Monday, December 22, 2008

terminal one

i have a 7 hour layover at heathrow before heading to dublin for christmas, and the speed of the internet is astounding. i can't keep up.

also have a long story about my last few days on the continent, which involves 24 hours in a truck with a 21 south african boys, but don't have the sterling to do so here.

however, must include a story about my flight from nairobi. jomo kenyatta international airport is relatively small, and jessie (who was on the same flight) and i grabbed a coffee before heading to our gate. at a table behind me, i recognized a familiar face, but it took me a few minutes to place it. turns out it is one of the filmmakers of invisible children, the documentary that influenced me to choose this particular development program in kenya. needless to say, i approached him, thanking him for his film and all the rest.

more soon.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

circumcision season

for the past two days, jessie and i stayed in a village called sipi, nothing more than a dusty row of about a dozen buildings where one can buy washing-up powder, sugar cane, and petrol from glass coke bottles. it sits on a hilltop looking up to mount elgon and down onto other hills and valleys and then farther out into flat plains of eastern uganda. three spectacular waterfalls run through it, the reason for our visit. we checked into a hostel called the crows nest, offering the best views of the falls and the land below. there were 14 cabins, each able to house four people, but we were the only visitors save for a pleasant german couple who would leave the following morning. arriving on tuesday afternoon after a sweaty ride from jinja to mbale, then another from mbale to sipi, we took a walk through the village, stopping to order fried bananas at a local restaurant and bar that, to our surprise, sold cold drinks! after an hour and a half, the bananas came, as did the sunset, our cue to head back for the evening.

we sat at a table near the hostel's office, watching the largest waterfall, behind which we noticed a string of flickering, moving torches, far in the distance. we would later find out that this was a procession for a circumcision ceremony, one of several we witnessed in the streets of small ugandan towns on our travels. these parades of people march through the streets, whistling and chanting, waving cloth and sticks. they are led by the boys who are to undergo the cut, painted white with soil, fear in their eyes. they will be taken to a compound where they will stay for the night, recieving lessons from elders on manhood. they won't sleep, they are too scared. the next day they will be laid on beds and circumcised one by one, and leave the compound a new man, no longer a boy. this usually happens at age 12 or 13, joseph, our walking guide tells us, and in groups as large as 50 (even in tiny towns like sipi).

after a night of little sleep due to the winds that swept down the mountain, rattling the tin roof under which we lay, we set out for a 5 hour walk through the hills. we walked past thousands of coffee plants, banana trees, and naked children shouting "hallo!" as we made our way to the third waterfall. we went for a swim in a pool above the second (water as chilling as the irish sea), and dodged bats in a cave beside the first. after stopping to buy cold water from a stand in sipi, we retreated to our beds for a well-deserved nap. at dinner, we met a couple from dublin who had been invited to a circumcision ceromony the following day. they asked us to join them, but unfortunately it ended up not working out for them or us. by nine this morning, jessie and i were squeezing into a shared taxi, the last two passengers in the vehicle. it was meant to carry eight, the two of us made it fifteen. in mbale, jessie and i split up, her to kisumu via busia, and me back to jinja where i'm planning to relax for a couple of days, maybe volunteering at an education org with a woman from cork who i met earlier in the week. i shared my seat with two hens, a rooster, and a chick, who constantly pecked at me as the baby in the seat ahead screamed at the sight of my white face. this time it was 25 on a fourteen seater, i could feel the sweat gathering at the creases of my eyelids.

now i'm back on the nile, about to go for a swim with adam, alan, and david, a few street kids from the area who i met on monday. they've shown me where to jump to ride the rapids while avoiding any rocks. there is loads more to share about this week, from stories of slapping drunken expats to taking local food for a late dinner in a mud hut in bujagali, unable to see what i was eating even by the oil lamp on the slanting table.

however, the internet here has been incredibly slow, and there are people waiting to use it right behind me. that, and the nile is calling. i can't believe i'm leaving this part of the world on wednesday, that it's just a week til christmas. i'll be sad to go, but i can't wait to see all of you!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

kenya - uganda - kenya 28 novemba - 2 decemba

friday.

i leave my homestay in langata at 5:45 a.m. it is still dark, but by the time my matatu reaches the mbagathi way roundabout the sky is a light grey color. arrive downtown, i think i know where the akamba station is. drunks are still hobbling along the street, passed out on path in between rubbish bins and lamp posts. by 6:30 i meet cordelia, who has travelled overnight from mombasa, at the river road stop. we board the bus. the driver stands in the middle of the aisle.

"do not, under any circumstances, take food or drink from anyone. you do not know if the person next to you is your enemy." and smiles at me and cordelia, who are in the front two seats. "now let's pray. if anyone would like to pray, please do. it's ok in your own language, it's ok."

we drive, we eat cheese & onion crisps and chocolate coconut biscuits, through the rift valley where women wash their clothes on the rocks near the rivers and men sell warm pink yogurt on the motorway. pineapples sit on the dashboards of lorries that pass us. 5 minute bathroom break in nakuru, i am sure to roll up my sweats before squatting over the pit latrines. the road from nakuru to busia, if it can be called a road, is brutal. there are holes and rocks and we can't see where we are going because the dust is so thick, but the bus driver soars through all of this. bumpy.

meet sarah, kevin, and jessie in kisumu. they dance disturbia in the street to ward off hawkers as we pull up to the stop, laughing. buy chips for 50 bob and a visit to the latrine for 5 bob, then back on the bus to the border at busia.

"irish don't pay." says the immigration officer when i hand over my passport and $50 for a uganda visa. immediately i suspect something is wrong. does this man not like irish people and knows i will need a receipt later in my journey to pass a police checkpoint? why isn't he pocketing the money i handed to him without knowing i'm not meant to pay? everyone else had to pay. i am wary of his honesty, something that has changed since coming to this part of the world. i do, however, have to pay for the toilet, 10 shillings here. men in bright yellow lab coats with purple collars ask me if i want to exchange currency. "i give you fair price." people walk through the gates at one side of the border and out the other, where no guards seem to be present. i wonder if you don't need a stamp on foot. street boys linger around the bus with their torn shirts and bottles of glue.

into uganda the road is much smoother and the land seems much greener and there are fewer plastic bags littering the ground and there are more naked children. men bathe in the pools of tea terraces as the sun sets. it is almost nightfall but coming into jinja i catch my first glimpse of the wide nile, illuminated by a crescent moon. i am peaceful, happy.

arrive at explorers' backpackers, check into dorm 4, and head to the bar hungry.

"kitchen closed, no food, try two friends, good food." the bartender tells us. "it's two minutes down the road. right, right, left, right. easy." two friends - wine, pizza, posh but cheap. we sing on the walk back to the hostel, in the dark, but feeling safe and happy. long day, good sleep.

saturday.

wake, have a great breakfast of toast and blueband (standard), fresh pineapple and watermelon, hard boiled eggs, and the ever-present tea and instant coffee. the cute kenyan who works at the front desk messed up our booking with nalubale rafting and had switched us from the two-day trip to the one-day.

"but your friend said you wanted the day trip. she told me last night to swap."

"no, we've always wanted the two-day."

"your friend, in the blue shorts there, she told me."

she's not my friend. of course, no worries, we've all become very patient, it will get sorted out. jane, who will be our guide for the day, sorts it out. she wasn't planning on a two-day but hops on her motorcycle to go get her things. john, our safety boat paddler, arrives in a colorful snail hat bought during his two years of factory work in milwaukee. that was before he decided he wanted to be a whitewater rafter. he gets us all into our gear, we hop on the back of a truck, and are on our way to the river. we see two crocodiles as we cross the bridge.

loads of people are washing clothes on the rocks at the push off point. local kids laugh as they try to buckle our tight lifejackets. a pair of boys shorts gets stuck to the bottom of the raft, we find them a few kilometres down the river. oops.

we float, we're briefed. how to paddle, what to do when we fall out, how to survive the deep rapids, how to survive the shallow. we practice. the water is a perfect temperature. safe?

"bilharzia is easily treatable." jane tells us.

"but aren't there usually no symptoms?"

no worries.

john is in the safety boat and ben and issac in the kayaks. they'll save us.

we pass the first couple of rapids with ease. "the next one is silverback, and it's completely unpredictable." we're told. "sometimes we sail right through and sometimes the fourth wave will hit us and it will tip the raft. just get down when i tell you to get down."

we go into it. i don't remember much after "get down!" but a wall of white and the raft trying to get past it. no such luck. the front of the raft flips over the back and hits my head on its way down. i'm under the rapid. i try to do what we were told to do, to curl into a ball until the water spits us out. i still have my paddle and i'm tumbling and turning, a "teddy bear in a washing machine (as jane accurately described the feeling)." my instinct is to paddle and kick, so i do. i finally break the surface and manage to get half a breath in. all i can see is white in every direction before being sucked back in.

"grab on!" i finally hear, and issac is behind me on his kayak. i do as i'm told as he paddles out of silverback. kevin is behind us, floating along and laughing in delight. i think i was probably underwater for less than ten seconds, but it felt like forever.

after that, the rest of the day was easygoing. we paddled down the nile to the haven, an ecoresort looking out over the river and a grade five rapid, 'the dead dutchman,' where we would camp for the night. it is one of the more beautiful spots in this world, i think. we had a delicious lunch, sandwiches with homemade bread and cold beer. john and jane set up our tents and we had a lovely swim before a three course meal.

sunday

today the river is calmer. after the first shallow rapid we have a lot of area to cover, and our arms are sore from paddling. nothing but jungle and farmland that used to be jungle can be seen for miles on either side of the river. there are only 3 bridges over the nile in all of uganda, but plenty of river crossings where beds and bikes and cows are transported from one side to the other in tiny wooden canoes. at one stretch of the river we're told we can jump out as the saftely kayakers slice us a snack of pineapple. we float along, but at one point the current gets particularly strong and i drifted away from the boats. i washed up on a tiny island with a house on the middle of it. two blondes in bikinis sit on the beach and a man with sunglasses and a white tee walks out of the house.

"seems as though you've washed up on my private island!" he said to me.

i apologized and explained that the raft was just around the bend. "no worries." he told me, introducing himself as steve.

i later learned that he is steve fisher, a world-famous whitewater kayaker. he works most of the year, travelling to promote himself and shoot film, retreating to the nile for holidays and training time on one of the best rapids in the world (which we would hit next, concluding our two day 35 kilometre trip down the river).

the drive back to jinja was about an hour and a half, and my stomach was already in my mouth in fear of our next stop, the nile high bungee. back in jinja, we were picked up by an aussie bro who would take us to adrift, the base for the bungee jump. we had drawn numbers and i was to go second, after jessie, who was very brave to take the first dive.

it's about 150 feet over the riverbanks of the nile. i did not look down once. i sat in a chair and a man named richard strapped my feet into towels, so tight that i couldn't feel them. this was a good thing, i assumed. a man named gavin would coordinate the jump.

"you're going to take two hops, then shuffle towards the edge of the platform. hold onto the beam above you. don't think. don't look down. i'm going to count to three, and you're going to dive as far as you can away from the platform. the farther you stretch, the better your rebound will be."

of course, i was too short to reach the beam above me. i had to listen to gavin to tell me when to stop shuffling, as i couldn't look down to see where i was on the platform. i didn't think at all, only that jessie had survived and that meant i was likely to as well. i think i jumped before gavin called "3!" for a couple of seconds i felt nothing but fear and adrenaline. after the first bounce i relaxed and was able to enjoy soaring through the air. the hanging bit at the end was a bit sore on the ankles as all the blood rushed to my head, but i loved every second of the jump. the rest of the group fared just as well.

afterwards, we were taken to the n.r.e. bujagali falls campsite where we were fed and met a great group of overlanders from the u.k. who challenged us in jenga and dance offs (we won, clearly). it was great fun.

monday.

we relaxed, swam in the nile, took boda rides along the hilly roads of jinja, returning to the campsite caked in red dust. we slept well.

tuesday.

we wake, sarah, jessie, and i all squeeze on the back of a motorbike meant to seat two people and are driven to adrift for a sunrise bungee jump. an exhilerating start to a long day that would be spent on a bus to nairobi. i wasn't ready to go back, but i didn't mind the ride. i like to watch kenya out the window of a moving vehicle, where street kids dance and play instead of running after me shouting "mzungu give me money!" and where men ride their bikes along the road unaware of your prescence, not able to propose to me.

back in nairobi, i've had a rough few days. it's a long story that i won't delve into now, but i have relocated and am trying to settle once again. but it's thursday morning, and i'm feeling a hell of a lot better than i was on tuesday night.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

naked

this morning i was waiting for my matatu on the main road by my house and a tall, thin man walked past me, stark naked. refreshing. i hope he didn't get in too much trouble. i'm not sure what is or isn't legal in this country. then again, i don't think anyone is.

new

photos!

this past week has been a strange one

it's been long and short and i apologize for not having posted anything since the 16th. i've been feeling weird, never 100% physically or emotionally. and not necessarily bad, just odd, weird. i won't bother with another visit to the nairobi hospital, however. i've already spent hundreds of dollars there in the past few months, which in my opinion, haven't been entirely worth it. my dehydrated body can't take another blood test at the moment, anyway. it's going to be so strange to be able to drink water from a tap again. my weak state also seems to have something to do with a lack of sleep. the usual insomnia i have at home has caught up to me in kenya. it's such an odd feeling. sometimes i feel like i'm not present in my own body, like everything going on around me is a film.

this morning i went into kibera. no one was at the school. this didn't surprise me in the least, but i was feeling rotten and kind of wished someone had contacted me to tell me that no one was coming in. it takes money and lots of time in morning jams to get to kibera from my homestay in langata. regardless, i didn't mind too much (this country has made me a very patient person) and just turned back to catch a matatu straight home to sleep. i was feeling really lightheaded, and have an annual habit of passing-out. 'not now, not here.' i thought to myself. i sat down for a while in the alley i was walking through, leaning against the red dirt wall of a house, kids running past me staring for a moment with confused looks on their faces, as one would. almost immediately after standing up, i fainted. lucklily, i was on the shortcut route to the school, where there isn't a lot of traffic. i don't know how long i was out, but it seems as no one noticed. i was impressed that nothing was missing from my bag when i came to. as usual, i felt much better after the fall and came home to sleep for a while.

i'm fine.

last week was the last official week of term, which is why there was no one at school today. there are no exams to mark, no parents to meet with, no extra-curricular clubs to meet with. the week was hot, wet. there wasn't much to do as all of the staff was meeting with students to discuss grades. on monday, to everyone's surprise, i helped put a wall on the school. some builders had been hired to do it, so it wasn't a volunteer effort, but i figured i might as well help out if i wasn't going to be doing anything else.

khalif, the builder, began by digging a hole in the red dirt ground near the school. he would loosen the dirt with an incredibly heavy shovel, and pour water on top of it, mixing it til it was very wet. he would then transfer it into 'buckets (jerry-cans with the tops cut off),' and carry it over to the wall. we would wet it by scooping water from another bucket with our hands, throwing it on the wall. all modes of labour in kenya seem to be very time consuming. i have never seen a lawn mower, only machetes used to cut grass. obviously a hose is out of the question in kibera, where there is no running water. the process was long, another test of patience. after that step was done, we would re-wet the dirt, take handfulls of it, and throw it forcefully at the wall. while it was still wet, we would smooth it with our palms.

"make sure it's not too thick, or it will fall when it dries." khalif told me. red dirt is not the best to work with, he explained. he would prefer black soil, which is much more effective in building structures. but red dirt is what kibera sits on, which makes it available and free. he also warned me about "...these little pieces (glass). they will give you tetanus." i was very careful in my bare feet.

the teachers and passersby the school all found my work incredibly amusing. first, as a white person doing such work, second, as a female. people were ringing their friends to come see me and taking photos on their cameraphones. khalif kept asking if i was tired, doing this. he really was shocked that i could handle it, which i found amusing myself. we finished and he congratulated me on a job well done, and i went home feeling good to have been productive for an entire day.

the rest of the week, most of my work at school consisted of helping to prepare lunches for the staff. my job was usually to sift through bags of rice to get ''these little pieces'' out. in this case, the pieces are cockroach carcasses, droppings, and live maggots.

"don't worry if you don't get all the dudus (maggots)," musa told me, "they will float to the top when we boil the rice."

it was hard to see the maggots because they are the same size and shape as the rice. this all sounds revolting, and i was surprised to find myself not phased at all by such a task. of course there are maggots in bags of rice in kibera. of course there are.

the week concluded with a ceremony and a feast for the girls. awards were given to the top of the class, and each teacher gave a small speech. i said a few words. teka wanted me to say a prayer which made me very uncomfortable and i couldn't (all you reasoners will be happy to know i saw 'the god delusion' on display at a bookshop in nairobi a few days ago). i think he understood however, and the awkwardness of that moment quickly passed. the girls ate quickly and left the school, excited for 6 weeks of freedom. teka asked kindly that none of them be in the maternity ward come august, as has happened the previous two terms. i spent the afternoon playing with frida and grego, who have seemed to learn my name, if my name were 'aislulu.'

"anaitua aislulu, anaitua aislulu i'm fine!" frida shouts.

some friends from kisumu came to visit for the weekend, and i was happy to see them. nairobi has been fairly lonely recently.

on friday, kevin travelled all the way to nanyuki to get the theft report from that night at joskaki. he got to the police station to find that the three guards arrested were still in custody at the prison. i don't know if this kenyan news has reached the states yet, but in the past two weeks two prisoners have been killed by policemen. last week a video from a cameraphone was released, showing police (at the prison across from my homestay) stripping inmates stark naked, piling them on top of each other, and beating them senseless. it's the most disturbing thing i have ever seen. nothing will come of it, and those officers will get away with the crime. everyone i ask about it here gives me a reply like ''this is kenya, this happens...'' it's not right, and there's nothing i can do.

so when kevin told me the news about those three men, i felt sick to my stomach. luckily, he wrote a formal letter requesting their release and dropping any charges. they were meant to stay in that horrible place until february. i don't want to think about what could have happened to them in that time, let alone what has happened to them in the past 6 weeks.

sometimes i find myself struggling to make sense of things here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

why i love sunday afternoon at toi market

it is the busiest shopping day, as everyone pours out of church and into the market.

i love the girls who wear shining satin sequined dresses, but no shoes. i love buying fresh pinepple in a plastic bag from a wheelbarrow, peeled and carved by a thin boy into perfect eighths as if it were an art form. i love hopping from rock to rock as i browse, to avoid the rivers that have formed in the path after last night's rains. i love the smell of drying fish mixed with the scent of brightly colored spices that look so beautiful in contrast to the rusty old bean cans that hold them. i love watching women hold umbrellas to shield themselves from the hot sun while carrying babies dressed in snowsuits and wool hats because the temperature is under 70 degrees. i love the crowd around the crates of mangoes, which are being diced by men who shout loudly in swahili that i don't understand. i love how meticulously the vendors stack hundreds of socks into perfect piles every day, though they may only sell three pairs. i love digging through the mountain of dresses at my favourite stall, using all my strength to pull a piece from the bottom, only to find it 10 sizes too large. I love looking up and seeing a woman who has done the exact same thing, catching her eye, and exchanging frustrated smiles. "this can be tiring, hard." she laughs.

i love never paying more than 100 bob for anything. I love it when the vendors don't try and drag me to their stalls, but let me look at my own free will like the locals do. i love having to jump out of the way because a hen and all her chicks have darted out from under a table and over my feet. i love how women make pyramids out of red onions and green oranges. i love it when the man i buy a t-shirt from rips a string off a potato sack to tie around my new purchase and tells me "this is your receipt." i love the hearing the sermons of mad preachers, blasting out of loudspeakers that sit on top of the churches, mix with a 'barack obama' tune and swahili rap and lingala from tiny radios into something incomprehensible. i love when a woman sitting on a pile of clothes bursts into an improvised song about me shopping at her 5 bob stand, in a deep, loud, beautiful voice. i love that i find it completely normal. I love not being able to buy something at a stall because the vendor is sleeping.

i love the spandex.

there is much more that i love about this place.
and i have loved coming to love all that i love here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

upigaji picha

i have FINALLY managed to upload a few photos. Check out my flickr photostream. it's likely that these will be the only images i'll be able to share with you until december or january, depending on where you are. all of the ones i've posted have been taken in the last week, in and around kibera girls soccer academy.

maya arulpragasam on slum life

war, war, war
talkin' bout y'all's such a bore.
I'd rather talk about moi

like do you know the cost of a.k.'s up in africa?
twenty dollars ain't shit to you
but that's how much they are.
so they’re gonna use the shit just to get by

is those diamonds helpin' ya?
don't you like my bandanna?
my stains hang low on my shirt like ay ay ay
got monkey brains and banana
i'll hit you with my antenna
put soap in my eye
make it red so i look raw, raw, raw

so i woke up with my holy quran
and found out i like allah-lah
we shooting 'til the song is up
little boys are acting up
and baby mamas are goin’ crazy
and the leaders all around cracking up
we goat rich, we fry
price of living in a shanty town
just seems very high
but we still like t.i.
but we still look fly
dancin' as we’re shootin' up
and lootin' just to get by

with your feet on the air and your head on the ground
try this trick and spin it, yeah
your head'll collapse when there's nothing in it
and you'll ask yourself:
"where is my mind?"

($20, kala)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

i like walking out of kibera in the late afternoon

it's my favorite time of day if the sun is shining. it sits low in the sky and the bits of glass treaded into the dirt ground gleam brighter than at any other time of day. the red dirt buildings with their rusted tin rooftops glow in the light. lots of people are finishing their work days, closing their shops. most of the kids are out of school by this time. the roads and alleyways are busy and full of life. children run to vendors with coins from their mothers, buying tomatoes and cabbage for the evening meal.

unfortunately, the late afternoon hours have given time to the drunks to start drinking. today, i was almost out. i saw a man stumble out of a drinking den and knew immediately that he was coming towards me. i tried to avoid him, but he kept snaking in front of me. he said nothing, extended his arm and lunged for my breast. i quickly turned and his fingernails sunk into my right arm. i whipped around and slapped him, as women around me shouted, shooing him away. he just wobbled off in the direction from which i came.

a month ago, i think i would have been incredibly upset by this. now, encountering such behaviour has become a normality.

for the past week, i have been pretty idle. exams are over so the girls aren't at school. i've been helping the teachers grade, preparing lunch, and taking loads of photos. now the kids who hang out around the school run after me whenever i leave the grounds, shouting "upige picha (take a photo)! upige picha!" i'm hoping that one of these days one of the staff will take me around so i can get photos of other parts of the slum. it's such a horrible and beautiful place and i need to capture it, but i wouldn't want to try alone. having a local by my side will defend me from any camera thieves. construction has started on the school. there are about 5 or 6 boys there each day. sometimes they mix concrete, sometimes they chop wood. there's more sitting around than anything because, pole pole, we are katika kenya. most of the workers must be under the age 16. i'll have to ask them how old they are, boys tend to look much younger here. they asked me if i'd like to help with the building process. i said, "yes, of course." and they laughed at me. none of the teachers are working on it, much less any females.

the girls are done with coursework, but a lot of them hang around the school. we talk, i photograph them. this weekend their soccer training will start again, so i'm excited to kick around. unfortunately, i only have a weak start on ONE of my four required papers, so i'll be spending much of the weekend camped out at a coffeehouse. it will be just like home.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

nairobi is wet and cold

and i'm frustrated and the last thing i feel like doing now is to fight for a matatu.

but it's getting late.

Friday, November 7, 2008

obamania

it's been a little more than 48 hours since barack obama's victory as the 44th president of the united states was announced to the world, and i am still overcome with emotion. i'm thrilled at this news, walking around nairobi with a big grin on my face. however, i must admit that after reading emails from close friends about the celebrations in madison, i am sad that i couldn't be there to experience that excitement. now, that's certainly not to say that there is any lack of excitement here in kenya, it's quite the opposite.

on tuesday evening, my friends meg, colin, and i decided to rent a room at the budget ngong hills hotel to watch the results roll in together. we figured that $15 was well worth the time together to celebrate this generation-defining moment. we got some cheap wine, ordered pizza, took hot showers (!!!), and flipped on the fuzzy 10-inch television. of course, we found out nothing until about 4 am kenyan time, when polls were beginning to close in the states. meg and colin managed to sleep, but i was up all night. i think it was about 7 am when we knew that obama had nabbed it. immediately the three of us snapped out of our daze, eagerly awaiting mccain's concession (which i thought, was extremely honourable) and obama's heartwrenching speech (i definitely teared up). by the time the new president elect had finished, it was time for me to head to kibera for work. as i left, there was a crowd of locals marching down ngong, carrying chairs and branches over their heads, waving kenyan and american flags in the air, singing and dancing. almost every person i walked past gave me a high five, patting me on the back, shouting ''OBAMA! (far more than usual)" i haven't been feeling well for the past week, and was obviously exhausted, but i felt happier than i have in months.

this emotion was a shock to me. i knew that obama was going to win, was almost sure of it, but for some reason it still is hard to believe. since i've been politically aware, george w. bush has held the presidential seat, the highest position in the country where i live and attend school. i always regarded my irish citizenship as a treasure. even with my american accent i had this document that would denounce any accusations that i was actually from the united states. while visiting ireland i hated my accent, being associated with that place run by that president. to me, being an american over the last 8 years was not something that ever appealed to me. "why don't you become a citizen?" some american friends would ask. "why would she?" other liberal friends would answer, and i thought the same. so, this intense pride that i felt upon obama's election was quite a surprise to me, as an individual. i am proud to live and go to school in the states, i am proud that my best friends had a part in electing barack obama. i'm ready to register for citizenship upon my return home. i'm thousands of miles away, but this feeling is so strong inside of me. this is the change we needed.

there is lots more to write about regarding the reaction in kenya, but that's for another entry. it's friday and time to start obama-party hopping in nairobi.

Monday, November 3, 2008

november, nairobi, kenya

[before i begin about the past halloween weekend, i want to post the website for my friend meghann's foundation, uweza (www.uweza.org). i'll add it to my list of links on the right side of the blog, as well. It is a registered public charity and there are options to donate online. this is a great way to help from across the pond(s), and donations go to aid grassroots organizations like a soccer league, a children's center, the orphanage i wrote about earlier, and others that you can read about on the site. meghann works really hard and appreciates any help she can get.]

so, halloween was not celebrated in nairobi, as expected. after seeing the blank looks on the teachers faces when i asked about the holiday, i doubted that there were any fancy dress parties in the city. i can't help but miss this time last year in madison. the changing colors of the leaves, hunting for costumes in thrift shops, prancing around my apartment with carolyn and her glowsticks to the soundtrack to 'a nightmare before christmas,' going to the cinema with chelsea dressed as a bleeding baby doll, never making it to the state street bash in lieu of an impromptu costume-dance-party at maddie and laura's. no trace of any of that mess here. i looked at the date in the supermarket today; november 3, 2008. for a moment i thought it was wrong. it's so hot here, and i'm not used to living somewhere without distinctive seasons. of course, there isn't a real sense of time here. it's not important. for most, every day comes and goes like the last.

of course, with the u.s. presidential election so close, i had better take note of that date. there are parties being held at bars tomorrow country-wide. advertised are 'food and drink specials: 17:30 until the winning speech!' it's colin's 21st on wednesday, and we're thinking of celebrating with dinner and the theatre; obama, the musical. this is not a joke.

on thursday i went to the school. as soon as i got off the matatu, nila rushed to me. "aisling! how are you?" she asks, kissing me twice, french style. i apologize that i can't stay and chat, i'm late. "...but i'll see you on my way out!"

today the girls are in maths exams. the instruments they have out on their desks bring me back to a dreadful place deep within the monroe public schools, where my mind was forced to learn something that it couldn't comprehend, that will never be of use to me again (had i remembered any of it). ugh, math. i see carol staring out the window. so do i. three hours. a boy walks past in a vintage university of wisconsin hoodie, probably from toi. i beam at him, grateful for this small reminder of home, and he looks at me as if i'm mad.

after exams i talk to mercy and peroz outside the classroom. i asked mercy what she would do when she finishes exams next week. she told me she would probably wash clothes and sell samosas for pocket money. i ask about her family. she lives with her brothers, sisters, and her mum. her father "got another wife" and has forgotten about the rest of them. her mother used to work at village market, the poshest, whitest shopping centre in nairobi. unfortunately, she got laid off and now brews and sells chang'aa (the illegal drink) as a means of income. "we know it's bad," mercy says, "but how else can she survive?"

on my way out, nila wasn't at the cafe.

friday. happy halloween! met nila at dc as usual, she explained that she had went to town the day before, which is why i had missed her. more exams. form 1 & 2 english. blah. i sketch the building where lea, the woman who sells fried potatoes to the students, lives. afterwards, i accompany shituma, one of the teachers, to his home to pick up his mobile. we take a main road for a while, turning down an alley that cut into dozens of smaller lanes. i have no idea where i am, completely losing my position. walking through these spaces, i realize a sort of beauty in the place. it's very monochromatic, red dirt stains the rocks and makes up the exterior of the houses, the tin used for a fence or roof is rusted from the rains. you have to hop over a short wall and take a worrying makeshift stick bridge over streams of rubbish and sewage. it's unlike any place i've seen. the closest thing i can relate it to is an exhibit i saw in a museum - some recreation of nomadic homes in some country whose inhabitants have darker skin than i. i feel a twinge of that adventuresome spirit that i used to get (and still do) climbing through castle ruins in ireland when i was younger. that feeling of something ancient, the appreciation of something built by human hands. but this isn't a protected ruin, an educating exhibit, as i am reminded by the toddlers rolling in waste, kids walking around with empty bottles of kenya king filled with glue, women spending the entire day walking to and from a pump, struggling with heavy jerry-cans of water. this is life in kibera.

we arrive at shituma's home. two men sit outside, smoking cigarettes and talking. two kids sit on the ground beside them. they are scared of my white face and won't come to shituma when he calls "kuja (come)."

we enter his house, which is really a small room. couldn't be bigger than carolyn's in the old apartment. 2 beds are squeezed in (he has a roommate), and sheets hang from clotheslines to act as curtains, giving each man his privacy. there are 3 chairs, but only one of them is stable enough to sit in. i sit in it, the other two covered in piles of primary schoolwork, as shituma tutors in the evenings. the walls are covered floor-to-roof (no ceiling, just some plastic bags attempting to keep out the drops that sneak through the holes in the tin) in newspapers - articles featuring girls, musicians, sports stars. smaller pages hang over strings that run across the room, which also hold a few lightbulbs and coat-hangers. "karibu, this is home!" he welcomes me. i'll never think that the sellery dorms were cramped again, though i had far more food and belongings in 603b than shituma seemed to have in his home. we made our way out of the maze of lanes to the main road.

i went to meet nila, as i told her i would. not surprisingly, she wasn't there, so i decided to wait. one must become very patient in kenya. for 15 minutes or so, i sit outside the cafe. i talk to a woman in the window, i try to assure the children outside that i wasn't an alien. 4 of them were playing with phone parts, bottle caps, and an old red piece of red hair - a weave that's been cut off (the woman change their hairstyles often here, if they can afford it). they begin fighting with each other over these 'toys,' and a few begin to cry. a young mother in a red t-shirt and a khanga comes out of a house and hits one of them, a small girl in a pink checkered dress. she shouts in swahili, i can't understand her. she's clearly been working all day, washing clothes and fetching water, two exhausting jobs. the girl cries more and she yanks her by the frilly collar of the dress, nealy smashing her head against the wall of the house. i wonder how close in age i am to this woman. i wonder if she's younger than me, she certainly could look it. later, i meet colin and meghann and they've brought a package for me from the office. it's dairy milk and a book from sarah, brilliant. we can't finish the chocolate between us, and it's melting fast, so we give it to a hungry looking kid in the market. he practically has to drink it. exhausted, i go home and decide to call it an early halloween night with my new book.

on saturday i meet becky and meghann for some study time at java, which is really the only place we can sit, relax, and get some work done. the coffee gives me a great buzz, and we all laugh and joke about the uneventful weeks we've had at our internships. colin, sarah, and a voiceless marie meet us and we decide to see a 'lakeview terrace,' a terrible film that stars samuel l. jackson as a cop who terrorizes his new neighbors (an incredibly attractive young interracial couple) for racially-charged reasons. despite how awful it really was, it was entertaining enough and provided us with a short break from kenya, a 2-hour air-conditioned escape that i think we were all in need of. afterwards, we walk down the ngong road (which seems to be getting longer every day) to marie's nairobi homestay. we have to hop the fence and wait for mami to arrive back with the keys. after a dinner of chips and red wine, meghann, colin, sarah, and i headed downtown to go dancing for the first time in weeks. we stood outside nakumatt, drinking red bull and kenya king (the country's finest spirit, at 65 ksh a bottle) as we wait for meghann's friends. we go out, we dance, we enjoy the matatu commutes from club to club. we spend too much money. as colin, sarah, and i have to return to marie's to sleep, we instead try to negotiate a price for a room at the hilton. by we i mean sarah and colin, i stood outside and laughed. $203 was their only offer.

turns out, it might have been worth it. we made it back to marie's for 400 shillings, but were locked out. the keys that were to be left to let us in were nowhere in sight. days are hot in nairobi lately, but nights are just as cold. freezing and frustrated, the three of us curled up on the wet concrete, hugging each other close, and generating as much body heat as possible. for two or three hours we tried to sleep, but the smell of the cat piss that we were lying in and the constant yapping of the dog on the other side of the fence prevented it entirely. at the first sign of daylight, i got up and started walking down the usually-busy ngong. it was a lazy, lonely sunday, no one in a rush to work or school. i felt damp and miserable and got a matatu all the way into town, partly because it would cost the same as if i got it to kenyatta (my normal transfer point), partly because i knew the deadbolt wouldn't be open at my homestay. might as well stare out the window at this ugly city for another hour when the only other option i had was to lie on the other side of another fence in front of another house.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

yesterday

day 2. left the house at eight. no traffic, arrive at the dc stage by half past. know my way to the school by now, wave to nila as i make my way into kibera.

it's early, the drunks aren't asleep yet.

"baby. come here baby. come here white girl." they call.

"ninaitua (my name is/i am called) aisling!"

and they laugh.

i quickly walk towards the school, avoiding the splashes from the previous nights' toilets (buckets and basins) that women pour into the tiny sewage streams outside their homes.

arrive at the school. "hello dear!" says the woman who sells fried potatoes in the compound. i smile, wave, head into the office. sit and chat with the teachers, teka arrives.

"follow musa, you'll be supervising exams today. you know the tricks of students?" he tells me.

9-11:30. i sit in the corner of a small classroom, making sure the 20 girls aren't cheating on the first part of their english examination. have a copy of the test myself, and see that it consists mostly of essay questions. would be a bit difficult to get away with copying. have to apologize to the girls when groups of children walk past the door, pause, stare at me (confused for a minute, then smiling) and begin the loud, disruptive "howareyou?" chorus. they giggle.

i don't have anything to do, so supervising this exam is more difficult for me than taking it would be.

i watch what's going on outside, though my view is limited. i can hear the women who hang around the water tank chatting, giving out to their barefooted children. laughter coming from the two other classrooms, lucky not to be in exams.

a man walks past, wellies caked in shit, struggling with two heavy buckets full of human waste. we can smell him before i see him, the girls cover their noses. he walks back and forth, the school in between the latrine (his job is to empty it) and a much larger can, which he will later wheel to the river and dump. he does this for over 3 hours. a mixture of feces and urine drip off the buckets onto the red dirt ground.

in kenya, most locals buy their milk in plastic bags.

he wears empty milk bags as gloves.

it's a job, right? i don't want to think about how little he is paid to do it.

most of the students finish their exams before the half 11 deadline, but musa insists they stay seated until the big hand strikes 30. mercy, a girl with disproportionately small feet, writes something on her paper, taps me, and points to it. it reads:

could i have 20 shillings please, if you have it, for some breakfast?

now because i have been robbed, i have had no way to withdraw money. i received my atm card on monday (shout out to kandi for posting it, thanks a million!), and, just as my luck would have it, it didn't work. however, i had foolishly spent all my cash thinking that i would be able to use the card. WRONG! so, i literally only had enough change on me for my matatu ride, and feeling horrible, i shake my head and say "i'm sorry, i don't have it."

exam ends, the girls are tired and delighted. lunch time. tuesday-friday the students and staff enjoy githeri, a mushy mixture of maize and beans that i enjoy, but would probably get tired of if i had to eat it every day. they eat tuesday-friday because the 5,000 shilling budget ($70) is not enough to feed 86 students for five days. unfortunately, for many of the girls, the school meal is their only meal.

so, mondays they don't eat.

"this is slum balanced." says one of the teacher of the githeri. it's all they can afford to eat, so they eat it every day.

every last bit is scraped from the pot. makes me sick to think about how much food is going to waste today, tomorrow, all week in monroe public schools.

i supervise another exam for the afternoon. not too much excitement. i need to figure out some way to make myself productive here. teka tells me he will find something, but katika kenya, i figure a lot of it will be up to me.

pole pole, slowly slowly...

Monday, October 27, 2008

nila

the last four days have seemed like an eternity. i am entirely emotionally drained, physically exhausted, unable to think. those of you who are close to me will know why, and will know why i can't write about what happened here.

nevertheless, today was to be my first official day of my internship at kibera girls' soccer academy. i woke up early and boarded my matatu, transferring at kenyatta national hospital to a number 8 that would drop me at the dc stage in kibera (i have yet to find out why the stage is called dc). i had called teka, the headmaster, and asked him to meet me there. kibera is a maze and i still haven't found my way to the school on my own. the last time i waited for teka there, i was hassled by men - some drunk, some just annoying.

"ahhh sista, you are so beautiful. marry me please."

the norm.

anyway, a lovely group of women sitting outside a cafe selling mandazi and chai shooed them away for me, asking me to join them on a 2x4 turned into a bench.

one of the women, nila, was in the same spot today, and called me over. while i waited for teka i talked to her. she's 17 and living with her 22 year-old sister right next to the stage, on the edge of kibera. both her parents passed away a few years ago, she doesn't say how.

"i'm sorry."

"that's life." she replies, smiling.

i asked her what she was doing now. "living." she told me. she doesn't go to school, it's too expensive. i didn't have enough time to ask her how she survives, how she makes a living. it seems so bizarre that i would have to ask a 17 year-old such a question in the first place.

"see you soon!" she sings as i walk off with teka.

for the next three hours i sit in the teachers' office at kibera girls soccer academy, waiting for some sort of instruction. i have yet to figure out exactly what it is i am meant to be doing on an everyday basis. tomorrow i am scheduled to be teaching a writing workshop in the afternoon, after the girls finish their exams. sure, i can write. but teaching is totally different. i'm not sure that i'm up to it. suppose we'll find out soon enough.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

misfortunes

bad things are happening katika kenya.

and i can't talk about them.

and i'm fine.

but they're really bad. and i want, more than anything, to be somewhere where i'm safe, comfortable. somewhere familiar.

missing you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

the rains

beginning in mid-october is kenya's rainy season. for the past week or so, it pours for a few hours every day. it makes for a very dirty city. kibera has turned into a swamp, so i have to head to the toi market this weekend to find a pair of wellies for my internship, which starts officially on monday. i'm a bit sad that everyone has headed east and west and far from our familiar campus. it's just me and nairobi for a while now. two months has been just enough time to really start getting close to the good people in this program, and now they're gone. kibera will keep me busy, i'm sure, and two months will fly by.

anyway, kenyans hate the rain. despite it's regular occurence, the streets clear at the first drop. needless to say, it's hell trying to catch a matatu, because no one wants to walk. i don't mind walking in the rain, but my homestay is about 5 miles from campus. so a few days ago after meeting friends for coffee and some swahili exam prep, it's half five, which means i have no choice but to attempt to use public transport to make it home before dark. i walk to kenyatta hospital, where the main matatu stage for my #34 is. there are no matatus, and at least a hundred people waiting under umbrellas to jump on the next available one. of course, the matatus coming from town are full already, and we wait and wait. finally, a number 34! i move down the line to try and hop on.

fat chance. the group swarms toward the matatu, dozens of men throwing elbows and women poking each other with umbrellas, each fighting for a spot. grown men twice my size shove me out of the the way as women hit my legs with umbrellas. it was a bit of a shock, and the first time i had experienced an 'every man for himself' mentality in kenya. apart from the ethnic divide, there seems to be a strong sense of community in the country.

not when it rains, apparantely. i am certainly not a person who physically fights for anything, and didn't really know what to do in this situation. the matatus are small, and at least 3 times as many people as can fit are all attempting to get in one. a few more drive by, and i try to get in front of everyone so i don't have to push and i am not being pushed myself. i fail again and again. at this stage i'm feeling pretty horrible, soaked and confused as to why everyone has suddenly turned. my size is not an advantage against huge men in suits who seem to have lost any sense of courtesy. eventually, my spot at the front of the group gets me into a free matatu, but following a man who has ripped my hand off the door so he can enter ahead of me.

i sit next to him in the van.

"it's a bit of a competition, isn't it?" he says, smiling.

i nod, but don't even try to fake a smile back. this man, who is at least 10 years older than me, bigger than me, stronger than me, has just elbowed and shoved me just so he can get on a matatu in front of me, a matatu that he would still be on had he just let me go ahead without using any physical force. and now he's smiling at me. it's all a bit confusing, and i go home feeling a bit defeated, a feeling familiar here.

i'm ready for a fresh start with this internship. updates soon.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

a good weekend

finally! i have returned from a holiday weekend away, during which i was not ripped off, robbed, or hassled by beach boys. on thursday after class, a big group of us made plans to go out later that night, as many of us won't have a chance to club together again until december when we reunite after our internships. after class, marie and i hopped on a matatu downtown to buy my train ticket for the following evening. though i was worried about getting one only a day in advance for the holiday weekend, it was a successful journey. we then caught a number 8 to kibera to meet some other students at the orphanage where meghann works.

many of the other students had already visited the orphanage, but it was my first time there. at the edge of the slum, it's a bit more easily accessible than the girls' school. it's two stories high, with a few dormitories, a tiny kitchen, and a classroom. no bigger than an average 3-bedroom house.

83 children (infants - age 17) eat, sleep, and live here.

most of the bunks squeeze 3 or 4 kids onto cheap foam mattresses. the ceilings are a mixture of tin, plastic, and tarp - anything to keep the rain out. there are half a dozen or so volunteers that run the place permanently, along with several like meghann who work with the orphanage through outside organizations. they look very weathered, with almost a hundred kids under their care.

the kids were thrilled to have visitors, introducing themselves, dancing, posing for photos. "they call me baboon!" one boy proudly proclaims as he hangs from a ceiling beam. most of the children are orphans as a result of AIDS, a killer more dominant in kibera than any other part of kenya. some were just abandoned, particularly by young mothers surviving solely off prostitution but too young or not able to care for a child. but, in true kibera fashion, they are all smiling, all extremely grateful for the little they do have. i think i'll bring a lot of my clothes to the orphanage. the little funding they do receive pays for food, but there isn't a whole lot left after that.

a couple of boys were beading necklaces to sell for things like clothes, shoes, maybe a few sweets.

it was getting close to sundown, and raining (turning the slum to a swamp), so we said our goodbyes and headed back to marie's homestay. colin and courtney, who we were to meet there, had already arrived and were being served chips by marie's host mum. she's an incredibly lively person who won't stop talking and laughing, giving out to us for being too wet and not eating enough chips and sausages or drinking enough chai until her husband enters the house, when she shuts off completely. then we went outside and colin shaved my head, braid and flamingo and all, much to marie's mum's shock.

"you will lose your beauty!" she shouts as we all smile and laugh.

afterwards she decided that, despite my lack of hair, that i was "still beautiful and not even looking too much like a hare krishna!" i think colin was the most nervous in the group about the change. turns out i have a nicely shaped head. thanks mam and dad! colin headed home, we cleaned up my hair, and marie, courtney, and i headed to prestige to grab some chinese (my first in kenya) before meeting the rest of the group at trackers (a local pub). not surprisingly, most of the group had chickened out, claiming to be too tired. to be fair, it's very difficult to go out in nairobi, particularly living with host families. it takes a lot of planning, something i definitely have no talent in. we had a few rounds there and headed to westlands for some clubbing. black diamond had a live american classic rock band headed by a rastafarian. odd. luckily we arrived just before midnight and the group was just about finished. the dj finally accepted my whitney request, and after dancing that one out we went next door where the music was bumping. crowd, not so much, but we had a good time nonetheless.

friday i woke up but two hours after returning home from the clubs and met marie for the trusty morning-after breakfast of scrambled eggs, buttered toast, coffee, and a milkshake. we had class at 8, but our teacher didn't show up (katika kenya). so i headed back to langata and spent the afternoon in bed. on the way to railways, i stopped at uchumi (a huge supermarket chain) to stock up on snacks for the train ride.

once we got our boarding cards we found our way to our car, which i believe was the exact same one sarah, marie, and i rode in from mombasa (but a few cabins down). most of us hadn't eaten since very early that morning, and inhaled our snacks before the train began to move (a decision we all later regretted). it was a fun night. the swedish school happened to be on the same train, and we played cards with the great-granson of a nigerian colonist and a swedish nobleman who (apparantely) would never have to work a day in his life. odd crowd, interesting company. they are seeing a very different kenya than we are, with private transport to very touristy, westernized parts of the country. i'd much rather do it our way.

we arrived in mombasa spectacularly on time and got a tuk-tuk to the matatu stage where we spent far too long trying to get a fair deal to malindi. we finally did, but on a very cramped and crowded matatu. my height really comes as an advantage in these types of situations. regardless of comfort level, however, i was happy to feel the salty breeze and be close to the water again. it was about two hours to malindi, and the matatu driver kindly offered to take us right to our hotel. of course, when we arrived, he charged us for the extra petrol he would need to purchase to have brought us there. nothing for free here.

we arrived at the oasis, a huge but deteriorating apartment compound full of italians with a few holiday rooms for rent. we managed to make a deal with the manager at 1600 shillings (about 20 usd) per person for two nights. it was a gorgeous place with a massive pool on the oceanfront. incredibly picturesque, despite the dark and slightly depressing rooms. we spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, and had dinner at the hotel, exhausted from the long trip. malindi had few beach boys as compared to mombasa, which was refreshing and relaxing. the next day we went to book our bus tickets back to nairobi, and luckily got the last six (though i wouldn't have minded postponing our return for a day or two). a quick tuk-tuk ride to the marine park and we were busy negotiating a fair price for a snorkeling trip.

i hate bargaining in this country more than anything.

we finally got a deal and headed to the reef with captain sid. it was low tide, so we had to be careful not to kick the coral, which had already seen some damage. we saw loads and loads of colorful marine life, and swam for over an hour before taking a break to reapply sunscreen and rehydrate. then it was out to the other side of the boat where we saw more of the same. the boys swam far out to try and find the drop-off, and i headed in a differet direction. the current was strong and it was difficult to not drift away. i was heading away from the reef and towards the drop off, water was getting deep fast. didn't see much of anything but the remains of dead coral, until a school of massive fish quickly swam by.

"cool," i thought to myself "we haven't seen fish this big yet!"

until i saw why they were darting away so fast. SHARK! i don't know what species it was, but definitely one with lots of teeth. it was about as long as i am tall. i didn't have a snorkel on and froze underwater for a minute, my heart stopped. as soon as it was out of sight, i emerged and shouted to jessie and cordelia, who must have been about 50 feet away. i swam with the current towards them, and we all nervously floated for a while where we thought it would be too shallow for a shark attack (which I KNOW, is extremely unlikely, but we were far from the boat and scared). we made it back to the boat, hearts still beating at a rapid rate.

the boys didn't believe us. jealous they didn't see it themselves. ha.

we walked about a mile down the beach to the oasis, stopping to peer into crab-infested caves and bothered by hardly any beach boys! it was packed, full of families enjoying the holiday (kenyatta day) weekend. we seemed to be the only western tourists apart from a few italians (most of whom own places there), which was nice. it's funny, no locals try to speak english to you. it's not "how are you" it's "ciao!" one rastafarian followed jessie and i telling us all about the crabs (i think) in italian. i haven't a clue what he said. there were boys all the way down the beach doing multiple flips in the sand - incredible acrobats in malindi.

we spent some time in the pool, then we got ready for a nice dinner. feeling refreshed from our early night, we walked along the shore to old man and the sea, a restaurant highly reccommended by lonely planet (which we probably shouldn't be referring to after the joskaki incident). it wouldn't open til half seven, we were told, and we went next door for a glass of wine (in the others' case, a tusker baridi) to pass the time. we were in a great mood and starving. dinner was incredible. apart from my sarova brunch, easily the best meal i've had in the country.

jessie, mike, and i spent the night at stardust, malindi's premiere nightclub, breaking up the dance floor with a middle-aged resort owner named yusef who treated us to free drinks all night (don't worry, we watched them being poured), and a 5 am breakfast of pizza and lots of water. we watched the sunrise on the beach and slept until it was time for us to check out. monday was spent recovering and walking around malindi, being hassled by vendors as the only wazungu in the town. the bus ride back was possibly the most uncomfortable experience of my life, and the only thing i could find wrong with the weekend. but it's hard to think about complaining about anything in this country. the price of my bus ticket could easily feed a family in kibera for a month.

today was our last official day of class. having arrived in nairobi at 5 am, i slept through the first swahili course, missing little. tomorrow we have our final swahili exam, followed by an african dance (KELLAY!) class.

we're working on getting our professors to meet us for drinks tomorrow night. everyone is heading off to internships on thursday morning, so it's our last chance to get together. i can't believe i'm halfway done with the program. it will be weird to not see everyone every day, but i can't wait to get started at the school.

i'm a bit sad to be missing the election excitement at home, in particular tina fey's sarah palin skit. i heard the governer herself was going to make an snl appearance? everyone is just as excited about it here. it's a bit ironic how ethnically divided this country is, yet they are all loyal obama fans, not because of tribal affiliation, but his kenyan roots. here, everyone votes according to ethnic groups.

that gives me an idea for a focus paper, which i must finish to be handed in tomorrow. off for a coffee treat and some study time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

wives and lovers

just a short excerpt from my education lecture today, with a new and far more entertaining professor named obonyo digolo.

professor digolo: "so, when do couples usually get married in your country?"

the class decides the average is mid-twenties, after college.

digolo: "really? so old to have children. hmm (nods, deep in thought)."

class: "well some couples won't have children for 5 years after marriage. some won't have kids at all."

digolo: "what?!!? why would you get married if you weren't to have children for 5 years?"

class: "companionship...not every married couple plans on having children."

digolo: "you mean to tell me there are many married couples without children? are you saying they can't physically have children or they don't want to? i'm not sure i understand. why do these types get married?"

class: "in most cases, because they love each other."

professor digolo laughs hysterically, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. "wow, crazy." he says.

here, if a couple doesn't have a child within a year of marriage, everyone close to them gets very concerned. the married without children group is a group of outcasts. ironic in a country where thousands of infants die from neglect, malnutrition, and disease.

anyway, wanted to share some interesting classroom discussion before hopping on my long rush-hour matatu home. i'll skip the bit where we had to explain to professor digolo that, contrary to his beliefs, a vasectomy is not castration.

i'll end with my new favourite matatu name, spotted in the morning jam:

FBI: Fabulous Booties Insyde Where da Chocolate MELTS

and it's just like 'dat katika kenya.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

hotel joskaki

after class on thursday, jessie, abby, cordelia, kevin, mike and i jumped on a bus and headed downtown to catch a matatu to nanyuki, where we were planning to spend the long weekend. after negotiating the price of our ride with the tout (a mzungu 500 to a fair and local 350), the 6 of us squeezed in and waited for the van to fill. dozens of vendors knock on the windows, "sister, you want a sweet? ice cream? please! i give you good price."

"no thanks." we have to reply multiple times.

finally, after about 45 minutes of sitting in the hot, cramped matatu (though shielded from the pickpockets), the engine starts and we make our way out of the dirty city. the ride goes fairly well, we didn't have to bribe any policemen at checkpoints, and we arrive in nanyuki at around 5 pm.

it's a small twon that, to travellers, serves only as a base to mount kenya. there are a few filthy hotels, and we check into the one that lonely planet recommends as our best bet. we rent three rooms on the third floor, each with two comfortable-enough twin beds and a bathroom with running water. unfortunately we aren't lucky enough to have toilet seats (a rare luxury in many public toilets in kenya). regardless, we are pleased with our choice, and decide to have a walk around the town before darkness falls. we make the short lap and enjoy the quietness of the town, despite the ever-present street kids begging for money and food. we stop into the ibis hotel for a delicious meal and a box of red wine. satisfied, we wander back to joskaki hotel where the bar is hopping and we sit down to begin jessie's birthday celebration, ordering a few rounds of drinks. it's a dark, dirty place but we're enjoying ourselves. at about ten we decided to call it a night, as we planned a day full of hiking and camel rides for jessie's 22nd.

we make the climb up the steep joskaki staircase to the third floor, which is lit with a single red bulb. jessie and abby retire to their room, mike and kevin to theirs, and i unlock the door to 303, where cordelia and i will sleep. i turn on the light to find my bag ripped open, my belongings scattered all over my bed. my mood quickly changes as i dig through the pile of clothes and toiletries to find my wallet, camera charger, and malaria medication gone. i had locked these things in my bag, in the locked hotel room, because i had presumed that i would be more likely to be mugged on the poorly-lit streets of nanyuki. the hotel had three guards - one who stood at the front door, one at reception, and one at an iron gate that separated the public bar and reception from the stairway that led to the rooms. luckily i had my camera on me at dinner, but only enough money for the evening. the thief had stolen about 7000 kenyan shillings ($100) and my debit cards with that wallet.

panicked, i went to the other rooms to see if they had been broken into. though kevin's bag was just as he had left it, his wallet, camera, and sunglasses had disappeared. cordelia's camera was nowhere to be found.

i feel infuriated for being robbed and stupid for leaving my valuables in the budget hotel room.

kevin and i raced down to reception, asking them to call the police. the girl behind the counter could clearly care less that we had been robbed. she calls the manager over. he asks us to show him to the rooms that have been robbed. we demand that the police be called. after much arguing, the manager does so, but with great reluctance. it is quite obvious that someone working at the hotel has been involved, as the locks were not broken.

"you have the only keys to these rooms," the manager explains, "there is only one copy for each."

"you mean to tell us there is no master key?" kevin replies, "how are the rooms cleaned in the morning? what if a key is lost?"

the manager doesn't seem to have an answer.

kevin is extremely angry, but does a great job of keeping his cool as he deals with the man in the suit and the police officers that arrive. all the while, i'm a wreck, upset at myself for leaving my things in that room and feeling absolutely horrible for the first time in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere in a country that i can't seem to figure out.

i sit in the hallway with the girls, on the phone with mam to cancel my cards, trying to calm down. kevin goes to the police station and files a theft report, coming back to the hotel with a few of kenya's finest. they question the manager and his employees, arrest the three guards, and drive off down the dirt road.

we demand that we get our money for the rooms back, the manager does not agree. kevin explains that all his money has been stolen, clearly with the help of a joskaki employee, and he can't get back to nairobi without a refund. finally, the manager complies.

it's midnight. happy birthday jessie!

i try and sleep. i can't. i don't feel safe, despite the concrete and the gates and the padlocks that are meant to keep the undesirables away. i lie awake, listening to the shouts of drunks and matatu touts on the street below. in the morning, i feel worse. i'm sick either from the malaria medicine i had taken without enough food the day before, or the lack of malaria medicine that had later been stolen. maybe the altitude. everyone is in a foul mood but we try to hold our heads high and smile for jessie's sake. we walk down the road and out of town to the police station. men run towards us with decorative bowls and keychains, we don't even try and humour them, we ignore them.

"sorry sir," i say, "i don't have any money because it was stolen last night. we're going to the police, see?"

he doesn't seem to understand, or doesn't believe me.

"no money? how you have no money? white man always has money." i'm carrying a glass bottle of sprite, worth ten bob. "you give me that bottle then."

i'm so sick of it, and walk on.

we arrive at the police station. it smells like cigarettes and urine and i can hardly stomach it. cordelia, kevin, and i walk around the station to a little room where we are told to sit. this is where we will make our statements. the room houses two desks, a few chairs, two couches, and stacks of papers in no order - floor to ceiling. i assume that our statements will add to these thousands of documents, never to be found again. i'm thinking it is pointless to be there. a man walks in and begins to ask me questions.

"where are you from?"

"i'm from ireland."

"you are a citizen of ireland?"

"yes."

"why are you in kenya?"

"i'm a student, i'm studying in nairobi until december."

"a student? from what university?"

"the university of wisconsin."

"amsterdam?"

"no, wisconsin, in the united states."

i write it down for him, he's having trouble understanding me.

"but you just said you were from ireland."

"i am."

"then why do you say you study in this wisconsin?"

"because i do. i'm a resident of the united states, i live in madison, wisconsin. i have an irish passport, i'm an irish citizen."

i still don't think he understands, as he looks at me with a confused smile, and i'm too fed up to try and explain my residency status to him. he asks me about my intentions here, why i was in nanyuki, and every detail of the previous night. we all finish up and wait in the small room with our interviewers, waiting for the hotel owner to arrive. they are much happier than we are, 3 wazungu robbed, a real job for them, not another boring day in a sleepy town. kevin's interviewer stands next to him and laughs.

"i am the tallest man in nanyuki!" he proclaims, kevin soaring half a foot above him.

the look on kevin's face, a boy who is always smiling, is grim. he is not amused.

we wait and wait for the police chief to arrive back with the hotel owner. time moves slowly, i still feel sick. finally, we're told to go to the chief's office. it's a tiny room with a huge heavy door. one large desk, two chairs, and a skinny bench are squeezed in. there are charts on the wall: robbery, armed robbery, murder, etc. they keep track of monthly crime rates. the police chief is a large, pleasant looking man, but is extremely unhelpful. the hotel owner, like the manager the night before, ensures us that it was not a hotel employee who committed the crime.

"we think it was a porter (mountain guide) who was asking about you after you had checked in." he tells us.

"yes, but someone had to have given him a key, someone working at the joskaki hotel must be involved." kevin argues.

"yes, yes." the owner says. "maybe the receptionist, we will question her. but she has to finish her shift."

at this point i'm in no state to argue or question anyone. my money is gone, it's not coming back. the police don't care, the owner doesn't care. maybe my 7000 shilingi are in his pocket. i don't know.

the three men that were arrested are brought from the jail cell.
they smell awful.
their eyes are yellow and bloodshot.
they each wear one shoe.
they limp into the office.

i start to cry. i haven't said a word, i can't keep the tears in. i don't know what these men have had to go through overnight, but i know it's nothing i would be able to watch. kenyan jails are notorious for being brutal, particularly in rural areas, far from central government. their heads hang low and they look at us with disgust. whatever has happened to them in the past 12 hours, whether or not they are guilty, is our fault. i feel like screaming, but i don't know who to scream at.

the police chief and hotel owner question them in swahili, their replies are short. i pick up a few phrases.

"hapana, hapana (no)...vunjika (broken)...hapana...sijui (i don't know)."

the owner explains they are pleading innocent, they didn't see anyone who wasn't a guest enter the hotel. they are brought back to the cell.

"is there anything else i can do for you?" the police chief asks.

kevin asks for a copy of the theft report, and the chief sends for someone to write one out (no computers or copiers in nanyuki).

i want to shout "what have you done to those guards? what are you going to do? how long will they have to stay here?"

but i don't. i stay quiet. i don't know why. i don't know who to be scared of more, the policemen or the guards. so i stay quiet.

we get the number of the police station, and walk down the road to meet the others at a very european coffee shop. i'm still feeling miserable, but glad that the ordeal at the station is over. the ones who didn't have their cards stolen treat us to lunch, which settles my stomach. we decide we've had enough of nanyuki and plan to head to mt. kenya youth hostel, closer to the mountain, and farther from everyone. we walk around nanyuki one last time, trying to find a bakery to buy jessie a cake. unsuccessful, we head to the matatu stage to catch a ride down the road. street kids with crumbs all over their face beg for money for food.

"but i'm so hungry." they say, "you have so much."

i sigh and put my head on the back of the seat in front of me. i ignore their desperation, real or fake.

we alight at naro moru, another dusty little string of shops, and begin to walk down the road where a sign with an arrow reads ''mt. kenya youth hostel and campsite." though we're still feeling rotten, we're delighted to get out of the town and the peacefulness of the dirt road is reassuring. we try to laugh at our misfortune, happy that we are all safe, and know that we will do our best to salvage the day. we try and hitch a ride as a few trucks pass. they stop ahead of us and pick up locals after passing us. after about a mile or so, a truck pulls over. there is a couple in the front and a woman in the back.

"you need a ride? where are you going?" the woman in the front asks.

we tell her.

"ok, no problem, you'll have to sit with the trees in the back though."

the trees turn out to be one large potted poinsetta. smiling, her husband hops out and opens the back door, and we climb in. my faith in humanity has been restored, a bit. we drive down the road to our destination. it would have been a hell of a long walk.

there is nothing on the way but a few shacks selling cabbage and tomatoes, dirt huts, and loads of livestock.

walking down the road to the hostel, the children flock to us. they don't say "mzungu, how are you? how are you? give me something mzungu."
they say "hujambo." and smile.
i like it here.

we check into the hostel. joseph, the owner, is happy to have us for 500 shillings each. i was pleasantly surprised, not having to argue for a fair deal. it was a lovely place. we rented a large, sunny room with loads of windows and three big beds.

the sun was setting as we walked down the road in search of food for dinner. there were certainly no restaurants around, so we would have to make it for ourselves. kids ran after us again, dancing, laughing, wanting to race. we did, happily. they didn't ask for anything. there was one boy who wore boxer shorts, a hot pink fleece, and wellies so big they went up to his thighs. he was a great dancer, challenging all of us. we managed to find potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, flour, and oil. the butchery had no meat. this didn't surprise us.

the children walked us back to our hostel on the rocky road as the sun vanished behind them.

"kwa heri! bye! see you tomorrow!" they shouted, waving.

the six of us headed to the kitchen, prepared a delicious vegetable stew and chapati, and ended the night by the fire with a stack of cards, feeling ten times better than we did just 24 hours before.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

malaria

it's not very pleasant, but could be much worse. a constant pounding headache, joint pain, waking up every 2 hours drenched in sweat but freezing cold. after upping the dosage of my malaria medication the symptoms got much better. i'm still suffering a headache but pushing through it with lots excederin and ibuprofen. i've never taken as many drugs as i have in this country, my body's a pillbox.

the week has been fairly uneventful. monday we began our 'tracks,' where our development class turns to one of four concentrations - public health, environment, microbusiness, and education. clearly none of these fit my major or interests, but i went with the latter.

wrong choice.

we're being taught by a chauvenist. on monday we learned how the swahili culture (there are 42 ethnic groups in kenya, creating a lot of tension) is being 'destroyed' with intermarriages. he went on to describe, in detail, the proper deflowering process of 12-14 year old virgins after they had been taught how to please a man (who would be much older than 14) at an unyago school (where 'good wives are made'). he explained to us that many of the girls would resist, for hours, but would not be allowed to leave the room until there is blood on the sheets - evidence. there was a lot more that i will leave out, i don't feel like describing the process of pre-teens unsuccessfully resisting rape.

"unfortunately," he says, "intermarriage and westernization are destroying these traditions."

today he taught us all about islam. which i'm sure would have been applicable had i been in a religious studies course, but this is supposed to be development:education in kenya. only one more week of classes.

on a lighter note, we took a field trip with fred jonyo, our most entertaining professor, yesterday. we were told we were going to the italian-owned delmonte farms in thika. naturally, i assumed we would go to the farm, get a tour, some sort of history, ask the workers questions, eat some pineapple...

i forgot for a moment that we're in kenya.

we drove two hours out of nairobi to thika. the bus pulled over in a pineapple field. we got out, and fred jonyo told us that in the winter months, when the pineapples are big like babies, imported german dogs guard them. then a security guard walked up to us, told us we were trespassing on private land, and asked us to leave. we got back on the bus and drove straight back to nairobi. katika kenya.

i'm looking forward to tomorrow. jessie, abby, kevin, mike, cordy and i are headed for mt. kenya for the long weekend. we have no plans whatsoever, just going to find a matatu and a town somewhere near the base. the way it should be done, so hopefully i won't end up spending the amount of money i did on my last trip.

i hope that the sweats will give me a break for the next few nights, that the doxy will help me as it should.

Monday, October 6, 2008

paper lunches

abdul, the director of the girls school, met us yesterday at prestige. we walked together into kibera, his phone constantly ringing - a ridiculous tone that sounds like children singing an islamic chant. he's a very popular man, abdul. he's huge - if he wasn't always smiling he would be incredibly intimidating. but he's always smiling, always greeting someone with a high-five and a hug. we walked through kibera. it poured on saturday, so foot traffic was slow as everyone tried to avoid the overflowing streams of sewage that run down the middle of every path. with colin and marie, the "howareyou" song rang from all directions. yet i didn't feel uncomfortable at all.

walking through kibera this weekend i didn't feel singled out or stared at. finally, i'm beginning to feel at home here. i'm not sure why being in kibera made me feel this way - it's the dirtiest, most dangerous, poorest place i have ever been. it is full of disease and poverty. Here, just months ago, dozens of men and women were killed by their own neighbors, their homes burned and looted. it's a horrible mess. i think the comfort is that i've seen why i am here, why i chose to come to kenya in the first place. i feel confident that i can make a change for someone, no matter how small it may be. i'm feeling full of ambition at the moment - a feeling i'm sure will be challenged in the next few months. i really want to get my hands on a video camera.

i think the feeling is also a realization of my place here. instead of worrying about assimilating myself into kenyan life and culture, i have become comfortable with my being different.

we walked along the railroad tracks, looking over the tops of tiny, square tin shacks packed together - a massive, rusting checkerboard. we arrived at a clearing, a rare open space in the slum. the dirt ground was flat, but littered with glass, bottle caps, maize cobs, plastic bags, used condoms, and other rubbish. white lines marked the boundaries of the football pitch, a goal at each end. these were special grounds, reserved for games and tournaments. popular swahili music blared from huge speakers, and a large group of people stood in a circle, holding hands. after we were brought into the circle, abdul explained that it was to be a symbol of peace, announcing the beginning of the soccer finals. kibera has seen a lot of violence since january, it was a day of reconciliation. hundreds of people had gathered for the event. this was a surprise to me, as i thought i would be attending a regular match.

we lost abdul to his popularity and found a seat on the ground at the edge of the pitch. children flocked to us, the only wazungu. they pulled on marie's long hair, fascinated by its texture. they sang off numbers and months in english. they smiled shyly when we made eye contact, turning their heads. their noses ran constantly and their faces were dusty. they had dried mud in their hair. most of them wore no shoes. but they were happy, smiling, dancing, singing. they kept touching our skin, our hair. they screamed seeing their own faces on screens after i took their photo. i wonder if they have parents. i wonder if they have HIV (a quarter of all kenyans infected live in kibera). i wonder where they sleep, if they've eaten today. i worry that the answers to these last two questions are ''they don't." and "no." marie pulls out her notebook when some of the girls ask to write a poem. they giggle and whisper, struggling and arguing over each other's english. i guessed they were about 7 or 8, but it's hard to judge age. this is what they wrote.

'my best friend'

my best friend is marie
it is very beateful
i love him very good
i want him to be my mother
i love him very much
she is love me very much
and i love him very much
she love me very good
she is beateful girl i love you
good by.

i think they have their gender markers mixed up a bit, but you can gather what they mean to say.

a drunk stumbles over to us. he can hardly stand and leans toward my face. "hello sister!" he says, extending his hand. i can smell the alcohol on him - i assume it to be chang'aa or some sort of illegal brew made with poisons that will blind a man who drinks too much. a double tot costs about 10 shillings and gets you blackout drunk. it's incredibly dangerous stuff, and you wouldn't want to see how it is made. i can't understand a thing out of his mouth, and he won't leave us alone. the match continues as he hobbles around the pitch, in bounds. the kids yell at him in swahili and we ask him to leave. he mumbles something, asking to write his name in the notebook marie has given to the kids. "hapana (no)." we repeat over and over. I know it's not his fault, that it is awful poverty that has driven him to this state - but he frustrates me. he is probably someone's father. after continued refusal to his requests, he calls me a racist and a bitch and moves on. his type is something i'll have to get used to quickly.

we watch the soccer matches. all of them come down to a shoot out, except for the kibera girls soccer academy game (we win 1-0). for the penalty kicks, the entire crowd circles around the rusting goal. when the winning point is scored, the tight circle explodes, the winning team swinging their shirts over their heads and belting around the pitch. quite a few of the players had no shoes. they play on a pitch covered in glass. but they have no shoes. i was trying to imagine their skill on a grass field, the control they would have. they are incredibly talented.

it's not what you have, but what you do with what you have.

marie has drawn some pictures for the kids, bubble letters spelling out their names. she tears out the pages in her notebook and gives the illustrations to them. most of the girls fold them up, slipping them inside the waistbands of their skirts to keep them safe. one girl turns her back to us and chews on the paper, swallowing bits of it. she is hungry, it hurts.

but she turns back around, she is smiling. a real smile, at that moment she is happy.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

a lot of them smile.






kibera.

kibera girls soccer academy

today i went to meet abdul, the director of the school i'll be working at. i'm so excited to begin, but i can't articulate it at the moment. i'm literally just out of kibera, so i have to let everything settle in my head before i write about it. i need a proper camcorder though, i really need one. any givers?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

for your further enjoyment

partly due to the torrential sunshowers outside, and partly because i would like to avoid the tyra banks show, i added my friend david's blog to my links list. i enjoy reading it, and thought it would be interesting to read about the same program from a different perspective - particularly a male perspective. we live in different parts of town and have had different experiences travelling to different parts of the country.

the kenya - uganda railway

so, in our series of unfortunate events in mombasa, we arrived at the train station without the ticket necessary to board the train. not because we forgot it, but because we never received it. after a few frustrating phone calls to the nairobi office, we were allowed to board, but informed that we would not be able to leave the nairobi station without said ticket - which the station master may or may not have in his office. it was a bit ridiculous, we had two receipts stating that we paid in full, in cash, for the trip. as we say, ''katika (in) kenya!" sarah, marie and i have decided we need to make a rap, the katika kenya rap. i'll keep you updated, it's sure to amuse.

anyway, once safely on the train, we found our cabin and relaxed with some fanta and kenya king. it would be about an hour until the train began to move, and it was already dark. a german humanitarian named mattius in the cabin next to us quickly became our companion for the journey. he was slightly less annoying than the beach boys. at least he had good intentions.

almost immediately after we left the station, a small man squeezed through the aisles ringing a large, rusty bell, announcing dinner. we stumbled through about 5 cars to reach the dining car, where the four of us were seated at a table complete with linen and silver. the dinner itself was slightly less impressive than the setting. we started with a 'farmer's cream.' we weren't sure what it was either, any ideas? moving on to the main course, rice and vegetables (or meat for the carnivores) with an extra treat of cockroach dressing, especially for sarah.

the dinner ended there for her, but after our eventful weekend, a bug in her bowl was just something to laugh about. fortunately we had each had an ice cold tusker to wash it down (beer is typically served warm here). we finished with a sort of tropical fruit mush and tea.

we headed back to our cabin, where we found our beds made and ready for sleep. the train was absolutely roasting, and the last thing we wanted to do was crawl under covers. we decided to lock the cabin and have a private, a cappella dance party in our underwear (it's been since early summer!). this went late into the night. it was a bit mysterious not knowing what we were passing. sticking our heads out the window we saw some of the clearest skies (though not as incredible as that night in monroe with kellay). we also saw a man, stark naked and soapy, standing on the edge of the rails. this would be all we would see until morning. sweaty and tired, we fell asleep, but i have no idea what time.

we woke up at around 7am, stopped at a train station of sorts. there was activity all around, people everywhere, but few houses in view. still exhausted, we lay droopy eyed for about an hour until the train started moving again.

for the next four or so hours, we observed rural kenya in an incredible way. where the railway runs, there are no roads. for hours we did not see a car, a shop, a school, a clinic - nothing. yet we passed hundreds of houses, hundreds of people. men whacking herds of goats with a stick, boys on bicycles far too big for them, women carrying huge amounts of water on their heads and backs (though there was no source of water in sight), and the ever-present 'howareyou' children laughing and running after the train. occasionally we would stop and some men would hop on the train, the only modern transport available in the area. it was amazing to see something so removed. the only connection to the outside world was this railway - there was no electricity, no telephone poles. the only brick or concrete we observed was at the colonial-constructed stops. everything was made of sticks and dirt, ocassionally a house had a tin roof instead of a thatched one. most of the houses were set up in compounds of two or three units. as i learned from an attendent, one for the male, and one for each of his wives. it made me wish, a bit, that my internship was in rural kenya. however, i don't think anyone is anywhere this remote, as no roads can reach these places. we passed giraffes, zebra, buffalo, antelope, and ostriches, though outside the fences of a national reserve. it wasn't until about an hour out of nairobi that we began to notice signs of industrialization.

then, the wretched smell of the slums hit, smog entered our cabin, and our breath became short again.

thankfully enough, we made it out of the station quickly enough. i had been sick all weekend, and had been pretty successful at pushing it aside to enjoy the coast. however, once i boarded the 111 bus headed for the ngong road, and sat next to the smelliest man in the world, i was ready to pass out. i belted out of the bus at kenyatta and hopped on to my comfortable, familiar matatu 34 home.

the week went by fairly quickly. we haven't had running water at my house for about 2 weeks now, and this morning we ran out of our back-up storage. the water is being rationed and we don't know when we will have it back again - hopefully it will be sometime next week. today my host dad left with about 6 jerry cans in the car. he'll have to buy water, which will cost him more than it is worth. areas with water are taking advantage of the shortages, and doubling the price to fill up. but water's life, right?

tomorrow we have one class, then i really need to get going on research for my papers due in december. i've been putting it off for far too long. of course, this research will probably begin with a long lunch and a real coffee - i have to take advantage of free time in the daylight to be social as well.

on saturday i'm meeting with simon, one of the MSID coordinators, and we're going to head into kibera to meet with the director of the school i'll be working at. i can't wait!