April 25, 2009
Hi everyone. Look at me, 2 updates in one month...woohoo. Can't believe I used to update daily on Roxane's CaringBridge site. How'd I have the time? Actually, I don't think it's a time issue right now as much as computer time. At Roxane's place I would update either when Drew was asleep or at school.
Now I come home from work and Drew is firmly attached to the computer.
Once I cook dinner, eat and clean up a bit, he's right back on it. How someone can be so into computer games is beyond me. We don't have the best setup for it either. It's a laptop in my room, connected to the cable. I can't for the life of me get the wireless
router working. I've almost burst blood vessels trying. Either the laptop won't run the CD with the driver on it, or I only get 3 out of 4 lights to light up. Anyway, we've just got the laptop
sitting on a couple packing boxes. The "chair" is a little wicker footstool/ottoman thing. Very hard and uncomfortable. Drew has it at the foot of my bed so he can have the mattress as his back rest. The other night he was standing trying to play cause he was so uncomfortable. I hate to think what it's doing to his back!
Got some friends coming over tomorrow for a BBQ so one of them ought to be able to help me with the router setup. It'll be our first party in the new house. Drew has been asking when we're having a party as Roxane and he would host parties for their friends all the time.
He's been doing well. They just finished doing the WASL testing for the past
7 days at school. He's got a friend over right now for a sleep over. His friend's name is Josh. He was one of the guys Drew met his first day at the new school. Josh and Drew came up with the plan to spend the night, then Josh called Drew so that we'd have his number. I was then tasked with calling Josh's mom to arrange things.
We met at a local Starbuck's to check one another out and as neither of us was weilding a bloody axe, Debra, Josh's mom, allowed Josh to drive away with us. We stopped and had a late lunch and now the boys are torturing the cats in my room. They were just downstairs playing Wii. Not sure if they'll have enough
to occupy themselves with tonight as I'll be kicking them out of my room tonight so I can get to bed at a decent hour. They can crash downstairs and watch tv all night long.
We'll probably take Josh to church with us in the morning and may keep him here for the BBQ tomorrow night. I'm so glad he finally has someone to play with. I feel so guilty when I come
home tired and wanting some down time. Next step is to find some kids, or at least one, that lives near us so he can play with him after school. Josh lives in Redmond and takes the bus to school so is about 4-5 miles away. Too far and in the opposite direction for after school play.
Last weekend Drew and I went to the Experience Music Project's Science Fiction Museum as there was an exhibit of robots and everything SciFi you could think of. We then wandered around the Seattle Center a bit and then took a short hike at Discovery Park. It was good to get out of the house. We were going to go to the Museum of Flight out at Boeing Field today,
but postponed it for another weekend. It gave me time to work in the yard a bit and get the grill cleaned up for tomorrow. Drew was a trooper and mowed the lawn for me - front and back - but I had to pluck all the dandilions first. Took forever. Tried to get them by the roots, but there were simply too many; the yard would have been nothing but holes. It's green mainly cause
all the dandilions are green. This is the part of living in a home that I'm not going to like; I hate yardwork. The other part is minor repairs. I can't figure out how to get the outside light fixtures to open so I can change the lightbulbs. Really, how did I ever survive living in the bush in Africa? I can't set up a wireless router or change lightbulbs! No wonder I did so well without
Ah, just heard a burst of laughter coming from downstairs. Both boys are flushed and sweaty - having a good time playing Wii. I think I'll finish getting the BBQ ready for tomorrow and put some boxes away. Oh yeah, still not fully unpacked. Our spare bedroom is the storehouse for all manner of things and boxes that I just haven't gotten around to yet. The garage is the same way...someday I'll
get to organizing what I want to keep and what I want to get rid of (from both mine and Roxane's stuff). Heck, can't unpack all the boxes as then we'd have no computer desk for my room!
April 8, 2009
Well, I just got back from celebrating my birthday...in Vegas. Didn't win big and in fact didn't really win at all this time, but I sure had fun trying.
My birthday was on Friday the 3rd. Mom, Drew and I went to Daniel's in Bellevue for a very nice dinner and then I came home to pack. Left for Vegas on Saturday morning and came home Monday night. Met up with several friends (Bill and Lily from here and their friends Julia and Nadim from PA).
The 5 of us have been to Vegas now as a group the last 3 or 4 times. We saw a show, Le Reve, on Sunday night and mostly just gambled and ate. We did a buffet Saturday night only because everyone but me got free tickets to the buffet. Haven't eaten at a dinner buffet in years....I think I did myself
proud. Didn't eat too much, but certainly ate more than I would have normally. The weather was decent, a bit chilly with the wind (when I say chilly, I'm only talking mid to high 60s) but Monday afternoon was in the 70s so was quite nice to feel the heat of the sun.
The previous week, March 30-April 3, was Drew's spring break. He went to Port Orchard and stayed with Dave and Kim, Roxane's neighbors, for a couple nights, then went to a friend's house for another night. Mom then took him overnight and then brought him home late in the week so we could do my birthday dinner.
mention that I had Drew out of school the Friday before break as our church was having a youth conference and it began Thursday afternoon, ran all day Friday (from 8am-11pm) and then half a day on Saturday. He initially didn't want to go, but I knew he'd be ok once he got there. He didn't really know anyone, but still had a
blast. The music/worship part was especially entertaining and the speakers were fun and dynamic. He even took notes! At the end of it, he even asked if he could go to next year's conference. Yea.
There are services every Wednesday night, called Generation Church (ages 12-24), so I take him to those while I attend as well. The past month
we've had combined youth and adult services but tonight it's back to separate services. I may just have to put my hair into a ponytail and sneak into the youth services...they seem more fun and lively.
Well, my lunch hour is up so I'd better get back to work. I'll try and update again over the weekend. Drew and I have been doing well and are
settling in fine to our respective routines. Now that it's staying lighter longer, I hope to start a tradition of evening walks around the neighborhood - more for me to get exercise than anything else, but he can feel more comfortable in the neighborhood if he explores it a bit more. Thanks for checking in on us!
March 20, 2009
I've got a few minutes before my lunch is over so thought I'd take some time to update everyone. I don't often get online at home after work - too tired and Drew is usually hogging the laptop to play RuneScape.
We've settled into a routine more or less. I wake up around 6am and try to get Drew up. I go downstairs and turn the radio on and some lights, feed the cats and then hop back upstairs to prod Drew along. He usually doesn't get moving until around 6:15am when I finally exit the bathroom.
I'm finding I have to be explicit with him. It's not enough to say 'get up and get ready' and assume he'll
know what the 'get ready' stuff is. Mind you, it never changes from day to day. He has to go downstairs and eat breakfast, then come back upstairs to shower, brush his teeth, get dressed and fix his hair. For some reason, I always have to wander downstairs around 6:30am to just find him sitting with one of the cats. When I ask if he's eaten breakfast yet, he usually looks at me in surprise. I actually have
to tell him to eat breakfast...now. Geesh.
It makes my routine scattered as I have to remember to go downstairs to check on him and ensure he's eating the breakfast, then prod him to come and take a shower. Usually have to knock on the bathroom door for him to stop the shower as he'd stay in there all morning if he could. I did that one morning after about 15 mins, only to discover he didn't even wash his hair!
What on earth was he doing in there all that time? Should I even guess? So, I'm usually flying downstairs to make sure that I've got all my stuff gathered and he's in tow and ready to go by 7am. He was walking to school in the mornings, but it was so cold there for a couple weeks that I started driving him.
It means he gets to school about 40 mins early, but he's ok with it. I then race the bus to the park-n-ride and
usually get there moments before it pulls away. Miss it every few days so need to either get Drew to start walking in the mornings again, or leave 5 mins earlier. His school is in the opposite direction of the park-n-ride, so I burn up a good 6-7 mins just dropping him off.
I've been on the mend lately - came down with a nasty bug last week and was layed up all weekend. Poor Drew must have been so bored. When he wanted
to use the computer I'd go downstairs and lay on the couch. When he wanted to watch tv, I'd go back upstairs and get in bed. Slept most of last weekend and felt much better at work this week, although I have a nagging cough and running nose.
I only have one day of sick time built back up and am saving it in case Drew gets sick. I accrue 4 hours every month but can only take it in full 8-hour increments.
Drew is liking school
and has his friends he made that first day. I now know some of their names. We've got Westin, Josh and Niko. He's still not sure of the other boys' names. No last names yet and no idea where they live. I want to have them over one day, but need to figure out how to go about doing that. Drew will never remember to ask for their parents' names or numbers.
Drew has been going to my church's youth services held every Wednesday night.
He didn't want to go that first night last week, but had a blast and actually asked me if we could come back the following week. Um, ok. There is a conference taking place the end of next week that I have him signed up for. Again, he doesn't want to attend, but I think it'll be the same type of thing - he'll love it once he's there.
oops, gotta run to a meeting. I hope to continue this weekend with more info on our world. Feel free to email
us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 4, 2009
Sorry for the lapse in updates - haven't had internet access at home and it's tough to get online at work. I should have internet hooked up today, so I plan on updating more often going forward.
Since my last update I got fully moved in to my place, with the help of several friends, on Saturday Feb 21st. It went really well and then I took off for Port Orchard to spend the night and go to Cross Point church with Drew and mom. It was to be Drew's final service in Port Orchard.
It was tough to say goodbye but it's not forever, just a so long until the next time
we see you kind of thing. We'll keep in touch as there are so many lovely friends there.
I spent the next week trying to organize all my stuff in anticipation of all of Roxane's household coming over the next weekend. I managed to get the place ready for the onslaught of furniture and boxes that showed up Saturday Feb 28th.
Mom had hired movers and they showed up at
Roxane's place around 8:30am, loaded most everything (there were loose items they refused to take, plus took some items they weren't supposed to pack...) and then left there around 12:30pm.
They arrived at my place around 2pm and the big job of unloading and telling them where to put stuff began. There were just two guys; one was a young guy but the other was in his 60's and moved very slowly.
I was quite frustated by his slowness and by the fact that not all boxes had been labeled and some had multiple labels so it was tough to figure out where to have them put the stuff. I had to head to Port Orchard that night to get Roxane's car, Drew and the cats, so I was really watching the clock closely.
I finally jumped in and helped unload the truck myself. I also felt badly that the old guy
had to help heft Roxane's commercial grade treadmill up the stairs. They couldn't fit it through the doorway of the spare bedroom, so it's residing for the moment in Drew's room (boy was he surprised!).
Karin came over and took me to the ferry in West Seattle so I could walk on. Packed up a few loose items at Roxane's house, said goodbye to the neighbors, Dave and Kim, and then it was a rush to get the
ferry back to Seattle. We got home around 10pm, stopped for a bite to eat and cat food (which we had forgotten at the house in Port Orchard), then it was time to explore.
Drew had seen the place before we moved in of course, but he wanted to check it out again so I gave him a tour. As expected, he wasn't too happy with the treadmill in his room. I hope it's only temporary but I'd have to take it apart to move it.
It was then time for the cats to explore. Bella, the little girl, was reluctant to come out of her cage, but once she did, man was she off and running through every room sniffing everything. Tyce, the little boy, got knocked out of his carrier by Drew and proceeded to hide anywhere he could - behind the couch, under beds, etc. He warmed up eventually, but he's definately the more skittish of the two.
Drew and I
didn't get to sleep until about 1am. We then slept in a bit and went to the late service at City Church. I couldn't figure out where he should go for special jr high services so I just kept him in the main auditorium with me. Pastor Jude was the speaker and he was hilarious with his stories - Drew and I both really enjoyed it.
After getting back home, the two of us set off on a walk from the house to the school so I
could show him the way he'd be walking every day. We peered in the windows of Rose Hill Jr High (RHJH)and not much looked like it changed since I, and Roxane, attended in the late 70s.
We then walked home via Dairy Queen and got drenched as it started raining. Nice walk all around though. It's 1.2 miles from the house to the school, so 2.5 miles round-trip.
We then got a visit from my friends from my City Church small group (healing).
Michelle, Cathy and Cliff came by to bless the house and welcome us. Drew and I then had dinner and got to unpacking some stuff.
Monday morning March 2nd, Drew and I met with his counselor at RHJH and talked about the classes he'd like to take, in addition to the core classes of Social Studies, Math, Language Arts and Science. Drew chose a Robotics class and a Computer class. He's super excited about the Robotics one. We then got a tour of the school
and I ended up seeing one of my old teachers....Mr. Thornley (a.k.a. Star). Couldn't believe he's still there...The counselor then showed me an annual with the picture of The Bachelor Jason Messnick in it. He went to RHJH in the late 80s.
Afterwards, I ran off to work and mom had shown up at the house by this time so Drew and her got busy on organizing stuff. Drew's first official day of school was yesterday, Tuesday.
He was going to walk
to school but then Grandma saw he was nervous about it so offered to drive him, which he jumped at! He did walk home though. He said he really liked the first day. He even made some friends; one boy in his grade was assigned to give him a tour of his classes and he's in several of them with Drew and then they sat together for lunch as well, along with this other boy's friends. Cool, I was worried about that.
Well, my lunch hour is almost up and
I need to head to a meeting shortly. Meant to give more details, but this will have to suffice for now. Rest assured we're all doing well, albeit surrounded by boxes and STUFF, but otherwise adjusting well.
February 19, 2009
Now that I have a place for Drew and I to live, I am beginning the process of getting him transfered to Rose Hill Junior High - his new school. I am going to keep him at his current school until Friday the 27th, but may need to have him come visit with the new school and counselor before he starts. Not sure how I'll work that.
His current school doesn't have any issues with the transfer and it sounds like it'll be an easy enough process. When I contacted the new school, I was surprised to be talking to my neighbor upstairs (in my current apartment). I knew she worked at a school, just didn't know in what capacity or where. Talk about coincidence. She's going to bring home
the necessary paperwork for me tonight so I can get a jump on it.
Next steps would then be to have them request the records from his current school but all that happens without the need for me to be involved. The new school does need to meet with both myself and Drew before he's registered though. That's the part I'm unsure about in terms of logistics.
Do I do that Monday, March 2nd and then he starts the next day? Or, do they need him to come in next week? If so, I'll have to have mom take him out of school and bring him over for the day I suppose. Good thing I can just walk upstairs and ask all my questions!
The moving is going well. I have several folks enlisted to assist me on Saturday. It'll go quickly as I've moved over a ton of boxes and loose stuff already. The move from Port Orchard will be the tricky one.
Mom is going to hire movers to come and load up and take the stuff to Kirkland. She's only going to need help this weekend and next week in packing up boxes. If you're free and able to do that either during the day, or the evenings, please call Lila at 509.592.0923.
I realized I never changed the voicemail message on Roxane's phone - and that's what mom is currently using - so don't be freaked out when you hear it.
I'm still plugging away at all the financial stuff and custody stuff. I'll update more on that later. Just know that I'm doing well, albeit a bit stressed out, and Drew is ok too.
He's actually got a cold right now and mom is in danger of catching it too. Drew isn't looking forward to changing schools, but I think it'll all go smoothly.
February 15, 2009
Hi everyone, well, I pulled the trigger today and rented a house! Yea! It's in Kirkland in a great, safe neighborhood and the house itself is lovely.
The church housing option didn't work out and I found that out late Friday. So Saturday morning I got on the phone to some of the places I had previously seen and liked, and this new place was on the top of my list.
Everything about it felt right, except for the price. So, I used my bargaining skills picked up in the brutal marketplaces of rural Africa and voila, the rent was reduced. I couldn't be happier. Drew liked the place when he saw it last weekend so I think he's happy too.
It's actually less than a quarter mile from the house Roxane and I grew up in. Drew lived there with Roxane, while they were staying with my mom and dad from 1996-2001, so he's familiar with the area. He was getting excited last weekend when we were touring the house and driving by the school. He could remember going to the Red Apple Market and the Dairy Queen just up the street.
So, now that I have that decision made, I can proceed with the other 999,999 ones left to go. Seems like that sometimes. I'll most likely keep Drew at his school in Port Orchard until the end of February.
I'll be moving my stuff next Saturday and then the Port Orchard move will happen the last weekend of the month. I'll be making future updates here on this website as I found most of my lost postings - only my final months in Guinea and all my time in Switzerland are missing. There are still some formatting issues with the site I need to fix, but for the most part, it's fine.
February 9, 2009
Yea! I found some of my files that were backed up. I only lost about 8 postings - from Feb 2005 to Jan 2006. Not bad...whew!. I've been working on the other pages and
editing here and there. So, it's all still a work in progress to get the other pages back to what they were like but I'm tired and going to bed now!
January 25, 2006
Happy New Year to everyone. I'm back outside on my
balcony...freezing my fingers off. I suppose I should be thankful
that I have free internet at all and not dwell on the fact that I
have to endure sub-freezing temps to use it.
I returned from London on the evening of the 1st. The French
side of the Geneva airport was nearly deserted and in fact there
was no one manning the customs and immigration booth. So, I simply
walked on into France without so much as anyone looking at my
passport. I could theoretically stay in France indefinately and
not be overstaying my 3-month tourist visa. I would just have to
say I just entered the day before. No one would be able to tell
But, I've actually just decided that I'm coming home sooner
than expected. I was giving myself 6 months but I'll be cutting it
short by one month. Will leave the end of March to be home the
first week of April.
The fact that I haven't gotten even one interview played a
large part in the decision. It's expensive to stay here while not
making any income plus, my landlady is itching to rent the place
out long-term so has been bugging me to commit to a move-out date.
I still hope I'll be able to land something before March and if I
do then I'll be staying put, but most likely not in this same
My networking is coming along so it shouldn't make much
difference whether or not I'm actually in Geneva. That's the hope
at least. I'll keep applying to things online while in Seattle.
But, I'll also be looking for Seattle jobs too. In the interim
I'll probably do some temp work to get some funds coming in again.
Been nearly 5 years since I've seen a paycheck.
As I'm not working here in Geneva I was getting rather bored
sitting around all day with the only activity being applying
online for jobs, so I enrolled myself in an intensive French
class. It meets M-F from 8:45-noon. It's pretty far across town so
I have to leave the apartment at 7:30 to get to the class on time.
Really forces me to get to bed at a decent time and to of course
wake up early. It's nice to have something to do every day though.
I'm about halfway through with the class (it was for 5 weeks) and
it's going well. It gives me a good review of grammar and is
vastly improving my written French. My spoken French is improving
too as I get plenty of opportunity to use it everyday now in
class. I'm one of the more outspoken ones. Hey, I'm paying for
this class so I want to get my money's worth!
That's about all the news from Geneva. As for my Christmas, it
was wonderful. I had a nice stay with my friends Lisa and Dave and
their two boys (aged 5 and 2). They live in Windsor and it was
great to get out and walk around the town with it's large
pedestrian only zone, complete with the Windsor castle serving as
a picturesque backdrop. It snowed one day but only very lightly
and nothing stuck. It was however bitterly cold most of the time.
I made it into London to see Les Miserables.
Well, that's about all I can think of to update on. If you were
planning on coming out to Geneva for a visit, which I hope you do,
remember to come before the end of March or else be prepared to
see the city on your own!
December 8, 2005
I'm actually sitting inside my apt using the internet so things
are looking up. Then again, my laptop is having some odd power
issue so the screen flickers every second or so, very annoying.
But, at least I'm not outside freezing my butt off.
My visit to Lausanne last weekend went well, although it was a
dreary day weather-wise. Met 4 new ladiies with Swiss Miss. It was
a nice brunch and interesting conversation, even though a large
part of it was sharing each other's birth stories. Ahem, I didn't
have much to contribute as you can imagine - being so young when I
was born, I couldn't remember any of the details.
I've made plans for Christmas...going to bombard the Lane's
again with my presence. That's right, found inexpensive tickets to
London. I'll leave Geneva the 21st and return the evening of the
1st. Going to try and do something festive for New Year's as it's
been 5 years since I've really celebrated it. Not sure if I'll
find the time or money to go see a show while there - saw The
Phantom of the Opera with my mom in October - but I'm sure I'll
find something interesting to do.
No new news on the job front. Still hoping for an interview to
the positions I've already applied to. But, can't think about a
job now...I've got travel plans! This trip will actually serve my
living situation well as the Geneva airport is dual French and
Swiss so I'll leave from Switzerland and re-enter into France.
This way I'm not over-staying my tourist visa in Switerland. I met
a woman living in Lausanne that's been here 4 years without a
permit but she's always nervous she'll be found out. She has 2
master's degrees but can only find work as a house cleaner and
aerobics instructor as these informal jobs don't require proof of
Here, by the way, is my mailing address:
49 Rue de Geneve
If I don't post again before the holidays, I hope everyone has
a wonderful, peaceful, and joyous Christmas or Hanukkah and a very
happy New Year!
November 25, 2005
Hey everyone, happy belated Thanksgiving for the Americans. I
didn't celebrate - no wonder as it's not a holiday in France or
Switzerland. Still, turkey and stuffing would have been nice. And
eggnog...is it out in the stores yet?
Big news here...it snowed last night! I woke up to a white
wonderland out my window. It's now late afternoon and it's still
sticking around on the grass and roofs, but the roads are bare and
dry. I'm in downtown Geneva right now. My wireless signal that
I've been tapping into has been unresponsive when I want it. Plus,
it only works now when I'm outside on my balcony. You can imagine
how cold that's been if it just snowed. We had some high winds the
past few days and nights with gusts up to 60 mph. It was no warm
African breeze either.
I'm going to go shopping this weekend with a new friend I met
on a Yahoo group called Swiss Miss expats. She's American and just
moved here (Switzerland) in August. She just bought a new Mini
Cooper and is going to meet me at the train station near her and
take me to IKEA and some other places. I'm not needing to do any
shopping - it's really just an excuse to get out and about and see
more of this area. Next weekend I'm also going to go see the new
Harry Potter movie with this same friend and others from the group
if they can make it. Also, I'm going to be meeting these Swiss
Misses in Lausanne on the 4th for our second official get
It's a Yahoo group of women expats who are english speaking but
are currently living in the Geneva-Lausanne area. It's nice to
meet new people and share stories of trying to fit in in a new and
unfamiliar environment. I went to the first get together the other
week in Geneva. Only 4 women besides me were there but there are
many more in the group. We went to a cafe called Central Perk (as
in the Friends tv show). Most of these women work here so the
weekends are the only time we can get together. Makes my week
boring but gives me things to look forward to for the weekends.
The job search is still going on. Sent in several online
applications last week and will hope for an interview or two. The
networking is coming along too but it doesn't just happen quickly.
Hopefully something will come together after the holidays. Most
U.N. orgs shut down for the holidays in early December. Not the
best time of year to be job hunting but then again, it will give
me a good excuse to step back and enjoy myself for a bit. Not that
I haven't been enjoying myself, but I do feel the pressure to find
a job and feel guilty if I'm idle for a couple days.
Still haven't figured out my plans for Christmas. If I stay
around here I've been invited to dinner on Christmas with some of
the Swiss Miss gals. There's also a Christmas Market in Montreux
(about and hour away) complete with North Pole and Santa's
That's all my news for now. Take care, Robin
November 5, 2005
I'm in Geneva now. Actually living in France in a town just
across the border called Ferney-Voltaire. Check out the Geneva
page to see photos of my new place.
Ferney, France which while technically just across the border,
is considered for all intents and purposes, a suburb of Geneva. I
can see the border from my apartment Ė itís literally a block
away. It only takes me 20 mins. by bus to get into the heart of
downtown Geneva and only 10 mins. to most of the major U.N.
organizations. Iím renting a studio from an American woman who
works at the U.N. (UNHCR). It was her place when she first came to
Geneva 4 years ago. Itís on the 8th and top floor of a tall,
modern apt. building not far from the village of Ferney-Voltaire.
I have a large supermarket and cinemas in one direction (2 blocks
away), and the small old part of Ferney 5 blocks the other way.
Iím still feeling the place out and seeing what all there is for
me to see and do over here.
As for Geneva, I spent 4 nights smack in downtown at a hostel
when I first arrived. I wandered around and got a better feel for
the place but didnít venture over to the left bank too much.
Geneva surrounds the southwest part of Lake Geneva. The lake is
large and widens as it moves out from Geneva towards Lausanne to
the northeast. Anyway, looking from the wide part of the lake down
to the southwest and Geneva, you call the left side of the city
the left bank (rive gauche) and of course the right side is the
right bank (rive droite). The U.N. and most of the commerce is on
the right bank whereas the old part of town and most of the charm
is all on the left bank.
I tried to find an apartment in the charming part but the few
listings there were, were way out of my price range. In fact,
there wasnít much for me to choose from when you narrowed my
choices to apts. that were for a short-term (min. 3 months) and
furnished. I moved in on the 1st and my body promptly shut down. I
hesitate to say I have the flu as the only symptom I had was a
sore throat. It was no ordinary sore throat though. It was like I
was continually swallowing shards of glass. Unfortunately, my
Nyquil didnít seem up to the job. I had to venture out to a
pharmacy for some local stuff. It seems to have worked as it got
better, finally, last night.
Iíve been tapping into a couple weak wireless signals and
usually have to be on my balcony in a contorted position to
receive it. Donít want to jinx myself, but at the moment Iím just
inside, with the balcony door shut, and Iím still able to get a
As for job hunting, Iíve already been trying to network my way
into something. The woman Iím renting from is willing to shop my
resume around a bit and try and connect me to others who I may be
able to do informational interviews with etc. Iím hoping to make
contact with a friend of a friendís at the U.S. Embassy Monday.
Wish me luck. Iíll update more later. Check out my photos on the
August 10, 2005
Not sure if anyone is still checking my site, but in case you
don't already know the latest with me...I'm finished with Peace
Corps and am currently in Seattle but hope to move on soon.
So, after finishing PC I was traveling in Europe but 5 days
after my last posting I was in London with friends and got
terrible news from home. My father passed away at home in Kirkland
on May 24. I made it back on May 26 and we had a very small,
family only service for him. What a way to transition back!
More changes were on the way however. My mom and dad had been
wanting to sell the house for a while and while it wasn't in any
shape to be sold, after my dad's death, my mom wanted the process
speeded up as she no longer wanted to stay there. Too big, too
much upkeep, didn't feel safe staying alone, etc. So, we began the
long process of getting it ready for sale - working in the yard,
tidying up, purging old stuff, etc. Luckily a neighbor who was
interested in buying it a year ago was still interested. We sold
to them without having to list it and go through agents. It was
still a difficult task with all that legal junk to sort through.
We closed on August 1st.
For some reason even knowing we were closing soon didn't make
mom and I move any faster in terms of getting done all that needed
to be done. We were at the house until almost midnight on the 31st
packing up and cleaning! My mom is staying with her sister, Ad, in
Tacoma (Lakewood) until she decides she wants to look for her own
condo. Me, I'm staying with my friend May (visited me in Aug of
2003 in Kenya) for the month of August and am hoping to find a
one-month sublet somewhere cool for September. As it stands now,
I'm looking to try and get back over to Europe to live/job hunt
round about Octoberish.
I'm doing online job hunting but without being in the city
you're hoping to land a job in, it's a challenge. I'm still hoping
to find a job in Geneva, Brussels, or Paris, in that rank order.
Again, if anyone out there has any helpful contacts in these
places I'd love to hear from you.
I'm doing well despite all the change I've been immersed in.
I'm enjoying not working as it's giving me time to settle a bit,
reconnect with friends, think about my next steps and best of all,
enjoy the great Seattle summer weather. Not sure what I'm going to
do with this site now that my time in PC is over. I'm still
however on a journey of sorts so will most likely keep posting
until I get settled somewhere. Take care and check back every so
often for updates. I'm also going to try and get more photos up
and do a kind of archive of pics both from Kenya and Guinea.
May 20, 2005
Hi everyone. I'm currently in Geneva, Switzerland. After
leaving Guinea on the 3rd I flew into Paris and took a train
straight to Brussels.
Stayed in the train station a couple hours in Brussels as I was
captivated by all the sights and sounds. I just wandered around
the food court, drooling over all the yummy looking food. Bought
some fruit in the little grocery store and some yoghurt before
getting on a train to Bruges. I had made a reservation at a
B&B in Bruges before leaving Guinea which was good as there
was some kind of religious festival going on and everywhere there
were hordes of tourists.
My room was overlooking a pretty canal in a quiet part of the
old town but a short 3 minute walk to the center square. Perfect.
I had kitchen facilities in my room so saved a bit of money by not
eating out. As the dollar is so weak against the Euro and just
about every other currency, save the Guinean Franc :o), I found
things to be wildly expensive.
I played tourist in Bruges for the most part but also worked on
an online application to the Department of Commerce that took me
several hours over the course of a couple days. After sending that
online I felt relieved and ready for my next adventure. I stayed 4
nights in Bruges before taking a train to Spa where I would have
my intensive French class.
I started right away on the lessons, 4-6 private lessons a day.
They were intense. I wanted pronunciation help and oral
comprehension help so that meant I was listening to tapes of news
programs and seminars on logistics (to also get specialized
vocabulary). The pronunciation workouts were just that. I was
exhausted after each session and my head was spinning with all the
tips and new vocabulary I was picking up.
There were 3 other students, all at fairly high levels of
French like myself. We took breaks for cofee and tea and chatted
in French along with the instructors. We took lunch with the
instructors so they could correct any errors we were making and
breakfast and dinner was taken with the couple that ran the place.
Each meal was more impressive than the last. Seriously, we're
talking gourmet stuff and wonderful wine with dinner.
The course was for 5 days and I felt like it did me wonders
except for the fact that I was mentally exhausted at the end of it
and could barely put a sentence together. I knew after resting up
I would be thinking and speaking clearly again. Unfortunately,
there was a rail strike going on in Belgium the day I was to leave
to travel to Brussels. I ended up tagging along in someone else's
taxi to the airport and then taking the metro into Brussels. It
all took much longer than necessary so by the time I got to my
hostel I was pooped. The hostel was nice and cheap but as you
shared the room with up to 3 others, there wasn't much privacy.
You also had to leave the hostel between 10 and 2 as they closed
it for cleaning. All I wanted to do for a day or two was lie
around on a comfy bed and watch tv.
So, the next day I booked myself into a plush hotel and did
just that. I felt I needed to pamper myself a bit and after saving
so much money on the hostel the night before, it all evened out to
a decent rate for the 4 star hotel. I actually moved hotels every
day of the 5 days I spent in Brussels as I got online and got some
great last minute deals at top hotels. It was fun but also a bit
tiring lugging my luggage from place to place. I sure got to know
the town though! If anyone needs info on Brussels hotels, I'm the
one to talk to.
Just before leaving Brussels to come to Geneva, I mailed off
some stuff that I wanted to keep but didn't need with me for the
rest of the trip. I therefore pared my luggage down to just one
My train from Brussels to Geneva required that I go through
Paris. Fine. No problem. I had one hour to make a connection from
one Paris station to another where my train to Geneva was
departing from. Well, the train from Brussels took a delay en
route so I only had 30 minutes to get down to the subway, connect
to another Paris station, go up to where the trains left from and
get on the correct train.
It took longer than I thought to get down to the subway part of
the station and I had to stand in line to buy a ticket. I would
have just skipped buying a ticket but you couldn't get through the
gates without one. The subway took forever in coming and I sweated
while watching the minutes tick by. By the time the subway train
got there I saw I only had 5 minutes to get to the other station,
up to the trains and onto my track (which I didn't yet know). I
raced through the station lugging my wheeled bag behind me and
didn't even take time out on the escalators to rest - I ran up
those as well. I frantically searched for the correct track for my
train and luckily it wasn't far away.
I raced to the train and was about to board when I took a good
look at the panel near the door. It said Dijon not Geneva. I
double checked the track number and it was correct. As I was
standing there, panting heavily, heart racing, totally perplexed,
an announcement came on over the speakers. It was saying that the
train to Geneva was departing and for everyone to get onboard.
Luckily it said the track number and luckily the track was the
next one over to where I was standing. They had changed the tracks
but hadn't changed their tv screens to reflect this. I jumped
onboard and the doors closed not more than 10 seconds later and we
I had to just stand there for a couple minutes to get my breath
back. By the time I made my way to my car and seat, I was
exhausted. The adrenaline rush was over and now I was spent.
Napped off and on for the 3 hour journey. I had already booked a
place in Geneva so once at the station I grabbed a map, oriented
myself, found where my hotel was and took off on foot. Found it
just fine after a 15 minute walk through town and across the
river. I was staying in a hotel and residence. This meant I was
actually in a studio apartment with my own kitchen. It's fairly
central and quite pleasant. Everything is expensive here too so
I'm glad I can do my own cooking.
I'm off tomorrow for Grenoble, France to visit with old friends
for the weekend. I'm then going straight to London via Paris. I've
decided to skip staying in Paris as I'm tired and just want to
settle in at my friends place in London.
As for the job hunting, things didn't quite go according to
plan so I changed the plan. I'm now doing job research. I wasn't
fully prepared with my resume and company research as the internet
was down my last 10 days in Guinea. There was a holiday in Belgium
that threw a wrench in my plans as well. Plus, I was just so tired
of running around that I just felt like being a tourist. The job
stuff will come in due time.
I'm doing well and enjoying myself. It's a bit weird knowing
I'm not going back to Africa after this "holiday". The strangest
cultural shock had to have been the week in Spa at the French
school. The owners were very nice people but very upper class. We
had fine china, real silverware, courses to our meals, etc. Very
odd to be around that. I felt quite guilty actually and like I was
Otherwise, I don't feel like I'm doing too badly with the
culture change. It is quite odd not being the only white person
wherever I go. It's nice to be able to count on public services
(except for that strike in Belgium and the train delay into Paris)
again. Being able to watch tv all night and get up to get a cold
drink of water from the mini-fridge still makes me giggle with
sheer delight. I hope everyone is doing well. For those of you who
passed along job info or contact info, thanks. I haven't been able
to get online much since leaving Guinea and couldn't for my last
week or so while in Conakry, so I'm sorry if I've yet to respond
to you personally. I will. I'm hoping to be able to settle in a
bit in London and tie up all the loose ends that are nagging at me
with respect to emails.
Oh, one other things that makes me happy to be out of Africa is
the fact that I can walk all over town on a warm day and not sweat
through my clothes. It was very nice yesterday in Geneva and I
must have walked 8 miles but even though I broke a light sweat
while climing a hill, I didn't feel like I needed a cold shower
and a clean change of clothes. My last weeks in Guinea were sweat
filled. Just standing outside made the sweat run down your legs,
face, arms, etc. Mild weather is definately for me!
April 13, 2005
Sorry about the long delay between updates but I've been holed
up at site since mid-February. I have moved out of Saramoussaya
and am now here in Conakry until I close out my service. My
official COS date is May 2nd and I'll most likely fly out that
evening or the next. Where to, you ask?
I've not decided on my post-PC plans yet but it's starting to
come together in my mind. Here's what I'm currently thinking
about: I'd like to fly to Brussels from either Conakry or Dakar
(if I fly from Dakar I'll spend a couple days there hanging out
with some other Guinea PCVs on vacation). I'm trying to choose and
enroll in an intensive/full-immersion French course from anywhere
from 5 days to 2 weeks. I'm wanting to do this because the French
here in Guinea is not quite correct so I've picked up some bad
habits grammar-wise and my accent, which I was once very proud of,
has deteriorated to the point where I'm no longer comfortable with
it. The school that's at the top of my list right now is in Spa,
Belgium. If I go that route, I'll hang out in Belgium for a week
or so before beginning the course.
Once finished I'd like to job hunt in Belgium and then travel
down to Geneva to continue job hunting. From there I could cross
the French border and visit my friend Catherine in Grenoble for a
couple days before taking a train to Paris to continue the job
hunt. From there I'd train it to London to job hunt and to visit
with my friends the Lanes.
I'd like to take some quick trips into Ireland and Scotland
from London seeing as flights on RyanAir are so amazingly cheap
(like $10). I'd then fly home to Seattle hopefully using a United
Depending on how well the job hunting goes, I'm aiming to be in
Seattle the first or second week of June. Where I go from there is
anyone's guess. I'm going to be sending out a networking email
soon with details on what it is I'm looking for in terms of work
and giving my resume details, etc. So, be forewarned that I'll
soon be asking for networking assistance!
I'm staying at the Peace Corps house in Conakry and until 2
days ago it was packed. Now there are only 3 of us. I'm enjoying
being able to get online every day and check email and research
for jobs and travel prices. I'm also studying for the Foreign
Service Exam, which I'll be taking for the second time, on April
23 at the U.S. embassy in Conakry. I've got some good study
materials this time around and now that I know what to expect, I'm
hoping I'll pass it this time - keep your fingers crossed.
As for my departure from site, it wasn't any big deal. I said
my goodbyes several days in advance and was just basically hanging
around for the last 2 days waiting for the PC car which was coming
to get me. The saddest part was leaving my cat, Connie. It still
makes me want to cry thinking that I'll never see her again. This
is the reason why I didn't want a cat in the first place but she
found me, I didn't go looking for her. Brad, my replacement will
take care of her but he's allergic so is not sure how he'll do.
The house doesn't have carpet, just tiles, so it may be okay. If
he can't handle it he's going to give her to my neighbor who
usually takes care of her and the house when I'm away from site.
I hear it's not too hard to bring a cat back to the U.S. but
the problem is I'm not going right back to the U.S. Can you
imagine me taking her traveling with me and to job interviews? At
least I didn't have to drive away from Saramoussaya with her
chasing after my car. She usually follows me to the road and sits
there watching as I pull away in a taxi. This last time she
followed me to my neighbor's house and luckily stayed there as I
walked away back to my house and the waiting car.
From the 5th to the 7th I was attending a COS (close of
service) conference out on one of the islands just off the coast
of Conakry. It was a nice relaxing time. I did the conference with
the group of PCVs who came into Guinea about a year before me.
They were a great bunch of PCVs and I had a nice time getting to
know them better. They will all leave Guinea in June/July.
As I'm only here in country for another 3 weeks or less, please
don't send any mail to me at this point. Letters that arrive after
I leave will be forwarded to me in Kirkland but packages won't be
forwarded. I'll update again once I have my travel plans set. Oh,
by the way, I have amoebas again...or maybe still do since last
July. We'll see what else is residing in my body when I finish up
all my medical exams.
February 14, 2005
Happy Valentine's Day. Thanks to my mom sending me a box of chocolates, I too was able to celebrate. This particular
holiday isn't as big here in Guinea as it was in Kenya - it was HUGE in Kenya - but oddly enough it is celebrated here, at least in Conakry. Restaurants put up
flyers showing special meals they'll serve tonight, etc. I pre-ordered some hummus from the Lebanese guy up the street from PC so that'll be my special dinner tonight ;o)
I just finished up with helping at training. It's a good group of trainees - 35 of them. The SED group has 12, including the guy that is going to replace me in Saramoussaya.
They'll be traveling out to their newly announced sites this coming weekend to spend a few days getting to know the layout and meet the officials in their towns/villages.
They'll then head back to the training site near Conakry to finish up their training. They are due to swear-in on March 31st.
I'm not sure that I'll still be at my site
when my replacement comes in early April. Still no official word on my COS date but my boss seems to think it's not going to be a problem for me to leave May 1st. She's not the
decision maker though so I'll wait for official word before getting plans made for any post-COS travel.
I had traveled out to Saramoussaya for one week after my last update before
I had to turn around and come back this way for training. It was odd being back in the village. I thought my neighbors would be excited to see me again but no one paid me much attention.
I'm told that that's par for the course for this ethnic tribe - they're very reserved and unemotional. A far cry from the tribe I was around in Boke/Kamsar. My cat, Connie, was well
and soon lapsed back into being my constant shadow.
My house was filthy when I got home - at least an inch of red dust coated everything I didn't put away. This includes my couch and
throw pillows. Only got a few mud wasps nests back inside on the walls and ceiling. I was prepared for worse.
I hopefully head out to site tomorrow morning and will stay there until
I leave to COS - about 6 weeks. I'm torn as to what I want to do in those 6 weeks as it doesn't make sense for me to start projects as 6 weeks isn't enough time and I don't want to get
something going and then have a change of volunteer disrupt the flow of whatever I was aiming for. Then again, I could continue to do research and figure out what the needs of the village
are vs. what they say they are. That process can sometimes take your full 2 years. I feel like my usefullness here in Guinea never got realized. It's been an interesting 3rd year.
I'd do it again, but just hope that I wouldn't experience the same setbacks as I seemed to here in Guinea. My French has definately improved and I've been able to meet some wonderful people -
host country nationals as well as fellow volunteers. Ok, enough of that talk - I'm not finished yet...
January 17, 2005
Happy New Year to everyone. I arrived back in Guinea on the 15th, after 3 long and boring flights. As I need to speak to several of the staff here at the office I must stick
around Conakry until Wednesday as today is a holiday and thus the office is closed. I'm anxious to get back to Saramoussaya mostly to see if my cat is ok. I also told the villagers to expect me around the 17th and I don't
want them to think I've abandoned them for good. I'll only be in the village a little over a week before I turn around and leave again for 2 weeks - I'm helping out at training for the new group of volunteers that just arrived.
34 new trainees arrived in country on the 13th. They are the newest group of Public Health, Agroforestry and Small Business volunteers. My replacement is among them. They find out their sites while I am there helping out
so I'll get to meet and talk with him or her. My village has known all along that I'm only there for a very short time before leaving. They've had a PCV (Education) in years past so they know the routine - it's a 2-year
stint and unforseen things can happen to shorten the service, etc. They know all about my "trouble" in Kamsar and that I was due to leave Guinea, regardless of my site situation, in May of 2005. Thankfully they're not
expecting much out of me in the coming months as there's not much I can accomplish in such a short amount of time. I'm basically scoping the site out for potential projects for my replacement. Whether or not he or she
will use the research I've already begun collecting or not is up to them.
It's interesting being back. I actually stayed in the compound all day yesterday and watched 4 movies. I just got back from going into the
market area about a mile or so from the house. It's an odd feeling being stared at for just walking down the street. I'd like to say I turn heads like that in the States but...
Kids were yelling out "whitey" in the
local languages, taxi's were blaring their horns for people to get out of the road and all the sellers at the market wanted me to come and look at their stuff. It'll be much calmer in Saramoussaya. I'm not looking forward
to the trip out there though. An 8+ hour crowded taxi ride with a change of vehicles and all my bags just makes me cringe.
I'm not expecting to get back to Conakry before April (might be here overnight when finished with
training in mid-February) so I'm trying to make sure I take care of all my administrative stuff now so that I'm all set to COS (Close of Service) in April. I now have only about 8 weeks left in the village which sounds like
a decent amount of time, 2 months, but I know it will fly by so quickly. I have no word yet on my jobs that I applied to while in the U.S. so assume that I'll be back in the States in May to start the search in earnest.
I'm not sure if I'll be doing any traveling when I'm finished. Some friends are possibly going to Nepal in May and I'd love to meet them there but we'll have to wait and see if the timing is right. All in all though
I'm ready to be finished with my PC service and can't wait to get a job and a "normal" life again. I'll update again when I can.
December 11, 2004
Greetings from Seattle. I arrived Wednesday night after traveling for 24+ hours. All in all it was smooth traveling all the way. That is until I got home and opened my bags.
Someone, most likely in Guinea, helped themselves to some items in one of my two bags. The thing that gets me is that they somehow opened the locked bag, took out my shortwave radio, speakers for my walkman (actually both Karin's that I was
returning to her), my walkman and travel alarm clock, then relocked the bag! That was nice of them I suppose. Thankfully they didn't take my CD's which are a lot harder and more expensive to replace than some of the other stuff. They also
went pawing through my other bag and in the process shuffled my stuff around such that the delicate wooden camel I bought for my mom's birthday got 2 of its legs snapped off. Thankfully they left me the broken legs so we can glue it. Other than
that, all was fine.
I've decided to do another update so soon as I received some feedback on my Dec. 6th update that made me think I should get more specific on my new site. So, here's all the scoop on Saramoussaya:
It's a small village, about 2500 people, that is about 5km off the main, paved highway that bisecs the country. The road into Saramoussaya is unpaved but not too bad. Then again, I didn't see it during the height of rainy season.
Because it's off the main road for several kilometers, it's nice and peaceful. But, this also means that transportation is difficult. There is always at least one bush taxi (small sedan vs. the nissan mini-vans in Kenya) that leaves Saramoussaya
every morning to go West towards Mamou, the Prefecture (Saramoussaya is a sous-prefecture). Basically that means administratively the prefecture is larger and has more development and more government officials. A sous-prefecture is much smaller
(usually about 10 sous-prefectures within a prefecture) and has far fewer ammenities and government officials or in other words, much less developed and poor. It's still more developed than a mere village within a sous-prefecture, of which there
To get to Mamou, where I can in theory use the internet plus also shop for veggies I can't get in my village, not to mention buy boxed wine and pasta, takes a minimum of 2 hours one-way by bush taxi. Mind you Mamou is only about 80km (or
about 48 miles) from Saramoussaya. It takes so long because the vehicles are in such poor condition, overloaded (and thus struggle going up hills), and the road is pretty bad in many spots - as in the paved part has been washed away and you're left
with bare earth and huge potholes.
I've made the trip into Mamou twice to use the internet and both times it's been down. That's a 5+ hours trip (the plus is for waiting around time for a taxi to fill to go back to Saramoussaya) all for naught.
I've at least come away with pasta, wine and veggies so the trips weren't a total bust. I haven't ventured East to Dabola, the next Prefecture to me. Transportation is less frequent going that direction and the road gets worse.
Ok, now for my
village. As I said there are about 2500 people all spread around so that it doesn't feel like there are that many people around. I've got several neighbors close by, some in huts and others in mud brick houses like mine. There is a village water
pump about 40 yards from my house which is perfect as I don't have to carry the water far once I fill my 20 liter containers. Many times there are kids to help me fill them and carry them back. They put the containers on their heads to carry
but I just use my hands as I think my neck would snap off. They grow up doing this so their necks are very strong. Most of the women and even the 5 year old girls have beautifully sculpted arms as a result of all the manual labor they do. The men
are cut too but it's more genetics in their case as they don't do nearly as much work as the women.
I have two bedrooms (I only use one and have old icky furniture that came with the house stored in the other), a large sitting room and a bathroom with
a sink and toilet. I don't have running water but I use the sink to wash my dishes, use a bucket to bathe, and pour water down the toilet bowl to flush it. Works well enough and I'm thankful I don't have to go outside to use a latrine, especially in
the middle of the night. I don't have a kitchen so have put a table in the sitting room where I've got my water filter for drinking and my propane stove. I don't have electricity and in fact no one in Saramoussaya does. The house has light fixtures and outlets though as at one point there was a diesel generator that powered the house.
The climate in my new region, the Fouta
Djalon, is much more agreeable than the Basse-Cote where Kamsar and Boke, and Conakry are. At night the temp gets as low (inside the house) as 69 degrees F. During the day, inside, it reaches about 82 degrees F. It's gets hot during the afternoons so
I usually stick inside the house where it's cooler. Regardless of the heat, it's never humid like it was in the Basse-Cote region. I go days without breaking a sweat. It's glorious.
The tribe I'm among now is Peul and they speak Pular. There are
also some Susu people (same tribe as in most of the Basse-Cote) and many Malinke people (who inhabit the next region over, Haute Guinee). So, there are many languages spoken but mostly it's Pular. Many of the older people (that are educated) and all of
the officials, speak French. Many school going kids do too, albeit not well. I'm trying to learn Pular but it's a tonal language and difficult. Meaning that there are words that are very similar sounding to a non-speaker and only differ in meaning based
on the tone used when speaking. If you don't get the tone right, you're saying gibberish. I'm mostly at the gibberish stage but people are thrilled whenever I try so I keep trying.
As far as work goes, I haven't been there long enough to really
figure that out yet. I've met the one and only women's group in Saramoussaya and will see how I can help them. They have a farm together and grow peanuts, manioc, sweet potatoes and other veggies. I've traveled to a nearby village to meet with their
groups, also agriculturally focused, and will see what I can do for them too. Everyone is asking for farm machinery, tractors, etc., and I'm not able to really help them out there but I'll try and focus on improving their group's managment structure
and possibly teach its members to read and write (at least numbers).
In Saramoussaya there is a newly constructed center for girls that have either never gone to school or have dropped out. Boys are allowed in too. The center will teach them skills
like sewing, etc. so that they can try and earn a living. Not sure how I can help the center but I figure I'll start with the management committee and train them on proper and ethical management so that the center can stay in business for the long haul.
I want to show the center and the groups solar drying and cooking too. We'll see.
I don't have too much time in the village upon my return. I counted it out and I'll only be back there for 9 weeks before I leave to close out my service (COS). My
COS date is May 1st, I think, but in Guinea they want you to come to Conakry at least 2 weeks before then to take care of all the medical and administrative stuff. In Kenya the didn't want you anywhere near Nairobi until 3 days before your COS date. Talk
about a stressful 3 days! It'll be much less stressful this time around in Guinea and in fact I'll probably leave Saramoussaya the first week of April to go to Conakry to begin the process. I'm there at that time for a conference and my replacement will
have already gotten to Saramoussaya so it doesn't make sense for me to travel all the way back to the village to stay for a few days only to turn around and travel back to Conakry to close out.
I've been told I'm going to be replaced with another business
PCV. The new group arrives in Guinea Jan. 15th and will finish training and swear-in at the end of March. I think I'll overlap with the new person for a day or two.
As for what my plans are for after PC, I'm not too sure but I've already applied to
some jobs (haven't gotten them) based in Europe and will continue to do so. Also thinking of grad school. May or may not travel around when I'm finished. I'll have to wait and see if I get a job offer first.
Well, that's it I think. If anyone has any
specific questions they'd like me to answer, shoot me an email and I can do a FAQ update next time around. Happy holidays!
December 6, 2004
Wow, been a long time since my last update. A lot has happened - took a vacation, got a new site, moved, settled in and am now on my way out of the country to spend 5 weeks in the good ole USA!
I took off on vacation September 19 and flew to Dakar, Senegal. I had 2 nights in that capital city and did a bit of shopping and sightseeing. It was an expensive place but quite developed, for West Africa.
I then flew off to London where Lisa and her two little boys were there to greet me. Had a wonderful time staying at their house (flat?) in Windsor. Such a cute town. Went jogging out to the castle almost every morning.
Took walks with the kiddies and basically just relaxed. Once Dave, Lisa's husband, got home from a business trip, we left him with the kids and took off for downtown London. Saw a show - The Lion King - which was FANTASTIC, ate and
drank at several pubs, and generally played tourist. Even took one of those double-decker bus tours around the city. The only thing not perfect was the weather as it chose to rain that weekend. My time in London was over far too
quickly, as always, and I flew off again 2 weeks later. I was spending 5 more nights in Dakar, but this time at the Club Med on the beach.
Never been to a Club Med before but the idea of being secluded away with a sparkling clean
swimming pool and all-you-can-eat buffets sounded like paradise to me. It was very relaxing laying by the pool every day and taking walks around the extensive grounds. A bit lonely though as I felt left out of most conversations at
mealtimes as it was in rapid-fire French. My French is okay and I don't have much trouble understanding when an African speaks it. But give me the genuine thing at normal speaking tempo and it takes me a few beats to catch up.
Got good practice as I was glued to my in-room TV every night watching movies dubbed in French and catching up on world news.
After getting a nice golden tan and 5 lbs. of extra weight tacked on, compliments mostly of the dessert bar,
it was time to head back to my life in Guinea. I was hoping to learn my fate - I'd either have gotten a new site or I was ready to quit. The day after arriving I got a message from my boss to come up-country so we could go look at a
potential site together. Yea. It was a small village in the Fouta region (middle part of the country) called Saramoussaya. We only spent an hour or so wandering around looking at the house I'd occupy and meeting some of the officials
I would work with. As there was another site in the pipeline we didn't commit ourselves to this one quite yet but I liked it and could picture myself there no problem.
I went back to Boke to hang out while the other site was
discussed. It turns out that it fell through so my only option was Saramoussaya which I gladly took. I came down to Conakry and gathered all my stuff together and moved out on November 2nd. I wasn't going to be able to get the
election results right away, or so I thought, but everyone and their mother, literally, has a radio in the village. I was sadly informed of the results. I thought for sure they were pulling my leg. How could that many Americans have
actually voted for this man again? Maybe I've been out of the US too long and getting more unbiased news reporting (albeit few and far between), but the world does not respect this man, as a man nor as a president. I could see in many Guineans' eyes
how confused they were that he was re-elected. They thought of Americans as intelligent and savvy, able to do no wrong. They knew that Bush stole the previous election and therefore didn't blame the people for his presidency, but this time is different.
They expressed how their hope has dwindled because if Americans can't manage to get rid of a bad leader, how in the world would they ever be able to get rid of thiers? I had no answer. I'm still in shock. Sorry to be so political here, but I honestly
can't believe that he was re-elected. Well, the good news is is that he can't run again, right? Or have Americans really lost it and voted to change the Constitution?
Enough of that. It's all so fresh for me as I just watched Fahrenheit 9/11 last night
and it really disturbed me. Didn't anyone else in America see this film? Obviously not the right people, a.k.a. Republicans. Wow.
Ok, so I moved to Saramoussaya and settled in. I painted the inside and got screens up on all the windows. I had to first
remove dozens of wasp nests that were on the doors and windows as well as inside the sitting room. No one has lived there since the last PCV which was 2 years ago. It's a fairly large house (I'll put photos up soon) with a large bedroom, sitting room and bathroom. I have no electricity or running water. The house has
electrical outlets and light fixtures because at one time there was a generator but no longer. I get water from the village pump which is thankfully very near my house. I usually get little kids (petits) to fetch it and carry it back for me. That's how it's
done here - age is power and the poor kids get stuck doing just about all the menial labor.
As for work, I've been out to visit with men's and women's groups to see how I can assist them. I'll also be working with a training center for kids, mostly girls, that
have dropped out of school or have never had the chance to attend regular school. I'll figure out more of what I'll do once I get back there in January. All in all it is a very nice, quiet place. I'm told there are about 2500 people in the village but it
covers a pretty large area. I'm fairly close to the market area which is deserted except for Saturday's when it's market day. I'm learning a new local language, Pular, but am getting good practice in French too.
I just left the village yesterday to come to Conakry as I'm due to fly out to Seattle tomorrow night. I have 30 days of home leave plus I'm taking 7 days vacation so it's 5 weeks of American luxury for me. Looking forward to seeing family and friends and
catching up with everyone. I also plan to eat a lot of yummy food I can't get here and watch a lot of movies. I arrive in Seattle the 8th and will fly out back to Conakry on the 14th of January. If I don't update again before the holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas,
and Happy New Year to everyone.
September 3, 2004
I'm taking advantage of the fact that I'm in Conakry right now and getting free internet here at the office to make this update. I attended a work-related seminar for 2 days in a town called Dalaba and am just passing through Conakry on my way back up to Boke.
Dalaba is a town in the Fouta Djalon region of Guinea - the region I desperately want to be in. Even more so now that I've actually been there to see it for myself. It was amazingly beautiful with fog shrouded green rolling hills and waterfalls galore.
It was such a nice climate too - I was actually able to wear my sweatpants, long sleeved shirt and fleece jacket! It dropped down to a chilly 70 degrees F at night (inside) so I was able to get a great nights sleep all bundled up in my wool blanket.
I'm not joking about how cold it felt. I wore my fleece jacket all day long and was still chilled. Wished I had brought closed shoes and some socks as I froze my toes off. Unfortunately I had to leave Dalaba and come back here to my region, the Basse-Cote, and its humidity.
I haven't gotten much in the way of news on a new project or site but all the other ideas me and my boss had previously tossed around have been dropped either by Peace Corps or myself for one reason or another. I hope to have some concrete info by the end of next week.
I made a snap decision today to take some vacation time and get out of Guinea to clear my head. I'm heading to Senegal and London. I'll be taking 3 weeks in total and leave in just over 2 weeks. I can't wait to see my special friends, the Lane's, in London. I'll then
spend about a week in Senegal. I'm going to take several days to pamper myself and spend them at the Club Med just outside of Dakar. Hopefully by the time I return in October I'll be ready to move into a new site and project.
FYI, my kitten Connie was just fine when I went back up to Kamsar to collect her after my 2 week absence. She clings to me like my shadow but as she's so adorable I can't complain. I've just left her again now for another week so hopefully this, coupled with my impending
3 week vacation, will instill in her a fine sense of independence rather than a debilitating seperation anxiety complex...
It's looking like it's going to rain any minute and when it does the internet always cuts out. I'll cut this update short and post it before I lose my window of opportunity. All for now. Take care.
August 17, 2004
Hey, guess what? I'm back in Conakry. I had a bit of trouble a couple weeks ago in Kamsar. My house was broken into and robbed in the middle of the night...and yes, I was there at the time.
I was startled, as you can imagine, but wasn't seriously hurt. They took some money, my camera, medical kit and other odds and ends that had no value to anyone except me. At any rate, I left Kamsar that day and haven't been back since.
I'm heading up there on Friday to pack up my stuff as I've decided I no longer want to live there. Nor do I wish to continue in the service of my host organization, PSI.
For the time being I'll be acting as the PCVL (PC volunteer leader) at the Boke regional office/house. It's just temporary until they staff it with a Guinean - hopefully in September.
The Peace Corps is looking into alternative jobs/sites for me to move to. I'm hoping to be an advisor for the other SED volunteers and "float" around the different regions helping out when and where I can.
I'd like to be based in the Fouta Djalon region which has a moderate climate. How nice would that be? When I got home to Kamsar in July I actually had mold growing on my sheets that were left on my bed! I'll hang out in Boke until
the new site is made ready for me. I'm hoping to be in Labe. You can go back to the Home Page and take a look at the map at the bottom of the page as it's got all these places on it.
At any rate, please note that I changed the address on the Contact Me page for letters. As I'm no longer going to be in Kamsar and hopefully not even in the region soon, I can't use that PA address any longer and hope to get that mail on a timely basis.
I'll update again once I know where I'll be placed and what I'll be doing there.
July 28, 2004
Hi ho everyone. Iím still here in ConakryÖthat makes about a month now. Mixed feelings about that as I donít particularly have anything to do in Kamsar but donít like spending this much time in Conakry. All my meetings are over so Iím extra bored. Iím just waiting around for medical clearance to go back to site. Have had some stomach issues for a couple months but all my tests were coming out normal. Very frustrating when you know something isnít right but you canít get medical confirmation of it.
Finally did last week. Iíve got amebas. Amebas are not worms but tiny animals Ė or parasites Ė that can be seen only with a microscope. Iím on a ten-day course of pills, 2 rounds, and will be finished with them by Friday. One round was to kill the amebas and the second was to kill the cysts, or egg sacs. Iím not feeling much better and you should be right away with this medication so Iím sticking around a bit longer to give more stool samples.
Most everyone from my training group has left to go back to their sites. There are a few sticking around until Friday. It was great to see everyone but it was a bit overwhelming too. The house was packed full of people and noise. When youíre not feeling well itís tough to rally yourself to go out and be social with everyone. Iíve been sticking around the house a lot and watching movies (VHS). Oh, and playing with my new kitten.
The Friday before last I was walking to catch a taxi early in the morning to make it to my seminar downtown. I wasnít too far from the house when a little kitten ran out to me, turned around and ran back to cower at the wall. It was one of 5 kittens but the other 4 were motionless and I presumed dead. I scooped up the live kitten and took it back to Peace Corps. I asked the guards to keep it for me until I returned that evening. Much to my surprise, they not only kept it, but also really took care of it and cleaned it up.
Animals like cats and dogs are not pets here, theyíre here to serve a function. Cats kill mice and dogs protect your house. To have a cat for the pure pleasure of it is bizarre to them. When I got home that night I put her in a cardboard box in one of the bathrooms and fed it some milk. Itís been a long time since I had a cat of my own and decades since I had a kitten. Sheís pretty young Ė the best guess is sheís now about 5 weeks old so was 3 Ĺ to 4 weeks old when I found her.
I held off on naming her until her personality popped out a bit. Shithead and Fang were high on the list for a while. I just finally decided on Conakry as thatís where she found me. I call her Connie for short. Sheís litter box trained and likes to eat canned tuna. Sheís very playful but then again sheís a kitten and I think thatís par for the course. When she cuddles she likes to sleep at my neck and nibble on my ears. The hardest part is going to be getting her up to my site in a bush taxi. Itís only 3 hours (best case scenario) to Kamsar from Conakry now but Iím sure she wonít be happy to be in a carton the whole time.
Sheíll have a room to herself in my house so plenty of room to run around. Iíll probably also let her outside to run around in my yard as itís all walled in. I donít want her to pick up fleas but also want her to be able to fend for herself outside in case she ever gets loose. Iím really hoping to be able to give her to another volunteer when I leave, as a Guinean wouldnít care for her in the same way. But, I donít want to think about that right now as Iíve got a good 7+ months to enjoy her. Do have to think about what to do with her while on vacation and home leaveÖ
The internet has been off and on, mostly off, so Iím going to post this update quickly before the window of opportunity closes again. Hope everyone is well and enjoying their summer. I feel like Iím in Seattle in April Ė itís been raining non-stop now for weeks.
Oh, I also finally did something with the Program Info page that has been blank for awhile. It's now the Kenya page with photos of my PCV life in Kenya.
July 11, 2004
Just noticed itís been awhile since my last update. My electricityís been spotty this past month so I havenít been using my laptop much and thus not even thinking about an update. Not much has happened this past 6 weeks as things are still stalled with my project. Iíve been reading a lot of books and trying to study my French and Susu more often.
My project Ė the lunching of an insecticide treated mosquito net Ė has been running into lots of snags. Itís got nothing to do with the product, the market or even my organization. Itís due to the political situation here in Guinea. Donít think I need to spell it out. Itís very frustrating. This product can save thousands of lives every year at no cost to anyone other than PSI and its donors. But, those arenít compelling enough reasons to get through the red tape.
I came down to Conakry on the 4th and will be here until the 25th. Unless the launch gets the go-ahead and then Iíd have to hurry back to Kamsar for a few days. Iím here for a seminar put on by the International Labour Office. Itís training on how to train entrepreneurs in developing countries. Iím doing it with 3 other PCVs from my group. There are two parts to the training and we just finished one part this past week. The second part begins again Monday and runs the full week.
I then have another week of training to attend. Itís our in-service training, which happens about 3 months after youíve been at site. Iím excited to see many of the people from my group that I havenít seen since early April. Not excited about the training or staying another week in Conakry. I may just head back to site early but then again, what would I do once there? Have I said how frustrated I am?
If it werenít for the fact that Iím able to work on improving my French and gain another year of international working experience, Iím not sure Iíd have the desire to stick around much longer. Iím going to try and go back to site with an invigorated attitude and enough motivation to find another project for me to work on while my ďrealĒ one is stalled. Iím thinking of helping another volunteer (a Health PCV) with one of her projects. Sheís working with a womenís group who collects and processes salt and sells it at market. Sheís gotten them to iodize it.
No one iodizes the salt here and there are many adverse health effects as a result. Lots of goiters. Yes, goiters. Those big lumps that can form on the side of your face or neck and never go away without surgery. Anyway, sheís gotten them to iodize several tons of salt and itís now in the market. I want to help her to properly market it. No one really knows what iodized salt is or why you should eat it. Tastes the same as the regular salt but costs more so why bother? I think UNICEF is also going to help her to promote it.
Iím also going to try and spruce up my house when I get back. Iím hoping to buy some furniture today and have it shipped to Kamsar on the next mail run PC vehicle in August. I want a wicker/bamboo couch, coffee table, bookshelf, rocking chair and bedside table. All that is going to cost over one monthís living allowance. But, starting in August I get an increase in my allowance Ė by 50%! Woo hoo.
Thatís all the news for now. Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their summer. Me, I canít wait for winterÖin Seattle. Got home leave for a month starting December 8thÖcanít wait to freeze my @%& off!! Yes, itís still 5 months away but it gives me something to look forward too while I sit around Kamsar growing mildew.
May 28, 2004
Rainy season has officially come to Guinea. So much mystery has
surrounded this that I feared it would never materialize. People, and
especially seasoned volunteers, would always invoke the warning, "Just wait
until rainy season..." They'd never finish the sentence so you'd
always wonder what horror would await you come the rains. Is it going to
be so bad that I'll risk drowning if I set foot outside from May to
September? What will I do for all those months cooped up in my
house? Will it be a curse or a blessing, or both?
I don't know the answer to that yet as it only started to rain in earnest
less than a week ago. I thought that maybe there'd be a predictable
pattern to it like it would rain every morning and get sunny in the afternoons,
etc. In Kenya we had two rainy seasons - the short rains and the long rains -
and in Nunguni it was very predictable. It would usually
always be grey skies but only rain at night, most of the time. Here, I've
yet to figure it out and have yet to get an intelligible response out of anyone
who has spent more than one year in this area. So far, the pattern seems
to be that it will rain when it rains and it will clear up soon afterwards and
get sunny again or, if it's nighttime, get clear. I hear that some days it
can rain all day and continue into the next 2 days. Sounds like
Seattle. Only I didn't have to bike through rain and mud to get to work in
As power here is hydroelectric, I was hoping that I'd get constant
electricity during the rainy season. But alas, no. I've been told
I'll always have 2 days of power, 2 days without, etc. (by the way, I only
get running water outside in the mornings and the power on the 2 day on, 2 day
off schedule). So who's hording
this power? And what are they using it for? I can understand
rationing during dry season, but let's have at it during rainy season! I'm
pretty sure I know where it's all going...La Cite of Kamsar, where all the
ex-pats live. I hear they have electricity 24/7 AND running water in their
Ok, let me get a little higher up on my soapbox for a moment.
Americans, and many other Western nations, take for granted the luxury of
running water and electricity they consume at an inordinate rate, day in and day
out, without regard for the other 5+ billion people living in the world.
More than 1 billion, that's Billion with a capital B, people live without access
to clean drinking water. That's not even a statistic that takes into
account how many more live without running water anywhere near them, let alone
if it's clean or not or potable or not. What's my point? Should we
go without? No. I just would like to see the average American take
to heart the act of conservation of these resources we arrogantly assume are
inexhaustible. Let's limit shower time and shut off the taps when soaping
up and brushing our teeth. Let's only flush when necessary. E gads,
you mean not every time I toss a tissue into the toilet after blowing my
nose? Yes, and after peeing too. Let's get back to the days when we
used to say, "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it
down." Who remembers that from the 70s? Or did I just make that
I know my family practices a moderate form of this conservation, and has
since I was young, and my dad revels in the fact that he's
"conserving" when he pees outside the house, which is often these
days, much to the chagrin of my mother. I don't think this has anything to
do with me or my current plight, he just likes to pee outside. It's a guy
thing. If it were that easy for women, we'd probably do it all the time
too. So, just be cognizant of the fact that you're not alone on this
planet and that not everyone has it as good as you. Conserve when you can
and encourage others to do the same. Wow, I should run for President...
When I'm not consumed these days by the plight of the less fortunate I'd say
I was doing well here in Kamsar. It's a big town, certainly compared to
Nunguni, and is taking some getting used to. I ride my bike about 2 miles
to work every day. I don't do much at work these day but I'm sure it'll
pick up soon, once the project gets rolling along. Many days I then ride
from the office to La Cite (about 4 miles) to go shopping or mostly to go
swimming at the pool. There are cleaning implements strewn about near the
pool but as far as I can determine, they're only for show. There's a green
fuzz growing on the walls of the pool so I'm not sure how long I want to
continue using it. Until the fuzz appears on me, I figure I'll keep doing
my laps and just try and keep my mouth, ears and nose out of the water.
By the time I get home, either after work or from swimming, I'm pretty worn
out. Mostly just from the heat of the day. I'll usually just cook a
quick dinner and settle in to read, either by candlelight or electricity,
depending upon what day it is. If I don't have electricity, then my sleep
is fitful as I wake up sweating multiple times a night. If the electricity
is on and my fan is working, great. But, I still have a restless sleep as
it will often cut out several times during the night and you can tell right away
when it does as your pores instantly gush forth a stream of sweat that dictates
your immediate attention. The average temperature in my room is around 87
degrees F or 31 C (meaning sometimes it's 85 but sometimes it's 89). Turn
up your thermostats for one night to 87 and leave it there for a week and let me
know how you cope with it. You can't use your fridge either. You can
only use an electric fan every 2 nights. Good luck.
Wow, this update took a turn for the worse early on and hasn't
improved. Maybe I should just sign off now. I really am enjoying
myself here, it's just that daily life is so difficult, you want to share the
pain with everyone you know who has it "easy" :o)
May 8, 2004
Well, here I am, one month later and still not installed at my site or in my
house. I've been living at the regional PC house in Boke (rhymes with
okay) since the 15th of April. It's about an hour taxi ride from Boke to
Kamsar. I've only gone to Kamsar a few times in the past weeks to check on
the progress of my house. Work is definitely being done, just very
slowly. I am going to live in the house that was meant for Kevin, who got
medically separated from PC in March. I had tried to find another place
that was ready for me to move into but everything else in Kamsar was a dump and uninhabitable.
I'm hoping to move in on the 5th.
So, Kevin's house it is. It's got 4 bedrooms, although I converted one
to a kitchen. 3 toilets but it's still a mystery if I will have running
water or not. Won't know until I move in I guess. I'd much prefer a
pit latrine. Never thought I'd utter those words, but there it is. A
flush toilet is a curse if you can't ever flush it. Think about it.
I don't have any furniture to put in the house expect a bed and table with 4
chairs. That is what's required of the organization to whom you're
assigned to to furnish for you. I was going to be getting a couch, desk
and kitchen table from another volunteer who is leaving at the end of May, but
she just found out she's being replaced so is leaving most of her stuff, save
for the kitchen table, to her incoming volunteer.
I'm so short on money here it's not funny. No option of tapping into my
U.S. account either as there are no ATMs in the country (there is one at the
main bank in Conakry but I'm not planning on going there anytime soon). We
get the equivalent of $100 each month but are paid in 3-month intervals.
PC made a mistake with my group and paid us up-front for 4 months. What
this means is that I have cash lying about that is screaming to be spent.
If I do, recklessly on sodas or too much pasta, then I won't have any money for
food for the rest of the quarter. We were given money to buy essential
stuff for our houses but it in no way pays for everything you need right up
front. Furniture for instance. Not sure when I'll have enough saved
up for a couch.
The tough thing for me is that I'm an urban volunteer, living in an area with
a lot of ex-patriates (foreigners living in Guinea). Food is more expensive
in my area than in rural villages. Plus, everyone assumes I'm a rich ex-pat and
therefore tries to charge me 5 times the fair price for everything. I can
only try and learn the local language as best I can to prove to them that I'm
not some rich American or European trying to bargain for a good price; I'm a
volunteer struggling to make ends meet just like the locals are. That's
such a foreign concept to most people and therefore a hard sell. No one in
the town is very familiar with Peace Corps as I'm the first one in the Kamsar
area. Besides, what American would come to Guinea and work for no
salary...you must be joking or lying.
Okay, are you ready for more animal stories? Can you tell that's what
really captures my interest here? So, I'm at the PC house in Boke and
there is a fridge here and stove/oven. In other words, there's always food
around. Mice too. I stupidly leave out my uncooked pasta one night
and in the morning find it torn into in many places and noodles strewn all about
the room. Must have been hungry mice. So, I take out my nifty
American bought mouse trap and set it up around 7:30 one night. At 7:32 I
hear it snap shut and then the all too familiar shuffling of the suffocating
mouse. This guy must really have been hungry.
Not as hungry as the next victim the next night. Right after I emptied
the trap I set it again as the peanut butter was still intact on the
trigger. Come morning I find the peanut butter gone but the trap
un-sprung. I just leave it as I don't fancy trapping my finger while
putting more peanut butter on the trigger. Well, that night we come home
to find the trap sprung and a dead mouse trapped. Yet, there was no food
on the trigger. Poor bugger. He died for nothing or else it was a
I was really afraid the trap would be tripped by either the resident frog or
lizard. They both hang about the house in their favorite spots. By
day who knows where they go, but at night and in the early morning you can find
the frog immersed in the overflow cup that sits underneath the water filter's
spigot. At least he keeps himself clean. If you want to talk about
unclean animals, let's talk chickens. There are resident chickens at the
house and one very loud rooster. They always try and sneak into the house
when you leave one of the screen doors open. They poop anywhere and
everywhere. Today I saw a horrible sight. Chicken diarrhea.
Diarrhea is always a horrible sight, but who knew chickens ate that much to
produce such a horrible splatter?
I have befriended one of the chickens though. It helps me to
clean. There are ants that plague the kitchen. They usually hang out
near the door, the one closest to the back screen door. If I leave the
screen door open for any length of time my buddy will wander in and start
cleaning up the ant infestation. At first I shooed it out, appalled it
would be in the house. The next time I saw what it was doing and
smiled. Now I encourage it to enter for a free snack of ants and fallen
crumbs I'd rather not sweep up. It knows its place. Once the food is
gone, it knows to wander back out the door with a minimum of squawking and
hassle. I think I'll name it Hoover.
It's not just me staying here. There is permanent volunteer
"leader" who lives here year-round and keeps up the house while doing
secondary projects in the community. This past weekend we also had a
birthday party for a female volunteer that lives in the village halfway between
Kamsar and Boke. There aren't many of us in this region but a handful of
us were on hand to celebrate. One of the best things about Peace Corps
service is getting to know the other volunteers. Their backgrounds and
motivations for doing Peace Corps are surprisingly varied. There is no
"stereotypical" PCV. It's also fun to see how people change
while serving their 2 years.
Get this, one gal from my training group recently told me, 'Robin, you're the
most mellow person I've ever met in my life.' Those that know me well can
appreciate the irony of this statement. But, it's true these days.
Peace Corps has certainly instilled in me a sense of patience beyond any I
thought possible. I also don't let things bother me much these days.
When you see the abject poverty and misery of daily life in Africa, it's hard to
feel good whining about your house with 3 toilets not being ready yet.
Things have a way of working themselves out, or, not. Either way, life
Okay, I typed out this update on the 3rd and it's now the 8th. I did
move into my house, as planned, on the 5th. All went well but I have no
running water inside the house and the electricity wasn't working my first
night. No big deal on either count. There is a spigot with running
water just in front of my porch so I fill buckets to use in the kitchen and
bathrooms. I shower (bucket bathe) in the bathroom in my room but use the
toilet in another room as it's just more pleasant smelling in my room that
In Nunguni, Kenya I had no running water and thus would use a 2-bucket system
for my sink. One bucket was filled with clean washing water and the other
was the sink where I'd wash my dishes above it and let the water collect there
before dumping it several days later. Here at least I do have an actual
sink so I only use the one bucket for clean washing water. I forgot this
at first and lapsed into habit as I set up 2 buckets under the sink and actually
started washing the dishes and dumping the dirty water in the second bucket
before realizing that I had an actual draining sink just above the bucket.
Old habits die hard.
I'm told 2 days out of every week I won't have electricity at all and I'm
guessing those days are Tuesday and Wednesday. I didn't have power
Wednesday, my first night, but since then it's come on at 7:15 pm and stayed on
'til around 7:00 am. I got a nice surprise yesterday afternoon as I lay on
my bed to take my daily nap. I was trying not to move else I sweat too
much and risk drowning in my sleep in a puddle of my own sweat when, surprise,
my fan turned on and lasted throughout my 3-hour power nap. Now that's
Got a shock last night though as I was dancing my happy dance that the power
came on. My running water outside stopped running. I'm hoping it's
only a temporary thing. I might have to go dig myself a latrine hole
Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there and especially to mine!
April 11, 2004
Thought I’d take this opportunity of being online to do another update, even though my last one was only a short time ago. I’m actually still in Conakry. Everyone else left and I’m sure they’re all busy setting up their homes. Me, I still don’t have a home. I thought I was getting Kevin’s house but when I talked to PSI last Monday, they were still exploring other options as that house still had a lot of work to be done on it.
Seeing as I didn’t have a place in Kamsar to stay, and also seeing as PSI’s headquarters are in Conakry and I hadn’t met anyone from there yet, it was decided that I’d stay in town and work with them for the week. They were writing their marketing plan for the treated mosquito nets and therefore I pitched in and helped out where I could. Seeing as I knew next to nothing about their organization or the program, it was touch and go for the first day but then it all came together. Budgets and decisions about promotional materials, etc. are the same the world over when you come right down to it.
The interesting part of that first day was that I was immediately asked to join in on the marketing meeting, which lasted 4 hours, and was almost entirely in French. Thankfully I was able to follow enough of it to actually give my own input and suggestions. The director is American so I knew that if I was totally lost I could at least ask and receive an answer in English.
Been kinda bored the last few days as I’ve come down with a nasty flu-like something-or-other. I didn’t go to work on Friday and have basically been lying like a lump in bed ever since. I broke out my coveted stash of Nyquil the other night so I know I’m on the road to recovery ;o)
Supposed to head out to Kamsar tomorrow along with the PSI vehicle (with all my stuff) and 2 other staff members. We’ll go around looking at suitable places for me to live. I have all the basics I think I’ll need for my house except for buckets and cleaning supplies. I can pick those up in Kamsar or Boke though. Not going overboard with the stuff this time around – only bought 2 plates, 2 bowls and 2 glasses. If I have more than one guest at a time, oh well, they’ll have to bring their own or share.
One of the volunteers who lives in Boke (45 mins. From Kamsar) was at the house here in Conakry on Friday. She had been with the other new volunteers a few days prior as they toured around Kamsar. She told me that I had a lot of mail waiting for me in the box in Kamsar – yea! If you wrote to me using that address in PA and haven’t heard from me yet, it’s because it goes to a PO box in Kamsar and I haven’t been there since mid-February to retrieve anything. I’ll enjoy reading my mail soon…hopefully in my own house…tomorrow.
No rest for the weary, I’ll have to work 5 days a week, 8 hours a day at least for the next few months to get this mosquito net project up and running. Once I’m in Kamsar, I’m the one in charge of it. Yikes. Guess as a third year volunteer I’m expected to get up and running right away. I knew that but didn’t realize I’d be pulling a desk job with regular hours so soon. I’m jealous of my fellow new volunteers who have been mandated to only “observe” the community for the first 3 months. I’ll give them something to observe…
After the launch of the project, June 5, I’m hoping it will settle down a bit and I can carve out some free time for secondary projects. I really want to do solar cooking as no one here does it or has even heard of it. I solar boiled eggs for my host family and they looked at me as if I’d just performed magic. It is pretty impressive, especially seeing as you don’t even use any water. Anyway, I’m going to be hurting if the only time I can explore this and other interests is during the weekends. When am I going to have time to read and enjoy Guinea…and read, oh yeah, and sleep?
Well, thought I had some good stories to tell but I can’t remember any of them at the moment. They’ll just have to wait. No hang on, I remember one. Are you sitting down mom? I was proposed to a few weeks ago. Yes, a man I’d never seen before that had apparently seen me in my homestay village, approached me and gave me a letter expressing his devotion and intention to marry me. He was 38, a gynecologist (yikes), never married, and very persistent. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. When I would say I wasn’t interested all he could say was, ‘but I am. I like you.’ That’s the way it is here. It doesn’t have to be mutual and often never is. If the man wants to marry you and your parents want the match, then it happens.
The scary part is he knew where my site was going to be. I got the Peace Corps staff involved and they talked to my host father who then talked to this guy. They all told him that it may be the way things are done in Guinea, but I’m American and if he comes near me, he’ll be in trouble. Get this, he was even going to name his clinic after me…missed opportunity??? Yeah, right.
Ok, on that note, think I’ll go back to the house and lie down so I can be as healthy as possible tomorrow for the drive up to Kamsar. Hope everyone had a nice Easter and/or Passover.
April 1, 2004
Hi everyone! Been a long time...had some problems with my site and then haven't been able to get online til now. Well, just swore in as a PC Guinea volunteer! Thankfully training is over...it was very difficult to go through again, especially the homestay portion. I'm really looking forward to being out on my own again. Everyone will be leaving for their sites on Sunday the 4th. We'll be spending the next few days in Conakry shopping for supplies for our houses.
I just found out that my house, which I didn't have during my site visit, isn't in "la cite" of Kamsar itself, but just outside, about 1km away. It's actually the house that was meant for the volunteer that was going to be my site mate. His name was Kevin and he was in my training group in SED, but got medically separated from PC about 3 weeks ago. So, I'm getting his house. I hear it has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms but I'll wait and see for myself. I'm staying in Conakry for a few days after everyone else leaves so I can meet with my NGO, PSI. I'll head to site around the 7th.
Alright, the following is the web update I typed up ages ago but was never able to send. I'm not editing it so bear with it if I repeat things.
Ok, so I’ve been having a problem with my site and haven’t been able to access it to make an update. Had one all typed out and ready to send during my site visit but alas, couldn’t. So, here it is…it’s old news to me by now and to some of you who got emails from me, but here you go anyway:
Anyone want to know where I’ll be living and working for the next year????? Well, I alluded to the fact in some letters to some of you that I basically had a choice between 3 projects. Choice is too strong a word, I basically was told about 3 possibilities that my APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director) for SED was considering me for. The ultimate choice was hers. She tries to match the skills and interests of all the trainees with the organizations that request a volunteer. It’s a tough thing to do – there will invariably be those that aren’t happy, at least initially, with the decision.
The thing to remember though is that what you think your project will entail probably isn’t even remotely what you’ll end up doing for the 2 years. Organizations that request volunteers often write a job description that they think will ensure them getting a volunteer. What you find when you actually get there is that they’ve lied about most everything about the organization and what your role in it is. That’s the way it was in Kenya at least. I doubt it’s much different here.
Bottom line is that regardless of what any paperwork may say, you’ll find your own project during the course of the 2 years. Lots of volunteers give up at the beginning but what they don’t realize is that Peace Corps is all about adaptability and flexibility. If you don’t like what you’re supposed to be doing, change it. You have that power.
Ok, so you want to know what my project is stated to be at this point? So do I. I got my site announcement on the 14th but my paperwork was completely blank. Usually it will have a general history of the organization, a brief job description and info about your town/village and what your housing is like. Again, mine was blank. Of the 3 projects I was told about, I got the one I was least interested in. Did me good to reread the first few paragraphs of this update. I’m sure I’ll end up loving my site and project.
What I do know is that I’ll be working with an American NGO called Population Services International (PSI). They are a health-related NGO and mostly do HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns and condom use stuff here in Africa. They are world-wide though. They also market treated mosquito nets to prevent malaria. That’s what I’ll be helping them with. They just decided to move the project to this new town and so they haven’t got anything set up yet, including my housing.
My town is called Kamsar and is smack on the coast. It’s an industrial town and has a bauxite mine and factory as well as being a port. Sounds real pretty, huh? Yeah, I think I used up all my luck in Kenya in terms of a beautiful and peaceful site. What it does have is internet access and a large population of ex-pats, mostly Americans who work with the bauxite mine and factory. There is a commissary with American food. There is also a mailbox where I can put letters with American stamps and they’ll be taken to the U.S. and mailed from there. It works the other way around too, for letters only. You send letters to an address in PA using a 37 cent stamp and it gets to me in Kamsar. Check for the address on the Contact Me page.
Can’t tell you about my housing but chances are very high that I’ll have all the amenities as this is a wealthy town with all the bells and whistles (a.k.a. water and electricity). It’s a difficult place to describe. Everyone told me grand things about it but no one had actually been there to see it for themselves, they’re all just going by rumor. I heard it was really developed and luxurious. What I saw on site visit was nowhere near what everyone made it out to be. Other than wide open spaces with paved roads there’s not much there that’s developed.
Not many buildings to speak of. Yes, there is a patisserie (bakery) and a commissary with American goods (food). That’s all within the same block though and as best as I can tell, makes up the bulk of the “downtown”. No building is taller than one story and they all are warehouse type buildings that blend in with the surrounding dirt. I’ve got an aerial picture of it on My Photos page that I came across and took a digital photo of.
Oh, I have a site mate. One of the trainees from my group is going to be in the same town. His name is Kevin and he’ll be working in an IT related project nearby. It’ll be weird having someone so close after being so isolated in Kenya. There are several other volunteers about an hour away in a town called Boke. Most of the people in my training group are in the middle region of Guinea, a region called Fouta Djalon. That’s where I really wanted to be. There are dramatic cliffs and waterfalls and lots of good hiking not to mention cooler temps.
My APCD knew I wanted cooler temps but felt that my site would be a better career move and allow me more professional development. This is exactly what I told her I would prefer to get vs. nice scenery, if it came to that. After all, the reason I chose to do a 3rd year was to develop my international skills and marketability. Plus, I’m rather limited in what I can accomplish in just one year vs. two. My project will allow me to hit the ground running and actually see accomplishments in my short time here. Trying to make myself feel better about not being in the cooler climate. The trainees who spent the week in the Fouta region actually got cold. Me, I sweated it out in Boke with temps reaching 128. Yes, 128 degrees Fahrenheit.
Ok, let me relate to you a story about my nightly bathing ritual. I take my bucket bath at night, usually after nightfall. I take my flashlight with me as there are always some enormous cockroaches hanging about inside the bathing, a.k.a. peeing room. Well, lately I’ve had another visitor in the peeing, I mean, bathing room. A frog. The first time I scooted it out with a stick but the second night I just let it stay in there with me as it didn’t seem to mind me being there so why should I mind it?
Well, tonight I shone my flashlight in there, mostly looking for the cockroaches and didn’t see my frog. Whatever. I go to close the door and something moves across my feet. I do a quick dance that would win me honors at any soft shoe competition but I don’t yell out. Mostly cause I recognize that it’s not a cockroach feeling, it’s more of a frog feeling. Until you’ve experienced it for yourself I can’t possibly explain it.
Sure enough, I shine my flashlight around the room and spot the frog. It looks at me as if to say, Hey, why didn’t you wait for me? I let it stay put and went about my business. Tomorrow night I think I’ll name it. What do you think about Tom? Peeping Tom.
Oh, speaking about peeping, I saved the life of a chick today. A tiny chicken. There is a huge square hole dug up next to my house. I’m thinking it’s going to be the latrine hole for my future bathroom or maybe even a septic tank. It’s only 2 ft. away from a drinking well but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. I don’t use this well for my drinking water so I don’t much care one way or the other but many do use it for drinking. Yuck.
Anyway, I’m outside peeling an orange to suck on. By the way, they peel their oranges with a knife but don’t go all the way to the meat. They keep the white outer skin on and just cut a small, mouth-sized opening at the top and then suck out the juice by squeezing the bottom of the orange and moving up the orange as the juice moves up. You ought to try it. I’m hooked.
Anyway, I’m out there and hear this peeping sound. I peer over the edge of the hole and see a tiny chick 12 feet below peering up at me - (the hole is empty, save for the chick as the toilet isn’t near to completion yet) I rush into action as any animal lover would. My host family of course doesn’t seem to be nearly as concerned as I am and it takes them 4 hours to find a ladder (that is just within their compound) and someone to go down into the hole and fetch the chick. I hope they at least name it after me. Actually, no telling whose chick it is. Animals run around willy nilly here. They belong to someone certainly, but they have the run of the village during the day.
Often times we’ll be having class near my house (there is a big open space just to the side of my house where we have our SED sessions, under a huge mango tree) and a sheep or goat will come rambling by, bleating away. Chickens and their chicks are a common distraction too. Not to mention the errant kids that just hang out and stare at us during our sessions. If they make too much noise our teachers will get up and make to swat them and they run away. Hey, us white folks are better than TV!!
Ok, another animal story. The second night at my homestay I’m putting my stuff away in a small attached room to my bedroom. I disturb a mouse which runs up the wall and into the empty and unfinished bathroom next door. I brought 2 mouse traps with me as I had similar rodent problems in Kenya and the poison they sold locally never seemed to work for me. So, that night I put out the trap, after trapping my finger repeatedly, and put a juicy morsel of food on the trigger.
Sure enough come morning I have one dead mouse. I put the trap back out the next night cause it may have been just one of a family of mice. I put food out on the trap again but this time when I check it in the morning I find the food gone but the trap un-sprung. Hum. Decide to try it again the next night but come morning the same thing has occurred. Now I’m just encouraging rodents to come into my room for a free tidbit.
Thought the family’s cat would be a good second option and I was just about to brave having it sleep in my room (it’s got lots of fleas and always tries to jump up on my bed – been there before with a bed full of fleas and would rather not go there again). So the next day I’m in my room and the cat runs in. It’s curling around my legs and purring when all of a sudden a mouse runs out from under my bed and makes for the unfinished bathroom. The damn cat just watches with interest as it makes its way across the room.
So, there goes Plan B. In its defense the cat is pregnant so maybe it’s too tired to chase mice. Whatever. I’m back to trying to trap it. I’ve been putting tiny pieces of food on the trigger in such a way that I’m sure the mouse has to pry it off and thus trip the trap. No. I’ve got one damn smart mouse. Last night I heard rustling around and when I turned on my flashlight, there was the mouse on top of the water filter (two buckets) which sits on my desk. It’s just staring at me and then disappears. It probably launched itself over the trap unscathed as I swear I heard it giggle.
Oh, here’s another animal story. Did you know chickens could and do climb trees? Yep, got a picture to prove it. It was up there trying to eat some fruit. It’s a kind of fruit I’ve never seen before. Kind of looks like a bleached out tiny pear. It tastes like an Asian pear. They call them apples. There are apples here too, but usually can only be bought in Conakry. I just can’t wait for mango season. Now that I know I have to compete with chickens for the best fruit though…
Well, I’m closer and closer to the end of training. Swearing in will be April 1st. Really looking forward to having my own space and cooking for myself. This assumes of course that my housing gets worked out in the next few weeks. Oh, guess what? The other night (I wrote most of this update 2 weeks ago) I finally got the mouse. I put peanut butter all over the trigger and sure enough it was so habituated to getting a free meal that it went right for the trap soon after I turned the lights off for the night. I heard the trip spring shut and then heard a pathetic shuffling as it was slowly suffocating but still trying to escape. I don’t feel bad in the least.
Check out my new photos. Ok, take care and don’t forget to write…I know I said my site will have email access but it doesn’t mean I’ll use it often or that it will always be working. Snail mail is still a great thing to get and so far I’ve only gotten one postcard. Thank you Elizabeth! I’m giving the rest of you the benefit of the doubt and thinking you sent letters but they got lost. I’m holding off on writing any more letters until I receive some…and getting an email from you after I wrote you a letter doesn’t count. Get the hint? I really, really want snail mail.
January 31, 2004
Here I am, almost 3 weeks in Guinea and just beginning my 3rd week of training – we started on week 0. Luckily this past week flew by so I have high hopes that the rest of training will also speed along. Having the language every day is helpful but most of the other stuff we do all day is review for me. The technical training for my sector, Small Enterprise Development (SED), is actually very good. Much, much better than what I had in Kenya. The working environment sounds very similar between Guinea and Kenya.
In fact, I’d say that there are more similarities between the two countries than there are differences. The glaring difference I see is in the availability of clean water, or any water for that matter. It was a struggle for many rural communities in Kenya but here most every household has either a well, a pump or a spigot with city water in their compound; if not in each compound than certainly within the village.
Training consists of waking up at 7a.m. and getting dressed and ready for the day. I get a half a baguette for breakfast. Class goes from 8:00-10:00 and then again from 10:30-12:30. Lunch is from 12:30-2:00 and is either eaten together as a sector or the entire training group (3 sectors). Lunch is usually rice with sauce. Sometimes there’s fish with the sauce and sometimes it’s chicken or beef or a peanut sauce (like really runny peanut butter with oil). There’s also salad, which consists of tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, and bread. We then have class again from 2:00-3:30 and from 3:45-5:00. Many days we all meet up for one or two classes at one of the villages where the trainees live.
There are 3 sectors within my training group and all 3 live in different villages about 5km apart. We meet up in the middle one. We all have new Trek mountain bikes so I bike the 10km roundtrip and get nice and extra sweaty even though I sweat all day long. Dinner is eaten at your homestay family’s house. I either have a salad (with lettuce!) or rice and peanut sauce. My family’s father is the Chief of the area I’m in. I live in a separate house from the rest of the family. I can tell that it was just barely finished in time for my arrival. Actually, it’s not finished. They were putting in a toilet within my room but stopped work when I arrived – they were behind schedule so it will be completed after I leave. Rats, almost had a toilet in my room.
As it is I use the pit latrine outside. I have electricity in my room and the family has a TV that they watch constantly and at top volume. It’s usually placed out on the porch and everyone sits around on chairs out in the compound as it’s much cooler outside than inside. It’s still 78 degrees but it’s cooler than the 93 degrees it was during the afternoon. Everything is in French of course which is good reinforcement but annoying when you really want to know what’s being said. My French is coming along but the French you get on TV is still way too fast for me to understand all what’s being said.
We’ve all been watching the African Cup soccer tournament that is being played in Tunisia. Guinea is doing well. We won the first game in our group and tied the second. When we won the first game everyone and I mean EVERYONE in the village/town rushed out into the streets and celebrated. After the tied game it was much more somber. Can’t imagine what it’ll be like if Guinea takes the cup. We actually convinced our SED trainers to cancel our class last week to watch one of the games.
Later on in the training I’m going to give a session on solar cooking to the entire group. No one does much with solar here. We were just trained on solar food drying by the Peace Corps trainers (actually volunteers who are helping out during training). Deforestation is a big problem here as it was in Kenya. The Sahara desert is encroaching upon Guinea and will be here within a couple decades if the deforestation and over-grazing doesn’t stop now.
Well, as far as what I’ll be doing for a project and where I’ll be living…I won’t know until the week of Feb. 16. The following week I’ll then travel there with my Guinean counterpart (the person that I’ll be working closely with on my project) to check out my house and the project. Training is completed and everyone swears-in as a volunteer (not sure if I do again as I’ve already got the status of volunteer vs. trainee) on April 1 in Conakry. There will be a party afterwards hosted by the U.S. Ambassador who was himself a volunteer at one point in his life. After a few days in Conakry spent buying supplies, we’ll be off to our sites and on our own.
It sounds as if here in Guinea the Peace Corps tries to pair you up with another volunteer, not within your same village, but at least fairly close by. It certainly wasn’t that way in Kenya. I shouldn’t say that. Those out in western Kenya were very close to one another. My region just didn’t have many volunteers so we were spread out. Guinea has about 100 PCVs vs. Kenya which had about 140.
The volunteers here and in other West African countries have a saying for the tour of service in English-speaking Peace Corps countries, like Kenya. They say it’s Peace Corps for Beginners. In a way I think they’re right. Even on your worst day in Kenya you could at least find someone who spoke and understood English, many in fact. Here, no matter where you’re at you still have to get your point across in French. If you’re really sick you still need to have enough brain power to speak and understand French. I don’t know of any volunteer in Kenya that HAD to conduct all his/her project-related stuff in Kiswahili or a local language. Here you HAVE to do it all in French or a local language or else no one will understand you.
Another of the biggest differences I’ve seen between West and East Africa has been the level of communications. No one really has a cell phone outside of the capital city as there’s no service. Land lines are few and very unreliable. You’re even charged to receive a phone call on a land line. Internet exists but mostly in the capital and maybe in the regional capitals up country. There are only a few internet cafes in Conakry vs. one every 20 ft. in Nairobi.
So, that’s a round-about way of saying I won’t be doing a lot of emailing or making web updates, certainly not during training. I think I can get online once more before I finish training and again when I’m in Conakry for swearing-in. Not sure how close my site will be to a regional capital and whether or not that regional capital will have good internet access. In other words, I’d really like to get snail mail. My address for my entire stay in Guinea is posted on the Contact Me page so please check it out and send me a letter. If you write to me I promise to write back. Number your letters and make a photocopy as I hear many letters never make it here. Never send photos in a letter as it will cause the entire thing to disappear. Same thing with postcards – I’ll never get them.
If anyone feels so inclined to send a package, I’ve heard you should write the address in red ink, write the words “Religious Materials” all over the outside of the package and only declare a customs value of $1. Also might try putting tempting looking stuff into a tampon box to disguise it. Any food items including candy should go into a Rubbermaid container so the rats and mice don’t feast on it at the Guinean post office where the package will most likely sit for days to weeks. If the mice don’t eat the good stuff, the postal workers probably will. Many volunteers never have a problem so it’s the luck of the draw.
Ok, I think I’ve covered just about everything. I typed this update out on my laptop a few days prior to coming to the internet cafť so I could capitalize on the time spent online. I tend to ramble when I’m not crunched for time so you’re stuck reading a really long update. Till next time! Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying cold weather. You really don’t know how much you appreciate the cold when you can’t ever have it.
January 12, 2004
Look at me...I'm in Guinea. Hey, that rhymes. I arrived last night after 3 long flights in which I didn't really sleep. My connections went great and without a lot of waiting.
My arrival in Conakry was...interesting. The airport was rather small but massively crowded. The one luggage conveyor loop was a study in chaos and basic survival tactics.
I was thankfully spotted by the person that was picking me up - she was holding a ping pong paddle with the PC logo on it and waving it up in the air. We waved to each other across the crowded baggage area and she helped me to get a hold of my 2 checked bags. Another volunteer came too. She is also here for a 3rd year (was a PCV in Gabon for 2 years). She showed me the ropes at the PC house and resource center.
The PC office is in a converted hotel (so each office has it's own bathroom) and the PC house, where volunteers hang out and sleep, is just next door, on the same secured compound. The house has several rooms with 3-4 bunk beds each and is run like a hostel. It has a common kitchen, fridge, stove, etc. It even has a washer and dryer and a tv room with tons of VHS tapes.
The really nice thing about it is that you can meet and get to know other volunteers who happen to be in town. In Kenya we had no such thing. If you happened to run into a PCV at the office or at the mall then you'd know there were others around, but if you didn't cross paths, you had no idea if anyone else was in town and available to do stuff with.
After getting settled into the house last night I was taken to dinner with Yamilee, my boss at PC and the other 3rd year volunteer, Victoria. We went to a nice restaurant called Casa Bella. It had Mexican, Lebanese and Italian food. What a combo. The taco salad I had was great! I hear the most common Guinean food here though is rice with some kind of sauce, either peanut, fish, or tomato based. Good thing I like rice.
I only managed to stay up for one movie last night before heading to bed at midnight. Only woke up a couple times in the early morning hours to go to the toilet (damn malaria medication) but mostly had a nice refreshing sound sleep. The house and office have air con so it was fairly comfortable.
It is hot outside though. I'd say in the low 90s - and I hear this is the cool season! Better get used to sweating. The office and house are just about a block from the beach. Conakry is a pensinsula jutting out into the ocean so it's beautiful and there is a bit of a breeze. The sunset last night was great.
Alright, it's time I head off to a meeting with Yamilee. I will hang around Conakry for a few more days and then meet up with all the others in my training group - who are arriving from the U.S. on Wednesday - and then we'll go to our training area, about 40 minutes away. There are 44 of us in the training or stage as it's called in French. 15 of us in the business sector, or SED as it's called in PC. The others are health and environmental education.
Looking forward to meeting everyone else and getting started. I've been getting a lot of sympathy and pity from other PCVs who hear I have to do training again. Oh well, c'est la vie!
January 3, 2004
Well, I'm currently in Seattle, freezing my buns off but thoroughly enjoying my visit. My Christmas was great and I'm enjoying spending time with family and friends. I finally have a departure date for Guinea...
I leave Seattle on January 10th and arrive in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, on January 11th. I connect through Cincinnati and Paris. There were some problems with my transfer stemming from the fact that PC Kenya processed me incorrectly, but between them, PC Guinea and headquarters in D.C., everything got worked out.
I will not know where I'll be living nor what I'll be doing work-wise until several weeks into training. I've just begun my packing which has been much less stressful this time around as I know more of what I should and shouldn't bother packing. I have one full bag just of foodstuffs :o).
I have an address for the HQ in Conakry which is on my Contact Me page. I will update it if need be when I know where I'll be living. I've also put some new links on the Favorite Links page and have new stuff on the Home Page too. I'll update the info on the Program Info page when I can.
For now I'll leave up the pictures I have for Kenya so you have something to look at until I get some from Guinea on there. Not sure what the email and internet connection situation is like in Guinea so be patient with my updates until I figure things out and get settled.
That's it for now. Hope everyone had a great holiday season and I wish you a joyous new year!
November 17, 2003
Wow, I didn’t realize how long it’s been since my last update. Time has been flying by and I’ve been frantically trying to wrap everything up and say my goodbyes. The wrap up has been going okay but some things will just have to remain unfinished. I’m okay with that as I don’t have much choice in the matter. My last day with Peace Corps Kenya will be December 3. I’m not totally out of Peace Corps as I’ve made my decision on a transfer extension.
I’ve decided upon Guinea. As of now, I’ll need to be in Guinea around January 8, 2004 for training. I’ll have to go through another complete training of 10 weeks. As most of training is cultural immersion and language lessons, it will serve me well. Besides, I’ll be able to get to know others in my group, even though I’ll only serve for one year vs. two. I’ll serve as a volunteer for 12 months after my 3 months of training.
As for my immediate plans…from December 3 to December 9 I’ll be a fixture on a beach in Lamu, on the Northern Kenyan coast. It’s actually an island just off the coast. No cars exist on the island – only donkey carts. It’s a very typical Swahili culture, very similar to Zanzibar - intricately carved wooden doors, Muslim culture and architecture. I plan to decompress and work on my tan. My legs haven’t seen the sun since my beach excursion to Zanzibar in August of last year! I’m aiming for a shade of brown this time around vs. bright red.
I’ll fly out of Nairobi on the evening of the 9th and arrive in Seattle around noon on the 10th. I’ll basically have only 4 weeks at home before leaving for Guinea. I’m excited at the idea of spending Christmas in Seattle amongst family and friends. I hope it snows. Even while climbing both Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya I didn’t see snow. Lots of glaciers on Kilimanjaro and frost on Kenya, but it’s not the same.
As for saying my goodbyes here, things are so far going smoothly. I’ve already had my farewell party given to me by the women’s group. They all came to my house and we sat outside while they prepared the meal. They slaughtered a chicken in my honor and made a stew of it and served it with potatoes and chapati. True to form, it took them 4-5 hours to prepare and serve the meal. It truly baffles me how long it takes them to cook. I swear I could make the same meal in just over an hour. It’s a social time for them though so they take their time.
I made up a calendar with my available dates for the group as well as JCI. This way they know when they can schedule things with me and when they can’t. It’s also helped to prepare them for my eventual departure. As the date looms large, they try and schedule me for various social and business events. Just this week they are beginning to realize how soon my departure date is coming up. Me too. It’s literally just around the corner.
I’ve mixed feelings about it all. I’ve loved my experiences here in Kenya, and especially my time in Nunguni. I’ve gotten a chance to really get to know some people well and will miss them terribly. But, on the other hand, I’m excited to close this chapter and begin a new one. For me, new experiences and challenges are what I thrive on and count as milestones to a life lived to the fullest. I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing in Guinea – whether it’ll be similar to my projects here or not.
It’ll be Guinea’s first Small Enterprise Development (a.k.a. SED or Business) training group, which means that the groups or organizations in Guinea have never hosted SED PCVs. I’ve already requested to be placed in a regional capital where I’d be safely guaranteed to be using French vs. a local dialect. My main reason for transferring to West Africa is to get fluent in French. Most likely, being in a town vs. village will mean I’ll have electricity but nothing’s a guarantee. I don’t expect, nor do I want, to be able to get into the capital city very often like I do here in Kenya. I assume the training in Guinea will be similar to the one here in Kenya whereby I’ll get to know my site about halfway through training.
As for my plans while in Seattle, I’ll try and visit with friends for a week or so and then I’m off to Ocean Shores for Christmas with my family. After the New Year I’ll try and do my errands, shopping and packing. I know from my visit home this past May that the time will go by too quickly but I’ll try and make the most of it while trying to not get too stressed out. I must remember to schedule a day at a spa or at least a massage this time around. I feel like I haven’t been really clean and certainly not pampered in ages.
Oh, gotta tell this story…I just had the unthinkable happen to me a couple of nights ago. I was headed out to my choo and took my phone along as I needed to go check messages and I can only get a signal down the hill from the hospital – out past my choo. My fleece jacket was still wet from being washed earlier that day so I had on my flannel shirt with a breast pocket. That’s where I put the phone. Ok, I never wear this shirt and never put the phone there. As I was bending down to remove the bucket lid I use as a cover for my choo, guess what fell out of my pocket and plunged down the hole?
Yep, took me 30 seconds or so of just staring down to realize what just happened actually did just happen. Luckily my drop isn’t so long, maybe 3-4 ft. The phone also had its cover on and it landed in a relatively clean spot, just up against the wall. I tried in vain to get it with the broom I keep in there but it didn’t work. I then went back to my house and MacGuyvered something up.
I used a plastic cup, a hook, a mop and duct taped them all together. I tramped back to the choo and within 30 seconds had my phone retrieved. I put on plastic gloves and removed the cover and threw it away and then cleaned off the phone itself which wasn’t that dirty, thankfully. Good as new! If I hadn’t promised the phone to my women’s group when I COS, I probably would have left it down there. Makes for a good story though, huh?
Don’t know if I’ll do another update before leaving Kenya or not. If not, I’ll update from Seattle before leaving on my next adventure. In case I don’t get a chance to say it later, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to you and yours.
September 13, 2003
Well, I said goodbye to my Seattle friends, May, Lily and Bill, on the 25th of August. We had a wonderful adventure together. First stop was the offices of JCI where we spent the night, not at the office but at Isabel’s and Gikonyo’s home just next door. Saw lots of monkeys frolicking about within the Showground, where their home and office are. Had a power outage that afternoon and then the water quit on us – karibu Kenya (welcome to Kenya).
The next morning we set off for Nunguni via matatu (Nissan mini-bus). En route we saw several giraffe grazing out in the grasslands that dominate the area between Nairobi and Nunguni. It was a market day in Nunguni so after we got the vehicle to drop us and all our crap, literally at the doorstep to my house, we set off to go buy veggies for our upcoming meals.
My biggest fear for when I got these visitors was that my propane gas canister for my 2-burner stove would get finished. It’s lasted well over a year whereas my first one only lasted 4 months so I knew it would go any day but hoped that day would have come long before they arrived. Well, sure enough, as I was cooking our dinner that first night my gas got finished. Luckily I have a one burner backup cooker but it’s very loud and you can’t control the heat so well on it. We made due.
I started my guests off right away on learning how to weave with sisal. They were so engrossed in it that they didn’t realize how quickly the time was flying by. I had to force them to quit and go to bed at midnight. The next couple of days I showed them around the area. I took them down into the valley where my first house was and we had lunch with Mrs. Meka and her family. The climb back up to Nunguni gave us good training for our upcoming hike up Mt. Kenya. At the end of their stay I had the gang go to my group’s meeting wherein they proudly displayed their nearly completed weaving projects. The ladies got a kick out of seeing Bill weave as it’s traditionally a women’s thing – men carve, women weave. Sorry Bill. I must say, I was very proud of my students – they did me proud.
Next on our agenda was the Mt. Kenya climb. We left Nunguni and dropped bags off at a hotel in Nairobi where we’d be staying after the climb. Got caught up in a small riot at the bus stage in city center (Nairobi) – it was over before it started but it was still a tense couple of moments. Got a smaller matatu (Peugeot station wagon) to take us up to Nanyuki, near the Western gate of Mt. Kenya. Nanyuki incidentally is smack on the equator. Well, en route our vehicle got into an accident. The car was smashed up but luckily we were all ok – just some bruises and a scratch or two. Again, karibu Kenya.
It had been a rough start to the day and I just wanted to get us to where we were going, and I was worried it might start raining soon and it would be dark in a few hours too. So, after taking all our bags out of the smashed Peugeot we huddled around with others that were involved either in our accident or the others (our vehicle hit another who had stopped to gawk at a really bad accident that had just occurred).
I went back to the road right away and started flagging down any vehicle I could see that had a sympathetic driver and plenty of room for us and our stuff. The ex-pat community here sticks together so I knew I wouldn’t have much trouble finding a lift. Sure enough, no less than 5 minutes later we had a ride from a British guy up the road to the next major junction whereby we’d be able to catch another matatu the rest of the way.
Made it to Nanyuki after renting out the entire Nissan matatu (well worth the extra money as you can control the speed of the driver) and checked into a hotel for the night. We started out the next morning on our climb. We had only been hiking 30 minutes or so when the rain started. Kenya was really letting me down. It rarely if ever rains in August! No, seriously Bill, it never rains in August. Well, it continued to rain the rest of the day and throughout the night. It was dry for most of our hike the next day but as soon as we got to camp it started in earnest and didn’t let up. We were going to start out for the summit that next morning at 3 a.m. so we dried out our boots by the charcoal fire and prayed that it wouldn’t be raining at 3 a.m.
We got lucky, no rain for the summit push and it was even clear for us at the top, which we reached in time for the sunrise. We were descending via a different route so made our way down to our new camp by 10 a.m. Hoped it wasn’t going to keep raining as we wanted to explore a bit, but no, fog and misty rain stayed with us that day and throughout the night. It only added to the sense that we were camped on the moon – our surroundings were barren and grey. I think our altitude at that camp was just under 14,000 ft. (The summit, actually the only one of three Mt. Kenya summits that unskilled climbers can reach, is about 16,500 ft.). The next day’s hike down was pleasant and dry but it rained as soon as we got the tents up – guess that’s a blessing. It was dry for us the last day out as well, thankfully, as the mud “road” would have been even more of a challenge during a downpour. That last day’s hike was through a giant bamboo forest – incredible. There are many elephants, kudu and buffalo in the area but we only managed to see evidence of their previous meals.
We again rented out an entire vehicle for our trip back to Nairobi and got dropped off right at our hotel. No time to rest as we needed to do some souvenir shopping. Had a nice pizza dinner and then it was off to bed as we were pooped. Got up very early the next morning and were picked up for our safari just after breakfast. The drive to the Masai Mara took about 5 hours. Unfortunately it was cloudy and raining so the view of the rift valley was obscured completely.
Arrived at our luxury tented camp (permanent stone floors, en suite toilet and hot water shower) in time for lunch. Had 5 game drives over the course of the next 4 days. Mostly, it seemed as if we were always eating. We had grand buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The game drives were amazing. We timed ourselves well as we caught the wildebeest migration perfectly – guess the unexpected August rain did us some good afterall. Hundreds of thousands of zebra and wildebeest were grazing on the Mara’s new grass. Word has it that the wildebeest are too stupid to find their way to and fro on this migration so they tag along with the zebra. We weren’t able to see the migration crossing the river and getting snapped at by crocodiles, but we did see some other amazing things.
Saw a couple prides of lion and got up close and personal with one pride’s male. He walked up to our rear bumper (thought he’d jump up on the vehicle and feast on us) but all he wanted to do was claim us females for his pride. He sprayed our taillight with urine to mark us and then wandered off. All attempts to get Bill out of the van and put his mark over the lion’s was to no avail – some excuse about being dehydrated. Ended up seeing all the Big Five (lion, buffalo, elephant, leopard, and rhino). I was most excited about the rhino as I had yet to see any here in Kenya. There are only 14 black rhino (no white rhino) in all of the Mara and Serengeti so it was rare indeed for us to see not only one, but a family of three, baby included!
As it was the migration, the predators had plenty of food to satisfy them so we saw many “kills” – not the actual hunt and kill, just the eating. As all good things must come to an end, so too did our safari. We arrived back in Nairobi around 3 p.m. and had just enough time for some repacking and a quick dinner before I packed them off into a taxi for the airport. Personally, I crashed just after saying goodbye to them.
I had the next day free to get some laundry done (well worth the money I paid) and to do some email. The next 3 days I had a Peace Corps Close of Service (COS) conference with all of those volunteers that arrived with me back in October of 2001 – we’ve lost 9 out of 35 since our arrival. As luck would have it the Peace Corps was forced to put us up in one of the 5-star hotels instead of at a conference center miles outside of the city (last group got food poisoning…long story).
The buffet food fest continued and culminated with an all-you-can-eat game meat night at the Carnivore restaurant. I ate my fair share of impala, hartebeest, zebra, crocodile, eland, ostrich, and more normal fare like pork ribs – more meat than I’ve eaten in the past 2 years. Surprisingly didn’t get sick. I was actually already on medication from an intestinal infection (developed I think while on the safari which makes twice now that I’ve gotten sick after eating food on a Mara safari!). During our conference we got tips on how best to wrap up our projects and how to say goodbye to our local friends and communities. We also got advice on how to make the transition back to the U.S. a bit easier. A lot of it too was paperwork, paperwork, and the promise of yet more paperwork to come before we’re officially out of the Peace Corps.
My fun didn’t stop with the end of the conference as I had to work with JCI for the next week and thus remain in Nairobi. Should have really stayed the following week too but I was about to go nuts from being in Nairobi so long so I escaped to Nunguni for a week. I’ve just now gotten back into Nairobi and will only stay for just under a week. I’m making progress on the website so hope to only work on that this week and then escape back to Nunguni for the next 2 weeks. Once the website is up and running (still not sure if we’ll be able to accept online purchases or will have to take orders via email) I’ll post the URL here and ask for feedback.
Two afternoons ago I was sitting in my house with Mrs. Meka. We were on my couch weaving and talking when she pointed at my wall and exclaimed “biting things”. She meant that there were hordes of safari ants streaming in through my window and onto my wall. Safari ants are brutal biters – they also usually wait until they’re far up your leg to start biting. I jumped up and grabbed for my bug spray with a groan as I knew both cans were on vapors. Managed to stop their entrance and eventually killed them off with bug powder.
Went outside to see where they were coming from and to my horror saw millions of them along the base of my house and many making a beeline for my windows. Must be the migration. Now, my windows have never shut completely and I have air vents that are open to the world so plenty of access points for critters such as these. While standing looking at the spectacle, both Mrs. Meka and I were attacked so were hopping up and down slapping at our calves and feet. My only recourse was to rush into town and buy some bug spray or stronger powder to further deter the army.
I did just that and thankfully they changed course a bit and no longer seemed interested in coming in my house. My neighbors and Mrs. Meka both warned me that safari ants coming into your house are bad enough, but it’s a living hell if it happens at night. You can’t see their advance until you’re covered and screaming from the bites. Hey Lily and Bill, you guys should be saying a prayer of thanks that this didn’t happen when you were sleeping in my sitting room – especially Lily, sleeping on the floor! Actually, it’s a wonder it didn’t happen then as we seemed to be plagued by unfortunate incidents throughout your visit. Not to say the visit was doomed. All the mishaps only served to make the bright moments even brighter.
Ah, puts me in mind of when Karin, Becky and Peter from Seattle visited me in Nunguni last year. Becky and I were standing outside my choo when we noticed ants crawling on our boots. We both had pants on and sturdy shoes but the damn safari ants got through our defenses. They of course only started biting when they reached mid-thigh. We ran back to my house and promptly striped off our pants and pried off the ants who were holding on with their pincers for dear life. Yes, that’s right, we had ants in our pants. It’s happened to me since but I won’t go into that story now.
Wow, this may just be the longest update yet…rivals my Christmas novel! Sorry, but so much happened in this past month and I’m not known for being brief :o)
August 9, 2003
I happen to be in Nairobi and as it's a Saturday, thought I'd do a real quick update. I'm very excited as on Monday the 11th, I'm picking up May, Lily and Bill (friends from Seattle) from the airport.
They'll spend 2 weeks here in Kenya. We'll have several days in Nunguni then we'll climb Mt. Kenya and then soak up the sites and luxury of the Masai Mara on a safari.
I'm really hoping the weather improves before they get here. Typically July is the coldest month in Kenya. Well, it started out cold and then warmed up to above average temps. Now, in August, when it's supposed to be really warming up, it's freezing. Nairobi has recorded its lowest temps ever - around 8 degrees C or 46 degrees F.
Nunguni has been very cold as it's at an even higher elevation than Nairobi. There are some days when Nunguni is literally lost in the clouds. You can't see more than 30 ft. in front of you as the fog and mist is so thick. Then again it might just burn off by late afternoon and we'll have warm sun and blue skies. It seems that the weather patterns
all over the world are a little out of whack this year.
It will hopefully still be the wildebeest migration in the Mara when we're there. I'm excited to go on another safari and am looking forward to spending 3 nights at our tented camp. It's going to be several steps up from the budget accomodations I've had while on other safaris. It's always nice to play tourist too.
I've been with JCI this past week but haven't gotten much accomplished. Peace Corps is all about peaks and valleys in terms of work and accomplishments. I'm definately in a valley with them right now. Speaking of Peace Corps, I've been in email contact with a few other countries that I'm hoping to transfer to for a third year. I haven't yet decided that that is what my post-Kenya plans are, it's just one of my options.
Anyway, the countries that are interested are: Guinea, Niger and Senegal. I requested a transfer to a French-speaking country. Was kind of hoping for a positive response from one of the Eastern Caribbean Islands, but oh well. If anyone has ever been to one of the three countries I've mentioned, drop me an email and let me know your thoughts.
Have explored employment in Peace Corps but there are no
overseas positions open - at least not that I want to apply for (I could go to Jordan but that's not so high on my list right now).
Alright, it's getting late and I need to make it back to where I'm staying before dark. I have a couple greetings to make and no time to send separate emails so I'll do it here. First, a big pole (sorry) to Len as I completely missed his birthday last month.
Sorry Len and Happy Belated Birthday. Also, a congrats goes out to Lisa and Dave for their newest addition to their family - baby Markus.
Ok, really gotta go now. Until next time!
July 9, 2003
Happy belated 4th of July. I went to a party put on by the DCM (Deputy Chief of Mission) a.k.a. assistant Ambassador. We were to have had a celebration that included not only PCVs but all other Americans in Kenya – embassy personnel, American business people, etc. But, after saying all was ok, the embassy at the last minute pulled the plug on the gathering due to security concerns. So, to not disappoint us volunteers who live for this kind of party where you can eat hot dogs and hamburgers, drink American beer, etc. the DCM decided to host just us volunteers and other Peace Corps staff.
The afternoon started with free wine, beer and soft drinks. My body was in shock at the nice wine, which came in a pretty glass bottle. The wine I’ve been drinking, when I can get it, is either homemade out of a bucket or lovely boxed wine from Nairobi. I could buy bottled wine in Nairobi but it would take ľ of my living allowance.
We then moved on to appetizers, which consisted of Frito’s and oven baked 5-layer bean dip, I thought I could control myself - after all I had just spent 3 weeks in America eating normal American foods. No. Me and everyone else attacked this dip and made the most frightening sounds you’ve ever heard humans make while eating 5-layered bean dip.
Side salads and the main course were up next. There was green salad, potato salad, coleslaw and burgers, hot dogs and sausages. Of course we had Heinz catsup and pretty yellow mustard…even had hot dog relish. For dessert there were several different kinds of brownies and cookies – all freshly baked.
True to every other good ‘ole American bash full of drunk people on the 4th of July we had…fireworks! A couple of Marines who were there (not sure if they were for protection or simply to provide the fireworks and bravado) brought fireworks. Bottle rockets were handed out to seemingly the most
drunk people and away they went – in every direction but up. Me and 2 others were the only ones who seemed the least bit concerned about it all and stayed well clear of the rest of the mob.
Thankfully no accidents happened but I think the DCM was worried about how his landscaping would suffer if we stayed at it much longer. So, we were soon ushered out the gate and many made their way back to one of several hotels us PCVs stay at. Me and Elizabeth got a ride to Machakos as we didn’t want to spend money for a room when her place is only an hour outside of Nairobi.
En route we stopped at a supermarket to pick up some food. Now, you never want to shop while you’re hungry or drunk, and certainly not both. I controlled myself really well. I ended up buying 4 potatoes (raw) and a block of cheddar cheese. Yeah, can’t tell you what I was thinking. I also bought several VCDs from the multitude of hawkers that hang around outside.
I just recently figured out how to play VCDs on my laptop. A VCD or video compact disc is how they pirate DVDs. The DVD player doesn’t recognize the file and therefore won’t play it, not directly anyway, you have to go through the back door. The quality can be pretty bad but I only spent $3 on each one. I was very excited to be able to watch them. I bought Anger Management, Bruce Almighty, X-Men 2, Charlie’s Angels 2, Daddy Daycare and Lord of the Rings 2.
I’ve watched several already and the only problem I encountered was with LOTR 2. There were small skips in it from time to time so you’d end up missing several seconds every couple of minutes. Luckily I’d seen the movie before and knew what parts I was missing. X-Men 2 was virtually flawless – it only cut off the credits which was no great loss. I hope to swap VCDs with some other volunteers who also have them so I can watch a variety without having to shell out money to buy new ones all the time.
Change of subject. Not coming in to Nairobi to work until my NGO fully pays up the rent arrears on my house in Nunguni. I’m only here today for a few hours to take care of email and errands. Maybe I’ll even pick something up to go with my potatoes and cheese! Next update I hope to put up a new
page with photos of some of my women’s group’s products and other unique things from JCI. I’ll give price details and ask that if anyone is interested in buying something, to send me an email and I can work up the final price with shipping. I think I’ll have to accept checks written to me and my mom can
bank them. Once they’ve cleared I can use the money for shipping and to pay the women. I’m still working on a website for JCI but they have a multitude of things to do and pay for before we can hope to launch it so who knows when or if it will be launched.
Alright, I’m typing this at home in Nunguni right now on the 8th. It’s getting dark and therefore approaching MOVIE TIME! Think I’ll watch Charlie’s Angels 2. I could use a good laugh. Until next time…
June 18, 2003
Here I am, all settled back into my routine in Kenya. Sending this update from Machakos. I spent 2 days in Nairobi after I landed but then headed to Nunguni as I was anxious to see what condition my house would be in…and I really missed the goats!
The house was just fine. Lots of spider webs but not many web owners home. Had some pretty impressive dirt piles from carpenter ants. Had to take a long roll of tape to my bed to collect all the tiny ant carcasses that had accumulated – been having a wee bit of a problem with that lately.
Still not sure what’s killing them but I’d rather have them dead than alive so I guess I shouldn’t complain too loudly. The goats greeted me as if I’d never been away which warmed my heart.
The housegirl for my neighbors greeted me too but then her second words were,
‘What did you bring us?’ Aargh. Nice to see you too.
I had some mail to catch up on but it was mostly Newsweek magazines that are now outdated. Didn’t take long to unpack as I didn’t really bring all that much back with me. More than half of my one bag was filled with gifts for various people.
The other half was clothes and miscellaneous supplies.
Let me back up a bit. After my last update I was off to the airport, flying out to Egypt. My mom and I took separate routes so she arrived half a day before me and was fast asleep in the room when I arrived at 2 a.m.
We took it easy for the first couple of days as we were both jet lagged. Saw the less than spectacular exhibits at the Egyptian Museum that first day. The highlight was definitely the King Tut stuff. I saw the traveling exhibit when it came to Seattle back in the 70s or was it 80s? Much more impressive this time around.
We then transferred hotels to one closer to the pyramids at Giza, which is just about 5 miles outside of downtown Cairo. And when I say closer to the pyramids, that’s just what I mean. Our hotel used to be the hunting lodge and palace of a bigwig and thus was built within a stone’s throw, literally, of the pyramids. It’s the only hotel that was allowed to be so close.
By the way, Prez Bush stayed at the same hotel just days after us when he was in the area touting his Peace Plan. Our room was upgraded to one in the former palace and came complete with a balcony that overlooked the mammoth structures.
What a surreal experience to sit on a balcony and stare at something that was built thousands of years ago. I don’t even think I could get the whole thing in my picture frame as we were so close!
Took a tour of them (there are 3 big ones) the next day and got nice and sweaty while climbing (actually squat walking) through them. Damn, those Egyptians were short little buggers. Amazing to see all the hieroglyphics which covered just about every square inch of the inside of the tombs.
After a couple days of luxury at Giza we were off to Luxor via an overnight train. I love train rides. Slept ok but was still pretty tired when we arrived in Luxor at 5 a.m. We were going to join a Nile cruise later that day so hung out at the cruise line’s hotel (actually the hotel chain’s cruise line) until we met up with the rest of the group.
There would only be 22 of us in total, 12 of us English speakers. The capacity of the boat was 130. Tells you how down their tourism is. Then again, there are over 250 boats that ply the waters between Luxor and Aswan and vice versa. Not all of them were running of course.
Toured the main sights in and around Luxor for the first 2 days. The cruise was 4 nights and 5 days. The distance between Luxor and Aswan isn’t great so the boat actually crawls along but the scenery was best appreciated slowly anyway.
All settlements are alongside the river as are all the crops. Later I saw the area from the air and you can see that only about a half-mile wide strip on either side of the Nile is green and inhabited. The rest is desert.
We saw some pretty impressive tombs at each of our stops. It was pretty hot, around 100-110 degrees F (40 C) so we either saw things early in the morning or later in the afternoon. The nice thing about the boat was it had air-conditioning and cold beers. As our group was so small, just 12 of us, we all got to know each other pretty well.
Surprisingly, we all got along great and formed some good bonds. Two other ladies were also traveling with their children, besides my mom. The “children” were also grown – in their 20s. My mom had a couple ladies close to her age to hang out with too.
Our last day was busy. We disembarked from the ship and took a flight down to a place called Abu Simbel where there is an impressive tomb dedicated to Ramses II just sitting in the middle of the desert. That’s all there is to see there so after we did, we got back on the plane and flew to Cairo. Hung out for half a day and then I flew out to Nairobi at midnight and my mom left at 4 a.m.
We both made it to our respective destinations just fine. I was really impressed with how nice everyone was in Egypt. They sincerely like to greet visitors and have absolutely NO PROBLEMS with Americans. In fact, everyone I proudly announced to that I was American, couldn’t smile any bigger or exclaim any louder how much they admire the Americans (yet another reason to think twice about what you see and hear on CNN).
I was also impressed with how developed the country is - even what I would call the rural areas. Kenya is light years behind them in most every area.
No jet lag this time for me as Egypt is the same time zone as Kenya. Shocked at how cold Nairobi was and really freezing in Nunguni. It’s not even the coldest season yet – July is. Slept in my sweat pants last night so I could fall asleep (my alarm clock’s temp gauge read 55 F inside my house).
The night before I had on my sleep shorts and couldn’t sleep cause my teeth were rattling too loudly!
For all those wondering about the safety situation in Kenya: there isn’t anything to really report. I learned that the PC has curtailed all unnecessary travel by volunteers to Nairobi and the U.S. Embassy has cut down its staff.
My counterparts at JCI also told me that the one big shopping mall in town is now doing security checks of people and their cars. No incidents have happened but the Kenyans are trying to show the American Embassy in particular that they are taking measures to prevent any trouble. British Airways has still not restarted flights into or out of Kenya, mostly because they
don’t see the Kenyan government trying hard enough to beef up its security in and around the airport. They only do random checks of cars and their contents and the British want every car checked. The plus side to all this is that airfares just went down again and tourist lodges are lowering prices in an effort to lure tourists back here.
Well, that’s about all I’ve got to say right now. It’s hard to believe I’m back here and back in the groove. My trip home was too short and went too quickly. Then again, my ladies in the group here thought I was never coming back as it seemed I was gone so long. Just depends upon your perspective I guess.
May 28, 2003
Been kinda lazy about updating. Too busy visiting with friends in Seattle and eating all the great tasting, in other words...fattening, foods I can get my hands on.
I head out today (it's after midnight now) for Egypt. My mom is coming with me so my enjoyment level and luxury expectations have just climbed a few notches!
I've had a great visit home with family and friends. The time has gone by way too quickly but so too will the time I have
remaining in Kenya. I head out in a couple hours for the airport (I typed a long update but it got wiped out when the server crashed so I'm typing what I can remember now...12 hours later). I'll arrive in Egypt on the 30th and leave for Kenya on the 8th.
Mom and I have both always wanted to go to Egypt so we're both pretty excited. We'll do the normal tourist stuff - see the pyramids in Giza, cruise the Nile and see the temples in Luxor.
I'm looking forward to getting back to Kenya so I can begin wrapping up my projects and to start putting into motion some of my thoughts on what I'll do post-PC.
It'll be interesting to see if I have reverse culture shock when I get back to my village. I didn't really have much when I came home, probably as I spend so much time
in Nairobi which isn't exactly like the U.S. but a lot closer than my village is. I did have some culture shock when I visited my freind Karin in Los Angeles. Just seeing all the limos and fancy
cars at the airport kinda freaked me out. Probably shouldn't have taken that drive through Beverly Hills...
Had really nice visits with family and friends and to be honest, it felt like I'd never left.
The nice thing about close friendships is that they are timeless. With that said, I'm gonna go put the finishing touches on my packing and head out to the airport. I'll update again once I'm settled back
into the Kenyan routine.
April 14, 2003
Yes, I just made an update a little over a week ago but now that I have a nifty laptop I can type out an update while in Nunguni, save it to a disk, and simply upload it to my site when I get to a cyber cafť. Saves time and money.
Of course this assumes that the disk drive works on the computer at the cyber cafť…it’s usually a 50-50 chance (I tried yesterday but the drive didn’t work).
So, what’s new since the last update? Not much really. I did enjoy my week in Nunguni last week, mainly cause I borrowed some DVDs from a friend in Nairobi and watched them on my laptop while lying in bed! What a treat.
It hasn’t rained once since I got back to Nunguni. It’s a very strange rainy season all throughout Kenya. Some areas aren’t getting any rain while others are only getting spotty rain, like us. Nairobi isn’t getting much at all so it’s very dry and dusty.
Hopefully it’ll pick up soon as everyone, and I mean everyone, depends on the crops that are supposed to flourish this time of year. There is already drought and famine in the North Eastern part of Kenya.
My really big news is yet to come…wait for it…I’m coming home to Seattle for a visit in early May. Yep, was going to let it be a surprise but that can sometimes backfire on you so I’m letting it out of the bag.
I’m going to my sister’s graduation from WSU and then basically spending time with family and friends. Can’t take too much time off, maybe only 2 Ĺ to 3 weeks. I’m going to try and tag a trip to Egypt onto the end as well. We’ll see.
I’m excited about being able to bring some of my souvenirs home with me as I was worried as to how I’d manage to carry it all home in December. Yep, already thinking about my end of service. With vacation time taken out I only really have less than 7 months left. It’ll go so fast too, which is why I’m already making preparations.
Still unsure as to what I’ll do post PC but I’m exploring all options. One is to extend to another country, another to get a job with PC in Wash DC then transfer to an international post, or get a job and start earning money again,
look for a job with a development or aid organization in Africa or somewhere else abroad, go to grad school, etc.
If anyone has any other ideas they’d like to pass along to me for consideration I’d really appreciate it. Ok, that’s all I can think of to say now so I’ll sign off til next time.
Oh, as for when I’ll arrive in Seattle…most likely it’ll be on or around May 7th or 8th and will hang around til after Memorial Day weekend.
April 6, 2003
Back in Nairobi after a short stay in Nunguni. Seems like I was in Nairobi most of March. Had some Peace Corps meetings and then spent 4 days just outside of Nairobi getting some special training. I am now an apiarist.
I’m sure everyone knows what that is, right? Hah, me neither. I’m told it means I can now charm bees…killer African bees at that. Yep, I got some beekeeping training from a company here in Kenya called Honey Care Africa (HCA).
I and 10 other PCVs learned how to maintain the hive and harvest the honey. HCA builds and sells Langstroth hives which are a bit unique. They’re very bee-friendly and the honey which is harvested is pure and free from pollen and brood (the eggs and larva).
Also, HCA guarantees to buy back all of the farmer’s honey so they don’t have to worry about finding a market.
I’m hoping to get my community in Nunguni interested as it’s a great income-generating activity. Depending upon the climate of the area and therefore the availability of flowering crops and plants,
a farmer can expect to earn about $300 per year assuming he/she has 4 hives. That’s about the per capita income of the average Kenyan!
Many tribes do beekeeping but they use traditional hives – hollowed out logs which are hung high up in the trees.
Only men harvest the honey as it’s not acceptable for women to climb trees. The honey combs are simply ripped out of the log and if the poor bees stick around to build others, they have to start from scratch. Oh and the men collect the honey while naked!
The good thing about the Langstroth hive is that it only needs to be raised about 3 feet off the ground (to reduce the chance of honey badgers and ants from getting at the honey) and has 2 separate boxes – a bottom one for the bees to tend their brood and a top one just for honey harvesting.
This top box is extra honey the bees produce and the comb is kept intact after extracting the honey so the bees don’t have to spend their time and energy rebuilding it every time.
It was very fun and liberating to put your entire arm into a hive and not have to worry about getting stung. We had to be decked out in a full nylon suit (bees can’t get their stinger into nylon…who knew?) complete with a mesh hood, rubber gloves and rubber boots.
There were a few tense moments when we discovered some people had rips in their suits but we were able to cover them before any bees could enter.
They’re only called killer bees cause they’re so aggressive.
In fact, the killer bees that the U.S. is so worried about are actually much more tame than the ones here in Africa. The U.S. killer bees are African bees which were bred with docile European bees. We’ve got the real thing here though.
They can’t kill you though unless they sting you in the mouth or nose and thus cut off your air supply after you swell up.
During our training good ‘ole Bush decided to start the war. I negotiated with the Peace Corps Country Director to allow us to finish our training before we had to go back to our sites and be on “standfast”.
At standfast we have to stay at our sites for 72 hours and wait for further developments, if any. If not, we’re free to go about our normal business which is exactly what happened this time around.
Kenya is quite safe and there was only one anti-war demonstration that took place. It was in Mombasa the day after the war started. The majority of Kenyans support the U.S. in whatever they do, including this war.
Ok, change of subject.
Thursday the 3rd was my birthday and I spent it with Isabel and Mr. Gikonyo of JCI. Isabel’s birthday was on the 1st so we compromised and celebrated with 2 cakes on the 2nd. Friday I celebrated with Elizabeth here in Nairobi at a friend’s house who has an oven
(we made meatloaf as that’s what I was strangely craving) and a DVD player, to name but a few luxuries. We got up early and went to the Nairobi National Park which is 5 minutes outside of city center. Saw lots of lions, a leopard, ostrich, zebra and a crocodile.
Oh and some young male giraffe practicing their mating skills. Yesterday afternoon I soaked up further luxury at a nice hotel which had movie channels and a nice bathtub to soak in. Today I’m going to treat myself to a spa – massage, steam bath, etc.
This is all compliments of my mom, Lisa and her mom Mary – a big thank you to them! All in all it was a great birthday week.
Thanks to everyone who sent me birthday wishes!! Bee good…get it…bee not be. Hah, my wit has such a sting to it...
Oh, I've got some new pictures up on the photos page so please check it out.
February 28, 2003
Did you think I forgot all about you? I guess it has been over a month since my last update…sorry. Even though I’ve been coming into Nairobi every other week since mid-January, I never seem to have a lot of time for personal stuff. I’ve been kept pretty busy as my funds from the AOL Peace Pack finally came at the end of January.
It’s been a pain in the taco (Kiswahili for you know what – just think about that the next time you’re at a Mexican restaurant) running around trying to get all new price quotes as my original ones have all expired. Plus, most of the equipment I previously identified is no longer available! So, it’s been a challenge to find all necessary equipment and still keep to the budget I submitted. There’s no going back to AOL for further funds – the funds you requested and received are all you’re ever going to get.
I padded my budget to account for currency fluctuations but this goes way beyond that. In some cases though, I’m finding prices have dropped so it’s pretty much working out to be a wash.
I’ve also been forced to beg for free services from some companies. I’ve been wanting to produce a nice 4 color brochure for JCI but am no graphic designer and am finding that the prices for professional brochure design here in Kenya is way over priced.
Heck, it’s even hard for me to find the right kind of printing paper I would need should I have to go it alone. So, I’ve been emailing various online companies asking if they’re at all willing to donate that kind of thing to a poor and struggling Peace Corps Volunteer. It can’t hurt to ask, right? I’m getting a discounted logo designed for our site through this method. If anyone is in a position to donate this kind of a service or knows of someone who is (4 color, folded, 8 Ĺ by 11, 80-100# glossy paper brochure), please get in touch with me.
You’d have my undying gratitude and be helping out all the impoverished handicraft producers that JCI supports.
Ok, enough of begging. Let’s see, what else have I been up to? Oh, great news came my way last week when I returned home to Nunguni. I tell you, I’ve seen the light. Literally. I’ve got electricity!!! Yep, no more spending half my living allowance on batteries and candles. No more going to bed at 8pm cause I’m so bored. Well, we’ll see about that…it’s still very boring in Nunguni but I can at least write letters, read and now even work on the laptop computer I bought with the AOL grant.
It’s been very hot lately, especially in Nairobi. It’s hotter and muggy of course out west and on the coast, but Nairobi has seen record temps of 92 F. Doesn’t sound so hot but it is! Maybe cause we’re on the equator. Anyway, it’s much more comfortable in Nunguni, mostly due to it’s altitude. I always get a nice cool breeze up on top of my hill too. The long rainy season is just around the corner (Mar-Jun) which will lessen the heat a bit.
Well, I’ve been at this cyber cafť for 4 hours now and the cost is getting up there so I better sign off now. I hope everyone is staying healthy and happy. Drop me a snail mail letter and tell me how you’re doing. Later.
January 15, 2003
I hope everyone had a nice New Year. Mine was very quiet in Nunguni. I actually stayed up late...til about 9:30pm. Woke up at midnight as I heard whistling and cheering coming from town.
I'm a really light sleeper but also, the sound bounces around the surrounding hills, especially at night. Some of the things I'll remember most about Kenya and specifically my living situation, are the sounds.
The pounding of the rain on my corrugated tin roof. It gets so loud sometimes you think you're going to go out of your mind but you can't keep a thought in your head long enough to do it. I also will remember the
sounds of the animals. Sometimes I hear a cow making a sound I thought couldn't possibly come from a cow. Oh, and the roosters too. Silly me, city girl, always thought a rooster crows at dawn only...to wake up the farmer.
Well how wrong was I? The roosters near me have contests. They crow every few hours and one seems to start it and all others within earshot have to reply. Then the original replies to the others and the ugly cycle continues for
hours. As I said the sound travels around all the hills in my area so you can sometimes hear a very faint crowing from a rooster several valleys over. When my neighbor's two roosters reply it's of course deafening. One has
an odd crow, garbled and cut off at the end. Needless to say I lie in bed at 3am fantasizing how they would taste...all battered and tender served with mashed potatoes and gravy.
I am in Nairobi this week for a mid-service medical exam. We get the works - eye exam (if needed and mine was), dentist, physical, and lab tests. Anyone want to take bets on whether I have any interesting local
"issues", as in worms? If you guess yes and you're right, you get first crack at naming them.
Well, I seem to have run out of things to say. Didn't write things down this time so I'm just rambling. Hope everyone is doing well
wherever you are. Nitasema kwaheri sasa. Nitaandika tena katika wiki mbili au tatu. Ha ha, I'll just let you figure out what that was all about :o) It's kinda nice speaking a language no one else (among my family and friends) knows...hee hee.
December 24, 2002
Hope you're all sitting comfortably as this is a long update.
Just a warning first, before we go any further. I'm typing this very quickly and am not going to run it through a spell check, so please forgive any typos.
Haven't ventured to Nairobi in several weeks and in fact I'm posting this update from Machakos. The past few months had me commuting back and forth from Nunguni and Nairobi as well as Naivasha.
I've relished in the peaceful boredom of the past 3 weeks - spent entirely in Nunguni. Furthermore, I closed the group meetings in mid-December until the 1st week of January. And, I'm on a break from my twice weekly Kiswahili lessons until next year too.
So, what have I been doing with myself? Catching up on sleep, catching up on my journal, brewing wine, reading Newsweeks and the books my mom sends to me (thank you so much), and catching up on my laundry.
You know you haven't done laundry in a while when you get sore hands and sore leg muscles. The sore hands are obvious but not the legs. As you basically have your wash and rinse basins on the ground outside, you must bend at the waist when scrubbing and rinsing. Makes for a good hamstring stretch but acute soreness the next day.
I was last in Nairobi for the new PCVs swearing-in ceremony on December 5. I was joined by lots of PCVs from my group - they were in Nairobi awaiting their flights to the States for the holidays. They all of course pitied me for not making a trip home, but I was able to capitalize on this pity by selling them sisal bags and animals to give as Christmas gifts to their friends and family.
Not knowing whether or not anyone from PC Admin. is aware of this web journal, this next bit is tricky. Before heading back to Nunguni after swearing-in I most emphatically did not spend the next 3 days and 2 nights on a camping safari in Amboseli National Park.
I also did not thouroughly enjoy myself. Those I went with, or rather, those I didn't go with, did also not have a wonderful time. We saw no large herds of elephants and certainly none of them came right up to the vehicle.
I also didn't see Mount Kilimanjaro so close that it felt like I was clilmbing it again. It was in no way exhilirating to be camping out amongst the animals. In no way did a large hyena come into the camp at night and rumage through our supplies and garbage.
Nor was it spotted (pun intended) 3 feet from our tents. At night, while playing cards by a kerosene lantern, one of us (thankfully not me - really, not me) did not become a magnate for scorpions and fist-sized cockroaches. And I most certainly didn't return to Nairobi very grateful for having been invited and for taking a spur of the moment holiday.
All those heading home to the States were weighed down, literally, with baggage. I've discovered a potential money-making venture for myself. One girl had 2 full bags but lots of other stuff that didn't fit in either and were fragile and thus needed to be carried on. I went to work and managed to get her 2 bags' worth of stuff into one and therefore she could use the empty bag for her carry-on.
Most surprising, to me at least, is that I accomplished all this without the aid of any zip lock bags!
Well, I just passed a milestone in my PCV service. December 5 was my one-year anniversary as a volunteer. Remember, the 10 weeks of training you're classified as a trainee and not a volunteer. This means that I only have one year, less now, of service to go.
I think my actual COS date (close of service) is December 4, 2003. I thought I'd take this opportunity to share with everyone my reflections on the past year and my hopes for the next. I'll use the FAQ format - although no one has asked...I'm tellin' ya anyway:
What has been the hardest part of your experience so far?
Definately "living in a fishbowl". Everyone watches your every step, gesture, scratch and thoughtful moment. I sometimes find myself hiding out in my house cause I don't have the energy and thick skin needed on that particular day to go buy veggies at the crowded market.
Ironically, "they" say that this fishbowl effect is one of the things that makes the transition back to life in the U.S. so difficult. You're no longer the "star" in your town. No one particularly cares what you do or don't do and certainly no one gives you preferrential treatment because of your race, gender, nationality, or all 3.
What things did you think, pre-PCV service, that you'd have a hard time adjusting to but which have in fact been simple to adapt to?
Several things really. No electricity or running water and not having a refrigerator. I seriously couldn't conceive of that. I've been just fine without one though. In fact, ice cold water is kinda painful when you've gotten so used to room temps.
And also, for me, I was worried about how I'd feed myself. Those that know me well know I'm too lazy and intimidated to cook much of anything, and certainly not from scratch (why, when there are perfectly good supermarkets with frozen meals and fast-food restaurants so nearby?). Surprisingly, to me at least, I've turned into (as I told Lisa in a recent letter) the Betty Crocker of Kenya.
I not only make pancakes, I make the batter completely from scratch. Same with cakes - and these I bake in a solar cooker I built myself. I make wine, onion rings and yummy meals all from fresh veggies I buy earlier in the day from a mama who just plucked them that morning from her garden/farm (shamba). My neighbor started a garden for me with seeds I brought from home and also some my mom sent to me once here. My broccoli is almost ready as are my Walla Walla sweet onions.
Haven't seen the cauliflower...maybe I should ask the goats...
What aspects of your technologically-downsized lifestyle do you enjoy the most?
I really like being able to feed all my food scraps to a very appreciative goat. And, If I've somehow made too much of a given meal (rarely happens) and the food would otherwise go to waste - I have no guilt as I am making a couple goats, chickens and the occasional stray dog very, very happy.
I just toss it outside and I know with 100% certainty that something will benefit from it. I also like relying on no one but myself to get me somewhere - on foot. Doesn't matter how far either as you simply plan for how long it'll take you and head out early. If a vehicle happens to come your way it's a bonus but you certainly
don't count on one and are almost dejected when you climb aboard and shave off 10 Km from your trek.
What were you most apprehensive about when you first got to Kenya last year?
That I somehow wouldn't "fit in" with the other trainees. Statistically most volunteers are fresh from college and therefore very young. While it's true I sometimes lose patience with some of the less mature volunteers - and astonishingly this has nothing to do with age - most of us get along very well. Afterall, we have in common our PCV experience and certain character traits that led us to this point in our lives.
What were your anxieties once you were sent out on your own, after finishing training?
Mostly that it would be a long and difficult process to gain entrance and acceptance into my community and within my group, or job. I thank God as these anxieties were unfounded. For me, I had no such issues. I gained an enormous amount of respect by willingly placing myself in a living situation whereby I had to walk 2 hours one way just to get to town and work.
This was a "hardship" that most have no choice but to endure. I had a choice and chose to accept this hardship. Locals literally assumed all white people have personal vehicles and therefore can't manage to climb a hill on foot. They would stop what they were doing and watch me as I advanced up hill using my own 2 legs.
It's no matter that 4 months later I moved to within 1 Km of town - my earlier sacrifice won me respect and community acceptance. Same goes for my "job". I am blessed with a group of women who immediately accepted me as their "daughter". The fact that I made the effort to learn their craft only added to my acceptance among them.
What have been your biggest challenges, job-wise?
Getting the group to set realistic goals and to do things for themselves. When I first arrived everyone saw me as a walking, talking pile of money. They not only thought I'd hand out fistfuls of cash and get them all visa's to the U.S., but that I'd buy all their products, regardless of quality (and some wre horrible) and sell them in America.
Imagine their disappointment when I told them I don't and won't give anyone money, and that the group would have to improve their quality before they'd be able to sell, by their own efforts, their products. Plus, I told them to not think about selling directly to Anmerica (even after 2 years there's no way this group of rural women can hope to be direct exporters to anywhere). But to focus on selling in Kenya. No locals believe there's a market in Kenya, regardless of product.
This is of course completely untrue. Yes, almost all old women of certain tribes can and do make sisal bags in Kenya. Yes, most never get sold. The reasons are many. Mostly it's because Kenyan artisans are product-led rather than market-led. They make a product they like and know how to make. Most don't even make them well. They just saw the mama next door once sell a bag and they want in on it too.
The product sits in an out of the way shop out in the bush and collects dust. Instead they need to find out what the market wants or needs and make that. With handicrafts, need isn't so inherent. Handicrafts are more sellable if you have something unique or functional, or both. Instead of making an 8" round sisal bag like all the other mamas that's all white and has a torn piece of cloth for a strap, make something different.
Why not a square bag with short handles? Because not everyone will like short handles, why not make some long too? It's been a challenge for them to try and think what a customer might want. They've always made a bag based on their own criteria. Who cares if it's lopsided? It'll still carry maize. Why would anyone want a small crochet bag - afterall only one maize cob will fit inside it?
Improving their quality and making this quality consistent has also been a challenge. It's taken an entire year to
get our quality to a marketable level. An analogy that's served me well this past year goes like this: (speaking to a mama) "You don't plant maize today and come back the next ready to eat your harvest? No, you have to first plow your field, sow your seeds, water continuously, check on the crop every day to make sure it's doing ok and finally, after enough time has passed, you harvest your crop and reap it's benefits - selling it, eating it or storing it. All this takes time, effort, sweat and patience." They all understand farming and thus "get it" when I explain things in this way.
What are your goals for the coming year?
As a volunteer's sole reason for doing what they do is to ensure the future sustainabillity of a group or project, I'm focusing all my efforts on "teaching" more and "doing" less myself. My group, after a year, is close to a point where we've developed unique products of a certain level of quality, that will enable us to penetrate the local market.
Unbeknownst to the group we've been doing market and product research, product design and development, quality control and marketing. It's now my job to show them that this is in fact what we've done this past year, how and why. As I've been almost solely responsible for all the groups' sales, I'm grooming the group members to handle their own marketing in the coming year.
We'll take trips into Nairobi to see the market's potential and the competition we'll face. I'll have them approach selected shops to promote our products. I've already conducted the market research to know, hopefully, which shops will allow us to reach our target market best and have steered product design and development to match these stores' themes.
In the next year we'll work together to research new markets. This next year I fully expect the group to be selling their products in shops throughout Nairobi and Mombasa. I also hope to attract wholesalers to our group - who both market locally and abroad.
Do you ever plan on wrapping up this update?
Yes! I'm done. Thanks for sticking with me...those of you still onlilne. This exercise serves me as well - it helps to clarify my objectives and expectations. Thanks for listening.
It's Christmas tomorrow and I'm spending it in Machakos with Elizabeth, Uma (new Biz PCV), Ann (Elizabeth's mom) and a couple others I'm not sure about yet. I wish everyone a peaceful, healthy and happy Holiday Season. God Bless.
November 21, 2002
Ok, let's try this again...third time is a charm, right? After I typed my brief intro on the 16th, I was unable to get back into my site to continue with the update. If anything screwy happens with this one I'm gonna take it personally.
Oops, forgot to save that brief blurb on the 16th and paste it onto this page. Tough cookies. Ok, I'm in but we'll see if I make it to the end of my update and save it all before the power goes out or something. I came into Nairobi this morning for an American Business Association meeting. I'll go back to Nunguni tomorrow and catch a ride with JCI, who is coming out for a visit of the group.
Since last time I've been out to Naivasha at the training center then spent a few days at a nice house rented by a U.S. embassy employee. He's a friend of Elizabeth's mom so the two of us stayed there and watched DVDs, took long hot showers, and made ample use of his kitchen and washing machine/dryer.
Elizabeth and I then headed back to the Naivasha area - to Crater Lake. There's an Environmental Ed PCV who lives at the Crater Lake lodge and does work in the surrounding area. Pretty sweet deal for her as she takes all meals (gormet) at the lodge and has a gorgeous view to wake up to every morning.
Anyway, she, Sally, had pre-arranged for Elizabeth to get one of her women's groups started with solar cookers. They made the kits with cardboard and foil and just needed Elizabeth and an assistant to come out and give the practical demo.
Yes, I was that lucky assistant. We had a good turnout and despite the occasional cloud and high winds, managed to cook almost all of our samples. Even managed to solar cook ourselves. The area was dry and devoid of trees - Masaai grazing land. No shade in site except indoors.
We stayed at the lodge for 2 nights and it was a great mini-vacation. It's a tented camp, but the tents are permanent - with stone floors, indoor plumbing and four-poster beds, all surrounded by canvas walls. Had a porch that overlooked the small lake (the camp is in the crater, hence the name crater lake). Hundreds of flamingos call the lake their home for the time being (arrived all of a sudden 3 months ago). It got pretty cold at night
but we needn't fear cause in addition to a nice warm comforter on the beds, we got hot water bottles placed under the covers to welcome us in the evening.
The food was clearly the best I've had in Kenya and beats many of the restaurants in America. My body didn't understand what was happening with all the rich food and put up a fit for the next few days but it was still worth it.
Had some good fortune when I got back into Nairobi. In addition to getting a free Peace Corps vehicle ride back to my site, I was able to sell a lot of sisal stuff to volunteers who just happened to be at the office doing their close of service medical exams. They were leaving the country in a couple weeks and really wanted to stock up on souvenirs.
The new trainees were all placed on Oct. 25. Only one person is anywhere near me, about 45 mins from Machakos and thus about 2 1/2 hours from me. JCI managed to get one volunteer for their site near Mombasa. I expect to travel out there in the coming months to check it out for myself.
Let's see, got some news about my house. I've got running water! Ok, so I can't control the flow or location but it definately runs. The fact that it runs from the roof right above my couch and completely soaked my cushions is a minor detail. I have since moved the couch out from the wall a bit and have a bucket under the drip. I figure once the rainy season ends, in January, I can put my couch back into position.
Tomorrow and Saturday I will entertain Elizabeth and her mother, who is here visiting for the next several weeks. I'll show them the group and its duka and we'll teach them to weave a small basket. Then on Sunday I'm off again to Naivasha, for the last time. I'll come to Nairobi for Thanksgiving dinner at John's house (the embassy guy with whom Elizabeth and I stayed before). He's got a Butterball turkey direct from the good 'ole USA and everything! I may just shed a tear or two.
By the way, the teacher's strike was resolved a couple weeks ago.
The government said that they'd be paid next July - convenient seeing as the government will change after this year. Everyone expects the new government to not honor the deal. Speaking of a new government, elections will be held on Dec. 27 for President. It's really heating up, the debate over who should be President. We've been asked to stay at our sites for the week of the elections as a precaution. There have been some spontanious riots in some areas mainly due to drunks wanting to show their support and thus get some cash (which candidtates readily trade for votes).
Ok, time for my meeting now. Hope everyone has a nice Thanksgiving!
October 20, 2002
Didn't I tell you I'd update more often? Just happen to be in Nairobi today as I'm heading out to Naivasha tomorrow for a few days. I'll be talking to the new trainees about grass-roots income generating projects and writing business plans. This will be a quick update as I'm craving a pizza and a movie and time is running short!
I forgot to mention on my last update some good news. Back in July I submitted a proposal for an AOL Peace Pack grant. AOL gives 60 grants a year to selected Peace Corps Voluneers who are trying to develop an internet-related project. Mine was just accepted!! I should get the funds this week, over $9000. It will buy a couple computers, copier, printers, UPS, 2 years of internet connectivity and some initial web design help.
This means that I'll finally be able to start developing my NGO's website to allow for online purchases. I don't expect the site to be launched for at least 6 months - I've learned that things move on their own timetable here. Also, I have some bad news. When I returned home to Nunguni 2 weeks ago, after a 2-week abscense, I found my lovely tree in quite a state of distress. Let me give you a visual. Ever seen that Charlie Brown Christmas special...the one with his pathetic stick of a tree...yea, need I say more?
I've been nursing it back to health and taking it outside for sunshine but it seems to have some kind of disease that makes the leaves get icky and then fall off. Half of them right now are a very light green so I think they're new but still struggling. Oh, also I'm close to losing another plant. This one was doing great (no idea what it is, kind of looks like a maize stalk right now) until one of the goats ate half of it! Put it outside away from hungry mouths but the goat broke away from it's bush (literally broke the bush) it was tied to and had a nice snack before I discovered the problem.
I guess that's life in rural Kenya...pretty much the same as America, right? :o) Ok, off to see a movie now. Later.
October 12, 2002
Wow, it's been so long since my last update...must still be in vacation-mode. Don't know where to start with this update - I've got too much to update on. With that teaser....
For most of September I tried to stay in Nunguni. I felt like I had spent too much time away from the group and my house. The first week of September however, I spent in Naivasha and Nairobi. Several of us SED and IT PCVs formed a committee to represent our sector. I'm the Chair. We went to Naivasha to help with the planning of the training for the new group of SED and IT trainees - they arrived Sept. 25.
We included several things that we felt we missed out on during our training...like field trips to see other volunteers' jobs at their sites, vs. them just coming to the center and talking about what they do.
Also that first week there was another sale organized by the U.S. Embassy. JCI and my group were both there but no one was too interested in buying. Sadly, once all the programmed activities were over and people had a chance to mill about, it started raining. So, we all packed up and left as did most of the customers.
The weather in Nunguni has thankfully warmed up. My liquid turned solid vegetable oil actually turned back to a liquid for a while (it's now back to a semi-solid state). It was nice to spend several weeks at a stretch at home. I was finally able to make some fruit wine. It takes a week to make and then however long to drink it so you need to be around for a while to get the fruits (nice pun, huh?) of your labor. It turned out great - strong too. I also discovered that I had a new pet in the house. Yep, got another bat. It was actually so bold as to fly right at me. It of course waited until it was dark outside and I was about to light my candles. I think it has been there for a while but is good at hiding. It finally calmed down and went back into hiding. As far as I know, it's still in there somewhere. Thankfully it keeps to itself now. If it would show itself again my neighbor said he'd come over and kill it for me. I think it must have overheard this...clever little *&%$^&
The last week of September I traveled back to Naivasha to meet with the new trainees. I was introducing our new committee to them and was on-hand to answer the multitude of questions they had about training, homestays, and general PCV life.
It was very surreal as I'd been in email communication with many of them months before they arrived. Some got my address from a Peace Corps Kenya Yahoo chat group, others said they were just searching on Google and came across My Wanderings. Freaky. They were asking me whether I have electricity yet, how the group is doing, etc. They know more about me than many of my fellow volunteers do! It looks to be a good group. There are now 20 SED/IT trainees (one girl never came to staging in D.C., one guy refused to get on the plane, and another lady left after the first week in Kenya). They'll be in training until December 4th, when they swear-in in Nairobi. I'll be going back to visit with them 2 more times before then. They find out where they'll be living and working on October 25. JCI might be getting 2 new volunteers but if so, then they won't
be coming to Nairobi like me, they'll stay at their sites (my strong suggestion). There is one potential site near me (okay, like over an hour away, but that's considered near nowadays).
Let's see, let me give you some current news here in Kenya. Right now there is a teacher's strike. They were promised several hundred percent raises back in 1997. To date, the government hasn't honored them. They've been on strike for several weeks now and most people think they'll be out until after the elections in December.
This means the PCVs that are teachers are just sitting idle. I'm trying to get many of them to come to Nunguni to learn how to weave. They'll all be given early COS (Close of Service) if it isn't resolved by February. I feel badly for the new group of trainees. Along with SED/IT, there are Deaf Ed trainees and new AIDS resource educators (they go into schools and teach teachers how to incorporate HIV/AIDS into the curriculum). Here they have to endure 10 weeks of training not knowing whether or not they'll have anything to do once they're done.
The elections for president are heating up. The actual election won't be until December but they're choosing candidates today and we were warned to stay away from Nairobi as there could be violence. Wow, hate to end things on that note, but I've gotta run to catch my transport back to Nunguni (in Machakos right now). I promise to update more often!
August 23, 2002
Well, just said goodbye to Karin, Becky and Peter last night. My vacation is now officially over - so sad. The other 3 in the group, Rick, Tracy and Jeff (Doug, whom I mentioned in my last update was never planning on coming) left on Saturday. Karin, Peter and Becky were able to spend some time in Nunguni which was such a treat for me.
The climb went great. We hiked through such varied terrain, from rainforest, to meadowlands, to lunar-type conditions. We hiked up for 6 days and descended for 1 1/2. The last day was horrible, in my opinion. Not the summit part, but the 8-hour slog through ankle-deep mud...mostly downhill. I think I would prefer to summit again rather than make that walk again.
No one in our group suffered too badly from altitude sickness. Peter wasn't feeling well for the first couple of days but thankfully acclimated fully by day 4. We never hiked in snow but it was always quite cold and windy, especially at night. We slept in 2-man tents (the 3 guys in a tent) on thin sleeping pads and in thin sleeping bags. No bathing for 7 days, except for the occasional splash of water on the face in the morning. I never thought the dirt would come off my hands and thought for sure the gunk under my nails was going to sprout roots. The hot shower we got back at our hotel in Arusha after the climb was quite possibly the best feeling I've experienced in a long while.
Many in our group have hiked up Mt. Rainier before and said that Kili was easier than the Rainier climb. Mostly because you pack all your climbing, from sea-level to 14,000 ft., in a 24-hour period. Kili however was much more gradual. Longer, yes, but no one day was over taxing. Except for that last muddy day! Also, we didn't have to rope up or cross crevasses, etc.
Our next leg of the vacation started way too early. After getting to our hotel quite late, we showered, ate and caught a few hours of sleep before our bus to Dar es Salaam left at the crack of dawn. It was a beautiful 9-hour ride through Tanzania. We got to Dar just in time to catch the last ferry out to Zanzibar. It was pouring down rain when we arrived but thankfully had our hotel booked and a van to pick us up at the port.
We stayed on the East side of the island - very sparsely populated. The hotel was a series of bungalows right on the beach. They weren't prepared for bad weather so we froze the first night - no blankets - but had sun the rest of the time.
Karin and I stayed until the 18th and then made our way back to Dar. Thought we could take a night bus back to Arusha but we got some misinformation on that so ended up sleeping in Dar and taking a 14-hour bus ride to Nairobi the next morning. We were booked onto a "local" bus vs. the "luxury" bus we came into Dar on. Consequently, we were the only white people on the bus. It was a grand adventure and not as bad as you'd think a 14-hour bus ride would be. Arrived in Nairobi at night but I had arranged for a taxi to be waiting for us in a good part of town (using my un-Peace Corps-like mobile phone).
We stayed in Nairobi 2 nights to recover before getting on another bus (only a 2-hour ride) to Nunguni. Becky and Peter met us in Nunguni later that day. They had flown from Zanzibar to Arusha and took a 2-day safari in Tanzania before coming into Nairobi. They were all able to see Nunguni on market day. The following day we walked down to where I lived when I first came to Nunguni. The climb back up gave us some not-too-pleasant flashbacks to Kili!
I came in to Nairobi with them on the 22nd to say goodbye and they generously paid for my stay in a hotel for that night. I'm off to Nunguni later today to resume my pre-vacation existence. I thoroughly enjoyed the last 3 weeks and can't wait for more visitors.....any takers?
August 3, 2002
I'm leaving tomorrow for Arusha, Tanzania to meet up with Karin, Becky, Tracy, Peter, Rick, Doug and Jeff. We start our climb up Kilimanjaro on the 6th and will finish our climb on the 12th. I'm really hoping that living at altitude (6200 ft in Nunguni) for the past 9 months will replace the need for any serious training - cause I haven't done any :o) I kept meaning to get out and ride my bike but never got around to it. Jogging would just cause a mob scene in Nunguni. I can just imagine being chased by dozens of school children shouting "Mzungu!" (meaning European or white person).
Funny enough, even black-Americans get called "Mzungu". No one believes they are really American, they think they're just being arrogant and trying to pretend they're not African. Have I already written about this? I get so confused on my stories cause I write them in letters, this update and my journal. I always feel like I'm repeating myself over and over...well, I guess I am. Anyway, I'm very excited to be going on vacation and seeing familiar faces from home. We're not sure what we're doing after the climb but it WILL involve being comatose on a beach somewhere with a drink in hand.
I can't wait to show Karin et al my house and town (not everyone will come back to Nunguni for a visit but I think Karin, Becky and Peter will). Hopefully it will warm up in the next couple of weeks. It's been so cold at the house lately. How cold is it? So cold that my liquid vegetable oil is now a solid. And I thought my biggest issue with living in rural Africa would be not having a fridge....little did I know I'd be living in one! Seeing as most bugs don't like the cold, they've been seeking refuge in my house as it's warmer than outside. I do still hear a bat, or bats, trying to enter through my roof but I'm hoping they're going on vacation too.
Bad news for my group. We lost the order for 500 bags. I'm so disappointed and I know the women are too. It seems that the people that placed the order with me had no right to make such a decision. Their HQ in the U.S. pulled the plug. I'm going to tell them to give me the down-payment as a gift. It will lessen the blow a bit. The upside is that we will now have ample time to prepare for upcoming exhibitions. I arranged for JCI and my group to have a stand at the Karen Blixen Museum last weekend. A travel agent was taking 700 tourists to the museum and wanted some craftspeople there to talk about Kenya and promote their products. It was very successful for us. Mrs. Meka, the group's chair lady attended (I didn't) and it was great for her to hear what customers were saying about our products. We got both positive and negative feedback but you learn from both so it was worthwhile.
Isabel and Mr. Gikonyo just moved houses in Nairobi. Seeing as I stay with them when I'm in town, I moved too! The apartment is right behind a huge supermarket and very near some fast food places that I love. I'm going to be spending way too much money in the near future - the temptation to have yummy pizza is too overpowering. The only problem with the place is that there is no water. The landlord deceived them on this point and they've already paid for 2 months. They're looking for another place as water is not something a large family can do without. There go my nice hot showers. Oh well, it's not like I'm used to them anyway. In fact I don't bathe nearly as often as you might think...I'm not going to tell you how often. It's such a pain to carry water to your house, warm it up on the stove (using expensive gas), and then stand freezing in your unheated fridge of a house and pour the warm water over yourself using a cup. I don't think it's an issue, me not bathing often, at least I haven't heard anyone complain. It's not like a cloud of files follows me around or anything.
My women came by my house on Thursday to give me a send-off party. They brought milk and chai (tea) with them and loaves of bread. Each person got their own loaf (unsliced) and you just rip off a hunk and eat it while drinking your tea. I passed on the bread. They were all very sweet to come by (15 or so members came) and wish me a good vacation. They got the biggest kick out of my house and the decorations. They about killed themselves laughing when they saw the small tree (live) that I put in the corner near the couch. They couldn't believe I was growing a tree in my house!
That's about all I can think of to update you all on for now. I'll let you know how the climb went and the beach bumming. Until next time...
July 6, 2002
Happy belated 4th of July! Mine was uneventful. The Ambassador had a party at his residence but my invite must have gotten lost :o). The sale that took place on the 29th was very successful for the women’s group. We sold over $200 worth of bags and baskets. I also received an order from another NGO for several hundred bags. It was a confirmed order on the 29th but now I think I'm bidding against others. The people that gave me the order weren't in fact the decision-makers. Got a down payment already so keep your fingers crossed.
If we end up not getting the order (right now for 500 bags - due Oct. of 2003) then I was told we can keep the down-payment as a gift. I'd rather have the order. It's going to mean so much to the women. I travel back to Nunguni tomorrow and will present the group with their proceeds from the sale. Hope I can finalize the order today so I can make that announcement too. Would appreciate your prayers on this one.
On to domestic matters. I painted the other week and now the inside walls look much improved. Gonna buy some African masks to put on the walls and some plants to put in the corner(s). It'll help to make it homey.
The last time I returned to Nunguni from Nairobi I found that my bat problem and mouse (rat actually) situation was solved. Someone put concrete on the outside of my house - in the gap between the roof and wall, so no new ones can come in. I still actually hear one or more trying to get in but at least they're not inside the gap mating anymore! I stopped the rat from entering my place so the whole rat family went to my neighbor's house. They eventually killed them. As I was painting I used spackle to plug the biggest cracks on the floor, against the walls, where most of my ants were entering. We'll see tomorrow how that worked.
The other day I went to a market researcher's focus group. They were looking for rich locals or foreigners living here. Me, two of my JCI colleagues, and Elizabeth, attended. Elizabeth and I pretended to work at the American Embassy as they wouldn't have taken us as PCVs. For our opinions on new product launches (rice, peanut butter and jam) they gave each of us a voucher worth 2000 shillings at one of the big supermarkets in town. Woohoo! Got some free drinks during the meeting too so it felt like Christmas!
Got a tight schedule today so I'm going to cut this short. Hope everyone is doing well. Take care!
Oh, before I forget again, I still haven't heard anything back from the E.U. on that proposal I submitted in March. No news is not necessarily good news here...they might have lost it!
June 8, 2002
Was anyone wondering if I forgot how to type? Sorry, I've been having technical difficulties with my site (still am) so haven't been able to update. I have so many things to say but for the life of me can't remember most of them. I did write some things down, but wouldn't you know? I forgot to bring that paper with me to the cyber cafe!! D'oh.
Before I forget, here's a great quote that a soon-to-be Kenyan PC trainee sent to me via email. She's coming in September and is in my sector, SED/IT. Here it is:
"Twenty years from now, you will be more
disappointed by the things you didn't do
than by the things you did do. So throw off
the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour.
Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore, dream, discover." -- Mark Twain
Pretty inspiring, huh?
Let's see, what have I been doing for the past month? I've been trying to get my house in order mostly. I commissioned a local metal worker (usually makes metal window grills) to make me some tall candle stands. Some are 4ft, 3ft, 2ft, etc. Got each made for less than a dollar! I've been in Nairobi for the past week and bought some large candles to put on my new stands. I prefer to use candles at night as the kerosene lantern gives me a headache from the fumes. I also have a local wood-worker making me a kitchen counter - that I drew up. I got price quotes on the other furniture I want made (cut out pictures from a Pottery Barn catalog) and now I'm just waiting to have enough money to get it all started. I'm hoping to have my place in order by the time Karin et al come to Kenya in August.
Still no electricity. Found out that the house never did have it connected, which means my neighbors have been waiting for over 2 years! I keep bugging the hospital administrator about it so I'm hoping he'll get off his butt and do what needs to be done, if only to shut me up!
Been watching some World Cup games as I'm in Nairobi. The time difference works out well as most games are at 9:30am, noon, or 2:30pm. Saw the US vs. Portugal game, bits of the England vs. Argentina and S. Africa vs. Slovenia games. The cyber cafe I'm at right now has a small t.v. set up and the latest game is on....not sure who it is, Italy I think. Most of Nairobi is really into it. They root for most of the teams but especially the African teams. Interestingly, they root for England over France. I thought that because they were ruled for long by the British that they would root for anyone BUT England. Guess they hate the French even more. Man were they excited that Senegal beat France.
Going to go see Spiderman, the movie, in about an hour. Elizabeth, the PCV from Machakos, is in town today and I'll meet her for the flick. Been spending more time in Machakos lately. It's nice to have someone to talk to about all your daily stresses...someone who knows exactly what you're going through.
For those of you in Seattle and drooling to get a look at some of my photots, you're in luck. I just sent home ALL my photos with Carla, Karin's roommate. They are to eventually make their way to my mom but Karin has been given the green light to show them to anyone who is interested. I wrote captions on the back of each so you'll know what you're looking at. For those not in Seattle, one of the packets of photos is earmarked for the website. It is to go to my sister who will then scan them in for me and post to my site. I wouldn't expect to see them on the site for at least a month or more (I think I have 30 pics to post).
Hum, can't think what else to write and it's almost movie time. I'll be in Nairobi again the beginning of July and will do another update then. See you!
April 24, 2002
Been out of the communication loop lately - sorry. Spent a hectic week in Nairobi and then two weeks in Naivasha for in-service training (IST). Never managed to find enough time for a web update. IST was fun but tiring. Forgot how tough it is to sit in class all day, every day for 2 weeks. Part of IST was technical - giving us tips for proposal writing, how to open a bank account for a rural women's group, etc. The other part of IST was language. It was good to be so focused but some days all we did was language...6 hours at one time is too much!
I'm back in Nunguni now (well not right now...I'm typing this in Nairobi) and it's such a joy to be back home. The pace of life here is so nice and slow. My house was still there waiting for me after my 3-week absence. Surprisingly, I didn't find it overrun with bugs. I'm anxious to start fixing it up and to decorate it. 3 fellow PCVs are coming to visit me and spend the night this Friday. My first house guests!
Ok, on to some more FAQ's (no one actually asked me these questions, I just thought you'd like to know):
What's your new house like?
It's small, but has potential to be comfy. It's half of a one-story duplex on the hospital compound, a 10-minute walk into town. The duplex is down a small slope from the one-story, multi-building hospital. It's quite private - no one but me and my neighbors use the mud access road that leads to our houses. My house has 4 rooms - a sitting room, bedroom, kitchen, and bathing room. The floors and walls are concrete but the walls at least are whitewashed. There is no electricity or running water. Not even solar power. The house is wired and used to have electricity, but the line was cut some time ago when a tree fell on it. It's proving to be a bureaucratic nightmare to get someone out to fix it. Maybe by the time my 2 years are up? For now I use a kerosene lantern and candles. Quite peaceful but impractical if you want to read or write after dark.
There are no closets or shelves in any of the rooms - not even a counter in the kitchen. My room is large but then again the only thing in there right now is my bed. I take that back, all my suitcases stuffed with clothes are in there too as are plastic bags filled with food, books, papers and misc. sundries. It's all on the floor. I have a small (2' x 3') rug next to my bed so I can get out of bed and not have to put my feet on the cold concrete. My sitting room currently has a large rug, borrowed from my NGO, a couch, and a small coffee table, also borrowed. I had the couch made in Nairobi and I love it. It's a log couch with big pillows that I got to pick the color for (brown). My kitchen has a chimney but nothing else. Most families cook using a wood or coal-burning stove (like a small bbq) hence the need for a chimney to carry the smoke up and out. I have a 3-burner gas stove which is currently propped up on some boxes. No running water so no sink. I have 2 buckets - one for clean water (not really clean) and the other for dirty water. I've got a real nice set of dishes I bought in Nairobi but so far I've only taken one bowl and one plate out of the box and I just use them and wash 'em when I'm done. The rest are in the box I'm using to prop up my stove. Guess I'll have to break a few more out for my visitors or eat in shifts. I've got some other empty boxes on the floor where I stack the tupperware my mom sends me, filled with goodies, in her care packages. I put all my food in those or zip lock bags as the ants will get into everything otherwise. My bathing room is in 2 parts. One part is like a storage area, currently storing my mountain bike, and the other part is where I bathe. Again, no running water so I take bucket baths with water I heat on my stove. I have a nail in there and I hang a shower caddy to hold my shampoo and soap. I also have rope strung up to dry my towel and undergarments when I do the wash. It's scandalous to hang those things outside for all to see.
Now that I'm home for a couple weeks I'm attempting to get some bookshelves made for my room and some kind of shelving for the kitchen. My NGO is giving me a cabinet for the kitchen but transporting it to me in Nunguni is a problem. I'd like to eventually get a dresser or armoire made too but those will have to wait until I can save up money. We all got a certain amount of money to move-in with but it didn't go very far. I spent mine on the stove, gas cylinder, couch, bed, sheets, buckets, dishes, cleaning supplies and some staple foods. A chair or two would be nice but I at least have a couch. Several fellow PCVs in my group sit on overturned buckets and sleep on a mattress on the floor. Not sure what they spent their move-in allowance on!
Where do you get your water from?
There is a water tank just up the slope from my house, in back of the hospital. The water comes from a borehole somewhere. It looks clean as it comes out of the spigot but when you pour it into a clear cup it's actually quite murky. It doesn't settle either, just stays murky. I only use it to wash my clothes, my dishes and me. I put bleach in my dishwater hoping it'll help in some way. I'm giving the Peace Corps a sample of it to test, just out of curiosity.
Right now I have a large supply of clean drinking water that I boiled and filtered before leaving my other house. I also have 2, 20-litre jerry cans that I will have filled 15KM away at the town of Salama. They get their water from a pipeline that comes from Kilimanjaro. It costs 2 shillings to fill each one (80 shillings = $1). The District Officer (a government post, like a mayor) will use his vehicle to transport it for me. I'm getting used to bathing in the dirty water but may use the clean water for my dishes...wait, no maybes, I will.
What do you do all day?
Well, in Nunguni I attend my women’s group's meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 10-1. On Monday's and Thursday's I have a 2-hour Kiswahili lesson with my tutor from 2-4. Tuesday is a market day so I usually buy my week's worth of veggies and fruit. During down times I'm either tinkering in my house, writing letters, reading, or working on project-related things. For instance I sometimes write out tasks for my NGO to do next time I'm in Nairobi, work on proposals, or work on writing the content for my NGO's soon-to-be web site. In Nairobi I'm usually working 8-hour days, 5 days a week at my NGO's office. I take that back, I make sure I get one day off a week to do personal things like email, write my update, shop or just see a movie. I often meet with producers that come to the office to see if we can buy some of their products and sell them. I usually give them suggestions on how to improve their quality, color choices, etc. Not much I've seen is actually market-ready, including the bags from my group. I struggle with quality issues with them all the time. I want them to produce multiple bags of one particular style but they can't grasp the concept of uniformity. No two look alike. I shudder to think what will happen if we get a large order for one particular style...'did you say you want them all 8 inches tall? Will you take some at 5" some at 4.5" and some at 7"?' Color matching seems to be a problem too. All shades of brown seem acceptable even if the sample they're trying to match is dark brown.
Ok, got some more things I need to do here in Nairobi before I head back in a few hours. For those of you waiting for letters, sorry, I've had my head in the sand the last month or so. For those of you waiting to see lovely pictures of Kenya, Nunguni, etc. sorry...the shots I sent my sister to scan in for me got lost in the mail. Seriously. It'll take me a bit to go through all my negatives again and make reprints. Guess you'll just have to come and visit me and see the place for yourself!
March 27, 2002
Big news....I've moved! I'm still in Nunguni, actually in the town now whereas before I was a 1 1/2 hour walk away. I'm much happier now that I'm closer to transportation to/from Nairobi and elsewhere. Plus it's my own house - I don't have to share it with anyone....human that is. I have tons of tiny ants and hordes of spiders.
Ok, here's some more answers to your Frequently Asked Questions:
What languages are spoken there?
Unfortunately, English is spoken widely. It's the offical language. Kiswahili is the national language. I say unfortunately as I am finding that I rarely use the Kiswahili I'm learning - it's just too easy to use English. I go to a tutor 2 hours per week and soon to be 4 hours per week (on the Peace Corps' dime). I've told myself that I need to be fluent in Kiswahili by the time I leave and use it every day while I'm here. I only know basic greetings in Kikamba, my tribal language. Not going to try and learn much more until my Kiswahili is better. I'd say my Kiswahili is "Fair". I have one week of language training in Naivasha in April so I'm using that as my momentum for increasing my committment.
What are the different tribes?
There are many tribes in Kenya. The main ones are: Luo, Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Kamba, Coast (Swahili), Maasai, Meru and Luyhia. All have their own language. Most Kenyans speak 3 languages - their mother tongue (tribal), Kiswahili, and English. In very rural and remote areas some only know their mother tongue. When people from different tribes meet, they usually use Kiswahili. Kiswahili is also very common on the coast.
What's the difference between Swahili and Kiswahili?
Swahili is the english way to say Kiswahili. The Kamba people speak Kikamba, Meru people speak Kimeru. There is a Swahili tribe as well and they speak Kiswahili. It just also happens to be the national language.
What's the weather like?
In Nunguni it's very mild - much like Seattle. It can get hot, mid to upper 80s but there is usually a cool breeze as I'm up in the hills. It rains a lot throughout the country during the wet seasons (Nov-Dec) and (Mar-May). In Nunguni it's green all year long. I hear it gets very cold in July (probably 50s) and very hot in September. Haven't needed my fleece and most days I'm in short sleeves while others around me have on wool sweaters.
What about bugs?
Plenty and some very unusual ones. Lots of ants, flies, termites and grasshoppers. Even seen some small slugs. Lots of spiders too. Some look like your usual spiders but others are freaks of nature...truly. These "freaks" move really fast and I swear some even disappear. I've actually found a bug that creeps me out more than spiders. Not sure of its name - I call it a "hopping bug". It's a cross between a spider and grasshopper. Some are pretty big - the size of a small muffin. Really large antennae that can sense you coming. Tough to kill as they crawl but also hop...very high and far and sometimes right at you! There are poisonous bugs like scorpions and the tse tse fly but not in my area. Some spiders in my area are poisonous so I'm extra vigilant. Oh, there are mosquitos too. Not all species carry malaria but I take a weekly pill to prevent contracting it anyway. Not so many in Nunguni (I've only see 3) but there are tons in Nairobi and I always come away with at least a dozen per stay.
Time's running out and so are the questions. Any other questions burning in your heads that you want to ask? Shoot me a letter and ask away!
February 20, 2002
Back in Nairobi working at JCI's offices. They got their computer but still no internet connection. The person they got the computer from is using pirated software (he actually doesn't even have the discs for us) so I'm trying to convince them to return the equipment and I'll find a reputable company to go through. It's very common here to go through a person that happens to sell computers on the side - this guy is a secondary school teacher by day. You get what you pay for in my opinion - I've never even heard of the brand of computer and monitor he sold them!
Anyway...I thought I'd use this update to answer some frequently asked questions that I get from many of you in letters and email.
What do you eat? What are the main crops?
Well, let me start with the main crops. Maize (a.k.a. corn) is the biggest crop in my area. It's a bit different than the yellow corn grown in the U.S. This maize is white and the kernels are larger than the U.S. sweet corn. They do grow sweet corn here too, just in very few places. The locals don't use it, just us foreigners. The white maize stalk looks the same but as I said, the kernels are white and larger. They are also more chewy. It's used for humans as well as cattle and chickens. They mostly pluck it off the cob and boil it and serve with beans (a dish called githeri) or put it in other dishes. I've never seen them just eat it plain with some butter and salt - either off the cob or on. They do roast the cobs some times. You can get them this way from street vendors but mostly it's just a roasted cob, no butter or anything. Tastes pretty bland either way you use it.
As for what I usually eat...lots of pasta actually. I buy it in Nairobi. I also eat stews over rice or with potatoes. I usually just use veggies as I'm leery of the meat, at least in Nunguni. There is no refridgeration and the butcher shops just have the meat hanging around, literally, collecting flies. There is no shortage of veggies in my area and what I can't get there, I pick up in Nairobi. My area grows a lot of onions (red), beans of all types, tomatoes, cabbage, peas, carrots, kale, etc. Another common dish is called sukumawiki. It's kale, a very dark green leafy vegetable that is quite bitter when cooked. They boil it until soft and then sometimes fry it in lard with some chopped carrots or tomatoes. I personally don't like it much but it's always offered when you eat at someone's house so I do end up eating it often. Boiled cabbage is another common dish. Most also fry it after in lard and add shaved carrots. Not bad.
For breakfast I usually either fry up an egg or I have cold cereal with long-life milk that needs no refridgeration. I buy the cereal in Nairobi. They have common U.S. brands like Kellogs Corn Flakes and even Fruity Pebbles! Very pricey but worth the splurge from time to time. For lunch I'll either have a sandwich (pb&j or grilled cheese and tomato) or pasta. For dinner I sometimes make mashed potatoes and corn or make a curry stew and have it with rice.
Fruits are abundant in Nunguni too. They have lots of mangos, bananas and papayas. Pineapples, pears, apples, grapes can be bought in Nairobi as they're mostly grown out West.
What about the country's cash crops?
Mostly they grow tea and coffee. The majority gets exported. Chai is the common drink in Kenya. It's boiled milk with tea leaves thrown in and then strained out. You add lots of sugar and drink up. Many take 4-6 cups throughout the day. If you visit someone's house, they will invariably offer you chai. Maize is another big crop. Many people in the rural areas grow maize for their own use as they are subsistence farmers.
What about common animals?
On the rural shambas (farms) they usually have goats, chickens and cows. The cows are for milk, the chickens mainly for eggs although they will kill one now and then for the meat, and the goats are mainly for the meat. Nyama choma (roasted meat) is a common treat and it's usually goat meat. A butcher comes to your table after you've picked out your raw piece and carves up the roasted selection. He leaves it on the carving block and you have at it. They usually dump a pile of salt on the block and you pinch it and sprinkle as needed.
Cats are common but not really treated as pets - they are strictly there to catch rats so they don't eat the stored maize. Dogs are also common but again, not as pets, they are to guard your compound.
Do people smoke or drink?
Yes, many do smoke but you generally only see it in the big towns and it's mostly men. If you smoke and you're a woman, the common opinion is you're a prostitute. Same goes for drinking. Most women don't do it publicly as they'll be treated like a prostitute. In Nairobi it's different - anything goes. But in the rural areas you rarely see women in bars. There is also a common belief here that if you're a Christian you don't drink at all. If you do then you're not really saved. No one in Nunguni knows that I drink. My Kamba tribal name is Mutheu (Moo-thay-you) and it means "clean person" so I want to keep them thinking along those lines :o)
Changa and Kumikumi are illegal home-brewed alcohol and many men spend all their family's money on it. They usually use ether and other toxic substances in the brews so many people actually go blind or die from it. It's very cheap so that's why it's popular.
How are women treated?
In general, women aren't treated well in Kenya. They are just now beginning to fight for their rights. In rural areas it differs a bit with the tribe, but in general the woman does all the chores for the household and raises the children. They are expected to serve the men when they return home and have no power to make decisions regarding the household or even their own bodies.
Some tribes believe in polygamy (having more than one wife) and is seen as a sign of wealth. Divorce is becoming more common but the woman gets no property, alimony or child support. She's just told to leave with the children. A man is also able to divorce his wife without a second thought. He tells her to leave and she has to or she'll be beaten.
Wife/woman beating is also unfortunately common here too. Especially with the Kisii tribe out West. There are not strict laws against it and it's rarely enforced anyway. The man just bribes the police (who are the most corrupt people in the country) and it's forgotten.
Do most women work?
In Nairobi most do but in the rural areas the woman is too busy working in the shamba, cooking, and taking care of the children that there is no way she's able to get a job outside the house. Unemployment is horrible here too so many men and women, especially the youth, can't find jobs. There are thousands of AIDS orphans too. Many go to Nairobi but end up sniffing shoe glue and paw through garbage heaps looking for food. There are hundrends of thousands of these street kids. Crime is very high in Nairobi as a result. Pickpocketing is common as is mugging.
What are some common names?
Names are dependent upon tribe. The Luo usually have a last name beginning with O for example. You also have a Christian name, a tribal name and then your father's family name. For example, Mary Mutheu Malinda. The tribal name is a reflection of it's customs. For instance, if you were born in the morning your name means "morning". You're named after the time of birth or maybe the season.
The mother is usually referred to by her oldest child's name (sometimes the Christian name but most often by the tribal name). For example, my mom would be Mama Roxane.
Well, that's all I have time for on this update. I'll answer some more questions in a future update. Hope everyone is doing well. Take care.
February 2, 2002
Just spent the last week in Nairobi - working with JCI. I was originally hoping to get a lot done on the website, but the company we bought our computer from, and who was going to set us up with an internet connection, never showed up. That's Kenya for you. I switched gears and focused instead on grant proposals. Managed to crank one out, my first ever, in one day and submit it before its deadline (which we were informed of the night before). It was for 3 Million Kenyan shillings or about $40,000, through MESP (Micro Enterprises Support Programme) funded by the Gov't of Kenya and the European Union.
I guess they had some funds left over from last year and it's not a good thing to not exhaust your funding so they approached a few organizations at the last minute and asked them to submit proposals by the next day. My poor system had gotten used to the non-hectic, stress-free lifestyle in Nunguni. It was a complete shock to my system therefore to immediately jump into hyper-productivity mode. It was worth it though, or it will be if my group's proposal gets approved. I hope to know within one month.
Haven't managed to do much fun stuff this visit - been working late and going in early most days. I'm coming back in two weeks for another 1-2 week stint at the office...I wonder if the computer will have appeared by then? I'll try and get out to see a movie or something next time. I did watch a video at the house I've been staying at, which was a treat. It's the house of the Managing Director of JCI. Works out great as I get a ride to and from the office every day. I've also had a comfy bed, hot shower every night and a tv and vcr. Talk about a shock to the system.
Speaking of beds...mine in Nunguni has fleas. I've been plagued with tiny bites all over...I mean all over my body. I'm not looking forward to going back to it. I tried spraying it with Doom (like Raid, which they also have here) but it didn't do much good. I'm going to re-dip my mosquito net and let it dry on my mattress and hopefully that will take care of the problem.
Been going to church on Sunday's, when I'm in Nunguni that is. It's tough though as it's a 3-hour service, all in Kikamba. I only know basic greetings in Kikamba right now (the local language in my area) so I usually just space out or read a book (my Bible or something else I bring along). Tomorrow while still in Nairobi I'm going to go to an English service so I'm excited to know I'll actually get something out of the effort.
Can't think of too much else to update about. Oh, my bat problem. Me and Mrs. Meka (my neighbor and chair lady of my women's group) devised a make-shift ceiling in my kitchen. A ceiling is there, just not finished. We put some boards up and covered the remaining holes with newspaper and duct tape. It was working great when I left a week ago...we'll see if it's held up while I've been gone. Maybe I should let it into my room...you think it eats fleas?
Speaking of animals, I've got another situation that keeps me up at night. One of the cats on my compound just gave birth and has nested between the roof and ceiling in my bedroom. I can hear it scratching around and the kitties mewing loudly. Maybe they'll be out and about when I get back.
That's it for now. Be sure to check out the Contact Me page as I have a new address to use for packages - one that shouldn't incur any duties!!!
January 16, 2002
Just returned from my training review meeting in Naivasha. I was the sole representative from the Small Enterprise Development/Information Technology (SED/IT) sector which gave me mixed feelings. I was honored to have been chosen to speak for the other 24 SED/IT PCVs from my training group, but would have loved to have known ahead of time it was just going to be me so as to gather comments and suggestions from the group to share at the meeting. I winged it and together with the Technical Trainer and Assoc. PC Director (APCD) for SED/IT and others on the training staff, we reworked how training will look for the incoming group this August. I told them I’d like to come back and redo the training as it sounds like it’ll be great…I was more serious than kidding.
They probably will have me visit and speak to the incoming trainees as our group had several currently serving volunteers come and speak to us about various topics. That was my main suggestion, to increase the number of PCVs that come to the training center as it’s the best way to get practical info on what volunteers actually do once they’re out at site. Plus, it’s an American point of view, vs. a Kenyan point of view (all the trainers are Kenyan and most of the guest speakers who visit).
Anyway, there is still more work to be done so I may be invited back in a few months to continue the process. There were 5 of us PCVs (3 from the group that swore in last August and 1 from my group (Deaf Ed)) staying at Malaika so it was very quiet and boring. The center has a VCR so we would go to Naivasha every day and rent movies to watch. It was so nice to just veg out in front of a TV, watching movies and eating junk food….felt like I was back in America – except for the fact that the power kept cutting out on us and dozens of mosquitoes were dive bombing us continuously.
I wish the hotels in Nairobi had TVs – I’m sure the expensive ones do but that’s not an option. The weirdest thing about Kenyan hotels, and Kenya in general, is that there are no mirrors in the bathrooms! Most Kenyan homes I’ve been in don’t have mirrors either (granted they are mostly rural homes). I go for days sometimes without seeing my reflection. You kind of scare yourself when you do come upon a mirror…it takes a couple seconds to realize you're looking at you!
More interesting quirks of Kenya: pregnancy isn’t discussed or even acknowledged much. You would NEVER touch another woman’s belly or even comment on her impending birth. You’re not considered late for a meeting that was to start at 2:00pm as long as you show up before 3:00pm. If you’re within that hour, you’re not late. Of course, many Kenyans don’t show up for meetings at all and think nothing of it too. They all consider rain to be a blessing from God, seeing as most rural folks are subsistence farmers. The folks in Nunguni tell me I’m a blessing as it always seems to rain the day I return from being away. Movie theaters have assigned seats, much like the British, I’m told.
Speaking of movies, I saw the Harry Potter movie on New Year’s Day. I really liked it. I hope to come into Nairobi when The Lord of the Rings comes to town. Might even try to catch a movie today while I'm in town. I'm going to hit the Sarit Center, which is a western-style shopping mall, complete with awesome food court (pizza, pasta, chinese) email, movie theater and supermarket. This supermarket has all, well not all, of what you would ever hope to get including Heinz ketchup, Oreos, Skippy peanut butter, just to name a few. Granted, these items are incredibly expensive but nice to splurge on every once in a while. Most Indian shops have great selections of American goods too.
There is a large population of Indians in Kenya, concentrated mostly in Nairobi and the coast. The Kenyans don’t like the Indians as they say they are money hungry and pay slave-wages. The Indians here are very motivated workers and therefore have done quite well for themselves. Not to say Kenyans aren’t motivated, but certainly less so than the Indians are. In Nairobi you can see a fair amount of westerners, especially in the rich suburbs, like Westlands (where the PC office and the Sarit Center are). It’s when you get out into the rural areas (i.e. most of Kenya) that you find you’re the only white person around for miles and miles.
I still get stared at a lot, especially from kids, and I get really bothered by it some times and not at all at others. Depends on my mood and stress level. I was really bothered by it the other day and just stared back at the kids and made faces at them until they got embarrassed and turned away. I usually have a pack of kids walking with me when I’m at site. I’m surprised they don’t trip and kill themselves as they will get in front of me to get a better look and turn and stare while still walking forward. I like to vary my pace and make sudden stops just to mess with them. This works especially well when they’re following close behind me. I tell myself they’re just kids, but when you’re stared at 24/7 EVERY day it starts to wear on you. I consider myself lucky that that is my biggest gripe so far.
Oh wait, I have another. I have a new pet. It hangs out in my kitchen and likes to get into my food. It hunts at night and brings it’s catch back to the house and leaves me insect body parts to find. What is it? None other than a cute little pink-nosed bat. Yep, a bat lives in the unfinished ceiling of my kitchen. It comes and goes through the kitchen window…the one without any glass in it. One of my tasks for today is to buy some netting for a screen for the window.
Work is going well – been very busy actually. Got a meeting tonight with JCI to discuss Marketing issues. Got another meeting in Nunguni on Thursday and then another on Friday. Friday’s meeting will take place at an abandoned coffee factory near my house. I’m trying to get the company to give my group one of the gutted-out buildings for free. Initial indications look good but we’ll see. I hope to use it as a production facility – once we have things to produce, that is. I also hope to secure a \$10,000 USAID grant in the next few months. Keep your fingers crossed and the prayers coming!
Gotta go get some food…maybe chinese today. Bye for now.
January 3, 2002
Happy New Year! Spent mine in Nairobi at a dance club called Florida 2000. It was very fun, and crowded, and sweaty - must of lost 5 lbs. just dancing. Clubs here are a bit different than in the States in that groups of guys will go out and dance together whereas back at home, women are the only ones who typically do that. The guys even dance dirty with each other which is odd seeing that homosexuality is against the law here and everyone is so homophobic. Guys will walk around holding hands if they are really good friends but it in no way signifies they are gay...very strange.
Right before the new year, Elizabeth, myself and Edwin went on a 3-day safari to the Masai Mara. We got a great resident rate package that included all transportation, food and lodging in a tented camp just outside the park.
We had comfy cots to sleep on with sheets and blankets and lanterns to carry around at night. The food was good but we're thinking one of the meals made us a little sick. We all weren't feeling up to par when we got back to Nairobi on the 31st. Oh well, you take the good with the bad I guess. It got us a free night's stay at a hotel last night in Nairobi as we checked in with Medical to explain our symptoms. I'm fine, just a little upset stomach.
Back to the safari. We had 4 game drives and saw tons of animals. We didn't see all 5 of the big 5 (leopard, rhino, elephant, lion, buffalo) but we saw 3 out of 5. Here's the list of animals we can remember seeing: black backed jackel, black eared fox, dik dik, buffalo, topi, tompson's gazelle, masai giraffe, hippo, crocodile, hyena, weasel, elephant, eland, hartabeast, vulture, cheetah, lion, baboon, zebra, impala, ostrich, black vulvut faced monkey, and many different types of birds.
We were so close to many of the animals I didn't even have to use my zoom. We saw lions with a fresh kill one day (unfortunately it was a zebra, my favorite animal) and saw the cheetahs chasing impala. We also saw a herd of 26 elephants giving themselves a mud bath.
En route to see the hippo and crocodiles in the Mara River, we took a quick jaunt into Tanzania! We weren't there for long but now I can say I've been to the Serengeti (sp?). We actually got out and walked down to the river with an armed guard. Made me nervous as someone said they spotted a cheetah in the trees just hours before. None of the guards or guides seemed to think it was a big deal as the cheetah is such a shy animal. It's the hippo and water buffalo you really need to worry about. The woman that went on our safari with us (there were only 4 of us) told us that her host's son was just killed a couple of weeks ago by a hippo. He was bird hunting on the lake and the bird fell just outside his boat. He went to retrieve it and a hippo came out of the water and took him by the neck. They found his body soon after. Very sad.
Well, I'm off to Nunguni today after stopping by the Peace Corps office to pick up mail and packages (I'm told I have 2 waiting for me, yeah). Hope everyone is doing well and had a nice holiday.
By the way, I have a cell phone but it doesn't work in Nunguni except in one spot most of the way up the mountain I climb to town. You can leave voice mail or a text message and I pick it up when I have the one window of coverage opportunity.
To text message you have two options: www.sms.ac or www.mashada.com. My number if calling from the U.S. is 011 254 733 928840. I have Kencell as my provider and it only allows about 100 characters of text including spaces and punctuation. Both are free to use.
Bye for now!
December 21, 2001
Made it to Nunguni fine but the hired matatu (van) we rented bottomed out on the soil-eroded "road" down to my house. We limped to the house and the van was fixed up and on its way soon after.
I was second to last to get dorpped off. Brian Tronic was last, about 3 hours SE of me in Kativani. I'm fortunate in that I'm living in a furnished home. Just about all the other PCVs moved into empty homes or apartments. We all got the same amount of money to buy what we needed immediately. I spent the bulk of it on food.
I'm so far from a major town that I wanted to take advantage of having my stuff brought right to my door in a vehicle, as vs. me carrying it on my back 2 hours, up and down the hillsides. Splurged on Skippy peanut butter, ragu pasta sauce and soy sauce. Got lots of the necessary staples too - flour, sugar, salt and rice.
Also splurged on 2 non-stick pans to use on my 2-burner propane stove. Seeing as I have no sink and running water, I wash my dishes in a bucket either outside or inside my kitchen. No regrets on the non-stick - saves lots of scrubbing time.
There was also a bed and mattress here for me as well as an armoir for my clothes and a desk and end table for all my stuff in my room. Most everyone else has to have beds and other furniture made for them and sleep on the floor until it's finished.
I still have an outdoor choo (hole in the ground) and this one comes with dozens of resident flies. Do me a favor and never take your lovely flush toilet for granted.
If you'd like to be me for a day, try this. Don't use your faucets - go outside and fill buckets from your hose and use that for all your daily activities from cooking and cleaning to bathing and drinking (be sure to boil the water before drinking!). For complete authenticity, put some dirt and small bugs in the water and use it anyway.
Next, don't use the refridgerator or any electrical appliances. Cook your food on a propane camp stove and shoo the flies away from your food if you've forgotten to cover everything as you don't have glass in your kitchen window. Have to go to the bathroom? Dig a big hole in your backyard and have at it. Run out of toilet paper? No problem, use old newspaper.
Want to go to town? Spend 2 hours hiking up a small mountain (like Mt. Si). Don't stay too long as you have the same walk home, albeit mostly downhill. Go outside and brush your teeth and rinse with clean drinking water you previously boiled. Need to shower? Heat up some water and pour it into a plastic basin. Use your hands or a cup like I do and splash yourself clean in a small concrete room with a drain in the floor.
Want to listen to the radio before going to bed? Hopefully you have enough batteries or else you can't. As it gets dark at 6:30 you're ready for bed by 9:00. Want to watch your favorite TV program? Too bad, no electricitiy or TV.
You have solar power but the lighting is dim and there's no outlets to plug anything in to - you need special solar inverters for that and you don't have them. The solar panels aren't strong enough to power much more than a few lights anyway. Some rooms are wired up to a car battery for extra juice.
That's a slice of my luxury-free life in Nunguni and I'm really enjoying it. Really. No, seriously.
I'm not doing much project-wise until January. We've been given December off to settle in and get to know our communities. I've already started learning how to weave a basket and will make my own soon. My mom gets the first one.
I hope to eventually design a website for this women's group and others that JCI supports (the company I technically work for). We'll then sell our stuff to folks like you and your friends. Got a brother-in-law who is a buyer for a chain store? Perfect, I'll send samples out and we'll prepare ourselves for a flood of orders.
As every other women's group (of which there are dozens in every village) also produces bags and baskets, coming up with unique designs is a must to differentiate yourself. If you have any design ideas or catalogs with ideas you want to send me, please do. My mailing address (for letters only) has changed. Check out the Contact Me page for the details.
Sorry I don't have photos up yet. Will most likely need to designate someone in Seattle to do it for me once I mail pics home. Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
December 6, 2001
Look at me, I'm a Volunteer!!! We were all sworn in yesterday in Nairobi by the Deputy Ambassador. I leave tomorrow for my site but won't be arriving in Nunguni until Saturday.
Four of us are renting a matatu (van) to take us to our sites as we're in the same general direction. Two of us, me and Brian Tronic, are further away than the other two so we're spending the night in Machakos at Elizabeth's apartment. We're dropping her off first and then Rich Rozzi in Kitui. Elizabeth doesn't have any furniture in her place but we'll have our sleeping bags and will crash on the floor. Brian and I will then go with the matatu Saturday morning to our sites.
We were just informed that we can take unofficial leave from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3. We are allowed to visit other volunteers in our regions so we're not spending the holidays alone. I decided that I'm not going to climb Mt. Kenya during New Years - that kind of leave hasn't been approved. I'll probably go to Machakos with some others in our area.
Can't make too long of an update today as I'm in a time crunch. Had so much to say and now that I'm at a computer I can't think of what to write!
I'll jot some notes down for next time. Just know that I'm doing great and can't wait to get settled in at my place in Nunguni.
November 17, 2001
In Nairobi right now, en route back to Naivasha from my future site visit. Anyone curious about where I'll be living for the next 2 years??? Drumroll please........
I'll be living near a town called Nunguni. It's in Makueni District, SE of Nairobi. My closest big town is Machakos which you should find on a map. I'm about 2 1/2 hours from Nairobi. My living situation is interesting. I'm not actually in the town of Nunguni, which isn't very big to begin with (doesn't have a bank but does have a post office and 3 phone booths!). I'm going to be living at a woman's house in the hillsides surrounding the town. It's very beautiful, reminds me a lot of Kauai actually. Lots of red earth and terraced green fields.
The housing story is actually very long and I won't go into it in detail right now. My options were limited on housing and I'll be working with a women's group that meets in Nunguni and many of the members live near where I'll be living. The other house option I had was in the opposite direction and I would have been very isolated. I'm assigned to work with a company called Jisaidie Cottage Industries (JCI). It's a private and Gov. of Kenya supported organization (12 employees, all based in Nairobi). They work with local producers of crafts (pottery, ceramics, wood carvings, sisal baskets, etc.) and help them to market their goods in Kenya and abroad. That's what they want me to do - to help this women's group in Nunguni that produces sisal baskets and handbags. I'll be helping with quality control, developing new product designs for overseas markets and with marketing.
I'll be incorporating IT in the sense that I'll help JCI establish a web site and will then try and sell the products online. I've met some of the people at JCI and will really enjoy working with them. Not sure how often I'll be coming to Nairobi to do work at their offices as I think most of my time will be spent with the women in Nunguni.
Oh, forgot to mention that my house has solar power and a full water tank outside. I have an outdoor choo but I'm already used to that. I'll have my own bedroom and she's giving me the sitting room too. I'll share the kitchen and bathing room with her when she comes home. She has a house in Nairobi but this place in Nunguni is her family home. She said she's there about every weekend and brings her two small kids. She's the secretary of the women's group. Her neighbor is the chair lady.
It's about a 2 hour walk from the house to Nunguni and I'm in a very hilly area. I can take a short-cut down and up one of the mountains and shave off about 45 minutes. It's tricky in the rain though, even with hiking boots. Mrs. Meka, the chair lady really took care of me on my visit. I stayed in her home Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night. They fed me and walked me all around and introduced me to many people. I feel very fortunate to be in good hands. It takes some volunteers a full year to get familiar in their sites and communities but I feel like I've already accomplished a majority of it with the help of Mrs. Meka and others in the group.
I'm spending the night tonight, Saturday, in Nairobi. Lots of us trainees are meeting up today and heading back to Naivasha tomorrow. Just ate a Greek salad that wasn't too bad. It was nice to have lettuce. Might do Chinese food tonight....I'm drooling just thinking about it.
Hey mom, I received your L3, P1 and P2 on Nov. 9th. All arrived just fine - I was a hit with the Peanut Butter Cups :o)
Next time I'm in Nairobi I'll bring some pictures with me to scan in. I'm also going to mail some home to my mom to put into an album for me so you know where to go to see them. If you want to see what some of us trainees look like, check out my links page for a website that one gal has done. It will have basic bio info on us and a picture.
Hope everyone is doing well. Keep in touch! By the way, I found out I get a duty free allowance on my packages until mid-January. I'll probably change my mailing address to my town but that will come later. I'm excited to finish training soon and get settled in at my site. It's really very peaceful there and I'll really enjoy the area and people. I'm the first white person many have ever seen so you can imagine the stares I get. Only a few little kids have gotten scared and run away from me. I find it all very funny and surreal. Bye for now.
November 5, 2001
First of all, let me say Happy Birthday to Lisa, Roger and Karin. I received permission to use the internet for updating this site as it will be used for a "business" purpose. My cousin Melanie is a teacher and I will be communicating with her students in the World Wise School program. Hopefully, they can log onto my site and get updates on me in addition to communicating via snail mail.
Had a rough weekend. I spent the night at Malaika Friday as we had a Halloween party. I guess Friday afternoon our cat, Puss, came home, had a seizure and died. She was inadvertently poisoned by a neighbor. The really sad thing is that she just had kittens (3) and now they're orphans. Their eyes aren't even open yet. Today is Monday and they've now survived for three nights without their mom so I'm hoping they will continue to fight for life. Me and mama spoon feed them milk but it's a difficult process and they end up not getting much milk. I'm going to try using a straw today or maybe empty my Visine bottle and use that.
Last night we heated up a large stone and wrapped it in an old shirt and put that in the box they sleep in. It keep them warm for a while but they were freezing by morning. They are so adorable - it's heartbreaking to see them go through this. Keep 'em in your prayers!
Other than that, things are still going well. We're all excited to find out where our sites will be. We find out this Friday. On Saturday and Sunday we'll be leaving to go visit these sites. We'll stay for about 5 days getting to know our Kenyan counterparts and will meet any current volunteers that may be posted nearby. I can't wait.
Time to go back to class. Oh, I received 2 letters from my mom, 1 from Lisa, and one from Roxane last Friday so it was a grand day. Thanks!
October 25, 2001
I’m now officially in Week 2 of training. On Monday’s and Tuesday’s I’m at the training center, named Malaika (the angel). Classes begin at 8am and usually run until 4:30pm. It’s a mix between a Language session, Cultural session, SED/IT sector session, and Medical. We get breaks throughout the day for tea, or chai as they call it here. As I don’t drink tea, or coffee, I have hot chocolate. The lunches here at Malaika are pretty good and usually are full of variety. The other day we were all so elated to discover we were having pizza. It was Kenyan style, made with a local dough called chapati but had recognizable cheese and everything! It wasn’t quite the same as a Pizza Hut pizza but damn good all the same.
At my homestay I usually have fried cabbage, some form of potatoes, lentils and chapati. Every so often we have beans and maybe carrots and peas. Had spaghetti once. There was no sauce with it, just boiled and then quickly fried in lard. Just about everything is fried in lard here. For breakfast I usually have an egg, fried or boiled and a banana. Or, toasti mayai, which is french toast! It’s great. Again, I drink hot chocolate with milk fresh from a neighbor’s cow. Our cow is pregnant so we’re not milking it. The calf should be born at the end of October. I’m to let Elizabeth and Brian, my closest neighbors, know so they can come and watch.
On Wednesday’s, Thursday’s, Friday’s and Saturday’s we have a Language lesson in Karati (where 5 of us live). It’s at Elizabeth’s homestay house so I don’t have far to walk – maybe 10 minutes. In the afternoons we are free to do whatever but are supposed to be doing our Community-based training. In my case that means that I come into Naivasha and work with a technical training institute. Me and another IT trainee are doing this project together. We’re trying to do a needs assessment now. Not sure what we’ll be able to do for them but we’ll see if they need help with Marketing or expanding their computer curriculum.
In addition to this we’re given tasks such as to go into town and speak with 5 local small business owners and learn about their business and see what suggestions you can give them. The biggest problem here is that no one keeps records. No receipts are given, no inventory control is done, no accounting, etc. Even basic things like keeping their home and work accounts separate isn’t done. Therefore, no one has any idea if they’re even making or losing money. Costing and pricing is another issue. If some shop runs out of an item, they’ll just go down the street and buy one from another identical shop and sell it at theirs for the same price or sometimes less – no markup, no accounting for the time it takes to do this, transportation, etc. You can see how bad it can be if they transport their stock from Nairobi or further.
One of my self-posted care packages arrived on Wednesday so I was thrilled to see it. It was the less interesting of the two I sent myself before leaving Seattle but still had one packet of pre-sweetened Kool-Aid in it so I’m very happy. Not sure how much it is for customs duties. We all paid 1000 shillings or about \$12.50 as a down-payment for duties. I’ve already put an order in to my mom for some things I want sent but I think I’ll ask that everyone else hold off on care packages until I find out how much receiving them here will cost me.
I get paid 2000 Kenyan shillings per week which is about $25. It pays for my lunches every day except for Monday and Tuesday, my transportation to and from town every day, stamps, local needs like laundry soap and toilet paper, etc. Stamps are the biggest expense. It’s about a dollar to send a letter to the U.S. Today I ate lunch for the same cost as a stamp. I’ll have to pace myself on letters as I don’t want to tap into my U.S. savings while here to get me through every week.
I’m writing this right now, by the way, on two new iMacs here at Malaika (I say new, but they’re actually several years outdated). The server is down area-wide and has been for the past couple of days, but I’m typing it out on Word and pasting it in. We have a sign-up sheet and everyone gets 2, 15-minutes time slots per week for email. Can’t do too much in 15 minutes especially when the connection is so slow so I’m trying to be clever and typing it out beforehand and just pasting it into my web page. It’s a Wednesday today and I’m supposed to be at A.I.C. Technical Institute right now but we’re having a rainstorm and I don’t feel like getting soaked. Hey, it’s Kenya…you don’t have to be on time.
Let me tell you more about my family in Karati. We live on a small shamba (farm) and have one cow, one cat, one rooster, several chickens and one dog who recently had puppies (3). I play with them every day. They’re getting to the playful biting stage so I may have to cool it for awhile. I’ve been given 2 out of 3 rabies immunizations but it’s endemic here so if you don’t know the animal is safe, you stay away. Our cat is pregnant so I’m excited to see the kitties soon.
Our rain reservoir is just outside the house and the spigot and trench is where I brush my teeth every morning and evening. I like brushing my teeth at night as I can take my time and stare up at the stars. One of the first nights I was doing just that when something huge hit me smack on the bridge of the nose. I of course yelped and shook my head violently – not a good thing when you wear glasses. They flew off my face and landed who knows where. It took me a few seconds to figure it out. As it was dark I had to feel around on the ground for them but at this point I wasn’t caring about what it was that had attacked me or whether it was still nearby – I just wanted to find the glasses. My flashlight was no help as without my glasses I’m blind. I carefully backed away up to the house and asked for help. My host brother and sister laughed and came out to find them. Brian, my 19-year old brother, found them right away. Luckily they were just fine. Whew, shows you just how vulnerable you are sometimes.
Ok, now I’m just rambling. Hopefully the connection will be re-established in the next day or two so I can post this soon. Keep writing me snail mail! Take care.
October 18, 2001
Yesterday marked one week in Kenya! What a week it was. We all arrived fine and after spending the night in Nairobi, we were bused to Naivasha, an hour and a half away to the NW. We spent 2 nights near our training center and en route there we walked around near Lake Naivasha, escorted by an armed wildlife guard. We walked right up to a dozen or so giraffe and saw a couple small herds of zebra, water buck, gazelle and antelope. I couldn't contain my awe and excitement. I think I took 2 dozen pictures.
I was prepared to write a whole bunch but I've been disconnected 3 times now and each time it takes 10 minutes to reconnect and I'm paying for all this time! So, I'll be very brief. Moved into my homestay family's house on Saturday the 13th. I really like it. I have electricity but no running water. I'm getting used to it. I take a bath in a bucket and splash the water on me and use a cup to wash my hair. Not everyone has electricity so I'm pretty lucky. There are 2 trainees that have running water and flush toilets - we all hate them. Most of us use a squat toilet called a choo. Basically it's a hole in the ground. You miss, you make a mess. My legs will be very strong after 2 years of this kind of squating.
I find out Nov. 9 where I'll be posted. My training ends on Dececmber 4 and I'll be sworn in, hopefully, on December 5. They are speeding up the training to accomodate our 2-week delay.
Email will not be a great way to communicate with me as the connection speed is slow and only 1 computer in town has access and there are 35 trainees plus all the locals who want to use it. Please write me using snail mail. My address is on the Contact Me page.
I'll try and write more later. All is well with me - no illness and I'm enjoying myself very much. Hope all is well with everyone at home.
October 10, 2001
Hi all! I'm currently in Amsterdam's airport on a 4-hour layover, en route to Nairobi. We ended up spending an extra day in D.C. due to the holiday and all Federal Buildings being closed (we were to get our shots in a Federal Building on Monday). D'oh.
My flight out of Seattle on Saturday the 6th was delayed due to a mechanical problem. I was sitting in my seat, my First Class seat, thanks to my mom knowing the gate agent, and drinking a few Jack Daniel's and Cokes. Had to deplane an hour later and wait to board another flight about an hour after that. I therefore didn't get in to D.C. until after 11pm.
Made it to the hotel after sharing a cab with a really nice woman who refused to let me pay more than 1/3 of the fare. Had some frustrating moments at the hotel trying to convince the pimply 16-year old night clerk that I really was staying at this hotel. He even picked up paperwork with my name on it and would still say he couldn't find any record of me. Took all my self control not to launch myself over the counter and pummel him. I was too tired, although he wouldn't have put up much of a fight. I had a roommate but she wasn't in the room. It was 12:30am by this time. Cool, I had a partying roommate. Turns out she had friends in D.C. and was out with them. I settled in and crashed.
Talked more with Darcy, my roommate, in the morning. Turns out she grew up in Redmond, Washington. She later moved to Montana in high school and then went to college there. We had registration and orientation at 1:30-5:30. It was just your basic 'Welcome to the Peace Corps' kind of stuff. We all started to get to know each other better. There are 35 of us. Originally we were supposed to be 40 but 2 cancelled after the September 11 attacks and 3 were just no-shows. Can't imagine going through the whole application process, medical reviews, etc and then just bailing without telling anyone.
Most of us are women and I think we range in ages from 22 to 67. There are 3 retired ladies, including one named Robin. She said she wanted to join in 1961 when it was first created but she put it off for the love of a man. Her desire to do the Peace Corps outlasted the man apparantly. More than half of us are Business Advisors/Computer Science people and the others are Education folks. We have a Special Ed group that will teach deaf education and half of them are deaf themselves. The others are all Math or Science people.
There is one other woman from Seattle but I'm not sure of her whole story yet. It's been interesting trying to get to know everyone. We're all still trying to remember each others' names. There is one married couple, about age 31. Most of the others are in their low 20s and a few in their 40s and then of course the 60-somethings.
Oh, forgot to mention my fabulous experience getting my shots. Only had to get 1 of 3 shots here in the U.S. I was immunized when going to China in 1999 for many things, but not Yellow Fever. We'll get other shots in Kenya over the course of several weeks. We also started our Malaria pills. We'll take one pill every week for the next 2+ years. Anyway, we also had to have blood drawn. I don't mind needles but I always have problems giving blood for samples as no one seems able to find my veins. This lady was no exception. She stuck me two times, once in each arm and didn't find one. She was trying to find some in my legs but couldn't do that either. When she said she'd have to do my hand, that's when I asked her to call for help. They finally found some really small needles and she stuck me in the upper arm and fiddled around a while until she got a good flow. Luckily, she only needed to fill one small vial as I bruised immediately. My arms look like I have been doing heroin now.
Back to the present. Sorry if this is jumbled and misspelled (no time to spell check on another program) as I'm really tired. I didn't sleep much on my D.C. to Amsterdam flight. Don't want to sleep on this next leg as we'll get into Nairobi at 8:15pm local time on Wednesday the 10th. I want to be able to just go straight to bed.
We'll be taken to a hotel and given a welcome and a snack and then off to bed. The next morning we board a bus for Naivasha which is 2 hours away. We'll have lunch and then a Medical session where I believe we go over our medical history with the medical team and get more shots. We then get booked into the Kenya Wildlife Services Training Institute which is in walking distance to our PC training center. The in-country team will take us on a lakeside hike, for those interested. On October 12th we'll have our first Language session with survival Kiswahili. We'll also get orientation as to what the homestay program is all about. The 13th we'll have another Language session and then move into our homestay homes and meet our families. The 14th, Sunday, we'll spend with our families. Monday our training starts at 8am sharp and we're to get there on our own using public transportation or walking, depending upon where our respective homes are. After that, I'm not sure what'll be the program. We've been told that training is very difficult but very worthwhile. We'll also get a chance to bond as a group as we'll spend the next 10-weeks together.
Whew, that's about all I can think of to pass along. My flight to Nairobi leaves in about 2 hours and I'm going to maybe hit the airport casino.....I'll see who else in the group is interested.
Doing well and am pretty excited about my arrival into Kenya. Less than 11 hours now!!!
September 22, 2001
Found out my new departure date! Looks like I will need to fly out of Seattle on October 6th to attend staging, in Washington D.C., on the 7th and 8th. We'll leave for Nairobi the evening of the 8th and should arrive the evening of the 9th, local time. Not sure if we're still connecting through Amsterdam as I didn't actually speak to the Peace Corps directly.
They called on Friday afternoon but I wasn't home. By the time I got the message, it was too late to return it. I was so crushed thinking I'd have to wait until Monday to learn of my impending fate. Thankfully I have been in contact with a woman who will be in my program. Her name is Kerry (I've mentioned her before) and she lives in Connecticut. I immediately called her house but she wasn't home. Her father, hearing the desperation in my voice, called out to his wife to go get the information so he could tell me then and there as he didn't know when Kerry would be home. Bless his soul!
Sounds like our itinerary is the same except for the date changes. I'll find out the specifics of my flights on Monday when I get a chance to call the Peace Corps back. I can only assume that my training will now run until December 22nd. Originally it was set for 9/29-12/8. I'm hoping I'll get more concrete info like that during staging, or certainly once I arrive and begin training.
I will get started again on my packing and errands/shopping. Not too much to do and I feel so much less pressure now. More time to spend with friends and family too! I'm very excited and relieved to be only delayed 2 weeks. I'm so ready emotionally to go. Can't wait to get there and begin the adventure.
Special thanks for all of you who were sending your thoughts and prayers my way.
September 18, 2001
Much to my surprise, I was contacted by a Peace Corps representative this morning. I wasn't given specific information about a new departure date but was told that I would be contacted again during the first week of October.
They are considering having Staging somewhere other than Washington D.C. I suggested Hawaii. The main problem and reason for the postponement is simply logistics. Trying to get a block of seats on planes for all invitees (remember, I'm not considered a Volunteer until after I complete training) at the same time is proving to be difficult. The gentleman I spoke with didn't want to speculate on when we'd leave and I can only hope it's early October.
For those of you who are worried about my safety if we go to war or have a "holy war" declared upon us, thank you for your concern but I don't feel that I'd be in any more danger in Kenya vs. the U.S.
Kenya is predominately a Christian country, not Muslim. Here are the stats: Protestant 38%, Roman Catholic 28%, indigenous beliefs 26%, Muslim 7%, other 1%. I believe Osama Bin Laden is a Shiite Fundamentalist, born in Saudi Arabia. According to the CIA's fact file on Kenya, 'Shiite fundamentalism has been almost unknown among Africans.'
Islam as a religion does not advocate terrorism - only a handful of extreme fundamentalists are causing this scourge. Just as we should not assume all Muslims are fanatics that are against Americans, neither should we assume Muslims in other countries share the fundamentalist's viewpoint.
One of the main reasons I'm joining the Peace Corps is to dispel stereotypes that others hold against Americans as well as to share with Americans back home how incorrect their stereotypes may be of Africans. This is needed now more than ever. I won't say I'm not anxious, but I'm not willing to let the happenings of last week affect my life's dream. I ask for your support in my decision and your prayers for peace, as this situation affects us all - here in the U.S. and abroad.
September 17, 2001
The Peace Corps' website states that my staging, and all staging through September 30, will be postponed.
I am supposedly going to be contacted in the next few days and given more information and I can only assume that I'll get my new date for staging at that time. My past encounters with Peace Corps' Administration have left me skeptical that I'll be contacted any time soon.
Once I have a new date, I'll post it here. I'm hoping it won't be a long postponement as I've geared up for my departure and said a lot of my goodbyes already. I left my job and currently have no health insurance as the Peace Corps was to cover me beginning with my staging. I ask for your prayers that my situation resolves itself quickly and that the Peace Corps is guided by wisdom when making their decisions regarding currently serving volunteers and those of us waiting to leave for service.
September 16, 2001
In light of the terrorists attacks on the WTC and Pentagon, the Peace Corps has delayed some staging events in D.C. Mine was set to begin on 9/24 and according to the PC website, I will be contacted the week of 9/17 and told whether or not my staging event is affected.
As far as I know, no PC volunteers are being pulled out of their countries of service. They are all being contacted and made aware of the events and the PC is helping those volunteers who may have had family in NY or D.C. contact one another.
You can keep abreast of the situation by going to the Peace Corps home page and clicking on the news bulletins.
I have to keep packing up my stuff as if I were still leaving Seattle on 9/23. I've taken one load over to my parents' house already and hope to take another soon. I've been shopping for supplies and have been so blessed by wonderful friends helping out - donating clothes, a backpack, CD player and music CD's. I had a great going away dinner with some friends on Friday night and then we went bowling and had a blast - I won't be sharing my score as it was undoubtedly negatively influenced by the enormous quantity of wine I had with dinner.
Saturday night some of us went to Golden Gardens park in Shilshole and had a bonfire on the beach. It was a magnificent sunset and calming time spent with good friends.
Thanks to all my friends who have spent time with me crossing off my "fun list" items this summer. I appreciate your friendship so much and am truly blessed to have you all in my life.
September 7, 2001
Finally got my packets last week. Feel much more prepared now. I've been busy shopping for supplies and checking things off my list of to do's. Haven't started packing up my apartment yet but I still have 15 days to go - no problem, right?.
I made my reservations to get to my staging event in D.C. I fly out of Seattle at 7:30a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23rd. The staging begins the next afternoon and it'll be then when I'll meet my fellow trainees.
We do administrative stuff all day and get briefed on what will be facing us upon our arrival. The next morning we get all our immunizations and then we're off to the airport for our flight out. We fly to Amsterdam at 5:30p.m. on the 25th and arrive at 7:05a.m. local time on the 26th. Our flight to Nairobi leaves at 11:00a.m. and we arrive at 8:15p.m. that evening.
I believe we spend the night in Nairobi and then get transported to Naivasha the next day, which is where our training will take place. We'll be assigned a family to "homestay" with for our 10 weeks of training - one volunteer per family. This is to give us total immersion into the culture and language. Should be interesting.
I hear that training is pretty tough - long hours with your education continuing when you get back to your "family" at night. I'll be taking breakfast and dinner with my family and lunch at the training facility.
Returned volunteers have told me that Naivasha has similar weather to Nairobi (I think it's about 5 hours NW of Nairobi) which is fairly cool this time of year. Highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. It's a fairly big town with a great used-clothing market. I might just find some old t-shirts I donated to the Salvation Army 10 years ago!
Not really nervous yet but getting excited. It still hasn't "hit" me that I'm going. Once I'm on the plane to D.C. it'll become real to me. Today was my last day at work. I've been temping for an advertising company, Publicis, and while sad to be leaving behind some great new friends, I'm excited to get down to the nitty gritty of my preparations. The next two weeks I'll be packing up my apartment and moving my stuff to my parents' house for storage.
That's the gist of my latest news. I'll update this once more, at least, before I head out.
August 21, 2001
The Peace Corps HQ and Travel Office were supposed to send me packets of information about my staging event and itinerary as well as provide me with country info and a recommended packing list. Well, nothing has come yet and others in my program have received both so I'm starting to take it personally.
I have been in email contact with a woman who is also in my program, Kerry, and we spoke on the phone today. She is going to have her father fax me the essential information in case my second mailings take too long to reach me. She read off some of the critical packing suggestions like: duct tape, at least 12 passport-sized photos and a solar calculator. Other recommended, but non-essential, items include: knives (apparently sharp ones can't be easily found there - wonder how I'll get this through the airport security systems...), sleeping bag and pad, and potholders. Oh and a 2-year supply of underwear. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) have all stated that the underwear suck in Kenya so bring enough to last you! They also say to ship yourself condiments like mayo, packaged mixes and seasonings, etc. before you leave so you don't have to pack it with you.
Found out that I will fly out of Seattle on 9/23 to arrive in Washington D.C. for staging on the 24th. We then do administrative stuff all day and then leave bright and early the next morning to get our immunizations. We then fly out via NW Airlines the evening of the 25th and arrive in Amsterdam the morning of the 26th. We then switch to KLM and fly out to Nairobi and arrive the evening of the 26th. Not sure what happens after that.
Once I actually receive my missing packets I'll have more info to share.
August 1, 2001
On July 2nd I accepted my invitation letter to a Small Enterprise Development post in Kenya. Now I'm awaiting further mailings from HQ as to what I should pack.
I leave on or around September 26, 2001. I will fly to Washington D.C. for a Staging Event. There I will meet the other trainees (you're not officially called a Volunteer until after you successfully complete your training), get my passport, shots, and finish up any administrative paperwork.
I believe I'm scheduled to begin training on September 29 and complete it, hopefully successfully, on December 8, 2001. Not sure where the training will be in Kenya - most likely Nairobi.
I will not find out where I'll be living for my 2-year service term until halfway through training. This is so my skills and adaptability can be assessed and matched with a host village. I'm assuming the worst - that I'll be living in a mud hut without running water or electricity. I will not be working in the same village as I'll be living. I think I'll be given a mountain bike for transportation. Pretty cool, huh?
That's the update for now - more when I have new info to share.