Ciao, Nike…. Bonjour bird fleas?

earlier this week we hosted a day-long field visit from the Nike Foundation… it was a 14 member delegation that included ALL of their executive team from Portland and a few from the DFID offices in London. they flew into the island on two private jets, and we traveled around in a convoy of 8 sparking white land cruisers. the town thought we had the prime minister of Kenya with us… it was quite a scene.

the girls loved the attention and i think it encouraged them to continue growing their enterprises. we were proud, Nike was proud, and their visit definitely spoke to the successes of the project. but I’m glad it’s over.

this week I’m in the office… next week out to Busia to visit the rest of our girls. I have already learned that their hippo problem is miniscule compared to their monkey infestation problem. I’m very seriously considering packing some baby bananas, trying to seduce one, and making it my pet.

and speaking of infestation, my apartment has one, too. welcome to my life, pigeon fleas. (UGH. GROSS. DISGUSTING. FML.) i wasn’t exactly looking for roommates.

let’s all hope that the apartment management understood what I meant when I said that I would appreciate this issue dealt with in a prompt and thorough manner. if they did not, a very b*tchy, mentally unstable stephanie is going to join the Kisumu population.

pic: our breakfast spot (in the Rusinga Highlands) with the Nike champs.


I am one XXXL mosquito bite and have an epic farmer’s tan… but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

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so much happened in my 5 days in the field. I thought a leek detox would give me an opportunity to rest and think about it. instead, I just experienced some fantastic starvation-induced hallucinations. and the only thing I remember thinking about in my delirious state was how much I hated leeks (seriously, who can stomach onion water for breakfast?) or how badly I wished it was magical papaya weekend.

thankfully, now I’m properly nourished (a PB&J has never tasted so good), and ready to share my week in the bush with you. and in an effort to stay organized, I broke this long-ass post into three parts. the beaches (where we work), the girls (who we work with) and the work. I think that makes sense, don’t you agree? good.

the beaches.

there are about 300 girls that we support on the Value Girls project. they are split between two districts, Suba and Busia. this week I was in the Suba district, hanging out with girls at beaches called Olambwe (Oh-LAHM-bway), Kaugege (COW-gay-gay) and Luanda (Loo-AHN-dah).

it takes about 2 hours to drive from Kisumu to the ferry. the ferry is a beautiful 45 minute ride across Lake Victoria. then you’re in Suba, and the beaches are anywhere between 10-40 kilometers away, but on the worst roads I’ve ever been forced to travel. and when we’re talking beaches, there is no sand and tiki torches. no plumbing nor any electricity. it’s more along the lines of metal shed homes and naked African babies roaming the water’s edge.

the girls.

quick demographic profile of the average girl we work with: between 18 to 22 years old, dropped out of school (because lack of money) after primary level 6 or 7, and married with at least 2 children. if they aren’t breastfeeding, they are pregnant. why do they keep getting pregnant? their answer: “there’s not much else to do.” well, i’d say that’s more than fair.  🙂

if not for the project most of the girls would either be housewives or working with fish. and, FYI, the lake is suffering from severe fish shortages making business more competitive, another reason why it’s timely the project is helping the girls develop skills outside of this dwindling industry. so each girl picked one of two different alternative income sources that we support: raising poultry or vegetable farming.

I don’t know anything about raising chicks or vegetables. but oh boy, this week, I learned a few things. and now, I really really really want a chicken run, a small vegetable garden, and a boyfriend with a motorbike… but more on that later.

the work.

to put it mildly, it’s hard in the fields. I don’t know how to describe except to say that whatever we think is hard in the US, it’s at least 100X harder here. because of every reason imaginable. all compacted on each other.

some of the challenges this week:

  • so much drama with these hippos. “when will the fence be done, the cowpiss cowpeas (local vegetable) is already sprouting.” “here is a hippo footprint, we need to pray harder tonight that they do not attack before the fence is done.” “we must hire a nightguard who owns a torch so that he can scare the hippos away.” etc.  P.S. is it just me or does that nightguard job sound like the coolest job ever? and did I mention that they hoe that land themselves with no mechanical ANYTHING? bare hands, shoeless, with a pick, a shovel, and a machete. talk about amazing.
  • monitor lizard massacres on the chicks. these lizards are EVIL. the ladies need to build a good chicken house otherwise these freaky lizards sneak in and kill the chicks (they don’t eat the chickens, they just bite their heads off). they eat the chickens, or bite their heads off. one of the ladies had 9 of her chicks killed this way. it was a really sad/scary murder scene.
  • H2O. the much-anticipated water pump was delivered to the farm while we were there. this thing is AWESOME because it works like a stairmaster, manually pumping water from water source through the hose to the farm. loved working my glutes. but the good water sources are far away. and you know what? vegetable farms need a lot of water. like, A LOT. so, they’re looking into digging wells (again, with just a hoe and a shovel).
  • transportation is a killer (literally). these baby chicks are super delicate and they get stressed out easily. dozens have died on the motorbike ride from the breeders locale to the beaches. cars are better for delivery but very expensive.  the women have to give the chicks all sorts of medicine so that they don’t die from stress. I def. understand why. I rode on a motorbike on the crazy roads and it was super scary for me, too. [at first I was nervous, esp. we got trapped in this herd of cows feeding along the road (they have really sharp horns). but once we started cruising, I just let my hair down… and I’ve never felt so alive! (which btw, little epiphany… who needs $20 Bumble and Bumble sea salt spray? I just need a motorbike.)]

I cannot even describe how rewarding it is to be in the field. I read about the girls and I read about the beaches and I tried to imagine what life is like for them. but it’s the little things that you must experience with all of your senses that make it real. one day in the field teaches you more than 6 months in the office.

right now I am receiving so much more than I am giving. I wasn’t able to contribute much (just revised templates, created a spreadsheet …and gave lots of words of support!) but I will do everything I can to change that in the future… these women deserve the world.

Magical Leek Weekend… Commencer!

this weekend I started my recasting, meaning I’m doing a detox of sorts to try to reset my dials. to give myself an opportunity to clear out the old and start again new, mind and body and soul. I wanted to do this little recalibration exercise a while back but implementing in DC was personally impossible… instead, I prioritized living it up (see previous post) by staying extremely busy on the weekends, going to my favorite restaurants and bars, and I just didn’t have motivation or time to sit still, relax and reflect.

well, now I have good reasons:

  • I have returned to Kisumu from the fields, physically and mentally spent. 13 hour days in the hot sun, thinking, feeling, doing, learning…  I have yet to process it all. so honestly, I wasn’t planning on doing much this weekend anyway.
  • I had to eat at restaurants for every meal and the only thing they serve at the beaches are fish meals that look like this. fish is prepared only one way: twice-fried.  and the side dish is a huge helping of ugali, which is a corn-based mush (fun b/c you eat with your hands) that has the consistency of playdough. while delicious, it also sits in your stomach exactly like playdough would if/when consumed.  my stomach could use a break. also, leeks are really cheap here.
  • this week I met women who struggle to save 50 cents in a week’s time, who need to take loans (with interest) from their friends and group members so that they can feed their children and send them to school every day. after what can only be described as a humbling experience, I thought it would be good to try a more purposeful and simpler way of living, if only to find power in how strong my mind and body can be.

alas, the perfect time to cleanse, reflect and renew.

I already did some research on the detox options out there. I think the one from French Women Don’t Get Fat will work best for me. the theory and the practice align with the way I already think, so it shouldn’t be an entirely new learning process. it also supports the way I actually want to live my life. for example, one of the manifestos is:

…choose your own indulgences and compensations…understand that little things count, both additions and subtractions, and that as an adult everyone is the keeper of her own equilibrium.

a holistic and intuitive approach to diet, health, wellness, and movement make sense to me. I’m not one for counting calories or reps. I really like the idea of grabbing at some skin or looking in the mirror and instinctively knowing that I’ve got to balance/control myself for the rest of the week.  (i.e. no Cadbury for me this week, and hmm an extra 50 squats to lift the booty)

ok so let’s get to the details. the first weekend is supposed to be the most difficult, because I can only eat/drink one thing. Leeks.

here’s the recipe. oh goodness. now I’m wondering if I’m crazy.

Magical Leek Soup
Serves one for the weekend

2 lbs. leeks
Water to cover in a large pot

1. Clean leeks and rinse well to get rid of sand and soil. Cut end of green parts leaving all the white parts plus a suggestion of green. (Reserve the extra greens for soup stock.)
2. Put leeks in large pot and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer with no lid for 20-30 minutes. Pour off the liquid and reserve. Place the leeks in a bowl.

The juice is to be drunk (reheated or room temperature to taste) every 2-3 hours, a cup at a time.
For meals or whenever hungry, have some of the leeks themselves, ½ cup at a time. Drizzle with a few drops of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Season sparingly with salt and pepper. Add chopped parsley if you wish. This will be your nourishment for both days, until Sunday dinner, when you can have a small piece of meat or fish (4 – 6oz.–don’t lose that scale yet!), with two vegetables, steamed with a bit of butter or oil, and a piece of fruit.

sooo, here we go! I’ve already gotta batch of leek water in my glass carafe and I JUST finished my first leek meal. creamy, delish leeky goodness. I’m obvi planning to take it really easy. just a hunch that bunnytreks will get a lot of TLC this weekend, so check back! and if you don’t hear from me for a few days… well, let’s just not go there.

anyone else up for joining me for Leek Week(end)? Liz and I are doing it together, keeping tabs via email and skype. have any of you done a detox before? would love to hear about it!

Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm. -John F. Kennedy

anyone who really knows me knows that I had a hate/hate relationship with DC ever since I moved there at the end of 2005.

why the hate? as with most things, it was mostly personal. it was/is pretty dangerous (and I fell victim to that fact three too many times), the historic brick sidewalks forced me to create a shoe cobbler budget to replace my beautiful heels, it’s obscenely expensive for something I thought just mediocre. and it’s not near any water.

and there are still some things about the city that I will NEVER understand. it is the worst dating city. i wasn’t even single for most of my time there and i still felt my girls’ pain. not only are the majority of the DC manboys barely 5’9, their natural tendency is to be a bit cheap and VERY uninteresting. ok, fine, I know that was a ghastly stereotype, my apologies. to be more diplomatic, miniature type-A manboys aren’t really ummmmmm my kind of people. also (this mostly directed to the lovely Republican femme fatale) do you know there are other ways to accessorize than with a stupid strand of pearls? if yes, then why haven’t you tried it… just to prove me wrong?

anyway, this post is not about bashing DC. ACTUALLY, about 3 months before I moved away, the city surprised me again… because I finally loved it. and because I’ve done my due diligence, i feel like I should share some of my DC favorites.

  1. Derek Brown’s Tease Class at the Atlas studio on H St. i’m in love with a gay man and I don’t care who knows. no one should be able to move their hips like that without expecting fanatical, obsessive, cult-like lusting (Derek, if you’re reading this, come to San Diego. please.)
  2. Obama brought cute girls with style to the city so I got a little envious people watching. before him and his sassy convoy came to town, I just judged. and I was not nice.
  3. during the morning commute, everyone on the metro gets really annoyed and glares when a person even whispers.
  4. weird instrument guy at eastern market. I’ll upload a song of his later for you. it’s a little freaky, but totally intoxicating. Esp. on Sundays when you’re nursing the biggest hangover ever and the music sounds like the sea nymphs’ song that lured sailors to their death (in this case the music man leads you to brunch at tunniclifs which COULD in theory kill you with carbs).
  5. the gibson’s mary traveler. just the thought of that bourbon drink with orange rind and a burnt cinnamon stick makes me blush.
  6. Policy (on Saturday nights, and only with Liz)
  7. my asiannesse is going to come streaming through, but I can’t help it. the cherry blossoms are amazing.
  8. gelato place in Georgetown. good thing that I was introduced to this place just weeks before I left. otherwise i may have needed to custom order the TRX for fat people
  9. proximity to New York (where I think I really SHOULD have been since 2005)
  10. can’t think of another one thing worth mentioning so I’ll list them all here: Good Eats’ sinful shakes, au pair park, kayaking under the Key Bridge, and the fall leaves on the Rock Creek and GW parkways

and i’m missing it now. i’m somewhat relieved that i was able to make DC my own. in fact, i did a lot of growing up and met some people who truly influenced who i am now.

and in the end, when i drove away, i didn’t have any regrets. and that’s all you can ask for, i guess.

for those of you who have visited or lived in the DMV, what do you love? or love to hate?

wet wipes, check. fancy camera, check.

I’m headed to the bush today! for future reference, bush for me means the Lake Victoria beaches in Busia and Suba, where our 300 girls are living and working. the office got together for a quick pre-trip meeting today. some snippets of the dialogue:

“but fencing the land is a major challenge because the hippos keep breaking through it.”

“where will the Nike leadership delegation go to the bathroom after lunch? none of our beaches have a toilet and the closest one is 30 minutes away.” response: “we already told their security detail that they will have to go in the bush.” response to that, “oh, good.”

“Stephanie, you don’t have a problem with dust, do you?”

nope, I don’t. i do, however, have a problem with malaria. oh, well…

wish me luck!

pic: the star of my welcome to Kisumu lunch

He even took the gramophone on safari. Three rifles, supplies for a month, and Mozart. -from “Out of Africa”

today I want to talk about priorities. and by priorities, I mean the material things that I might die if I didn’t have when I travel. after visiting 19 countries (and living in 3), I have happily figured out the bare minimum of what I need to bring to make a house (or hotel, hostel, hut, orphanage, apartment) a home. I do development work, which some people may think means that I’m all peace corps rustic-like and would be perfectly happy camping in the bush with a hot bowl of beans every night of my life. but, that’s not the case (don’t get me wrong, I love local fare. it’s just that I also equally love Gossip Girl). when on the road, I need some creature comforts just like any other. mine just all need to fit into a 50 lbs suitcase. (which BTW, my arm has learned to accurately gauge 50 lbs, give or take a few.)

K, enough. here is my list. Let’s call it “if I forget to pack anything on this SOMEONE will hear me physically beat my head against a wall” list

  1. bikini.
  2. baby wipes. you would be shocked how a quick swipe can mellow a person the F out. (where one uses it is totes personal)
  3. gigantic bag that can go on your shoulder. I like Kipling’s Yuzu large duffel. it won’t rip, it’s lightweight, and actually fits more crap than my trolley can but is considered a handbag. (so you can bring more gummies home, see below)
  4. signature perfume. yes it’s a pain in the neck to bring. but smell is the strongest sense that can help bring you back to yourself. it’s important, trust me.
  5. pillowcase. mine has zoo animals on it.
  6. probiotics. they are your friend. staying regular is crucial esp. when there is a change in diet. i like the acidophilus pearls, can be found on amazon.
  7. tunes and travel speakers. speakers that don’t rely solely on AC (bring or buy some batteries, yo) are moneyyy when you don’t have enough adapters or when you want your music where you want it. this little one from altec lansing is super small but packs amazing sound.
  8. my TRX and tennis shoes. this badass training workout can be done anywhere. I will never leave home without it.
  9. face masks and mani/pedi tools. you will find that you have downtime with nothing to do (i.e. you can’t read anything in the local language, can’t understand anything on TV, and it’s dark outside meaning you can’t leave your place). you’ll be glad you brought tools to primp.
  10. reusable water vessel. b/c I’m concerned about my hydration and yours. having a familiar bottle will help ease this concern.

now, just as important, I created a list for those who wonder what NOT to bring:

  1. candy. I have a major sweet tooth. wish I could CRUSH it but it simply cannot be soothed. one of my favorite parts of traveling  is stocking up at a local grocery store’s candy aisle. if you need chocolate, don’t worry. Bounty’s are the rest of the world’s Mounds bars, and you can find Cadbury almost anywhere. Plus (and most people know this) haribo gummy options are wayyy better abroad. p.s. yesterday, while perusing said aisle, I saw “Obama Gum” that came in two flavors: “strawberry” and “mix”. what do you say, should I try  “mix”?
  2. hand and face cream in your carryon (this only works if you have an extended layover in europe or asia). you can go to town on the samples at the duty free.
  3. crappy clothes (or clothes that don’t make sense). I have learned that looking pulled together esp. when traveling boosts confidence, which always gets you perks one way or another. and while I’m on this subject, get rid of your crappy clothes and the ones that don’t make sense… for GOOD.

so there it is. i’m off to the pool to soak up some african sun. in the meantime, tell me, what do you think is important or not-so when YOU travel?

pic: me and all my crap at the Nairobi airport