Thursday, May 17, 2012

Soon to Be RPCV...

It’s official. I will be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) in 64 days!! Well, as long as everything goes well from here on out. We just had our Close of Service (COS) conference in Naivasha (pictures are up on Facebook). It was the last time my whole class will be together in Kenya. And well…we always know how to have a good time. We are like one big family and its going to be sad not being “close” to them anymore. We are all excited to see where our paths will take us next. For me…it’s TRAVELING!!!

My official COS date is July 20th. Just before then, I have to go back to Nairobi and do my final paperwork and exit interview. After that is all done, I’m an RPCV and on my own. I’ll be staying in and around Kenya until August 19th because my Kenyan roommate, Mary, is getting married and wants me to be in the wedding party. I’m SO excited because 1. Mary is one of my favorite people her and was one of the first people I met in Jilore 2. Her fiancĂ© is amazing and a good friend of mine also and 3. I get to wear an awesome, tailored made dress of a Kenyan color pallet. Everyone just wait for the pictures. The wedding does push back my traveling schedule a bit, but it will all work out.

So, from Nairobi, a group of us are heading to Uganda to do the white water rafting and bungee jumping on the Nile. I’m debating on whether or not to go down into lower Uganda/Rwanda and do a gorilla trekking hike. It’s way expensive, but it WILL probably happen since I don’t know if I’ll ever have this chance again. Then I’ll come back into Kenya and head back to the coast. From there I’ll meet up with another couple PCVs in Zanzibar before coming back into Kenya for the wedding.

After the wedding, I’ll leave Kenya for good and go to Dar Salam, Tanzania. That is where I’ll catch the train and head to Victoria Falls in Zambia/Zimbabwe. From there I’ll decide if I go to Mozambique and then down to Cape Town, South Africa or go through Botswana into Cape Town. Namibia maybe tossed in there depending if a friend is there. That puts me at around September 20th.

From Cape Town, I’ll fly into Europe. My must sees are Poland, Amsterdam, the UK. I would like to see France as well, but I don’t know if I’ll have the time. And Iceland will be for sure if a friend who lives there is around. That puts me at around Oct. 14th.

From Iceland-ish area, I’ll then finally fly back to my native soil, but not to home quite yet. The east coast is swarming with people that I want to see. I’m hoping to check out Washington D.C. and I’ll be hanging around the Boston, NY, and Maryland, etc area for at least a week. From the east coast, I’ll fly to Chicago to spend some much needed time with my family and some friends there. After a couple weeks there, I’ll finally fly home to Phoenix! Just writing this on the calendar makes me giddy. If all goes well then I’ll be home around November 6th. My coming home party will be November 10th, and EVERYONE better be there!

But before all this can happen, I have to finish up my work here and say goodbye to the family and friends I have made. I’m very pleased with my service and my work here. I’ve completely enjoyed the experience and will never forget it. And I will miss all the people here that I have grown close too. But I’m an American at heart and I miss my friends, family and home. I’m excited to see what I do next, whether that be living on my parents couch, working back at Subway, and catching up on missed TV shows and movies, or…going out and getting a job or maybe going to Grad school. Who knows!

My community is starting to plan my going away parties. I’m cleaning out my room and getting rid of everything I won’t be carrying on my back with me during my travels. And I’m enjoying my last bit of freedom here in Kenya. So let the countdown begin!!!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I reached my hand in a box looking for something and found this guy...glad he didnt find me first!

And the storm is rollin'....

Old pictures, but good ones! We have some awesome storms that come thru during the rainy seasons.

Hey little guy....

Walking back from the primary school and this guy was crossing my path....very, very slowly. But you don't see them everyday!

Life is Good....

I'm going to miss these days....

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Traditional Giriama Naming Ceremony

Wednesday was the day….I became an official Giriama lady. It all started with the idea from the headmaster of the secondary school. He said I’ve been given a name, Kache, but I haven’t been named. So he got together with the Chief and started making arrangements. Honestly, I was surprised at how fast everything came together….Kenyans say they are going to do things and then they never happen, so I was a bit doubtful at first but humored them. The Chief then got with the village elders and went through what is required for the ceremony. The list….my family members, their home, a hondo (traditional Giriama clothes which is fabric laid on a string that you wear around your waist to enhance your booty….already had that covered, but gotta wear it to be official), a original Giriama glass (a coconut carved out with a stick through it that is used to ladle the water and then drank from), a goat, and traditional dancers and music.

Everyone contributed and all these things were acquired and prepared. The specially picked out my hondo color fabric and old mamas made it using the old techniques of washing and folding it a certain way. Then two lesos were bought, one my grandmother would wear a piece of and the other, my great uncle (one of the village elders) would wear. The brought everything together to my family’s home which is in one of the sub-villages of Jilore, called Sosoni . Here would be my birth home. My “father” or “Baba” is Karema who is the clerk at the dispensary. Upon my arrival, he gave me my Giriama name, thus I was adopted into my family.

The ceremony was set to begin at 9am and promptly began at 1pm. Oh Kenyan time….WAY worse than Jew time for those of you that know my Jew time schedule. We arrived at my family’s home and the men sat on one side of the tree and the women on the other. The ceremony was started with some word from the headmaster, my father Karema, and then a discussion of what I have accomplished here in Jilore. All this being said in KiGiriama, their mother tongue language. I was taken off to get dressed in the traditional wear.

I was brought out by a line of singing mamas and was presented to the crowd. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the show. It felt very happy. Then I sat in front of one of the mud houses and the ceremony began. Amos, my great uncle, said some blessing words and then my Grandmother, who I am named after, stands up and welcomes me to the family, gives me blessings, and then takes a drink out of the traditional cup and spits on herself three times and then takes another sip and spits the water on my chest three times as well. The rest of the water in the coconut cup is poured out in front of me and the celebrating starts.

We sat and watched the Giriama dancers dance and my Baba, is presented with some jugs of Mnzai, the locally brewed coconut wine. All the men partake in the drinking. Then my Baba presents me with a goat that is then slaughter for us all to eat. The goat he presented wasn’t the one that we ate due to time constraints. He gave me a big, male goat that was kinda freaking out. I was a little worried that he was going to run away and he was worried he was going to be eaten!

At this point, it starts raining heavily. This is seen as huge blessing to the village when rain comes with visitors or during ceremonies. It means that they will have a good harvest and continued good luck into the next one. As it looks, it’s still on track to keep raining and people have started to harvest. Yay!

So we waited out the rain which lasted about an hour and then we ate a tasty goat and ugali. After we ate I thanked everyone and left the men too keep drinking their palm wine and we started to walk home still wearing my hondo. Let’s just say I attracted some attention on the way home….more than normal.

It was truly an honor to be a part of something like this and to know that they put it together all themselves for just me. There was video taken which they want to have edited and have captions to translate it. They will be keeping a copy of it in the Resource Center library, so that future people can know the history of someone who influenced the construction of the Jilore Vijana Resource Center and helped the community in different ways.

My name is Monje Kache Karema Mulewa from the Mkare clan. Monje means a shelter where if one goes, they will be safe and protected. This name is only to be used by my future husband and my grandmother who named me. Kache is a young lady. This name is used by everyone else. Karema means the old or ancient people of the Giriamas. And Mulewa is my family name to tell which clan I come from. “Born” Dec. 7, 2011 in Jilore, Kenya.

A Pastor’s Family for the Jew in Jilore

David, Pauline, and Joshua Amukowa

My next featured people are Pastor David, Pauline, and Baby Joshua. They are some of my best friends and I seriously don’t know what I would do without them here in Jilore.

Pauline married the pastor in April 2010. She came to Jilore, where the pastor has been posted for his work, shortly after that in May. I arrived in Jilore in August 2010, so we were both very new to this Giriama village, but the pastor has been here for 3 years at that time. I first met the pastor and his wife when I came to their home one night because my phone was dead and they had lights on which meant they had electricity. They welcomed me with open arms and it was such a relief. They both speak fluent English and are educated and understand my humor (that one is difficult for some Kenyans). We spent the next several hours there talking and introducing ourselves to one another. The Pastor is Luhya and Pauline is Luo. Both these tribes come from Western Kenya and Nyanza Province. They were outsiders like me, which bonded us even more. Pauline is 28 years old and the Pastor is in his early 30’s. They met while they were both working in Mombasa.

From that night I was a regular at their house in the evenings to have dinner, charge my phone, and have great conversations. I heard stories from the pastor about how he found Jilore 3 years ago and how he encouraged the community to rebuild the church as it stands today. I was introduced to many people through the pastor and welcomed into the church. I started going just to see how this church was run, and also to support my new found friends. My appearances at church became a benefit to my work in the village because I was seen and people got to know me. Thank God (literally) that this wasn’t one of the crazy evangelistic churches where people are rolling around on the ground trying to get the devil out of them. Yes, those churches do exist here and have large followings. I enjoy going and listening to the kids sing and dance. I would make a point to go at least once a month and sometimes twice if I was in the village on a Sunday. The church congregation became very helpful in my projects and it brought me closer to some very important people who I work closely with.

The bond that we shared was founded on the fact that we were all outsiders to the Giriama community and tend to find most of their methods of living a bit crazy. I would go to the Pastor for advice when I was struggling to get through to people or how to work through an issue on a project. We had all the same experiences with these people, so we understood the challenges. They ranged from extreme donor syndrome, constantly thinking the white girl has money, lack of motivation and follow through, lack of education, language boundaries, etc. Just talking to him helped me out because at least I knew someone who has gone through the same challenges in just trying to help the people in Jilore. The pastor also gave me the full support of the church and would become a key partner in the construction of the Resource Center. Pauline and I would talk about the odd things we saw people doing and she would fill me in on all the church gossip. We laugh a lot together and I would spend entire days just sitting outside with her chatting. We both have the great talent of eye rolling and that to us said a thousand words to each other. Like when an entire homestead family brought a “mad” woman to the house to be prayed for one night. Most likely she was just drunk but people here think its witchcraft or something else because they don’t understand. Or when a suspected murder came to the house bleeding from his head after a mob justice style encounter at the burial of the woman he supposedly killed. He wanted to be prayed for and still claimed his innocence. Turns out he left the village days later never to been seen since then. After such things like this we just roll our eyes and laugh. She also was a great link to the church mamas and would pass on information to them about my projects or clarify to them that “no, the resource center is not mine and it is not my house in Jilore.” Ugh…..

Pauline is also a very strong and independent woman who has modern ideas. In Jilore, and most rural places in Kenya, the woman’s place is not to speak, listen to their husband, and produce many children. Pauline is different and worked and lived by herself in Mombasa for 5 years before she married. She is educated and voices her own opinions. She is the person I got to and vent about things with and we both have helped each other out in tough times. She is also an excellent wife and mother without giving up who she is as a person. She once saved me from a bat that was inside of my house. I was scared and running around screaming like a little girl, but she came over, took my leso, walked in smacked the bat off the ceiling and then swept it outside, handed me back the leso and said goodnight. She didn’t even flinch. My hero!

Then came the best thing and “my future husband” as I tell the other ladies, Baby Joshua. Joshua was born in March 2011 and I was so happy that I got to spend time with a baby that I could play with! Pauline went to Mombasa to deliver and also to avoid the crowd of mamas that wait during deliverers here. She brought back adorable little Joshua when he was just about a month old. Joshua became my stress reliever. At this time the resource center construction was beginning and my stress of dealing with money in Kenya was enough to ruin a weak person. I would take a time out and go over and see Joshua. I was his first muzungu (white person) he ever saw which was an honor and would help out with his understanding that not everyone in the world was black and will hopefully later prevent awkward staring at people of a different color. I would play with him, hold him, make him laugh and just that would change my whole day around and I would feel better. I still do it, and now Joshua is almost 9 months old and he is super interactive which makes it even more fun for me. He knows me now and gets excited when I come over. Since I like to do some therapy shopping at times, but don’t need anything for myself, I tend to help out Pauline and the Pastor with Joshua. I buy them things that they would struggle on their own to acquire. It makes me happy to be able to help them out and to see Joshua grow up healthy. We now say it’s like Christmas every time I come back from Malindi or Mombasa.

Me, Maggie, Pauline, Pastor, and Baby Joshua

Baby Joshua around 5 months old

Margaret, or Maggie as I like to call her, came to live with the Pastor’s family and got to school in Jilore. She is Pauline’s younger sister. Maggie is the second to last born in a family of 8 children. Pauline is the second born. Maggie is 12 years old and in Class 7 next term. She is bright and funny. She is another one of my little buddies and I enjoy spending time with her. I usually give her breaks from her school work and chores to go and walk around the village and get out of the house.
Without them I really would have struggled here. They are like my family here and people that I can trust completely. And if the Pastor could read this he would kill me for not referring to him as Reverend. LOL But I started with Pastor so it’s a hard habit to break!

Much Love from Kenya


Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Chief Is More Than A Chief

I wanted to give everyone a more in depth idea of the most important people I work and spend time with here in the village. These are also the people that I'm going to miss the most. So here is Bio number 1!

Assistant Chief Jilore Sub Location, Charles Mulewa

I wake up every morning and literally say, "I love my chief". His office is in the dispensary, so from my house I can see and recognize the sound of his motorcycle or piki piki. After my hellos to the dispensary staff, I head to his office and take a seat on the other side of his desk and my day begins. We talk about projects, people, issues in the community, upcoming meetings, his plans and schedule, etc. Mixed into our "business" talk is joking, laughing, discussing some people and their "habits", and some inside gossip. As a Mulewa, his last name, I'm actually part of his clan and in his family line with my Giriama name. He's some father's uncle's cousin's brother or something.....but in my mind it make me like in the line of royalty here, right? haha He also said he could forge me a Kenyan ID card too. hahaha

He is a happy man and very hard working. He is married with 3 kids. His laugh is infectious and he really understands my humor so we laugh together quiet a lot. He has a chipped front tooth and a round belly. Arielle (PCV) and I believe that ugali, the staple food of kenya, gives you a pot belly. We haven't really been proven wrong. He likes to have a few drinks after work each day at his brother's bar or the local "pubs" that sell the local brew of mnazi (palm wine). But never has this affected his work or performance as a chief like I've seen it do to others. Every day he is in the office at 8am and has never missed an appointment with me. The best part is that when he is "relaxing" as he calls it and he calls me after 7pm, he responds to my hello with "Hello, my dear". It's the funniest thing and I enjoy hearing it.

We joke about how I'm the Assistant Chief when he needs help with things. I'm always around when the relief food is delivered and help oversee the offloading into his office. The smell of maize (corn) reminds me of him and his office now I've noticed. And if I want some of the food, I just ask and I shall be given. Usually I just take a share for the Pastor and his family or like when we used some relief food while building the resource center for a "food for work" program. He is a great public speaker and really knows what to say to the crowd to get them motivated or behind something. The gift of public speaking is bred in to almost all kenyans, but he is entertaining too.

He always keeps me updated on the events and happenings of the village. I'm invited and attend leaders meetings with the chiefs, District Officer (DO), Village Elders, etc. He is my main supporter for any ideas I have for the community and we sit and discuss how they could work. He gives me honest answers since he knows the people here and understands their behaviors. He is the one I go to to vent or complain about anything. And he always says, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it." and he always does. And with the stress of some events that have just happened recently and one to come next week, he has depended on me for help and his venting and complaining also. It's nice to know that it can go both ways.

Many Peace Corps Volunteers don't even know their Chief let alone have a relationship with them. It a vital thing to have though because if the Chief isn't down with your work, project or ideas then it's a pain to get them to work and have the community own them. In some cases, if the chief isn't informed of something going on in his village, all hell could break lose. In other cases, the pcv's chief could care less. I think I got that perfect medium, with a bonus.

All dressed up in his official uniform...sorry no feathers here!
Tasting the food from the Solar Cooker Training
He has really made me feel successful in my work here by him doing things without me asking or even him having great ideas first to help with programs. I spend more time in his office during the day then I do mine own. His logic and problem solving is amazing and it just shows how great of a chief that he is. He knows how Kenyans are going to act before they even do it! He keeps me sane and I know that I wouldn't have made it through some days as well if it wasn't for talking out the issue with him. So I'll continue to say that "I love my Chief" and everything he does for me I'm so thankful for!!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Never Have I Ever….

I dedicate this blog post to Nicole, who has so patiently waited for this : )….
Never Have I Ever….A classic game that any teenager has played, but now for me…it has changed a bit…

Never have I ever been to Africa or Kenya before now. Never have I ever lived outside Arizona or the USA. Never have I ever been more comfortable in a skirt and would prefer to wear one compared to other clothing items. Never have I ever had wild animals like monkeys live in my backyard or have it be a common to see a giraffe or zebra on a road trip. Never have I ever had so many skin issues until coming and living in Kenya or have been on so many medications and at risk of catching diseases that will have lasting effects on my liver. Never have I ever appreciated Arizona’s DRY heat until after spending one hot season with ridiculous, un-godly humidity. Never have I ever been away from my immediate family for this long without seeing them…Mom: 1 year, Dad: 2 years, Brother: 2 years. Never have I ever understood two foreign languages going on in one conversation at the same time until Kenya. Never have I ever had a problem with goats or chickens eating my garden. Never have I ever craved Taco Bell as much as I have since day one of being in Kenya. Never have I ever thought I could add pest controller to my resume. Never have I ever had enough geckos in my house that I started to name them. Never have I ever had vivid dreams that are malaria medication induced and then induce me to talk myself out of thinking they actually happened. Never have I ever had to duck from bats flying around inside my house and then had to go fetch the pastor’s wife to come and kill it for me. Never have I ever worn Old Navy flip flops year round. Never have I ever had my hands be considered a “the Kenyan natural spoon”. Never have I ever seen the effects of a drought first hand and how hunger affects families. Never have I ever owned a phone this expensive or advanced as the one I have now in Kenya. Never have I ever met so many amazing people that have left lasting impressions on me. Never have I ever missed being lazy and watching TV all day. Never have I ever known that I should be here, doing this work, right now in my life because of how right it feels and how everything just falls into place. Never have I ever Facebooked stalked ALL of my FB friends so much. Never have I ever been SO excited to find legit, real Hot Cheetos. Never have I ever been able to know what time it was just by the sound of certain vehicles that drive by. Never have I ever been able to convert currency in my head. Never have I ever based my activities on when the mosquitoes will come out for the night and hide in my net until that time passes. Never have I ever been so crafty and look at containers and think “hmmm…what could I use this for?”. Never have I ever thought that an 6-8 hour bus ride is not a big deal. Never have I ever said “I love my Chief” on a daily basis because of what he does for me and the effort he puts into our projects. Never have I ever needed and wanted a fan so badly to prepare for this upcoming hot season. Never have I ever eaten a mango until Kenya (and then became addicted to them). Never have I ever lived without electricity in my house for this long. Never have I ever loved crunchy peanut butter SO much! Never have I ever lived this close to the ocean. Never have I ever had the best support system here in Kenya from my Peace Corps Family for all the rough times. Never have I ever not written a blog post for this long!

Ok, maybe the last one isn’t true, but I’ll try and keep up again… :)

Much love!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Is this real? Pinch me!

Now that I’m a year into my service, it feels like I’m running out of time! I’ve been super busy and it isn’t going to let up any time soon…in fact, more things are just being added to my plate. So now that we got full funding for the resource center, it’s time to start building….here I thought the proposal and funding search was the hard part. I’ve been running all over and harassing people for prices on materials, asking for more money, organizing the construction schedule, finding community members to do the labor, etc. It’s been a busy last 3 weeks, but it all (somehow) is coming together nicely and my team of supporters have been amazing helpers and they reduce my stress as it increases. We are finalizing and putting together our orders for the materials this week, so we can begin construction as soon as possible. I stop and think at times “Is this really happening??” I can’t believe this has come to life and how quickly I will be seeing this finished. Maybe I thought this would never happen with the amount that we needed to raise, so I’m still in disbelief. And I’m trying to keep myself from thinking that something bad will happen because this is too good to be true. I’ll be posting pictures as the construction progresses.
In the middle of all this, I left my site for the first time in about a month and a half to go to Machakos and have some fun for Laken’s birthday and to celebrate our 1 year in Kenya. It’s an 11 hour trip from my site to Machakos. I went to Laken’s site which is about an hour or so outside of Machakos. We hung out with her compound family and checked out her village. Then the next day we headed back into Machakos to spend the weekend with some other volunteers that came into town. We went to a club that was as American as you can get in Machakos with a legit dance floor, DJ booth, and tables to sit at. It was an odd feeling, and we had a great time. Andrea and Jill decorated the tables and had Laken’s favorites on the table for snacks: Ginger biscuits and macadamia nuts. The next day we walked around Machakos town doing some shopping in the small shops and in the market. I bought two light sweaters for 250 shillings…that’s $3.13 USD. Talk about bargain shopping! The next day we had a big breakfast and then separated to head home. I left from Laken’s site on the 5 AM bus….way too early. So I made my 11-12 hour trek back to Malindi and back to being busy. I still haven’t kicked the habit that I can only relax when I’m NOT at home.
This last week at site was fun tho. Wednesday was Madaraka Day in Kenya which is a public holiday. Everything was closed and people were just relaxing. Then Friday was Zone Games for all the secondary schools in the Kakoneni Zone. There are 4 schools and they all came to Jilore to compete. All the students had a great time and enjoyed playing all day and not having classes. Jilore did very well in football (soccer) and got first place for the boys and girls teams.
This weekend I finished painting my room and now get to rearrange my furniture, which is exciting. It’s a bit harder when you have to make sure you can put up a mosquito net with the placement of the bed. The house will finally be ready for when my mom comes (in exactly a month from today Kenyan time!!).
I’ll be going to the new group of trainee’s training at the end of June for a week and it will be fun to meet all of them. This along with construction going on at my site…hopefully this goes well. People think that I’ve gone home to America when they don’t see me for a day…what are they going to think when I’m gone for a week!? On top of construction craziness, I’m going to start the Boys and Girls Forums again in the school since I have been a slacker, and try and teach and encourage some mamas to cook with solar cookers instead of firewood. The dispensary renovations should be happening soon as I’m told the money will be coming in about 2 weeks….we’ll see, but I’m hopeful.
I’ve put more pictures up on Facebook in the Far Far Away album, check them out and enjoy! xoxo