Thursday, February 19, 2009

Kwanza and Pickles?!

Pickles, thats right, Pickles. I'll get more to that later. Maybe in the next installment, but there will be pickles mark my words.

Kwanza (first), welcome to my first ever Kenyan blog, or maybe a blog about Kenya. Or whatever. For those whom do not know me, I am Jeff. a twenty-something who likes to use the word “whom”, and I live in Kenya. I know what you are saying, you always were so curious, why Kenya? Why now? Why not then? And the ever popular “I don't feel like any “whom” in particular!”. Just to let you know you are a particular whom, and really now thats more of a statement, isn't it? The answer is a resounding “yes, Jeff, that is most definitely a statement the Whom are making”, but you aren't reading this to revel in me reveling in me agreeing with myself. I'm sure you are looking to learn more about what is like to live in Kenya, or something similar to that line of thinking. Though if you do enjoy reading people agreeing with themselves shoot me an email, I do it 24/7.

Kenya, a land of mystery, beautiful in its subtle complexities and, well, very warm. Thats right, no surprise, its just plain hot. Though thats not all. There are 42(?) tribes that call Kenya home. It is also the home of Swahili culture (well Kenya and Tanzania). It has a rich and interesting history and some of the most (down right) friendly people on the planet. And anyone keeping score at home, the children really like candy. Thats candy - 2 and caster oil – goose egg. Caster oil? I have seen quite a bit of this land at the time this blog has been written. I will be posting pictures showing its charms, of which there are sooo many and occasionally writing out an either dry or interesting history dissertations. It will depend on how you feel about culture and history.

Why Kenya? Well, this is where I elected to go. Currently I am on a two year assignment in Kenya, working as a small business developer. Its not easy, but so far the best most satisfying job I have ever had and Ive only been here since November.

It all started with an early morning plane flight to Pennsylvania. Nov 11th was a very long day. My roommate was a man named Paul, who was from NY. Then I registered, met everyone, and then promptly forgot their names. Not on purpose mind you, that would be rude. All and all a charming first day. The next day didn't end for a day and a half, almost a full two days even. We were shuttled to New York city by bus. The lurid allure of the Jersey Turnpike was at once overwhelming. It was brimming with the flowery New England romance you read about in the books of such authors as say, Stephen King. Until we arrived at our destination. The Big Apple, New York city, what can I say. So I won't. There we all were in a plane bound for Europe. Sure there was night but transatlantic flights don't lend well to sleep. After a 15min nap and several hours of sitting in Amsterdam everyone got on another plane bound for Nairobi.

Skip ahead, skip ahead, skip ahead.

All the intricately beaded wrists pulled back into the open windows from which they suddenly came and we were alone again. The bus was pulling out of the gas station and it was quiet. I felt some what relieved as there are only so many ways to say “No, thanks thought, its a nice necklace, but.. wait no don't drop it in my lap!!! No take it back, I don't want it.” and I didn't want to have to invent any more. Turning down old ladies hockin' tourist souvenirs isn't my style normally but you really had to be there. I felt good, the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro could be seen, its peak still obscured by clouds. At the time coming from Texas, and not dealing with large volcanic mountains every day it seemed to go on forever upward. Eventually the Great Mountain unmasked itself a stunning beauty. We arrived at the city we would call home for the next eight weeks. No one could have known what waited ahead.

What is a PACA tool? It sounds like something to perhaps fix a pipe, or maybe a program for when your computer shows you the blue screen of death. No a PACA tool is a community/business assessment technique. I now have a shinny set of PACA tools in my box. We learned quite a bit in training. During the training period we where paired up with a great Kenyan family. I grew quite close to mine. Spending the evenings talking and joking with them are some of the best memories I have from training. Baba yangu bwana Zackary Mumo na mwalimu. Mama yangu anaitwa Grace, and a great mama at that. Which brings me to kaka nne na dada moja. All wonderful smart as whips and will go places. There will be more entries about them. We stayed up late and talked about most things. American and Kenyan alike. I also got them addicted to chess and thieved a board from my friend (I have not forgotten you Gav, I owe you a brand new board) It was good. Then there were the classes. Rigorous and I really liked my trainers. Thats all I'm going to say on the matter. If you where there you know, if not don't worry. Just know its hard. Going though all this with people will make you thick as thieves who steal chess sets.

The people who join Peace Corps are crazy. Okay, maybe not. I will say they are some of the best people I have met. They all come from different backgrounds, all successful in their own right. Also talk about a friendly (and its been said good looking) group. We quickly got to know each other, in the early days just over conversations about squat toilets. Oh, the glorious choo. After eight weeks of apprehension we traveled to Nairobi to get our assignments. It made me sad to leave Nairobi knowing it would be a very one time before I would see again some of the people who I have grown so very close to.

My assignment is a great one. I am working with a CBO on the coast of Kenya. I am working on developing the small businesses in my town as well as developing my host organization. I will also be spreading information bringing awareness to HIV/AIDS here. I am lucky in the fact I will have a VCT to work with. VCT is a center where they test and council people with HIV and AIDS. This has the potential for some real meaning. Perhaps something very fleeting in life. I enjoy working with my supervisor Bwana Koi and live in a room in a family compound. My landlord Abdallah is great and I enjoy his company as well as the company of the mama (thats what she wants me to call her) and his children. Also other than the many friends I am making in the community I am not far away from other volunteers whom I can share the little differences that make Kenya, well, Kenya.

It is beautiful here and I spend some time many days walking on the beach, eating mango, and enjoying a little quiet smug solitude. Why smug you may ask? Kwa sababu I used to just work a 9-5 I didnt like , just like most everyone else. Now I do this.