Tuesday, January 1, 2008

From Kitui to Bande

Hamjambo! I can't believe it has been about 5 weeks since I have last written. I will go ahead and warn you that this will be a long e-mail. I actually made a short list of things to cover so that I wouldn't forget any good stories. I have been doing really well... I have fully recovered from my little hospital visit and returned back to Kitui to finish training. I had just 3 weeks of training left after future site visit and then we had swearing in ceremony. Before swearing in I had to pass my Kiswahili test... I scored intermediate low which was the requirement! Ninajua kiswahili kidogo. (I know a little Kiswahili). Kweli – really. There were some in my group who didn't pass and will have to retest at In-Service Training in April.
So, Thanksgiving was definitely different this year. I was on the Thanksgiving Committee which helped plan out our festivities. We also held host-family appreciation on Thanksgiving day so we found ourselves trying to plan for enough turkey and mashed potatoes for 150 people. There are some things that I will just never take for granted. Such as the ability to go to the supermarket and just purchase a turkey. We sat down as a committee and thought- "okay, so do any of us know someone who keeps turkeys and if yes, would they be willing to slaughter them for us?" If a Kenyan does have a turkey (bata mzinga in Kiswahili) it is usually just as a pet, and not to eat. Luckily we were able to purchase 4 huge turkeys and I was a little surprised when they were brought to me with the feet still on. I definitely laughed a lot and the other cooks in the kitchen (Kenyans) were laughing at my response to the feet. I just forgot that they see the feet as one of the best parts of both turkeys and chickens, so why cut them off? I would say we had a successful Thanksgiving with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, apple and pumpkin pies, and green bean casserole. We just had to plan ahead and have some things delivered from Nairobi (such as pumpkin to make the pie from scratch) because they can only be found there. It definitely wasn't the typical American Thanksgiving, no pilgrim salt and pepper shakers or Thanksgiving decorations, but it definitely was exciting to celebrate.
The swearing in ceremony was memorable – but not because it was interesting. The ceremony was a very typical Kenyan ceremony where people talked for 30 minutes and we had no idea what they were trying to say. It was neat to have a representative from the US Embassy there as well as some from the Kenyan government.
After swearing in we went to Nairobi to depart to our sites from there. There are 4 of the new volunteers that live near me in Migori. I actually stay in a village called Bande, but Migori is the closest city to me. It is a good size with everything you need, and if Migori doesn't have it then you can take a quick matatu ride to Kisii where there is a Nakumatt, just 1 hour away. So, the ride to site was adventurous. Peace Corps advises us to not travel at night but when we went to buy bus tickets there were only tickets available on the night bus. We definitely needed to take the bus because it was the easiest way to travel with all of bags. Our bus was supposed to leave at 9:30pm , but of course we weren't ready to roll out until 11:30pm. We drove for about 5 minutes and then realized that we were stopped and people were unloading. Us 4 mzungos were sitting at the back of the bus completely clueless about what was going on until we heard that the bus was on fire and the cabin started to fill with smoke. It was then a mad scramble to get our stuff off the bus as I had visions of the movie Speed where the bus explodes. Needless to say we got all of our stuff off and the bus didn't explode or anything, but we did end up sitting on the sidewalk in downtown Nairobi at 12:00am in the morning waiting for the next bus to arrive. We ended up making it to Migori at about 10am the next day. So, we all learned our lesson and have vowed to never take the night bus again.
I have enjoyed getting settled in to my nice, VERY remote home in Bande. The market day in the village is on Wednesday and I went last Wednesday to try and buy some vegetables. I found that there are very few people in my community that actually speak English or Kiswahili. My village is so rural that most people only know Kijiluo- the mother tongue of the Luo tribe. I am going to try to get some lessons to begin learning Kijiluo so that I can communicate better with my community. My school doesn't actually begin until January 8th, so I am just using this time to get my place organized. My first week at site was... rough. I didn't have anything in my house, so I tried to get what I could in Migori before going to site. Unfortunately I couldn't purchase a gas tank or table top gas stove, so I went with just a charcoal stove. I found that the charcoal takes at least 30 minutes to light, so I quickly gave up on lighting it. My neighbor realized that I wasn't lighting my stove and decided to invite me for supper a few nights. She has been a real blessing (she is another teacher at my school) and has helped me so much already. I did make a pretty nasty meal of lentils and rice as my first meal on my charcoal stove – definitely room for improvement. I decided I hit an all time low when I ate 2 pieces of stale bread for breakfast one morning. I now have my gas burners and am loving them! Cooking is so much easier. I have also spent a lot of time cleaning, sweeping every day and mopping every few days. I wash dishes every morning and have become quite good at making a small amount of water go far. My neighbor has 3 beautiful kids who have helped me fetch water... I am not very good at balancing water on my head yet ( I tried it and ended up quite wet). I did some decorating this past week and put up a lot of pictures from home and it is definitely making my house feel a lot more "homey."
I purchased a bike and had a great time taking it out on a ride. The view is beautiful as I am biking down hill and can see Lake Victoria just ahead. I will say that I thought my legs were going to fall off as I rode home up hill. I will definitely develop awesome leg muscles if I continue riding. I am hoping to eventually ride to Migori one day, which is about 40 miles. I'll let you know when that happens....
My neighbor Jane came over one night to check on me and tell me that I needed to finish cooking inside because wizards come out at night. She told me that there are these wizards, also called nightrunners, who begin to do their exercise naked around the pond at about 6pm and then run around at night with hippos, crocodiles, and hyenas disturbing people at night. She says that they will throw rocks on your roof for fun but that you can never know who they are. If they catch you then they will make you dumb and unable to talk and you will follow them. In my mind I'm thinking- "what? You have got to be kidding me," but she was completely serious. I asked around about these wizards and everyone has told me their personal stories of them. Jane and I went for a walk yesterday and she pointed out some huts where wizards live... she made sure that I wouldn't share with anyone where they lived because then they might get me. I definitely find this hysterical... but I'll be honest, I am staying inside at night. Jane also told me about the witchdoctors here and their bewitching power. She told me that these witchdoctors can put spells on people so that bad things happen to them. Probably the most amusing was the story of the charm a wife can put on her husband so that he doesn't cheat on her. The witchdoctor has some sort of charm so that if your husband cheats on you with another woman, then he will actually get stuck together with the other woman. Jane said this actually happened to some people and that it was on the news and everything. I was just hysterically laughing and said that she must be joking, but she insisted that it was true. She also told me they have some sort of charm that will make you bullet proof... sounds like a big scam to me.
If you are still reading this then I applaud you for making it this far. I definitely have more to update you on, but will do that later as I don't want to bore you anymore! I will be spending Christmas with about 7 other Volunteers at a resort in Kisumu. It should be a good time! It definitely won't be the same without the ridiculous decorations, Starbucks holiday drinks, or cold weather, but should be fun anyway. I will let you know how Christmas and New Years were in my next update. I will be spending New Years with the family that owns the property that my friend Andrea lives on. They say that the big holiday here is New Years, so it should be fun to see how they celebrate.
Congratulations to all of my friends who just graduated!
If you get a chance to drop me a line, even just one sentence, I would love to hear from you and know what you are doing for the holidays. Best wishes to you all!
Love and miss you all - Diana

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