Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Kenyan Birthday

“And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.”
Abraham Lincoln

Patrick, the bravest 3-year-old you'll ever meet ( and chronic dirt eater)! This is my door he is looking up into, he was attached to my leg the first 2 weeks of school.

Embu Town from my birthday hike, and you can see the edges of Mount Kenya, and if you look closely the purple circle of Jacaranda trees .

My birthday cake and celebration!

Once a year a day rolls around—some dread it, other relish in it, but to me birthdays are meant to be celebration of another year lived. This month has not been the easiest for me, I’ve spent more time in the hospital then I care to mention, and outside of the hospital in bed, sick. So this week when I finally felt better, (after nearly 3 weeks of being sick) I decided I wanted to celebrate and appreciate my health on my birthday. Birthdays aren’t really celebrated here, in fact most of my students don’t know on which day, or even which month they were born! Naturally I didn’t expect much when I told my neighbor my birthday was coming up; yet while I was at the hospital I received warm text messages that I should have “a quick recovery, that my birthday celebration was being planned”.

I finally returned to school I knew what I wanted to do for my birthday; climb a mountain. Behind my house there is a mountain in direct view, I love watching the sun travel around the mountain; changing the colors of the sky and the mountain itself, blue in morning, sweltering red in the evening, and finally a deep purple, before darkness covers the land like old familiar blanket. I stare and admire this mountain constantly, so naturally this would be my birthday gift to myself! My friend and bike partner (the school’s watchman) agreed to climb it with me. To my surprise he arrived right on time to hike, I was on Kenyan time and had not yet eaten. I made my favorite dish quesadillas (I even sprung for cheese in town) with mango salsa! The watchman had never had cheese before, and I tried to explain it was not butter! So we enjoyed our meal and headed out.

We hiked past the river—full from the rains, which have begun. Walking through shambas greeting children, and nearly everyone who crossed our paths. I could tell a few minutes into our journey that I had made a rookie-hiking mistake: wore the wrong shoes. I had never wore these shoes before, but I felt my hiking boots would be to heavy especially since I had been assured that this hike would be an hour ( of coarse all of our trips are always supposed to be an hour, but normally last 5, I should of known). I continued on with the discomfort, but aware of a possible problem ahead. We climbed up gently sloping hills; green from the recent rain, admired valleys dotted with farms, all while under the watchful protection of Kirinyga ( or more commonly known as Mount Kenya). The sun seemed closer, an intimate friend tapping on our backs trying figure out where we were going. A gentle breeze whipped through and provided much needed relief. The sky was the most vivid blue, speckled with puffy white, endearing, clouds. We hiked on dirt roads that I assumed would lead us straight to the top. We stopped at a farm to confirm the route. My friend spoke in Kiembu but I could make out the family pointing into the bush, yes, technically I could see a path, but I could also see how one could not even walk standing up through this path because a canopy of thorny bushes was arched together. I decided we should try a less menacing route. We walked up the road until we found a more open path and continued upward. From this height I could see the town of Embu; protected by a circle of purple (Jacaranda trees are in full bloom this month). Behind the town the expansiveness of Mount Kenya was overwhelming. To the East I could see my school; which was just dot amongst the rolling green hills. At this point my feet were throbbing with pain, I check and confirmed that my toes were raw-- blisters popped. We continued upward but the path we followed just disappeared! We would scout path, after path only to find it leading straight into thorns. We tried several different paths finally deciding to descend, to avoid going further and further into the bush. On our way down we encountered the same problem trails leading to oblivion of thorns. I began evoking my “ Man Vs. Wild” skills which I soon realized were few ( its been too long since I’ve seen it!). To make things worse descending only made my toes beg for mercy, the pain was overwhelming I had to remove my shoes—because of this my feet were exposed to thorns and other things on the forest ground, but I preferred that to excruciating pain of wearing my shoes. We continued through the bush, pole pole
(slowly slowly) until we were surrounded by bush, but we could tell the road was close—we finally decided we would have to crawl through an archway of thorns to get out. Ginnie Vs Wild, I seriously looked like I got into a fight with a tree, twigs poking out of my hair, dirt on my face, and scratched on my arms and legs, but we were free! We reached the main road again and I walked barefoot through the village, my feet pounding on the red cracked dirt. Most people in my village cannot afford shoes and most walk around barefoot anyway, although seeing a “mzungu” without shoes was truly a shock! Losing the path had taken a lot of time, now the sun was setting I could see it transforming the area to a peaceful purple, yet the sun itself was a perfect ball of orange adjacent to the mountain. Finally we arrived to familiar land by nightfall, taking each step into complete darkness, I made it home.

I quickly examined my poor feet—luckily due to nearly a year of solely wearing open toed shoes the bottom of my feet are like steal, if only that could be said about my toes, I’ll spare you the details but it was gross! My neighbor’s children came to inform me that I should come over in one hour’s time for my “party”. I showered, and prepared myself and headed over. I could see a table with cake with pink frosting with the words “ happy birthday” written on top! I smiled with excitement and joined my neighbor’s family and a few staff members at the table. I was meant to cut the cake with my “best friend” I choose my neighbor’s small daughter. We cut the cake and was informed I was to be feed—this 9-year-old with fork in hand choose the biggest piece that I was eat in one bite! I did my best and then was informed she had to serve me a drink, this cup being pushed towards my face I feared I would choke, but ended up fine! I was sung happy birthday many times and given a nice card, and of coarse as with every Kenyan celebration we ate….goat.

My first African birthday was a success! I am truly grateful to be healthy once again, to have so many wonderful people who care about me, and of coarse indebted to my parents for raising me (I think we should celebrate “mothers day” on our birthdays whew 9 months of pregnancy)! Getting older for some people is difficult, and yes getting older brings a variety of emotions about life, but when I think of what a crazy, beautiful, hilarious adventure my life has been thus far, well I say bring it on!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Juma nne

“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
Maya Angelou

(pictures of pencils that my friend sent from the states, which my children loved!)

This is the last term of the year, but it has been the most unusual term for me thus far due to series of illness. I'll spare you the details, but it included being the potential 1st volunteer ever to have swine flu; which then to come find out I don't have, but rather just the normal flu.

Being sick and far away from home is an interesting experience, and something that has happened often. In Ghana stuck in my dorm with malaria scare,in Bolvia with dysyntery, and now in Kenya with everything under the sun! Health care varies place to place, but I think the most telling thing about being sick is where you long to be instead of the hospital. I spent two days in Nairobi hospital; and every minute I wanted to be back at my school.

I've spend nearly one year here in Kenya and everyday I forget any other way of life. Bucket baths, purifing water, everything starting hours late; all seem normal to me! Being stuck in the hospital really made me appreciate how much I love my job and how I long to be back "home". This term I teach nearly double what I have before, and it has been a challenge. Most of my students cannot read, or write. I handed them a blank map of Africa and only one knew where Kenya was. I feel so disappointed in the system that had failed these children, but more then that I feel a great challenge in myself.

Somedays I want to cry for these students but I know by just expecting more from them they are growing. One of my students always comes from home with a frigthened look on her face. She seems very uncomfortable with human interaction-- but she lights up with excitment if you ever praise her, and to me moments like that make all the difference. I have seen real progress in a few of my classes-- my KSL class is now, number two for languages in the whole district. I have seen their confidence and curiousity expand and it makes me so proud! Now all I have to do is get healthy so I can return to teaching.

In the past month I had some friends visit from the U.K., I met them in Ghana when I studied there almost 3 years ago. I was very happy to see them after so long and surprised how I felt as if nothing changed. Ghana was an experience that really shaped my life, and it felt "full circle" to showing them around my home in Africa. We exchanged stories from the years gone by and it I showed them my glamous life style! They were blown away by my ability to sleep on a matatu. They said they were saying their prayers and I was dreaming! They tend to be over crowded and therefore stuffed and with all the potholes its like being rocked in a crib, alternatively people has described it as "near death", but I guess its all up to interpretation!

So far less interesting stories here in Nairobi! I have been eating very well and enjoying the company of other Peace Corps volunteers, and the awesome medical staff here, but I hope to be back home soon!