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Welcome back! This was originally written as a single behemoth o’ bloggery, but given that it was over five pages single-spaced in Microsoft Word, I tried to improve its readability by chopping it down and posting its parts on adjoining days. If you’re just joining us, start back at Part 1 before you jump in here. Thanks! –M

On a much more minor level, high season brings irritations like longer lines at the town’s one bank or greater traffic on the handful of paved roads (the latter of which being particularly troubling to the teachers I work with, as virtually all of their students walk to and from school.) With the above-mentioned exception of fish, the prices of things – from mango juice to textiles – often rise dramatically. Public transportation is particularly irksome for people who don’t look adequately Kenyan: assuming you’re a clueless tourist, rather than a year-round NGO worker or missionary, the conductors on matatus will ask for double or triple the normal price and argue heatedly when you don’t pay it. They’ll threaten to leave you on the side of the road, although follow-through on this is usually quite low.

Street harassment also experiences a sharp uptick – a phenomenon not just limited to me, but something I’ve discussed with MANY female volunteers of all manner of skin tones/body shapes/physical presentations. I’m fairly well known in my community; even people who haven’t met me personally generally recognize me as “the lady doctor/teacher from the clinic near the post office.” I’m friends with the woman who runs the kiosk where I buy fruit and the cashiers in town where I go for soap and dry goods. They greet me in Swahili and ask about work. During the low season, I inevitably get some attention for my sheer existence, regardless of how I’m dressed or behaving (doubly so if either of those things are even slightly suspect) but most people are either friendly or ambivalent.

However, when high season comes, it’s common for the area to experience an influx of unemployed young men looking for work as beach boys or curio-sellers. They don’t know me. To them, I’m just another mzungu here on holiday. I can barely walk to the bank without an admirer or five stepping into my path, greeting me with some combination of “Ciao baby,” “You so sexy,” and/or “I love you with every part of my heart.” Usually, it’s easy to brush past them or tell them off in rapid Swahili. Occasionally, a persistent one will follow me for a few hundred yards continuously professing how he yearns to make me the mother of his children. (Herein lies another benefit of thorough community integration: one who seemed to be drunk or stoned tried to follow me down the semi-secluded path that leads to my house, alternating between requests for money and offers to “play sex.” A male community member who works near the chief’s office, and whom I stop and chat with amiably any time I pass by and see him there, happened to also be nearby. He quickly intercepted the would-be Don Juan and dissuaded him from his quest. Threats of ass-kicking may have been involved.)

Basically, even in the absence of a physical threat, what sounds like a minor irritation can quickly escalate to a day-ruiner and morale-dampener. (There are international NGOs devoted to changing this sort of thing, but given how many hats I’m already wearing, addressing it in any more formal way than telling guys it’s not OK doesn’t seem like a feasible task for me to tackle at the moment.) I wouldn’t go so far as to draw climbing correlations about street harassment as a “gateway drug,” but it does normalize gender inequality in a deeply disturbing way. It enables the same insidious climate of casual disrespect that creates space for someone to say “She may be 14, but I paid her $20 and she didn’t seem to mind.” A catcall is in no way on the same level as a child rape, but they are both symptoms of the larger social ill of gender inequality.

But of course, this isn’t a problem confined to Kenya, or even to Africa. Women struggle with this the world over – including, quite definitely, in the United States. I think I’ve diverged adequately from the topic at hand that I need to return focus to … what was I talking about again?

Ah, yes. High season.

And so, as with so many things, it’s difficult to come up with a basic explanation of what the enormous tourist presence does for my community. I struggle with this when trying to explain life in my area, as people like to ask things along the lines of, “So do you think it’s, like, better or worse that your area gets so many outsiders all the time?” Tourism is good. Is it? Would the young men and women who are trafficked to serve the sexual needs of foreigners in less body-rich areas agree with you? Tourism is bad. Certainly, if you’re not considering the thousands of jobs it creates, from hotel receptionists to professional fire dancers. Or the marine reserves and turtle protection zones that are funded almost entirely through tourism levies. Or the general net-positive of providing people with a cross-cultural pedagogical experience, like the gap year students who plant trees in the Arabuko Forest, or the ill-informed armchair historians who never realized the scope of medieval civilization in East Africa until they visited the Gede ruins.

A reductionist blanket statement, while offering a tempting narrative, is both impossible and not useful. Therefore, I suppose the best we can do is this:
Tourism is. It simply exists. What can we do but work to solve the issues it creates, while celebrating the victories it spawns? A balancing act, imperfect and necessary, as old as the human desire to wander.

I originally wrote this as one monstrously long entry, but have decided to post it in two pieces to save you considerable eye strain. Please enjoy, and stayed tuned for Part 2 tomorrow. –M

My primary workplace sits just over the invisible, unofficial borderline that separates the “local” and “tourist” regions of my district. If you walk 20 minutes in one direction, you will find resorts of mind-boggling opulence. Guests are happy to pay hundreds of dollars USD each night for sublime Indian Ocean views and think little of laying down more for a perfectly chilled cocktail than the average laborer makes in a week. If you walk 20 minutes in the other direction, you will find villages where one household in ten has a bed-covering net to prevent malaria, where wells are unprotected from contamination and routinely test positive for fecal bacteria. You will find homes where 2 of the family’s 4 children have died from preventable disease before the age of five years. You will see women who are trying their damndest to educate a brood of children with the proceeds from selling bananas at a roadside kiosk. We have a dedicated clinic staff, as well as more than a dozen layman volunteers who serve to encourage their neighbors and friends to seek out things like vaccinations and treatments for tuberculosis. Nonetheless, the work is slow, and often feels darkly Sisyphean.

One of the oddest features of the intersection between local and tourist is the number of people who come rolling through my clinic as a stop on their vacations. Yes, my clinic. They roar into the main yard in white SUVs, dropping off plastic shopping bags of adhesive band-aids and nearly-expired drugs with labels in foreign languages (some of which are used, and some of which are accepted graciously before being dumped into a drawer somewhere never to be seen again.) They openly point at too-thin babies (aside from being rude for obvious reasons, pointing at a person has a very stark cultural distastefulness, and can be associated with witchcraft.) They take pictures of seriously ill patients curled up on the wooden benches in the waiting area, then shove their $300 camera phones back into the pockets of their skin-tight booty-shorts. They brush past well-spoken, uniformed medical professionals to gawk at the pit latrine toilets and reaffirm their expected narrative of the “African” experience.

I know they mean well. I do. It is through meetings like these that our clinic can sometimes find a donor willing to fund new microscopes or improvements to the birthing room. Some visitors are patient, thoughtful, and respectful. And there are DEFINITELY instances wherein infusions of foreign money or goods can serve to boost a long-term, sustainable goal. But even if I set aside the “donor syndrome” issue, it rarely strikes me as anything other than self-important (“Look at all the good we’ve done!”) or blatantly disrespectful (photographing sick people? SERIOUSLY?) If I may borrow a phrase from Salman Rushdie, it’s poverty porn. For a few months, during the low-season, we receive a total respite from this experience. But then high season returns, and every week or two, another group shows up.

High season: the period of the year during which Europeans and (to a lesser extent) Americans abandon their chill, soggy homelands for the warm, welcoming embrace of the Kenyan coast. They begin to trickle in around July, rush forth in torrents by late October, and then depart abruptly the first week April, as though they all simultaneously remember they left the gas on and forgot to put the cat out. For the duration of our rainy season it’s a veritable ghost town outside the local areas. Peaceful, if not always convenient (example: the local grocer stops stocking peanut butter altogether until it becomes a reliably-selling item again. Boo.)

A number of my Kenyan friends and neighbors look forward to high season like it’s one giant, seven-month Christmas holiday. I can scarcely overstate the economic impact it has on my region: hundreds upon hundreds of jobs are created, from hotel staff and house help to tour guides and turtle watchers. Service, entertainment, and environment-related industries boom. Much of it pays rather well. People have money in their pockets, so school fees get paid and long-delayed doctors’ appointments are attended. Plus, more attention is given to infrastructure issues like sewage and electricity – a good sign that the deluge is about to begin is when you see teams of temporary government employees scoping out and setting fire to the unlicensed trash pits that spring up in every neighborhood.

It also coincides with the directional shift of seasonal winds, clearing the beaches of seaweed and improving conditions for the small-scale fishing that has long been an economic and nutritional staple in this area. The price of fish drops, allowing more families to access this lean, healthy source of protein in gluttonous quantities. Meanwhile, fisherman still make more money, because they’re moving more product to more people (tourists have an insatiable appetite for seafood – and it’s hard to blame them; it’s difficult to find fresher, tastier fish in the world. In my humble opinion.) Furthermore, most of it is hand-harvested by small crews in wooden boats, the way it’s been done since time immemorial, so one doesn’t even have to wrestle overmuch with the environmentalist concerns of massive trawlers spouting pollution and devastating area fish populations. Everyone is happy (except, possibly, the fish.)

Of course, even setting aside the renewed enthusiasm for poverty porn, not every side-effect of tourism is positive. Some of the jobs created are not entirely reputable. Drug use is shockingly common both among locals and foreigners, particularly among young men. The number of people involved in the production, movement, and monetization of heroin and marijuana skyrockets.

Similarly, teachers notice an uptick in the number of female students quietly dropping out of school, or disappearing from their homesteads. If you ask them, they’ll tell you they have a job as a waitress, or a cook’s help, or that a cousin knows a tourist family who needed a house girl. But in truth, many of these girls are looking to help their families make ends meet by joining the ranks of the world’s oldest profession. While many of the adult women who support their families this way have demonstrated in surveys an above-average knowledge of HIV and resulting trends towards consistent condom use, this often doesn’t translate to youth. They may lack a solid educational foundation about their personal risk for infection, or feel disempowered to demand protection from clients. Also: they’re often paid extra to go without.

Notice I didn’t say “young women.” I said “girls.” And I mean “girls,” some as young as eleven or twelve. Although some efforts have been made to combat it, this area of the Coast remains an international hot spot for child prostitution and human trafficking.

Crime also goes up slightly, as an influx of wealth can yield an influx of muggings, but this hasn’t really been a problem in my particular area. (On a personal level, it also doesn’t hurt that I’m rarely out after dark, and most of the people in my neighborhood know me to some degree.) Still, tourists quickly discover that if they leave their beach bag unattended while they nip back to the bar to refresh their cocktail, it probably won’t be waiting for them when they return.

Continued tomorrow with part 2

I was groggy when I pulled on my shoes this morning, so I didn’t take the usual five extra seconds to wham them against the wall a few times and dislodge any nighttime occupants. I was surprised when I found they weren’t actually empty, although not half so surprised as the spider the size of a playing card that ran out. Luckily, rather than bite my foot, it tried to escape. By running up my leg.

I tell you, that will wake you up a hell of a lot faster than a cup of coffee.

The rest of the day went smoothly enough. I have a routine medical appointment this week in Nairobi, then will be staying an extra day to do some electronic window shopping for my clinic’s disease monitoring project. To accomplish this trip in a way that is both convenient and in accordance with Peace Corps travel policy, I’m spending the night in Mombasa and catching a morning bus out of there. It adds a little more time and expense than, say, the pre-dawn-departure-arrive-after-dark –slightly-sketchy Malindi → Nairobi Express, but it’s worth it. Besides, Mombasa’s *fabulous.*

On previous trips, I’ve almost always been here as part of a larger group (or with at least one other person.) This is fun, too, but traveling alone is something I have some familiarity and comfort with. You really test your knowledge of the place: how to get around, where to eat, what’s a good price for watermelon slices. That sort of thing.

I arrived in the relatively early morning and after refreshing myself from the typical death-defying matatu ride with a tall iced coffee, I headed out to explore. Even if you dodge the usual touristy places (I STILL haven’t been to Fort Jesus), Mombasa has a lot to offer! Markets! Fruit stands! Second-hand book sellers! Great samosas! Awesome tiny cafes! After mailing a record thirty-two letters (OW MY TONGUE WILL NEVER RECOVER FROM ALL THOSE STAMPS) I mostly just wandered. Took lunch. Bought a couple of used books to entertain me on the bus ride tomorrow. Practiced getting completely lost and seeing if I could find my way back to my hostel. Talked to a spice seller for a long time about how tourists never bother to learn the simple “please” and “thank you” portion of Swahili. Shocked a textile seller by buying a white-and-black checked scarf (“But … you are an American,” he said in exasperated Swahili. “This is like the head cloth of Mr. Arafat! An American cannot wear this! America! Israel! America!”) Explored endless quantities of singing Good Luck cards. Bought some snacks for the trip (slightly dubious looking … sesame cake things?)

It’s now early evening. I’m tired from all the walking, so I’m lying on the narrow bed at my hostel, plotting for dinner. Trek back out to that great Indian place I always go to when I’m coming through Mombasa, or get a chapatti and soda from the place across the street and save my limited food budget for something decadent and useless in Nairobi?

Decisions, decisions.

I was reading a book during lunch (as I often do) so I didn’t notice the fly land in my teacup. Nor did I see its last desperate struggle to free itself before succumbing to a sweet, milky demise. I did manage to notice it as I was lifting the cup to my lips, but before I had drunk of it, which I’ll count as a blessing. I skimmed the insect off the top with a spoon, closely inspected the surface for a missed wing or something equally unpleasant, and hesitantly took a sip. It tasted fine. I drained the cup.

I am adjacent to bustling little town, so I have a wide variety of dining options when I choose not to cook (cooking in Kenya is another entry entirely.) On one end of the spectrum, you can buy fried potatoes (not French fries, but like … soft potato hunks dipped in egg and fried) or small, spit-roasted fish from women on the side of the road for a few shillings. It’s not going to win any hygiene commendations, but I’ve never had a bad experience (knock on wood) and both items are shockingly delicious. Good option if you’re of a strong constitution and/or short on cash.

Next up in price, you have little open-air “Swahili cafes,” which all serve about the same things for about the same prices. These include such Kenyan standards as sekuma wiki (kale), maharagwe (beans), chapati (fried flatbread), mchicha (bitter local greens), samosas (little fried dough pouches of meat and onions), and ugali (maize flour formed into a solid mass). Often, the selection is complemented by local specialties, such as samaki (grilled whole fish) or pillau (rice prepared with spices and a sprinkling of meat – my favorite). Most of these can be altered by the addition of fresh coconut while cooking, which gives a milky appearance to the juices and a taste that’s vaguely reminiscent of sunblock. I’m kind of indifferent to the coconut thing, honestly, but it’s very popular. Some of these establishments have menus, but those are best employed in waving the flies off your table: they don’t cook every item every day, so your first statement when walking in, even before “Where can I sit,” is “What do you have?” Or, in the Kiswahili, ”Una vyakula gani leo mchana?” (You have foods which today afternoon?)

PCV/visitor sidenote: try the sekuma na wali at the Station View. Even better than the stuff in Loitokitok.

General sidenote: It’s called Station View because it’s across the street from the police station. Bonus points for skipping the creative bullshit, but is it really a view if there’s nothing exciting to look at?

Most of these cafes have a selection of tempting warm Fanta flavors to offer you, and those that don’t keep them on hand are generally happy to send a random small child off the street scurrying to a nearby duka (shack/store) to fetch some. If you feel like being a bit of a devil and enjoying a cold Tusker beer with your meal … you’re S.O.L. B.Y.O. or go to a bar.

This is usually where my dining-out habits hit their limit, since I mostly cook for myself and can’t afford to eat out at fancy places often. From here, however, there are indeed more options. A trip to the touristy Italian part of town will yield all sorts of little bistros serving espresso, crepes, and Dantean delicacies for a price that may be reasonable by European standards but makes me shriek and clutch my wallet (150 shillings for a cup of coffee? Really?) There’s also a pizza place somewhere in that area, but I haven’t found it yet. It’s good to know that if I’m ever on the verge of a nervous breakdown without something involving cheese, I can make that work.

In terms of upper-class dining, the sky is the limit. Or … so I’m told. I’m only a few kilometers from some major tourist resorts that are rumored to have a mind-boggling variety of fine ethnic dining options. Italian (duh), French, Indian, Greek, Ethiopian. I haven’t found a Chinese place, sadly, so my craving for lo mein may remain unsatiated for the next 23 months. This is also where most of the higher quality fish is sold, to feed the holidaying masses in their pricey hotels. It’s great for local fisherman, but does little to put meat – a pricey addition to meals most anywhere in Kenya – in the hands of people who could benefit from the heart-healthy protein choice.

If the number of choices is overwhelming to you and you find yourself going “Dammit, I just want a banana,” then you can be accommodated. Fruit is available year-round in this tropical little slice of paradise, but don’t expect to pay village prices. A medium-sized banana starts at 5 shillings a pop, and a medium-sized pineapple will set you back 40 shillings or more. If you’re craving mandafu, or unripe coconut, you’re in luck: a dude on a bicycle rides around selling them 7 days a week, and would happily machete the top off of one for you to enjoy on the spot. Mmmm … salty, fruity, vitamin C-infused fat-water.

(Stay tuned later this week for how I feed myself when I make the fiscally reasonable choice to eat in.)

As I write this, I’m sitting in what will (inshallah) be my home for the next two years. It’s not exactly … homey, though, at the moment. I’m seated on the cement floor with my back against an unpacked suitcase – unpacked because I have nowhere to put the contents if I chose to empty it except next to me on the bare cement floor. I’m eating a roll my supervisor brought me, smeared with peanut butter from a care package, which I spread using a 7” tactical knife. My mosquito net is not hanging yet; it’s lying on the bare foam mattress next to the rolled-up sweatshirt standing in for a pillow. All of which is also on the floor. Seeing as I have no bed.

Soooo … why am I so dang happy to be where I am? Because I’m getting down to business, that’s why. I’ve met my supervisor and my counterpart. I’m starting work at 8 AM sharp tomorrow. In the next 3-6 months, I’ll complete a formal Community Needs Assessment. And even though the perks of the past 9 weeks – the camaraderie, the classes, the laughs, the adventures – have been radiant with awe and wonder, this is why I’m here. To integrate into a community. To learn a language. To do good.

Of course, the fact that I’m 1 km from a breathtakingly gorgeous whitesand beach doesn’t hurt, either.

I wish I could bottle this and a thousand other moments I’ve had thus far, tuck them someplace safe for the dark days ahead. Being ceaselessly busy and on the move has thus far largely shielded me from homesickness (both for America and for my Peace Corps family) and the worst of the isolation. Stress, however, manifests in odd ways: I nearly had a freakout moment this afternoon when I thought I had lost my cell phone charger and the prospect of a full 24 hours or more without text messaging/SMS loomed. Luckily, though, it was just under some stuff in a different bag. Not so luckily, my camera seems to be missing. Whether that means it got left somewhere during all the transit shuffle or it was stolen out of my bag while it was sitting on the sidewalk in Mombasa is impossible to tell. It’s a SERIOUS BUMMER because ALL of my photos both from Peace Corps so far and from my college graduation were on it – none had yet made it to my computer. I’d planned on doing that tonight.

Blast.

Still, I’m glad to have two free seconds to myself, for literally the first time since I boarded the bus on Thursday. I’m glad I didn’t burn the house down when I made rice for dinner (which is now cooling/congealing – you guessed it – next to me on the floor in the pot in which I cooked it in.) I’m glad I treated my mosquito net with insecticide before I came, so when I burrito myself into it tonight, I probably hopefully might not get malaria. I’m glad I have electricity(ish) in my house, so that when I finish this, I can lull myself to sleep with a sappy NPR podcast. I’m glad my maps are on the wall, starting the process of turning 3 cement rooms into a home. I’m glad for the friends I’ve made. I’m glad to have persevered through the application and the waiting and the testing and the ANGST and the testing and the more testing.

I’m just glad to be here.

As the gauzy haze of sleep slipped back, the first thought that scuttled across my Larium-addled dream-brain was that I had just born auditory witness to a murder. It was not the sound of my alarm that woke me, but rather a choked cry from the hallway of “I LOVE YOU! GOODBYE!” This was swiftly accompanied by a crunching THWUNK noise, followed by the sound of dragging something large and inert. Like a body. Or, as it turned out to be, an enormous duffel bag.

I wonder why people are saying their goodbyes already, I mused as I came to my senses, it’s only …

6:15.

I was supposed to be meeting my group at 6:30.

ACK!

Despite my alarm’s best efforts to sabotage my departure, I made my bus with plenty of time to spare. I passed the time before we embarked partly by listening to PCV Lorenzo play guitar and partly by chatting in Kiswahili with a newspaper hawker. Imagine my surprise when I opened one of Kenya’s national dailies, The Standard, and found a picture of myself. WHAAAAT? There was an unnervingly large media presence at our swearing-in yesterday; it’s shocking that out of the hundreds upon hundreds of rapid-fire pictures taken throughout, they chose a seriously unflattering photograph of me cracking up laughing because we all messed up the oath. Hrm.

It was even more surprising when a handful of random Kenyans on my bus to Mombasa asked me for my autograph. I laughed it off and used it as an opportunity to talk about the work the Peace Corps does, which wasn’t explained in that particular paper. It was, however, described in greater detail in the front-page coverage the event was granted by another national daily, The Star. Kumbe!

The bus ride itself was quite pleasant. I mostly dozed, waking occasionally to find that my supervisor had once again thoughtfully left some snack or other – roasted nuts, carrot juice, bottled water – in the seat pocket in front of me for consumption at my leisure. A lot of PCVs were anxious about their community counterparts before this week’s workshop, but mine’s pretty awesome. He pointed out landmarks and large mammals when he thought they would interest me, and together we worked a crossword in the Daily Nation to pass the time. As the road unspooled gradually towards our day’s destination, the landscape shifted notably. What began as scrubby acacia trees and distant peaks quietly gave way to arid copses of baobob trees. I’m a huge fan of those trees myself, but seeing them in such great number (and at the near-total exclusion of other large plants) was simultaneously compelling and a bit eerie. As we neared the coast, groves of mango and coconut began to overtake the view entirely. The land flattened to soft sand hills with distant glimpses of the Indian Ocean. In what seemed much less than the actual 8+ hours it took, we were in Mombasa.

Before I had even made it to the sidewalk, I was swarmed with cab drivers, goods hawkers, and street children. I barked at them in Kiswahili and they buggered off – for the most part. One unflappable man asked who I was waiting for, told me my ride wasn’t coming, and insisted he would drive me to my destination in one gasping breath. “COME, I TAKE YOU,” he said emphatically, helping himself to a handful of my jacket sleeve. I countered by throwing an arm around the nearest male PCV and telling him in polite but firm language that I didn’t need his help. My colleague had to repeat the message before the guy got it.

But before I could really start to get frustrated, the evening call to prayer started and came echoing down the street. Instantly, my sensory memory conjured Damascus at dawn and twilight sails in Zanzibar. Something in the base of my neck unclenched. I breathed in the city that will be a satellite second home for the foreseeable future and felt a thrill just to be standing there.

Tomorrow I’ll be meeting ranking officials and community poobahs before finally, finally, finally making it to the place I should (inshallah) call home for the next two years or so. Then I can begin to unpack, to brush up my best Kiswahili, and get down to the business of doing what I was brought here to do. Although what that is, exactly …? We absolutely shall see.

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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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