High Rainy season ($12) and some long shorts for sports ($12). I love Ross! All my gym shorts are running short length, thus tooo short for Kakamega!

I also got a UV light to zap water in my Nalgene to make it potable. Very high tech. Will said that The future has arrived (or something like that but much more clever) when he saw it.

Two packages arrived in the mail just in the nick of time - very exiciting. Katrina and Liz Wellington sewed me two awesome skirts. And by awesome, I mean past the knee, A-line, and enough material in each to use as a laundry bag. Will said that I looked like one of the chicks from the radical LDS church in Texas. Hee hee. So basically, very conservative, which is perfect. Trina even sewed in pockets for me. Aunt Elena sent some really nice Mary Kay face sunscreen to use as she says the sun is much stronger on the equator. Good stuff.

For gifts for my host family, Cristin suggested something Obama-related, which was brilliant. I got five differnt t-shirts from a designer on Vermont in Los Feliz (the same guy who's put all of the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" posters on Sunset I think.) Someone told me there are plenty of Obama T-shirts in Kenya, too, but oh well. At least these are made in the US.

Speaking of my host family, I got a packet about them last week. There are three children, 12, 14 and 15, I think, and the parents sound lovely. The kids are at boarding school, but per Fredrick (my CARE friend) African boarding schools are no-frills, hard work, and, potentailly involve waiting in line to fill one's water bucket, not necessarily getting as much food as a teenager would prefer and, of course, being bullied by upperclassmen. So, it will just be me and the parents at home.

Also, I was surprised to learn that their house has a flush toilet, running water, a refriderator, and, get this, INTERNET. When I read that, I thought: "Wow, that's nice, but am I still going to have as authentic experience as I was hoping?" Which is silly of me, I'm sure I will. What is Authentic, anyway? Just my Western notion.

My guess is Angie (the Kakamega FSD coordinator) put me with them because they have a freezer: when I interviewed with Angie, I asked if there was anywhere in town that I could store an ice pack, just in just in case my back went out.

Aight, getting sleepy -- going to look for a bench that doesn't have the bum-proof arm rests on it to take a nap. Thank you everyone for all your help in getting me here, especially Will, who has been like a personal assistant the past week. He'll think twice before voluteering to help out next time! :-)

Lots of love,

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pack list

Over any loneliness and am a little bit giddy at not being at work on a Monday morning. I'm packing my backpack for Africa now so that I can put the rest of my clothes in storage (save some to wear until the 22nd.)

Here’s the FSD pack list…how funny that this is about what I would pack for a two week vacation, and these clothes are going to last six months! I will basically be wearing the same thing week after week! :-) I wonder if the short pack list is to encourage us to travel light, or, because this is the typical wardrobe of someone in Kakamega and it would be odd if volunteers brought twice as many of everything…

Sturdy cotton socks
A light jacket and/or sweater
Light waterproof jacket and umbrella
1-2 long-sleeved warmer shirts/tops
1-2 pairs of casual pants/capris for home and travel
1 pair of long shorts (optional, for sports)
3-4 skirts, knee-length or longer (for women)
4-5 shirts to wear to work
2-3 more casual shirts to wear on the weekend, traveling, around the house, etc.
At least one nice outfit for special occasions, e.g. church, festivals, special functions at the host organization.
A pair of comfortable, sturdy shoes for running or sports
1 pair of dressy, comfortable sandals to wear to work
1 pair of rubber flip-flops for bathing and wearing around the house
Rubber rain boots (can also be purchased inexpensively and easily in-country)
A bathing suit
Modest sleepwear
Sun hat

Packing is proving to be harder than I expected though. I only have one work skirt that goes past my knees which I don’t care about getting hand washed and line dried every week.

Plus, all my work shirts are fitted (after years of having everything too baggy, I started having tops taken in so they actually fit). I want to be as conservative as possible… Hmmm… today may include a trip to goodwill!

When I was on vacation in India for three weeks, which is similarly conservative, I definitely missed wearing tank tops and shorts... how sad that this is the last time my shoulders and knees see the light of day for some time!



The moving begins...

For the first time in a long time, I feel a little bit lonely. It's probably just because I've been surrounded by friends non-stop of late. We moved Shawnte out of the apartment today, and it’s very empty and echo-y. I brought the patio table in to use as a dining table for the next few days, and still have two chairs and the TV, but that’s it for the furniture, outside my bedroom.

Glad to have Eddie Cat Halen to keep me company – he’s a little bewildered as to where his couch in front of the window went, not to mention Shawnte's whole room, and is sticking close to me.

Shawnte’s new studio is fantastic though, and I’m so excited that she has her own place! Mo and I installed shelves and a desk in her walk-in-closet-now-office, and it was so much fun to do something hands-on. I wonder how much I’ll be working on a computer in Kenya, and how much I’ll be doing more active work. Not even sure if ACCES (the org I’ll be working for) has computers! They must though…

Off to start packing...


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Goodbye, CG!

Thank you for everything!!!

I will miss everyone!!