Erin in Africa

...and away we go!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Change of Plans!

Hey there-

I've decided to switch this blog over to a yahoo group, due to a number of reasons, including some brand-new Peace Corps regulations regarding online content written by PC volunteers. Not that I'm doing anything wrong by writing all this online, but I think that by doing things by a yahoo group will circumvent any possible issues that might arise.

So what is a yahoo group (for those of you who might not know already)? It's essentially an email list where I send out an email update, and you can choose to have it delivered to your inbox. To join the group, you can go to this website:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/erin_kenya/

or, you can send an email (you can keep the subject line and body of the email blank) to:

erin_kenya-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

So yeah, anyone who is interested in getting emails from me, go on ahead and sign up- karibuni sana!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Hello!

So I've again been lazy about updating, probably because not much has been going on! I'm in Nairobi for a little while before going to a training for a Peace Corps Committee that I'm joining- Diversity & Peer Support, or DPS. Basically one of the things that they do is a sort of peer counselor kinda thing... so I'm excited about it! Should be good, and I'm also hoping that being on DPS will allow me to get involved in training, also in working with Kenyan PC staff, in helping them to learn more about the kinds of diversity that exist in America- lots of Kenyans think that all Americans are white- which it is always interesting to see people come to the realization that there are all kinds of Americans- and that they are all really, TRULY AMERICAN. It's a pretty big realization, and sometimes a big concept to wrap your mind around.

Well, I gotta go, I'll try to update more when I come back through Nairobi later this week! Also, I just uploaded a bunch of new photos!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Whee!

So yeah, again I must offer apologies to all for not being better at keeping in touch, I've been experiencing this bizarre mixture of business and boredom that I'm not sure how to deal with! I'm having my last weekend in Meru for a while before heading off for a much needed vacation! We're finally going to Uganda to raft the source of the Nile river, and then I think I'm going to take a day or two in Kampala, and then maybe round it out with a couple of days in the Sese Islands, a group of islands in Lake Victoria. Then its back to Kenya, and hopefully some work. But I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts!

On Wed, it was International Women's Day, for those of you who weren't aware, and I celebrated the occasion by sitting and listening to speech after speech for FOUR SOLID HOURS! Sounds like fun, huh? What was even more fun was when the organizer asked me to stand and give a speech over the loudspeaker. Nothing prepared? No problem! So yeah, that was a bit harrowing!

So now I'm getting ready for my trip by cleaning my house like a madwoman, doing more laundry than I ever wanted to do at one time- I HATE doing laundry, over here it simply involves two buckets, one for washing and one for rinsing. Your hands can get rubbed raw if you do too much, so I'm taking a break. That and it looks like it's going to rain. Lets hope it holds off until I can get my laundry off the line! And then it can pour down, my garden needs it!

And I was also thinking about possibly listing some of the things that I really enjoy about living here... sometimes things can get tough, and it's good for me to have a list written down to remind me! So I thought I'd share it with y'all:

*Chameleons: They're so cool! They come in big humongous sizes, and teensey-tiny sizes as well. I'm not so good at spotting them in the bushes, I usually see them squished on the side of the road. I may have to ask one of the neighborhood boys to help me find a live one. They like to put them on sticks and then try to scare the girls with them. In the west, its frogs. Here its chameleons. The details may be different, but the motives are universal!

*Birds: There is the coolest kind of bird here, it is gray on top, and has a electric blue belly, and the strangest thing is that there are two magenta circles on each cheek of the bird, kind of like they're wearing badly-applied blusher (or are planning on becoming clowns). I've been trying to find out what kind of bird this is, I seem to remember seeing a similar kind of blusher-spot on birds in a petshop, parakeets maybe? I dont know, any suggestions welcomed!

*Little Kids: They're cute when they're not shouting "HOW ARE YOU" in nasally little voices, and there are a pack of little kids near my house that I just love to death. Some of them have even learned my Kimeru name, Mwendwa, so I no longer get "Mzungu!" from them either! SO exciting! Also when I run into a little one that I don't know, I love seeing the shock on their faces. There is one who literally was so suprised that she fell down when I waved hello to her. And she just couldn't understand why both her mother and the mzungu were laughing at her!

Chapati and Mahindi Choma: Chapati is a kind of flat bread, very greasy and not so good for you, but of course it tastes really good! Also Mahindi Choma is grilled corn. They just set up a charcoal grill on the side of the road, and roast some ears of corn (this is not sweet corn like they have in the US, but a more savory, tough kind). You can get a whole ear for 10 shillings, and it is wonderful. Of course like with all street food (even in the US), the hygenic standards don't really bear thinking about, but hey, I figure that I'm building up my immune system. When I come back, I'm going to have an iron-clad stomach!

So that's about it for now, better sign off before this gets too long!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Next showing of "The Mzungu" in 5 minutes!

Sometimes I think that the 2nd goal of PC (to help people get to know American culture better) should be rephrased to resemble something like, "you are being sent to this village in the middle of nowhere in order to entertain the locals". Because that is generally what it feels like most of the time. And usually I don't mind it all that much, just because seeing the reactions of people are quite often just too funny-I'm entertained just as much as they are!

When I go walking around (especially in more rural parts), you'll have almost everyone calling to the other people in the compound as you walk by, saying "Hey! Come look at the mzungu!" and of course this happens more or less every single day, several times a day. Those, I've just come to ignore, because they're just annoying.

But my favorite game is when I'm sitting in a cafe, matatu or wherever. Someone comes in, and says either to their companion or as a general announcement to the whole room, "Whoah, a mzungu!" (or some permutation thereof). Of course they're saying this in Kiswahili or Kimeru, and it never occurs to them that the mzungu just might know that they're talking about her. (Never mind that the word 'mzungu' is pretty striking, and even people who don't speak any Kiswa at all know at that point that people are talking about them). So there are a few fun ways of dealing with this scenario. Say I'm in a matatu. Sometimes I'll turn to the person who's talking to me, and tell them that yes, I am a mzungu, and I'm on my way home. I love watching the confused expressions on their faces; A mzungu who speaks Kiswahili!? Who thought of such a thing? Otherwise I'll keep quiet & pretend that I didn't hear, but on my way out of the matatu, I'll tell the tout (the guy who takes the money from people and serves the role of general public menace in other diverse and interesting ways) to let me out at the next road, or something else, just so they realize that I probably knew they were talking about me. Not that they really care- me speaking Kiswahili just serves to liven up the story that they're going to tell the family over dinner. Because a mzungu is interesting, but a mzungu speaking Kiswa is closer to 'circus freak' & deserves repeated retelling to numerous people. And I feel that I am doing a service, in that we're both being entertained.

But now that I've actually started to put some effort into learning Kimeru (a really bizarre language, I've got 2 new unpronouncable vowels to learn!), I've begun to imagine the new, fun possibilities that this could offer! I've already started thanking people when I get off matatu in Kimeru, and it's great watching the people inside nearly pee their pants as the matatu drives away.

So yeah, that is the way that I entertain myself these days. You take what you can get.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Pole Sana...

So yeah, I am really sorry...

I've been pretty bad about telling people what I'm up to these days, but to be honest, it's not all that exciting. Lets see:

-I got a garden: So yeah, it's a small plot, and I've planted green peppers, carrots, pumpkins and watermelon. I think I'm also going to put some zucchini and eggplant in there as well. So if I can only remember to keep watering it, and get the stupid dogs to stop walking all over my freshly planted seeds, I think I'll be having TONS of fresh veggies in a bit!

-pets: So I've been thinking for a while that I've been wanting a pet, it helps to have another living thing in the house with you, so at least you don't think you're going crazy talking to yourself... as though it's slightly less crazy talking to cats. So my landlady's cat is pregnant and about to have the kittens, and I think I'm going to take one of them. We'll see about names as soon as the thing's born!

-Work: Ok, so work's not been all that hot lately. Not that things are bad, I've actually gotten some new things started. One is an income-generating project (IGA) with my women's group-we're making bead necklaces out of magazine pages (they're pretty cool!), and we've even found some curio shop owners in Nanyuki and Meru who are interested in buying them (and the guy in Nanyuki has even offered *more* than a fair price for them!). The problem? Enthusiasm. When we started, I told the women that if they were not interested in doing this IGA, that they could tell me, I wouldn't be hurt, and we could move on to other IGA ideas that they were interested in. The thing is that in Kenyan culture, saving face is incredibly important, and also people really REALLY do NOT want to hurt other people's feelings. While most of the time I think that this is a really nice impulse, it often results in people telling me what they think I want to hear, which is not always an accurate reflection of the truth. So when I asked them if they were interested in the beaded necklaces, they assured me that they definitely were. Fast forward one month, and I'm having trouble getting people to show up for meetings and getting them to make the stupid things. But things always get off to slow starts around here, so we'll see how it goes. They finished 10 of them, and I'm hoping that we can get them to Nanyuki soon- if they see that the women who showed up and made necklaces are getting money for their efforts, the other members may see that the project is actually working. And maybe not. We shall see


-Languages: I have been losing my Kiswahili at a frightening speed, and Kimeru is still about as understandable as Greek at the moment, so I finally got my act together and hired a language tutor. To be honest I'm not as bothered about learning Kimeru as I am about becoming fluent (ok, conversant is more of a realistic goal!) in Kiswahili. So I've had a couple of language classes so far, and I'm actually getting some stuff I never got before! For instance, in Kiswahili, all nouns are divided into different noun classes. Each noun class has different rules for making words plural, and adjectives and verbs will change their prefixes depending on the noun class in question. Sounds complicated? Yeah, kinda. Most of the noun classes are pretty straightforward, but there is one that is insanely complicated- the Mahali class. This class only has one word in it- Mahali, which means "place". I never understood it, because there are so many agreements, but this lady was actually able to explain it in a way that I at least got the concept. Not that I'm actually able to use it correctly, but at least I get it. Kind of.

So yeah, I'm in Nairobi at the moment, and enjoying myself immensely. Lately I've been what PC people term a "site rat", meaning I almost never leave Meru. While it's good to be hanging out at site, being there for too long without a break isn't too good for your sanity. So a weekend away is pretty much exactly what I needed!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Who let the dogs out?

Well, actually I did. That's really the most recent trouble that I've been making out here! (Background explanation) My house is on a compound with my landlady's house, and then there are some other houses that share a courtyard with my house. My friend Naomi lives in the house next door, and this whole dumb story begins with her. She had some friends over the house one night, and she ended up driving them all home late in the night. Since the gardner/watchman guy Kimathi was I guess asleep, Naomi had one of the people in the car get out to open the big gate to let the car pass. Well, the main thing of this is that this person was really afraid of dogs (most Kenyans really don't like dogs at all, and I don't blame them. They're usually just used for house protection and aren't treated well, so they're often kind of scary!). The 2 dogs that guard the compound came running at the door, and he really wanted nothing to do with these things, so he just let them run out of the compound! They looked for the stupid things for ages, but they were not coming back inside- they were actually running around the neighborhood for almost 2 days!

So they're eventually caught, and brought back to justice (aka, hanging out under the trees and sleeping all day long). So I'm wandering through the small door that's in the gate one afternoon, and I catch sight of one of the dogs moseying on past me, towards the gate. Well, I had closed the door, so I wasn't too worried. But lo and behold, I hear this crashing, and the dog has managed to open the door and nose his way out!

I start yelling at the dog, but he's long gone. I turn around and Kimathi is standing there with a handful of collard greens just staring at me like I've lost my mind. Kimathi doesn't speak much English, so I try to compose my brain long enough to tell him what just happened in Kiswahili. However the only thing that comes out of my mouth is "Mbwa ametoka! Amepotea!" (The dog has left! He is lost!). Kimathi just starts laughing at me as he heads on out the door to chase the bad dog back into the compound.

So that's how the gardener on my compound came to think that I am a complete idiot. I blame the dogs. Naomi and I have a theory that they both have lady friends in the neighborhood that they visit occasionally. That could also explain the loud howling chorous that takes place late each night. I usually just lie back and pretend that I've got wolves outside my house, as that is the one thing that keeps me from acting on the impulse to go outside and throw things at them.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Supa!

The past few weeks have been incredible... incredibly busy, but I've had a pretty great holiday season, and now it's back to the hard realities of getting back to work! (and the title actually is a greeting in Samburu, one of the tribal languages where I went last week!)

For New Years, some friends and I went up to Northern Kenya, to a little podunk town called Maralal. It's completely arid, and about a 3 hour drive down a terrible dirt road. And I didn't want to leave. I was even thinking of asking Peace Corps for a site change (just kidding!). It's just so different from the south- northern Kenya is Kenya at its wildest, most rugged-- and I just loved it.

The mix of tribes in Northern Kenya is just so fascinating (and unfortunately PC doesn't put volunteers there, so I never really had a chance! ;) The biggest tribe up there seemed to be the Samburu, which is a tribe really closely related to the Maasai in the southern part of Kenya. They have managed to really hang on to their traditional culture, and remain pastoralist herders in a country where there is a lot of pressure to abandon the more traditional practices. There are also people from the Turkana, Kikuyu, and I think even Pokot tribes milling around up there as well. So when you have such a mix of tribes, cultures and languages, you tend to use Kiswahili quite often, and I really gave mine a workout (which reminds me that I really need to get a tutor here in Meru!).

We took a day-long camel trek through the rural areas outside of town, guided by Samburu Morans (young men who have been initiated into the warrior class in their tribe), one of whom was called 'Balance', and another who went by 'Doctor'. It was really cool to go riding by the herd boys keeping watch over their flocks of sheep & goats, we saw mongoose and zebra, and emerged from the trek completely exhausted but just so happy to be able to be here in Kenya to see & do these things.

The next day we went into town, and as it was still a public holiday, most things were closed, but enough people were about to be able to give you a sense of what the town is like normally. The thing I most liked was seeing the Samburu in full traditional dress riding through the downtown area on their bicycles! We went into this little cafe (Slogan: "Best dishes South of the Sahara, and that's a Fact". With a slogan like that, how can you go wrong?) The 5 of us go into the cramped, crowded room, and ask the manager if there is space. He tells us, "Yes, of course!" And my friend Naomi asks doubtfully, "for 5 people?". He insists that there is room (despite the fact that all tables are already occupied), and tells us that he has a "special place", and that we can sit there as we are "special people". Well, he takes us out the back of the cafe, past the kitchen, into the back and it is obvious, from the playing children and hanging laundry, that people live here. We pass a butchery, and end up going into this small room. It is instantly obvious that this is this guy's living room, and that we are going to be eating our lunch here. It is actually a living room/bedroom, as there are both couches and a bed here. And the wives and daughters of the household are coming in and out as we eat, chasing children or hauling loads of clothing outside to be washed. It was so strange and amazing all at the same time, and it was completely one of those "only in Africa" moments, which I hope to have many more of in the upcoming New Year!

So I hope that everyone had a great holiday season, and know that I'm thinking of all of you and hoping that your new year is very happy indeed!