The Cat’s Out of the Bag…

I’m HOME!

A lot has gone on in the past month, but a brief summary to cover the lack of posts (for now) is that I decided to leave Kenya earlier than expected, do a little traveling with my sister who’s studying abroad in Europe, and be home in time for one of my childhood best friends’ wedding. Only a handful of people knew of these plans because the debut at the wedding was a surprise– unbeknownst to the bride, I was secretly coordinating with her mom to still be a bridesmaid!

The main reason I decided to leave early was the lack of funding on the project. While working with K-Rep, I gathered a lot of field experience in the microfinance realm, witnessed the positive impacts on poverty alleviation and became fully aware of the dependency relationship between funding and development work. However in the end, I felt that my hands were tied and the project was at a standstill with no relief from USAID in the foreseeable future (or as long as I had planned to be there). Given those unfortunate circumstances, I decided that it was best for my health, safety and sanity to come home.

I have many notes and entries backlogged in my journal which I plan to still post. Many include some interviews with HIV clients, more stories from the field work and travel tales from cities like Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, Vienna and Krakow.

Once I finally landed in Atlanta on Tuesday (May 10th), I had to lay low at home until this past Friday. That’s when we surprised my friend Ashley at her bridesmaid spa brunch! She was completely shocked to see me when I walked into the room and even more shocked that we had slipped this past her! Seeing the smile on her face and being surrounded by my family and close friends this weekend only revalidated my decision to come home. There are some things that are priceless and I know I would have later regretted missing this big day. Here are a few pictures from the weekend… Ashley looked absolutely stunning and we all had a blast!

Ashley & her bridesmaids at the Rehearsal

drinks after the rehearsal dinner

Introducing Mr & Mrs Korey Burgamy

The Smith party

Party Dress ON: Time to Celebrate!

good to be reunited with old friends

lucked out with a cute wedding date

I know that this will not be my last trip to Africa but probably my last time living there. 🙂 But for now, no more bucket showers, chai tea, cockroaches, mosquito nets, matatus, or street harassment. I *fully* appreciate having unsullied/machine washed clothes, sleeping in A/C, feeling clean and looking presentable again, and having the freedom to do things on my own time. In the past few days, I’ve satisfied many cravings that I had abroad– including cheese, olives, salsa, and exorbitant amounts of coffee. It’s nice to be back in efficiency, familiarity and comfortable surroundings. It’s the minutest things that make the big picture, which I appreciate to the fullest.

For now I’m at home in Georgia, still adjusting back into life, catching up on blog posts, visiting with family and friends and searching for jobs online. I’ll be heading back up to DC soon to continue the search, so if you know of anything, let me know!

More posts to come (but from the comfort of my living room)!

Tylah

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My Buddies at the Fruitstand

 

 

When I’m tired of the usual buttered toast, this is my saving grace…

THE fruitstand

 

On my usual walk to work, I typically see a lot of the same faces on my route. Some are the street children, knowing that I might be giving out some of my extra buttered toast from breakfast; some are the old mama’s, asking for change but greeting me just the same with with a “Jambo!” and toothless grin; some are taxi drivers, “Ride to airport, Miss?” I always reply with a “Not yet.” Then there are the storeowners, withdrawing their metal covers on their storewindows. “Mzungu! Habari ya asubuhi?” (How are the news of the morning?) I return the greeting with “Mzuri sana” (very well) and keep on walking…

my little buddy, Eric

As I approach K-Rep Development, I pass by numerous fruitstands but I usually stop by Eric’s personal establishment. I first chose his stand on a whim, but became a regular after I realized that he was the first to charge me the non-mzungu price. This little guy always has a smile on his face, regardless that he’s on his feet all day long, cutting and selling fruit for passing and dining customers. He knows my usual orders; all I have to do is give the nod and he starts preparing. If it’s the morning, I’m buying ndizi (bananas). 3 for 20 bob (or roughly 25 cents). And if it’s the lunch hour, I’m ordering a fruit salad to go. He cuts the salad right before your eyes and places it in a bag with a toothpick to serve as your utensil. Everything is so fresh, flavorful and CHEAP! Sometimes I like to try to imagine how much I would pay for a salad like this at Whole Foods. The salads are overloaded with lots of thick chunks of mango, papya, pineapple, watermelon, banana and avacado for only 50 bob (or 60 cents). My coworkers laugh at me for picking it up so often. I try to convey to them how wonderful it is to have this as a consistent food option year-round. 

yummy yummy in my tummy

While Eric cuts and prepares, I sit on a row of wooden crates lining the street and converse with other “diners”, but primarily with Peter, a  young shoemaker. Peter makes men’s dress shoes (from scratch) and sells them right on the street. He is out there, cutting, gluing, hammering and sewing his shoes from sun up to sun down. When I sit with him, he likes to ask me all kinds of questions about America and has taken it upon himself to teach me a new Swahili phrase every time I stop by. He’s fun to talk to because all he wants is purely some company. At least being a mzungu, I’m little different from the usual clientele. 🙂

Peter

So these are my young buddies on my sidestreet. They’re out there every day, rain or shine, cutting fruit and constructing shoes. They earn a very minimal living by their small entrepreneur businesses, but really with not a care in the world. They only ask that you stop and sit for a while to chat. It’s the Kenyan way. And when the good news of the day has been reviewed, there will be more tomorrow to discuss among the fresh fruit and shined shoes. Inshallah.

friendship at the fruitstand

Easter weekend is upon us. 88% of Kenya is Christian, while 12% are Muslim (and primarily concentrated in Mombasa and along the coast). The country observes Good Friday and Easter Monday for the holiday, so it’s a 4 day weekend for most. I will be celebrating Easter with a flight into Tanzania– primarily traveling around Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam– with Eugene, another intern, for 5 days. We plan to check out Zanzibar’s Stone Town and do some snorkeling around the island’s reefs and then take the ferry over to Dar to explore the country’s capital.  I’m pretty excited for all the upcoming travel! 😉

Happy Easter everyone! Don’t eat too many chocolate covered bunnies, jellybeans and Peeps. Miss you all.

Tylah

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10 Weeks In!

I’ve been here almost 10 weeks now and I still love going out into the field to see the clients. I’ve also grown rather close with all the K-Rep loan officers. They’ve been great sports because having a mzungu accompany them to the field requires a little more patience. They seem unbothered from the stares and catcalls I get from the streets. They also act as my guardians sometimes. For instance, I get charged a higher fare price in the matatus. Stephen negiotiates our fare before we get in the vans, many times allowing multiple matatus to drive off before someone will accept my fair rate. Both Mohammed and Joel will let me hand my money to them and then they pay for the both of us. If they hand over the money, they will receive the correct change; I am always shortchanged if it comes from me.  I know many times they probably wished I wasn’t there, but at the same time too, I know it’s nice for them to have a buddy in the field and to share their own frustrations.

Quick synopsis of the 4 K-Rep Loan Officers:

1. Mohammed likes to be really hard on me for not knowing enough Kiswahili, but will then turn around and act as one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Everything I ask him is always answered with, “Oookay, no problem”, even when the response makes no sense to the context.

2. Stephen is a man of very few words, which makes him hard to read, whether good or bad. 90% of my trips with him are conducted in complete silence.

3. Shamsa is hilarious, however, I’ve never been able to shadow her since she primarily works in Ukunda in the mornings before heading to the office to finish up paperwork. When we are in the office together, she likes to quiz me about America and our devil-ish ways and I like to nag her about her upcoming wedding (which she dreads) and question how she is possibly still alive in this weather with her long jeans and high heels underneath her boui-boui and ninja-like face drapery.

4. Joel is the playboy and youngster of the group, talking in soft tones and walking with a bit of a swagger. I will never forget the way he explained to me this secret lunch place. It is home-cooked Swahili food from this older lady who cooks at home and sells it from an inconspicuous room above a store front. I would have never known to find her there because she has no signs, only advertising through word of mouth. You never know what she’ll have to offer or what exact times she’ll be there, but it’s super cheap and extremely good. He explained her to me as, “Ehhh! This Ma-Ma’s food is sooo sweet. Ehhh! Trust me. Poa sanaaaaa.” The kid is funny.

So my day in the office usually consists of anywhere of 1-2 hours of everyone greeting each other, drinking chai and reading the newspaper. Then we finally get down to business around 9:30 when I start quizzing them as to where their meetings for the day are located. It all depends on location. If it’s close by as to where we can walk, you’re today’s winner. If it’s just one matatu ride, okay. But if it’s somewhere out in Likoni or Mtongwe, I’ll have to think about it. Traveling to those districts require a ride over the infamous ferry, which I so greatly despise.

Taking the ferry is an experience… you first must take a matatu to the ferry, off-board, and then wait under a large open shelter with hundreds of other Kenyans who are carrying large sacks, selling every non-useful good known to man, consoling screaming babies tied to their backs, or avoiding the blind beggars roaming the crowds for spare change. It’s an interesting spectacle to watch, but I also know from the roaming eyes that I too am considered an interesting observance there. There are two ferries, but the crossing can be held up at any moment for a large tanker passing through in route for the port. Once the ferry is off-loaded with prior load of foot and automobile traffic, the gates of the shelter are opened and everyone starts running to grab a spot on the ferry. Very rarely do you see other wazungus on the ferry; if they are there, they are safely secured on their tour buses down below, watching the chaos from their air conditioned seats. The real ride is amongst the people. On the other side on the ferry, the matatus are even more ravaged than the usual corpse of vans that they typical are… no brake shocks, no interior side paneling, forget any kind of seat padding, and imagine it as all grunge and grime. And somehow I always get stuck in the very back corner where the seats are elevated higher and I am constantly knocking my head on the ceiling. When we approach our destination, I knock on the ceiling, signaling both that I want off and that the other 12 people squeezed in to my path to the sliding door should brace themselves because I’m about to climb over them. Ugh. I dread it, so I try to avoid that area like the plague. However, the Likoni area has a lot of really great groups, so at the end of the day, it makes the torturous commute to the other side of Mombasa a little more tolerable.

braving the matatus

Earlier this week, I accompanied Mohammed out to Likoni to conduct a training for a new group that was forming. It was called the Neema Women’s Group. We met on the front space of a neighborhood clinic, which we shared with a few other ladies who were braiding hair. I observed Mohamed conduct the entire training in Kiswahili, but could pick out words like “accounting”, “balances”, “arrears”, and “payments.” He explained the system of electing a chairman, treasurer and secretary for the group and their responsibilities of recording the minutes and collections. He then went on to explain the importance of maintaining each individual’s passbook (personal checkbook) for their own records. I had asked him prior to the meeting if he would mind serving as a translator so I could personally interview some of the members for additional background information. We were there all afternoon and by the time we left, I felt very hopeful for the group and their aspiring, small scale endeavors.

Neema Women's Group in Likoni

 

Mohammed: Conducting the Training

And yesterday, I accompanied Joel out to Port Reiz, a mental hospital on the far outskirts of Mombasa. We met with a group, comprised of all HIV-infected clients. Of all the groups I’ve met over the past few weeks, I must say that the HIV-infected ones are the best (sadly). They are ALL charismatic, with hearty handshakes, huge smiles, and genuine greetings. It’s deceiving because you would have thought that they had just won the lottery and you were about to deliver them their prizes. They are unperturbed by the smaller bumps in the road and made it a point to explain to me that just because they are infected with HIV, they are NORMAL people living normal and happy lives. These group meetings not only serve as a means to collect savings and loan deposits, but also as an emotional support system for their daily hardships with the medication, treatments and social stigmas. They promised that if I would come back next week, they would have double their present attendance. I couldn’t help but say yes. 🙂

my favorite group so far in Port Reiz

 

Again, I love being in the field and these experiences make all the other frustrations worth it! Signing off for tonight. Sending love from Kenya!

Tylahhhhhh

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My First Hospital Visit

(This post is two weeks overdue, but I didn’t have much patience to hold a netbook in my lap in this sweltering heat while trying to recover from my sickness. Chairs and tables unfortunately do not exist in Swahili homes. I apologize for the lateness and will try to get back on track with posts!)

I did it. I survived my first third-world hospital visit.

Two Mondays ago, I started to feel really run down with an overall sickly feeling.  These feelings progressed from bad to worse and by Thursday night, I was digging through my personal medication stash to see what drugs I packed from the US which could serve as my quick fix. I brought so many medications for diarrhea and luckily hadn’t touched them, but I couldn’t remember what my other drugs were for. I was about to call my dad for his medical opinion when my mom actually called (I think it was that motherly instinct). I understand that I may give her an early death by simply being over here, but after telling her that I wasn’t feeling well and I may go to the hospital in the morning, I really offset the tear fest. I tried to clarify… GOING to the hospital is how people see the doctor here. It’s not like in the US where you only go to the hospital if you think you’re dying. So I understand that as a worried parent, hearing the word “hospital” triggers the most horrific images possible when involving a child. (I’m sorry Mom!)

I started a round of the strongest antibiotics that I brought and tried to fall asleep in the stifling heat, but my symptoms just seemed to get stronger. I was having chest pains, stomach cramping, a burning throat and dizzy spells every time I lifted my head. At some point during the twilight hours and without a wink of sleep yet, I remembered wondering if I could make it until the morning. There was no way I would actually find a tuk-tuk on the street to take me to the hospital at that hour. I remember realizing that I had made it to 5am when I heard the Call to Prayer over the loudspeakers from the nearby mosques. (Thank goodness.)  I continued to lay in bed until I heard Ahlam leave to take Mohamed to school then I darted to take my quick bucket shower and dashed out of the apartment before she returned. I didn’t want more people worrying about me.

I hailed a tuk-tuk and after my driver learned that I was an American, I had to listen to the usual speech of why he should be my Kenyan boyfriend (blah blah blah) and why I should sponsor him to come to the US. I am usually a good sport about these requests, but today was not the day. I probably did the most culturally insensitive thing I could possibly do, but I wanted to end all conversation immediately and for him to simply deliver me to the Aga Khan Hospital without any hassle. Somewhere during his endless schpill, I broke my composure and I yelled, “I have HIV!!” That quickly shut him up and I was dropped off at the Out-Patient Services without any more conversation.

Filling out the paperwork to be seen by the doctor was interesting and it would be an insurance claim’s nightmare. My name was spelled 5 different ways throughout the paperwork: Tyler, Tyla, Tyra, Taylor, Poritany (for Brittany). My host family doesn’t have a street address or a P.O. box so I had no address to list. I didn’t bring any form of identification and couldn’t remember my Passport number. I remember thinking how surreal it was to feel untraceable. (I really was a tall white ghost roaming the streets of Mombasa!) I was asked all the usual questions of “date of birth”, “sex”, and “nationality” but one new question box left me speechless: “Religion?” I blankly stared at the receptionist in astonishment. What?? Can you ask that? I think I paused so long that she probably didn’t believe me when I finally said, “Christian.” Why did that matter? (I later asked Ahlam if Muslims received different treatment or saw different doctors. She said no that she’s seen male doctors before. I’m still curious or maybe I’m too jaded by our overly PC society.)

The doctor went through the usual routine of checking my vitals, family history and weight. I calculated the conversion from kilograms to pounds and flinched when I realized how much weight I had lost. Since I left the States, I had lost roughly 18 lbs, probably 10 of it within the last week since I had no appetite to stomach the local cuisine. The young doctor ordered for a blood test and urine sample. I cringed at the thought of having a needle used on me but my eyes never left the lab assistant as I watched him open the sealed package containing the needle.  New needle. Check. Gloves. Check. Alcohol and cotton swab. Check. Whew. When he handed me the urine cup and pointed to the fill line he needed, I laughed at him. “You want me to give you THAT much?? Do you know how long that’s going to take?” For someone that drinks 3-4 liters of water a day, but only pees once a day due to the excessive heat/sweating, I had already had my daily chance to fill the cup. He laughed at me and said, “Well, start drinking.” Fortunately for me, sitting in the air conditioned waiting room for three hours helped me retain a lot more liquids than I usually lose outside in the heat.

The doctor saw me again after he looked at my lab results. “Low count of this… abnormal count of that… high ratio of something… NO indications of Malaria…” Whew. I didn’t really understand much of his explanations beyond the last part and what he classified as a classic bacterial infection, a common ailment for visiting wazungus. I showed him what antibiotics I had self-prescribed the night before, which he approved of (“These are stronger than most antibiotics we have here.”) and he scribbled down some other drugs for me to pick up from the chemist. The two other drugs I later researched before swallowing were essentially aspirin and acid-reflux medication. Sweet.

All in all, the total visit and drugs cost me 2500 Ksh or roughly $30. Not bad.

self-portrait: death steamed over

The antibiotics worked like magic and a few days later, I knew I was completely healthy when I couldn’t stop thinking about food. I was craving this and that from home and eating exceptionally large portions to make up for lost time. My cheeks regained their color and fullness, my clothes fit again and I was once again able to fall asleep underneath my mosquito net.

You never realize the importance of your health until it’s possibly at jeopardy. Add in a wandering mind while you’re sitting in a waiting room halfway across the world from comfort and assurance. There are some crazy stuff that can go through your head. Trust me, been there, done that. Got the labwork.

More entries to come this week. Missing everyone stateside!!

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Breathe & Reboot

After last week’s lows, I have been determined to turn this week around. On Monday, I shadowed Mohammed into the Sparki community of the Tudor district in Mombasa. We met with a group behind the Tudor Hospital, which is a public hospital for Mombasa’s lower class. The visual setting was a ramshackle of an open warehouse enclosed by dilapidated stone walls with lots of young mothers standing in line to be seen with screaming babies tied to their backs. It gave me the shivers to think what kind of unclean procedures go on in there. I tried not to think about it as we met our group underneath a tree behind the hospital’s facilities. The group was rather large in size and by far, the nicest I’ve met yet. I later learned from Mohammed that the entire group is HIV positive so they are much more patient that other groups with the lack of checks from USAID. They understand that some members have trouble saving or attending meetings, depending on the costs and timing of their treatments. Small marbles in the grand scheme of things, eh? What really kills me were how many mothers were in the group and seeing the children that were there tagging along at the meeting. You wish you could erase the uphill battle they never had a chance to change from the start.

The rest of the day was spent running around here and there which really wiped me out. Weather.com said it was 90 degrees, but felt more like 102. I can vouch for the validity of that statement. I don’t think I had enough water during the day, so when I got home, I could barely stay awake. I laid down to take a nap and slept through dinner and through the night. I forgot to inform Ahlam that I would be leaving extra early the next morning to take a daytrip to Malindi (2.5 hours away) with the K-Rep Director for a regional meeting. However, when I woke up at 6am, the early morning jumble in the apartment only set off more miscommunication. Said was up and in the hallway working with a man to repair the fridge, Ahlam had the bathroom occupied with getting Mohamed ready for school and I was short on time so I had to resort to my common practice when there’s no water of a “baby-wipe shower.” When I told Ahlam that I had to leave in 5 minutes to catch a bus, she was very upset. She thought I was mad at her for “refusing” dinner and now not having time for breakfast. (Breakfast to-go is a very western idea that doesn’t translate here.) To amend her worries, I let her watch me gulp down some very hot chai and stuff my mouth with the buttery toast before I quickly darted for the door.

Since I was already running, it was easy to ward off Reuben who was waiting around the see me when he was supposed to be off work an hour ago. (Creepy.) I hopped on a matatu heading in the direction of Bamburi which would take me to the bus station. Mwiti, the K-Rep Director, was waiting for me at my stop and we found a bus that was nearly full that would depart soon. We arrived in Malindi around 9am and headed to the K-Rep office there where we met Andrew, Ronaldo, and Patience. They were a very young and vibrant group. Andrew didn’t look a day over 12 but he ran the office with a very upbeat attitude. We were there to hear how their clients were doing and the status of their portfolio. This could have been a simple conference call back in the States, but it was nice to experience the old fashioned face time.

Malindi is much smaller than Mombasa and thus much more tribal among the Afrikans and conservative among the Muslims. The stories they shared were completely different experiences from what the loan officers in Mombasa. For instance, one group of illiterate women was set up by Patience, the office manager. Because she was of the same tribe, they trusted her. However, when Andrew went out to visit them to give them a letter concerning their loans, there were issues because he was a descendent of another tribe, thus an outsider. Plus, there was the issue of illeracy and the fact that no one could read Swahili.  Patience had to accompany him to the next meeting so he could earn their trust.

Another group was falling apart because of their lack of peer pressure and willingness to follow the rules. Instead of rotating the responsibility for a different person to deposit the savings and loan payments each week, they had repeatedly given their money to one man who had swindled it himself. Even after he was discovered, they still trusted him with the deposits. Pure stupidity.

Another group of all Muslim women were having an issue of meddling/controling husbands. The lack of checks was not being relayed or received well at home, so a few of the men were attending the meetings to demand funds. This was throwing off the group’s balance and sense of security. Also, when questions of family planning were incorporated into the meeting, one woman received a lashing for answering such personal questions and thus forced to withdraw. Again, this was a much more conservative community than Mombasa but it was interesting to hear other cultural aspects to consider within microfinance.

Our meeting concluded and Andrew and Ronaldo escorted us to the bus station where we said our goodbyes. Mwiti and I had a crazy driver on the way back. I woke up many times to slamming of breaks. Drivers here love to play the game of Chicken on the road; our driver was especially good at it. We also made a lot of extra stops for some of his own personal dealings, which looked pretty shady. Since Mombasa and Malindi are both coastal towns, they are both heavy in drug dealings so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we accompanying some handoffs. Either way, we returned to Mombasa around 3:30pm where Mwiti and I grabbed lunch and discussed politics (Kenyans’ favorite subject!) for what seemed like forever.  I headed straight home in hopes of avoiding Rueben, the overly-friendly night security guard before he started his shift.

When I got home, I asked my dad, Said, to say something to Reuben. I truly want to believe Reuben’s a nice guy who looks after everyone in the neighborhood because he has such a big smile and warm greeting. However, it’s hard for me to ignore the few red flags that I’ve experienced in my few run-ins with him. The fact that he knew where I lived without me showing him, how he once he told me he knew which window was my bedroom’s, and how he was waiting for me the other morning an hour after this 12 hour night shift ended, all had me concerned. I want to believe that a few things were lost in translation and he’s just an overly friendly Kenyan, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Said fulfilled his “Man of the House” duties and reported that it should be taken care of. He even asked some of the neighbors below us and they said the guy was harmless. Whew. Problem solved.

There are a few things I truly miss about the States (not vents, just observations):

  1. The luxury of machine washed/dried clothes. My shirts and skirts are so stretched out from handwashing and line-drying them. And no matter how hard I scrub them, they still never smell or feel clean.
  2. The securities and freedoms I am able to experience as a female. It’s one thing to accept and respect that some people live under certain traditions, but it’s another thing to actually subject yourself to the same ways and feel like you’ve lost all your rights.
  3. The many food options within the restaurants and stores. I never want to consume white bread or chai ever again after this experience. After averaging 5-6 slices of pure nothingness and 4 cups of whole milk and sugar, both will now be on the forbidden list.
  4. The cell phone etiquette. It doesn’t matter if you’re the one giving or attending the presentation, it still baffles me how it is acceptable to answer your cell phone for a full conversation at any time and during anything important. I thought Americans were bad, but boy was I wrong.
  5. Blending in as simply a face in a multicultural crowd. The word mzungu translates into the constant feeling as a white outsider who has lots of free handouts to take advantage of. No I can’t sponsor you to the US and no, I don’t have a million dollars to give you. You always feel like someone’s lying to you, is hassling to sell you something or has ulterior motives. Just leave me alone or give me the straight truth.
  6. Efficiency. Efficiency. Efficiency. I can’t say it enough. We don’t always have it either in the States, but man, it can go a long way. I miss you. My sanity misses you more.
  7. My family, friends and familiarity. Awww… you knew that one was coming. 🙂

Anyway, it’s almost April… I will have completed 8 weeks here on Saturday. Whoo-hoo!! Thinking of you all and hope you’re all doing well.

Tylah

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To Shrug

Last week was a tough week. Mentally, a really tough week. I couldn’t bring myself to post anything because I knew it would be a complete vent with nothing positive.

It started off well. On Monday night, I had dinner with a friend of a friend’s brother who was passing through Mombasa from Nairobi. He brought some of his friends; I brought some of mine. We had a big wazungu dinner at my favorite shwarma place. These boys are planning to build a school in the highlands of Kenya and are also planning a big trip to work their way through Africa, all the way to South Africa. It’s always great to meet fellow travelers and hear their stories.

Tuesday was an exceptionally slow day at work and the catalyst for me starting to feel “off.” I couldn’t put my finger on it but it really had me in a petulant mood. I think some of the contributing factors were due to the too much downtime and my reading references.  I just finished reading “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand and could draw too many similarities between the antagonist themes of the book of capitalism (the US) vs socialism (aid-development in Africa).  Those are very broad generalities for so many philosophies of what the book covers, but it really made me feel angry and stuck in a hopeless situation. It probably also didn’t help that my next book in cue on my kindle was “Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How there is Another Way for Africa” by Dambisa Moyo. I also was experiencing a technology glitch with my cell phone. It was suddenly silent… nothing was sent out; nothing would come in. That threw me into a spiraling cycle of anger at myself for 1) what I had given up at home to be in this living situation 2) for losing control of my own emotions while allowing myself to lose my mind and 3) for thinking I could possibly make a difference in the grand scheme of things. I was also furious at my own hypocrisy for criticizing Africa and their dependence on aid when I felt completely dependent on the little whims of communication to be my daily band-aid. Again, irritable mood doesn’t even begin to describe my state.

I tossed and turned that night, feeling restless. I woke up Wednesday and texted the K-Rep Director that I would not be in because I was ill (ill mood, that is). I sat in an air-conditioned coffeeshop for a little while and then headed to one of the resorts for the day. Some of the other interns joined me later, but I was hiding my tears. I had no idea what they were for but I couldn’t make them stop. Thursday was more of the same… little work and too much time on my hands to overthink everything. Luckily, I did have a small victory with the technology miscommunication so a small part of my sanity was returned. Friday, I had a 10am meeting scheduled with my program director to discuss other options/organizations I could dedicate my time with. Following African time, I showed up at 10:30 and waited two hours in his office, but he never showed. What can you do except tell yourself, “TIA: This Is Africa.”

Friday evening, Eugene, Sara and I decide to check out a movie at the Nyali Cinemax. We only had two choices for movies so we decided to see “Unknown” which ended at 9pm. This was a big deal for me; I hadn’t been out past 8pm the entire time I’ve been here primarily because I don’t like walking the alleyways around my apartment in the dark.  When we went out to the street to negotiate cabs, some of the cinemax’s security guards were yelling at me for trying to get a tuk-tuk (a motorcycle with an attached carriage) to take me back into town. “They will rob you. Unsafe. Unsafe. Take a cab. Here, I’ll help you.” The cab drivers were wanting enormous fares, so I figured they were in cahoots with the security guards. Amid all the yelling from the tuk-tuk driver telling me to get in and the security guards telling me to get in the cab, I hopped in the tuk-tuk. Clutching my bag and my money in hand, it seemed like the longest ride ever back over the bridge into Mombasa. I told the driver to take me to Posta, which is still a 10 minute walk from my apartment, but that’s the only common destination that doesn’t get lost in translation. As we approached Posta, I barely can recognize the place because the entire district is pitch-black. Great, we have another electricity outage. The driver turns to me and asks, “Are you sure here, Madame? I can take you farther.” After much confusion (majority of it was my fault because I was saying “Right. Turn right.” but pointing to the left—hey I was nervous!), he finally drops me off in front of my side street. Again he says, “Are you sure Madame? Are you going to be okay?” as he looks down the dark alley I’m about to walk. “You know we Kenyans are good people. I want to make sure you’ll be okay.” I repetitively thank him with my hands clasped in a prayer motion as I pay the 400 shillings and walk off.  

Walking through the alleys, I can’t see anything beyond the extent of my cell phone’s backlight. I can somewhat depict a group of men ahead of me and I’m not sure if they are talking to me, when I feel someone grab my arm. Before I can even get a scream out, I realize it’s Reuben, a night security guard I befriended a few days earlier. In utter relief that it’s him and no one else, I leap to hug him. He escorts me to my building and I thank him for the chaperon. I feel an immense sigh of relief when I lock both the apartment doors behind me. Ahlam is awake and greets me by candle light, yet has some disturbing news for me. A man (Reuben) came knocking on the door for me today, wanting to come inside. He said that he hadn’t seen me in a couple of days and was worried. The fact that I had never shown Reuben which building I lived until literally just a few minutes ago, had both of us worried. (The roller coaster of emotions never ends…)  Granted Ahlam is very much so a hermit in that she never leaves the house except to go to the market or take little Mohamed to school, so I can understand that the outside world can seem very scary from your enclosed 600sq foot pocket of the world, but she is a local, tried and true, so I have to take heed to her worries and warnings. She tells me that she has been robbed before where she was tied down to the bed while a gang of men, posing as innocent/confused visitors came knocking on her door. She demands that I never speak to him again because he will eventually try to rob me since I am a mzungu. My stomach drops at the thought of possibly putting my host family in any kind of danger and again, the feelings of anger and hopelessness set in.  I’m not going to win at anything this week.

I spent the rest of the weekend from the safety of the apartment with the family or in Nyali with Eugene and Sara, always home before Reuben starts his night shift. A few Skype video sessions help bring me back to a level mindset and I decide that next week will be different.  I’ll deal with everything then and get things back on track. As simple as it seems, I have to remember that we’re all human and that the blessing of human nature is that we have the never-ending opportunity to breathe, reboot and try again.

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Ridiculous Finds

A short post for today but something that’s too funny not to share. Here are a few products that the other interns and I have come across in some of the Kenyan store shelves around town…

Someone should have told Michael Jackson there was an easier solution to skin bleaching…

Skin Lightening Cream

The grass is always greener?

But this one tops it all…

Virginity Soap

Apparantly this product is made in Thailand and promises to tighten and firm like a virgin?? Very disturbing.

I’m sure the FDA would have something to say about these products.

Hope this brightens someone’s day with a laugh! Miss you all.

Tylah

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