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.


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”)


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?

On humiliation.

today, we found a safe spot to lunch in Busia. but wait! no reason to fete just yet. why, you ask? because what happens when you take lunch? right. shortly after you also have to use the restroom.

this was bad bad bad.

did I miss the hole? yes. did a little girl have to come check on me because I was taking so long? unfortunately.

am I still smiling from equal parts amusement, humility and the gentle beating of pride? uh huh.

pic: courtesy of google image search “african toilet”… you didn’t actually think I would take a picture of the toilet?

Shoot me. – Love in the Time of Cholera

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we don’t take lunch breaks in Busia. I learned this the hard way. I knew I was with traveling with extreme field people (the type ppl one would expect never takes a lunch break), so yesterday I kept quiet. today, though, when it turned 3 PM and NO ONE had mentioned anything about nourishment, I asked why. the reason why we don’t eat at certain sites is because there was a relatively recent cholera outbreak in the area.

I didn’t even know what cholera WAS ok? the symptoms, how you got it, what to do if you got it… I was lit-erally clueless (and why did it remind me of lit class?) and it seemed so medieval.

lack of food in the hot hot sun + fear of cholera is not good for me. when my blood sugar level drops I easily transform into something close to inhumane.

what this means for you, though, is that I have very little energy for a thoughtful post.

you get pictures instead. and because I am against turning bunnytreks into a photo blog, I added captions. enjoy Busia.

has anyone ever HAD cholera? can i get a vaccine for that?

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. -Desmond Tutu

everyone, meet my heart.

july 4 is a special day for me and my family. my grandma (on my mom’s side) was born on the 4th, and she died on july 4, too. so our whole family tries to get together on this day (which is not so easy as it includes my grandpa, my 8 uncles and aunts, their spouses/significant others, all my cousins, and now our new little generation of nephews… and of course pets, too). so today, i’m missing them. a lot.

here are snapshots of my family during these reunions… some from the 70’s when they first arrived to the US from Vietnam, some from the 80’s when we were all in Little Rock. some from the 90’s (when I had an awesome perm), and a few from more recent times.

much love to my TA clan.