The contents of this Web site are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Note: I have returned to the U.S. due to family issues. My last day in Kenya was Aug. 7th, 2009. I still have pictures and stories to share, so additional posts will appear as time permits.
I had a wonderful experience in Kenya and would like to share with anyone that is interested. Paul

Friday, August 28, 2009

Home made box solar oven

My fellow former PCV trainees will likely remember the solar oven and water pasteurization presentation. Out of curiosity I made this solar oven using 2 card board boxes. The inner box measures 15"x17" and the outer box measures 24"x24". Crumpled newspaper was used as an insulator, and clear acrylic was used instead of glass to keep out wind and debris. My initial test was to heat water about a half gallon of water in a dark blue camp pot. I inserted the WAPI (Water Pasteurization Indicator) that was provided by Prof. Robert Metcalf. (Remember the enclosed glob of green wax ?) After 4 hours in the Tucson sun, the wax did melt, and the water was hot to the touch. A check with an oven thermometer indicated the water temperature was 120 deg. F. Tilting the back to refocus the sun's energy during the afternoon could possibly achieve higher temperatures.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

If I had a do over....

what would I change? Certainly not the opportunity to visit such a wonderful country. This is an experience I will never forget. It provided an opportunity to learn how other people live. Through this experience I also learned how easy it is to live without all the trappings of modern living. That is if you don't count the cell phone that almost every PCV and Kenyan had, and the laptops and cameras that most PCVs had with them.

Perhaps there is some advice I can pass along to anyone who is a PC candidate, and will shortly make their first trip to another country. In Kenya, all laundry is done by hand and hung out to dry. Therefore fast drying clothes are a necessity. Instead of cotton, go for synthetic fibers that dry quickly. Cotton jeans will seemingly take forever to dry, unless you are living in a place where the climate is very dry and warm. Be prepared for a variety of weather. You probably won't need a winter parka, unless you are planning to climb Mt. Kenya or Mt. Kilimanjaro. Not much chance of either until after you have completed your training. But sweaters, light jackets, and long sleeved shirts or blouses are good items to bring. Not only because of dramatic temperature changes, but also for solar protection. Remember, Kenya straddles the Equator. Sun block should also be packed.

During my training, the instructors continuously stressed how conservatively men and women dressed in Kenya. The exceptions being the more progressive metropolitan area of Nairobi, and those areas frequented by tourists. So, ladies should leave those tight fitting jeans and short skirts at home. Go for skirts that reach the knees, and loose fitting clothing.

Cell phones: If you have a quad band phone that can be unlocked from your current service provider then you will likely be able to use it in Kenya. If not, there are a variety of phones available, with prices to match. In Kenya you are not tied to a single provider. You purchase the phone of your choice, a SIM card from a provider, and a "Top-up-Card", similar to a cash card, for the amount of time/money you wish to purchase. There were no service contracts while I was in Kenya.

List of items I found helpful, or would have liked to have in Kenya:

Solar shower - The 5 gallon variety worked very well. You'll appreciate it, particularly after heating bath water over an open fire.

Radio - My family sent me a solar/battery/crank powered radio from the U.S. It had AM/FM and S/W bands and worked pretty well. There are English and Kiswahili speaking stations available, including the BBC. You may also consider your favorite Ipod or mp3 player for a dose of your favorite music.

Sleeping bag - You'll need some bedding, and this, for me, was the easiest to carry.

Walking shoes or boots - A comfortable pair will be greatly appreciated once you have spent a few days at your training site.

This by no means is a complete list, but should be helpful in determining what to bring, and what to leave behind when you are struggling to stay below the weight limits for your baggage.

More pix from Silibwet

My friends at the Silibwet Red Cross Chapter.

The town of Silibwet. The crop land adjoining the town and the main road through town, leading to the market. Tea and corn were the major crops planted by the farmers. This was a welcome change from our training site which was suffering through a drought, as was much of Kenya at the time. Silibwet was the exception. During my first, and only week here, it rained almost every afternoon.

This was my new home in Silibwet, Kenya. I had two rooms. I had just arrived, hence the clutter. The other room, the kitchen, was empty. The metal shack next to the house is the bathroom, for bathing only. The latrine, in kiswahili choo or msilanti, depending on the people your with, was further down the hillside.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Traveling to our new sites

On Friday, July 31, almost everyone started traveling to their assigned sites with their counter-parts. Our counter-parts were the supervisors or co-workers that each PCV will be working with for the next two years, if everything goes according to plans. Pictured are my traveling companions during my trip to Silibwet. There is Nick, his counter-part, Festus (my counter-part), Sonya's counter-part, the girl friend of one of the counter-parts, and Sonya. This was a beautiful ride taking us from the dry plains of the Rift valley to the lush green hillsides of the Central Highlands.

We made it in a minivan, called "matatu". All of us, including the driver, and our luggage were crammed into a supposed 11 passenger matatu, where every inch of possible space is used for passengers or luggage. Since we essentially paid for the entire van, there were no other passengers. However, under normal circumstances I have seen a row of three seats easily become occupied by 4 people. In Silibwet, small Nissan or Toyota station wagons are used as matatus. Even in the front seat there will be 3 passengers, plus the driver. An amazing feat of bodily contortions are performed to squeeze everyone inside.

Laundry Day

Electricity is considered n unreliable resource in our area. Although there were only a few times when I experienced an extended electrical outage at my home, several of the PC Trainees in my class had no electricity (stima, sounds like steama) at their homes. Therefore clothes are washed by hand. Think three pots or pails, cold water, and some soap. Mama Mari was very specific as to how my clothes should be washed. Probably a good thing. One pail had a couple of inches of water mixed with soap. The other two pails were for rinsing. There was a specific order for washing the clothes. First the whites, then the colored clothes, and last came the socks. The underwear (called "pants") were washed inside the house and were to be hung to dry inside the home. Pants were not to be seen outside. The very dirty areas of clothing were scrubbed with bar soap and your hands. After living in Loitokitok for more than a week, everything had ground in dirt, so no one area was much dirtier than another. Washing involved a lot of hand scrubbing, or use of a soft brush. Amongst the PC Trainees you could tell who recently did their laundry by the bandages or eventually the callouses that developed on their hands and fingers. The first time I washed there were open sores on my fingers that took the entire week to heal.

Once an article of clothing was scrubbed in the soapy water, it was then wrung out and placed in the first rinse. After a few articles were gathered in the first rinse, say all the whites, they were wrung out and then placed in the second rinse before hanging up to dry on the line. Before hanging them on the line, all shirts and trousers had to be turned inside out.

The first time I washed my clothes, about ten days worth due to non-stop travel from U.S. to Kenya it took about three hours of a Saturday morning. Doing this a few times you quickly learn ways to minimize the amount of clothing to wash. Such as not wearing socks, and extending the life of trousers and shirts well beyond what would be considered normal daily wear in the U.S. Towards the end of my training, one weeks worth of clothing was no more than a pair of trousers and two shirts, plus alternating towels and bed sheets each week. This excludes my pants (remember the underwear) which were washed separately when I took my bucket bath.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From my Journal

Here is an excerpt from my journal while I was in training:

Today is Saturday June 27th. and it is 1000 pm. I have been in country for 3 weeks. It is hard to believe how many changes I have encountered. First there is the bathroom equipment. A pit latrine without a seat. Known as a choo, in Kiswahili, or more polite circles, an msilani.

The training is rather rigorous. The Peace Corps-Kenya trainers have been keeping us on the go for 5 days out of the week. We do have weekends to ourselves, except this one. Today, we took a tortuous bus ride from Loitokitok to Kimena, a town that is only 20 km away. In the U.S. this would be a 10 minute ride on the freeway. There are no freeways here. So the ride was 40 minutes on a tortuously rutted dirt road. Just to add to the excitement our bus was built to hold 25 passengers, just the number in our training group. However, some of the seats were about to collapse. If you had the back seat, and are more than 6 ft tall, then your knees were banging against the back of the seat ahead of you. It was not a pleasant experience.

What has the training been like? We have been studying Kiswahili for at least 4 hours per day, sometimes 6 hours. We also manage to pack in some training on the Kenyan culture, politics, history, and public services. Since we, Peace Corps Trainees, are to be trained in Public Health, we have been visiting the local hospitals and receiving speeches from the Kenyan Public Health officials, including those that work in the Nairobi and those that work at the community level. The people at the community level seem to be the ones that know what’s going on.

What is a training day like? Normally, I wake up around 6 am, wash up outside with cold water and soap. After dressing, I have breakfast with my host family. Breakfast can be anything from a pb and j sandwich to fried eggs with 2 cups of coffee. Although, Kenya grows coffee beans, none of the good stuff is available at the market. Most people drink tea, called chai, thanks to the British influence. The only coffee I have seen so far is an instant brand called Africafe. It is not Starbucks!

Then it is time to get ready for our 8 am language class. Fortunately for me, the classes are held at my host family’s home. So I wait for them to arrive. This allows me extra time to study and prepare the lessons for the day. Others are not so fortunate. One person, who is in his mid 60s, has a 40 minute walk to class. The reasoning of the Peace Corps can certainly be questioned at times.

The class I’m in consists of another student and the teacher. This is very nice for plenty of one-on-one time with the teacher. Our Kiswahili exercises will generally last until 12:30 pm. Then it is time to adjourn for lunch. The home stay families are not suppose to feed us lunch. Their agreement with the Peace Corps is to only provide breakfast and dinner, Monday through Friday. So, we generally walk to town for lunch. I’ve sampled about 4 different restaurants so far. The food is pretty much the same. None of it bad. Most of it bland, unless you ask for some chili sauce to add to the meal. Most of the food consists of beans, cabbage, small pieces of mystery meat, and flat pancakes similar to tortillas. They are thoroughly fried, and are called chapati.
The afternoon session generally starts at 2 pm, and ends somewhere between 4 and 5 pm. The class could be another Kiswahili session, or class activities concerning HIV/AIDs, community surveying, or learning how to integrate into the community. Lately we have discussed surveying and interviewing techniques. In the recent past we talked about the political parties of Kenya and the political concerns of the Kenyan people.

Swearing in Day

This was the big big day when all of our hard work for the past 7 weeks makes it all worthwhile. We finally became Peace Corps Volunteers. We all were very excited and dressed up in our very best. Here, Sarah is being assisted by Ann for the swearing in ceremony. The dress was given by her host family during training.

My apologies for not remembering all the participants or their specific titles, but a U.S. Embassy Representative was present, along with, I believe, the Ministry of Public Health. Also, present was the Peace Corps Country Director, and all the trainers and staff members that played a vital role in helping us reach this point. Once we depart from here, it will be up to each individual, working with their counter-part, to determine what their future will hold.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Host Family Appreciation Day

The last Sunday in July was family appreciation day, to thank our host families for their care and the wonderful experience we had. In this picture we are satirizing a common experience we have all had with "mtotos" (children) and the all knowing family member. The American (Mzungu) is kneeling and attempting to cook ugali. You have to be there to experience this cultural interchange.

The Cooking Class

Yes, there were some practical lessons to learn. This is our language class now learning to cook using a charcoal "jiko", (stove). Today the menu was scrambled eggs, tomatoes and the Kenyan PCT version of coleslaw. It was so good that we had to turn visitors away. Included in the picture are our Kiswahili teachers along with the house girl, Hadidja.

Peace Corps Trainees 4th of July picnic

As you can see our class did find time to party. This Independence Day celebration took place at the Outward Bound compound near Loitokitok. This was our getaway place, as well as where weekly classes were held when we had visitors from the Peace Corps Kenya Headquaters. We all donated time and money for the provisions, including cooking chapate (think soft shell tacos), bean burgers and making guacamole. I believe we all had a good time.

Two children I found during a walk

Although there wasn't much free time during my training, I did manage to hike into the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro. On the Kenyan side of the border! During one hike I found these adorable children that came running from their home to see what the mzungu (European or white person) was during. They followed me for some distance before returning to their home.

Phrases that PCV's often hear, particularly from the children, are "How are you?", as well as, "mzungu". They will yell "How are you?" from clear across a soccer field, or a block away. My response varied from saying, "Fine, na wewe" (and you) to just waving to them. Particularly, if there are a dozen kids all yelling the same thing.

Another greeting to use is " Habari yako?", which means "How are you?" If it is morning, then the greeting is "Habari asubuhi?", meaning "How are you this morning?" The literal translation is more like."How is the news with you this morning?"

My Host Family

This the family that took care of my during my two months of training. They and I are preparing American style pancakes. Something they all fell in love with. These pancakes were made without baking soda, apparently a rare commodity in most village stores. The pancakes still were light and tasty.

Starting from left is Hadidja, the young women that works for the family, Moma Mary, Baba David, their 10 year old boy, also named Paul, and one of the hands that helps work their farm.

Mt. Kilimanjaro

This is the view I see every morning when I walk from my home in Loitokitok to my classes. It is a beautiful, but untouchable site for the current class of Peace Corps Trainees. We are not allowed to enter Tanzania, where Mt. Kilimanjaro is located. So close but so, so far away.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Last Weekend in the U.S.

Wasn't sure I was really going to reach this point. Not until this morning was I cleared of a medical hold! That's cutting it close, since my plane leaves Monday morning for the staging area. But all is well, for now! Now the job is to pack, and make sure that my luggage meets the weight and size restrictions. That is going to take some thoughtful calculation. Hopefully, I won't have to leave anything significant behind.

I've been told that Internet service may not be available during the first 2 months of training in Kenya. So be patient if you don't see any new posts for awhile. I'll post my address once I am sure where I will be. Those students of Ma'am following this post are encouraged to leave comments and questions. I'll answer them as Internet availability permits.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Only 2 weeks before departure

Can't quite believe that 2 weeks from tomorrow I'll be embarking on the first leg of my trip to become a Volunteer for the Peace Corps. I accepted this invitation on April 2nd. These past 6 weeks have flown by, and yet there is still so much to do.

Before this adventure, I have taught for the American Red Cross, and have been a substitute teacher for the Marana Unified School District, near Tucson. Due to my French ancestry, many students have difficulty pronouncing my surname, so I am usually known as Mr E., hence the title of this blog.

In preparation to become a Peace Corps Volunteer I have been exercising to improve my stamina and strength. Thanks to the kickboxing classes I received from Marianne Morrill, instructor and owner of Kenpo Karate in Marana, some gains have been made, along with the pain. Ma'am, as she is known in her classes, seems able to make it a very enjoyable experience, no matter how sore or tired I am at the conclusion of her class.

Hopefully, in return I hope I can relay my experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya. Of course, this all depends on the facilities available in the community where I will be living and working.