Sunday, November 15, 2009
One of the Sisters is interviewing the SNDs and the volunteers about their various ministries in Kenya. She asked us to describe the ministry. And that was easy: every day I wake up and make the 90 minute to 2 hour commute to the St. Albertos Children's Home and work in the baby wing. Mama Angelica took care of the little babies (under six months) and I would take care of the six month to two year olds. I would tie up the bed nets and wake the everyone up. Then I had to strip the cribs and change the sheets. Then Mama Vivian would give the kids their baths while I got them dressed. After everyone was changed we served our breakfast of porridge. From then on the day consisted of doing dishes and laundry, changing diapers, extra feedings, rocking fussy babies, and playing outside with the older kids.
The other question we were asked for the interview was what developments do you see in this ministry and I had to pause and think about my answer. In terms of finding homes for the children there is rarely improvement. For every child we find a family for, one more makes his or her way to us. It is not like we can work harder and tada there are no more orphans in Kenya. We have to accept that there will always be orphans in Kenya and the needs are greater than any single orphanage can provide. But every day each child has new developments and makes a little progress. The first time Matthew used the toilet was a day to celebrate. And I watched Monica learn to walk. The first time a new arrival manages to cope without screaming all day is a big step forward. Seeing Andrew come out of his shell and actually smile or even laugh every now and then is amazing progress. These things may not seem small and trivial to some people but that is what my work in Kenya was all about. Being there to witness the little milestones in a baby's life and simply loving these abandoned and discarded children.
For a long time I was just thinking about the good stuff that comes with going home: seeing my family, having modern conveniences again, not being gawked at for being white, etc. But I didn't stop to think about what I will miss. I will miss the peacefulness of walking the deserted road into town and the smell of pine and fresh cut flowers. I will miss Sunday brunch with Sue, Tom, and Michael. But mostly I will miss my babies because I worry what will happen to them. Will Kelly get his braces off and be able to walk or will he always be in a wheelchair? Will Monica take to her adoptive family right away or will it take time? Will Child Services find the family that abandoned Mohamed? How long will it be before Mathew forgets me? How many of the infants will live to celebrate their first birthday? I just have to hope that in the future they will be surrounded by people that love them. And although they will not remember me, I will always remember them and I will always love my babies.
So tomorrow I say goodbye to Kenya and get on a plane. It will not be as easy to leave as I thought it would be. Still the thought of what is waiting makes it better.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Saturday morning I went baboon hunting with Michael and his coworker Casey. Less than a mile from home is Malava Forest and while it is not designated as a national forest or anything it has colobus monkeys and baboons. We spent a good hour or two wandering around various trails. Michael took us to the area where he saw them on a previous hunt but alas no baboons. So we finally decided to call it quits and that all we would find were colobus monkeys. But as luck would have it, we came across a police road block. The police officers told us that they had relocated because baboons had taken over the previous site, half a kilometer away. So we walked back down the road and there were twenty or thirty baboons hanging out in the middle of the highway. I picked up some sugar cane and threw it to the baboons, who sat down and started eating away. We were about ten feet away and it was pretty cool.
After the baboon hunt we went back to the Michael and Tom's house for pumpkin soup, made by Jacquelin who does the boys' laundry. Lunch was followed by candy and lots of it. We combined the candy our family and friends sent us and I doubt there was every a larger bag of sugary goodness. Thank you soo much to everyone who contributed. We shared some candy with the kids we knew and after that we were nearly mobbed by the neighborhood children. I put on a Frankenstein mask and chased some of the kids. The looks of sheer terror I got out of that mask made it really feel like Halloween. We finished off the evening with a showing of Gremlins. So that is how you celebrate Halloween, Kenyan style.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
I woke up around 7 am.
I washed my sheets. I soaked them in a bucket with detergent and a splash of bleach and unfortunately it took the color out of my fitted sheet. So then I had to let it sit longer so the color was more uniform.
I burned my garbage but I forgot to take the cap off of a two litre pop bottle. It exploded and the flaming plastic burned my hand.
I went to Kisumu which is about two hours away. After three hours there, I made the two hour ride home.
I went to the Masai Market and bought (more) souvenirs. I think I am officially done buying souvenirs except for tire sandals, which are a must.
I used the ATM and told myself it was the last time I take out money in Kenya. Then I promptly spent half of it on groceries and movies and it is now the second to last time.
I then went home to eat my first meal of the day at 5pm, to fetch some water, and to relax while watching a couple of movies.
So it was just another average Saturday. The crazy thing is next Saturday is Halloween. Then I have two more Saturdays after that before I go home. Where has the time gone?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Then after about two weeks, a women came to the orphanage and said she was Raphael's mother. According to her she "went mad" and was taken to a psychiatric hospital. Two weeks later she was discharged from the hospital and went home to her family. However, when she got home the baby was gone. Her husband is an alcoholic and apparently he did not want to take care of a baby so he just abandoned the baby. She started frantically searching for her son, not even knowing if he was still alive. Eventually a neighbor told her that a baby had been taken to our orphanage. When she arrived at St. Albertos, she didn't know if that baby was he son or not. When she was reunited with Raphael, I could see the relief, joy, regret, and love on her face. She spent the entire day with him. The next day the police released Raphael into his mother's custody and he left the orphanage.
No mother should have to face the pain and anguish of not knowing where her child is or if her baby is even alive. My heart went out to this women, as she described the whole ordeal. Yet at the same time, I worried about Raphael's future. What happens if she is hospitalized again? Will he be neglected by his father again? The police wanted to question the father but he refused to come in for fear of being sent to prison, which I think is exactly what he deserves. When the mother left with Raphael, he took the clothes on his back and we provided a blanket and jacket because he didn't have one. I wondered how many other things this family will do without. Raphael has survived so much in his young life and he will probably have many more obstacles to face in the future. All I can do is wish him well and hope for the best.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
This week at work has been trying. It seems like everyone is sick. Calli has sores in his mouth and they must be very painful because he cries all the time, and after three leg surgeries he is tough as nails. The only one who isn't sick is Raphael and he gets upset when everyone else is crying and joins right in. I love the babies but if tomorrow is as bad as yesterday and today I may go crazy.
Our stove is out of gas. Normally we would just go to the gas station and get a new tank but Malava is completely out. I could ask to use the Sisters' stove but I feel weird about that. So for now I will settle for cold food or take out.
Today it was ridiculously hot, one of those days were the heat feels like a weight pressing down on you. Sitting in a matatu crammed against the hot metal wall and a mother and her five year old was not pleasant, especially since we sat around for half an hour waiting to leave. The funny thing is this morning was cool and it was gorgeous outside. It got me excited about going home and enjoying some nice fall weather (or if I miss that, then the horrible cold).
I have discovered pineapple² juice. It is apple and pineapple juice mixed together and it is supper tasty.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
- Boys wear what we would consider "girl clothes" (pink things, stuff with lace and frills, etc.) In the US it is usually possible to tell whether a baby is a boy or girl strictly by the outfit but not so much in Kenya.
- Babies are put on their stomachs to sleep, even if they can't hold up there heads yet.
- If a child can walk (or sometimes just crawl) he or she can go out unsupervised. Calli and Matthew will disappear for an hour or two and no one seems to know exactly where they are. The good news is that everyone from the children to the teachers to the gatemen know them and look out for them. It still makes me nervous though.
- Toilet training means stop putting the kid in a diaper and hope he learns from the other kids.
- We use cloth diapers and the Mamas wash them out by hand. If that is not love and dedication, I don't know what is.
- There are very few toys at the orphanage so if the children find a rock or a bottle cap or a discarded watch battery it becomes a toy. The children are fiercely protective of their things and when I took away the tiny battery Hillary was putting in his mouth, he started screaming bloody murder. A few of the adults are aware of potential choking hazards but many don't notice or don't care.
- The babies sleep with bed nets, just like adults. However, we still get a lot of malaria.
- The weather gets pretty hot here in the afternoons but the children usually are dressed in three layers. I always feel bad for the babies in sweaters when it is like 80 degrees out. But if I try putting the kids in a short sleeve shirt, the Mamas say they will catch a cold. If the someone is sick, the baby is put in a parka regardless of how much he or she sweats.
- All of the babies food is cooked at the orphanage instead of using jars of baby food. And usually once a week, we serve fresh homemade fruit juice.
- If a child is crying, one sharp word from a Mama or one of the nuns will usually get them to stop, pronto. I don't know their secret but I need to learn it. It has to be some crazy Jedi mind trick.
At the orphanage there are a lot of things that most American parents would cringe at. The children don't have much in the way of material things and they have a lot of free reign. However, everyone has an undeniable love and dedication to the orphans. On the wall of the baby wing it says "We thank the Lord for the opportunity He gave us to serve the abandoned of society." The Sisters and Mamas definitely have that mind set, and so do I.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
It started on my ride to work. I got on a bus and was attacked by about five chickens. These chickens were on the way to the market and were being transported under my seat. Apparently they did not like being tied up and confined in a cramped space because they started flopping around my legs. Then one started pecking at my shoes. It made me nervous that this chicken might miss my shoe and peck at my bare calf. This was the second time I was attacked by chickens on a matatu and I sincerely hope it is the last time.
Then I got to work and it was a hectic day. The day before we got a new baby, Raphael and like most new arrivals he cried almost constantly. I don't blame him for being upset about the strange new surroundings but the crying adds more stress to our day.
We also have a set of twins, whose mother died in childbirth and their father visited on Thursday. This guy was 18, his wife was dead, and he has two infant children. I couldn't help thinking that he looked so young and lost. It could not have been an easy decision but it is fairly common in Kenya for parents who can not care for their children to put them in an orphanage. At one time I would have thought that was wrong, families should stay together period. But my time in Africa has taught me that there are no easy answers. All I know is that this poor guy had the look of someone whose life had changed in the blink of an eye.
All of these things were enough for a bad day, but it got worse. We lost Janaina. One of the nuns took her to the hospital that morning and she passed away in the early afternoon. She had been sick and wasn't eating much but it took me completely by surprise. One day I was feeding her, changing her, holding her, and the next day she is dead. Janaina had such a sweet temperament and she would grin whenever someone talked to her. It is so hard losing a baby and things won't be the same without Janaina.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Cali and Matthew are the only two kids at the orphanage can talk (well in full sentences any way). Whenever anyone walks in the room, Cali likes to shout out their name until they stop and talk to him. Maybe it is because I am the most likely to sit and play with him but I feel like there are days when every two seconds Cali is screaming "Katie, Katie, Katie." Matthew on the other hand never calls me Katie. Don't ask me why but for some strange reason Matty thinks my name is Juliet. Any time he tries to call me Juliet, I tell him my name is Katie and he promptly repeats it. But the next time he wants my attention, I am once more Juliet.
Yesterday was my mom's birthday. In order to talk to her and the rest of my family on Skype, I woke up early this morning (5:30 am Kenya time and 9:30 pm Illinois time). The time difference is a pain in the butt. It is so weird talking to people yesterday when it is today.
I am proud to announce that my heel has finally healed. When Amy and I were walking around the reef, a tiny piece of coral broke off in my heal. It was a small wound but it hurt like the dickens and it took forever to get better. Which makes me wonder if Amy still has her jellyfish sting mark.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
I need your help. On Halloween children in Kenya are deprived of the opportunity to dress up and demand candy. Sue, Michael, Tom, and I are to trying to right this injustice and share the gift of Halloween with countless Kenyans (and by this I mean the dozen or so people who will show up to our party). However, we could not possibly convey the full power and magic of Halloween without candy. So if you want to join in our mission to bring Halloween and the sugar induced coma that follows to the masses here is how you can help: go to the nearest store and buy a bag of candy (or if you have left over Labor Day parade candy that works too), find a manila envelope to put it in, and mail it to us. In as little as two weeks, that candy will travel the 8,000 miles to Kenya and you can take pride in the fact you helped spread the joy of Halloween. Thanks!
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
Tumaini is both an orphanage and a school. Michael teaches English and religion to fourth and fifth graders and today I took over his classes. First we went over the spelling and definition of vocab words. Next we played a spelling game. Then in CRE we read a story about a woman who was jealous of her stepdaughter's beauty and instead of killing the stepdaughter, she mistakenly kills her own child. After that happy story, we moved on to the story of Cain and Abel. During lunch and break periods we got to play games with the kids. It was a fun day.
So I guess this goes to show that things don't always turn out like you plan. At first I felt bad for not being at work but I was planning on visiting Tumaini one of these days. All's well that ends well, right? Tomorrow I just have to make sure I remember my bus fare.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
That brings me to my other news. I have decided to go back to Nigeria in January. This time we have figured out how to work through immigration issues and I will be able to spend the full year in Nigeria. NDMV and CMMB have given me a great opportunity and I am excited to go back.
So I will be home for six weeks. I can not put into words how very excited I am about seeing my friends and family again. Please let me know if and when you want to do something. See you soon!
Love from Africa,
I had so much fun with Amy. It was nice to have a vacation and do all of the touristy things in Kenya. But more importantly, I enjoyed having my sister around. I like having someone to talk to on the matatu or not eating dinner alone. The worst part of living in Africa is that I don't get to see my family, which really sucks. Amy's visit reminded me of how much fun it is to hang out with my sisters and now I can hardly wait to go home and see Becky and Megan too.
Amy, thanks for coming to Kenya. I had soo much fun with you and I miss you already.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Africa is not what I expected. It's not as different and isolated as I thought it would be. For instance people I have seen two Kenyans wearing Northern Illinois University gear. I really wanted to go up to them and say, "hey, I went to school there!" Also it is weird to see cars drive by with pictures of the Obamas on them and hear typical American music on the radio. At the same time, the poverty gets to me when I least expect it. Today when we went to church, the pews were literally pieces of wood made into benches and we complain how uncomfortable the pews can be back home. I am hoping when I come home to continue to appreciate everything in my life for as long as I live.
Monday, September 7, 2009
1. Went on a retreat with my fellow volunteers in Nairobi
2. Ate a burrito. I have gone 9 months without Mexican food and that is much too long.
3. Amy came to Kenya. She is here until the 16th of September and I love hanging out with her.
4. Got kissed by a giraffe. On the lips. I have the pictures to prove it but I am not sure I want people to see them.
5. Went to Carnivore and ate my weight in meat. It was pretty tame but the menu did include ostrich and crocodile.
6. Saw the newest Harry Potter movie. I like the books better but it was nice to sit in an actual movie theatre.
7. Saw baby elephants and a baby rhino that were orphaned. They were so cute.
8. Wandered around aimlessly in Nairobi for most of the afternoon. I think Amy was a little worried we would be lost forever.
9. Went on a safari in Nairobi National Park. We saw zebras, warthogs, impala, buffaloes, giraffes, wildebeest, ostriches, and other animals.
10. Took the night train to Mombasa, on the coast. There were beds in our compartment so we got to sleep. It is a nice way to travel.
11. Went to Fort Jesus, built by the Portuguese in the 17th century
12. Saw the Indian Ocean
13. Took a glass bottom boat ride and went snorkeling on the reefs outside Diani beach
So I had some good times but now it is time to go home.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Now that he is out of the woods, I can think about other things, like vacation. Tomorrow, the other volunteers and I are leaving for Nairobi for a retreat. The best part of this weekend is that Amy is coming to Kenya. She is staying until the 17th of September. We will stay in Nairobi for a few days and then head out to Mombasa on the coast. I'm excited about vacation but I am super excited to see Amy.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Sunday was my turn to make brunch and I made Uncle Robert's chicken, macaroni and cheese, and apple tart. The meal turned out okay but I didn't get to enjoy it because once again malaria struck. So I pushed the food around my plate and tried to ignore the awful body aches. When you have had malaria five times in less than a year, it is easy to recognize the symptoms.
I was planning on going to the Malava hospital first thing Monday morning but the Sisters decided to take me to Mukumu hospital, which is better. We arrived and were told that I couldn't get a malaria test because there was no electricity but I still saw the doctor. The doctor suggested that I take Quinine since the monthly recurrence of malaria suggested that it was drug resistant. I was less than enthusiastic because Quinine sometimes has some nasty side effects and it requires a hospital stay. However they convinced me to do it and I was admitted. The iv proved irksome. It took took a nurse and two doctors eight needle sticks before they finally succeeded in getting an iv in the inside of my wrist, which is not the most comfortable place. I got a drip for four hours, then four hours off, another four hours hooked up to a bottle, four hours to rest again, and a final iv for four more hours. This went on from Monday afternoon until Tuesday early afternoon. Then they need to observe me for another night to make sure I didn't have any complications.
The hospital did not have running water or electricity during the day time, however it came on around 7pm. The hospital doesn't have iv stands so I could not leave my bed. If I wanted to eat or use the bathroom I had to find a nurse to disconnect me (which is not easy when the call button requires electricity). Still, this was one of the nicer hospitals in the area. Everything was clean and the staff was very kind. Nevertheless, I was very happy to leave.
Two nights in the hospital is enough to sour any week. Unfortunately I had bigger concerns.
Monday morning I got a call from Becky, saying that my dad was in the hospital. To make a long story short, he needs major heart surgery. The doctors need to replace part of his aorta and fix two leaky heart valves. Unfortunately, he also has an infection that will postpone the surgery until next week. He is being closely monitored, in case his aneurysm ruptures. One minute we thought he was going to have emergency surgery, the next minute they are telling us he can wait a few days. It has been very stressful and being half way around the world doesn't help. I worry about Dad but I also worry about how Mom is holding up.
Then on top of that Amy is coming to visit Kenya next week. Not that her visiting is in any way a bad thing, I am so excited about seeing her. But I was debating about coming home and she was contemplating cancelling the trip. Dad, being his usual selfless self, told us to enjoy ourselves on vacation. So we are sticking with the status quo, at least for the time being.
I have to wonder at the timing of it all. Why does everything have to hit at the same time? Right now I am just taking life one moment at a time.
I wanted to add a big thank you to everyone who has helped my family in this difficult time: Uncle Brian, Bev, Carol, Meg, Erin, Keith and Patrica, the priests at St. Mary's, and many others. Please continue to keep our family in your prayers.
Love from Africa,
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The oldest baby wing resident is Cali. He is two years old. The most noticeable thing about Cali is that both of his legs are in casts from his thighs to his toes. Cali was born with deformed legs and he had his third surgery in June. However, this does not slow him down one bit. If someone puts him in his crib, he will perch himself on the headboard or flip himself over into the crib next to his (the first time I saw him do this I was certain he was going to break his arms). Cali is also a chatterbox. I have learned most of my Swahili from him and he will parrot my English phrases.
The next oldest would be Matthew, who is 20 months old. He is a sweetheart and I love Matty. He has the most adorable laugh. Like all of the babies at the orphanage, Matthew wears cloth diapers which causes him to waddle. And instead of sucking his thumb, Matthew likes to suck on his middle and ring finger. When Matty does this I can't decide if he looks like he is making the sign for I love you or if he looks like he belongs at a rock concert.
Then there is Monica, who is about a year old. She is in the process of being adopted and is one of the few older girls left. Girls are usually much easier to get adopted in Kenya, because family land is divided between the sons and girls mean an eventual bride price. Monica is a cutie but don't let her small size fool you, she can hold her own against the boys who are almost twice her size.
Next would be Bonaventure, who we like to call Boni. Boni is probably ten months old. Boni is usually very cheerful. The Mamas will sing and even though he doesn't talk, he will sing "Halleluia, ahhh". Boni loves being carried but he hates being put down. So it is best not to pick him up unless you are in it for the long haul or you don't mind listening to screaming. Unfortunately, Boni is sick and in the hospital. We miss him.
After Boni, comes Andrew who is eight months old. Andrew is not the emotional type. He rarely cries and he rarely smiles. When I first started working at the orphanage, Andrew could not sit on his own and I worried that he might be behind developmentally. The good news is that he is catching up and he can sit up now.
Then there is Walter, who we guess is about 6 or 7 months. He arrived about a month ago and for the first week he screamed nonstop. Luckily for our eardrums, he seems to have adjusted to life at the orphanage. When I saw him smile for the first time I was amazed at the transformation. His entire face lights up and his smile reveals two little front teeth.
That is all of our older babies, the ones that can sit and eat solid foods. We also have little newborns.
Victor is two months old. I don't know if he is colicky but he cries more than all the little ones combined.
Dorothy is almost two months old. For the longest time I thought of her as baby Christopher Lloyd because she had these huge eyes and this crazy hair. Luckily she seems to be growing out of that.
Penha is about a month old and is named after Sr. Penha who runs the orphanage.
Janaina is just over a month old. Her twin brother John passed away. I am happy to see that she seems to be thriving.
Mary and Moses are two weeks old and they arrive Monday. Their mother died during childbirth. They look a like and I can only tell them apart by their hair. Mary's hair is straighter but Moses has a full head of curly hair.
Those are my twelve little babies.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I would rather walk through the rain than walk through wet grass.
I have finally found a cat I actually like. The boys have the cutest little kitten. It runs around like Spazzy McGee and Sunday it ate so much that it looked like it had swallowed a tennis ball. The best part about this cat is that I don't seem to be allergic to it. I would think about getting one when I got home, except that (at least according to the internet) it is the world's rarest house cat.
I hate playing minesweeper on my computer but am strangely addicted to it.
I like Wednesdays because I get to sleep in. Most mornings I catch a ride with the Sisters on their way to church but there is Mass at the house on Wednesdays so I have to walk. This means I walk six miles that day, instead of just five but I get to sleep until 7am.
Todays commute home sucked. I got soaked walking to the matatu stand and when I got there I had to take the King Solomon matatu (it has "King Solomon" written on the windshield thus my name for it). The last time I took King Solomon it was weaving dangerously in and out of traffic and six people in a row with three seats. Today it did neither because ten minutes outside of town it gets a flat tire and the jack is broken. Twenty minutes later we got packed into another matatu and there was a ten minute debate about what people should pay. After arriving in Malava I still had a twenty minute walk home in the mud.
The letter m is almost broken on my keyboard. I hit it but it doesn't always work. So I read what I wrote and it says "After arriving in alava I still had a twenty inute walk hoe in the ud." Thank goodness for spell check.
Orange Fanta is now my favorite kind of soda. My entire life coke has been my weakness. Now I strangely find myself drinking orange soda. What is the southern hemisphere doing to me?
John's death reminds me of how fragile life is. I live in a place where there are no guarantees that a baby will survive into adulthood. Today I realized just how attached I get to these children and how vulnerable that leaves me. So I sit here crying for John, that poor abandoned baby and I try to take comfort in the fact that he has found the peace that this world could not give him.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
This week Matthew has been pretty lethargic and when he threw up yesterday morning we knew he was sick. At first the Sisters thought it was malaria but now they suspect it's measles. I thought measles was a thing of the past, like the plague but apparently there has been an outbreak around Kakamega. One of our newborns is spending her second night in the hospital for treatment and now Matty is sick too. Poor babies. Tomorrow we will take Matty to the hospital and all I can do is pray he will be alright.
On a happy note though, Lawrence got adopted today. Richard was adopted last week and a family from Malta is in the process of adopting Monica. Since I began working at the orphanage two children have been adopted but we got five new arrivals. Sometimes it feels like we take one step forward and two steps back when it comes to finding homes for our babies.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Thursday, July 16, 2009
I have taken to wearing shorts under my skirts. Lucky for me too because today Hilary was sitting in my lap and he peed in his pants and on my skirt. It was a lot easier to wash out my skirt because of my trusty shorts.
It was cold enough for me to see my breath on the way to work. I never thought living on the equator would be this cold but then again it is winter time.
Last week I stopped by the boys' house on my way home. Michael was chasing a chicken around with a spatula. Apparently the chicken just wandered in off the street and made itself at home. It even laid an egg on Michael's bed, which I found hilarious. Michael was less amused but at least he got dinner out of the deal.
I have the worst luck when it comes to picking matatus (public transportation in the form of a 15 passenger van). Today I got on a matatu and had to wait 25 minutes for it to leave when full. The other day I was on my way to work when the driver pulled over in the middle of no where to urinate by the side of the road and then take ten minute smoke break. Last Friday Sue and I had lunch in Kakamega and afterwards I got on a matatu back to Malava, while she went to the store. When I got off at the Malava, lo and behold there was Sue. My matatu was so pokey that she beat me back to town.
It was a stressful day at work today because there was only one other adult besides me in the baby wing today. So it was two against ten. We got two more babies this week, one is two weeks old and the other is roughly six months old. The six month old was abandoned in the forest. In Kenya it is relatively common to leave a baby to die in the bush. I try not to judgemental but I find the practice difficult to accept. Most of the time it is a newborn left in the woods, but in this instance someone took care of this boy for six months and then decided to abandon him in the forest. Not surprisingly, this boy is having a hard time adjusting. He seems to cry constantly and even after I rocked him to sleep he would make those hiccuppy gasps a child gets after serious crying. Poor kid.
Hot showers are awesome. I just took one and I think I used the equivalent of three days worth of water in Nigeria but sometimes you just have to splurge.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Love from Africa,
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
I thought it would be wise to learn a couple key Igbo phrases before I left for Nigeria. However, I got on a plane to Kenya without knowing a single Swahili word. So I feel like I have been playing catchup trying to learn Swahili. The other volunteers taught me a couple phrases and the nuns let me borrow a couple phrase books. But most of my vocabulary comes from the orphans, the two and three year olds who can actually talk. All day long I parrot the things Matty and the other children say. Sometimes I repeat the things Mama Nene (who also works in the baby wing) says to the children. In this manner, slowly but surely I am learning Swahili.
One of the first words I learned was shika. My first day at the orphanage Hilary starts pulling hairs out of my head and handing it to the other children, each time saying shika which means to hold or take. I have learned other words at work like kuja which means come here, lala which means to sleep, hakuna which means there is no more/its all gone, kumatema which means eat, and hapana which means no. Learning another language from two and three year olds is not easy. It is hard enough to understand little kids on a good day when we speak the same language. So I am always thrilled when I tell the kids to come here or go to sleep and they actually listen.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
I survived my first week at the orphanage. I now know the morning routine and what to do. I am also getting to know the babies: Andrew is a messy eater, Monika likes to cuddle, and Richard hates taking naps. Still more impressive, I managed to survive the commute to Kakamega. This week I spent about seven hours riding on a matatu (bus) and eight hours walking to and from work. Oh and of course it rained every day on my way home from work.
So things were going really well until Thursday night, when I started experiencing flu like symptoms. On Friday, Sr. Joy and Sue took me to the hospital so I saw the doctor and got started on drugs. Saturday morning, I went back to the lab for the blood test and congratulations it's malaria. I really should have known since this is the fourth time I have had it in six months. Considering one British guy in Kisumu has Swine flu and is now being quarantined with a bunch of other people at their hotel, I got off easy with malaria.
Saturday was the Fourth of July and we celebrated in style at Tom and Michael's place. They had a barbecue complete with hamburgers and hot dogs, cold beer, potato salad, watermelon, french fries, and onion rings. For dessert we enjoyed cookies and ice cream. I wasn't feeling too well but I still had a good time. If only we had fireworks...
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
CO: The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
According to the other volunteers, the Kenyan postal system works pretty well. A letter should arrive in a week or two and padded envelopes only take a little longer.
Monday, June 29, 2009
In some ways it was fun working at the orphanage. The kids are ridiculously cute and who doesn't like rocking babies? Yet in many ways it is depressing work. The youngest baby, who by my guess is probably only a week or maybe two old, was abandoned in the forest. The staff treats the babies with love and kindness but there is only so much they can do. There isn't enough time to give everyone enough attention. Often it is the screaming child who gets picked up while quiet babies like Andrew are left lying in their cribs.
I don't know where I am going to get the energy needed to work at the orphanage. I don't know what is more tiring, chasing two year olds around the courtyard or dealing with a baby who screams every time I tried to put him down. Today we had almost finished feeding everyone, when one baby threw up his entire breakfast all over himself, me, and the floor. That meant changing him for the second time in thirty minutes, cleaning my clothes as best I could, and mopping the floor. Then, as if the work wasn't exhausting enough, there was the commute home. In order to get home (or to work for that matter) I have to take a 40 minute bus ride and then there is a 30 minute walk from the bus stop. Today it was pouring and it took me an hour and forty minutes to get home.
So this job could be very rewarding. Or it could mean a lot of long days. More than likely it will be both.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
I now had an hour to get through immigration and security before the gate closed but the line barely seemed to move at all. My anxiety and nausea kept increasing as I watched the minutes tick past. It did not help that Emmanuel and Sr. Amarachi kept calling to check if I had made it through yet. With ten minutes left, I finally made it to the front of the line. The officer asked to see my passport, boarding pass, and immigration forms. The first two I had ready but it appears in their haste to check me in, I was not given the necessary immigration forms. The officer told me to go back to the check in counter and pick up a form. By this time I was ready to either cry or throw up. The woman took pity on me and assured me that the South African flight crew had just arrived themselves, I would not have to wait in line again, and I would still make my flight. So I ran back to the counter but not a soul was in site. When I finally tracked down an employee, he told me there were no more forms. By this point I felt certain that I was not getting on that plane. Luckily I spotted an employee for another airline and he helped me acquire the form. I jumped to the front of the line, received my exit stamp, and it seemed as if my luck was finally changing. However after going through the metal detectors, an security guard led me off to the side and told me to open my backpack. He then said as calmly as you please, "you pay me 100 US dollars now." Cops seem to be constantly asking people what they will give them, but this is the first time I had ever seen someone demand a certain amount. If it was 20 bucks I probably would have paid right up but 100 bucks is a lot of money for a poor volunteer. So I used the tactic I have seen the Sisters use several times: don't come out and say no, just stall. So I kept telling that man that I didn't understand. The jerk kept repeating "you pay me 100 dollars." It became a battle of wills and five precious minutes later, he finally gave up and told me to go.
After nearly giving myself an ulcer, I finally arrived at the gate at 10:15 to find that they hadn't even started boarding yet. The flight took off an hour and twenty minutes late but I was on it. So that is how twenty four hours after the start of my journey I find myself sitting in Johannesburg typing away. Yesterday was by far my worst day in Nigeria but just writing down all the wahalla has been very therapeutic and I feel much better. I prayed more yesterday than I have in a long time. The Good God must have been listening because it was a miracle I made it on that flight. And eight hours from now, God willing, I will be in Kenya.
Love from a different corner of Africa,
It is not a good idea to fetch water in cargo shorts. The buckets catch on the pockets and then you end up slopping water all over yourself.
I thought living in a convent might be like the Sound of Music, without the nazis. It was nothing like that. Living with nuns was actually a lot of fun.
Malaria is more fun the second and third time.
The part in the Wizard of Oz, where the Wicked Witch starts melting always seemed far fetched to me. After spending time in Nigeria's heat and humidity I think it is entirely plausible that someone could melt.
Murphy's Law is alive and well. Anything that can go wrong, will probably go wrong. This is especially true when it comes to travel in Nigeria.
Pineapples do not grow on trees.
It is acceptable and sometimes necessary to start laughing without knowing why.
Roosters do not crow at dawn. Well, they do but they also crow at all hours of the day and night.
A baby is never too young to be tied on someones back and carried around.
If I had to choose between running water and electricity, I would rather have electricity. Although having both is preferable.
Eating bugs is a crunchy but not all together unpleasant experience.
Just because a cop is looking for a bribe, doesn't mean you have to give one.
Haggling over prices is an art form. It can be a long and frustrating process but in the end it is very rewarding.
The fastest way to tell a goat apart from a sheep is to look at the tail (goat tails point up and sheep tails point down).
During my entire time in Nigeria (not counting the airport) I saw a total of 18 white people. Six of whom were SNDs and four more were other religious. I am relatively young, unmarried, white, and a woman, which made me an especially rare commodity. Now I know what it is like to be the minority. It was fun at times, other times it earned me special treatment, but often times it left me feeling exposed and uncomfortable. In the future I will have more sympathy for anyone who is in the minority, whether because of their gender, race, age, or culture.
Being homesick for a place that is not your home is much worse than being homesick for your home. You can always go home.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
I will be excited about going to Kenya once I arrive. But right now, I am stressed out about the journey and I am depressed about leaving Nigeria. There is something special about Nigeria. The people are open and friendly. There is so much joy, even among the poor and suffering. I have grown to love Awkunanaw, the school, and especially the Sisters. Way back in October at the CMMB orientation, someone asked why we wanted to volunteer overseas. I said something about living in Germany, how I loved experiencing a different culture, and that years later I still get homesick for a place that was never my home. Well I am going to be horribly homesick for Nigeria. I pray that one day God will bring me back to Nigeria.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Thursday, June 18, 2009
This afternoon I went with Ngozi to Zenith and PHB banks, the school has accounts at both banks. I was really struck by the disparity of wealth in Nigeria after going to the bank. Outside PHB there was a half naked boy begging for food, inside men in expensive three piece suits sort wads of cash. And having lived mostly without running water or electricity since January, I sometimes forget what it is like to have luxuries such as air conditioning. But like anywhere in the world, luxuries are always available if you have enough money.
After we left the bank, Ngozi and I headed to Obwayta, the large market. We bought snails, pineapples, and watermelon. We also looked at a few stalls that sold fabric because Ngozi wants to make a new veil. So that was our shopping expedition.
When we got home Franca cooked the snails. Normally, snails are cooked in soup and eaten with swallow but Franca fried the snails instead. The snails were a little chewy but actually pretty tasty. I would eat snails again if I get the chance.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
Location: West Africa vs. East Africa
Area: 923,768 sq km (Ranked 39th largest in the world) vs. 582,650 sq km (Ranked 55th)
Highest point: Chappal Waddi 2,419 m vs. Mount Kenya 5,199 m (2nd Highest in Africa)
Population: 149,229,090 (9th highest in the world and 1st in Africa) vs. 39,002,772 (Ranked 34th)
Population growth rate: 1.999% (Ranked 59th) vs. 2.691% (Ranked 25th)
Urban population: 48% of total population vs. 22% of total population
Infant mortality rate: 94.35 deaths/1,000 live births (Ranked 13th highest) vs. 54.7 deaths/1,000 live births (Ranked 44th)
Life expectancy at birth: 46.94 years (Ranked 212th out of 224) vs. 57.86 years (Ranked 188th)
Total fertility rate: 4.91 children born/woman (Ranked 32nd highest) vs. 4.56 children born/woman (Ranked 38th)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 3.1% (Ranked 23rd highest) vs. 6.7% (Ranked 10th)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: 170,000 (Ranked 3rd highest) vs. 150,000 (Ranked 4th)
Religions: Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, indigenous beliefs 10% vs. Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, Muslim 10%, indigenous beliefs 10%, other 2%
Literacy total population: 68% vs. 85.1%
School life expectancy: 8 years vs. 10 years
Education expenditures: 0.9% of GDP vs. 6.9% of GDP
Independence: 1 October 1960 (from the UK) vs. 12 December 1963 (from the UK)
GDP (purchasing power parity): $338.1 billion (Ranked 35th) vs. $61.83 billion (Ranked: 84th)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $2,300 (Ranked 180th) vs. $1,600 (Ranked 193rd)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 70%, industry: 10%, services: 20% vs. agriculture: 23.8% industry: 16.7% services: 59.5%
Oil - production: 2.352 million bbl/day (Ranked 14th in the world) vs. 0 bbl/day
We made steady progress over the next hour and it was kinda fun. I saw a poisonous spider which Ngozi quickly hacked up. Ngozi saw a reddish brown snake, which is pretty dangerous. Bernadine came out and told me her brother would marry me so I can help in the farm. While taking a break I noticed several blisters on my hand but I went back to work. I now have four of the biggest blisters I have ever seen. The one on my thumb is about the size of a nickel. There is an episode of The Office where Andy shows his blistered hands after hitting a couple thousand golf balls. That is kinda what my hands look like.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thursday, June 11, 2009
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Today the school gave me a going away celebration. Classes finished early at 11:00 and the students gathered outside. As tradition dictates, Sr. Martina, Sr. Ifeoma, and Sr. Helena were then called to be seated at the head table. Then the band and the signals (dancers with flags) led the Chief Celebrant, which was me, to the head table. One of the students gave a speech thanking me for my work. Then the signals came out and preformed. They came and invited me to dance and one boy handed his flags over to me. I was a little hesitant to dance in front of the whole school but it seemed rude to decline and I am accustomed to embarrassing myself. Luckily the Sisters and a few of the cutest little kids joined me soon after so I felt better and it was kinda fun. After that Sr. Martina and Nnamdi, the technology teacher, each gave a short speech. So often I have felt inadequate or unable to do as much as I would like but hearing all of the kind things they said made me feel very loved and appreciated.
After the school celebration finished, there was a staff meeting. Seeing as I will not be at this school two weeks from now and the meeting didn't really pertain to me, I went back home for awhile. When the meeting finished someone called me to come back to school and phase two of the celebration began. The staff wanted to have one last meal with me. Everyone else eat abacha with fish and drank minerals. I was surprised when they served me pizza and Star beer. Apparently Martina searched all over town for a restaurant that made pizza. As we settled down to eat, several teachers wished me well and spoke about what they will remember about working with me. Even some of the people I didn't know very well got up talked and it was then that I realized that most people don't realize the full impact, either positive or negative, their actions have on others.
My sendoff party was very special, mostly because my closest friends were there. The staff have always been very welcoming and supportive of me. The children crack me up and there is nothing better than being hugged by a mob of kids. If I think about leaving it depresses me. So instead of dwelling on my imminent departure, I tried to live in the moment, count my many blessings, and enjoy my time as the Chief Celebrant.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Saturday, June 6, 2009
After the rat hunt, we finished our dinner and everyone went to bed. I couldn't help thinking that the mouse might want revenge for the multiple assassination attempts. Most of the Sisters sleep upstairs so it is unlikely that the rat would visit them. My room however is on the first floor and I was the one who spotted it. Fortunately, the mouse seemed content to stay in the kitchen near the food and I didn't have any visitors in the night. But last night I had a dream about ROUSes from The Princess Bride.
Monday, June 1, 2009
When speaking with Nigerians I sometimes find myself thinking, we speak the same language but we don't really speak the same language. Here is a list of Nigerian words and phrases and their meanings:Abi? - Pidgin for "isn't it?" or "right?"
Boot - The trunk of a car
Catarrh- The common cold or flu
Chop - Food
Cleaner - A pencil eraser or a chalkboard eraser
Damott - Term used in the army barracks for house
Ease myself - To pee
Find my trouble - To be annoying or get on my nerves
Hawker - People selling things often from trays carried on their heads
Jagbajantis - Pidgin for nonsense
Knickers or Trousers - Pants. Meanwhile, to the Nigerians the term 'pant' refers to underwear.
Light - Means electricity, such as the all too common phrase "There is no light."
Lorry - Truck
Mach - To step on, when sitting on the floor we tell students to put their hands on their laps so they don't get their fingers mached
Mineral - Soda
Naija - Slang for Nigeria, sometimes written 9ja
Okada or Machine - Motorcycle
Onye Ogi - Igbo for a black person
Onye Oicha or Oyibo - Igbo for a white person
Oya - Let's go or hurry
Petrol - Gasoline
Shakara - Showing off, strutting
Slippers - Flip flops
Spraying - During a dance or performance, it is customary to throw money at performers.
Swallow - Food (often made from wheat, corn, or cassava) that is rolled into a ball, dipped in soup, and swallowed whole
Trek - Means to walk
Wahala or Palava - Pidgin for trouble
Yellow Fever - The traffic cops that are found at major intersection instead of stop lights
Friday, May 29, 2009
Thursday, May 28, 2009
On Tuesday, Sister Helena and I went to Ndeaboh, which is a rural area of Enugu State. There is an SND community there and they run a primary school. Sr. Kristi took us on a tour of the school and we stopped in each classroom. We stayed for lunch and then we drove the forty five minutes back to Enugu. On the way to Awkunanaw, we stopped at Roban. I stocked up on peanut butter, ketchup, and enough cheese to make a pizza.
Wednesday was Childrens' Day which is a national holiday. I went with the school staff to Okpara Square, where dozens of schools from around Enugu participate in the annual march past. The children get dressed up in their best uniforms and march past the governor (or as was the case this year the governor's representative) on his special podium. It was cool seeing all the different schools represented and the little kids were absolutely adorable. However the march last about three hours and after that all the big men had to make their customary speeches. The march past ended up being a little long but I was glad I went.
Today, Helena and I went to Ugwoumo, another rural SND community and school. This is the third time we arranged a visit to Ugwuomo and I was beginning to think it was destined to get canceled. The first two times were canceled on account of rain. It has been two or three days since it has rained so we decided to go. The Sisters did tell us when we came to standing water in the road to simply go straight, not to try going left or right because that would be worse. However, we ran into trouble long before the flooded road. We got to the end of One Day Road and our brakes failed. Luckily our driver, Mr. Chukwuma managed to turn on to the main road and avoid hitting the other cars. When we coasted to a stop, Helena and I wondered that no one was hurt, while Chukwuma checked the brake fluid. It was low and ten minutes later he came back with a bottle of brake fluid. We started out again but the brakes were still a little sluggish so we stopped at the mechanic. While the mechanic worked on the car, Helena and I stopped at the shoe repair shop and then bought a couple of cokes. Two hours later we were on our way. In the end we made it to Ugwoumo but our tour of the school was shortened so Chukwuma could get back to Awkunanaw in time to drive his school bus.
Tomorrow is another holiday, this time it is Democracy Day. Once again there is no school. I am excited about tomorrow because I have absolutely nothing planned. I might do laundry, maybe hit the market, but above all just relax. I may have only worked one day this week, nevertheless it has been pretty hectic. Friday will be a nice vacation from all of my days off this week.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
25 days left and counting...
Saturday, May 23, 2009
I was in the library when a little four year old boy started crying, an awful howling that seemed to be a harbinger of bad news. Josephine brought him in and attempted to calm him down enough to explain what had happened. Eventually in between hiccuping sobs, the boy told us that he had stolen another child's Bubo (a flavored milk drink) and drank it all. The boy was filled with remorse (or terrified that someone would beat him). Either way he kept saying over and over that he wouldn't do it again as fat tears rolled down his cheeks. Even after assuring him that no one would beat him, he still kept repeating "I won't drink his Bubo again." The Bubo's rightful owner, who had a reason to cry did not make a peep. Helena, Josephine, and I couldn't help but laugh.
On Saturday I went to the Gariki market. Of course, calls of 'onye ocha', 'oyibo' and my favorite 'white' followed me where ever I went. I try to be friendly but after awhile I tune out most of the greetings. When I got to the chicken section, one lady greeted me and asked where my friend was. I said hello and that my friend (I assumed she meant one of the Sisters) was not with me. She tried talking to me and started following me. I thought she was just another pushy vendor and lost her in the crowd. Later that afternoon Ngozi and Bernadine went to Gariki and several people told them about seeing me. Apparently that lady was the person Bernie and I had once bought a chicken from and she was very worried that I would get lost since I was alone. She had wanted to call and tell Bernie that I was alone in the market but she did not have the phone number. Instead the woman abandoned her stall to follow me around, until she was sure I was heading toward the exit. When Bern first relayed the story I was annoyed, after all I am not a child. Yet it also made me laugh and I was touched that someone would want to look out for me.
It may sound stupid, but I was sad when I broke my trusty plug adaptor. I dropped it one too many times and it broke into like five pieces. My mom bought it for me before I left for Germany and I have taken it with me on every trip since. I don't consider myself an overly sentimental person but I was really attached to that plug adaptor.
It has been storming all afternoon and the temperature has dropped to a chilly 70 degrees. I don't know why but I was freezing and I actually put on jeans and a sweatshirt. This has been the third time I have been cold in Nigeria and the first two times were due to malaria. Luckily this time I am feeling healthy. So tonight during grace one of the Sisters prayed in thanksgiving for the cool weather and especially for me since I prefer being cold and she sees it as a sign that I am adapting to the heat.
Most people probably won't understand what's the big deal about having the internet. But internet access is one of my few creature comforts. Right now I do not have running water which is true of many people in Awkunanaw. Yesterday we ran out of gas to work the stove. Half of the roads I took today were unpaved. There is a gasoline shortage in the country which means drivers have to wait in line for hours at the gas station or buy fuel on the black market. And Nigeria supplies so much electricity to neighboring countries that it can't provide constant electricity to even the major cities like Lagos or Abuja, let alone Awkunanaw. If it weren't for our solar panels, I would be sitting in the dark right now. Yet when I turn on my computer, I can pick up two wireless internet signals, the one at our house and the new Coal City wifi. The residents of Enugu may not have water or electricity but the state government provides its citizens with wifi. It seems strange to me but all I can do is accept and move on.
Through the miracle of the internet I wish you a good night.
Love from Africa,
Thursday, May 21, 2009
At lunch the Sisters and I were discussing my travel plans. I am still waiting for final confirmation but I should be leaving for Kenya on June 21st. It is difficult for me to believe that I only have a month left in Nigeria. Ngozi said something to the effect that the Kenyans are lucky to have me and I replied that I am the lucky one. And all afternoon I kept thinking about how fortunate I am. For the last four months, I have lived in one of the prettiest places on earth, I have made some really great friends, and my work has been very meaningful and rewarding. Who could ask for more in life? And while the thought of leaving breaks my heart, I get to fly across Africa and start all over again. I am excited about seeing Kenya and trying to understand a new culture. Plus, it will be awesome hanging out with the other volunteers. I am so blessed.
So I guess it makes sense that I am in such a happy mood. Life is good.