Sunday, December 9, 2007

Back in Nairobberi

Well, Jambo to you all.

It was pretty sad leaving my little community in Nyakach to return to Nairobi for exams, but they all know I'll be back next year, so we had no sobby goodbyes. I left on Saturday with the whole family for Kisumu to attend my sister, Maureen's, wedding. We walked in one big herd of wedding guests to the main road, all dressed up and sweating, me with my big pack. Some of the fellow guests, which was a large part of the community, laughed at me asking why I needed so much just to attend a wedding. I told them about my holiday for the month, and we continued to the waiting bus that rocked and bumped us all to the big city.

Upon entering Kisumu we were driven to the wedding chapel that had all the other guests filing in and Maureen, in gown and ready to begin. Then the bus turned around and left, without letting one of us off.

'Um... was that the right wedding? Where are we going?', I asked my mama.

'Supermarket. We have to get gifts!', she laughed at me.

Okay, we're already an hour late, why not? So, we drive into the center of town and slowly file off the bus. The men find a shaded corner of the parking lot and shell out money to their wives, and then all of us women walk across the street into the store.

Groceries on the bottom floor, crap on the second, we all slowly click, clack up the metal stairs to start our shopping spree. Already feeling rushed, knowing the wedding is beginning any minute, I quickly choose a set of six pieces of plain glassware; nice looking juice glasses.

'That's what you're getting them?', my mother says amused.

'Yes', I impatiently reply, then watch in amazement as all the women meander up and down every aisle in total indecision. I see many easy choices jumping out: knife sets, salt and pepper shakers, small dishes for cooking, but they pass these and pick up gaudy plastic pieces, asking each other's opinions. My mama makes me stay on her tail as she walks along the back wall trying to pick the best plastic wall clock for under 200 Ksh.

'Do you like the one with Jesus in the middle pointing at the time, or that black and gold one?', she asks me.

Trying to hold back the knot of frustration rising in my throat I smile and say, 'That black one is nice.'

So she takes that one and we head downstairs to pick out wrapping paper. I grab a green shaded style with funky flowers on it, and think to myself that Maureen is about to walk down the aisle as her mother is being choosy over what color of paper to buy. THEN, after we all bombard the cashiers, we then bombard the gift wrapper, throwing our gifts and papers his way, suddenly in a rush, putting all the pressure on this one single man. The father of the bride comes up at this time telling mama that we must go, a car for the three of us is waiting. Mama tells me to hurry up, how long am I going to be? A look of shock blasts onto my face as I gesture at the poor man surrounded by tape, papers, and large bowls and thermoses, in the process of wrapping my glassware. Dad looks at mom, mom looks at me. She's not happy. Oh my God, why is this on me? 'You brought us all to this stinkin' market, I'm just doing what you all are doing' I say to myself through clenched teeth. Finally the gift is finished and we're ushered into a small vehicle decorated with yellow ribbons.

When we arrive, the music has begun, Maureen is walking into the church. She is accompanied by her maid of honor as mom and dad take seats in the front row. I meet my other sister for the first time, as she lives in Nairobi now, and she begins introducing me to all her friends.

'Um, shouldn't we be taking our seats?', I ask.

'Oh, you want to see the ceremony? Sure follow me.' The older sister of the bride replies. So I'm brought to a pew and abandoned. I sit smushed between strangers and witness the worst wedding ceremony of my life. No one looks interested in any of it, including the bride and groom. The white pastor makes a point when it's finished to come to me, the only white attendee to tell me that I'm welcome at his and his wife's home for a 'real meal', when I need a 'touch of reality'. I spend the evening at a relatives house and have a great meal with my cousins. The next morning, I'm on a bus to Nairobi.

The entire group of us have been bought a full-ride stay at a great hotel in an upper-class section of Nairobi for our exams. We are assigned rooms with hot powerful showers and televisions with movie channels. We have three free buffet-style meals a day and a well-kept pool at our disposal. Our exams our held in one of the conference rooms, where we spend the second two days discussing our individual internships and discussing reentry issues back into the United States. MSID spares no expense for the final days, congratulations to us, we made it through alive. Two students out of 37 bailed back to the States early, afraid for their lives, not bad. They were able to do their exams online.

Now, it is waiting time for the rest of us. With each new day, someone else leaves us, back to their waiting families at home. Most students have rushed to the coast to get one final trip in before returning in a week. There are a small number of us still in Nairobi, finishing our papers before we take our holiday (to the utmost glee of our professors). My train leaves Monday night. I'll be meeting up with others already in Mombasa, then head up to the island of Lamu where we will stay on the beach through my birthday. Then we go down to Malindi for a few days, then back to Mombasa where we say our big goodbyes to the rest of the semester students remaining. Then three of us will continue on to Zanzibar, where I will be spending Christmas and the New Year, safely out of Kenya during the already violent elections. My return to Kenya will be after a week into 2008.

The day we left the fancy hotel, I was feeling great, happy to be well-fed and in a city with alcohol. I arranged to meet one friend at a bar, then invited everyone. I dropped my stuff off at home, dumping out my pretty cloth bag from Claire on my bed, and putting in only what I'd need for the night. At the last minute I remembered to also pull out my train ticket tucked into the front pocket, and decided to throw in my camera, since I was going to see some people for the last time. On the matatu ride to the bar, I finally felt a connection to this mad city. Not only have I finally accepted Nairobi and all its daily obstacles, but it has accepted me. The matatu conductor isn't trying to rip me off, and no one is staring at me. I'm just another rider, living my life here in Kenya.

We left the bar early, all a little tired from all the goodbyes. Julia and I walked Katie home, then continued down the well-lit road to our neighborhood. I had bought a bag of freshly-popped popcorn and we were munching away, walking and gabbing about our new-felt comfort and security in Nairobi. And then we were mugged. A group of young men walked by and said hello, but kept going. Then a second group went by and shouted some not so welcome comments our way, but we're used to this and ignored them, not skipping a word in our conversation. The third group was huge. We both saw them coming, but kept up our pace. They spread across the road, there was about 20 of them. As they got close, they rushed us, and we were instantly surrounded. Popcorn flew through the air as I started beating anyone I could.

They didn't hurt us, just wanted our bags, but I was stubborn, and my bag was across my left shoulder, hanging down my right side, hard to get off. I heard Julia's sweet voice above everything else say, 'Just take it', and that's when I realized what was happening. Why in the world was I fighting a mob? I lost my footing at the same time as my bag was finally ripped off me, shoulder strap still hanging over my shoulder, and they were gone. Just two old ladies walked behind them and turned to tsk us, 'Shouldn't be out right now', they said. Thanks. I lost my camera, my phone, my lovely drawstring wallet with minimal money inside, a scarf, a book I was excited to read, and my beautiful bag I got for my last birthday with a 'Prevent Violence Against Women' ribbon pinned to the front. But I'm safe, I'm alive, and I wasn't hurt in the slightest. I'm lucky. They got what they wanted, and Julia and I helped each other make proper decisions from that moment forth, returning to Katie's, calling the program directors who then sent a taxi with my mama inside to safely bring us home.

Lesson learned, don't walk in Nairobi at night, especially near Kibera during election time. We learned the next day that this same mob stole from many that night, and several nights consecutively before that. They come out of Kibera and walk the streets acting as though they are coming from the football pitch, fans returning home, or on their way to a campaign rally. There are many reasons why groups are out right now, so they are taking advantage of these assumptions. They had hit a watchmen two hours before they got us, and he actually saw us get robbed, but stayed hidden. No one can do anything here; how do you rise up against that many? But it is avoidable, and we take taxis home now. And this is also why I'm going to be out of Kenya during the election. Villages are being torched. Tribalism is rampant, and fevers are high. It's crazy time. I'm out.

I considered not sending this, not writing anything about it at all, knowing how it may affect some of my family and friends. But, as a result, I was cutting myself off, and keeping it in. It was scary, it sucked, but it taught me to be even more safe from now on. I feel pretty humiliated, pretty stupid, and really pissed. I lost a lot of great photos, and a little dignity. But this is Africa. This is my experience.

Asante, na kwa herini,

Emily Sara

Okay, Problem Solved

Thank you for your positive and helpful responses. I have spoken with Peter, the Director of NYADEC, and now know what to do. We will be accepting donations through NYADEC, and I can give more information on how to do that later. And for those of you who want your donations to go through my hands so that you feel secure in knowing where it is going, I will be sending NYADEC's P.O. box for checks, and you can address your letters to me, and write a note about what group you want your donation to go towards, and I will make sure it is directed to the right place.

More information to follow on that. Sorry for the delay in actual photos so that you can see these groups and their activities, but again, thank you for your immediate interest.

Emily Sara

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yes, You Can Help

I have received many emails from friends throughout my stay here in Kenya (especially after my last email) asking how they can help. First, let me say that I am grateful for the offers and I feel so privileged to have so many reading who are interested and have such obvious concern.

And now let me say that I am ready to take you up on it. Through NYADEC I have a direct connection to the groups in need, and can see and am told exactly what they need. There have been times I have felt compelled to hand over the money, but I know that I would only be capable of helping a few. That is the reason Mike and I are making their web site. But, as it will take some time for the site to be ready, I would like to hand over what I can now, a decided amount based on the needs of the different groups, if just as a thank you for everything they are doing. And with so many offers from home, it would be wrong of me not to be that messenger.

But, I have never done anything like this before, and am unsure of how to go about it. A friend has suggested that I start a 'fund drive' where people can start donating whatever they can now. If anyone has information about how to do that, I am ready to do my part.

I want to add that I usually feel like I don't have enough to give to charity, and will admit that I have never donated a drop in my life. I do not expect everyone to take part in this. In fact, some of you I know should not based on your own personal financial situations. I just think there are many people with more than they need, and if they feel compelled, I would love to provide a charitable outlet.

I know that what most of what the groups need is funding. I know exactly what they need and what they need it for. Then there are items needed like gardening gloves, a computer, and a truck. If it helps this fund drive, I can provide that information, and people can donate towards certain activities or certain groups if they like. And then I can even do it in their name. I know that the groups here would love a name, even pictures. They just love to feel more connected to those that help them. If someone wants to donate by purchasing some of the beautiful wares made by these women, I can arrange that too.

I thank you for any useful information you might have in this area. And thank you again to my readers at home. I wouldn't ask for this if it weren't for all the offers.

Emily Sara

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Clouds Roll On

Overall, I'd say I have adjusted quite well to rural life here in Kenya. I made it into town last weekend and purchased the very expensive sunscreen (they know who's buying this) and some precious peanut butter, but other than that, everything I need is provided for. My mama prepares more food than I would ever need, and everyone else I meet is always giving me something, being the only mzungu around. They have amazing, HUGE avocadoes here, and just eat them with a spoon, so I decided to make my family some guacamole. Mama and my two youngest sisters hovered over me as I sliced garlic, tomatoes, cilantro (they kept practicing silantrro quietly in my ear), squeezed some lime and whipped up a batch of some of the best guac EVER. I've never made it before, but I'm not kidding, Jen-Mel, this was some good stuff.

There were no corn chips in town, so I purchased arrowroot chips instead which my family also had never seen. They loved it. Every once in a while now, Elena, my seven year old sister, quietly says guatemole, to see if I notice and praise her. And they make for me simple repetitious meals that I can't seem to get enough of. Anyone who has ever seen me eat chicken knows that I leave a good amount of space around the "yucky" parts. Now, by candlelight, I grab what's put in the bowl in front of me and rip all the soft parts forcefully from the bones and joints and suck these chewy pieces and their juices off my fingers as it drips down my chin. I use the ugali everyone's tearing at to sop up the rest of the juices that fall back into the bowl. Mmmmm, just like chicken pot pie. (Gwen is still running around. I check everyday).

I have much work to do in this last month before all our papers are due and we return to Nairobi for exams, so I spend every evening now sitting in front of the kerosene writing away. Someone will bring my dinner in for me and say, "Emily is very busy," then leave me to it. Last Sunday, I took a break from the work to watch my sisters, Brenda and Elena. They were making little dolls out of clay they found in the yard. They gave them dried grass earrings, hair made of string, and a little dress made of old torn fabric. Then they made a table and chairs, and a bed, and put a yellow flower, which are strewn all over the ground around us from the big tree next to the house, in a clay pot. They'd giggle after they made everything because they love watching my reactions to everything they do. Then we tied a long string around a tree and did some kind of counting jump rope game. At one point I got squirmish over this wormy thing with legs that came near me (I see it all the time, hate it), but little Elena was quick to come over and squish it with her finger. After they run to the house to prepare my bath water or gather firewood for dinner, I set up a little table outside the house for myself to continue writing.

The breeze blows the fresh, rain-smelling air around me and I glance up now and then to witness the amazing clouds and unbeatable sunsets. The sound of tugging grass gets near and far as the sheep we have work their way around the yard, and around it again. I love the little baby that tries to nap at times but then wakes and runs around crying for his mom because she's moved on to another area. There is another sheep the same color as she, and I find it interesting that he sometimes thinks she's mom and goes for her teats. She brutally shoves him away and he gives out another little cry. Mom doesn't miss a blade of grass as she quickly works her way back to baby to comfort him. Sometimes, one sheep stops in front of me and stares, wanting me to bring it water (yep, I know what the sheep are saying now), but I just say, "Bring me the baby", and that makes 'em move on. We have a couple baby cows and one follows the baby sheep around sometimes; they're friends. And I can't believe how close the big cattle come to me when they're feeding, walking up to and around me with their big horns. And I'm surprised that this doesn't frighten me.

The two adult dogs are named Wangari Maathai and President Nyerye (former Pres of Tanzania), which prompted me to ask the names of the pups. They hadn't named then yet, but said that I could do it. I named the girl Winona, and the boy Albert Lea. But, then found out the other day why they wait to name them. I asked where Albert was, and Gabriel, my brother, and their caretaker, just smiled and said he died. Oh, and I was surprised that this didn't bother me. I was standing near one roof holding the dead sheep's carcass, waiting to be buried, and another with the skin of a chicken waiting to be taken by a bird. I said a sweet hello to Winona who now seems more energetic as she follows Gabriel everywhere.

There's always a thunderstorm somewhere and I watch the lightning and listen to the rumbles, but it usually passes us without many drops. Everyone gets some rain about twice a week, and every home has its system of harnessing the water. This is all the water we have, the rain. Some homes have big cement tanks built next to the house with the gutter pouring into it. Our system is just one of us grabbing the biggest bucket near by and putting it in the designated spot where the gutter pours its contents. Then mama puts Riteguard in the water and the family can drink it. I'm still buying bottles from the market which we then use to carry our kerosene.

I try my hardest to not get creeped out easily, although it can be slow going. There's an enormous spider that likes to make an appearance every night when I'm alone and run around the wall quickly, making me shriek. Once it's out of sight I try to forget about it. The tops of the walls open up to the air, it can find its way back out again. But, every night, it's back again, laughing at me. Last night, a moth the size of a Monarch began flying around our heads as mama and I had a great conversation about the coming elections, husbands taking girlfriends, and birth control. I love talking to her. But the moth became our entertainment as we rooted for the two little geckos on the ceiling who were trying to chase it. It seriously became our Primetime Crime Show.. we she be caught? She got herself into this mess, can she find her way out? Come on geckos, you're closing in, trap her into giving herself away... then mama grabbed my hard cover photo album and smashed her. Show over.

I grabbed my toilet paper and took the journey to the latrine pits the other night, and as I was beginning to squat, a bat came flying out of the hole up at me. I released a shrieky yyYYEEELP I have never heard leave my body before, and forced my way out of the locked door into the night with my pants around my ankles. There was a funeral taking place somewhere in the distance which is a three day event with music and dancing, so this covered my scream, but all the dogs took notice and started barking like crazy. I'm just glad it was dark, because during the day, I'm within view of the school windows and all the students watch me as a trot to the toilet with my funny tissue paper. When I told my mama and her sister, they had a great laugh, and my mama grabbed a blunt weapon, and said, "Who's trying to hurt my Emily?!! If I had heard you scream I would have come running!!"

The next day I went to the pit and when the door opened and the sun hit the hole, I saw the bat try to cover himself. Nope, not going in there. There's two adjoined pits, so I walked into the other one, and saw a stupid bat in there too! Nope. I walked back to the house and whined to my mommy that there are now bats in both latrines and I don't know what to do. She asked if I was really scared of a bat, and I said I am when it's flying at my butt! So she finally showed me the pit the family uses (I wondered why I was the only one I saw go so far), she just thought I wouldn't like it because it's made of mud, leaning to one side, the door doesn't fully close, and it's infested with large cockroaches that are not afraid of you, but eh... it's better than the bats, and the laughing, pointing children for that matter.

Although most people in the area are getting used to me, this just leads them to approach me more with their questions and assumptions. No, I cannot give you money. No, I cannot help increase your fishing yield. No, I am not here to teach. No, I am not here to write the history of the land. No, I cannot help you get to America, but I wish I could. The children have made it a game to call out to me as I pass every morning and every night. I sometimes stop at Mama Stevens barber shop to say hello, and they gather around because she's right in the middle of the market area. Last time, she taught me how to say I'd like some water in Luo, as I was on the way to the water duka. Mia Pi, I said, and all the children started yelling it around me. MIA PI, MIA PI! And it's hard to say that, by the way. Water is pronounced "pee". Bring me some pee, Brenda, I'd like to take a bath now. I'm thirsty, I could use some pee. One child saw me walk by and screamed, "Dolly!" My mama was with me and burst into laughter. "She thinks you're a dolly!" The girl followed for a while in complete disbelief that a life-sized dolly was walking through the market. One boy was made to shake my hand by his mother. He did it reluctantly, then looked at his palm and wiped it on his shirt. They just don't know what I am.

The women's groups I've been visiting have been the highlight. They dance and sing when I arrive, and show me everything they do. I have learned how to basket weave and make rope out of sisal fibres. They even send me home with the supplies to continue. I watched a group make earthen pots, and watched them bake a cake in a traditional oven. They baked a cassava cake for me and it was gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood. The group with the pots sent me home with a large pot of my choice, a chicken-shaped sugar bowl, a basket, a colorful rope for hanging pots, and a huge sack of ground nuts they picked and peeled that day. The next group prepared for me uji (the local pooridge), and cakes all made completely out of sweet potato flour and amarinth (a natural malaria medicine). They sent me home with a bag of this wonderful flour, and a huge rack of fresh eggs. Everyday now, I return home with my arms full, and I place everything on the center table. My siblings say to my mother in Luo that everyone really loves me here. And as I've been told by all that I am such a fast learner, I am invited back to continue my work making ropes and baskets. I REALLY LOVE doing it, so I'll probably spend a lot of my time with them all when I return in January. And it's great for the research I'll be doing next semester. I am just so happy I was moved here to NYADEC, at Harambe Market, in Nyakach, near Kisumu.

I have decided to help get NYADEC and all of their activities known around the world by giving them a website. Mike has agreed to take on the project, and we are now busy creating a huge site that will educate all about the amazing work being done here. On the gullies, the wetlands, with the tree nurseries, and in cooperation with the women's groups. There is so much funding needed by all the different groups here, and as I visit every single one I take pictures and learn all I can about who's involved and what methods they are using and why. I have learned of all the benefits of sisal, papyrus, aloe, and many more indigenous trees. Then the women make amazing things to raise money for the projects, and for their orphans. AIDS is so prevalent here that most of these women are widows, and all the groups support many orphans. At the group that made the pottery, they have about 20 little children staying right there, taking school in a church that is not big enough for this purpose. They all came up to me and stared at me with big innocent eyes that said, take ME with you. And I have to admit, I wanted to. How does one really go to an orphanage and pick one when they are all there praying and praying it will be them? I found myself looking each one directly in the eye as the women described their activities, with the thought, which one would it be...

But what I can do is help get them known. This group is in need of money to build classrooms right now, and they even showed me professional blueprints they had made. They showed me the location, and the pile of bricks they are collecting and saving money to buy, and they will build it themselves once they have everything they need. A gully trust group told me the need for gloves because of the sandy dirt they must dig in. Another group needs the money to fix their truck as their main method is building rock contours. Now they do it all by hand, and it is SO much. And it's really working! It's so amazing it even shows in a photograph. These are just some of the needs that I hope to help get known out there for them. I simply tell them I think what they are doing is impressive, and I will do what I can to make what they do known and available on the internet. Now, we can only pray that the world will take interest. And this makes them happy, and they start clapping and singing again.

I know I made the right decision in staying for four more months. I have so much I want to do, and I love the people I'm meeting, and everything they are willing to teach me. They all ask how long I'm staying and they light up with smiles when I tell them I will return in January after a month holiday. Then I'll be with them until April, researching for one project, my own, and spending my time the way I want to. Wednesdays with Kudho Kodit Women's Group, Thursdays with Ritri Kendi Women's Group, Sunday's planting the family food garden with my mama... it's going to be a time I will cherish forever.

On the way to the matatu stand this morning a man I passed asked, "On your way to work, Emily?"
"No, not today, going to Kisumu."
His smile faded, "Are you coming back?"
"Yes", I laughed.

And I know they will remember me too.

Emily Sara

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Time For A Change...

Well, I leave tomorrow morning for the town of Embu, where I'll be stationed for the next six weeks. I've been told it's a big small town, but there are no rice cakes. That's about all I know so far. It's at the southern base of Mt. Kenya in Central Province. Kikuyu country. Because it is election year, they're sending us out to our internships a week early and bringing us back to Nairobi over the first weekend of December rather than the second. Election Day is currently scheduled for Dec. 27th, but this may change, for no other reason than this is all crazy and it would take you months to understand it as it has me. But politics is violent here. The rallies continually end up with small groups duking it out, and politicians actually use this as a political tool. "Presidential Candidate Kalonzo Musyoka announced today that he has canceled his rally in Uhuru Park because he does not want to cause harm to the public, and urges his fellow candidates to think about the safety of the people...", is close to what you read in the papers everyday (I used Musyoka as an example).

The program wants us all back in Nairobi under their watchful eyes during this turbulent time. Yet, when we're in our separate provinces, we're actually given the assignment of asking as many questions as possible about who everyone is voting for and why. We have a paper due for Fred on the subject. Margo and I visited him in his office at University of Nairobi to discuss all the papers he has assigned for us, and I asked him if it wasn't offensive and obtrusive to ask our families these heated political questions he's listed. He assured me that Kenyans love to talk politics, and it's not like we're not going to know who they're for outside of Nairobi. Each province has their favorite. I'm going to Central, where Pres. Kibaki is from, being a Kikuyu himself. This is the area which has received the most development because of the problem with ethnicity here. Yet, the Kikuyus believe that their area is the most developed because they're hard workers and everyone else, especially the Luos in Nyanza Prov. are lazy. Nevermind the completely uneven distribution of resources, and I'm going to stop now, or I could go on forever.

But, I have become very good at asking questions in a non-biased way, especially since my host-parents are Kikuyu; this has given me good practice (I do not back Kibaki in any way, but right now am torn between Odinga and Musyoka). Margo is going to Nyanza, Odinga country, and the Luos LOVE their Raila Odinga. Fred did actually say to her, "If you mention you're for Kibaki or Musyoka, you die...", and went on despite my little chuckle. I mentioned to my host-parents the other night that I wished American politics were a little more like Kenya's in that Odinga and Musyoka both get to run by splitting their party into two: ODM and ODM-K (and they actually fought over who got to keep the orange as their symbol until Musyoka said Odinga could have it, his party will be an orange and a half. And it really is now). I told them I wished that both Clinton and Obama could run for President against the Republican Party rather than fighting for the Democratic seat. My parents laughed and said that if Obama wins presidency, the US will have 51 states: the original 50 plus Nyanza, and Odinga will be Senator. I thought that was good (Obama is half Luo and they LOVE him too).

Anyway, that's all a really long way of getting to the point here. I will now be here for the elections as I have decided to become a full academic year student. The second half of the MSID program is a great opportunity I decided I could not miss. My internship has now changed from 6 weeks to 5 months, and I'll have in-field interview and research opportunities for a required 60 or so pg research paper that can be used for my senior project for my Bachelors Degree. And no academic year MSID participant has ever been turned down for Grad School. May as well do that too. These are big decisions, it's been a fantastic week, and I am bursting through my stinky African seams. I'm going for it, ladies and gentlemen, so wish me luck. And don't hold me to it. Okay, hold me to it, because it's really what I want. I am so happy!

I'll see you all at the end of April. Have a good winter, suckers!!

Emily Sara

By the way, If anyone is on Facebook, there is a link called MSID Group 2007 that has over 200 photos right now, and growing. All the students here are joining and downloading pics, and they show a little of what I'm seeing here, including Hell's Gate, the game park in Nakuru, and Kibera, and some pics of me jumping for joy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Remains Of The Fallen...

I awoke yesterday morning at my usual 6am, made my bed, got dressed, and headed to the kitchen. After making and packing my lunch, I made my cup of instant coffee, fried two eggs, and slapped them onto some gluten free bread. I ate my breaky while tuned into my favorite show of the day, the nature show on channel 1 every morning. This morning it was about Australia's Untamed. After watching a horse ostracized because he was injured, and a camel kicked out of the herd for no good reason, I washed my dishes, grabbed my bag, and head downstairs at 7:35 to meet my walking partner and friend, Emmy.

We walked and talked of how her situation has been since she stood up to her evil host mother the day before, and about how excited I was now that I chose my classes for next semester. We talked excitedly about our favorite spots on the Twin Cities Campus, and how beautiful Minnesota is in the fall. We talked about where we were headed in our lives, our upcoming internships, and what we were hoping for in the future. Our conversation that morning flowed easily and we covered our 45 minute walk without a pause. We turned into Nazarene University, obviously both satisfied in not stopping at the fruit stand down the road for our usual morning banana, saving ourselves 5bob a piece.

The class gathers at the steps of the buildings, chatting, catching up, and drooling over each others morning snacks until our Profs show up and we break for morning tracks. Environment track with Jama that morning was interesting as ever as we further discussed the problems with deforestation and soil erosion in Kenya. At 10:30 we broke for tea time: a half hour of students chatting some more, drinking chai, eating biscuits, and further drooling over individual snacks brought, generally mine because I can't eat the biscuits. Our second class of the day is Kiswahili, and again we separated into our little groups and endured our second to last class in this subject. We've learned so much at this point that we're all beginning to feel as though we can't remember any of it. The final is on Friday, we'll see...

Over lunch we all met with our presentation groups as we were having our last class with Fred that afternoon and had to present on a topic assigned by him the previous week. My group was presenting on strategies to unite Kenya into one people, forever ridding them of the ethnic divide originally caused by the colonizers. I ate my pb&j as I memorized my part about the need to adapt a new constitution written by the Kenyans rather than the British (they're still living by the rules set by the British!), and all the important laws it must include. One at a time students were running to the fruit stand for one last refreshment before class and when one student starts peeling a green orange, everyone wants to start peeling their own juicy green orange (they eat green oranges here, don't know why, they're not as good, but whatever, we're in Kenya and you're not), so my 5bob was spent after all as Julia ran to get one for me and one for her before we had to go into class.

Sitting at my desk I peeled and ate, careful to pile the millions of seeds these buggers have on my desk, and listened to the first presentation about the pros and cons of Nationalized Health Care. They threw out some trivia and between bites I shouted out "Twenty Dollars!", when Bethany asked how much money per year the World Health Organization figured should be spent on one person for health care. The answer was $35-$50, so I was close. Just then, Emmy came up behind me with her phone in her hand whispering to me that I must call the office immediately; they kept calling her phone, being the other Emily on the program. I looked at my own phone and saw two missed calls. I looked at Emmy like she was nuts, but then parted the presenters as I head outside to make the call.

"EMILY! You must come to the office immediately!"

"Oh, um, ok, but do I need to come right now?"

"Yes, you must come to the office immediately."

"I'm in class..."

"You really need to come right now."

"This is Emily H______, right?"

"Yes, Emily H______, you must come."

".......can you tell me what this is about?"

"Uh, you should just really come to the office immediately."

"Ok, I'll just walk there now then."

I parted the presenters again as I shakily headed to my desk for my bag. Grabbing it, and clumsily scooping the orange seeds into my hand, I rushed out the door. How can they do this to me? I thought to myself, and with a toss, scattered the seeds across the freshly swept campus grounds. It's a fifteen minute walk to that office, and the whole time my mind was racing. Has something happened to my parents? Is Alison okay? Lisa? David? Oh God! What could it be? Why would they pull me out of class? If it concerns matters here, couldn't they wait until class ended since there was less than two hours left, Oh God! What's happened to my loved ones? Has Minnesota been wiped off the Earth? WHAT IF MINNESOTA WAS WIPED OFF THE EARTH?!! JESUS!

Jane saw me approaching the door through the windows, and she opened it as I walked up. "Hello, Emily.", she said sweetly and calmly with her usual smile, though I could see the tears. "So sorry to take you out of class."

"Yeah, um, that's okay, I was just about to.."

"Your dad died."


"Your host dad, I mean."

"Oh my God," I responded, partly out of sadness for my mama and Kevin, but also out of relief for myself. What a thing to be told after an emotional walk like that. I let a few tears fall as I thought of poor Kevin without a dad, my strong, lovely mama without a husband. I won't know what to say, I won't even know what one does say here.

"When family dies, do people here openly grieve?"

"Oh, yes. And their whole family comes from everywhere in the country to grieve with them, so you're going to have to leave your home immediately. We've got another family set up for you. Simon's on the way here to take you to gather your things and meet your new family."

I was taken in a taxi to my home, which was empty save for Kevin's cousin, Maureen. I had minutes to pack everything I had throughout the home, including the food I had just purchased the day before. Back in the cab leaving my home without even a goodbye, I thought to ask Simon where I was moving to, but I couldn't speak. I just silently watched my world change its geography in a car ride.

"Hope you like dogs.", Simon said with a smile, as we carried my bags into my new home. I was on the other side of town, now across from school cutting my walk by a half hour. The neighborhood is a bit higher class, called Golfcourse, although there isn't a course to be seen. The househelp greeted us, and I heard the big dog bark, but she had put her away for my arrival. Grace led me into the house with a shy two-year-old at her skirt. She sat me down on the couch in front of the TV, currently playing a "Jeffersons" marathon. Simon told me my mom would be home soon and left me.

I sat in that place for two hours. Grace served me strawberry juice, and Annabelle, the darling little one, warmed up to me, and even made my right arm her new canvas with pen. But she kissed it as much as she drew on it, which I though was quite respectful. Then my dad walked in. He was obviously thrown off-guard as he stuttered that his name was Allan, then walked back out again. Ten minutes later he came back with a big welcome to his home. He had spoken with his wife, he said, and understood now what was going on. He explained that he was going to meet her at church and they wouldn't be home until after 6, but I should make myself comfortable.

At 4:30, three more children came home with a bang of noise. They'd spot me on their couch (which was really a bed, and was soon to become my bed in a guestroom, and three uncomfortable chairs were going to soon replace the spot in front of the TV), and smile, and say hi, then run back into the kitchen. The oldest, Robin, my new brother, finally sat with me and learned what was happening. Then he went and got me some milk tea and toast. Here we go again, I thought as I politely refused both, but said I'd take some drinking chocolate (what they call cocoa here), and he was very accommodating.

Eventually, I came to know Marion and Alison, my other sisters, and everyone warmed up to me real fast. Even Princess, the German Shepherd has picked me as her new favorite. I must say, it is wonderful to sit at a dinner table with a family again, eating a fabulous meal of pilau prepared by Grace, even if the TV was turned toward the table, and everyone watched the Andy Dick sitcom that's so popular here, but that I haven't seen in the States. But it did get a little rough for me when my sisters, all three of them, joined me in my room and helped me unpack by going into everything, EVERYTHING, I have, asking, "What's this? What's this?"

My entire toiletry bag was emptied and neatly lined up on an end table by little Annabelle. Twice now I've had to give an exaggerated, "Thanks!", to my sisters to get them to leave my room, you know, when it's necessary. They are a lot compared to my old, tiny, non-obtrusive family, but I'm again grateful that they've taken me in on such short notice, and with such enthusiasm. And all this fuss over me when I'm leaving on Monday! At the crack of dawn this coming 22nd, we're off to our internships. I'll be shipped out to Embu to begin working with the National Environmental Management Authority, and I am absolutely thrilled. Mt. Kenya, here I come.

Last weekend, I went to Maasai Mara, and saw the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World. The one thing I have truly been dying to see in Kenya since the very beginning: I saw the great wildebeest migration. Thousands and thousands of wildebeests as far as the eye could see. We also saw elephants, lions, cheetahs, ostriches, hippos, and crocs. We saw the wildebeests run together with zebras across the road in front of us, only to see them run right back to the other side (it was a long wait while they made up their mind where to be at that moment). We were brought to the river where we saw huge storks sitting on rocks along a sandy side bar, but the stench was unbearable. Then we realized that those weren't rocks at all but hundreds of wildebeest corpses; all the trampled and drowned.

On the drive home after a wonderful stay at a safari camp, we drove through Maasai country and were surrounded by all the bomas of the different groups still living off the land, herding their cows and goats. It was quite an accomplishment for me to finally be so close to this community that I have read about and researched heavily throughout my years dreaming of Africa. That weekend is the one that finally brought those tears to my eyes. I looked over the savanna, the open grasses dotted with acacia trees and bones of the fallen. I watched the patches of red warriors walk together with their spears and their smiles. But it was when I saw the lion, surprisingly for me. When that lion looked me in the eyes, the tears came, and you know the ones I'm talking about. My God. I'm in Africa.

Glad to be here.

Love to you all, my little lovelies,

Emily Sara

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

It's A Big One...

Hamjambo, marafiki na jamaa wangu! Habari za Amerika sasa? Kenya ni nzuri sana.

My weekdays have begun to blend in with one another, as is the life of a student. Our classes did change recently as we have now broken off into our separated tracks -- subjects pertaining to our internships. The whole 37 of us have two classes in common. Country Analysis is all about Kenyan political history into today and is taught by a very intense, passionate, yet humorous man named Fred. We separate into three groups for Kiswahili taught interchangeably by Judy, Elly, both fabulous, and Omanga, young and confusing. Dr. Jama is the head of our program here and he was also our Development professor, but is now teaching my track, Environment and Sustainable Development. The other tracks are public health, education and art, and micro-finance.

My home stay became very comfortable as my mama and I are quite similar and get on pretty well together. Kevin is still a little angel, although he gets way too much homework and only has time for dinner, a half-hour of TV, and a goodnight to me before he goes to bed at 9. Baba was pleasant until he fell ill; now everything has changed. He was always retreating to his bedroom without finishing his dinner and looking quite uncomfortable, but when I would ask how he was, the answer was always just fine, as is the way here: everyone's always nzuri sana. Then I came home one Friday to find him gone, taken to the hospital by mama. Turns out he's diabetic and his blood sugar was down to 2.2, almost coma stage. They also found fluid in his stomach so he was in hospital for a week. Now, he has been home for two weeks, but he seems worse. The only way I know he's there is because mama closes all the doors to the hallway before she helps him to the bathroom. I suspect that he was discharged early in that the health system here is similar to the States: treatment is expensive and no one has insurance. So, the mood is my home is somber and exhaustive. Mama smiles little and Kevin stays pretty quiet. I have begun to live for the weekends...

Two weekends ago, a group of eight of us left town for Hell's Gate National Park. The cheapest way to travel is in a matatu--a vehicle somewhere between a conversion van and a mini-bus, and we squeezed ourselves into one for a fast-paced, scenic, hour and a half ride to Naivasha, Kenya. Once we reached the town center, the driver made us get out, claiming that the matatu, which was running just fine, had broken down. We were made to get into another before reaching our destination. It seemed a bit skeptical, but we went with it, and sure enough we arrived safely, and with no more money due, at the beautiful resort of Fish Eagle Inn. Resort, you say? Yes, but we all shared a dorm style room with bunk beds and thatch walls in cold, cold Kenya. The blankets were extra. One of the girls I was with bought a guitar en route so that we could party it up at the fire. A couple sitting outside our room stopped me to shake my hand and welcome me to Kenya. I talked with them a bit, practicing my Swahili when they asked me whether that guitar they saw was for the church. No, I replied, it's to play. Right, they said, to play for the church? No, no... just for us. Oh, well we are so glad you are here! I shook their hands again and joined my friends on walk to the lake.

We had to pass through a thick hedge and found on the other side a campground filled with matching tents. Excitement grew as we realized this was the happenin' place for the weekend as we hopped and skipped our way to the overlook on the fence between the lake and the grounds. We watched the sunset over the water and another Kenyan walked up to meet us. He told us he was here for the meeting. What meeting? "You see the tents? It's the meeting of the Christians. We're all here together for the meeting." We never really found out exactly what the meeting of the Christians entailed except that they woke up at the crack of dawn and sat against the wall of our room eating their breakfast and ignoring their children who screamed, laughed, then cried at our window. Other than that, they were silent.

We also met an American diplomat named Paul. He works in anti-terrorism in Tel Aviv, but was stationed in Nairobi for three months. A very hard sense of humor, he was just a shadow in the night smoking a cigarette telling us that he couldn't answer our questions, but he'd write a book about it one day. We ran into him again in the restaurant and asked him to join us for dinner. Good move, he talked all night about his work, and payed the whole tab. A few of us separated and meandered to another bar on the grounds while others climbed over the fence by the lake and heard the noises of the hippos who slept on the shores of Lake Naivasha every night.

Hours later we found each other again, and all decided that there's nothing like a resort in East Africa to make you hungry all the time. There was always a big beautiful buffet set up for people much richer than ourselves, but by this time of night, we decided we couldn't take the mouth watering any longer. Katie, the guitar player, asked the owner of the resort if we could please, please eat the buffet without paying as we were starving students, and the party in the bar surely wasn't eating it. We didn't know where that was going to go, but before we knew it, she was talking to the host of the party. A few minutes later she came over to inform us that we were free to enjoy everything presented, the host was in good spirits, and could not resist the charm of a cute American. Three servings a piece later, we all decided to purchase a bottle of wine for the host, who, it turns out, was enjoying his resignation party. We went to bed that night with bellies full, ready to take on the hike into Hell's Gate.

It's a two kilometer hike from the road where the matatu drops you to the gate of the park. Naivasha is famous for the flower industry and there are greenhouses lining all the main roads. Walking along this one I stepped over discarded or dropped flowers of all colors, smelling the fresh mountain air, smiling at the old Maasai woman walking alone. At the gate we had trouble convincing the guard that we were in fact residents, as is a common problem, but our alien cards don't lie, and eventually she had to let us in for the cheap price. It is another eight kilometers to the gorge, which is the destination of all visitors of Hell's Gate. Most rent a safari vehicle or a peddle bike to get to the good stuff quicker, but we students walked. What's eight kliks? And we wanted to have the full experience.

It was a hot day, but the beautiful mountain ridges all around us kept the heat far from our thoughts. We walked freely among zebra, warthogs, giraffes, impalas, and elands; some of these animals crossed the road right in front of us. The jeeps would pass and kick the dirt up into our faces, but we were happy to be free... until about 4km in. Then it was like, yeah great, it's a zebra, I haven't seen shade and I'm hungry. We walked the last half in silence.The gorge was exactly as it sounds. The river is dried up but for a light trickle, and here and there was a very light waterfall. The weather down, down deep into that ravine was perfect, the rocks shaped like a huge playground. Every time we passed another fall of water we all had to wet our hair with a big WAHOOO! We were feelin' tip top and climbing all over everything.

At one point we ended up on a side path, viewing the gorge from slightly above. The crew wasn't satisfied and wanted back down along the bottom. But I was getting a little tired of all the sidetracking. I'm used to a hike ONWARD! Not stopping at every fallen tree just to see if one could make it across or not. One at a time, I lost my commys. I, assuming they were going to be goofing around forever, shouted down that I would just meet up with them later and continued on.

Alone I kept along the trail, which got smaller, smaller, and steeper. It would go up the side of the ridge, and instead of coming back down, well it just kept going up higher! Pretty soon, I was nowhere near the gorge, and wondering if I took the wrong way after all. I began to rush, afraid I was taking the long way, but the trail was so narrow, I could easily slip down the side, and it was no short fall. At one point I finally reached a landing and was able to catch my breath. Wow, I was high. I could no longer see or hear water or voices, but just the slight breeze and I took in the sights. I could see the top of the other side, and reasoned that I was about two feet from the top myself. A young Indian boy shouted hello to me from the other side, and I recognized him, his brother and father as they had been hiking along with us in the beginning; their progress showing our lag. They walked on, and I smiled to myself at my climb and my solitude.

After a couple celebratory photos of myself, I began my decent along the same path, as it finally seemed to want to bring me back to my friends and the gorge. Again the path got so narrow at times, I thought I would slide right down the cliff. Then I reached a rocky portion that really was missing the foot part altogether. Cursing myself for never taking a rock climbing class, I let reason tell me to lean my body weight in against the cliff wall and find something to hold on to. As I looked and felt along the wall, my heavy bag swinging along my side, I remembered why you always hike in pairs, then found a rock to grip. Oh, thank you, I grabbed on and facing the gorge, let my left foot guide my body down when CRAP the rock popped out and I felt my body start to tumble. I threw myself sideways like I was going to cartwheel and at the same time caught glimpse of something dart across the gorge bottom. A young boy had been watching me from the other side and was now running up to help me. I landed without a scratch and just kept moving down toward him, half in fear, half in embarrassment. Together, we made it to the bottom, and stood there together, alone.

I thanked him then told him in Swahili that I wanted to continue to the end, but he said no, it was time to head back up the other side and return to the park. He started to guide me to the path going up, but I pointed up the gorge, "Marafiki wangu, watu saba" -- I have seven friends.., he understood and stared in anticipation, as I once again dunked my head under the best falls yet. After my friends rejoined me, I let them know it was too late to continue on and, with William's help, we hiked up and out. 8km later, with bloody feet, we finally found an empty jeep and hitched the last few km back to our inn.

That night we had our campfire. Katie and Ryan played guitar and led us in great songs, as we got to know a group of Rwandans sharing our heat. They bought all our drinks and invited us back to their place to party into the night. Several of us were completely pooped, however, and hit the bunks to be ready for the early morning out. It was a successfully exciting, relaxing, (and cheap!) weekend away from the hustle of Nairobi.

Once we returned to our home city, I was already anticipating leaving for my next weekend getaway.. Uganda. As I said before, the weekdays wear on me, and blend into one monotonous, tiring, and sometimes just sad day. All I could think about last week was arriving in Kampala and going to Craig and Lois Kippels' for some true R&R. The Kippels are friends of the family and have been telling me I must visit them when in East Africa for the last three years. I decided to take the night bus over on Thursday night, relax on Friday, then raft the Nile on Saturday. Before I knew it, I had eight students wanting to join me. So, Craig and Lois made reservations for my friends at a hostel, and at the rafting company scoring us a great group discount. We were set and couldn't wait for the week to finish.

Wednesday after class, I was feeling the fatigue of hump day, and decided to stop in Nakumatt, the big grocery store, to buy a grapefruit to improve my mood. Yes, a grapefruit improves the mood. I found a health food section, and got completely sidetracked by a gluten free shelf!! Oh God, I bought cereal, snack bars, soy products, I was lovin' life. I noticed it was getting on 6:15 and that the sun would set soon, so bought my stuff, and walked out into the evening.

As the noise and music of Nakumatt faded behind me I found myself engulfed in a strange silence. There were many cars waiting to exit the parking lot, but their engines were off, and the people inside, calm. The normally busy Ngong Rd was empty and there were people lining the sides. Police officers, military officers, and all sorts of officers were sporadically placed along the road as well. What, is the President coming? I thought as I walked up to the road's edge. I started my walk along the side when I saw a lone vehicle coming. One police jeep came speeding by with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Everyone's heads followed it, then turned back to where it came. As I walked on I found some women laughing and chatting nearby so I asked them what was happening. "The President is coming!" Just as I'd suspected, the road was cleared for Kibaki.

A moment later I saw them coming. I leaned up against a light pole and watched the show. Six or seven motorbikes with lights flashing surrounded his limo with flags unfurled. I saw a figure inside as it sped passed but wondered if I would ride in the obvious vehicle were I President. So I let my eyes fall on the figures in every official car and truck that sped behind it, and there were many. I could see all the people, but wasn't sure if my eyes fell on the turtle-like features of Kenya's current leader. Regardless, before even cutting into my grapefruit, my sour mood was lifted. I nearly hopped the rest of the way home, finally smiling at everyone I passed. We saw the President! I don't really know why, but I was thrilled.

Taking a bus across the country is always interesting. Each ride I've ever taken would make a satisfying story in itself. If you haven't ridden in one across a "developing" nation, you must try it before you die. Then again, it may be what kills you. Professor Fred has a saying that he will certainly be remembered for by us, as he says it at least three times a week. He loves telling us the various ways in which one can die in Kenya. "If you walk up to a lion, you die", "If you get typhoid here, you die". He brought us on a field trip to a pineapple field to show the extent of land taken from the Kenyans by Western powers. This specific plantation is owned by Italians that wouldn't even talk to us because they were suspicious of American students and their intentions. But, Fred let us know, "If you take one of these pineapples, you die".

The week before we left for Uganda, he wanted to show the class where the best seats on the bus are. He drew a bus on the board and crossed out the back. He drew a box over the wheels and said that if your seat was there, just hand them back your ticket as you will be sick the entire way. He then circled the front and said, "If you sit here, you die". My seat was number 43. I was worried that I was in the back and would be bouncing out of my seat the entire way. But on Akamba Co. buses, the numbers start on one side and work their way up the other. I was right next to the driver. Despite the bumps and the warnings, I was able to sleep soundly most of the way.

I'll spare you all the details of the ride across the ever changing western Kenyan roads, the walk across the border, and how a 12hr ride was stretched into 15, and just say that we all made it safely into Kampala.The Kippels' home is more accommodating than any student in East Africa can expect, and for that I thank them again. But, I must say that the highlight of my time in Uganda was rafting the Nile. I was told by the students who had taken the trip the weekend before that everyone flips. What?! Flips? But, why would I want to do that? I've rafted several times in my life, and have come very close to being tossed right out, but I've always stayed in the boat. And IT has always stayed upright.

I was placed with four other experienced rafters, so I thought that despite our light weight, we stood a better chance of making it all the way sans a flip, whatever that means... In my boat with me were Emmy, a friend on the program, Katie, a volunteer for LWF, and William and Tony, brothers-in-law from S. Africa and Swaziland. We had many interesting conversations on that raft. From level two to level five rapids we whooshed and whooped our way down the gorgeous, wide and surprisingly warm Nile. Big white waves would nail our raft, BLAM, and William was out at one moment and back in the next.

We talked about future rafting trips we were sure to take, and the bros told us of their favorite river to ride, the Zambia. Starting at the bottom of the Victoria Falls, you raft down the gorge in the wildest river they've seen. A plane ride with a $300 price tag away, I'm considering doing it during my internship. Boat after boat was being tossed and flipped and we proudly stayed afloat in the untamed water. Then they had us all paddle aside to the shore. "You hear it don't you?", our guide smiled. It didn't matter, the river was gone. It dropped ahead of us to a level six(?)(that's what the guides were telling us) rapid we had no visual on.

We waited for all the rafts to catch up as our individual guides prepped us for what was coming. Two or three rafts pulled ashore completely letting selected people, or the entire crew off. Scaredy-cats. Juja, our guide, just told us not to panic. "Just take a deep breath", he kept telling us as though that was the best advice for panicking under water. Then we were on our way. "Let's do this!" he shouted, and we paddled toward the mysterious drop-off. "Paddle, paddle, paddle, now ALL DOWN IN THE BOAT!", he instructed and we all sat tucked in and watched what was coming. Down we went and into the arch of the biggest TWO waves I have ever seen ahead of me. Silently we were all in awe staring up at two crests coming from two angles, like the ship that sliced the water was invisible, and we were in its place. I swear there was time for all of us to realize this amazing thing we were about to hit, and then I heard one "Oh my God" from Katie. BWOOOSH. Water coming at me from the right. So much I didn't know when to breathe though I'm sure I did. Then, that's all there was... water. Did we flip? I'm not sure, but I can't feel my grip on the boat anymore, oh and my oar is gone, in fact.. I hear nothing. I can't believe it, I'm under... the water rushed across every part of my body, fast moving and thorough.

I felt a strange peace and calm, even a warmth, like a ball of dough, lightly being tossed from hand to hand. I've been under a while, I was able to realize, but I knew I had to surface, so I just waited. Pop, my head hit the air, and I struggled for a breath but whhoooom, oops, I'm under again. Now, I'm panicked, my arms are flayling, I need to get up! Why am I under again? Oh God, I didn't even get a breath, I can't get to the surface, I need some air, and I don't know what to do!! Shit, when am I going to.. and I was up again and in my face was a kayaker. Thank God, he's going to tow me out. "You're okay!", he shouted and POOF he was gone.

I'm okay? More water hit me again, and I went down, but came back. I couldn't keep my head up and I could not catch my breath. Choking and panicking I grabbed the the top of my life jacket and pulled it down. Oh, it's too big, as I thought in the beginning. Finally, my head was above the water and I remembered my lessons and put my feet ahead of me letting the river take me. But now it was calm, and I heard Juja yelling, "SWIM!", and saw him standing atop the capsized boat, so I started working again. Oh, I'm trying, I'm trying. I could see the rest of my crew, but the boat was so far away. I finally reached the raft, and Juja flipped it over for us. We helped each other up, and then I saw that Emmy was still working her way across from where I had come. We had both been on the same side. The side that as Katie put it, "Didn't stand a chance".

The boat flipped over us, and the others were able to hang onto the boat and their oars and got through the rapid quickly. We were sucked under, and taken far, all the way through. Tony was also on our side, and although he made it back to the boat quickly, he came out with the only battle wound from an oar meeting his face next to his eye. He was okay, as were we all, unlike many other rafters we picked up. Some just never smiled again, and wouldn't even really talk. They were in shock, and wanted off the river soon.

But their wish was granted as after one more rapid we broke for lunch. The experience was absolutely awesome. I am doing that again. It's been a rough couple weeks trying to write. I apologize for the long email after so long, but so you all know, this has taken me several days to write, as the power goes out way too often. For days, I've been starting over, then saving, then giving up and coming the next day. Thank you for your patience in reading.

Love to you all,

Emily Sara

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Not For The Weak-Hearted

Although I just recently sent one and all an email highlighting the wonderful experiences of life in Nairobi, I feel compelled to write again especially after my most recent experience.

One of the girls on the program, Bria, is staying with a woman who works for Mother's Love, a group that brings together women who are living and barely surviving in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. I don't know all the facts, but I believe it is one of the largest in the world. Yesterday afternoon, seven of us responded to her mother's pleas to join her on a visit to three of these mothers and their families. Directly after class we went to the market and purchased for each family two loaves of bread, three cartons of milk, maize flour, and sugar, and walked the several kilometers to Bria's home. After meeting her mother, Beatrice, we dropped off our bags, and grabbed only our cameras, at Beatrice's request, hidden in small bags. Accompanied by her house help and good friend we all walked across the street, and entered Kibera.

"How are you, how are you, how are you!", chanted all the smiling children at the first sight of our white skin. We clutched the bags hiding our shiny, silver valuables as we entered a world of uncertainty. Walking carefully down an intensely packed dirt hill lined with plastic bags, well-eaten cobs of corn, and innumerable other indistinguishable items, our noses were nailed with odors of all shades we have never quite experienced before. Masses of people were heading in and out of this contained city and some of them stared, some of them took no notice of us at all as we climbed back up a similar hill to a high ridge. At the top were railroad tracks which you had to assume were long forgotten as hundreds of people were making their way along this high path to reach their homes below. Beatrice told us we could now take out our cameras as our eyes focused on what was before us. Sprawling as far as our eyes could see was something we had each perhaps seen before on TV, but may have assumed was exaggerated with special effects.

Down the hill and up another, and down some more, all the way to the horizon were earthen, dung, and corrugated homes, woven together in something of a masterpiece. Movement could be seen in every tiny crevice and smoke rose here and there through the mass of dwellings. We took out our cameras and began to shoot, and little smiling faces made their chanting way in front of our lenses. Shot after shot we took of these surprisingly well dressed and clean little babes just coming home from school. Turning toward the tracks we noticed the men walking their bikes in their nice suits, and we recognized them as the same men riding along Ngong Road, the backbone of the city on 50 shillings a day, coming home to no electricity or toilets.

We walked along the tracks a bit until we reached our path, our turn, and in good time... there was a train coming. Down the hill we went, weaving and bowing under rooftops, stepping over trenches containing the filth of all the thousands, thousands of residents. Children continued to run up with their chant and an outreached hand wanting nothing more than a shake from your own. Women lined the sides frying fish, samosas, and fries, smiling at us as we passed and most calling out a "Kariboo" -- Welcome. By now we had began to feel more comfortable, and we kept our cameras out and stopped continually taking pictures of all whom wanted theirs taken.

We finally made it to our first destination, the home of Beatrice's house help. We all squeezed into her little place, which was the same size as all the other homes we were to visit that afternoon, about 12x12. On the one metal framed couch, we piled in, and one after the other family members came in and sat around us where they could. There was one sheet covering a back area smaller than the size of a twin bed, where we assumed the older ones slept. We were allowed to ask anything and "Please, please" take as many pictures as we wanted. This woman lives here with her nine children. Her youngest baby boy is sick, and no one knows why. They do not attend school, even though primary school was made free to all by President Kibaki, for they don't have the shoes to wear. None of them had eaten all day. They only had the clothes they were wearing, and access to water was a difficult journey; and very expensive.

We had to move on as the sun sets early and we were in the middle of the largest electricity desert in the city. At Beatrice's request, we were led in a prayer by Bria, focusing especially on the little boy. It was too much for us visitors and the tears started as we watched these young, desperate children soak up every foreign word. After presenting our bag of food, we proceeded to our second home.We were greeted by an excited woman with the biggest smile in Kibera. She grabbed each one of us and gave us the strongest hugs we'd felt since leaving the States. We again took a seat where we could, Julia found one on a half exposed bed where she also found a half-naked undisturbed baby. She scooped up the little girl and cradled her as we fired our questions out.

Agnes, our host, could barely speak English, but threw out a laugh at everything we said, as life alone appeared to be pure joy in her eyes. She earns her money by babysitting up to ten children a day for 30Ksh a piece. She has five children of her own and one grandson. One of her children attends school, the others "do nothing". She apologized that she could not serve us tea, but begged us to visit her again. And we will. More prayers, and we wove on.

The third home was one which none of us will ever forget. The woman's name is Emily. She lives in the tiny earthen home with 15 children; half of them hers, half the children of her sister, who died of AIDS. Two of the young children are HIV positive and one of those also has TB and therefore cannot walk. Emily also has HIV. Through her tremendous smile she told us her story. How her parents, her husband, and all four of her siblings have died. She gets treatment for her sick children, but cannot afford her own. She doesn't know what to do. She told us again and again that our visit meant the world to her. She, like the others, asked nothing more of us. They never even glanced at the bags of food, or expected us to open our pockets. They just thanked us for seeing them, and we'd sit like a family, holding each other, realizing how the power of the human touch truly enlightens the spirit. And like the others, she asked that we visit as much as possible.

I don't think, after the amazing reception we received, and the lessons we learned, we could possibly stay away.

Thanks for reading.

Emily Sara

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

And For The Second Installment...

Hamjambo! Habari za Amerika? Katika Jamhuri, nyumbani ni salama sana. Ninapenda mama, baba, na kaka, Kevin. Ninaenda chuo kikuu cha Nazerene kwa miguu. Kazi sana. Juzi, nilienda nyumbani cha Karen Blixen kwa basi. Nilirudi nyumbani kwa basi na miguu na nilitazama "Charlies Angels". Ninapenda chakula ya Kenya. Nzuri sana. But, wao put Vegetable oil in everything, which contains gluten, and I got pretty mgonjwa. So, I can no longer kula out. Chakula cha asubuhi, ninakula yai na ninakunywa kahawa. Chakula cha mchana, katika chuo kikuu, ninakula rice cakes na siagi ya njugu na jelly na matoke chips. Mmmmm tamu. Chakula cha jioni, mama anapika with corn oil, so that I can kula chakula ya Kenya; like mukimo, pilau, na matoke with arrowroot. Do we have arrowroot back home??????? Because I love it! Ninapenda arrowroot, or dhoma in Kikuyu, my mama's tongue.

I am not going to translate any of that because it's not really all that important. But, I want to clarify that Swahili is not a "clicking language" and I am not living in a hut. It is quite civilized here, Nairobi being one of the largest cities in Africa. So, please, when someone wants to know how I'm handling baring my breasts and eating dirt while clicking my way through a conversation, slap them or something. On that note, I would love to thank all of you who have written me. I have received many lovely messages that really make my week, and make me laugh as well. It's good to know you're all out there when I'm so far away. I apologize that I cannot respond to individuals as it took ten minutes just to load up this page. Ten minutes, folks. Try that sometime when the meter's running.

One thing I will tell you from that Swahili jumble is that I mentioned that I went to Karen Blixen's house on Sunday. She wrote "Out of Africa", and the house she lived in is only about 15 minutes away from me; I am right off of Ngong Road, and she lived near that overlooking Ngong Hills as she mentions countless times in her book. I'm actually reading it now, and it is really interesting reading an 80 or so year old novel about the place I am now surrounded by. Just walking up to her home was a vision that stirred me, and I was willing to pay the 200 Ksh to walk into the four rooms they allow you to see... only I didn't have to pay the tourist price. He asked if we were residents, and was quite surprised when our answer was "Ndiyo! Sisi ni wanafunzi katika Nairobi." -- Yes, we are students here in Nairobi. And then we showed him our residency cards which took 100 Ksh off the price. No kidding. In order to be able to do our internships, we had to become residents of Kenya which meant hours at the immigration office filling out paperwork and getting fingerprints. A lot of fingerprints. A lot. So, we walked through her home filled with carcasses and antique furniture and pictures of her and her husband Bror and her lover Denis. The backyard was the real treat. She writes mostly of her land and the views from her terrace. I sat on the deteriorating old stones and looked off beyond her large beautifully landscaped yard, beyond the tall trees each draping with flowers of all sizes and shapes POPping out reds, brilliant purples and oranges and pinks and blues. I stared beyond these fragrant beauties to the Ngong Hills in the distance. These hills... I took a deep breath and felt that same inspiration enter through every part of me. She was inspired to write, which I understand, but it inspired in me many things. I knew it was doing the same to the other wageni. I knew there was inspiration and awe of all ilks pushing out smiles and gratitude in everyone. Indescribable, really, the feelings one has when you come so far...

My wonder and glee went PATUUWY though when I got back on the basi, the citi hoppa, back to Jamhuri. Just because my friend and I were coming from a tourist attraction the conductor was trying to suck more money from us, as though we were ignorant of prices. Even on the way there, after we gave the man the rightful 20 Ksh, he told us it was 30. I objected and pointed out that I just saw him take 20 from the woman next to me. "She's different", he said and quickly added, "You are going to Karen Blixen's". I told him he was very, very wrong as I handed him 10 more shillings. But on the way back I wasn't going to do it. We gave him 20Ksh and he asked us where we were going. I said, "Don't worry about it, we know where we're going". He laughed and walked away but kept coming back and asking. The bus was full, but he kept coming to us. He said it was 40 Ksh to go to town. I said, "We're not going to town, we are residents here, we are going home". "Where is that?" "I am not going to tell you where I live. Go away! Stop bothering us!" But he stayed and told me he wanted more money. By this time I started to recognize the area, so I told him I'm close enough to my house, I'll just get off. He pushed the button for the bus to stop and threw open the door and pushed us out. I was so disturbed I walked home in silence. I waved goodbye to my friend, and sped-walked to my empty home. I didn't know where my family was, and I did not want to face Nairobi anymore for the day, so I threw in the "Charlies Angels" DVD and watched some ladies kick some ass.

The last two days have been dry, thank all that's holy, because I was on the brink, many, many times of completely losing my waterlogged mind. It's been unusually rainy here, and add that to the chill of Nairobi, and you have a lot of wet, muddy, cold, sad, angry, misled, American students. I had been watching the weather for years in this area, knowing all along I wanted to come, so I knew it's not hot on this plateau. But the rain can kiss my patunga. It is a 40 minute walk to school from where I live, and that turned into 50 minutes to an hour on the worst days. It all started when I did my laundry. Of course, "SORRY NAIROBI, I DECIDED TO DO MY LAUNDRY!" The drops began before I even finished. I bailed before I got my pants in the bucket, deciding to wear the dirty buggers for as long as I had to until I had more time to wash. Mama and I got back into our little apartment, and it poured. It poured, you guys. You don't even know what I mean when I say it poured. Well, maybe you do, Craig and Lois, but my God. I kept turning to my little brother asking him if he thought my laundry was done, and he would laugh and laugh. It rained for three days. "Kev, will you go see if my laundry is dry?", everyday after school which was met with more laughter.

Meanwhile, I was wearing the same clothes, no underwear, trudging through mud everyday to and from school. Wait, let me explain the trudging a little better. There is no pavement the entire three and a half kilometers from Jamhuri until about two blocks before The University of Nazarene. Emmy and I, my neighbor and walking partner, try to stick together and hold a conversation, but you have to be so careful about where you step that it became impossible not only to talk to each other, but to have any concept whatsoever of your surroundings. For the first week, I had no idea where anything was, including my home which got pretty scary one night, because I was trying to keep from falling in a hole. We've got cement holes which go into drainage pipes, sidewalk holes which are just mistakes, and perfectly dug holes in the grass and mud which are dug for God knows what, which is what I fell in one time. I kept myself clean, only twisting an ankle, but others have not been so lucky.

When it's raining, however, the holes aren't your biggest enemy. It's the mud. Mud, mud, mud, mud. I used to like the stuff, what had it ever done to me? This is not of the same species that we're used to, I tell you. It has a mind. It grabs on to you, if you're not paying attention, it'll get a good hold and keep you there while your forward momentum keeps going, whoops! Emmy and I fight through it, slowly, slowly. It clings to your shoe and splashes on your legs. By the time you get through one tough spot, your feet are three times as heavy and you're carrying an extra load wondering to yourself, where does it want to go, this intelligent substance... what does it know? I tried to avoid it once by taking the grass route. Yeah, that was smart. I found myself ankle deep in a swamp and no way out but to keep on going. Shoes and socks were a good idea on the wet day until that happened and I spent seven hours at school with cold wet feet. I walk through it, feeling a "This is bullshit" creeping to my lips, but I fight it, ladies and gentlemen. It's so close, it's almost there, but I breathe. I look at Emmy and smile, and know, "I will get through this, I will get through this". And forty five minutes later I do. No big deal, just forty five frickin minutes.

But, like I said, it's been dry now and I am floating on the broken clouds. Yesterday was the first time we saw the sun, and we ran to it. We ate lunch in it. And I rushed home and washed my jeans and my pants in it praying, praying it would hold. Today, I threw on a skirt and sandals even though it was cloudy and cold, because I was thinking positively. The clouds broke again, and when I got home, my pants were dry and folded neatly on my bed, thanks mama.

So this is what I do here. Go to school, study, watch a movie here and there (watched a great Baliwood one in the theater on Saturday), email, eat, hang with friends at the bar, and I'm thinking of joining a gym. Yes, I said gym, even I'm a little shocked by it. See, even though my walk's a pain in the everywhere, the filling starches my mama feeds me do not sit well with no job or regular exercise to keep the heart rate up. There's this little place across the uneven, rocky, muddy way from the front gate of my little building. It's got a doorway with a cloth hanging and I hear music and women doing aerobics inside. Emmy joined and said they were so surprised a woman went into the weight-training portion that she suddenly got her own personal trainer. There isn't much in there, but when I'm dying to go for a walk, and the sun has set, and it's muddy, and it's unsafe, it'd be nice to check and see if the treadmill is working. Plus, I've never done aerobics. I thought it would be a nice way to meet some of the neighbors as well. We'll see. I also thought I might get braids, but scratched the idea when the one girl who got them can't even move them they're so stiff.

So that's where I'm at. Oh, I did miss a great opportunity to cut the ear off a goat head and eat it when I had to turn down an invitation to a small village because I was having a glutentastic glutennightmare. You may not all know, but I have Celiac Disease and am still learning what I can't eat. Vegetable oil I learned is a real killer, and now I'm suspecting emulsifiers that are in chocolate. If anyone has any info on that please let me know. I can't stay online long enough to research it myself. Emulsifiers, flavourings, soya lecithin.. bad? Help! Does Hershey's have them, and if not send it, dammit, send it NOW! Cadbury is killing me and I'm a choco fiend! Either it kills me, or I'm going to kill someone else from withdrawals!!!

Done with the tangent. Love you all. Eat well, stay safe. Be there on my return. Kwa heri.

Your rafiki, dada, and daughter,


Sunday, September 9, 2007

With Family, In Nairobi

Jambo all,

I believe I misled you all when I told you I was going to be staying at a resort in a nature reserve. After a four hour ride down a bumpy, dusty, makeshift road (while they fix the main one) which was twice as long as it was supposed to take, we arrived at Lake Nakuru Game Reserve. We stayed at the camp compound, and it was beautiful. The compound consisted of many circular buildings including a classroom, kitchen, dining area and many dorms and toilets/showers all surrounded by a big circular fence to keep the animals out. We had about 10 people to a room where we bunked and shared one of three toilet facilities with hot bucket showers. Because hot water was limited, several of us would share a bucket. In this way, we really did become one big family. We spent the mornings in a circle of chairs having orientation while the equatorial sun burnt through layers and layers of 50SPF and higher sunscreen. Everyone of us is burnt, it's amazing.

The orientation was fun actually, especially because no fence can keep out a baboon. So, they ran all around us. Big ones, little ones, angry ones having loud fights near us, and hungry ones digging through our garbage. On more than one occasion, Francis, our cook, would run out of the kitchen throwing things at a very big guy who would not give up.

In the early evenings, we were taken on game drives. We saw buffalo, thousands of flamingos, eland, water buck, zebras, white rhinos and one black rhino. We saw many impala and gazelle. Warthogs were one of my favorites and we even saw one leopard right next to our truck. The views were amazing of course as we are in the Rift Valley.

On Saturday morning we left early for Nairobi where we were to meet our families. My palms sweat even now as I remember the feeling of arrival. We sat outside of our school as we waited for our parents to arrive. I felt a little like an orphan who was close to her fellow orphans as we each one at a time were snatched up and waved goodbye. Students left in little white cars, pickups, cars of aqua green, and one black Mercedes Benz. I was picked up by my mother and brother and we had to wait for a cab to come take us home.

My brother is Kevin and he is really beautiful. Seriously, a face like an angel and very happy to meet me. My mother is Esther. She wouldn't look at me and spent our time waiting complaining to Simon (a coordinator) about something in Swahili. So, Kevin and I got acquainted. Once in our cab, I realized that there would be no conversation if I didn't talk, so I did the best I could asking questions. My mom told me that they wanted a boy. I said, "Oh, well, maybe next time". We got to the tiny, little apartment, and my father, John, was watching TV. The TV stayed on as I sat on the couch with them in silence. After some time, however, I lost my nervousness, as they kept saying it was my home, and Esther and I finally got to know one another. She is actually quite sweet, but many times, she just looks pissed. I broke the ice with Kevin by pulling out the paper, and teaching him Sudoku from the puzzles page (he loves math and numbers but never learned this). It is easy to make my little brother laugh, and once we were lying on the floor making faces at each other and goofing around, I could see that my mother was happy with me.

I am one of the only ones at a home without house help, so I will be making my own breaky (no prob), and doing my own laundry (little prob). Lunch and dinner are provided, but it's the same meal as mom told me "Why spend so much time cooking? I cook once, then we microwave". She had had one other student who was gluten intolerant so she understands. That student's name was also Emily, she was also the oldest in the group, and she also had a boyfriend named Mike. However, she was a problem for them because Mike broke up with her while she was here and she cried all the time. So...that's where we differ. Right? Mike?

Today is Sunday and we went to church down the street. It was quite fun in the beginning, the music is fantastic. I couldn't help but clap and swing and sing the Swahili on the screen. But it got difficult once that ended after fifteen minutes. The service is two hours long. That's a lot of God. Most of it was about HIV/AIDS stigma and how to deal with it. Strange to have in church, but the pastor found no shortage of passages related to that issue. And he had numerous ways to alert the end of his sermon."Finally...", ten minutes later, "Lastly....", ten minutes later, "In my conclusion.....", five minutes later, "Amen". Thankfully, Esther was up and out, but almost too fast cause I nearly lost her. This afternoon, she left me to chat with neighbors, so I finally got here and asked if I could email and here I am.

I've seen one other student's home down the street as Esther was strict on me cybercafeing it with someone else, and I've talked with her and one other now. They both have been out escorted around so they are familiar with the area. My father stays in the bedroom all day and watches TV, and my mother stays in the living room all day watching TV. Kevin runs out every once in a while, and mom does only when it's visit the neighbors time. They are very kind, but I cannot wait for tomorrow, when I begin school and start doing my own thing. I should also tell you that my family has been hosting since 2002. They've had over 10 host children, so they are probably just very used to it all. So, tomorrow we all meet at school again (I have a forty min. walk), and we go into central Nairobi to buy cell phones. By Wednesday, we begin our normal classes. Joy.

I have also learned about my internship. I am located at the bottom of Mt.Kenya in the small town of Embu. I am working for NEMA, National Environmental Management Agency. I will be trained on proper work and farming methods, then visiting small businesses in Embu and making sure they are up to code. It's not exactly what I asked for, but they showed me what I wrote on my app, and and I had forgotten how environmental I was in my theme. I am truly very excited about it. It is closer to what I am truly passionate about. And, Mom, they tried to get me involved with The Green Belt Movement, but it is located in central Kenya right now. Too dangerous according to the US government, so I can't even visit it. However, Esther laughed when I told her this. She said she could take me no problem, so, we'll see.

Overall there have been no major problems. No one has fallen ill, and it seems we are all very comfortable and welcome here. I have to stick with my earlier exclamation, I love this place! And the weather is perfect right now. About 70, cloudy with occasional thunder, but no rain yet. I'm down the dusty, rocky, road from this Internet place, so I can probably email often. Especially as it seems my family isn't one for "family time". But I'll remind you all again: send no forwards please and no photos. I appreciate the pic of Mike, Melinda, but it will take too long for me to open my inbox if you keep that up. Besides, I have many, many photos of him with me. Love again to you all. Mom, or someone, please keep these somewhere, as I don't trust that I can. I will give out my address here soon if anyone wants to send anything. I already know I need pencil tip erasers as my brother has already stolen mine. He's never seen them before, I'd like to get a whole bag of multi-color ones.

Asante, asante sana,

Emily Sara