Sunday, November 15, 2009

To all those who made my stay in Africa possible, thank you so much. Not a day went by that I did not thank God for all of the support (both financial and emotional) that I have received. I am very blessed. Thank you.

Saying Goodbye

Today is my last full day in Kenya and I don't know what to say. I am very excited about going home to see my family and friends. But I am also depressed about leaving the children at the orphanage. It is very bitter sweet.

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

November, Really?

According to my calender it is November but that doesn't seem right to me. For one thing, it is like 90 degrees outside and it should not be that hot in November, even if I do live on the equator. And could someone please explain to me where the month of October went? If my sources are correct and I have no reason to doubt them, today is November 4th. That means I have twelve more days left in Kenya. While words cannot describe how excited I am to go home, see my family and friends, take a hot shower, etc. but I am about to panic. There is no way I will be ready to leave in twelve days. I haven't even started packing yet. And how am I supposed to say goodbye to the children at the orphanage, my babies? I need more time. Please excuse me while I freak out.


I had a really good Halloween. Friday I stopped at the market and bought two pumpkins and then met the boys for a beer. When we went back to their house, their dog had given birth to two of the cutest puppies I have ever seen. We thought the show was over but we were wrong. Tom won the puppy pool based on the date but I won the number of puppies, with the grand total of five. So we spent the evening admiring the puppies and carving pumpkins.

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

My Day

So here is what I did today:
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

Raphael's Story

A few weeks ago we got a new baby at the orphanage. We called him Raphael because like many of our children he was abandoned and we knew almost nothing about him. He was about six months old and seemed to be healthy. I found it funny that he could practically stand on his own but if someone tried to get him to sit he would just flop over. Raphael is a good baby and he quickly adapted to life at the orphanage.

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

Some More Random Thoughts

I just got Season Five of the Office in the mail. I am soo excited. My family is awesome for sending it.

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

I have never been to an orphanage in the United States but here is a list of things my orphanage does that I am pretty sure would not happen back home.
  • 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


Thursday sucked.

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


I miss having an oven with a temperature gauge. Sunday was my turn to make brunch. So I made a breakfast casserole, hash browns, and homemade cinnamon rolls. I could only guess how hot the oven was and it cooked twice as fast as I expected. The cinnamon rolls were a little burnt on the bottom but they were still edible.

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

Candy Request

Dear Family, Friends, and Halloween Lovers,

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

I have been in Kenya for three full months. Strange how it feels like time has flown by and yet it also seems like time passes so slowly. That doesn't make sense but just go with it. Any way, happy three month anniversary to me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I meant to go to work today but it didn't turn out like I planned. As I was getting ready for work this morning I put my matatu money on the bed, instead of in my bag. So I got on the matatu and realized that I only had thirty shillings and it costs seventy shillings to get to Kakamega. Once I realized I was short, I got off at Kakunga which was the next stop. The way I figured it, I could go home and get some cash and make it back to the orphanage by ten o'clock but of course most of my work is over by then. Luckily, I wasn't far from Michael's orphanage, Tumaini. Seeing that today is a national holiday in Kenya anyway, I decided to call work and tell them I wouldn't make it in today. Instead I spent the day at Tumaini.

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


Amy brought a veritable gold mine of things with her to Kenya, such as full bottles of shampoo and conditioner, clothes that fit me, boxes of macaroni and cheese, and a bottle of daily vitamins. Now in the US I would occasionally take a vitamin but it was never a big priority. Here in Kenya my diet is quite different and I think a daily vitamin could be beneficial (maybe it will stop my hair from falling out). But I have found that vitamins can have another purpose. Many people use a calendar to mark the passing of days, I have decided to use vitamins. I have counted out 57 vitamins, which will last me until I go home. That's right folks. I have 57 days left in Kenya, meaning I will leave on November 16 (and arrive on the 17th). I have enjoyed my time in Africa but I am ready to come home.

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,


So Amy is back in the good old United States. Tuesday she went to the orphanage with me in the morning and from there we traveled to Kisumu. We spent Tuesday afternoon buying a ridiculous amount of souviniers. It was almost as mouch fun as the day after Thanksgiving shopping. Then we saw the movie Up. Wednesday morning we grabbed breakfast at Nakumatt (complete with pastries and chunky milk). From there we went to Lake Victoria and took a boat ride among the hippos. Once back on dry land we ate lunch, packed up the suitcases, and went to the Kisumu airport. After saying our goodbyes, we went our seperate ways: Amy home to the land of milk and honey (by way of Nairobi and Istanbul) and I went back to my everyday life in Kenya.

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

Feeding the Giraffe

The Educational Value of Travel

The question is much discussed whether it is good for young people to travel. A better way of putting it would be to ask whether it is enough for educated man to know only his countrymen. For my part I am firmly convinced that anyone who only knows the people among whom he lives does not know mankind. But even admitting the utility of travel, does it follow that it is good for everybody? Far from it. It is only good for the few people who are strong enough in themselves to listen to the voice of error and not let themselves be seduced, and see examples of vice and not be led astray. Travel develops the natural bent and makes a man either good or bad. More come bad than good because more start off with an inclination to badness. But those who are well born and have a good nature which has been well trained, and those who travel with a definitive purpose of learning, all come back better than they went away.

Emile by Rousseau

Jambo everyone, this is Katie's sister Amy. I am currently visiting Katie in Kenya so I have decided to take over her blog for an entry. I have been here for two weeks and am leaving on Thursday. Oh what to say, where to begin.

While Katie and I were at the Indian Ocean I read Emile and came across the previously mentioned passage. I think it applies well to Katie. Volunteering in Africa is not easy, especially for an entire year. Don't get me wrong, I am very glad I made this trip but it was hard adjusting the first week. I knew I would suffer from culture shock and I knew my internal time clock would be out of whack for the duration of the trip. I also figured that since I've spent my last three summers in rural West Virginia that I'd be better able to adapt than most. With all the inner preparations I made I still was not ready for what I encountered. From always having to calculate prices from shillings to dollars, hearing the word mzungu and knowing people are talking about you to being followed home by a crowd of curious kids; I give kudos to Katie for all the little things she puts up with on a day to day basis.

Now that I've been here longer, I really like Kenya, especially Malava. There's still the frustrations of being one of the twenty-one people in a fourteen passenger van as well as not having running water for a few days as the water pump broke but things here are quite pleasant. All these are great experiences for me to have under my belt but I feel satisfied that in less than a week I will go back home to having meat in my diet again, a dishwasher, and my mosquito net free bed. I don't really enjoy watching tv but I'm really looking forward to sitting down in the living room and just kicking back in front of the tele.

I know Katie has already mentioned some of the stuff we did on our vacation but we have done some cool stuff! First, they drive on the left side of the road here! I have always wanted to ride on the left side! Second, Nairobi is south of the equator so it is currently winter. I have never been in a winter outside of the States! Also, for those of you wondering, I can't tell if the toilet flushes the opposite way south of the Equator. I felt so dumb but for the life of me I couldn't remember how a toilet flushes back home. Don't worry, I took a video of it so we can compare. There was nothing in the toilet when I flushed it in the video, I'm not that weird...

Onto bigger things, Katie and I went on a safari! It was by far one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life which says a lot because I have lived and continue to live quite an amazing life. We went to the elephant and rhino orphanage and saw the cutest babies ever! We got kissed by giraffes at the giraffe center. Talk about sloppy kisses! I went to the market and bought some cool stuff including custom made tire sandals. Katie and I also rode the night train to the beach and we stayed in chalets that had monkeys on their property. We rode a glass bottom boat and went snorkeling. I even got stung by a jellyfish! Yesterday we went to the rainforest and even got rained on! So many cool experiences!

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.

I don't think I could spend a year volunteering in a third world country. Actually I know I could but I just don't think I want to. I could handle the sacrifices of material items but it's just too far from my family and friends. I don't want to sound gushy but I really missed you Mom and Dad! Knowing I'm halfway around the world makes it feel that much farther.

I will soon be out of Africa and I feel I will be coming home a somewhat different person. I have opened my eyes and now see with a better global perspective. The world is not as big as it seems and people on other continents are just like us. We all struggle and work and laugh and love. I really do want world peace.
One more quick note, if anyone out there is looking to adopt, there is the cutest little boy here! Katie and I don't know if he'll ever get adopted because it is anticipated that he will never walk. He's really cute! Talk to Katie for more information!

Monday, September 7, 2009


My vacation is coming to a close, I get on a bus to Malava in three hours. Here are some of the cool things I did this week:

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

Dad's surgery went really well. He is still in the hospital but he on the road to recovery. My family and I are just so relieved that he is doing better.

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

Dad's Surgery

Tomorrow morning, Dad is having open heart surgery. Even as I type that, I have trouble believing it. I have talked to him several times since he was admitted to the hospital and he always sounds healthy and happy. This has been very surreal, like a strange dream. I am just praying that he will be okay and make a swift recovery.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

This has not been an easy week.

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

Meet the Orphans

We have a full house these days at the orphanage.

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

Still More Random Thoughts

I am a Master Diaperer. You thought cloth diapers were a thing of the past but you were wrong my friend. I can now properly diaper any kid at the orphanage, from newborns to two year olds, even Cali who has cast on both legs. Luckily someone else washes the dirty diapers.

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?

Baby John

Someone is always sick at the orphanage. Last week Dorothy came home from the hospital on the day that John and Monica were admitted. They were still gone yesterday and today. I meant to ask how they were doing but I didn't get around to it until this afternoon when I was feeding Janina, John's twin sister. That was when I got the sad news that John died. He was only four weeks old. The twins had been at the orphanage for three weeks, after they were abandoned in the forest. Janina is bigger but John had more hair. I had trouble telling the twins apart unless they were next to each other. It breaks my heart to think that will no longer be a problem.

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


Last weekend, Sue and I went to Kisumu. We got a hotel for 1000 ksh a night, which is about $12. Good luck finding a hotel in the US that cheap and I bet they wouldn't even provide bed nets. Friday we took a boat ride around Lake Victoria which is the largest lake in Africa and the source of the Nile River. We saw the mangroves, fishermen wading around waist deep in the water, and hippopotamuses (or is it hippopotami?). It was pretty cool seeing hippos. There were probably twenty or thirty of them and we got fairly close. After the boat ride we ate dinner, had a few beers, and stayed out past dark. This was the first time I went out after dark since January. Chances are, nothing would happen to me if I stayed out after dark in either Awkunanaw or Malava but the nuns highly discourage it and I figure why tempt fate. So I enjoyed the two block stroll from the restaurant to the hotel on a lit sidewalk. Saturday we met up with Tom and did some shopping. Then Sue and I spent most of the afternoon at the pool. We finished the day with dinner and a movie. It is a sign of how much I miss going to the movie theater that I actually agreed to see the Hannah Montana movie. Sunday morning we left bright and early for the matatu stand and headed back to Malava. All in all it was a very nice vacation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Working at an orphanage is sort of like being a parent, you love all of your children but there is one that is definitely your favorite. (Parents can deny it all they want but come on, who are they trying to kid?) My favorite is Matthew. He is about a year and a half old and he is the oldest child in the baby wing. Matty is a charmer and everyone loves him. On my second day of work I rocked him to sleep and since then he has been my pal. Matty can be a handful: turn your back on him for two seconds and he will be getting into something he shouldn't, he gets jealous when other children are getting more attention than him, and if he is mad at you he likes to spit. Still he has a smile that never fails to melt my heart.

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


Last weekend I was sick and my time was spent in bed watching dvds. So today I wanted to get out of the house and do something fun. Sue and I finally decided to make a day trip to Kisumu. We had to spend two hours on the matatu but it was nice having a change of scenery. Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya and it is located on Lake Victoria. There is a lot of things to do in Kisumu but we had to leave by three o'clock if we wanted to get home before dark. So we ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I haven't had Chinese food since last December and I was excited when we found this place. Sue got a Thai dish and I got terriyaki beef, which was soo good. After lunch we went shopping at Nakumatt which is like a Kenyan Walmart. Then it was time to go back home. Our little day trip got me looking forward to next weekend when we are going to get a hotel and spend more time in Kisumu.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


I made potato and corn soup for dinner tonight and I thought it was pretty good. My special ingredient: just a dash of worchester sauce.

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

Sunday Brunch

Sue, Tom, Michael, and I always have brunch together on Sunday. We take turns cooking and today was my turn. I decided to make pizza (complete with onions, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, and real bacon). I made the dough from scratch but I cheated and used a jar of pasta sauce instead of making it myself. The hardest part about making pizza is guessing when its done cooking because the oven doesn't have a temperature gauge. The end result turned out pretty well, although the cheese had an interesting consistency. The company was good and the food wasn't bad so my first Sunday Brunch was a success.

Love from Africa,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Learning Swahili from Two Year Olds

At the orphanage I am called either mama or dada. I was wondering if the kids were a little confused when it dawned on me that maybe dada means something other than father. And it just so happens that dada means sister is Swahili.

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

Orphans, Malaria, and the 4th of July

This was my first full week in Malava and it was definitely interesting.

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

Contact Info

Here is my address and phone number is anyone is interested:

Katie O'Dea
CO: The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
PO 323
Malava 50103


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

My First Day at the Orphanage

The verdict is still out about how much I like my new job. Today was my first day and it too soon to formulate an opinion. I now work at the Divine Providence Orphanage in Kakamega, in the baby wing. I help three other women look after five preschoolers, six babies who are roughly 6-18 months, and two very young infants. I get to work around 8 am when we start bathing, dressing, and feeding everyone. The next couple hours are spent cleaning, helping with the laundry (most of that is done by women prisoners on lone from the neighboring prison), making beds, and basically keeping the kids happy and entertained. Lunch, which was also my only break today, is around one o'clock when I eat with the Divine Providence Sisters who run the orphanage. This afternoon consisted of folding all the laundry and rocking fussy babies. My work day ended at 4:50.

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

The cool thing about Kenya is...

the wildlife. Nigeria was a pretty awesome place but the most exotic animal I saw was a scorpion. Kenya on the other hand has lots of animals. On Tuesday, Sr. Jane took Sue and I to lunch at a national park just outside of Nairobi. When we were leaving we saw a bunch of wild baboons, who had overturned a garbage can and were eating the contents. We drove to Malava on Thursday and it was a poor volunteer's version of a safari. We saw herds of gazelle, a couple of warthogs, vultures, a flock of flamingos (that looked like a sea of pink on the lake), and zebras. All of them were running around wild outside of Nairobi. Back home drivers have to avoid hitting deer, here it is zebras. We also have a lot of animals at the house. The Sisters have four or five cows, several goats, at least three chickens, two dogs, and a cat.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Travel Misadventures and Miracles

Sunday I came the closest I have ever come to missing a flight. It was probably the most stressful day of my life. I took the 7 am bus to Lagos and that is where the trouble began. The bus was a half hour late to begin with and the roads were a muddy mess after two days of rain. Around Oro we were stuck in grid lock for two hours. We lost a side mirror (on a military vehicle no less) and I saw more than one car bump into another vehicle. The nine hour bus ride turned into a thirteen hour trip. One of the Sisters arranged for me to meet Emmanuel, the driver at the last bus stop. Unfortunately, the bus company recently added a new last stop. So Emmanuel called and asked where I was, turns out he was at the previous stop and it was almost a half hour before we met up. So it was 8:45 when we arrived at the airport and my flight was at 10:10. When Emmanuel and I arrived at the check-in counter we were told that it was closed. I stood there gaping at the woman, wondering what I was supposed to do. Luckily after a 2000 naira bribe (roughly 20 bucks) they agreed to check me in. The next problem arose when weighing my bags. When the woman informed me that the two bags combined were four kilos over weight, I was ready to start coughing up the dough so I didn't have to unpack my luggage. Emmanuel discreetly tugged my sleeve and after a few minutes of us just standing there, they took the bags away, gave me my boarding pass, and nothing more was said about the weight. So I made it over that first hurdle at the airport.

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,

Things I have learned in Nigeria

Just because you are in Africa, doesn't mean there is a lion, elephant, or giraffe nearby.

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

Goodbye Awkunanaw

Today is my last day in Awkunanaw. I will spend tonight at the Nwodo house and Sunday morning I take the 7 am bus to Lagos. I should arrive around 5 pm and my flight leaves at 10:10 pm. Around 5 am on Monday, we should land in Johannesburg, South Africa. I will have a five hour layover and then I fly to Nairobi. Provided everything goes according to plan, I should be in Nairobi around 4pm.

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



I wish the queasiness would go away...

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Sometime ago, I went to the market and noticed what I first thought was seashells in a bag. On closer inspection, I realized it was actually snails. Snails are a delicacy in Nigeria. Since I have decided to be more open to trying new things, I asked if we could eat snails one day. Well that day was today.

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



I keep checking the countdown because I am in complete denial. How can I be leaving for Kenya already? Where has the time gone?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nigeria vs. Kenya

In the coming weeks, I will probably be comparing Nigeria and Kenya a lot. Thanks to the CIA World Factbook, here are some statistics for Nigeria and Kenya.

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

Roads paved: 28,980 km vs. 8,933 km

Holy Blisters Batman

I only spent about an hour at school today. This is partially because once again it is Assessment Week so classes in the library are canceled and partially because I wanted to get some packing done. Well I still don't have anything packed in my suitcases but at least I have things sorted into piles. So after lunch I wanted to do something productive. That was when I heard voices outside my window. The land outside my window is quickly being reclaimed by the bush and I was surprised that anyone would be out in the waist high weeds. Turns out that Ngozi started clearing the brush away so things could be planted. I decided that clearing the bush would make today a productive day. Ngozi was using the machete, so I got the hoe. Now in the US, a hoe would probably have a long handle like a rake; in Nigeria, a hoe has a short little handle which forces the user to bend over.

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



This is more stressful than leaving the US was. I have to keep reminding myself to breathe.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yummy Termites

I ate flying termites for dinner tonight. Every time there is significant rainfall a swarm of flying termites descends upon the house. They manage to get past the mosquito netting on all the doors and windows, where they dive bomb any light source. Soon afterwards the termites begin losing their wings and are forced to crawl instead. The first time I was visited by a biblical type plague of flying termites, I used nearly an entire can of bug spray in an effort to reclaim my bedroom. Now I simply let the termites be and in the morning I sweep up the discarded wings. Most Nigerians do not use bug spray on the termites because that makes them inedible. This afternoon I came into the kitchen and there was a large bowl of still crawling termites. They were fried and served with dinner. Most nights the Sisters make something for Helena and I to eat as an alternative. Tonight Celestina made us pancakes, which were quite good. I also ate termites with my pancake. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of eating termites, they really aren't that bad. They are crunchy and salty and Sr. Helena swears they smell like bacon. I thought the termites tasted a little bit like popcorn.


From left to right: Josephine, Nnamdi, Me, Nonso (in the back), Bene, and Boniface

Performance of the Signals

Children at the Send Off

The Staff of the Notre Dame Nursery and Primary School and Academy in Awkunanaw

Ifeoma, Franca, Celestina, Martina, Me, Ngozi, Helena, and Bernadine

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sendoff Celebration

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

Mouse Trap

Last night the Sisters had one of their community meetings and it lasted until quarter to nine. Around 8:30, I decided it was time for me to eat, with or without everyone else. So I was eating my spaghetti, when I heard a noise in the store room. We have had a problem with rats (the Sisters call even the smallest mouse a rat) eating any food left out and they even left two impressive holes in a plastic container. I looked around but there was no sign of the creature. So I went back to my dinner and soon after Bernadine came into the dinning room. That is when I saw the mouse run across the room into a box. I told Bernadine about the mouse and she confirmed that there was something in the box. She said she was going to kill it and that I should position myself behind her in case the rat made a break for it. I told her straight out that when it comes to killing rodents, I am a total coward. Bernadine ignored this and took off one of her flip flops, so she could kill the rat with it. When asked if she needed a broom or something, she replied that she would kill it with her leg if needed. So she shook the box and the mouse came running out. Bernadine slapped down her sandal but she missed and it ran straight for her. She jumped about a foot in the air as the rat scurried across the room under the cupboard (I made no attempt to catch it because I really am a coward). By this time, reinforcements had arrived: Ngozi got a mop, Celestina got a couple pieces of wood, Helena got a broom, and Ifeoma took off her sandal. It was quite comical watching them crowd around, looking for one small mouse. At one point the managed to scare it out of the cupboard but alas it evaded the blow from the broom and took refuge under the fridge. Try as they might, no one could find the mouse after that. So the rat lives to fight another day.

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

What's in a Name?

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

Oyibo Cooking

I have been planning on making pizza for the longest time and today I finally did it. Most of the ingredients are easy enough to find but the cheese required a trip to Roban and it cost about fifteen bucks. Still, there comes a point when I need a taste of home and I stop caring what things like cheese costs. So around one o'clock I went to the kitchen to make the dough and I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen. The hardest part about cooking in Awkunanaw is judging how much food to make, some days no one seems to eat at all and other days the food doesn't last. I made three pizzas: one with honey in the dough (luckily Franca told me she cannot eat honey before I made all of the crusts), one with sausage made out of canned beef, and one with only veggies (onions, mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, and olives). During the afternoon I made a comment about drinking beer with pizza in the US and Sr. Martina came back with bottles of Star beer. Tonight there were eleven people at dinner, three pizzas, one cabbage salad, and litre bottles of beer. That, my friends, is called the high life.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Short Week

This week has been very short, at least work wise. Monday was the only day I spent a full day at school.

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

Look out Kenya, Here I come

I now have a plane ticket to Nairobi. My flight out of Lagos is at 10 pm on June 21st. Direct flights from Nigeria to Kenya are very rare, so I have a five hour layover in Johannesburg, South Africa. I should arrive in Nairobi around 4 pm on Monday the 22nd. I still don't like the thought of leaving Nigeria but I am excited about going to Kenya.

25 days left and counting...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Even More Random Thoughts

We have been doing a lot of planting in Awkunanaw. I planted okra and pumpkins. Okra takes only four days to germinate, provided the birds don't eat the seeds. The Sisters suggested that I make a scarecrow and I agreed as long as they provided the materials. I would use my own clothes but I only brought a couple pairs of jeans and I need them.

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.

Technology is Awesome

Modern technology rocks. I just finished talking to my family on Skype. First I talked to my parents and my younger sisters, Amy and Megan. Then my sister Becky joined in the skyping fun. It reminded me of being home when there are multiple conversations going on and people keep interrupting each other. After spending a month in Amoyo, I have a new appreciation for the internet. Without the internet it is difficult to keep in touch with everyone back home and it drives me crazy when I can't talk to my family and friends. Something as simple as seeing pictures of Amy's graduation or of Logan walking makes me feel involved and still a part of their lives.

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

Maybe because it is Ascension Thursday and there was no school today, or maybe it is because of the cool weather (the high was only 89 degrees), or maybe it is because I want to enjoy my last month in Nigeria, but for some reason I have been in a really good mood today. Today was just one of those days where I find myself completely happy and at peace with the world.

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.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Amoyo Pictures

The Convent in Amoyo

The Students' Dormitory
The farm

Sr. Prisca and I at the Asa River

Sr. Cordis and I hanging out after school

Sr. Fidelia and I

JSS2 during an Intro Tech class

Blessing, Cosi, Jennifer, Anna, Jo, and I

The JSS2 Class

Notre Dame Girls' Academy
Amoyo, Ilorin