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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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I wanted to update yesterday, when I had oodles of free time, but there was no electricity in town. This happens most Saturdays, all Tuesdays, and some other days. But we have electricity in town more days than not, so that’s a bonus. None at home.

I feel like I’ve written a number of letters to the same effect as this post topic, but nonetheless, I continue to receive questions, so here goes.

For now – in training – my days are semi-routizined. I get up around 6 to dress and take tea, then leave the house to walk to class about 7:15. It’s only 30 minutes (or thereabouts) but I like to arrive early. It gives me time to look over my notes before we start. 8 AM sharp, it’s KISAWAHILI NA BAS KISWAHILI (SWAHILI AND ONLY SWAHILI) for a number of hours, with a handful of ten-minute breaks scattered in throughout. Because it is only me and one other student, and because we’re semi-competent in the language, it’s a “discussion-based” class. The first hour or so is usually just us talking about our day, how life is with our host family, what we’ve been learning outside of class, funny stories, accidental adventures, and the like. Good times. I still have a tendency to respond to everything said to me with “Tena, tafhadali?” (“Again, please?”) but that’s more reflex than anything else. We had a practice oral exam on Friday, which went well. I’m feeling much less overwhelmed. Nzuri sana.

At 12 or 12:30, we are released for lunch. We usually go to the same restaurant (there are only 4 or 5 decent ones in town) and linger over Fanta before returning to the general meeting site for afternoon technical lessons. If we have any spare time after eating, we all play frisbee as a group or sit on the grass and read the newspaper or just chit-chat about how much we miss cheese. No, really. This happens almost daily.

At 1:30 or 2, the afternoon session starts. Some days, my assigned training partner and I hop on a matatu (public minibus) and head to a government-run health center, where we’re practicing skills like needs assessment tools and networking. Other days, we have a lecture about culture or politics or proposal writing or whatever the powers that be deem a useful topic for us to study. We review homework and have discussions … it’s a lot like college, actually, although the class size is bigger.

We get out of that around 5. Most days, I walk home to sit in the kitchen house by the fire with my host Mama, who helps me practice my Swahili or do my culture-based homework. Some days, the other trainees and I will find some restaurant/pub/business establishment in town and watch some of the World Cup game. This is made difficult by the strict 6:30 PM curfew, but meh. It’s still cool.

Dinner is usually on the table at my house by 7, and I’m always expected to do SOMETHING useful, even if it’s just carrying the pots in from the kitchen building to the sitting room. We eat and chat in KiswaEnglish, then my parents and host siblings take tea while I do my homework by headlamp. Thing Megan Does That Her Host Family Finds Hilarious #98726592: Reading books/writing/journaling/studying with a flashlight stuck to her forehead via elastic headband. Most nights, I’m in bed my 9:30, although sometimes I rebel and listen to podcasts on my iPod until I fall asleep. Whoa, cool, right?

When I get to site in a month or so, my days will be ridiculously varied, oddly intense, and expectedly frustrating. For now, although I wish I had more free time to do things like check my e-mail in cybercafes, I nonetheless take some comfort in the predictable rhythm of my weeks.

Kwa sasa. (For now).

Almost out of internet time, so I’d better wrap this up. Hope your lives are going well. Anything you’d like to see a post about? Mention it in the comments.

Hamjambo rafiki! Habari za maisha?

I write from within the comforting confines of my mosquito net; a few moments ago, I had a close encounter with a MOSQUITO THE SIZE OF A MID-SIZE SEDAN. I exaggerate only slightly. For the sake of my dignity, when you picture this post in your head, please imagine me chuckling benevolently and saying to the mosquito, “Shoo, little one! My friends are not half so kind!” before ushering it out the window – rather than the reality, which involves me making a hoarse noise like a cat locked in a burning file cabinet while swatting furiously in such a way as to slap myself in the face three or four times.

Thanks.

We’ve had a few days of last-minute vaccinations, security briefings, anti-malarial consultations, chai, crash-course language initiation, chai, harried trips into downtown Nairobi, discussions about our anxieties for our host families, chai, paperwork, lessons on the proper use of the “bush choo” (pit latrine), lectures about health issues, and a general welcoming to East Africa. And then we stopped for chai. With a side of chai. I’m sure as hell not complaining. Tomorrow, we all board a bus to TrainingTown, which is roughly piano-tossing distance from both Kilimanjaro and the border with Tanzania. There, we will finally meet our host families and get down to the real business of Peace Corps Training. Rather than Pre-Training Training. Mhm.

There are 36 of us in this group, representing diversity in geography, race, age, gender, profession, and skill set. We vary so widely that all we seem to have in common is a startlingly high degree of mutual bad-assery. We have bonded during these few days on the run, then will continue on together in small language-learning groups during training until being scattered willy-nilly throughout Kenya for our actual placements. These placements are not to be revealed to us until next Wednesday, at which time we will all be put into “vernacular groups” in which we are expected to learn the local tribal language of our region of service (Luo, Kikuyu, Maasai, etc).

In summary, rather than the expectation of being bumblingly conversational in one disparate foreign language in a very short time, there are two. And I think that’s *awesome.* Language lessons are already leaving me cognitively exhausted and stupidly happy, even if almost everything we’ve done so far is review (Nafahamu kiswahili kidogo, remember?) Really, I’m in far better a mood than I have any right to be. I’m sleeping and eating well. I enjoy the company of all my fellow trainees, without exception. I’m sure it will make the (inevitable) crash that much harder, those days of angry, tearful frustration, of jackals and mosquito netting and feeling the hot breath of failure on the back of my neck. But for now … shit’s awesome, guys. This place rocks, this region rocks, these people rock, and I’ve been kept to busy for the niggling nips of those broader humanitarian questions to stick pins on my soul. (Somewhere in the wild, a disgruntled former aid worker just sat bolt upright in bed and howled “DO-GOODER SENSES TINGLING!!!!111one”)

I am not without my complaints, but they are not, at the moment, either relevant or appropriate blog content. So … yeah.

This evening, to celebrate the end of our pre-training-training, some of the current PCVs took us into the city for chinese food and Tusker. It was a fabulous footnote to a brief and heady chapter in the text of this surreal journey. Nzuri sana, njema sana. And that’s the note I’ll end on, as I have an early morning tomorrow. Salama sana.

Just got my travel information from the official Peace Corps booking agent folks. It’s looking like this:

Monday, May 24, 7 AM: My flight leaves from Albany to take me to KingofPrussia, Pennsylvania. STAGING. Overnight.
**Next Day**
9 AM: Bus to JFK
4 PM: Flight to Zurich, connecting flight to Nairobi
**Next Day**
Land in Nairobi, spend a handful of days there getting various safety/health/training briefings or whatever, then jump on a bus to TrainingTown. (Which is an actual place, not called “TrainingTown,” but I’m still undecided if I’m going to post the name on the internet.) It’s something like an 8 hour bus ride if nothing breaks down. Then, 3 months in training, Swearing-In Ceremony at the end of July, and onto the big solo adventure …

AAAAH I’M JOINING THE PEACE CORPS!!

I’m still way more excited (and consistently excited, not into the pre-departure rapid-cycling waffle of emotion that most people experience imminently before a big change) than anything else. I have my packing list, although I’m sure I’ll tweak it pretty much up to the second I check my bags in Albany. Except toiletries, I already have or have on order (new shoes!) everything I’m going to need. I have more paperwork to finish, but nothing due before staging. I’m right on track. On schedule. Cleared for take-off. Good to go. But I can’t shake the feeling that time’s rushing by just a *little* too fast for comfort … meh. Onwards and upwards.

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