Wednesday, October 29, 2008


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


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


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?"


"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."


"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


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 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!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


today is eid-ul-fitr, a muslim holiday that marks the end of ramadhan. this means NO CLASS! i'm happy to have a break because our schedule here is far different than in the states. class from 8:30 - 3:30 with a one hour lunch break, every day. i'm used to a very spread out day, with a chance to nap if i don't feel like attending a lecture.

unfortunately, with a group presentation on healthcare and a swahili mid-term, i will have little time to rest. i'm off to meet with some fellow students for real coffee (a rare and expensive treat - though kenya is one of the largest coffee producers in the world, it's all exported and the farmers exploited) and a study session. before that, though, i'll try and catch up on the rest of the weekend.

so, friday night we spent unsuccessfully avoiding solomon, the most persistent of beach boys. at one point, he was pulling sarah away if she turned to dance with anyone else. this was when she made the mistake of telling him that i was her girlfriend of two years. ''yikes pencils,'' as little marie would say. i wish i could have captured the look on his face. sarah realized as soon as it came out of her mouth that she had said the wrong thing. we both thought we were about to be stoned. needless to say, we made it out of the club shortly after, and hopped into a cab back to the coast.

saturday marie and i woke up early, letting sarah sleep on. we walked up and down the road (1) to avoid beach boys and (2) to see what was in the area. it was mostly lined with hotels, indian and italian restaurants, a post office, a butterfly farm, and a few souvenir shops. we met up with sarah for a breakfast of eggs, toast, and instant coffee that looked like dirty water and tasted worse. walking back down the beach we were, once again, bothered by captains wanting to take us out on the water. so as to avoid any scams, we asked titus and crew (there were about 3 times as many employees at the cottages than guests) who was the most reliable captain. one of the men went to the beach, whistled a few times, and a short chubby man named zero approached the gate. he offered to take us out on his glass bottom boat and provide us with snorkeling equipment for 1500 (about $22) per person. we hesitated, said we would really prefer to go on a dhow and we weren't looking to spend that much. eventually, we got him to come down to 600 per person, and gladly accepted. a man named frances, who wore neon purple ragged swim shorts that had one side completely missing in the back, took us out. first we stopped at a sandbank a bit off shore, and swam in some of the clearest waters i have ever been in. frances snorkeled and found a spectacular red and black starfish. when we asked him what it was, he replied "starfish."

"no, what kind of starfish is it?"

"starfish." he replied, with a confused smile.

from there we headed to the mombasa marine reserve where marie and i spend 30 minutes or so snorkeling. sarah didn't want to for her fear of what lurks below. we saw incredibly colourful fish, but nothing too big. a lot of the coral has been damaged from the city's pollution. if we go farther north or south of mombasa (which we will), there is a lot more biodiversity.

after about two hours on the ocean we headed back to shore. in our string of attempts to avoid beach boys, sarah's parents generously offered their credit card to have a few cocktails and chips at the luxurious whitesands hotel.

later that night, we rang the same taxi man who took us out the previous night. oddly, a new man in a new car showed up, and we assumed that he worked for the same company. after all, no one would have been able to find our cottages, so it couldn't have been a randomer. we hopped in, and he took us to dinner and to florida, a nightclub which we were told was on the beach. there was no beach, but there was a 15 foot wall that the waves crashed against. maybe when the tide is out? of course, the one night that i braved bringing my camera out, it had to be checked at the door. this frightened me a bit, but i told the guy behind the counter that if anything happened to it, he would be in trouble.

we had the best time on a dance floor full of indian men. i have to declare that indian men (apart from my favourite dancing fools in madison) are the most fun, ridiculous group of people to dance with. they never try to get too close, have no problem dancing with each other, and bounce around twirling their hands in the air. at about midnight the strippers arrived on the bar, which was a surprise, but i was happy to see that at least there were some girls who weren't escorting greasy old italian men.

at both clubs we went to there was a sort of 'half-time performance.' a siren rings and everyone clears the floor. at florida, a dozen dancers came out in leopard print and did a routine to 'the circle of life.' very disney-world esque, very odd. the men did some brilliant traditional dancing later on, but most of it was very degrading towards the female dancers.

after a few more dances, and upset because the dj wouldn't play whitney (she plays everywhere!), we found our taxi man and headed out. it was a great night, we concluded, far better than friday.

until we arrived back and the driver wanted 3000 ksh. that's $45. ridiculous. we explained to him that we are not tourists, we have been living and taking cabs in kenya for a month, and we're not idiots. we haven't paid over 800 anywhere in the country. he wouldn't budge. we only had 1500 on us at the time, which is more than we were planning to pay in the first place. he was not going to leave until he got it, and marie went inside to get the rest. it was an extremely frustrating end of what was, until then, a wonderful day. i'm tired of being taken advantage of for my gender and the color of my skin.

the next morning, feeling a bit sorry for ourselves, we treated ourselves to a brunch buffet at the whitesands. fresh fruit, juice, drinking water, DRIP COFFEE, crepes, hash browns, pancakes, rashers & sausages, REAL BUTTER, and a cereal bar with toppings like cinnamon sprinkled bananas and cinnamon sugar. it was definitely worth the 900 shillings, about $13.

after breakfast i took a walk all the way down the beach alone, and surprisingly was more or less left alone by beach boys. i would just tell them i want to walk alone, and they would let me. either i looked hideous or they assume that i don't want to go out on a boat by myself.

since we had the afternoon to waste, and had to check out of our cottage by 10 am, we decided to sneak into the whitesands pool, complete with a pool bar, slide, and diving platforms. we hung out in the water all day, drinking dawas (the coastal cocktail - in swahili dawa means medicine) and playing water rugby and polo with a group of cocky american soldiers from a base in texas. some of them were ok, most of them ignorant, but we had to sympathize with them as they were heading back to iraq the following day. sunburnt and exhausted, we regretted leaving the pool in the early evening to catch our train home.

because i have to meet my friends for studying, i have to leave to catch a matatu. the train ride deserves its own entry anyway. the man at the computer beside me is also chewing an apple at an alarming volume, a thing most of you know is very difficult for me to tolerate.