Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kenya - part one - NOW WITH PICTURES!!

Originally written on January 31st. Pictures added on 4/10.

Hello again - I know this is right on the heels of the SA write-up, but getting to an internet cafe is difficult, so I wrote these on my computer and brought my memory stick with me :)

Please see the previous post regarding pictures (or lack thereof.) I will definitely post some as soon as I can - especially of the kids. In the meantime, please enjoy the narratives. There's something to be said about creating your own visuals as you read, anyway...

WOW. I've only been on site for a few days and I already have so much to say! Last Monday afternoon, we flew into Nairobi from Johannesburg - I was so excited to be heading back to Kenya. I haven't been here since '05!! As many of you know, I have a real affinity for Africa (especially East Africa) and part of me feels as though I'm coming home every time I visit. There's something about this place - a certain allure that calls to me and continuously captivates me and I couldn't be happier about being here! I'm also thrilled to be sharing this adventure with Zavion and I really hope that, even at a young age of 4 (almost 5, he'd have me remind you,) he will get something special out of this place. As always, Africa has me waxing philosophical. On previous trips I've written a lot about my thoughts on value systems, colonization, globalization, etc. but I'll spare you here. Most of you have probably read it before if you've followed (or participated in) my previous trips. For now, I'll just give you details about this particular trip. I have signed Zavion and I up for four weeks of volunteer work through Village Volunteers (an NGO out of Seattle that I am on the board of) in three different villages. I couldn't be more excited to see these programs in action, participate in the projects and to give Zavion a taste of village life. It should be amazing for us both! See villagevolunteers.org for more detail (we are participating in the Sister Freda, Common Ground and Namanyuk programs.

But first... During our initial few days in Nairobi, we stayed with a friend of mine (Kiersten) at her (very nice) hotel. She was in Nairobi for work and it was great that we could overlap for a few days. We did dinners and had great conversations; Zavi showed off for her and we all had a great time. I took some time to catch up on laundry and shopping, while Zavion enjoyed the rooftop pool and overpriced french fries and frozen yogurt. It was great to hang out with you, K, and thanks again for everything!

And now for something completely different...

On Friday, we headed for a village near Kitale in northern Kenya to start our volunteer work. We took an arduous, eight hour busride and I was pleased with how well Zavion did - he even slept for a couple of hours. And while he was sleeping in various (often uncomfortable looking) positions across my lap, I watched Africa go by... When you think (or dream) of Africa, this is usually the Africa that comes to mind- along the great crack of the Rift Valley of Kenya. Past extinct volcanoes, plains dotted with acacia trees, dry hills topped with candleabras... green orchards, fertile farmland and pine forests... through the green and brown hills of the highlands, with views of majestic Mount Kenya... past busy, dusty, lively villages with vast markets, and people carrying all manner of things on top of their heads or strapped across their foreheads... maize, fruit, nuts, veggies, eggs and all sorts of goods being offered through the bus windows every time we stopped... Dusty streets leading away from the main road - donkey carts and bicycle or motorcycle 'taxis' being the main modes of transportation... Goats, chickens, sheep, cows and the afore-mentioned donkeys taking over even the main road. We spotted gazelles, baboons and zebra grazing along side, also. I never get tired of this place. (At one point, I mentioned to Zavion that we were crossing over the equator and he was disappointed that he didn't see a huge black line or a giant crack. Just a boring old sign!)

We arrived in Kitale and took two more rides to our home for the next ten days - Sister Freda's medical center and school. It's so much more than that, though. It's a sort of small village/compound with a life of it's own. In addition to the small hospital, the girls' high school and the new nursing school (all dreamed up and started by Sister Freda herself - and funded completely by donations and the money from returned volunteers,) there is a farm, a home for orphans and a child feeding program. I'll write more about each of these as I learn more through the volunteer projects. During our time here, I'll be working with the kids in the feeding program, traveling to the villages with the outreach clinicians (doing exams, distributing medications, counseling, etc.,) doing what I can at the hospital (including helping out an eye doctor heading to town to give eye exams and free glasses,) and giving guest lectures on nutrition, physiology and health/hygiene at the nursing school and highschool. Zavion will attend the pre-school at the feeding program, learn some Kiswahili, teach some English and play with all of the kiddos. They are already completely enamored of (and a little confused by) him. He LOOKS African, but doesn't speak the language... his mom is a mzungu... he's really big for his age... he has really cool hair... he's funny...

We have both been captivated by this village - and after just a few days here so far. It's a virtual managerie filled with cows, sheep, goats, chickens with chicks, a show-off turkey, pigs, guinea fowl, super-friendly dogs and cats, some two week old kittens, some three day old puppies, and some chase-worthy geese. It's also home to a bunch of really friendly people - we have felt exremely welcomed and everyone is so joyful and generous. I've been given tours of both schools and the hospital and have met much of the staff. I'm really looking forward to working with them all and learning more about the programs. We stay in a simple hut - a bed with mosquito net, shelves, a single lightbulb on the ceiling and a bathroom with a flush toilet (I wasn't expecting that!) Theoretically, we have electricity and running water, though they have both been out more often than not. We keep our headlamp on call and have had to get creative with bathing. We eat most of our meals on our porch - mostly fruit and some sort of starch with a salty, meat-based sauce- always accompanied by at least 2-3 begging, licking pups. There is one other volunteer here - an Aussie named Lauren who is in nursing school herself and travels to the district hospital with the local students every day. Man, does she have some stories to tell from that experience...

As for Zavion, he has plenty of kids to play with and much to learn/experience. There are ten orphans who call the farm home, several other children of staff members who come and go and about 100 more kids who show up each day (except Sunday) to the feeding program/pre-school. So far, we have gotten to know the resident orphans the best. They live together in a one bedroom house with a couple of staff members. Those of school age attend local schools during the week and the littler ones attend the pre-school with the kids in the feeding program (as Zavion will next week.) They are all super friendly, incredibly dirty and in thread-bare clothes. And they all have harrowing stories of their own -

There is Esther, 8, the most communicative of the bunch who was abandoned here at the hospital when she was about 8 months old--

Moses, 5, who never lets go of my hand and has the most heart-warming smile and eyes - was found in a basket in a field when he was about a week old and brought here. They named his Moses because of the basket... -

Another Moses, age unknown (5 or 6 probably) who lives at the hospital because he is HIV positive and has a bad habit of biting the other kids. He was also abandoned here. And he's such a sweetheart!--

Quiet, shy Saida, 6, was brought from the slums at age two, after losing her parents to alcoholism. She's the most gentle of the bunch and the first to lend a helping hand if another child falls or loses a toy. She always want to hold Zavion's hand.--

Friendly, rambunctious Johnny, the most recent addition to the village, was orphaned just months ago (most probably due to AIDS.) He can't keep his hands off of Zavion's hair. --

Morgan, also 5, is mischeivous and curious (I think he and Zavion are going to be fast friends) and was abandoned here when he was just 9 months old. I have already seen he and Z running down the lane holding hands and hiding from/scaring the other kids. Hi-larious!--

Dori is eleven, the oldest and wisest of the orphans, and was dropped off in the middle of the night when she was about three.--

Joyce is nine, has lived here since she was four and has a smile a mile wide.

Eliaht's mother is still alive, but she lives on the streets in the slums and can't take care of him any more. He has small scars on his face and a seemingly permanent area of dried snot on his upper lip. And he's as sweet as can be.

Derek, now 8 or 9, was brought in as a baby after suffering a brain injury and was left behind.

And then there is Jacqueline. Sweet, quiet, cross-eyed, dirty-faced Jacqueline, who is 8 years old, but (and I'm not exaggerating here) HALF the size of Zavion. She was brought here, severely malnourished and failing to thrive, at age four, and has lived here since. And has stolen my heart.

Zavion's 4 1/2, Jacqueline (pink pants) is 8!

Also, there is Gail. She is not an orphan, but the daughter of the lady that helps take care of them all. She is bi-racial and everyone thinks she and Zavion look just alike. She speaks a little English and was there with her parents when Z and I got picked up in Kitale, so he probably knows her best.

Friday afternoon, Z was a little shy around the kids (other than Gail, who he was friendly with right away.) After all, we had just arrived and they kept crowding around us, poking at him and climbing all over his mother. But on Saturday, he really warmed up to them all and we had such an enjoyable day. We spent most of the day with these kids. We brought out the markers and paper and they all drew pictures, and then proceeded to draw all over themselves, their clothes, the rocks, the tractors, etc. (at least they are WASHABLE markers.) Kids will be kids all over the place :) We played some ball with Z's rubber/plastic bouncy ball, but it got destroyed when it was run over by a tractor. We were picking up the little, clear plasticky pieces when I noticed a couple of the kids eating them. NOOOOOOOO!!! We took walks (the kids fighting over who got to hold my and Zavion's hands,) did some English/Kiswahili lessons, etc. They chased the geese, the turkey and the calfs (calves?)- imitating Zavion and yelling 'attack!'; they had water fights and running races. They laughed. A lot. And I am so proud of Zavion - he is taking all of the prodding and the poking by the kids in stride and seems to relish being the center of attention. So far, they just LOVE him - despite the fact that they understand very little of what he says. He is really trying to communicate, though, and, despite being a little frustrated, is doing pretty well at it. He was getting tired of all of the hair grabbing, though, (they love playing with his hair -) and has already learned the Kiswahili word for 'stop it!' (At one point, when he was surrounded by the 50+ kids of the feeding program, he threw his hands in the air and jokingly yelled, 'all right, all right, I surrender!') He told stories and sang songs for a captivated audience (although his choice of songs - "Hard Days Night" and "Sgt Pepper"- left the kids a little non-plussed.) He handed out flash cards to them and shared his trucks. When I mentioned that we are going to town tomorrow for some shopping, he said, 'let's buy toys for all those kids!' We'll see how the rest of the week pans out, but so far, so good. (He also asked if any of them are going to be his new brother or sister... but alas, I have no adoption news to report...)

While I was meeting with Sister Freda and getting the grand tour (more about her in a later post,) Z disappeared off with the kids for extended periods. I know he's fine and being taken care of and, I'm sure, is enjoying the independence that he (and all the kids) have here. The scariest moment for me, though, was when he showed up with a mouthful of water. Not the bottled or filtered water that I've instructed him to drink, but surface water that the other kids were drinking. I made him spit it out and had to explain that, because our bodies are used to different germs than the kids here, we have to drink special water. I just hope he doesn't get sick...

You can imagine the conversations that Zavi and I are having at night about our experiences here - about orphans, about HIS adoption story, about poverty, etc... It's really interesting having mature and thoughtful talks with my boy - he's really growing up! I hope to come back and do something like this again when he's 10 or so... Maybe every 3-5 years (?) I'm sure visiting his old orphanage in Ethiopia next month will be another conversation starter...

It's hot and dusty here this time of year with an intense sun (being less than a degree from the equator AND at altitude, you can imagine...) With our daily ritual of sunscreen application in the morning and bug spray in the evening, we are covered in a light layer of dusty grime. Without running water, we've gotten a little worse for the wear (but there is no mirror in our hut, so at least I can tell myself that I don't look that bad...) We finally boiled some water over the fire the other night and had sponge baths/bucket shower. Which was a step up from the wet wipe / purell bath of the day before :)  At least the altitude means that it mercifully cools off at night :)

It's Sunday now, and after playing with the kids some more this morning before they left for church, and filling up on a rice, chipati and fresh fruit lunch, Z and I headed into town. Just getting here was a bit of an adventure. One option is to take the motorcycle taxis, but with the lack of helmets and the stories I've heard of the horrible road accidents involving said cycles (the number one cause of emergency room visits here,) there was no way I was going to put my son on one. So, we walked about 45 minutes down the road - flanked by curious locals and with a minor bit of complaining from a certain 4 year old (yes, it IS hot) and then squeezed ourselves into a matatu filled to beyond capacity. There were 26 people in what amounts to an 8 passenger mini-van. I was balancing on a 2 X 4 with Zavion squished on my lap. Everytime the matatu came to a stop, I had to seriously brace with my legs. Z just looked around wide-eyed, taking it all in. We wandered through the busy market to town, did a little shopping (bought pens, pencils and a soccer ball for the kids) and tried to find an open internet cafe.

(OK - so all of that, except the last paragraph, was written Sunday morning. Unfortunately, we couldn't find an open internet cafe, so I couldn't sent this out until now.)

It is now Tuesday morning and I'm taking a break from work at the district hostpital and found a coffee shop with internet. I already have so much more to say about the last two days (experiences at the hospital, more time with the kids, Zavion's experience at the school...) but I don't have time to write it all up now (and actually need a little time to take it all in and decide what I want to say.)  I just finished feeding a 600 gram preemie who, literally, can fit in your hand... And encouraging burned and injured kids in the ward where they sleep three to a bed. Trust me, I will have a lot to say...

Anyway, I have to get back, but I'll keep up in my journal and try to post something again soon (ish.) Suffice it to say that we are having an enlightening, eye-opening, all around incredible (though not easy) time!

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