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“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
— Maya Angelou

One day recently, a friend and I were puttering around my apartment while the rain beat a steady rhythm against my windows. I was at the stove making lunch, stirring pasta with a mwiko and silently marveling at the wonder of cooking without kerosene (as I often do), while he fussed about with my laptop. Surfing the news, submitting job applications, thumbing through folders marked “PRIVATE DO NOT READ” – probably one of those things. I couldn’t say, as I had my back turned to him; at least, I did until I was struck with a sudden droll thought. I set down my wooden spoon, turned to him, and said:

“Hey, remember that time we lived in Kenya for two years?”

He looked up at me over the rim of my Macbook. “Yeah.”

“That was weird, right? I mean, how crazy is that?”

“Totally crazy.”

We reflected silently on this for a moment, before simultaneously returning to our tasks.

Yeah. Totally crazy.

Three and one-half years ago today, I was hunched over a plate of takeaway pasta, a scratchy Ramada Inn blanket draped over my shoulders like an invisibility cloak, guzzling Nyquil for all I was worth and watching the series “Lost” die with a whimper. My bags were packed, I was ready to go. I was excited, and exhilarated, and maybe even a little scared. I had prepared as best I could but genuinely had no idea what lay in store for me. I feel a literal ache in my chest when I think back to those days; I want to reach through time and give that girl a hug, telling her, “It’s going to suck. There will be days you want to quit your jobs, or flip a table, or abandon everything and catch a motorbike taxi straight to the airport. But there will be incredible times, ten times – fifty times – a HUNDRED TRILLION ZILLION times as many as the sucky ones. It will be one of the most magical, empowering, humbling, life-altering experiences of your life. You will live untold adventures, and probably never find a way to express it, it’s just that huge. You will come home and you will miss it. You will never go an hour without thinking about it, even if you start remembering where you are when you wake up more often than not. And when people tell you they always wished they’d join the Peace Corps, 2+ years of memories will flash through your mind at once, but all you will be able to say is, ‘Go.’

Adjustment has had some intense highs and equally intense lows, and generally in ways I didn’t anticipate – not unlike Peace Corps itself! Go figure. There have been crazy adventures of a sometimes less bloggable type: new apartment! New friends! Using soap again! Being interviewed for newspapers! Speechifying! Traveling on other peoples’ dimes! Wearing lipstick! GOING TO TARGET! OH MY GOD, TARGET!!!


Then




Now





Then





Now

I spent holidays with my family for the first time in years, rather than jaunting off to some remote (and/or potentially hostile) locale. I never bought a television. I applied to graduate school and struggled to condense my own personal brand of awesome into a succinct, sincere 500 words or less. I can only assume that a lot of klutzes work in psychology, and that at roughly two-thirds schools to which I applied, some poor assistant dumped a grande skinny extra-hot vanilla mocha over my application folder and was far too mortified to ask me to re-send my documents. But of those who recognized my quirky, obnoxious brand of wonderful, I chose my favorite. I’m currently pounding away at my graduate thesis in psychology at American University, and learning daily that (as one scholar put it) “Graduate school is less about honing your talents and more about learning to manage intense existential anxiety.”

I also picked up a new roommate – he’s a sassy redhead with soulful brown eyes, and bitches love him. I like him pretty well myself; enough to forgive him when he hides my left shoe under the couch time to time.


Then






Now

As for my American friends – the rotating cast of characters you saw pop up in this space periodically – they’re all chugging along. My fellow PCVs are either still in Kenya, rushing headlong towards their own close-of-service conferences, or making their way in the world back Stateside. Several live in or near my city, and we try to meet up as often as I can. As much as I love my friends from other eras, I don’t know what I would do without these former colleagues. When you’ve been through what we have, no one else gets it, not really, anyway. But that’s ok. Someday we can all chip in on a dental plan to correct the years of grinding our teeth about celebrities who go to Africa for the purpose of being celebrities who went to Africa. (Fun fact: All PCVs have bruxism. I am not even making that up. It’s a truth-fact, for once.)

My Kenyan friends are generally doing well: having babies, shuffling between jobs, buying their own shambas and moving up in the world. One of my host sisters got into university. The family couldn’t be prouder – she’s a smart cookie. I am pleased to say that no one died, or was injured, or even found themselves permanently displaced by the election, irregularities aside. I am also deeply relieved that everyone with whom I have a connection – PCVs, NGO friends, Kenyan family – escaped the atrocities at the Westgate Mall. (At least, physically; the emotional scars of both terrorism and the incredibly graft-soaked government response … well, ask me over a beer, next time you have three hours or so you want to listen to drunken expat rantings.)

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of thoughts on the subject.

Overall, life is good. It goes on. And I’m glad for that.

Before I wrap this all up, I need to say one more thing:

Asante.

In Kiswahili, this means “Thank you,” and I say it from the bottom of my heart. All you, my readers, were (and are) amazing. From the care packages (OH THE CARE PACKAGES) to the letters, e-mails to blog comments, I am truly touched. I helped a half-dozen people with Peace Corps applications, and wish them all the best. I had notes from women on distant continents who told me I’d inspired them to take risks and travel. I got hugs and expressions of pride from mentors I didn’t think were capable of such affection. All of it was overwhelming and panic-inducing and achingly, achingly beautiful. I talk a big game, sure, but the truth is that I’m a deeply critical, self-doubting introvert who is vastly more comfortable jumping into a shark cage or motorbiking across an African country or navigating a public transit schedule in an unknown language than striking up a conversation with a semi-stranger during an organized happy hour. The love and support I got from so many people over the course of my journey … well, this doesn’t happen often, but I am struck speechless by it. It is this as much as anything that made a closing entry to my blog a feat 13 months in the making – I wasn’t ready to let go, and I didn’t know how to say goodbye. You all are amazing, and at the risk of sounding like some asshole Oprah impersonator, you are the real inspiring ones.

Now go forth and do some awesome.

When I started this blog, I genuinely expected it to get three hits a day: one from my mother, and two from me accidentally hitting “refresh.” However, it quickly outpaced that and I remain in humble awe of your reader loyalty. This blog, which welcomed over many tens of thousands of unique hits from over 100 countries, and at least one quasi-viral post, was an infinitely greater endeavor than I’d ever anticipated. I still can’t believe it happened. I am proud to leave it up as an archived resource for future RPCVs, and as a love letter to all the experiences I had.

Of course, wanderlust is – as we say in the sciences, when one word won’t do when five words are possible – “pervasive across the lifecourse.” When I stepped out of Dulles airport on August 27 of last year, I wanted a home, a castle, a nest, a place to hang my pictures and fall asleep in my own blankets. That lasted … oh, a month. Ponder the following: my grandparents were born, lived, and died having virtually never left a shapeless patch on the map known (then and now) as Kanawha County, West Virginia. A half-century later, their granddaughter, an old spinster maid at the ripe age of 26, has been to nearly forty countries. And many more, in her hopes and dreams, including visions of the silk road and kayaks in Antarctica (it’s just a small matter of budget limitations, as we say in government work). There are more than 150 left one my list, with more big plans zooming laps around my mind every minute of every day. I shall always love the country that brought me first to learn, but my heart will always wander.

On that note, as this blog journey fades to black, and the credits start to roll, I leave you with one final Monday Morning (Well, Sunday) Morning Mix-Tape … play us out, boys.

Safari njema – Travel well.

————————–
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
— T.S. Eliot

When you walk into my cozy DC apartment, full of knickknacks, the first thing you will see is a coat rack with two hooks. On the left hangs a black women’s trench coat with camel piping, the highest of Target fashions. On the right is a charcoal grey Columbia jacket that looks like it’s been through a war.

That isn’t terribly far off the mark, when you consider all the places it’s been since I bought it in 2009.

I was wearing this jacket the other day when I went to the grocery store – the most banal American task imaginable, yet still one that throws a little skip-skip into my heart rhythm on occasion, even if I’m not always cognizant of why. In a crowded aisle, I leaned back against a towering shelf pasta to let a triple-wide stroller pass, and then I felt it. Prick. The faintest suggestion of a sharp point. And it all came flooding back.

More than two years ago, in June of 2010, nestled amongst the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, I was in the laborious process of making a new best friend. We met up one weekend to go to the market, and upon our return, my friend’s host mother was thrilled to see another Peace Corps Trainee and offered to show us something she thought we would find interesting: a water tower, built by European college students in the 80s. That’s genuinely all I can say about it, because in reality it WASN’T especially interesting. But we went along happily enough, following the host mother over the river and through the woods, hopping a couple fences, taking shortcuts through cornfields, winding down cattle watering paths – I swear to God, we were probably in Tanzania at some point – before reaching the anticlimactic structure maybe an hour after our little outing began. It was a water tower. Thrilling. Then, after a few awkwardly posed photographs, since lost to a stolen camera, we made a near-identical hour-long trek in reverse.

We spent at LEAST that much time afterwards sitting on the steps of the family homestead, picking burrs off each other and laughing about our experiences up to that point. We both looked like we’d been dragged backwards through a thorn grove after losing a dance-battle with an aggressive gang of corn stalks. We never DID get all the burrs, despite repeated close inspections, so over the next two years, we’d periodically be wearing whatever we’d worn that day and, prick. There’s one we missed.

My life now is so drastically, incredibly different today, that sometimes it takes the physical pinch of a thorn to remind me: Oh, right. All that didn’t happen to someone else. Today is my two-month-iversary of landing on American soil. Even surrounded by photographs and clutter from 35 foreign countries, my students’ portraits in frames in my living room, a Kenyan flag tacked up over my bookshelf and lesos draped across most pieces of furniture … even though some of my closest friends to this day are people I met in the Peace Corps … even though I still dream in Swahili more often than English … it feels as though it all happened a lifetime ago. If it happened at all.

It’s a very curious feeling.

I’m back now, I suppose. How long was I gone?

—-

I’ve wrestled mentally about what to do with this blog. Part of me thinks it would be a hoot to continue to write about the ecstasy and agony of re-acculturation, while part of me thinks it stands best on its own as a contained experience. I’ve decided on the latter, but first I’ll offer a few more posts about what I’m up to now, how you can get in touch with me, and some recommendations for travel. I will spare you my experiences at places like the World’s Worst Hotel (in a review for a travel website, I literally included the line “I wish I had a time machine so I could un-stay here”) but instead offer my Best Of list, so you can set yourself up for your own adventures.

It’s been a wild ride, folks. Remember to please keep your hands and feet inside until the vehicle comes to a complete stop.

Almost, but not yet.

… and now want to do something productive with your money, have I got the opportunity for you! Or maybe you just covet my stripey pink makeup case and want a solution easier than dressing in all black and breaking into my house in the dead of night to steal it. I don’t want to sound like I’m shilling for Takaungu Sewing Club – this blog never has, and never will, be a vehicle for phony, enthusiastic endorsement – but Internet-Famous Kate popped into the comments with this:

If anyone reading your blog wants to order, I am happy to facilitate. My email is kcrowley[at]eastafricancenter[dot]org. Thanks!

So, there you go folks. A couple of you asked privately or on facebook, and here it is! Have at it, if you like. We’ll return to normal blog programming tomorrow, with a 100% reduction in product placement. I promise.


Fully-lined totebags/beach bags/”conference bags”/reuseable Whole Foods bags



Adjustable apron



Multi-pocketed zippered handbag/laptop bag/diaper bag/whatever



Fold-over messenger bag with adjustable neck/shoulder strap and front/back zippered pockets

NB: Those colorful little cardboard tags you see on the straps of things are little notes with the name of the creator and a description of what they do. You can leave them on to feel good about yourself, or just yank it off when you start to use the item. It’s not some permanent feature.

Christmas in Kenya is a dramatically different experience than it is in the United States. Here, it remains largely a religious holiday, much as it was for the rest of the Christian world did before Charles Dickens convinced us to do otherwise. You’ll find tinsel and Santa Claus in some of the larger cities, but for most of us, the fanfare to which we’re so accustomed is conspicuously absent. In my village, the “beach boys” sometimes start going around wearing Santa hats, and the ambiance-building keyboard players at beachside bars start plinking out holiday tunes, but that’s about it. More’s the pity, too: the holiday itself does not mean much to me, given my beliefs (or total dearth thereof), but I always loved the pageantry. In America, I’d start blasting Christmas music right around Thanksgiving and before gleefully hanging an unrepentantly gaudy glitter wreath on my apartment door. Last year, right before I left my village for the holidays, I decorated my windows with fresh bouquets of bougainvillea. All of my neighbors laughed. “It’s too early!” my landlord cried between guffaws. “Maybe decorate just before your family comes, but now, Christmas is still far away!”

“IT’S DECEMBER 21st!” I countered indignantly, wrapping yarn around another bunch and dangling them above my kitchen area like mistletoe.

Of course, once they finished cackling over my quirky enthusiasm, all of my neighbors invited me to join their families for Christmas morning church services, followed by a hearty meal of ugali and freshly-slaughtered chicken. For them, it’s about the message, not the merriment. I was honored by their invitations, but had already made plans: I spent Christmas on a flawless white sand beach (“White Christmas” anybody?) with a crew of marvelous friends. Nothing says holiday cheer like sunburns and sand castles, right?

Anyway.

This year, I started celebrating on schedule: shortly after World AIDS Day, I pulled the box containing my official Charlie Brown Christmas Tree out from beneath the couch. It had been stashed there for some months, disturbed only by scores of roaches, spiders, and centipedes who had made it their cozy home. A few inquisitive neighborhood children hovered by my door, watching, and for once I invited them in to help me. Together, we assembled the tree and put it in a place of honor in my kitchen. Or rather … most of them just stared, while my little nine-year-old friend Talia actually assisted me. One of us carefully unpacked the box’s contents, while the other leapt about shrieking like a little girl at every creepy-crawly that was forced out of hiding. I’ll leave it to you to surmise which participant I was.


Njoo, njoo Emmanuel …


This year for Christmas/New Year’s, I’m taking a grand journey. No, really. Inshallah, it’s going to be epic (hopefully only in good ways.) I’m actually leaving in a few short days, so I not be able to blog again until after New Year’s. I’ll try, but no promises. Hopefully I’ll be too busy, right? You know, adventuring. I will tell you all about it when I return.

In the meantime, I leave you with the classic vocal stylings of John Lennon. Happy holidays, everyone.


Hey you. Yeah, you. Did you get tested yesterday? Yes? Come over here so I can give you a hug, you big, brave warrior in the fight against HIV. No? Did you at least make plans for when you will be? Please do. I care about you, and knowing your status is your first step in either living positively, or assessing your risks to continue being HIV negative, depending.

Anyway, here’s a little light reading/viewing to ponder, discuss, and ease you into your post-World AIDS Day weekend.

Op-Ed: As Long as Homophobia Lives, AIDS Won’t Die

While I did not tolerate or approve of homosexual people and homosexual activities, I did not mind their existence in Zambian society as long as they kept their distance from me, my family, and my career. What I did not realize was that my prejudiced line of thinking (as an “educated HIV activist,” no less) was exactly why the gay/MSM community was being left out of the HIV/AIDS discussion. Left alone. Left, in many cases, to become infected, get sick, and die.

Fight AIDS With Family Planning

215 million women worldwide are not using an effective method of contraception despite the fact that they want to avoid pregnancy. The largest segment of these women live in sub-Saharan Africa and many are at risk of HIV. Women account for 60 percent of people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, and young women between the ages of 15-24 are up to eight times more likely to be infected than men of the same age.

Sub-Saharan Africa Leads World in Drop in HIV Rate

Officials with the U.N. AIDS organization said Friday that countries with the largest epidemics in Africa are leading the drop in the number of infections. Those include Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Aids-free generation can be achieved, says US secretary of state Hillary Clinton

Science had shown that Aids can be defeated – even if the virus which causes it will be around for the foreseeable future, she said. Three tools, used in combination, could turn the tide: preventing babies from being infected at birth; voluntary male circumcision, which reduces female to male transmission of the virus by 60%; and anti-retroviral drug treatment, which recent studies have shown not only keep those with HIV alive but reduces the risk of transmitting the infection to their partner by 96%.


This week, I’m not only busy, but also inconveniently unwell, so I unfortunately don’t have as much time to devote to a long blog post about World AIDS Day as I would like. However, I would be truly remiss in my duties as a public health volunteer to forego mentioning it entirely. I’ve spoken a lot about HIV issues here in Kenya on this blog, but today, I’m going to reach out to the rest of my blog readers – the majority of whom are American – and proselytize to *you* a little bit.

Here, I deal a constantly with attempting to right the unfounded mythos of HIV: you can cure HIV by having sex with a virgin, or by drinking tree-bark tea, or by having sex with lots and lots of people (as though your body has a finite number of viruses, and you can “give them all away.”) Some believe you cannot get HIV the first time you have sex, or if you have sex with someone who is pregnant. In America, the myths are different, but the presence of misinformation is the same: HIV is for “druggies and drag queens” (yes, that is an actual quote.) The HIV virus doesn’t cause AIDS, meth use and “the gay bathhouse lifestyle” does. AIDS is only spread through anal sex, not any other behavior or activity. Young people don’t get HIV. Only African-Americans can get HIV (while minorities are disproportionately represented in new infections, they are FAR from the only ones contracting the virus.) Even if you get HIV, you can live forever. Alternatively, if you get HIV, you’re going to progress to AIDS and die almost immediately, so why find out early?

In many instances, this misinformation is more dangerous than bare ignorance. So here are a few things you should do:

  • Understand your risk: There was a time in American history when people (wrongly) thought HIV was limited to “the four H’s”: “homos” (gay men, though pretty much all modern researchers/activists reject the derogatory term used here), heroin addicts, “Haitians” (for more information on this puzzling category, read The Origin of AIDS by Jaques Pepin), and hemophiliacs (who often received dozens of blood product transfers per year before our national blood banks were considered “safe.”) Everyone else assumed they were ok.

    While unprotected male-to-male sexual contact remains one of the riskiest behaviors in terms of contracting HIV, nearly four times as many Americans contract HIV from heterosexual contact as from injectable drug use. Young women are twice as likely to be infected this way, although the highest overall age group for new infections isn’t “young people,” but those who are 35-45 years old. Doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical profile of young, gay, drug-addicted men being the “typical” person living with HIV, does it? EVERYONE – every single person – could be at risk.

  • Know the modes of transmission: HIV is present in all body fluids of an infected person – saliva, urine, sweat, tears – but not all fluids are created equal: in only three are the viral loads high enough to be a vector for transmission. HIV is spread through blood, sexual fluid, and breastmilk. You can become infected with HIV through sex (unprotected anal sex being the highest risk, vaginal sex in the middle, oral sex being very low but not non-zero risk). You can pass it on to your child during birth or through breastfeeding. You can get HIV if you’re in a car accident and someone bleeds on you, if you share a needle during IV drug use, or if you’re in the healthcare field and you get “pricked” (although if I recall correctly, the risk there is still 0.3%). Contrary to what virtually all of my students here – both children and adults – believe, you cannot get HIV through saliva when kissing. Nor can you get HIV through someone dripping sweat on you on the soccer field. Nor from sharing cups, plates, or public swimming pools. Nor from spending too much time at nightclubs in the company of “loose women” (as long as you refrain from the other, above-mentioned activities.) It’s also worth mentioning that the rate of transmission through sexual or blood contact isn’t 100%: one broken condom or stray needle won’t automatically change your status. But it’s better to minimize your own risks than play the odds, which brings us to …
  • Take precautions: Preventing HIV through sexual contact is as easy as ABC:

    A – Abstain. You don’t have to be having sex all the time. But for most people, this isn’t realistic, so …

    B – Be faithful. Only having sex with one person, who is *also* only having sex with you, reduces your chances DRAMATICALLY. Especially if you both get tested before you start.

    C – Condoms! Condoms condoms condoms! This is probably the best option for most of us. They’re cheap, they’re readily available, they really don’t make THAT much of a difference in sensation, they protect from a wide range of STIs, not to mention the pregnancy thing … what’s not to love? Just make sure you’re using them correctly every single time (many people don’t! Check your knowledge against the helpful how-to guide at the link.)

    As for the other modes of transmission, don’t use drugs, don’t share sharp things, get tested for HIV if you become pregnant (your doctor can help you reduce the likelihood of you passing your infection onto your baby), and if you find yourself exposed, seek post-exposure prophylaxis.

    By the way, there IS one documented case of HIV acquisition through kissing: the man had gum disease, so there was blood present, and his female partner drew the short straw by having some cut or lesion in her mouth that allowed transmission. You’re more likely to win the lottery while being struck by lightning than having this happen to you, but it’s food for thought.

  • GET TESTED! – Here in Kenya, they’ve got the US beat: you can’t throw a rock without hitting a VCT (Voluntary Testing and Counseling) center. In the US, getting tested can be an ordeal; when I got tested the first time before Peace Corps, I had to wait in line at the county health department instead of going to my normal doctor’s office. Still, don’t let that delay you. Most major cities have STI clinics, everywhere has Planned Parenthood, and if you’re in Washington DC, you can just head down to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get tested while you wait in line.

    You should be getting tested at least once per year (twice is better), plus every time you get a new partner. Even if you’re old. Even if you’re married. Even if you’re a shut-in who spends all your time with your cats. It’s worth it: HIV is not the death sentence it once was, and the sooner you find out your status, the sooner you can start on medication and/or making lifestyle (mostly diet and exercise) changes that will give you a happy, long life. Yes, it can be scary. Take a friend if you want so they can hold your hand in the waiting room, then go to Starbucks to celebrate your newfound peace of mind with a peppermint latte.

    IF you suspect you’ve been exposed, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do NOT get tested by donating blood. Yes, they screen all blood products, but there is a window of several weeks after exposure wherein you’re SUPER infectious but have not yet developed adequate antibodies to show up on the test. So if you’re worried about infection, get tested once, then again 3-6 months later. That will give you your most accurate results.

As for me? I’ve gotten tested twice in the past year (once last year on World AIDS Day, then again more recently) and will probably do so once more today as a show of solidarity and to lead by example. It’s not terrible. I promise. Sometimes it involves a little-bitty blood prick, sometimes a cheek swab – but honestly, isn’t a minor discomfort worth knowing?

There are around 50,000 new cases of HIV every year in the United States. We are lucky to live in a nation where the majority of people who need anti-retroviral drug treatments can access them, and the overwhelming tide of death that characterized the AIDS crisis that characterized the 1980s and early 90s has been much moderated. We should all work to accept those who are “living positively” as strong and capable people with long lives ahead of them. But if we have a chance to prevent becoming infected with a chronic disease ourselves, shouldn’t we take it? Today is World AIDS Day. I challenge every person reading this blog to do three things:

1. Further educate yourself. This post covers the basics, but isn’t comprehensive. Here is a website designed by students which offers a little more on the history in the US as well as a list of myths and facts. For more detail on the history of the virus and its entrance onto the world stage, I again recommend Origin of AIDS by Jacque Pepin.

2. Get tested. It’s worth it, I promise.

3. Tell your friends. Viruses spread – but so does knowledge! Give your friends information to help them make safer decisions, and if you hear them repeating myths, call them out on it.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t updated since shaking you down for money a few weeks ago, you may be rest assured that it is *not* because I have been kidnapped by sea-roving bandits. (Although given how often I’m to be found singing “A Pirate’s Life for Me” or “Hoist the Colours” while going about my morning at the clinic, I’d imagine my coworkers would not object to this contingency.) Safety and security are serious issues in the developing world, although honestly, I’ve just as high – if not higher – a risk of being murdered/assaulted/whatever in New York City or Detroit. My village is a fairly safe place, located well outside the recommended evacuation zones put in place by embassies. Peace Corps takes this all deadly seriously: after a French tourist was snatched from her resort, the Country Director himself visited every person on North Coast to discuss their safety situation. My meeting with him lasted nearly three hours, although that’s probably less to do with his or my level of worry, and more to do with the fact that he treated me to lunch at an Italian-run pizzeria in the tourist side of town.

In all seriousness, though: at present, things seem fine here. I’m keeping my ear to the ground personally, and Peace Corps is monitoring the situation closely from Nairobi. There are already oodles of vexing-but-ultimately-practical policies in place (no transit after dark, no going to Lamu/Garissa/Turkana/Juba/Kampala/anywhere else exciting without taking certain specific measures, Nairobi and other potential target areas are limited to emergency/essential medical travel only, etc.) Peace Corps Washington has several people on payroll who exist only to think the worst of everything and chew their nails to the nubs. Given the Kenyan incursion into Somalia, and al-Shabab’s pledge to retaliate in exponential return, I’m sure they’re down to the second knuckle by now, but they’ve yet to contact me or (to the best of my knowledge) anyone else about the situation. HOWEVER, in the unlikely event that something goes down, I will keep informed those who need informing, and will (insha’allah) post something on this blog as well, when time and security permit.

In the meantime, jipumzike. Rest yourself. Things are probably going to be fine.

And stay tuned for thrilling entries in the near future about such topics as: early marriages, the joy of teaching middle school, fleas that lay eggs under your skin, and the most fashionable autumnal haute couture textile pallet the leso markets of Mombasa have to offer. I don’t know what half of those words mean, but as the great Tim Gunn would tell us, we’re just going to make it work, people.

I’m certain you’re all waiting with bated breath for “Kenyan Schoolchildren Say The Darndest Things, Part 2” but I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. My AMERICAN FAMILY is going to be arriving NEXT WEEK (!!!) So I’ve been trying to finish up a few things at the clinic in anticipation of their arrival. I’m taking a proper vacation, my first one since Christmas. I’m rather excited.

In the meantime, I’m going to post a couple pictures for you to ogle and hate me over. High tourist season just started: I’m working on a blog entry about what this means for the local year-round population, which I hope to post when I get some time later in the month. But for now, I’ll just say this: it is the best of times, it is the worst of times. The worst because everyone goes back to assuming I’m an idiot tourist and trying extra-hard to give me the wrong price on everything (transportation, fabric, shoes, food if I’m not buying from my usual sources.) The best because it coincides with the directional shift in the trade winds, which strips the beaches of the thick seaweed that coats them several months out of the year. So if you need me, I’ll be over here wailing and gnashing my teeth at the unconscionable forces that compel public transit drivers to passionately argue that wazungu (“whites”) should be required to pay at least double the correct price for things simply owing to their ethnicity. But I’ll be doing it while sitting at the edge of a perfect sugar-sand beach, watching the cerulean tide roll in from the coral breakers. You are now free to hate my guts.

Remember when I showed you a picture of a lovely shaded avenue and warned you that 90% of my area doesn’t look like that? Here’s the rest.

Yep … that’s most of my commute. Rocks, sand, and scrubby low-growing vegetation that needs minimal water. But hey, it’s home 🙂

Anyway, it’s exam week, so I’m running around trying to get everything sorted out with my kids and my schools. On top of that, I’m leaving early next week for some training activities: first I’ll be assisting in (and learning about) a girl’s empowerment program in Nyanza, then I’ll be skipping up to Western Province for on-site education about developing ICT projects with limited means and in rural communities. They’re both great opportunities and I’m tremendously excited – plus the fact that I’ll be learning from fellow PCVs is a fabulous bonus. All in all, I’ll be gone for about ten days. It’s going to be wonderful.

In preparation, I have a number of last-minute arrangements and meetings to be taken care of, so I won’t be posting much (if anything) before then. While on the road I may not have ready access to the internet at all times: I may be in transit, deep in the bush, or just tied up with other things. I am asking for your forgiveness in advance. I hope to resume a regular posting schedule when I return April 14. I’ll come back with plenty of new pictures, ideas for posts, and other things to keep you glued to this, the best of all blogs ever created for any reason ever.

In the meantime, to address withdrawal symptoms, I recommend clicking the “COOL LINKS” link in the lefthand sidebar. See it? Right there? Good. There you will find plenty of wit and wisdom from other Kenya volunteers to keep you occupied.

Or you could, you know, go read a book.

Be well, and I’ll catch you on the flip side.

Love always,
M

Founding director of the Peace Corps/Kennedy appointee R. Sargent Shriver passed away last week at age 95 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease. He was a politician and an activist, and while I don't personally agree with all of his public positions, his legacy in today's Peace Corps is palpable. The entire PC community is mourning his passing – in the words of another Kenya PCV, "Thank you, Mr. Shriver, for giving us one of the greatest experiences of our lives."

Robert Sargent Shriver, Jr. November 9, 1915 – January 18, 2001

“Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.”

– Sargent Shriver

Bono sings at the Shriver funeral:

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DISCLAIMER

The opinions expressed on this blog do not represent those of the Peace Corps, the United States government, or any other organization. The author is solely responsible for all content on this blog.
Yours truly