Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another Post About Giraffes

I've had a lot of fabulous experiences with giraffes lately.

Two weekends ago my friends and I went to Naivasha to go camping and visit Hell's Gate and Mt. Longonot. It was gorgeous. Living in Nairobi, it can be easy to forget how incredibly beautiful Kenya is. On the first day we went biking through Hell's Gate. Rumor has it that this is where the producers of the Lion King got their inspiration.

Some of the giraffes we hung out with
 Along the trail we saw tons of zebras, warthogs, weird birds and, of course, giraffes. It was really awesome to sit on the side of the bike trail and just stare at the giraffes as they stared back at us. They were there because that's where live and have always lived, not because someone put them there for me to look at! Cool, huh?
One of the many sights along the trail that made it easy for me to believe that this is where the Lion King takes place
 Part of the Hell's Gate National Park includes a section where companies are drilling for geo-thermal energy. Aly and I biked past a ton of these stations and went places we probably weren't supposed to go but later found out that this energy accounts for VERY little of Kenya's energy. Too bad. We got some beautiful views of the gorge though.

The next morning we got up and traveled to Mt. Longonot expecting a nice walk to the top of a crater. Turns out, the Mt. Longonot trail is straight up the mountain and with my still slightly pained ankle, it was rough (especially on the way down).  It was incredibly exhausting but so worth it. The crater was fantastic and just sitting up there was the coolest thing ever.

Beautiful. This is one of the sights that Safaricom (the leading internet and cell phone provider in Kenya) used in their famous, breath-taking commercial. I love it: http://www.safaricom.co.ke/index.php?id=1144

The next week we got back and went to work. We at AU Abroad Kenya are furiously working on grant proposals for our internships and finishing up USIU classes. It's pretty crazy how close we are to being done. I feel like I haven't learned everything I am supposed to yet and am more frustrated and confused about my role in this country than ever. I simultaneously need to get home and away from the aspects of Kenya that aren't as amazing as Mt. Longonot, such as unforgettable poverty, corruption, and awkward situations that come with being white and western in Kenya (it's awkward feeling like I have to represent every American!- one professor on Monday had me and the other AU students describe the differences between Western and African time from our experiences. Plus, I usually feel like if I ever do something silly or make a mistake, people will think all Americans are like me- maybe a poor assessment, but a lot of generalizations are made about us), but I also feel the need to stay to figure everything out. 

Well, more giraffes: I went to the Giraffe Centre on Sunday and got to do this:
photo cred: Quinn S

photo cred: Quinn S

It was great! I also learned some pretty cool facts about giraffes, here are a few I'll leave you with:

1. Giraffes only sleep for 15 minutes in 24 hours.
2. Giraffes have such powerful legs that they can kill a lion instantly with one kick. Thus, it often takes 15 lions to take down one giraffe.
3. If a baby giraffe enters the wild after being born in captivity, a mother giraffe in a herd will take it in as her own.
4. Giraffes have antiseptic saliva so they can clean the cuts they get from eating the thorny acacia trees and so I can kiss them!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Catching Up

Today I twisted my ankle running down some stairs and therefore can't walk around and do things but I also feel too bad for myself to do work. So I figured I'd update my blog for the first time in...a month and a half. Cool. I'll try to pick out the most important things.

1. My Research. I seem to recall talking about the research I was doing on Gender Based Violence. Well after visiting KNH, I managed to get interviews with a few NGOs and a representative from the Nairobi Women's Hospital. It was really nerve-racking to find these interviews and conduct them without feeling like I was wasting people's time, especially at the hospitals. It was also hard because the language barrier made it so that a lot of the time, the women I spoke to didn't quite understand the nuances of my questions (it was really hard, for example, to get people to talk about body image, objectification, or the "ideal" woman). It was a really great experience though and I learned a lot about GBV in Kenya as well as Kenyan culture through the interview process. People were took awhile to see me sometimes but were really helpful and nice and took time even though they were busy.

2. My Internship.  We're in the second have of the semester now and so we are interning 3 times a week.  Finally, Katie and I have some direction and boy do we have a lot to do! Today, for example, we began creating all these new entrance, interview, and exit forms for both the domestic workers who go through CDTD's training programs as well as for victims of trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and migrants in distress. We are also working on creating a whole new information management system for the organization.

3. Rural Week. In the end of October we spent a week living in western Kenya with host families to learn about rural lives. My family dropped out before we got there so I ended up living with Jess. Our family was pretty great.
Me, Mama Doris, and Jess

The gals! Me, Sally, Jess, Milcent, and Paris

I introduced some of the kids and their friends to stickers. SO fun.

Mama teaching us to cook by candle light after the sun had set

Our mama taught us how to cook mandazi (semi-sweet fried dough), chapati (flat bread to be eaten with everything), and some veggie dishes like sukumawiki (sort of like kale... everyone thought we were super weird for not eating meat though). We also learned how to milk cows!

This is what I look like when I milk cows.
We got to see where, traditionally, rainmakers go to ask for rain: a little section of land with three big, beautiful trees. Interestingly, it was fenced off by a mzungu who, for some reason, decided it needed to be fenced, even though for years no Kenyan thought it necessary.... wazungu also brought Christianity to Western Province and so my family and I had some pretty interesting conversations about religion. Despite the fact that the baba (father) was a priest, the women in the family (who I talked to most of the time as baba was rarely around) were open to discussing traditional beliefs, and wanted to know what Jewish people believe in.  We also went to a cool waterfall that might be used for hydroelectricity and the town of Luanda where we would hang out with Kara and her mama, who owned a store.
We had a little sister named Paris who only spoke Kiswahili and, although we don't know that much yet, it was fun to try to have conversations with her about school, what she likes to do, and dancing!

Speaking of dancing, there was a TON of it at our final party!
This is me and Paris!
The whole experience was great. It was a little awkward and boring at the beginning of the stay because Jess and I weren't sure what to talk about and neither were our family. Plus we really want to learn and help cook and things but when we asked we couldn't tell if they kept not letting us because they didn't want to bother us with work or because we were just in their way. By the end of the week, however, they had gotten used to us, taught us things, hung out with us into the night, and so we felt more comfortable in their home and we were very sad to leave. We even had two inside jokes with them!
1. When someone asks you "mrembe" you respond by shaking your hands and going mnomnomnomnomno! This is rather than just "mno" which is what many Luhya (our family's ethnicity) people say.
2. I mentioned that the Kiswahili word for eggs is mayai, while the Luhya's word for fine is malai. Since they sound similar, we all thought is was funny to respond to "how are you this morning" or "mbuena", as the Luhya say, with "mayai" or "eggs!"

4. My Feelings About Things. Kenya is hard to deal with. I mean that on a personal level, emotional level, and academic level.  Personally, it is weary being a mzungu. Especially in rural Kenya where white people are very rare. Kids would run up to us with a mixture of glee and terror on their faces. Some would just stand and gape and us while others would run up yelling "MZUNGU MZUNGU." The one consolation was that the little boy in my host family (the cutest kid ever who I really just wanted to be my best friend), Ramon, was not interested in me at all. Except when I gave him lollipops.

Kids from my host family chilling with pin pops. The scariest
thing was that they would jump off these rocks with
the lollipops in their mouths. They would have been
seriously yelled at in America!
Still not quite friends. Until the end of the week
when he came up to me and held my hand! Jess
has a great picture I will try to post someday.

Just having so many people assume things about your wealth, personality, intentions, etc because you are a white person is really tiring and frustrating. I have met a lot of great people but there are a lot of stereotypes that come with being American so it's hard to know who to trust and who the genuine people are (because most of the time they aren't the first people to come up to groups of white students).  This is emotionally strenuous as was the first few days of the Kenyan war on Al-Shabaab and the day two grenades were thrown in Nairobi town. We have a lot of new restrictions about where and when we can go to town and how we can get around (mostly we take cabs rather than matatus these days because most traffic is routed through town). It all makes sense but it was difficult to come back from rural week to these new rules and stresses. Things seem to be pretty normal around Nairobi though, aside from the enhanced security at most malls.  It was also stressful because right as we began worrying a little about the security situation, I began to hit an academic wall. I'm pretty sure I don't want to do International Development anymore because of the corruption involved in the aid world, the dependency it creates in developing countries whose governments don't feel responsible to their people because international donors pay for the necessities, and the fact that if I were to work in an international NGO, the corruption would be less, but I wouldn't feel good about taking a job that could go to a person from that country who would know more about the needs of the people and probably has fewer opportunities to get employment (despite America's sad unemployment rate, it is nothing compared to the number of jobless people in Kenya). I need a new focus. So I'm taking some different classes next semester and thinking about maybe doing Peace and Conflict Resolution and saving the world that way. Maybe I'll just end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or something. We'll see.
While overall I still love Kenya, also, I miss America. Especially now that my ankle is throbbing and we walk almost everywhere in this country. Wish me luck on our camping/hiking trip in Naivasha on Saturday....!

PS. This is my current favorite Kenyan song:  Listen to it and love it as I have. It's even got political messages about corruption and people changing because of it.