Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2 years in Kenya. Did that. Now What?

I’ve been in America for 11 days and jetlag is still owning me.  Everything is surreal.  I don’t really know how to answer people’s questions at the moment.  I’m on overload every time I open my bedroom door.  T.V.’s, refrigerators, faucets all over the place with clean running water.  Hopping in a car and driving somewhere is insane.  Restaurants, entertainment, shopping centers where you can get everything.  It’s panic inducing.  Anything and everything is available.  It would sometimes take me weeks to find what I needed, if I was even able to get it, and that was only carrots.

Dust, trees, dirt paths, and women carrying buckets of water on their head is what I’m used to. 

I have this overwhelming sense of feeling lost all the time.  And I don’t really know what I’m doing here.  I don’t quite have a sense of purpose here anymore like I did in Kenya.

It’s dumbfounding to me what I’m experiencing right now.  I have lived nearly 28 years in America and only 2 in Kenya.  I should be able to transition back to what I know without this much difficulty and anxiety.

America makes me feel like such an infant.  I’m having to relearn how to live here.
I didn’t know how to use the swipe your card machine at the register.  I asked for a refill at McDonalds and they told me they didn’t do that anymore and gave me a look like where have you been.  Um, Kenya.  That’s where I’ve been.  Over and over America is shaming me and making me feel like an idiot with even the simplest of things.

I wouldn’t take back my time in Kenya but currently where I am in life I felt better off at 18.  I had a car, insurance, a job, a place to live that wasn’t my parent’s house.

I need a job so I can afford a car but I need that car to get me to that job.  Not sure how I get there from here.
I didn’t really think about this part of coming back from the Peace Corps.

I also didn’t really realize there would be a sort of grieving process upon returning home.  Why didn’t I see this coming?  I just spent 2 years developing relationships with so many people that I will never see or even ever be able to communicate with ever again.

But here I am.

So what’s next?
I’m probably going to freak out about the direction of my life for the next week and a half.  Spend time with my family/ Brother’s Wedding.  Then spend the next 2 months on a road trip.  Hopefully readjusting better than I am now. 

I have a couple of posts that I wanted to post but ran out of time in Kenya to flesh them out.  Since my schedule is wide open at the moment I may make a couple more posts before shutting the blog down.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm Retiring

Well, from the Peace Corps, that is. 

Sometimes the pictures that get posted to facebook can be misleading and you may wonder if I get any work done or if it's all just play.  All the play is what keeps me sane and in the village sweating and working like mad.  I managed to squeeze in quite a bit of work in my last week.  I held one last re-usable sanitary pads training.  I introduced and briefly showed the Orphan and Vulnerable Children Association how to use solar cookers and was able to give them 10 as an income generating project for the group.  I helped a fellow PCV with a Health day and taught on malaria, of course.  And I was able to secure and hang LLIN’s (Long Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets) for all the boarding students at Namboboto Secondary School. 

I'm feeling good about going out.  

If you had told me 2 years ago this is what my days would be filled with I would've been like wait, what.  I don't know anything about any of that.  Now, I'm finding it hard to imagine my life without nets, malaria talks, and cutting sanitary pad materials to the point I bruise my knuckles where the scissors lie.  I am grateful for new experiences and all that I never thought I could do that I was able to have my hands in the past 2 years.  

Sanitary Pad Making - They are in the Zone!

Solar Cookers

I ran out of rope to hang nets from the rafters.  So ya, on the spot, I decided to recycle an old dirty torn net for rope.  Boom!

Using old net rope to hang across the rafters.  (I'm still in awe at how brilliant this was.)  

I really am going to miss my life of nets.  



The students have been sleeping under their nets for 3 nights now.  When I went to visit today I was bombarded with so many 'thank you's and 'you must really care about us.'  'You have saved our lives.'  'We can sleep better now.'

The workday doesn't get much better.     

Monday, July 22, 2013

Peace Corps Volunteers do What now...

You have eaten in too many restaurants to count that had chickens/goats/dogs/cats running all over the place.  And you think nothing of it or that it would score a solid 100% in breaking every code; if that were a thing here.

You can eat a whole box of cereal/cookies/crackers in one sitting.  The real success is not eating your entire care package in one day.

You have love affairs with food when you are able to eat something you don’t normally.  And it’s probably not even that good, but you think it is amazing and it brings tears to your eyes.  (What do your taste buds know anymore after eating termites and minnows.) 

You have pulled a bug or a hair out of your food and continue eating.  No big deal.

You carry food around in your bag...Or you might be fasting for that day.
(True story.  One volunteer pulled out a pork chop from her purse.  Wait what? You just have a pork chop in there.  Mad PC skills!)

You drop your last bite of the meal accidentally in your bag and you dig it out and finish it.  You have to.  (I have scooped the top of a container of guacamole that dropped on the floor and ate it.  Some things you just can’t let go to waste.  It was totes fine. )

You continue to drink your beverage even after flies are swimming around in the glass.  You paid good money for that.   I don’t remember sending this drink over for you, fly. 

You have eaten things that you knew were gonna make you sick, but it would be rude to refuse.  Down the hatchet it goes.  

You carry a wine bottle in your bag, but lets be honest it is probably actually boxed wine you have.   Keepin it classy, Kenya.

Whenever you have a refrigerated drink it is too cold for you and you get a brain freeze that is in the big leagues.  It came to play and is not messing around.

You have used water bottles for many things.  Obvi, to mix drinks, or cut them in half and viola you have a cup, or for short calls.  If you haven’t peed in a halved water bottle I don’t know that you can really call yourself a PCV.

You have had entire conversations consisting of only sounds.  In fact, you are a master at wordless convos.

You have experienced emotions you never knew existed or that you were even capable of.  Your heart is exploding, your brain is crying, your feelings have no idea what is going on.  

You would rather have a choo (hole in the ground) than a western toilet because
they just don’t work properly here.

You leave shoes in strategic places around your house to fight off the bugs, lizards, bats, rodents, and any other creepy crawler that invites itself in your home unwelcomed.

You call it a night at 8pm because the power went out.  Maybe the first time this happens you worry about your food going bad, then you realize you don’t have a fridge.  And you are still alive without one. 

(Most of those involved food.  I guess you can tell where my head is at.)  

These tasks make you feel accomplished

Laundry – I mean how can you not feel accomplished you basically turn into a beast of a machine. 

Dishes – Again, you are THE machine and you don’t have a sink with running water so you use buckets. 

Purifying water – It’s a 30 minute process, yo.

Shopping in the market - You had to search and bargain for that weeks food.  And score you got a week of food for less than $5. 

You should then pat yourself on the back you did a lot of work today.

The day has also been a success when…

You send 3 emails.  Definitely pack up and call it a day. 

When not one person asks you for money or your phone number. – Seriously, go buy two drinks and cheers yourself for these days are rare. 

When you watch half a season of a show.

When you don’t watch a single episode of a show.  Remember not a whole lot to do in your house at night. 

You know you’ve been in country a while…

When you hear mzungu mzungu  (foreigner) and you look around saying “where?” and then realize ‘oh, they mean me.’

When your community calls you by your village name and you start to get sad thinking about how pretty soon, no one will use your village name and its back to your actual name.  (Don’t get me wrong parents, I’m a fan of my given name.)  But this happened yesterday.  Someone greeted me by calling me Nahulu and I nearly cried.  The end is approaching fast, people. 

When someone asks you where are you from and you tell them the name of your village and province in Kenya, but what they were really asking was your home country.

When you wonder if you will ever be able to go back to a set schedule and a 9-5 job.

When you can’t even fathom purchasing something anymore without bargaining for it.
Punguza kidogo, Bwana.

I could keep going with these lists but I don't know that you would keep reading so this is a short list of the Peace Corps Volunteer life.  If you have never done PC and were checking things off as you were reading , then um, who in the world are you!  I kinda want to shake your hand.  

Monday, July 8, 2013


With the last 2 years behind me, the end is in sight and rapidly approaching.  My thoughts have turned from what project to get my hands on next/ how can I make this project sustainable to mentally preparing myself for the transition (if that is even possible) back to America, the beautiful.  The land that I love.

(Apparently, I’m still coming down from 4th of July celebrations from this past weekend.)

Holidays are always a tough one.  I mean we, volunteers, always end up having a great time trying to recreate American traditions and we make do with what we have to make a pretty fantastic spread of a feast, but it’s just not the same as being with your friends and family back home.  Until you realize that these once upon a time strangers are your family in their own right. 

Holidays away are often sad.  You call home and hear your family together usually doing everything you wish to be doing…sitting around a table overflowing with food.  Going to the beach or the park.  Grilling out and swimming.  Eating.  Eating.  And, yep… you people are always eating! 
(And seriously what is with everyone posting pics of delicious food on facebook. You know who you are.)

But this 4th of July was sad in a different way.  I mean, yes, I wished to be home and partake in hotdog eating contests and baseball games, fireworks, and cookouts.  But I was sad this time because this was the last holiday I would have here in Kenya with my PC family.  My life will never quite be the same.  

And so this is where I’m at in this experience right now.  How will I be when I return?  What will my life look like?  Will I just jump back into apps, touchscreens, and smart phones?  Because it’s actually been nice, to be in a sense, disconnected and off the grid.
How long will I feel guilty about taking hot showers that last 10 minutes?  Will I forever be adding up in my head how many mosquito nets I could buy for the price of my dinner at a restaurant out?  Don’t even get me started on the price of clothes when I get shirts here for a quarter. 
$2 for an avocado!!!!  I could get that for a nickel.  (Ok, so maybe I've just aged by 40 years!)

How will this experience have changed me and what of myself am I going to lose as I transition back to the American way?

Meshing my Kenyan life with my American life will be an interesting feat.  Be easy on me people. 

 So often in the Peace Corps world you hear about how the transition back home is always more difficult than the initial transition of moving and living in another country. 
Another thing that is said a lot:  No matter how integrated into our host country communities we become we will never fully belong.  And when we return to America, because this experience changes a person we don’t really fit in there anymore either. 
How long will I be confused about where ‘home’ is?
This makes thinking about the transition a bit scary. 

I have had to start google-ing things because I don’t know what some of the things people post on facebook is anymore.   I’m trying to prepare myself for this next step.

But, honestly, I don’t know that I can prepare myself.  Before I left for PC I read so many books, blogs, talked to Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, emailed with currently serving volunteers, whatever I could.   I knew it was going to be a rollercoaster experience and over and over it was said that it was hard.  And I was like, please, I got this, I’m ready.  But until I got here I didn’t know the extent of what that meant.  And let me tell you, no one was lying about that part. 
Except now that it is nearly over it seems easy.  I've got those peace corps issued rose colored glasses on. 

Where I’m standing makes all the difference.

I have had a countdown because I am ready to be home and while that is exciting to think about it is also sad because I am not only counting down my return to the land of the free but I am counting away my days in Kenya. 
I am eager to be back in my homeland, but Namboboto has also become my home.
And so the countdown stops with only one page left to turn on my calendar. 
So I can no longer tell you how many days it is until I will see you, America.   Just that I will see you soon.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Blood. Sweat. Tears. And pooping in a hole.

100 bottles of hot sauce.  A ton of potatoes.  70 lbs of ugali.  A bazillion calories of chapati.  1200 bananas.  Countless hot bus rides.  Too many inappropriate marriage proposals I’m still trying to forget.  786 explanations that I am not a doctor nor do I have money.  534 requests for the shirt of my back.  A million liters of rain water caught. 

 728 bucket baths.  90 laundry days with buckets.  30 nights hiding from rogue bats in my house.  23,000 high 5’s from kids.  Malaria. A hospital stay.  An IV drip. Costochondritis. Strep. Allergies to the dust.  2 months of coughing. 5 eye infections.  Jiggers.  2 sprained ankles.  3 thorns stuck in my foot.  A viral infection.  Numerous, but never enough remarkable sunsets.  500 household visits.  1749 cups of chai with enough sugar to kill a person.  2 broken external hard drives.  A cracked kindle screen.  A broken laptop.  61 books read.  394 hours of training.  Nearly 3,000 insecticide-treated nets distributed.  350 hours spent at the school. 9,999 hours waiting for meetings to start. Zebra. Giraffe. Lions. Leopards.  Cheetahs. Elephants.  Impala.  Wildebeest.  Ostrich. Hippos.  Rhinos.  Monkeys.  Baboons.
104 weeks. 728 days.  17,472 hours. 1,048,320 minutes.   
Blood. Sweat. Tears.  And pooping in a hole.  

 All of this adds up to my PC life in Kenya for 2 years.  Now that this day is here it seems it has gone by fast even though there were many times, even 2 weeks ago, that it felt like time had stopped. 

10 bottles of hot sauce.  60 bucket baths.  8 laundry days.  931 high 5’s from kids.  32 hours at the school.  8 Thursdays.  59 days.  1,416 hours.  84,960 minutes.
 Or in other words 2 months until I am done with my PC service in Kenya.

You could say I am eager to finish.  Or to just be done with doing my business in a hole and shoo-ing away lizards and spiders from the choo. Or to have water from a tap again.  Or to have endless varieties of food.  Or to leave behind the awkward relationship conversations with people who barely know your name if at all.  (seriously this is a conversation I had.  Well really I was just present.  Dude had his mom pull me aside and with her there he pulled out a picture of himself and a girl.  He told me she was his Filipino fiancĂ© and she had died so he needed a new marriage partner.  His mom then tells me she has chosen me.  We had just met an hour earlier.)
Or to have ac/heat.   Or electricity that isn’t out 12 hours a day. 

So yes, it seems clear that I am ready to continue on, but this is not to say that I’m not starting to become sentimental.  Or that I am even regretting my decision to be here.  I am glad that I did this.  I am well aware that I only have 24 softball practices left with my girls. 

 Dwindling opportunities to visit with the friends I have made.  Kenyans and other volunteers.

Because I have my remaining time down to the minute this post may read that I’m too eager to get out of here.  This is not how I meant it but in the last 3 months of our service our focus is to wrap up our projects and make sure they are sustainable.  I have had several projects and started many things during these 2 years but threw the ones to the side that weren’t working or didn’t seem they would continue when I left.  My projects that I’ve been focusing on that seemed to promise sustainability are doing great and well you can consider them wrapped with a nice little bow.  They don’t need me anymore.  Which is every volunteer’s dream.  It’s great, but it leaves me with a wide-open schedule.  Thus, my eagerness to reach August 6.  Oh and because this cute boy lives in America, and so, I want to be there.

With my remaining 1,416 hours in Kenya I am making it a point to take everything in.  On walks through the village. 

 Hugs from dirt covered children in tattered clothes.  Every conversation with a mama.  Hanging out with the girls at the bore hole or under a tree to stay cool.  The air.  The sun.  The sky.  The village.  Because this has been my life for the past 2 years.  Blood. Sweat. Tears.  And pooping in a hole.
And as much as I yearn for my family.  Food.  Amenities.  Normalcy.  I know in a short while there will be times I yearn for my Nambo life.