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I’m in Nairobi at the moment, lounging in the lap of luxury at a hostel with hot water and electricity. After eight very long and trying weeks in my dusty little border town, I completed Pre-Service Training and swore in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer.

It’s a weight off my shoulders, let me tell you.

In some ways, I suppose I’m ready for the “real” adventure to begin now – tomorrow I start the trip that will eventually lead me to my work site and my job for the next two years. The adventure of course actually began two months or so ago when I left New York and met the amazing crew of folks who I now may refer to as my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers. We boarded the flight at JFK as thirty-six, and thirty-six assembled today at the US Embassy to take our oath of post. To have 100% of your training group make it through the rigorous training is all but unheard of, but we’re special. Truly.

I’ll try to blog more when I get to site, but for now, I’m just going to close this entry with a little poem written by my fellow VOLUNTEER Louis. It summarizes our experience … with the requisite kiloton of inside jokes.

————————-
Addressed to My Fellow Volunteers
by Louis Vayo
(Reposted with permission)

What do I remember most about Loitokitok?
The dust.
The dust from the ground rose like pillars of smoke
from a bonfire
When the motorbikes came flying by,
Kicking dust from their tires and into my eyes
I’m not much of a crier, but I’m not gonna lie,
All that dust made me pretty sad.

And you know what I don’t understand?
When the Kenyan teens greet me with a wave of their hand
they say, “Safi Kabisa” which means completely clean.
How do the Kenyan teens stay completely clean?

But nevertheless
In the beginning those overdressed, fat-cheeked kids were cute,
and with each “how are you?” those kids got cuter..
I don’t remember who I told
but I said to them,
“I don’t think those ‘how are you?’s’ will ever get old.”
..how naïve I was…
but everything was so new to me
there were so many things to learn, and so many things to see.
And I saw things I’ve never seen before
Like a goat in a crate, or a family of four
riding on a motorbike. So that’s what it’s like
on this African tour.

Still, It’s amazing all the things we’ve experienced,
From Kilimanjaro’s beautiful, twin peaks in the distance,
To our Kenyan Mamas’ constant and fervent insistence
to eat more, despite our resistance.

And those Kenyan Mamas, they are simply unreal
So hardworking, yet gentle, and with hands made of steel
That pot has got to be hot mama, can you not feel?
And the Kenyan men, so strong and so proud through & through
Still they are always ready with a smile and a greeting or two
To make us feel welcome.

But despite their warm welcome..
Adjusting to Kenyan life has not been easy.
Some days just had too much Blue Band, and Kenyan T.V.
But those few hot days in my business clothes, that was the worst situation
When the sweat from my head dripped off my nose, I think I’d smell ugali in my perspiration

We faced so many troubles, but all of you know
We battled spiders, bats, bugs and bad smells in the choo
We sat through hours & hours of church, still with hours & hours to go.
And we’d wait, patient, for Kenyan partner groups to show for a meeting though,
they were late, or they forgot, even though you watched them
scribble down the date

But hey, that’s just the Kenyan way,
An unwritten cultural rulebook we need to learn and obey.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Pedestrians yield themselves to cars
Women are seen as whores in bars
When we share, what’s ours
becomes theirs
And the locals charge expensive fares,
But only if your skin is fair.
Because here in Kenya, fair skin means money
It’s just like saying that the sun is sunny
well that’s funny because
that’s a stereotype we are here to correct, (I think) we’ll consider it a “win”
If we can gain our respect independent of the color of our skin…

I’ve also learned that Kenya is the land of many hidden children
We can’t always see them, but we always hear them
So we walk home to the sound of “Mzungu!, Mzungu!” their tiny voices screaming
And after thirty-six “How are you?s” in a row, it’s lost its meaning.
And I’ve been meaning to tell you, I don’t know if I did
But when Michael Smith flips out on that one, unlucky kid, Hell..
Michael Smith, sometimes i’m right there with you.

But seriously, together we can laugh and support each other
Each of you have become like a sister or a brother

And soon we leave Loitokitok, though the cows are still mooing
The roosters still crowing, and the Tusker still brewing
But will all that distraction, I forget what i’m doing here.
Can any of you relate? Do any of you agree?
Then I remember, I’m here to throw starfish back into the sea
One by one, and that’s okay with me
because when it’s done, if it’s one life we saved
One life we changed for two years we gave
..it’d be worth it
Because after two years, we’ll be rearranged,
Though I think all along we will have known
That life that has changed will be our own.

And for two years we’ll face all manner of trouble
From Malaria to funeral orgies, and with mephlaquin: seeing double
But let me tell you the real dangers
When returning to America, we’ll be the strangers
And we’ll think it’s strange: the roads are paved
the toilets flush, the furniture’s plush
they use microwaves

But we have two years to go ’till then
So let’s let the adventure begin.

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Oy vey. In case things weren’t WHIZZING BY at warp speed yet, now lots and lots of things all start happening very very fast. Sooner than I can breath, I have a dawn flight to Albany. This will take me to the Staging area, King of Prussia, where I’ll get an all-day safety briefing and spend the night. Next morning, bright and early, to JFK. JFK to Zurich. Zurich to Nairobi. Few days in Nairobi, then on to TrainingTown, and my host family, and official Peace Corps training, and the last 3-month hard push to become an official, sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteer.

(Or, translated for short attention spans: AIRPORT.AIRPORT.HOTEL.BUS.AIRPORT.AIRPORT.AIRPORT.HOTEL.BUS.MOTHERLAN D .)

I will try to keep you guys updated during all the transit madness, but the next time you hear from might be from TrainingTown (hereafter, TT). If that turns out to be the case …

Keep it real, kiddos.

Catch you on the flip side.

airplane sunrise

I get it. Africa’s fucking confusing. I didn’t REALLY know too much shit about it until I was a sophomore in high school, and plenty of people go their whole lives without knowing shit about it ever. You can’t blame people for not knowing enough about a region if the media treats it all as one giant country full of rape and lions and people dying and Darfur and more lions. I am willing to cut people ENORMOUS amounts of slack, and consider it a privilege to have those conversations where I get to gently go “You know what? ‘Africa’ is actually a whole continent, with a billion people, and 2,600 languages, and lots and lots of different countries …”

But sometimes, the degree of DURR is so high I have little choice but to smack my forehead and grumble. For example, if you’re *been there* (or claim to be), I hold you to a slightly higher standard. ONLY SLIGHTLY, BUT STILL HIGHER.

The following is an actual conversation I had this weekend with someone who lives in my sleepy little college town:

*Conversation course: weather weather weather weather, last year’s summer was wimpy and cold*
Me: Yeah, I’m fine with it, though. I like cool weather. I’m saving it up for when I move to Africa in June.
Guy: AFRICA?
Me: *used to this reaction by now* Yeah, Africa.
Guy: I totally used to live in Africa!
Me: *excited* NO WAY! Really?? Me too! Where??
Guy: Lagunza
Me: Awesome, where’s that?
Guy: In … Africa.
Me: Right, what country?
Guy: The country of … Lagunza.
Me: Uh, ok. What part of Africa is that? Southern? West?
Guy: No
Me: North? East?
Guy: No
Me: So … central?
Guy: Yeah, that must be it.
Me: *blink*
Guy: It’s the part that was having the civil war.
Me: Which civil war?
Guy: The … African … Civil … War. The big one.
Me: *trying to laugh it off nicely* Yeah, I guess there’s a lot of political crap going down in a bunch of different countries at once.
Guy: Wait, what? There’s more than one?

. . .

Res ipsa loquitor.

Today I received my “Bridge” electronic packet from the Peace Corps, which includes such vital information as suggested packing lists, staging information, flight numbers, and details about what the first three months of my life are going to be like when I arrive in Kenya. (Apparently, we’re spending a couple of days in ‘robi to start with after all; who knew?) I read it immediately, of course. After the year-long application where updates are brief and sporadic, having ACTUAL DETAIL to plan by is like the blessed start of the rainy season. But as I immersed myself in instructions about toothpaste and shoes and passport-sized-visa-photos, I felt a … twinge. A tension. A hitch in my diaphragm.

That’s right, for the first time in 12+ months, I felt a legitimate fluttering of nerves.

The point of traveling outside your comfort zone isn’t to do things that don’t alarm you in the least, but to be uneasy and do them anyway. THAT’S what courage is. A little apprehension is required for travel anyway; it is, after all, what keeps one from getting into trouble. In my various adventures, I’ve learned to let my instincts serve me as they wish.

Still, a moment of “OMG, I HAVE SO MUCH LEFT TO DO BEFORE I GO, AND THEN I’M GOING, WHAAAT” isn’t what I was hoping for. I just finished my thesis this morning. A slight break for shameless relaxation would have been nice. But … here we go. My spaniel-like levels of excitement are tempered slightly by the rush of time, the multitude of tasks left to do, and the visceral realization that I’m 32 days from 2+ years in the Rift.

As they say, shit just got *real.*

Kenyan Flag

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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