I’ve heard African Americans say they’ve come to this incredible continent, Africa, and have a feeling of being at home. I’ve visited several countries all of which I instantly loved and none of which I felt instantly at home.
It has sparked my curiosity of my ethnic background though.
This will not be a sad post, but I want to say this, if you are able to trace your ethnic background to your country/countries of origin that is incredible. To be able to say you’re Greek or Haitian places you in a location and it gives you tradition. It is incredibly painful to be asked where your family is from and only be able to respond with a blank stare, or my most recent coping mechanism of just picking a brown country so I don’t have to say “I don’t know”.
….but when I got to Ethiopia and walked around Addis I kinda had that at home feeling. Not just because people kept coming to me speaking Amharic, well maybe that’s part of it or because it’s a universal thought that Ethiopian women are drop dead gorgeous and I want to be too…well maybe that’s also part of it. I don’t know what it is, we just looked related and I’ve never been to a place where 1/3rd of the country looks like they could be my cousins.
The trip was in celebration of my 29th birthday and I was able to fly in on my actual birthday and might spark a trend of me celebrating my next birthdays on new soils. I went with a couple of my closest friends and fellow volunteers, in physical location and in heart.
It was a trip filled with delicious coffeer, an incredible amount of culture and some luxury. We saw Lucy’s Bones, the Lalibella Rock Churches which I’m pretty sure has made it to one of those wonder of the world lists, climbed the Semein mountain, got amazing and affordable beauty services at Boston Day Spa, visited the Yirhamne Kristos church which is carved out of a cave and is the home of over 500 skeletons of past pilgrims, ate at Ben a Beba restaurant and enjoyed it’s incredible architecture, saw the most amazing shoulder dancing in Bahir Dar and we made friends in every city we went to.
…don’t get me started on the juice. I almost want other countries to call their stuff liquid from fruit or fruit flavored beverage…juice should be reserved for Ethiopia.
I loved it there and I hope life takes me back time and time again.
June 6th marked a year of living in Kenya. The days move slowly but you mature, you become more yourself, you learn at 5 times the pace you would in the comfort of your home country. Lessons have been in abundance. In no particular order here are 12 lessons I’ve learned in year 1.
- You don’t need as much time as you think. Americans are planners; it’s the source of our success and our kryptonite. Deadlines stress and push us. In Kenya I have planned (and I mean from start to finish) district wide events in 2 weeks that probably went as smoothly as it would’ve if I had 6 months. It might be because life moves at a much slower pace but time is no longer my enemy.
- It doesn’t hurt to ask. I casually mentioned wanting to learn how to make the fish at my favorite fish spot. The response “Just let me know when and we’ll schedule time with the chef”. WHAT?!?!
- I am not the moral standard. Our morality and our character is directed by the person we are and our life experience. A different life experience or a different person = a different character or a different set of morals. I get so frustrated when other’s do things I would never dream of doing. Am I alone? And because my friends (my birds of a feather) and I are so similar sometimes it feels like the decisions we know as right are the standard of rationality. It is not.
- There is something worse than loneliness…failure or however you would respond to your biggest fear. Shame. If your morality or character will be called into question don’t do it. That seems like a no brainer but darn the power of instant gratification, it will catch you up some times. Oh yeah there’s an insane story that lead to this one but not enough time has passed for me to share it.
- Sometimes you have to do it for the story. A few weeks ago I bungeed off the Nile. I know, oh woe is me, having the opportunity to bungee in the infamous Nile River. And by me I mean me and Khalil. My big strong friend had to wipe my tears, pump me up and jump with me. A terrified me. He had a lot on his hands. I’ll never do it again but I have an amazing story that I will always hold dear. Proof positive that the most amazing moments in life come from doing the insane (for the story).
- It’s not fair to be a happy receiver and a grumpy giver. 69% of my community lives in poverty. Still they constantly give: chickens, tomatoes, kale, pumpkin, and fruits of all kinds. They give to me so freely. Then someone will ask me for 50Ksh (less than a dollar) and my mind instantly goes to WHAT AM I MADE OF MONEY? When I 1st got to site I made a list everything I gave and everything I received. Not to be lame and keep tabs but to put things in perspective. My received column was always longer. It’s a practice I should continue because our perspective gets skewed with time. This is a very complex issue but I want to be a little more mindful in year 2.
- I am gorgeous. Naturally. And so are you. When I 1st got to site I had a conversation with a guy in my community about cellulite and not wanting it. I don’t know how the conversation ended up there but I remember his response like it was yesterday. His face read confused, not that he didn’t understand my English. He was utterly confused by something that happens naturally would at all change a woman’s beauty. We do that about everything hair length, complexion, stretch marks. I personally agonize over my acne scars. I’m not saying let yourself go or be unhealthy. I’m just saying find the beauty in you and when others compliment you accept it as truth. One of my favorite words in Kiswahili is mrembo it means a beautiful girl and people yell it to get my attention in the streets. I see my flaws but they see my beauty.
- You don’t need a ton of money if you have good taste. I love clothes. That is not a secret. I love expensive things and sometimes I get sad when I see something I want that I can’t afford. It makes me feel like I haven’t “arrived” where I should be in life. In Kenya, and truthfully in America too some of my favorite items cost less than $5. If you have good taste don’t stress about the budget and don’t put yourself down for not being able to afford the labels. You can still kill the whole-entire-game on a budget.
- Slow Down. Take time to relax, to walk, to make crafts. Your worth doesn’t come from the amount of things on your plate. Your worth doesn’t come from the amount of sleep you give up. If you can remove some responsibility and enjoy life your mind, body and soul will appreciate it.
- Do what you want to do. You have more choice in that than you think. Everything is a decision. We say yes and we say no. Stop saying yes to things that make you unhappy. Say yes to new opportunities and challeges even if they’re uncomfortable but if you know a particular thing really makes you miserable stop doing it.
- We aren’t mind readers. People hurt us. Disappoint us. Make us happy. Ruin our lives. Save our lives. No one will know if you don’t tell them. My initial thought was more on the hurtful things people do that we don’t communicate that fuels so much anger within us. No one will know how to change if you don’t communicate. Also, appreciate people when they are fantastic especially your core group that comes through time and time again.
- Don’t answer to a name you don’t like/don’t identify with. It seems to be common in developing countries to have a name for Americans or foreigners. We come from a country where its not ok to identify someone by race and that’s not the norm for a lot of places. Mzungu is the word in Kenya. Its a horrible word. I am an American. I am a foreigner. I don’t respond to this word.
I’m looking forward to year 2. Thanks for taking this journey with me.
The more I live abroad the more I want to live abroad. The adventure and discomfort thrills me, weird to admit but true. Now that I’ve made my confession I’ll also admit that what gets me through is anything that makes me feel close and supported by the people, places and things that I love from home.
I ran across Three Jane’s Map Necklace on a blog crawl, my favorite past time. Just seeing it made me smile. It’s such a cute way to keep home with you no matter where life takes you. Now I’ll admit this is a costly reminder for a volunteer and may remain in my online desires but I still love it enough to share.
In America, my guilty pleasure is reality chef competitions. I could spend hours watching the mastery in these televised kitchens, imagining the way the food tastes, taking notes of things I wanted to personally try and always ending each episode wishing I was a member in the audience.
I see I was dreaming and wishing far too small.
Ashley Palmer Watts, executive chef of London’s renown restaurant “Dinner”, was coming to Kenya and not just Kenya but MY AREA. WHY? To learn about organic fish farming in Kenya. And who is the master of fish farming? ME! Well I’m not I just got caught up in the emotional build up but I’m supervised and partnered with the people who are the masters of fish farming in Kenya.
And like that my dream of sitting in an audience was trumped by my reality of visiting fish farmers, learning more about fishing in the Lake and having a full out celebration with Mama Joyce and her family, Ashley and Farm Africa.
Fish Farmer & Lake Victoria Visit
Dance of the Harvest
Tomato, Potato, Ginger and Tilapia Stew
Grilled Fish on a Bed of Banana Leaves
Duncan: Before and After
Sarah, the closest volunteer to me, has embarked on a really cool project of distributing bed nets and teaching the community about Malaria prevention. I’ve mentioned her in previous posts and I’m linking her blog so you know who I’m talking about.
This past Monday, I attended Sarah’s bed net distribution as an opportunity to meet a new community and yet another location of Odiado Tumaini Association.
In true Kenyan meeting fashion we were 1st given a feast, then brought out to singing and dancing and even encouraged to “get up and shake ourselves”, which we happily obliged.
Oh, but this meeting was special. Sarah and I were both given LIVE chickens. I had heard of other volunteers receiving chickens, so I was hoping that I would also be gifted a chicken or some live animal at some point in my service.
It completely made my day. Meet my little guy.
My baba has assured me that in a few months he will make a tasty meal and since I do plan to partake when that day comes I’ve decided not to name him. Sarah has named her chicken “dinner”…lol
In 3 months though I might be so attached that I won’t be able to make him dinner…we’ll see. He’s so cute.
Site: The location a volunteer works and lives for 2 years after PST.
I found out around week 3 where my site would be…that day was both exciting and terrifying. My packet said I would be in Western Kenya, north of Lake Victoria working with the Madiba Fish Farmers.
Yeah, I went fishing with my dad when I was around 4 (or so I’ve been told) but that’s the extent of knowledge on the matter. Paired with that lack of knowledge on Aquaculture I had also been informed that exchanging sex for fish is a major issue, fish farmers are a group with extremely high HIV/AIDS rates, and there’s an issue with Jiggers. Welp…thanks Marketing degree.
Having been here 1 week…I feel like this site is PERFECT for me. Hopefully I won’t have to retract those words.
The area I live in is beautiful, I’m surrounded by trees and hills and beautiful green area. With time I’ll make sure to share some photos of the area. My supervisor is extremely knowledgeable in Aquaculture and is teaching me tons on fish farming and wants me to assist in training the community on doing Fish farming as a business. (Marketing degree…sorry I doubted you)
I will also be working with the Odiado Tumaini Assoication. Tumaini means HOPE in Kiswahili…if you are missing the irony…in America I am the Marketing Director of The HOPE Scholarship, an organization that awards need based scholarships to HBCU students and with this organization I will do some health related work and business basic trainings in the community.
So yeah…it feels a little divinely orchestrated.
We hit the ground running. Here’s an overview of my week.
- Went to Moody Awori, former VP of Kenya’s, residence to view his fish pond project which my supervisor is managing.
- Met the former VP
- Visited the Ministry of Fisheries and met the officials and toured their demonstration ponds.
- Attended a Malaria net distribution event organized by my closes PCV, Sarah.
- Visited the offices of the:
- District Commissioner
- Public Health Officer
- Deputy Police Officer
- Ministry of Youth Services
- Worked on the presentation my supervisor and I were to give on Fr.
- Attended a Malaria training for Community Health workers
- Market Day (bought a few household things)
- Visited a Peanut Ground Plant/Peanut butter making facility.
- Presented to a Stanford PhD student on Aquaculture…well my supervisor presented on Aquaculture and I presented on the current business climate for fish farmers.
- Visited the former VP’s property to view the new construction of a nursery pond.
- Went on a 3-month follow up visit with a fish farmer in the district to evaluate the growth rate of the fish and make recommendations on feed and pond maintenance.
From Nairobi we made it to Loitokitok, our pre-service training site. Loitokitok is located in Southern Kenya near the Tanzania border and has a beautiful view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
PST is 3 weeks of training crammed into 10 weeks. That’s how it was described in the PC Book I’m reading. Truest words ever written. PST is the craziest time warp. Days seem long but at the end of the 10 weeks it felt like it all happened in 3 days. Reminds me of undergrad.
I’ll quickly run through what PST is comprised of.
Homestay- Each trainee (because at this time we are not considered to be volunteers) is placed with a family. The family’s role is to look after us, teach us how to live the Kenyan way, and to be soundboards and informal teachers of Kiswahili.
Language Training – Groups of 3-4 trainees meet daily for 2-4 hours of language. It’s the most successful language training I’ve ever received. At the end of the 9 weeks I tested at intermediate-mid…I don’t think I could say that after 4 years of Spanish.
Technical Training –We were also among the first groups to start the standardized Peace Corps training, a new thing they’re doing that will make some things standardized in all the PC serving countries. We learned about Malaria, HIV/AIDS, healthy living/daily hygiene practices, water sanitation, we built an improved wood burning stove and a tippy tap hand washing station.
Volunteer Bonding – Frisbee, Mafia, Spirits and Fun.