Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Time is running out...

My time here in Kenya is really starting to close. It's amazing how fast it's happened and how real its starting to feel. I already miss things about Kenya, and I'm not even gone yet.
My final trip to Kijabe was amazing as usual. It was just really relaxing, spending time with friends and family was the perfect trip to take after being in the crazy city for some time.
Aside from this I've just been working, doing the things that I talked about in my last blog entry. There haven't been many blog-worthy events that have happened since my last blog. Or maybe there have been but it's just clear in my mind now that I'll be home in a week to share the stories with you personally.
The rain has finally hit Nairobi, and rain in the city is insane. Yesterday the streets flooded within a half hour of it raining. Its really good to have the wetness, but it's also good that the rain only lasts a short time because otherwise it would be a COMPLETE mess here if it continuously rained. It just started pouring outside as I am typing this, I do admit that I love hearing and smelling it. Its beautiful when it rains here.
Anyway, tomorrow is my last day of work because Thursday Gabi and Samara (the girls that belong to Mwix and Gideon) have a fashion show at their school and they really want me to go, then Friday and Monday are holidays for Easter, and of course I'll need Tuesday to pack. So tomorrow Nancy and I will go in to Kibera for one last visit.
That's pretty much all I have to report, I'm feeling very very bittersweet about leaving. Of course I'm excited to get home, see all of you, sleep in my bed, eat some onion rings and hamburgers, but at the same time it's really hard to leave a place and people that I love. I'm sure I'll be back, it's just a matter of when.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pole Sana!

I'm so sorry to all of you who have been awaiting my next blog post!! It's been so hard to do it, I'm working almost every day including Saturday, and unable to bring my camera with me, so knowing that I have a lot of typing to do has been hard to get around to when I'm EXHAUSTED at the end of the day. So I'm sorry that I can't share photos with you of the things I've been seeing and doing, and I'm sorry its taken so long!

So, basically my daily routine on most days is walking to the office in the morning. It's about a 45 minute walk (hey dad I'm exercising!) past markets, car washes, and the entrance to Kibera. But I go past the entrance to Kibera a ways to get to the actual office. So I usually do office work, sorting files, sorting receipts, and retyping important documents that haven't been saved anywhere. Then we (Nancy and I) have lunch at the office and then usually head out to Kibera or do other chores around town for Real Stars. Then, I take my 45 minute walk home in the late afternoon.

So when we go to Kibera, we do home visits, catching up with families in the program, whether their actually being sponsored yet or not, and making sure the kids have been doing alright in school, if they've been able to GO to school because of the school fees, and what the parents income is looking like. And it's pretty much always one parent, usually a single mother. Although today I did meet a single father which was a first, I was really curious about his story because I've seen the child's photos everywhere at the office, but it was unfortunately not HIS home visit day, so I didn't ask him many questions.

Other days that we don't go into Kibera, Nancy and I have been running to Uchumi (the supermarket) to get supplies for the monthly packing of food and other home supplies for the families. So I actually spent a couple days measuring out beans and corn and dividing up things like soap, cooking oil, etc. The other day was really tiring because I spent a couple hours measuring out the beans and corn (huge amounts of beans and corn) and when I was finished, after doing the calculations we realized that someone had snuck into the storage room where we were keeping all of this, and stole some of the food. So after all of that work, I had to empty all of the bags of corn and beans back into the big bean bag, and the big corn bag, to see how much had been lost from the original amount. I don't remember the exact number but someone took a pretty big  amount of beans... maybe like 5 families worth, and 1 families worth of corn. It was pretty disappointing, but there's nothing we can do about it now, it could really have been anyone, there's almost always different visitors coming into that building each day. Anyway, that night and the next day I was on the couch and in bed with a sudden cold. Body aches, head ache, soar throat and stuffy nose... I was bummed because for me usually colds last for like 3 weeks... but somehow this morning I woke up feeling 100% so I guess it was just some 24 hour bug.

Today I did more office work in the morning, then went to Kibera to talk with a family. We went really deep into Kibera, the farthest I've gone. I mean, there wasn't many things that were new to my eyes, but walking through there definitely never gets boring. I finally felt comfortable about asking how the people who live there shower, how they go to the bathroom, and how they get their water. For some reason before I was afraid that I would offend someone by asking, but the man who was escorting us around to the woman's home was really into talking about it. So they have a public toilet for probably about... mmmmm I'd say 15 houses, maybe more. And 1 public "shower" for those houses also. The shower is basically like the same room as a toilet room, where they just bring the basin of water and wash themselves. Right after he said this I finally started noticing the toilets, phew! I really started to worry that the river I was walking next to was the sewage! That previous sentence was a joke by the way, because the river I was walking next to WAS the sewage. Having 1 toilet for tons of houses isn't really stopping people from, well, you know.
That brought me to the next question... WHERE do they get their water for goodness sake I could not see one place that had any sign of water. Apparently on the outskirts of the slum there are water tanks that they purchase water from. This made me feel a little better, at least there weren't wells inside of the slum... with those fresh water rivers streaming over them through the beautifully clean mounds of garbage. I wish I was super woman and could just snap my fingers and fix these problems, Kibera is crying out for help in so many ways.

So when we got to the Farah home, we had the usual discussion about school fees, the children's grades, and the mother's income. She sells vegetables at a nearby stand. Every morning she has to buy fresh vegetables to sell, and she buys them for about 500/=, which is equal to roughly $6.00. From that, on a GOOD day, the amount of money she can take home and save is 500/=. Unfortunately, there are hardly ever any good days. On a typical day, she can save 100/=. That's roughly $1.20. Which, obviously, isn't enough to support the 6 children that she has. None of which are sponsored by Real Stars yet. Like I said, there are more than a hundred pending cases, and less than a hundred who are actually being sponsored. We still do home visits to the families that are pending cases, just to stay informed on how they are getting along, and if someone becomes interested in sponsoring them, we can get them up do date.
The Farah children are all extremely good in school, their grades were mostly A's and B's, some C's, which is really really good for kids here. One of the children, Abdi, is 18 and finished 8th grade about 3 years ago. He hasn't been able to continue on to Secondary School, or high school because of their inability to pay for it. I hope that a sponsor will find them and give them the opportunity to go on, as more and more of the kids are nearing the age of having the opportunity to go to Secondary School.

So, it was starting to get late and we had to leave since the walk out of the slum was going to be pretty long, and it's probably not the BEST idea to walk through there when the sun goes down. As we were getting ready to leave... the mother (I feel horrible that I can't remember her name, it was really long and complicated...) did what I dreaded she would do... pour me and Nancy a glass of juice. I watched her make the juice earlier, a little bit of syrup diluted with water... I do not trust that water. So I looked at Nancy and she even looked like, "oh... uh oh" and she whispered, "Kristin, we have to drink it. She's already diluted it and she will be SO offended if we don't take it" I said, "I really shouldn't drink Kibera's water..." she told me how she shouldn't drink it either but, well, we have to so lets do it. Nancy is really great by the way, I love working with her. She's so much fun in so many different ways and we get along really well. Our personalities click perfectly. So anyways, shrugging my shoulders since I had no other choice, I drank that juice as if it were the best thing I'd ever tasted. I mean, it really didn't taste bad and I continued to remind myself that this water didn't come from the river outside. As we were walking outside the house Nancy was just laughing and saying, "Well, now our stomachs are in God's hands, there's nothing more we can do." I agreed, but in the back of my mind was daydreaming about my wonderful Cypro. Until I realized it was all the way back at home and who knows if I'll get there in time for it to save the day. But, I guess we'll just have to find out tomorrow!

I am really hoping that I took it in time though, because on Friday I go back to Kijabe for the weekend to officially say goodbye to everyone. Have you guys noticed how great I am at saying goodbye one time? No? Yeah, well I've learned something about myself, I hate goodbyes. There's nothing good about a goodbye, what a ridiculous name for that ritual. Its a badbye. Or a sadbye.

Lastly, last Thursday and Saturday I went with an American girl Kaylie, who used to live here with Gideon and Mwix but now has her own place right next door, to two different schools that she teaches weekly art classes in. The first one was in the slum called Kawangware. Her curriculum for both schools consists of "traveling the world". So they go to different continents, learn about the cultures in the different countries within that continent. Right now they are in Australia, and this class was in New Zealand, so on Thursday we (well, mostly she since I know nothing about teaching a class of like, 30 to 40 kids...) taught a short lesson on pretty simple things like, what makes a country a country. For example: government, laws, culture, etc. Then we did an art project with them, sand art. So they drew a little design on the front of a card, then put glue over what they drew then sprinkled sand on it, making a nice little sand card.

On Saturday, we went to the slum called Mathare. Here was pretty much the same routine at the beginning of class, but we did a different art project because THIS class was in Fiji. So we did culinary art, which was really fun to do with the kids. We made some sort of Sweet Potato Banana Salad... it was well, sweet potatoes, bananas, and then mixed with a "dressing" made from mayonnaise, curry powder, and garlic. There were also onions and lemon juice mixed in. It was...well, interesting. But the kids had so much fun making it, and it was great to experience it with them. So anyway, I'll be going to Kawangware with Kailey tomorrow again and I'm really not sure what we'll be doing!

So, I'll be going to Kijabe for the weekend for my final badbyes, then I'll start my last full week of this trip that I can't even find a word to describe. It's been the best experience of my life. :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Amazing Mama Faith

Sorry for not blogging for... about a week! During the past week was just my transition from Kijabe to Nairobi. As expected, saying goodbye to my friends and family in Kijabe was really hard. I already miss the people and the atmosphere of Kijabe more than I can even begin to describe on here.
So, I decided to not describe it and wait for my work here in Nairobi to start. Which, it did today.
Rose, who is Mwix's sister, works at Real Stars. Which as I've said before (although so long ago I will just update again) is an organization that sets up sponsorships in the slums in Nairobi. Most of the people working here are social workers, which is the kind of work that I will be doing. A couple days a week I will be in the offices, doing paperwork and updating their website, then a couple days a week I will spend in the slums, doing home visits and talking with the families.
Today, I did a little bit of both. In the morning I spent time on the slowest computer known to man, trying to update their newsletter for 2 months ago. One of the women I work with there, Nancy, just discovered today that it never got posted. So, to sum THAT up, it took about 10 minutes just to highlight the text in order to change the font that decided to constantly change on me. I think it's really good that I've come to help there though, because Nancy doesn't know many tricks on the computer which is why the website doesn't get updated very often. I think that updating this website is crucial, because there are less than 100 kids that they sponsor in the slums today, and more than 100 pending cases. And considering the way our world works these days, the best way to get information to mass amounts of people is through the internet. I can see how Nancy could lose patience (which results in losing interest) in updating their website, but I... being a younger and more involved member of that little thing called the World Wide Web, can swallow the impatience and teach her how to handle it better. So that hopefully she can keep current sponsors up-to-date, along with people who are curious about the organization. So after my computer crashed and I lost all the work I did, it was time to go to the slums (don't worry, tomorrow is a full day in the office so I will recover everything I worked on and get the website up to date... there was just no time today!)
So Nancy, another guy from Germany who's actually leaving tomorrow (forgot his name and I know that if I remembered it I would have no way of knowing how to spell it), and one more older man who was just visiting for the day named Daryl, and I went to Kibera. Kibera is very close to the office so we were able to walk.
It's hard to even begin explaining the affect this place has on you. To be honest, I don't even think I CAN describe it perfectly. The mixture of emotions that pass through you is similar to what I would imagine a spirit or ghost gliding through you must feel like. Its heartbreaking, sometimes scary. But the amount of beauty that lies inside the slums is alarming. I don't just mean the beautiful faces of the young, the old, the tired, the sick, but the true and absolute beauty that is inside the hearts of most of these people. Their kindness and devotion to helping each other leaves me speechless. The fact that these people have the least amount of everything you can imagine but want to share it with others is so intense. For example, the family we met with today is the family of Mama Faith. She has 6 kids of her own, and has taken in 4 others who are orphans. Mama Faith and the children's home is smaller than half the size of my room. Four of the kids are sponsored by Real Stars, but the family struggles to support the other six. Mama Faith said sometimes she has to make the choice between paying for food, or paying for the school fees. Her small amount of income comes from selling Mandazis (basically a doughnut) and peanuts. On weeks that she decides to pay for the school fees, its peanuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. On weeks that she decides to pay for food, the children get chased away from school.
Mama Faith was always smiling. She was constantly giving thanks for every single thing in her life. She served us chai, peanuts, mandazis, and even a plate of beans and corn for us to share. It was impossible for me to take this food, but at the same time it's an insult to deny it. So I took the smallest amount I could of mandazis and peanuts, and one bite of the gathare (the beans and corn).
She talked about how any time she is given anything in life, she must share it with others who need it. "Yes," she says, "I'm in need. But so are my brothers and sisters". She takes in kids off the street, even though she will struggle to support them, she has to help them.
This is the beauty I'm talking about. It's a heartbreaking beauty that I will never forget, and that I'm sure will continue to take me back here.
But, I will also take a moment to focus on the not so beautiful, almost scary sides of the slums. I went completely prepared, carrying no valuables and being on guard. Luckily Nancy was willing to take a camera so we could get some pictures of the family, but for a "Mzungu" like me, its very very unwise to take anything but myself into these areas. In fact, Daryl was in a different slum just last week and him and his group were attacked by 5 men with machetes (called Pengas) and knives and his camera and money were stolen. He wasn't injured at all, but he definitely warned against going there with anything that looks like it could be valuable. All of the locals are also aware of this, Nancy, being a Kenyan, said that the first time she came to Kibera she was completely lost and a group of men realized that she was out of place so they began following her. She immediately noticed and started talking to an old lady as if she knew her, so she avoided a bad situation. So it's really all about going in there aware. This made me slightly freaked out... but only for about 5 minutes. Then this strange thing happened, while I was walking down the dusty, dirty road, as I was thinking somewhat ridiculous things like, "what if that guy came up to me right now and robbed me", "oh that guys looking at me weird", "I just heard 'mzungu!'"! I was overcome with a calm feeling. I felt almost completely at ease, and the next person that said "MZUNGU HOWA YOU?" in what before I would interpret as an almost threatening tone under these circumstances, I said, "Mzuri sana, habari yako?" and he smiled a huge smile and said "Mzuri sana, karibu!" Translation: "Very good, welcome!".
This feeling of ease never left, and while of course I will always be aware of my surroundings and my belongings (the little that I'll ever bring the the slums), I won't let the fear I had for about 5 minutes stop me from the work that I came here to do. I will be careful, my safety is obviously extremely important to me and the people I'm working with, and probably to you, but I assure you... I will be fine. I think I've got a guardian angel on my shoulder these next few weeks :)... or something of the sort...
Mama Faith and a few of the kids

Singing for us

Just a small amount of the large family

Outside the house

I didn't get a photo of the whole of Kibera, but in case some of you don't really know what I'm talking about, I want to post a photo or two that I'll just simply grab off the internet to give you an idea of what this place is like.

Welcome to Kibera, the second largest slum in all of Africa.

There are 13 villages within Kibera

I could go on and on about facts that I'm learning about this particular slum, and I could go on and on about all the different kinds of help that they need, but I will have to save that for another time, perhaps even for when I get home.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Siyiapie... For The Real Last Time, I Think...

So once again, it was great to visit Siyiapei and reunite with some of the best kids in the world. Evelyn didn't tell them that I was coming, so it was a complete surprise for all of them to see me, which was pretty fun. I also enjoyed introducing John to everyone, and it was good that he came with because he's been looking to buy a car, and there's one on the dispensary compound that he saw which is for sale and he got in contact with the person who's selling it, so that's a possibility! And he also took a look at the water pump system at the Children's Home, and they took it apart to look at all the parts and learn how it works, and he's really excited because he took notes and is now able to build the same thing at his own house! He was really excited about that.
Evelyn and her sister then presented me with the gift that they made for me. It's a beautiful hand-made Maasai dress.
My dress, and Evelyn's Sister (the maker of the dress)
All of the designs on the dress are beads stitched into it. I was really grateful for this gift and they were so happy that I was able to go pick it up before I left. They all send their love to my whole family for everything we've done for them, especially to Oma and Opa who have provided the school fees for their nephew Eddie. They once again had tears in their eyes when telling me to pass their love on to you Oma and Opa, they said they wanted to make gifts for me to take to you, "but we don't know their sizes!" they are beyond grateful for what you guys have done. And I am too.

Anyway, while we were relaxing around the Children's Home, the rain began. And when it rains in Siyiapei, it REALLY rains. John and I decided to wait for the rain to pass, so that we didn't have to wait for a matatu in the pouring rain. So after hanging around for an hour, we ended up waiting for a matatu in the pouring rain. We realized we'd be there all night if we kept waiting for the weather to change. I didn't really mind though, for the past week we've had no rain again in Kijabe so it was nice (seeing as I love rain...) to be in it again.
John reviewing the pictures and notes about the water pump.

The old Siyiapian Mzee hiding from the rain

A sight I never used to believe I'd see

Evelyn's son

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wedding Day

The African wedding is beautiful. Of course, it lasts all day... but it's full of dancing, singing, music, and tons of food! Which we were in charge of. We got to watch the ceremony, then all of a sudden we were serving food to hundreds of people, we served for probably about 2 hours straight. After that we had some time to relax, have some sodas, and watch more of the festivities. There's not much to be said about the wedding, but I'll share some photos. We didn't get any while we were serving since... well, we were too busy serving...

Sawa sawa! Iko sawa (translation: okay! its okay)

Before the food frenzy begins...
Fully outfitted

The rest of the crew
Joyce and Sam

My beautiful African mother and I :)

And that, is that.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Winding Down

As my time here in Kijabe is coming to a close, I've just been taking on whatever comes at me that day. Not many plans are being made anymore with John since we've finished all of our projects, so I've just been hanging out around Kijabe doing everyday things that aren't incredibly interesting to blog about. I'm already missing my family here and I haven't even left yet! Joyce and Sam have been asking me every day if I can extend my stay, or just live here forever. They say I'm turning more and more Kenyan each day, with the washing my clothes by hand, not having showered in a SHOWER for 2 months (using a water basin), using a hole in the ground as a toilet, starting to be late to everywhere I go, and not needing to lather myself in sunscreen every hour cracked them up, "Every wazungu that comes here is red! You're Kikuyu!" (which is a tribe here in Kenya).
I've had supper a few nights with some of my dad's residents that are staying here in Kijabe for a little while, and last night I took them to Mama Chiku's for dinner. They really enjoyed it and Joyce and Sam loved meeting some more friends from America. I forgot how overwhelming the amount of food served to you is when you first get here, but they definitely got overwhelmed, they said, "man, we wont have to eat for another 2 days" all I could do was laugh and say, "story of my life..." Joyce, Sam and Kim sure never let me get hungry.
Today I went with John down to Old Kijabe Town and Maai Mahiu to take seeds to the widows that we have previously taken food to, so that they can start planting their shambas for this year.

A brother of one of the widows

So, as my time here comes to a close I will just continue to take it easy around Kijabe. This was the last day of working with John  but I'll still see him a few times before I go. In fact, I got a call today from the matron of the Siyiapei Children's Home, Evelyn... and she says that there is a gift her family has made and I have to go there and claim it before I go to Nairobi. Of course, any excuse I can get to visit the kids again I'll take, I can't ever seem to stay away from them can I? John was with me when I got the call, so he opted to go on Sunday with me, we'll just take the Matatu and it'll just be a day trip.
Tomorrow Joyce is catering a huge wedding in a nearby town called Limuru. I'll be going with to help serve and see the wedding. Today has been filled with many preparations for the meals, speaking of which I'm being called to finish watching them chop up the fresh beef, so I'll have to go now! I hope everyone is doing well, and staying healthy and happy at home! Love and miss you all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Let Him Walk Again....

Yesterday John and I visited a friend of his in Maai Mahiu. He told me that the guy, Steven, was 20 years old. But when I got there and I saw him for the first time, it was impossible to believe. Steven was born with an abnormally large head, filled with fluid (all you doctors out there can help me with the medical term for this condition...). He lived a pretty normal life, the only problem was his head was about 3 sizes too big. He was able to go to school, walk, and function normally. No mental disabilities whatsoever. Some years ago Steven's head developed a blood clot due to all the falls he encountered because of his being so unbalanced. The clot pushed on his brain, disabling his ability to walk and continue growing. He couldn't continue school and was pretty much bedridden. Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to once have been able to walk, then having that seemingly simple skill stripped away from you? Can you imagine thinking you were growing up, when suddenly that development is stopped for good? I can't...

20 yr old Steven, with John
What never ceases to amaze me about almost all Kenyans in general, but especially cases like this, is that I didn't once see Steven without a smile on his face. Which you will notice in all the photos I post. We were at his house nearly all day, and every time I looked at him, he was full of joy. How they keep this mentality, I do not know... but it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

So, Steven had gone to Kijabe Hospital to get the blood clot removed and the doctors informed him that he could someday walk again with physical therapy and practice. But Steven's family can't afford that, he has no father and his mother pretty much abandoned him to prostitution in Maai Mahiu town, so Steven lives with his neighbors. His room is the little space behind him in the photo above. So, yesterday John and I built a wooden rail that Steven can hold on to, in order to practice walking.

Steven, one of the neighbor boys, and me digging the holes for the posts

Finished right in time for the rains to start again
I hope with all that's inside me that Steven will someday walk again, and attempt to live a somewhat normal life. It's already going to be hard enough being 20, 30, 40, or 50 years old stuck inside the body of a 10 year old.