When enough is enough

last sunset from my Kisumu apartment

I thought I’d share my journal entry from the day I arrived to Kisumu. it could be rather therapeutic to take this thing full circle, so that I can tie this volunteer experience in a nice, neat bow.

June 12, 2010

I arrived to Kisumu today. there is nothing to do here except go to grocery stores. there’s a pool apparently, and I saw a movie theatre. tomorrow I will try to muster the courage to go to work on the back of a bicycle. hmm. we’ll see how that goes. I only felt lonely about 10 times and scared only 2 times. the place I am staying is ok. I don’t know how to close the windows.

brilliant, right? it keeps going:

I was just starting to like DC and I could have spent my summer working out, tanning poolside, relaxing, and making money. instead I am bushing out in the middle of nowhere and NOT making money. what was I thinking? but I had always envisioned doing something like this for myself, and I cannot wait to meet the girls. be brave. just be patient and try.

Kisumu and I only have one day left together. after 7 weeks of working here I realized that people are right when they say change is as good as rest. I feel so refreshed. last year I exhausted myself and my loved ones with my need for support and I just felt lost. I so desperately needed an experience that would allow me an opportunity to start acting like the person I wanted to be… someone who had something of value to give.

I used to be the girl that never said no… anything exciting and I was game… foreign lands, tall dark strangers and last minute adventures were experiences that I let define me. but I feel like I have changed so much during my time here. maybe I haven’t though. maybe I’m just more aware of who I am.

feeling a new kind of connection to myself. it’s a distinct feeling that what I have and what I am is enough. even if that just means that I no longer feel the pain that plagued me last year, the absence of that pain is enough to make me happy. and being comfortable is enough. I no longer need the extreme to make me feel satisfied. (um but trust that I will be on another extreme adventure soon- old habits die hard.)

I had no idea that I could or would feel so at home in this little city with nothing to do, but I do. I didn’t know that I had more to give than just templates and spreadsheets, but I did. I shared knowledge and led strategy sessions and saw that people are very much strengthened by words of encouragement. and I soothed crying naked African babies and fed my friends sweet treats that made them smile. and that’s enough. I am happy.

I have no regrets. in fact, volunteering for this project is probably one of the best and healthiest decisions I’ve made for my life yet. definitely a good start to 26.

oh, and I figured out how to close my windows.

consider this bow perfectly tied.

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I swear this isn’t a food blog.

emily

alright, today I am going to start with an unpleasant truth. but then then I am going to make it delicious.

development work (mostly when you’re in your early 20s and sitting behind a desk in Washington, DC) is sometimes HUGELY unsatisfying. I’ve held countless informational interviews for people who want to get into this field because they think it’s all g-l-a-m-o-r-o-u-s (ooh the flossy, flossy). there are perks for sure, like the travel and the weeks when you’re in the field. but there are also times when I spent days ONLY vetting expense reports. which REALLY sucked. and even when you do the cool work, results are so slight and can take so long to achieve that you may forget what it is you’re really working for.

as with most things worthwhile, development (of a person, a business, or a community) has its ups and down and takes commitment, patience, and a lot of love. so fine, I still love my job.

but how do you manage that day-to-day fluctuation of feeling? what cheers you? me, I like to cook and tend to a garden. there is something so satisfying about making something delicious from scratch, or watering something every day and seeing it bear fruit. and taking a mallet and hammering the crap out of a piece of meat. my mom says it’s like therapy. I love these activities because they provide immediate gratification, something I don’t get to experience at work too often.

well, guess who else uses cooking as an outlet? lovely Emily, my best friend and teacher here. who said herself that her most favorite thing to do, and the thing that she is best at, is cooking. isn’t she lucky? isn’t that what we’re all striving towards?

I wasn’t really expecting to make good friends while I was here, but I got really lucky. anyway, so remember a while back I told you that I enrolled in Emily’s Africuisine for Dummies course? quick refresher of the lesson plan for you forgetful types:

  1. sour porridge
  2. chapattis
  3. mandazi
  4. fried fish, tomato and onion soup and warm kale salad

wellllllll, this weekend I happily graduated. the office kitchen doesn’t allow us to fry (good idea) so Emily hosted me at her place. here are some pics of our labor. and of the delicious results.

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so, I just need everyone to mentally prepare for a Stephanie that is, ahem, a few pounds extra. please pretend that I look fabulous and that I don’t look ANY different at all. seriously. I do plan to get on a psycho workout diet routine the second I hit the west coast, but I don’t have the time nor the willpower to do that here. right now, I’m wayyy too busy stuffing my face with chapattis.

what activity gets you through a less than perfect day? and why?

***special shout out to my girl TLo for sending her recipe “Teresa’s Outrageously Healthy Berry Oatmeal Cookies.” my coworkers and I inhaled these cookies (guilt-free!) AND I was able to use all of my extra dried fruit and oats. more bird killing with stones. love it.

BEYOND paradise

the clock is quickly winding down on my African escapade, and I realized that I have yet to indulge you on one of the best parts of my time here. so go fill up that teacup/beer mug and get in a comfy position on the couch. ‘cause I’m taking you to paradise, baby.

alright, so let’s roll back to the beginning of the summer, shall we? when I was still working a FT job, saying goodbye to my DC life, creating and crossing items off of a 4 page To Do list, and shipping 22 boxes and suitcases to 3 different cities. running on zero sleep, 5 hour energy shots, Derek Brown’s Tease class and starbucks keg stands. consequently looking and feeling STRAIGHT UP crazy. yeah, remember that?

well, in the midst of this hurricane of challenges, the one thing that made it bearable was that I had a little vacation to look forward to. and by little vacation, I actually mean the trip of a lifetime. to Tanzania. specifically, Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar Island.

and now let me introduce you to the co-star of my ultimate adventure vaca. meet Matthias.

matthias

a Pepto-popping Austrian badass living in LA. can usually be found messing with his hair (pre-shave :(). he’s hot, super talented, and my favorite new friend. plus he’s got an accent! he is a cinematographer and photographer by profession, so seriously, enjoy these pictures. he took all of the jaw-dropping ones.

how did this all come together? in a (ground)nut shell, Matatu was wrapping up his playtime work in Jo-burg (filming a Nike Red campaign ad, watch it here) around the exact same time that I was leaving Washington/descending upon Africa, and we agreed that it was the perfect time for well-deserved and much-needed vacations.

and, thanks to my development friends, it took almost no time to plan. in approximately 30 minutes, I had names of drivers and friends, their phone numbers, hotel recs (sorted by location, price points and activities) for the entire trip… AND was put in touch with these people via email. ’twas efficiency at its finest.

looking awkward

so we were off! our plan: to safari/rough it in the crater for a day and then relaxxxxxxxx for a week on the beach. my only requirement of him was to teach me how to use my new camera (Canon 50D with 28-135 mm lens for you curious minds). his only requirement of me was unspoken, but probably along the lines of “try not to look so awkward when I point the camera lens at you.” he succeeded. I, unfortunately, did not.

like all of the great and legendary stories, ours too had a beginning, a middle, and an end. which is how I’ve divided up our trip in this post.

the beginning: death by samosa

we did the crater, all right. saw 3 animals up close and about 600 million far away. we snapped photos of baboons, elephants, lions, zebras, wildebeests, and water buffalos, and really took in what the Serengeti had to offer. was lovely.

actually, in hindsight the only thing rough about the safari was the poison that our driver, Atif, served himself and us for lunch, which at the time of disbursement, he lovingly called “the Box”.

Atif, obviously pre-Box

I kinda think the most interesting part of the crater experience was leaving it. we left the lodge at 6 AM the next morning in order to catch our flight to Zanzibar. and seriously NO ONE felt normal because of Atif’s love Box. if I hadn’t been so jetlagged and weirded out by the communal Pepto bottle being passed amongst our little threesome, I would have expressed a bit more concern about his racing down the scary mountainside in a fog cloud (with therefore zero visibility), his double fisting Pepto Bismol and Red Bull, and the length of his bathroom breaks. but, whatever. i slept through most of the terror and we made it onto the plane with no problems.

the middle: Be still like vegetables. Lay like broccoli.

lounging

we really wanted to discover Zanzibar, so we planned a beach hopping tour that allowed us to dance around the island perimeter, starting in stonetown on the west side, heading to nungwi at the northern tip and finishing up on the east side at the pongwe and matemwe beaches.

but that didn’t really tell you anything, did it? that’s just a geography lesson. so I’m going to try to provide all sensory highlights. you may or may not get some of the references. if you’re curious, just leave a comment and ask!

See

  • Cyan water and isolated beaches
  • sunrises and sunsets so magnificent you started to wonder if you were dreaming
  • 60,000 dolphins on the hunt
  • stonetown’s gangster’s paradise neighborhood (at the cross streets of Fallujah Ave and Rasta Blvd.)
  • dozens of shooting stars

Smell

  • for those who have yet to travel to Africa, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. it has a very distinct odor. it’s like you do your transfer somewhere in Europe and everything is normal. and the second you get to the gate to board your Africa-bound flight, you are shrouded by this smell. Matata likened it to chicken curry. I liken it to body funk. you get to decide for yourself when you go. but I guarantee that you’ll never forget it.
  • nasty hospital smell. more on that later.

Touch

  • sand so soft it would be impossible to tell the difference between that and baking flour
  • BeeZee pinches
  • mosquito bites
  • scratchy henna application

BeeZeehennasuper fine sand

.

Taste

  • grilled shark, squid, octopus, king crab claws, sugarcane juice, the Box, Pepto, baby bananas and Orbit Professional
  • in terms of drink, Zanzibar tasted like Kilimanjaro beer (completely inferior to Tusker), Amarulla over crushed ice and Glenfiddich
  • we went snorkeling in the mnemba atoll, and that tasted like sunscreen, orange slices, rented snorkel gear and a year’s supply of salt water

snorkelfest

shark skewers

Hear

  • a drunk crazy man at a local bar in stonetown offered Matti some slaves (he politely declined)
  • Tiki Top Ten Hits. I guess the radio stations on Z don’t have rights to play the popular hits by the real artists, so they improvise by playing a local artist’s interpretation of these hits, recorded on low quality equipment (imagine hearing “Rude Boy” with a distinct tiki-reggaetone bongo beat)
  • I love making friends, and our first evening we met these adorable British girls so I got to practice my accent all week: “Er, yes, I’m on my gap year and my friend is visiting on HOL-iday.” “the AC is not WHUR-KING. and neither is the telly.”)

but how did Zanzibar make you feel? in a word, LUCKY. this authentic paradise island somehow managed to sizzle with serenity. and it always felt like the whole place belonged just to you.

unfortunately, the last memory of our trip was not of a gorgeous sunset, or sipping pina coladas in oversized baby chairs, or even talking sh*t over a healthy match of Connect 4. nope.

the end. death by mosquito

encouraging hospital waiting room reading material

so everything was fine until we got on our flight back to Nairobi when M started feeling sick and then exhibited ALL of the symptoms of malaria. fever, chills, the works. just like that.

enter our African hospital adventure. I dislike hospitals in general but am unreasonably terrified of non-US ones, so this was truly the antithesis of relaxing and fun. the hospital smell plus the chicken curry smell was enough to turn my stomach. and then having to watch Matats get stuck by a fantastic needle just hours before he was supposed to board his plane for the 30 hour journey home…ugh, I felt so ill that I thought I had malaria, too (but my sickness is hypochondria).

thankfully, test results showed no malaria. apparently he had just picked up a hoochie parasite that wouldn’t shake (figures).

so THAT is where it ends. we toasted our remarkable African adventure over a glass bottle of warm Coke, a piece of not too sweet cake, and 12 different kinds of antibiotics and fever reducers.

last supper

basically, the perfect ending to the perfect trip.

Sweet Taste of Victory

I’m all about increasing efficiency in my life, so when I saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone (a very large stone that I obviously named Stephanie), I took it.

Bird #1) Vincent, our driver, is one of my favorite people in Kisumu. he used to drive the current Prime Minister around and has the craziest stories, i.e.:

me: “you’re such a good driver… you are going so fast on these awful roads and I’m not even scared!” Vincent: “this is not really fast. when I worked for the PM, I used to drive over 200 km/hr (=125 mi/hr) on these same roads while people were shooting at us.”

a few weeks ago he insisted on picking me up from Suba when I could have just as easily taken a Matatu (an over stuffed minivan that I’ve seen dead chickens and children fall out of), so I wanted to bake him thank-you-for-being-so-cool cookies.

Bird #2) I lost a bet a while back and have to send a home-baked good to the winning friend. I wanted to test drive a few recipes [b/c I don’t think my favorite (white peaches, blueberries and ginger cobbler) mails well] and discovered Samoa Blondies. like the girl scout samoa cookies. browned butter, coconut, brown sugar, and LOTS of bittersweet chocolate (still loyal to the self-chopped bars)… aint NOTHING wrong with this recipe.

I made the blondies for Vincent, who happily served as my official judge and taste-tester. he said I could open a restaurant in Kisumu and just sell these. which, to me, rang the sweet bell of success.

so, to my victorious friend who B-E-A-R-l-y defeated me in a super intense Words with Friends match: expect these in your mailbox in about 6-8 months. hope you’ll enjoy them, too. 😛

on a side note, today I made a batch of scones served with homemade jam for everyone at the office… which they loved. but now they’ve demanded that I produce one more cookie/brownie recipe before I leave Kisumu. so…. what you got people!? I need your recipes and suggestions…

pic: introducing my Kenyan fam: from L->R, Vincent, Elizabeth, John, Zachary, Violet, and Pamela.

Hungry lions and white rhinos and perfectly pink flamingos, Oh My!

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at 5:30 AM on Sunday I bolted out of a weird twin-sized bed of this even weirder Chinese hotel I am staying at in order to observe some Big 5 animals waking up in Lake Nakuru National Park. a place I’ve been looking forward to visiting ever since I heard of a country called Kenya.

what I witnessed left me speechless the rest of the day. utterly amazingly freakishly out of this world beautiful. some highlights (have you noticed yet that I like lists?) include:

  • we were 5 feet(!) away from a lion family eating breakfast (dead animal of some sort) and the male lion didn’t like me hanging out of the car. he punished me by staring into my camera lens like he hated me- it was so intense and we were so close that i was literally shaking…
  • my spastic jumping freaked out the flamingos (oops, but I’m not sorry) and for about 5 seconds half of the sky looked like a gauzy strip of pink cotton candy
  • a gigantic sleeping hippo
  • for me, seeing a white rhino is comparable to riding a rainbow-haired unicorn
  • a baboon family lined up in a perfect row down the street? whoa.

a Toni Braxton and Whitney Houston mixed CD served as the soundtrack for my safari, which was actually very nice. we safari’d for 6 hours and then I came back and took a nap.  and then spent the rest of the day looking at my pictures.

what do you think?

Big Love in Kenya

the project subcontracts the day to day facilitation work with the girls to two local organizations. the organization we work with in Suba is called Jiinue, which is Kiswahili for “to uplift”. I’ve actually grown semi-close with two amazing ladies who work for Jiinue, Pamela and Violet.

and what happens when you get a group of 20-something girls together? yeah, you guessed it. we got to talking about love, men, and relationships. is this post starting to sound a little too SATC? if so, just hold on, it’s about to take a turn…

but first, really, how is it that the subject of men ALWAYS comes up in conversations among women… no matter who you are and where in the world you come from? I can’t explain it, but I must admit that I love this little aspect of our sisterhood.

anyway, P, V and I were talking about some of the girls in the project. one had just gotten married, and Vio was talking about how YOUNG she was. like, she still plays in the dirt like a child would. and then Pam said, “well, it’s ok, because she’s not the first wife. her husband already has two others.”

wait, WHAT?!?! come again? poor Pam and Vio had to explain to me that taking additional wives is a very common practice in areas of Kenya. and it was especially high in the two provinces where we work (Nyanza and Western). for me this is near impossible to imagine (I think finding a boyfriend is difficult enough). how do these men keep track of the expenses, the naked roaming babies? are they all on schedules, Big Love-style? and what exactly is the appeal? (especially when cheating/having girlfriends when you’re already married is also very common, even in the urban areas?)

the answer: apparently taking additional wives equates to elevated social status. so, instead of taking exotic vacations, or upgrading from that Toyota to a Mercedes, men here show their wealth and power by taking extra wives. mo’ money, mo’ problems, as far as I’m concerned.

but before I go and judge an entire society, I wonder, are the women are okay with this? in the rural areas, the answer is yes. (I mean, I noticed that many of the girls had identical last names, but I’m naïve and thought they were siblings.)

so now i’m judging, esp. because I have a feeling that this practice must have REALLY negative affects on the girls we are supporting, and well, everyone else, too. a while back, the project director informed me that the HIV rate in the areas we work is 50%. Fifty. Percent. just imagine that. and now they are all sharing husbands? and, hello, did you read my post about how all of the girls are either nursing or popping out more children? and how can they get to adequate health care when some of them have never even been to town?

it’s like a really bad math problem. and I’m overwhelmed.

Pam and Vio were great cultural resources, but this called for some formal research. which was well-timed because July 10 is World Population Day and there is loads of info about this out, cause apparently I’m not the only one concerned. and my hunch was right, this is trouble. here are some stats:

  • The proportion of women in polygynous marriages in Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Coast provinces ranged between 15 and 23 per cent.

  • In polygamous marriages, some women prefer a particular sex and would fight to even out the number of boys and girls with their co-wives, leading to higher fertility rates.

  • In Western and Nyanza Provinces, HIV/Aids spread was common among married people.

  • Women with no or low education and those who are poorest are most likely to live in polygynous marriages.

  • Currently, women in Kenya have an average of 4.6 children.

Polygamy means mutilple spouses; polygny means multiple wives; and polyandry means multiple husbands.

what’s interesting (yet predictable) is that that educated women are less likely to practice polygamy. AND, women with at least secondary education begin sexual activity almost three years later than those with no education. what does this mean? keep more girls in school, and these people have a better chance to get out of poverty. faster, healthier, smarter.

which brings me to my biggest worry about the girls here. don’t get me wrong, I love the Value Girls project and I know that it’s changing lives. but we’re working at the end of the problem, trying to help girls who have already dropped out, who are participating in polygany and who already have multiple children (we don’t ask about HIV). it’s too late for them to go back to school as they have husband schedules, children and now vegetable and chicken farms to keep. and so we help them cope, we hope to educate and empower them through enterprise. but I really wish we could convince those young ones to get back in the classroom, stat.

sigh.

what do YOU think? to my development people out there, care to share any projects (successful or not) that deal with these issues? would love to learn more.

pic: proving that I’m all set for b school (and taken from fellow wordpress blogger via google image search of “mo money, mo problems”)

vaingloriousness

left Busia (and my pride) behind. now in Nakuru for a few days for some safari pleasure and some work, too.

as I was on my evening stroll, getting lost in a new town, someone stopped me and said in a very serious tone, “sexy eyes, nice boobs.”

which may be one of my most favorite compliments EVER. some confidence has been restored, which was sorely needed after that hole situation.

now indulge me, gorgeous sexy friends and family-o-mine: what’s your fave compliment/pickup line that you’ve received (or given)? I KNOW you have some good ones, so don’t make this post stand alone.


pic: one eye and one boob…and I WOULD apologize for the narcissism, but if I don’t use this pic now, when can I ever?