Tuesday, August 31, 2010

COSMO! Bush Edition.

So when my family was here Jillian left me a few Cosmos (thanks Hun!) with lots of tips that would be super useful for any girl not living in the bush; so I thought I might make a list of tips for a bush beauty regimen.

Lets start with the basics…

1) Never skip the simple things like brushing your teeth and washing your face. Although sometimes you are exhausted and the idea of heating up water and walking outside into the cold to brush your teeth sound incredibly hard the momentary relief is not worth the gross feeling that will stick with you.
2) Wash your face AT LEAST twice a day. The wind buries the dust into your skin and causes a grimy layer on your face. Not cute. So I suggest exfoliating in the morning and a cleanser at night (of course you will have to buy those things in Nairobi)
3) Never ever ever ever ever ever ever skip on sunscreen. Particularly on your face. Even if it does make you break out. Just but a special face sunscreen and be happy your face isn’t red and splotchy. And painful. Again.
4) Wash your hair every other day and use plenty of shampoo. As much as you want you hair to be soft and shiny you want it to be clean more. So lather it up.
5) Remember the hair products are meant for a thicker hair then yours (unless you have horse hair like mine) so use less of the conditioner. If you have thick hair prepare to be amazed. I bought this thing called “nourishing hair food” and now my mane is soft and always smells like coconuts. Also use a shampoo and then a leave in conditioner. That way you use less water.
6) Everyone else has them, so you might as well. I know you’re a white girl but go ahead and rock the braids. It’s nice not to have to brush your hair. Can’t handle the ridiculousness? Keep in a French braid and forget about it.
7) If you want your hair to have nice curls here is a trick I learned at a salon- mix some salt in with some hot water. Tie your hair up in a few knots and then dip it into the almost boiling water. Let sit for a few and you end up with some nice curls.
8) Don’t bother painting your fingernails. They will chip and look gross. Just keep them clean and get the dirt out from under them
9) Always keep your toes painted though. For some reason that is super important here. You can even get a pedicure for 300 shillings in some places. Soooooo nice.
10) Never sleep without a mosquito net. They will bite you on the face just to spite you. You will feel gross, your face will be covered in bloody bites and everyone will have the oh so helpful comment of “whats wrong with your face?”
11) Use make-up sparingly. It will all melt off. Maybe some cover up if you want. A little bit around the eyes.
12) Whatever go ahead and do a full face if you feel like it. Just know you have to make that make-up last awhile and to check it around 1 o’clock to avoid that face melted off look
13) Remember the air is against you here. It wants to dry you out. Moisturize EVERYTHING. Everyday. And always use a lather when you shave or else the dry skin will make you want to kill yourself.
14) Exfoliate once a week but just make sure you have an extra bucket of water so that you don’t have the sand floating in the bucket of water your going to pour over yourself when you want to wash your hair.
15) Take extra good care of your clothing. Fix rips and holes immediately. Wash often. And remember these are the only clothes you have.
16) Give up the battle. You are going to gain weight. Just enjoy the carbs, know people think big is beautiful here, and try to get some yoga or a run in. if you don’t it’s ok. Your awesome anyway.
17) Seriously you are going to gain weight. Just be okay with it.

A couple make up tips

1) don’t have a mirror? Use a semi-dirty window or some water and put on only light make-up. You can apply your blush and lip stain or whatever with your fingers and feel your way around but don’t try to do your eyes without a mirror.
2) Subtly is key. You will look CRAZY around here if your make-up is super noticeable. Stick to browns and light pinks.
3) DENY DENY DENY you are wearing make-up. Otherwise others will want to borrow it.

And when it comes to getting dressed

1) Africans like you more when your in a skirt. Why? I have no idea. They just do. So have a few nice skirts all at least knee length and use them when you want something
2) Remember to think conservative
3) Those sexy clothes you have just incase? Save them for Nairobi and revel in the feeling of people’s jaws dropping when they see you.

Oh and with the cosmo man tips…..

Never give out your number. You will get some CRAZY text messages and be forced to change your number.

If you challenge the men here they usually get confused and leave you alone

Guy won’t leave you alone? Casually mention you will never clean up after a man or have kids. They will assume something is wrong with you in the brain and leave you alone. Unless they are the weird super determined ones.

The weird determined ones? Avoid. At all costs.

Creepy guy wink at you? Don’t put on your disgusted face (even if you can’t believe he did that weird stick his tongue out thing) laugh to yourself and turn around. That usually embarrasses them enough to leave you alone.

If you give in to one guy everyone will know. Everyone. So don’t.

And a couple last minute tips-

Looking good is really important here. So always try to look your best.
A few pieces of jewelry always make you feel put together
Always bring a jacket or a shawl because the weather is unpredictable
And finally
Pencil skirts and motorcycles don’t mix. Nothing will be left to the imagination when you get on. Go with a-line skirts.

I mean that last one. It’s pretty awkward.

Love you guys!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Leonardo Said it Best...

Hey guys

So today was another study in how lucky I am to have gone to an American school.

One of the girls here had a seizure today and as far as I could tell a pretty severe one.

Now about a week ago I taught a first aid class, nothing big just something on cuts and scrapes and burns, and I talked about the need for everyone to have this knowledge. People asked me why and I said because a medical emergency can happen at any time to anyone and we should all be prepared. Then it was decided I should do a class for the teachers at a later date. Oh the irony.

Anyway this morning I was sitting in my office when another teacher came in and gently knocked on my door. I invited her in and asked her what seemed to be upsetting her.

“Well” she quietly informed me “one of the girls has passed out or something like that. Can you help?”

Now as much as I wanted to slap the teacher for having wasted time and gone through pleasantries well a child was passed out I couldn’t waste that time and immediately took off running. After having to have explain to the teacher that “just there” isn’t telling me where something is I finally found the girl in the state of a rigid seizure.

No anyone with first aid knowledge knows there is nothing to be done for a seizure but try to keep the victim safe and treat for shock, so this is what I started doing. The problem is the other teachers couldn’t seem to understand that and seemed to think I could somehow make her stop.

For some reason I’ll never understand I had to argue for about 10 minutes- thus totaling the girls rigid seizure time to 40 minutes at their estimation (proving this was not a regular seizure and that we needed to get to the hospital faster)- for us to get her into a car and to the nearest hospital.

So we loaded her into the school’s vehicle (which just so happens to be an ambulance as it fits the most people) and at a speeding 125 kilometers per hour- which is FLYING when the roads aren’t paved- we were off.

In the car on the way she came out of her rigid state but remained unconscious with a few complications (such as not breathing)

Let me just take a moment to thank my father for having me take the class, Mr. Schauble for teaching the class, and Stevenson high school for providing the class, that made this next sentence possible.

I had to perform rescue breathing.

Once she started again her breathe seemed to be even and eventually we arrived at the hospital and were given the very comforting diagnosis of “I dunno”.

This incident has caused me to reflect on a few differences between here and the states in this kind of situation.

1) I would not have been the only person on the mission to know any sort of first aid had this happened in the U.S.A. State side we are lucky enough to have first aid courses available to everyone. If you’re reading this and haven’t taken a first aid course please go sign up for one now.
2) Within minutes of someone seizing in the USA an ambulance, one with EMTs not the school’s old used ambulance, would have been called. There would not have been a wait.
3) If she had stopped breathing in the USA I would have had the correct equipment to deal with the situation and the rescue breathing would have been preformed with a barrier rather then good ole’ fashioned pinch the nose mouth on mouth.

But on the other hand

1) People might not have given their jackets to keep her warm when I treated for shock.
2) Someone might not have been there to comfort her mother and pray with her the entire time
3) She might not have been surrounded by people who loved her

No matter what it is quite the story, eh? The definition of “ditch” medicine as my dad calls it.

I’m kind of exhausted form the whole experience and I’m not sure what to write for now. I just thought some of you might enjoy the mental image of me in the back of an old beat up ambulance performing rescue breathing on an eleven year old girl with women praying in the background and the car flying over rocks and bumps due to unpaved road.

This is Africa.

I love it anyway.

See you all in 2 months!

P.S. Incase you are wondering about the title it refers to Leonardo diCaprio in "Blood Diamond" when he said TIA

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Brush Your Shoulders Off

So I don’t know if any of you are thinking of ever coming to Kenya but let me give you a piece of advice if you do. Don’t pass out in public.

A few days ago in Nairobi I was at a stage called railways to catch a matatu (those mini buses) home. Apparently I stepped of the matatu I was on, told Wilson (the person I was with) that I was feeling kind of busy and then hit the floor. I don’t remember anything after that, probably due to the whole unconscious thing, but I’ve been told it was pretty much general upheaval after that and panic. When I came to in some stranger’s car that was about to leave for the hospital my first thought was that Wilson was hurt from the look on his face.

Before I continue let me tell everyone I’m fine. I promise.

Anyway after arguing with people for about a half hour I convinced everyone I did not need to go to the hospital. That’s when the tirade of calls began.

First Wilson called father Patrick to tell him what happened and I had to argue with father that I did not need to go to the hospital but it was too late. The phone tree had been activated.

Within 10 minutes I was receiving calls from Madame Grace, Mama Michelle, Lucy Ann (a woman who travelled with us to Loita and took us to the wedding), Some (pronounced som-a father Patrick’s brother who once let me spend a night at his house on my way to lotoiktoik) well trying to assure Wilson and his friend Vicky, who had apparently come running, that I really was fine.

After much argument on my part it was decided I would stay in Nairobi another night and leave tomorrow. Once we made our way back to the apartment I had spent the night in before a girl was nice enough to let me borrow some clothes of her as mine were dirty.

Anyway I may as well have gone to the hospital when Wilson wanted as within a few hours Lucy Ann had showed up and announced we WERE in fact going to the hospital and both Some and Father Patrick would meet us there.

After many hours at the hospital and a severely unpleasant CT scan the doctors confirmed what I had told everyone- dehydration. (Please spare me any lectures on drinking water. I got one from the doctor and my father and have had water poured into me ever since).

So in the end I am fine with nothing but a bruised ego and a dread of going back to railways and being remembered as that white girl that passed out (please don’t say fainted- it sounds so girly) and a realization of how loved I am here.

It makes it so hard to think about going home because it makes me feel the same way I felt leaving Chicago. Like I’m ripping myself away from my family.

I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where I have felt so overwhelmed by love from people who seemingly have no business loving me. There is also the feeling of how much I love everyone here.

I want to write a blog about how easy it is to love here and how people become so important to you so fast but all I can be is sad as I think about coming home. Not to mention the terror I feel that has become a common theme in my life.

I usually feel like I haven’t done anything to earn the love an affection I get here. You guys want to know something? My hospital bill was almost 18,000 KSH. Do you know who paid that? Not me. Father Patrick did automatically and with no complaint. What have I ever done to make me worth 18,000 of anything to him? To anyone? When I take a cold look at myself I see a girl who runs away from the bush and to Nairobi at every chance she gets, costs the mission money and is getting people’s hopes up while unable to actually deliver. At all. I have received an immense amount of love and affection here and have had more fun here then I have ever had in my life but what have I done to deserve any of it? Maybe my nature is just neurotic and I will never feel good enough but most of the time I feel disappointed in myself and at worst disgusted with myself because I’m either not doing enough (or anything at all) or I’m not doing it the way a major corporation like the peace-corp. would do things. (I know I’m breaking every rule they ever laid out for their members) I just feel like I’m doing everything wrong sometimes.

Sometimes I wish I had just gone to college and never learned all of these things about the world.

And then it’s time to get up brush myself off and stop feeling sorry for myself. I have to remind myself that what is going on is just the African version of my irrational tendencies and it’s time to be rational.

I will feel much better if we can get some goddamned water here, though.

Anyway I’m kind of out of steam so I will update again soon. I miss you all and will see you soon.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jaded Hopefull Thoughts.

SO let’s write a blog.

So I have been here for a little over three months at this point but still tend to feel like I haven’t done much. I think it’s because most of what I have done has focused on the individual rather then things that are big picture. This is partly because big picture stuff is harder to get done and costs far more money so these projects, such as the water project and anything that has to do with the secondary school (which keeps me up at night), come to fruition much later. The water project probably won’t make any real steps forward until I leave. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t done anything really good or helpful because few have felt the impact. I almost always feel like I’m doing nothing and wasting my time here. I also have seemed to have developed a nasty habit of collecting kids and bringing them to the mission.

For those of you who don’t know my family came to visit me here and we spent a few days in VERY interior Kenya so we could go to a traditional Maasai wedding (which was BEAUTIFUL and also very confusing). When we arrived on the mission there was a small boy named Peter. To give you a little back round on Peter, he is 13 years old and lived about 50 kilometers from the mission. His mother is supposedly a sweet woman but his father is MIA which may be better for the family by the sound of it. Peter wants to be a priest when he grows up and thus WALKS 50 km through jungle and mountains, if you want to check it out go look up Loita Plains on a map of Kenya, to get to the mission. He is painfully thin, the oldest of seven and wanted to have as he called it a very serious and private talk.

So on our second day in Loita Peter took me aside and told me that he wanted to go to school in Mulot. Now you think by now I’d be used to this request and wouldn’t be so upset by it but I am afraid this is not true. My blood immediately began to pound behind my eyes well months worth of math figures and accounts began to swim in front.

“it’s not that easy Peter” I tried to say gently but what came out what a painful gurgle because as well as developing a habit of collecting kids I seem to have acquired some sort of horrific allergy to disappointing them. Luckily Peter took pity on me and left. I spent the rest of the morning going over facts and assured myself it was impossible. Beyond impossible. And with that assurance I went on with my day which was spent happily staring at Maasai warriors well they stared back and tugged at my hair.

It was later that night I made the mistake of telling my father about Peter’s request. It started as me lamenting that we could not bring him back to Mulot. I should have known much better.

Before I knew what was happening my father was convincing me about how it was not only possible but probable to bring peter back to Mulot. After 15 minutes of arguing in the back of a pick-up truck we had accidently driven into Tanzania Dad asked if we should talk to Father Patrick.

“Why did we ever pretend we weren’t going to?” I sighed.

Apparently Father Patrick and my father use some sort of different magical math full of good will and fairy dust rather then my terrible angry oppressive math because Peter was packed into the car the next day and brought to Mulot. Really is anyone surprised?

Anyway a little back round on Loita is needed at this point. Loita is the place where the world ends. There is literally nothing there. And when I say nothing I mean nothing. There are no lights, no roads, no cars, no stores, no towns, not even a donkey. The only things there are mountains and Tik Tik which are basically deer in miniature.

This might by why when the car arrived in Narok, a place I always thought of as pretty in the bush, Peter had to stand up out of his car seat so he could press against a window. This was a child who had never seen a car before we arrived let alone the hundreds in Narok. We went into a Naiva’s (Think of it like an Aldys or a Wallgreen’s) and it looked as if Peter might pass out in fear and excitement. I wish I had asked him more about how he was feeling but I was nursing a head injury brought on by the road, or lack there of, and could barely remember the day of the week.

The next day I slept and wore sunglasses inside well Peter wandered the mission. The entire time he was followed around by Ian (another student someone who shall remain nameless brought out of a public school *ahem*) and for probably the first time in his life interacted with 60 kids his own age as well as the rest of the school. It was also probably the first time he wore shoes that covered his feet entirely.

Later that night I was well enough to have my ass handed to me in a game of flowers (It’s the Kenyan poker. I’ll teach it to you when I get back) and peter came to the rectory where he saw Jillian on her laptop.

Please keep in mind here Peter had never seen anything remotely like a computer before. At all. Ever.

I did not pay much attention to what he was doing as I was concentrating on keeping from Brother Moses from winning his 3rd game of Flowers in a row but I did here Peter whisper wow in awe as Jillian giggled and showed him something. About a half hour later peter walked over with my computer (which I had opened up for them as it had more battery) and was shown this note.

“most kind Aliya thank you for bringing me to school and it is great and I will work hard forever to do well in school and be good and be greatful”

First off this note is pretty amazing for a publicly schooled child in class 6.

Secondly this note made me think that maybe the individual projects are just as important. Who is to say that the next president of Kenya didn’t just write that note? Who is to say what children are worth more or less and who deserves an education? Why shouldn’t I be just as over the moon about Peter being in school as I will be if I ever find the money to get water into this place? I mean there are of course some things that make the water project more important ( like the fact it would save lives and wipe out disease in the community as well as provide jobs and according to the water commissioner turn Mulot into a booming town of industry) but isn’t peter just as important?

No matter what I think now or have thought or will think in the moment I read that note Peter was just as important.

My only regret is that I wasted water by crying after I read the note.

So here is the count
Orphans at the school originally: 11
That debt: 157,000 Kenyan Shilling
Orphans Added: 2
Kids pulled from public school due to being first in class: 2
Amount of debt added by them: 1600 US dollars
Total amount of debt annually added by taking on scholar shipping all of these kids: at least 6,000 US per year for the next three years baring more orphans. (Which we shouldn’t)
Number of nights spent without sleep: Hundreds.
Numbers of lives affected: uncountable.

I feel like this would be a good place to end the blog but I am so full of fear and frustration and hope and emotions I don’t understand that I am going to keep writing partly to sort myself out. I could not post this stuff but I promised myself that this blog would be honest all the time and really let people into my life here so I’m going to keep writing. So go get something to eat and a glass of water, maybe turn off your computer for a bit and come back. That way it can feel like two blogs and not one obscenely long post. Sawa Sawa? (Okay?)

As happy as some of these numbers make me, and as happy as the money that has been raised thus far makes me it also terrifies me. My worst fear is that I will get these kids in school for a year, maybe two, and then the money will stop. $6,000 per year is a lot of money to raise and I don’t know if I’m strong enough or smart enough to raise it. A part of me wants to leave and run away and abandon the kids now because I am so sure of my failure but I know I can’t.

I have also just become so jaded and sure that people won’t help me. I have gone to so many people, so many club and sent out countless e-mails to ask for help. I sent our at least 50 e-mails to catholic churches and convents in the USA to ask for help scholar shipping the students and got no answer. Not one. And the only answer I ever received from a rotary club (clubs meant to bring clean water to places around the world) was a woman offering to charge us only half her usual fee to consult on the project to find money. I mean really?

If everyone at Stevenson high school (my old high school for those of you who aren’t alumnus) gave $12 the entire water project would be paid for. If everyone gave just $6 then we could pay for enough to get the water to the public school and surrounding town. I don’t think half the kids at Stevenson will give half that.

I have started to lose faith in the people back home. I feel like unless I fight on daily basis and argue and beg no one wants to help. I can’t understand how so many don’t want to help and how they make excuses and how they seem to just not care.

Don’t get me wrong some people are amazing. Some people are beyond helpful. Some people are beautiful and wonderful and I love them with all my heart for how much they have given ( That means you Angie and David and Donna and Marti) but so many other give me such paper thin excuses and let me down.

I guess some naïve part of me believed that people want to help and will given the opportunity. I thought that because I am here and all the money goes to the kids and because the need was so obvious and because the kids here are just as thirsty and in need (and end up just as dead) as the kids in Haiti or Pakistan people would be willing to give just a few dollars. It seems that I was wrong. The back of my mind has become jaded and bitter.

On the plus side this jaded sense of being has steeled me to fight harder for this then I have ever fought in my life. Nothing is more important to me then getting this water project done and I will stop at nothing to get this money. And believe you me I will lay down in the street before I let any of these kids be sent home because of tuition fees. I don’t know what will be asked of me in the future to get the money for these kids- who I will have to beg, flatter, fight and the paper work I will have to fill out on a mind numbing basis- but I do know with a clarity of which I know few things that I will do it.

I am also reflecting on the fact that I have to go home in about 2.5 months and that scares me for many reasons. Partly it’s because once I go back to the USA I have to start sorting out college and what I want to do with my life, I am so scared I have forgotten how to learn and be in an academic environment, but also because I’m scared I won’t be able to get things done here from the states.

Also as much as I love the people back home and can’t wait to see you all again I feel more often then not that Kenya is my home and I am just going back to the USA for an extended visit.

I really have a home and a family and a life here that I do not want to leave. From what I’ve read and who I have talked to that is a common reaction to Africa. It’s like once that red dirt gets into your system you can’t get it out. No matter what.

Some times I imagine staying here in a permanent manner. I wonder if maybe I could go to the University of Nairobi and stay here in Kenya. Other times that sounds insane but still. I don’t want to leave.

It’s what I tell my friend Wilson whenever he asks me what I am doing or why I’m disappearing all the time.

I really have no idea what I’m doing.

Anyway I think I should stop here as this has gotten obscenely long and you probably have things to do. I promise to update more often guys.

Love and miss you!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Finally a Blog

Hey guys so I know it has been forever and I’m sorry, I’ve been going through my own personal stuff here that makes it harder for me to write. I promise I will do better.

So first off let me just tell you that Kenya has a new constitution! The referendum happened yesterday and it passed peacefully so in 14 days there will be a new law of the land. Considering the violence in 2008 the fact that this went so smooth is pretty amazing.

I think a huge part of it was that Kenyans are too exhausted for violence to occur.

It is really amazing to see a country being born and it makes me feel really honored and beyond lucky to have been witness to this. In 50 years I will be able to say I remember the day this country was born and I was there. I think that in the US we forget how beyond lucky and blessed we are to have a government that runs smoothly. The fact that no one my age can remember a riot or any sort of tyrannical government (depending on what party you are affiliated with) is pretty freakin’ amazing and we need to appreciate that. Hopefully 25 years from now Kenyan kids will be appreciating the same thing.

Anyway I am about halfway through my time here in Kenya so I’m thinking it’s time to take stock.

So what have I learned?

First off I have learned to make Ugali which is pretty legit. Be jealous. Also I have learned a lot of practical skills like how to wash my clothes by hand, how to do dishes without running water and how to generally doing things the ole fashioned way (of course I very often am not allowed to do it). On a deeper level I have learned a lot about myself, like how I really can persevere when challenged and I really can live in any conditions, but in all honesty what I have learned the most about it love. I have learned that there is no reason I cannot be love incarnate and not feel it for every human being. I have learned there is no reason to exhaust yourself with grudges or anger or being annoyed when you can be in love with the world. It sounds cliché but it’s so true. I wish I could explain how much lighter I feel without having to have the cool veneer of sarcasm and apathy and dislike that is so popular in the states. It’s a pretty amazing freeing feeling.

I have also learned that the world is a lot harder then it seems. It’s great you want to help but sometimes it feels like the world will never allow you. Whether it’s people making comments like “I’ll help locally” or “why not in the USA?” (Which makes no sense; people are people in need no matter the country. Also the people who say that never seem to be doing anything. Like at all). Also the world of charity and NGO work is bogged down in bureaucracy and hard to get through so more often then not we are all inert among paperwork. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and unlined office paper. I’ve also learned the amazing feeling one gets when one gets through the paper and actually does something that’s good or helpful.

But really what have I done? I more often then not feel overwhelmed and that I’ve done nothing; I feel as if I’ve sat around and been a waste of space. I’ve gotten a couple kids into school, bought a few balls, gotten some ARVs and yet it never feels like enough. I dream about a day when I will feel satisfied and as if I have really done something but I am beginning to doubt that day will actually come.

Even if I am somehow able to raise enough money for water infrastructure and install hot water at the school will I am able to clean myself up and slip into a deep sleep or will I lay awake and stare at the ceiling for another night. Wondering if I could have installed a swimming pool or something.

The truth is there will always be another orphan, another school, another person in need and that I will never be satisfied and I will probably never sleep a full night again.

In some ways I dread the rest of my life like this and in others I am proud. I’m glad to know that this is the kind of person I am but I am terrified of living my life in this state of never enough. I’m not sure what the solution here is.

Either way this is the path I have chosen, or was chosen for me, so I’m gonna walk it.

So I guess I might as well walk it in love.

I’ll update you guys again later this week with a more planned blog.
Home in three months!
Love and miss you all.