Sunday, June 26, 2011

Half way point



Today is the midpoint of my trip.  I just got back to IU House from an overnight stay at Kakamega National Park.  Me, Ryan, Darren (IU Med) and Madee (Purdue Pharmacy) stayed in the middle of the rainforest at a Christian retreat center.  
 Now, before you think I went off the deep end and had a spiritual awakening here in Kenya, we were supposed to be staying in mud-huts about a mile down the road but found out that Rondo Retreat had open rooms so we decided to stay there instead.  Great decision…we went from a reservation with no bedding, showers or toilets, possible death and certain malaria to amazing accommodations and incredible food.  You could have told me I was anywhere in the US at a vacation home or B&B and I would have believed you.  The retreat grounds were incredible and it was literally located in the middle of a rainforest. 
 
We went on a guided hike through the rainforest in the afternoon on Saturday, watched from our front porch as a rainstorm with hail came through and then washed up for dinner and strolled to the dining room.  When I got to the door, I realized there may be a problem.  A sign read “Smart casual dress required for dinner”  Oops.  I had packed a pair of hiking shorts, my work/hiking boots, two t-shirts and a sweatshirt.  Remember, I thought I was going to be staying in a mud hut and was prepared for a minimalist stay in the rainforest.  We went in anyway and sat down, slightly embarrassed but it turned out OK.  The 5 course meals for lunch, dinner and breakfast were well worth the extra 35USD for the night’s stay.   We woke up at 5am the next morning for a sunrise hike, went up past the tree line and into a clearing.  Around 615am we ventured into a 50m long bat cave.  First time for everything I guess


It was really, really humid and not a place to be if you are claustrophobic.  We had bats flying over our heads and toward the cave’s only opening.  After that adventure, we continued up another 100 feet to the top of the mountain and watched the sunrise over the rainforest.  Definitely a cool view with the mist rising up above the tree canopy.    



Realizing on the drive back today that I am now heading into the last 4.5 weeks of my trip, I started thinking about everything I have learned and experienced. 
  •   Money doesn’t make people happy – it makes things easier but life in the slow lane seems just as enjoyable. 
  •   I really appreciate diversity.  When I go to a restaurant in the US, there are white, black, Asain, Latino and everything in between.  I can’t imagine spending my life surrounded by people that are all the same. 
  • Misconceptions run both ways.  I had a picture of Africa before I came here.  That picture couldn’t have been more wrong.  At the same time, Africans have a skewed perception of America that couldn’t be more wrong.  
  • 10 weeks is not enough time to solve the world’s problems.  I want to help in every way I can, but there is just not enough time.  I need to stay focused on key areas where I can make a difference.  
  • American’s don’t know poverty.  Poverty in the US is a luxury existence compared to the slums. 
  • Superficial things I miss: Chipotle, ESPN, reading the newspaper (I read the local paper here but it’s not the WSJ or Dispatch), fluoride in my drinking water.       
  • Superficial things I don’t miss:  TV (except ESPN), constantly worrying about my finances – (debt, credit cards, student loans), petty complaints about how hard life is in the US (including my own). 
  • When I come home, I don’t want to denounce the American way of life and preach how there are starving kids in Africa.  I love America.  I wouldn’t want to change my life one bit.  While yes, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a great family and incredible friends in the greatest country in the world, my experience here shouldn’t change my feelings toward how I was raised or make me feel guilty for what I have worked hard for.  It’s a delicate balancing act because I know my experience here will influence me when I come home, but it shouldn’t be the controlling factor in my life.  My time here hopefully will make me a better and more understanding person, I guess we’ll see.   
We had a discussion last night about what our favorite part of the trip has been so far.  I said mine was the cultural exchanges.  I have really enjoyed walking through town, going into shops, talking with people randomly on the street, meeting new people, having difficult discussions about sensitive topics, experiencing something so very few Americans get the opportunity to experience.

It has been an incredible trip so far and I am so very grateful and fortunate that I was given this opportunity.  Next few weeks will be challenging with work but I have exciting trips planned as well.  Lake Nakuru, Hell’s Gate and The Masai Mara – The Kenyan part of the Serengeti to hopefully catch the great migration.  Stay tuned.         

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My New Haircut



My friend Ben buzzed my head before I left so I wouldn’t have to worry about shampoo or combing my hair in the morning.  To be honest I didn’t know where I would be living so I figured a summer buzz cut was perfect.  I also knew I’d need to get it cut while I was here.  

So I asked Dr. Mamlin where he gets his hair cut, he told me the directions in town and they seemed easy enough.  I went into town on my way back from Imani and followed Dr. Mamlin’s directions.  “Go down the unpaved street,  ½ block past the Barclays, take the first right and it will be right there”   Kenya has a serious problem with signage and advertising so I just looked around and happened to find “Lelesta Hair Salon and Big Boyz Hot Shop”.  Oookay.  So I go into the building, hike up to the second floor and find Lelesta et al.  

“Hey, you guys cut mzungu hair here?”

Blank stares. 

“You. Cut. Hair?” (Snipping fingers motion on my head)

“Ndyio (Yes)” as he points to an open, old school barber chair. 

So I sit down and pick up the clipper’s #2 blade sitting on the counter.  In my best Swahili, “Mbili on the side, no cut on top” Lots of hand motions and covering up parts of my head included. 

So he starts cutting with a #5 blade, switches to a #0 blade but turns the clippers upside down.  Not really sure, but at this point he’s in the driver’s seat.  Although I asked for nothing off the top, he decided to shave my widow’s peak off to make an even line across my forehead.   I’ve learned to deal with the widows peak by utilizing the Payton Manning comb over in recent year, this little trim is going to set me back. 

About 10 minutes in, he points to the wall and attempts to ask if I want a design in my hair, you know…my name, outline of Africa, a star, three lines, a swirl, Kenya, Obama’s face.  All the possible designs were on the poster.  I respectfully declined.

Then another guy sat down next to me and helped translate.  I was offered a tattoo. 1,500 KSH. Not bad, but I declined yet again.  Ever the salesman, he brought over a woman who had a tattoo done at the shop , not the best I have ever seen but I’ve seen worse…on prisoners. 

The journey doesn’t end there.  He leaned the chair back and put talc on my face.  I immediately started thinking about how I was going to decline a straight razor blade shave.    But he came back with a clean electric razor and sprayed disinfectant on it.  For some reason, he continued to run the razor for about 15 minutes longer than needed.  

Then I moved on to the washing station where a large woman grappled with my head/massaged at least 3 products into the scalp and made small talk.  I got back to the original chair where my man applied 3 different ointments on my face, each burning more than the one before.  Then he got out scissors that I am pretty sure he nor anyone in the salon had used in quite a while and clipped individual hairs around the top of my head.  Then came the “Afro-gel”  and “Black Beauty”  products for the follicles.  He finished it off with a spray that seemed like fogging bug spray but smelled descent, either way, he told me to hold my nose.  So he finally brushed me off and did his last check.    So 60 minutes later, I come out with a cross between what I asked for and the Jersey Shore fade.  

The fade is a bit more intense in person. 

Thankfully found this in the bathroom to keep lookin' fresh.


The level of service and detail was above and beyond what I have ever had.  He really did do a nice job and given the fact that he only cuts African hair, all in all it’s not too shabby.  Total cost, 500KSH, $5.75.  By the way, the USD v KSH has gone up 4% in my favor since I’ve been here, good for me and good for aid recipients but bad overall for the Kenyan economy.               

So I make it to dinner, see Dr. Mamlin and say “Hey, is that barber shop you told me about on the second floor of a building downtown?” 

“Nope”

“O.  Ok.  I think I went to a different one then”

“Yea….I can tell.”

Thanks Dr. Mamlin. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Work

This past weekend was pretty low-key compared to the last few I’ve had.  I stayed in Eldoret and relaxed a bit.  Saturday morning, a group of us went to play soccer with the street kids (That’s actually the proper nomenclature).  They put down their glue huffing bottles long enough for a quick game.  Thankfully we had some Kenyans on our team because those kids were fast.  I wonder how long we can continue to use the altitude excuse for getting our butts kicked.  Saturday afternoon, we went on a day trip to Kruger Farm and Umbrella Falls.  Umbrella Falls was about 45 minutes outside of Eldoret on private property.  It’s a huge waterfall, maybe 60+ feet tall.  Nice little climb down, around and behind the falls.  Nothing to spectacular but glad I went.  Kruger is a massive private farm owned by a British family.  You could tell it was colonial era farm based on the money invested in the crops and livestock.  For the first time since I’ve been here, I saw a healthy looking cow.  This farm also happens to have 12 giraffes that’s tends to be a major tourist attraction for the IU House residents.  So we went hiking about and encountered the giraffes, I went to pull out my camera and I apparently let the battery die so unfortunately, no really good pictures.  Kruger was simple enough and pretty relaxing although I was exhausted after soccer in the morning, hiking in the afternoon plus the 13 miles I walked the day before to and from work and into the street market.  

So aside from the incredible experiences I am having on the weekends I have neglected to really write about why I am here.  I am focused on helping two enterprises within AMPATH.  Watalamu Repair and Maintenance and Imani Workshop. (Watalamu=Expert, Imani=Faith).  It’s quite a struggle to find a balance between running a business and retaining the social mission of the program.  The balance is easier to find when faced with the decision of how much money are they willing to use…aka how many patients could be treated with the amount of money lost in these ventures.  The situation at Imani is similar to what I dealt with in Vegas with PPG.  Overstaffed, too much inventory, no direction and selling things just to sell them, not truly knowing what the customer wants or knowing what is profitable.  In a typical business you have two constraints to worry about, time and cost.  These usually influence the impact that a decision will have within an organization.  With a socially conscious organization, you have a third constraint, the mission.  AMPATH started FPI (Family Preservation Initiative) in order to employ patients in treatment, give them training and the opportunity to provide with their family.  Cutting employees is not the first solution (nor 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or nth).  This is challenging for me because it forces me to find alternative solutions.  It makes me think of people first, the values of the organization and the impact that my decision (recommendation to AMPATH) will have on the lives of people suffering with HIV/AIDS in one of the poorest nations on Earth.  It’s not something to take lightly. That’s not to say that my word is the end all be all, but they have asked me to help with the business aspect and look for ways to reach profitability and are relying heavily on what I suggest.  I am working hard to rein in everything but personnel costs.  Even today, AMPATH added a new employee. 

Watalamu presents its own challenges but it’s interesting because it is the newest enterprise.  Less than a year old.  It is currently profitable, depending upon who you ask on a particular day.  Funding is complicated, bureaucracy is thick and the mission is at the forefront.  I enjoy working on these projects and the entrepreneurial aspect of these businesses is exciting.  It is taking me out of my normal thought process and forcing me to think of creative solutions.  Definitely a great experience heading into the next phase of my career with Herman Miller.    

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Things I enjoy about Kenya-


This is a gridlock morning commute:
Child seats:


Actually kind of sad.  This was a plastic chair tied to a bike with cloth. Click to enlarge.

  Viaducts:
 Chase Gill’s hair product:

 Meeting OSU fans and people from Schief’s graduating class:


 


















“Solar powered” car batteries available in the supermarket:


Roadways:
At least 14-16 inch deep grooves in the road

World-class facilities:
Shower overlooking the Nile
Worse than China
Public transportation:


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why did the mzungu cross the Nile?

This is a bit long but there's no way I can explain this weekend without a bit of wordiness. Hopefully I do it justice.  
 
This weekend was unbelievable.  Seriously, one of the wildest adventures of my life.  The guys who were here last year told me about a white water rafting trip down the Nile.  It did not disappoint.

We left Eldoret on Friday around 2:30 and headed north for Uganda.  Nine of us piled into a safari van with a driver and a Kenyan named Calvin who works for AMPATH and who served as our unofficial guide.  Nothing too exciting about the drive except for a stretch of road between Uganda and Kenya referred to as No Man’s Land due to the fact that neither country claims it.  It is essentially a lawless stretch of road between boarders. Apparently some nefarious characters make it their home when the heat is on since neither country will enter it.  I also was approached about a possible marital arrangement with the Uganda customs worker but nothing came of it. 
 
So. We made it to Jinja, Uganda on the edge of Lake Victoria 6 hours later after passing through some terrain I was not quite expecting.  Lush rain forests, rice paddies nice roads (huge plus considering what we drive on in Kenya)

We checked into our “campsite”.  Again, I use the term loosely.  Although it was a bit more rustic than the last campsite, this was primarily geared for American and European 20 something’s traveling through.  Grabbed a beer at the bar that overlooks the Nile and called it a night. 
Nile view from the bar/restaurant

830am the next morning, we left for the Nile rafting excursion.  At the training site we happened to meet five St Mary’s (All girls college across the street from Notre Dame) students who are volunteering in Uganda.  Since we had nine in our group and the boats only fit 7, I took one for the team and jumped onboard along with Darren (ND MBA ’09 and 2nd year med student at Indiana U.) to form the South Bend Boat Crew.  I know it was noble of me.  Turns out, they are all teachers or nursing students. Jackpot! For those who don’t know, I’m convinced I will end up marrying a teacher or nurse. 

So we get going to the river and meet our guide, Geoffrey who is Ugandan but speaks English with a Jamaican/Australian accent.  Geoffrey is awesome.  Out to have a good time, loves the rapids and knows what he’s doing.  After paddling about and learning what to do when we get flipped over, we head to the first rapid.  Geoffrey nonchalantly informs us that it is a class 5.  

“Wait, what, Class 5?  There are only 6 classes total.  What the hell? Thats a bit aggressive to start, don’t you think?” 

“No worries mate, happy days.  Only a 3 meter waterfall drop to go over”

No worries, happy days. class 5 rapid. 10 foot drop.

So off we go.  After waiting for the other boats to go, we hit the rapids and catch the right timing to make the turn and go over the waterfall.  Somehow we managed to all stay in the boat.  Nice way to start the day.  We go through a level 4 and pass with ease.  And by ease I mean it was a huge adrenaline rush that nearly caused a heart attack more than once.    


Front right, with the awkward sunglasses.


Head on to a level three, no problem.  Except for the fact we all got tossed overboard and I had my first of several near-death experiences of the trip.  We were moving so fast, I am not exactly sure what happened but we got flipped and I get sucked under.  I had no idea which way was up, waves just kept coming on top of me.  I took in a few mouthfuls of Nile and actually thought for a second that I might not be making it out of this situation alive.  Not hyperbole in the least bit.  That’s the closest I have ever felt to drowning.  Thankfully my life jacket eventually popped me up and shot me down the river.  Nobody was injured and we all got back in the boat. 

Before the next rapid, we all recounted what happened and took a few minutes to swim while the other boats caught up.  We definitely had the most fun boat group.  We spent our down time pushing each other off the boat, doing flips into the water and having a ton of good laughs.  Geoffrey swore like a sailor and kept the down time interesting.  The water was the perfect temperature and made for a relaxing float down river.  The next rapid was a class 6 (defined as “at risk of life and limb”).  
Class 6 rapid we walked around.  Ominous sky in background. 

 They don’t allow the boats to go down this particular one for obvious reasons.  So we disembarked and walked around it and caught the last 100 meters of the whitewater. 

Walking around the class 6.
Flipped again and carried on.   Just as we are breaking for a leisurely lunch drifting down the Nile, a huge storm rolls in.  Lighting, thunder, driving rain.  We got it all.  The last two hours of the trip were in a torrential downpour. It added so much to the experience.  What a blast.  We jumped into the water to keep warm and tried to move around a bit.  We all agreed, we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  I felt like we were on Survivor or making a cameo appearance in the movie Castaway.  The last four rapids after lunch were just as, if not more, intense as the first half.  We flipped on three of four and lost one member on the only one everyone didn’t go overboard on.  For some reason, class 3 rapids were the death of us.  Writing this now, I realize words cant describe how much fun the afternoon was.  Words do not do it justice. 

We ended our rafting adventure with a barbeque and a few beers.  We jumped onboard the trucks and headed home. 

Now, this would be a story in and of itself.  It’s not every day that you get to raft down the Nile.  Remember that torrential down pour? Well we neglected to remember that our way home was all dirt roads.  We didn’t make it more than 30 yards before we came to a stop.  We find out that one of the other rafting tour trucks is stuck up ahead.  So myself and a few other guys jump out and try to help push the truck back on the road so we can get through.  Not Happening.  About 30 of us are pushing trying to get this truck moving to no avail.  In fact, it was only made worse when the truck carrying 6 huge inflatable rafts went into the ditch and came within inches of taking half the pushers with it.  I could barely walk in this crap, let alone get a 2 ton truck moving through.  Not to mention the 6 other vehicles that would also need to pass.
 
Truck after truck after truck got stuck.  Then when we finally got one bus out and on its way, it got stuck a mile later without half the pushers it needed to get out the first time.  After about 1.5 hours of lollygagging  and getting covered in mud, we called it quits and started walking toward town.  Unfortunately, “town” is 25 miles away.  So we decided to walk to a major (see paved) road where we might grab a taxi (mutatu – remember those things from the earlier post?).  We must have walked 3-4 miles, barefoot.  We were stepping through mud, rocks, sugar cane, cow pies.  I was calf deep in some liquid mud combo that I decided I would be better off not knowing what it was or how long it had been there.  Did I mention it was now getting dark?  We walked through a small, poor village at dusk and you would have thought we were aliens.  The children were scared to death of me. Sure, they would say “How-are-you-I-am-fine” but when I reached out my hand to say hello they scattered and hid behind huts, trees or each other.  One brave kid shook my hand but went away screaming when he touched my skin.  We must have been quite the site, group of 7 mzungus rolling through the poor rural villages in Uganda at night.  Why do I not have awesome photos of this event?  Because, I left everything at the campsite.  Everything.  No dry clothes, no flash light, no camera, no cash, no passport, no cell, no proof that I am in the country legally.  I have nothing and have no idea where I am.  I always have a knife, my compass and flashlight in my backpack just in case of situations like this when I am out exploring.  But nooo not this time. Thankfully the South Benders stuck together and we eventually found our way onto a bus that the tour guides got a hold of.  

We went back through that same village we had passed an hour earlier.  Now the place had really come alive, people put up shops with candlelight.  The word must have gotten out that the mzungus were in town.  Our bus was stopped by some villagers and they would not let us pass.  The rafting guides got out and ‘discussed’ with them what the problem was.  Now we had a crowd gathering around the bus looking at all the mzungus covered in mud and cow poo.  The crowd got closer and closer.  I was only thinking of what could happen next.  I have to say that this was the first point in Africa which I felt unsafe.  Tensions eased, mainly by the driver slowly rolling through the crowd and us rolling up windows and closing the door. We picked up locals to navigate us through the back roads that were still passable in order to reach the main road and get back to Jinja.  One wrong turn and the discovery that the reverse did not work on this particular bus added a bit of spice to the night when we had to yet again push our mode of transport back onto the appropriate pathway.  So we had been expecting to get back to camp around 5ish.  Final arrival, 10:45pm.  The free beer at the campsite never tasted so good.  So we had a good time partying that night after a shower and bathroom break since we had gone nearly 6 hours without facilities or drinking water and walking at least a 5k.  The bugs, as you can imagine, were terrible.  I can only guess the amount of malaria exposure we had during our walking tour of rural Uganda.  Not to mention the healthy mixture caked to my feet. It got to the point where we didn’t even care what we were stepping in. Poo, mud, dirt, rocks.  No worries mate, happy days. Right?
Nile Special:  "You've Earned It" is their tagline. 

So that was quite the adventure.  What could top that?  O maybe jumping off a platform 320 feet above the Nile.  (Sorry Mom, I’ll “try” to make better decisions). Nile High Bungee Jumping Co.  here we come. 
What better way to commemorate near death experiences than with another terrifying adventure.  It was really to the point where I had to say “How can I not?” Truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.  So me, Ryan, Darren and 2 of the 5 SMC girls made the plunge, Ryan literally did since he touched the water on the way down. 
The 5 South Bend bungee jumpers

I hate to admit it but I think I was the most scared of the group.  I’ve never been afraid of heights but this made me nervous.  My legs were shaking, mouth completely dry, heart was racing out of control.  Then getting my final instructions, stepping to the platform, toes hanging over the edge, looking straight ahead (no way was I looking down) then 3…..2……1…..Jump.  Forward and outward like I was going to belly flop 320 feet below.  The first time I saw the water below, a really strange thing happened.  I wasn’t nervous, I didn’t have a care in the world. I didn’t matter if the cord was going to work or not.  I was completely at peace.  For those few seconds, I was completely and utterly free.  It was a crazy sensation.  Closer and closer to the water. YOINK! Back up.  Whew.  Then I just twisted and turned, cheesed for the camera and got lowered into the waiting boat.   
I have a video, but cannot upload it due to size.  Ill try when internet is working better.  Should be getting some other pics later this week. 


What a rush!  It was a feeling I have never had before.  After I got out of the raft, I shot up 300'+ of stairs like it was nothing.  I have never been so fired up like I was after the jump.  My heart rate and breathing didn’t get close to normal until maybe 10-15 minutes afterward. 
We dropped the St Mary’s girls off in town and started our 5 hour journey back home.  What a weekend.   

Thankfully, I’ll have the memories forever in my mind because rereading this post doesn’t do it justice.  Hopefully you got a small taste of what one of the greatest adventures I have ever done was like.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ugali.

Thanks for the notes,well wishes and comments on facebook, e-mail and here. It is really nice to be in touch with friends and family.  Keep 'em coming. 

Cultural missteps
Njoki -My culinary guide in Kenya


So I started working at Imani Workshops this week.  It’s about a 45 minute walk from my closet apartment each way. It sits way out on the edge of town. Imani is definitely a cool experience, intense conversations about AIDS/HIV, Americans role in the fight against poverty and disease, cultural differences and questions about life in the US.  There is a ton of work to be done there so I know I’ll be busy.  I was walking out around 1pm for lunch when Lillian and Njoki, two of the supervisors asked me to join them for lunch.  “Sure.  Where are we going?” 

“There’s a nice hotel across the street”

My first thought is, “Awesome. Nice hotel dining, I can dig it.”  Then I remembered that hotel in Kenya means shanty hole-in-the-wall-diner.  Lillian told me they have great ugali (oo-GAH-lee), national Kenyan dish similar to mash potatoes but much dryer and made from corn.  I told her I had never had ugali and I’d love to try it.  She stopped in her tracks.

“You’ve never had ugali???!!??”

“Nope”

“Not even when you were a baby” 

“No, ma’am”

“So then what did you eat? Do they not have maize in the US?”

“No no, we have corn/maize. We just don’t eat ugali”

So I peeled back the tin flap, ducked under razor wire and entered the ‘hotel’.  As any good travel book will tell you, only get food from places where there are others (locals) eating.  Thankfully this place was packed. 
I sat down, and Lillian said she would order for me.  “Great.  I’ll try anything twice.” (Blank stare, I’m not funny in Kenya either)

So, yet again I broke my own rule about not eating at places that do not have running water.  I did ‘wash’ my hands, although the water again came from an old rusty oil can (no clothes detergent this time, just good old fashioned Eldoret street water).

So I sat there with the entire restaurant staring at the mzungu (m-zoon-goo) until I would wave each time I made eye contact with a table to break the ice. 

Side note:  I’ve found that the stares are not so much disrespect as they are curiosity.  Many Kenyans have never left their village or town let alone Kenya.  They hear about Americans on the news and are intrigued by white skin that is so different from theirs.  I have felt uncomfortable at times when stares last a little too long but there is nothing that a wave, smile and “Habari  yako?” or “Hello” won’t ease.  I haven’t felt threatened once, even in the slums and rougher parts of town.  Overwhelmed, yes.  The further away I get from Eldoret and the teaching hospital, the more intrigued people are to see me.  I’ve never been the minority and it’s a different feeling.  People stare, people want to take pictures (on my camera), people have questions or want to practice their English.  It’s all perfectly normal human curiosity.  Being white adds dollars to your bill but also is a free pass with security guards.  I didn’t realize I was supposed to check my bag before going into the grocery until a Kenyan was stopped and told to put his in the luggage check.  When I turned to check mine, the security guard told me I was OK.  I insisted that I check it like everyone else but the statement had already been made.

SO anyway, Lillian brings over my meal, ugali and fish.  Yikes.  She hands me an entire bowl of ugali...at least 3/4 of a pound. And a fish. Head, eyes, fins, tail. Everything.  When in Rome, right?  So I grab a fork and dig in.  

Mistake numero uno, mzungu.   
Ugali is eaten with your hands.  You ball it up within your fist then scoop up some collard greens type stuff (I’ll eventually figure out what this is called) and pieces of fish and shovel it in your mouth.  I tried a variety of methods until I found out the "four-finger with the thumb holding everything together" technique is the most widely used.  Fish and greens and ugali all over my face and hands, running down my arms. Now, not only was the restaurant staring, they were laughing.  I can only imagine that it was like someone in the USA picking up their plate full of food and trying to consume it all at once by tipping it into their mouth, I know I’d laugh. 
I continue eating, finally getting the hang of the meal.  Grab ugali, squeeze into a bolus, dip/drag through fish mixture and greens, try to shovel into mouth as quickly as possible. Repeat. 

FYI - Not my actual meal, just a close but somewhat more appetizing google images picture
 (missing the collard greens)
Lillian and Njoki were getting a kick out of it, the school-aged children next to me thought I was impaired and the rest of the ‘hotel’ got a little comedy routine during their lunch break. 
 
I broke the fish head off and tossed it in the bone bowl and started eating again.

Mistake numero dos, Schuberto.   

Njoki looked at me like I was crazy.  “That’s the best part.  If you eat the brains it makes your smarter.”

“Hahaha”, I laughed and continued eating thinking she was joking. 

Blank stares from Lillian and Njoki.

So I grab the fish head back and try breaking it apart.  Ill spare the rest of the details but it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought.  Then I was told I hadn’t finished enough of the fish and left too much on the bones and the eyes were still in the discard bowl.  AND I had taken the skin off and discarded which was also incorrect.  So down the hatch they went.  I had trouble explaining how fish is typically served in the US but I think they just politely nodded. 

They waited until I finished my food.  Everything.  I mean nothing but clean fish bones and a little soup.  I even tried to do the ol’ stand up and get ready to go trick, but they reassured me that I was not done.  I was stuffed but all and all it was pretty good and had a nice time entertaining the locals. 

***************************************************************************
If you care to learn more, check out Njoki's story here: http://imaniworkshops.org/stories/njoki/ 

Also, check out their items for sale.  Let me know if you're interested and Ill bring something home for you. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

So this is kind of a catch all for the last few days.  First off, walking and driving in Kenya is flipping crazy.  No rules. None. You can do whatever you want. No repercussions, except possibly death.

Not a matatu but we saw this on our way to the Island Camp.


 There are no traffic lights, well technically there are traffic lights that they put in about 2 years ago but stopped using them because people driving couldn’t understand what they were supposed to do and the lights actually led to more accidents. Most of the roads are unpaved, combine that with the rainy season and it makes for a good time.  Corruption is too big of a problem to enforce speed limits so they put speed bumps to slow the pace of traffic.  I don’t think I have ridden in a van that has shocks yet. 
 
My walk to or from work almost always involves walking through or around a herd of cattle, sheep goats and/or chickens.  
My walk home.

 I discovered that a short horn blast means get the hell off the road, while a longer horn means “I am going to hit you with my motorized vehicle, you may as well accept it”  And since they are dirt roads for the most part, the road sometimes is the same as the sidewalk.  Forget about parking spots, just stop somewhere, get out do what you need to do and pray that you aren’t boxed in or now part of the sidewalk.  Also there are these yellow striped vans that are called matatus, they are slightly smaller than a conversion van and pack literally 20+ people inside and eloquently call themselves taxis.  It is extremely cheap to go anywhere in one of these but literally you have people laying across, sitting on top of and hanging out the window or door just to squeeze in.  I haven’t been hit by a moving vehicle yet, but in due time my friends.  
He still supports the Sen.
Walking through town is always an adventure.  There is little to no infrastructure for water or waste.  It is common to see people passed out along the road (high rate of alcoholism in Kenya), orphaned street kids sniffing glue to get high….it is really sad to see but they don’t stop.  Even when playing soccer or offering to trade for food or candy, the glue bottle doesn’t leave their hand.  It’s also nice to see that one of the most corrupt countries in the world roots for one of the most corrupt teams in college football.  (Gotta be a little self deprecating after the Senator took the fall this week, thanks for all the FB comments and e-mails, assholes)

I broke my own rule about not eating at restaurants that don’t have running water.  I was working at a satellite clinic in a town called Turbo with the Watalamu Repair and Maintenance business to gut and remodel an old office to turn it into a pharmacy.  Around lunch, which it turns out can be anywhere between 9am-4pm, the supervisor of the remodel group asked me to join him for lunch.  He’s an American that has been living in Kenya for 5 years and eats pretty much only Kenyan food now.  After washing my hands with clothes detergent and a kid pouring water out of oil can over the sink basin that drained into a bucket, I sat down to eat something that resembled collard greens and Beijing street meat.  I survived, and it only cost 90KES ($1.02 USD) including drinks for the two of us.  It would have been cheaper but our skin color usually adds a little bit to the total bill.  The Kenyans I was working with ate at the same place the day before and paid 25 KES each for the same meal.     

This past weekend, we went to Lake Baringo about 3 hours east of Eldoret.  Some new medical students joined and a total of 9 of us went to Kokwa Island to camp.   


 And by “camping” I mean an all inclusive resort and this was my view from the “tent”, 
and I was awoken each morning by birds and had coffee sitting outside my door 15 minutes before sunrise.  It’s owned by some kooky old Englishman who takes great pride in top level service and making sure his guests are having a wonderful time.  The resort was really well run and had a sunset booze cruise that ended with a short hike to the top of another island just across the lake from us. 

Sunset at Lake Baringo
The resort is on a peninsula but the Kokwa Island is also home to 750 villagers after you pass through two security gates and 15 foot high security fences.  So I decided to hike around the local village and had a man named Jonas take me to the top of the extinct volcano.  Pretty tough hike in 95+ degree heat over loose lava rock but really interesting to see how primitively people still live.  Unemployment is 95% in the village and most people are sustenance fisherman/farmers.  The few people on the island who have jobs work at the resort or at the boarding school home to 215 students.  I was in awe that people still lived without electricity, running water and essentially cut off from the rest of society.  Now, of course I realized that people lived like this but reality hit me when I met some of the villagers.  The tribe in the village has been there for thousands of years and the people don’t seem to want it any other way.  Their chief and council of elders settle disputes and the share of profit they get from the resort is divided evenly.    Jonas introduced me to his family and asked for me to take a picture with them and send a copy when I return home.   

Good thing I dressed to blend in.  It felt like I stepped back in time, had it not been for the resort less than a mile from where I was standing, I would have guessed I was in a whole different world.  

The island is known for its variety of birds.  We went on a boat tour one morning after breakfast and saw crocodiles, hippos and about 30 different types of birds I had never seen before. 


After we checked out Sunday morning we went to Bagoria National Park about 45 minutes away from Lake Baringo, Holy Flamingo.  Not kidding, over a million flamingos.  It smelled like it had no less than 15 million but that’s beside the point.  I felt like I was in a National Geographic article.  Combined with the boiling-hot hot springs, zebras, baboons, dik-diks, gazelles, ostriches and impalas this side trip was pretty impressive. 

I tried to keep this blog light and include some humor but I would be remiss not tell you about the horrible moral hangover I had after leaving the resort at Lake Boringo.  To get there, we traveled over, through and back over the Rift Valley upon which Eldoret sits on the western edge.  Lake Baringo sits at the bottom of the Eastern edge of the valley and suffers from severe drought.  We passed barren fields, dust storms, dry river beds and desolate people all along the way.  One sign that sticks out in my mind was a primary school’s road sign.  Right below the school name and information, it stated “On Earth, we struggle” This was a primary school’s motto?  Holy crap.  Reality sets in when you see something like that.  

Our safari van had to slow down to go over a rough patch in the road and a group of kids no older than 10 or 12 ran out to our vehicle and shouted through the open windows.  Now, I have grown accustomed to children asking me for money and food, but this was the first time I had someone ask me for water.  WATER!  I just spent a weekend at a resort gorging on food and drink and these poor kids ask me to spare some water.  I felt like a jackass.  Our driver handed them an extra bottle and continued on.  We all sat there in the van a little distraught.  There we were, each of us having come from not only 18+ years of outstanding education but also a great life in the greatest country in the world.  Everyone in that van will make 6 figures in the near future and we were just asked by a CHILD for a little bit of water.  We had lunch in the van with us and had food in bags “just in case we got hungry”.  Our next stop, everyone loaded up on bottled water, saved what wasn’t eaten at lunch and packed the food so we could hand out along the way.  Eventually we found some other kids looking just as desolate, playing in polluted water and walking down the busy two lane road without anyone looking out for them.  Our driver stopped and we handed out everything we had.  The kids were shocked that mzungus stopped and were giving all of these things to them.  We handed out maybe 5 liters of water, some sandwiches, chips and a few loaves of bread.  I know I am here for the overall experience, which includes these weekend getaways and opportunity to travel in Kenya.  I don’t want to get self righteous and condemn American imperialism and consumerism.  But goodness gracious, you don’t realize how bad it is.   I also know I have to face reality and recognize that poverty is real.  It is ugly. It is not going away anytime soon.  Aid alone is not the answer.  

I felt terrible today. I wondered what was going through the heads of the 6 year olds walking alone on the highway.  I wondered what the kids who asked us for water thought when the white people in the bus didn’t give them water but the black Kenyan driver did.  I was sickened by the condition of the towns were drove through and the lack of any semblance of health standards.  I was astonished at the reality of poverty.  No Paul Collier, Jeffrey Sachs, Tracey Kidder or Peter Singer book can prepare you for the reality of seeing it firsthand.   

At the same time, I was relieved by the fact that nearly everywhere we went, we received smiles and waves.  Children shouting “How are you, I am fine” as if it were a question not needing our participation.  I am glad we got the opportunity to shake the moral hangover.  I know everyone in the van wanted to do the right thing and anyone would help a child (or anyone) in need. It was a split second in time that we all froze.  I think it was overwhelming and juxtaposed with our weekend trip, it was too much to handle.  Hopefully I can rest a bit easier after making amends.  Hopefully we filled the bellies and warmed the hearts of those kids.  They probably have no idea how much they actually helped us.