Search This Blog




 **DISCLAIMER - sorry there aren't pictures, may add some later, and I use the word sh** a lot**

So I’m here at Mombasa International Airport – and one more blunder or mishap away from bursting into pathetic, nerve-racked sobs.  I know this is going to be a post dedicated to mostly whining and “misadventures” for my readers, but for me it’s a vent session to keep my mind sane at this moment.   The morning started off with the regular 4:30 am call to prayer, which startled me so badly that I couldn’t get to sleep.  So I decided to get up, and I found the staff house and volunteer house locked, meaning I had to wake up one of my poor friends who had been out with everyone last night to open the door for me before proper sunlight has even began to show.  So that was my last goodbye, to a very disgruntled and sleepy-eyed Maasai named Benja.  I wish he was here with me right now…I think he would make me laugh or at least share a coke for companionship.  Traveling alone sucks.

Ok so after that, I sit in a matatu for an hour and a half before it leaves for Mombasa.  We get to the end the end of the dirt road, and are on the tarmac for about 15 minutes when it breaks down, COMPLETELY.  So I’m  now standing on the side of the road (its like 8 am by now, my bus leaves at 10) and a tractor comes by, so of course we all jump on the trailer in the back.  Which is kind of fun, but a little uncomfortable.  The tractor brings us to Msambweni, when we are all put into an 11 seater matatu that already has over 15 people in it.  The grand total is now 23 people, I’m on a man’s lap, and another man is on my lap.  My head is bent in a very uncomfortable angle, and then I start to feel the guy I’m sitting on playing with the back of my dress.  I can’t move to turn and yell at him, so I just suck it up.  For once I just suck it up and keep quiet, and its humiliating (just to myself, but that’s enough).  FINALLY we get to the ferry at Likoni, and I wait for two ferries to go back and forth before I get on one.  By now its 10 am, and I’m definitely missing the bus.  I begin to resign myself to the fact that I need to buy a plane ticket to Nairobi, meaning that I’ll miss saying goodbye to some of my friends unless they are saintly enough to come to the airport (still crossing my fingers…offered to buy drinks as incentive), and also that I’ll have to use my credit card that needs to be paid in one week and OH I don’t have any money in my bank account

Oh well.  But then it gets better…or worse I’m not sure it depends on if you’re a sadist I guess.   I called a tuk tuk (a convenient sort of go-cart that swarm Mombasa day and night) to come in an hour and pick me up to take me to the airport.  I get a call that he’s arrived, 10 minutes earlier than expected, and I get my things and go.  There are two gates to the gated community where the GVI Mombasa house is, and I go to the back gate (the gate I said I would be at).  And there he is! A really nice, covered blue tuk tuk  with its engine purring .  I throw my bags on and I ignore the very subtle but visual twitch in his face as he looks puzzled for a minute, but then sheds it away and is the ever-friendly and helpful tuk tuk driver, getting the mzungu to the airport obviously, because why else would they be carrying everything they own on their backs?  So off we go!  I try, unsuccessfully, to get some cozipam at the local pharmacies (one of the downsides of being in a moderately developed country in African terms – white tourists can’t get their drugs for cheap anymore!  Maybe this is why we’re trying to keep the poor poor…but I digress)  And I keep getting calls from a random number saying “Where are you?  What are you doing?” and I’m like “I’m on my way to the airport, I’m in a tuk tuk…” and these calls come intermittently for about  90 minutes.  The last time the caller goes “Are you ready yet?? I’ve been waiting here for two hours for you!”.  Then I realize.  I got in the wrong tuk tuk, and this poor guy has been waiting for me and my 1000 KSH trip to the airport this whole time, and what I had been saying kind of sounded like I was on my way to the gate for the last 2 hours.
So I feel like shit, and at this point I’m waiting for the flight to Mombasa to leave.  The theme of the next 24 hours is “I feel like SHIT.  No really, this is the SHIT of the SHIT and I feel SHITTY”.  I spent the night in the Nairobi Airport – I have a terrible pain in my knee and my neck, and oh yeah I got mugged and lost all the cash on me – and I’m exhausted.  And my feet are really dirty.  I think there was more for me to rant about but I can’t remember, I have like memory lapse of the past 12 hours.  I did have a dream (what?  I got to REM stage?) that I was swimming in a lake and got bitten by a black mamba,  the most poisonous snake in the world, and no one around me would help me.  In the dream, a tourist dhow came by and I was thrashing and weakly yelling for help and they all looked at me, and they were all fat old rich white people, and kept going on the dhow to try and find dolphins.  I woke up to the check-in for a flight to Somalia, which even at 5 am is still a recipe for lots of yelling and pointing and shouting and more yelling.  But it was cool, I met this really nice lady who works for a development NGO to empower women and give them alternative income skills (SOUND FAMILIAR!?!) So that was cool, and I got her card and I’m going to look into her group when I get back to the world of wi-fi.

After meeting the woman, who I know think was actually my guardian angel, everything started to get a little better.  She also had a bright orange sarong covering her head that is my favorite shade of orange, and the color filled me with a warm glowy light.  This could be a symptom of severe exhaustion and dehydration, but it’s better than feeling like a despondent, despairing, depressed lost child who is also really bloated and uncomfortable.  But the light let me to a coffee house, which took my credit card, and I got some water and coffee and felt better. And I’m just 15 minutes away from boarding the plane.  The feeling that I’m never going to get home is fading slowly…I think the worst part is over.  Still 36 hours to go…


Kate's Second Coming Home

I sit here in Shimoni, overlooking the beautiful Indian Ocean, and I’m feeling déjà vu.  I have said goodbye to coastal Kenya once before, so the emotions and the anxiety comes as almost as a welcome familiar.  The anxiety is different now though, because I’m expecting the counter-culture shock.  I’m expecting the depression, the deflation, the isolation…so I hope that by pre-emanating the disaster it may be less intense.  It’s like nuclear warfare game theory between my mind and soul.  

OK looking back at the ocean/horizon and I’m feeling the calm come back over me.  Maybe this is the problem for world politics, the major players in nuclear disaster is coming politics don’t have a view over the Indian Ocean.  I could win the Nobel Peace Prize for this concept.

But let’s focus on Kenya and community development – that’s the hardest part of leaving right now.  I feel like I just got something going, and there is so much left to complete.  I maybe overreacted and created a farewell packet, a 6-page detailed document outlining all of the future objectives that the Women’s’ Group and I had discussed, from how to open a bank account and write a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) for partnerships, to ideas for marketing like using the new logo (designed by my super and beautiful and talented sister Alexa Barry) to make t-shirts to sell in the Curio shops around Kakamega.  

 In writing the packet however, I realized how much I wish I could stay and see it unfold.  The Women’s Group started from nothing, and now they’re a registered group and more importantly MAKING MONEY.  They’re organized and determined, and most importantly, they’re on it.  They can’t be stopped!  And that doesn’t come from me.  That was in them and always has been, I am just a player who got a ball rolling. 
So my dilemma is personal, it is some kind of psychological syndrome with some name like mama-letting-go-of-her-baby-so-it-can-walk, I don’t know.  For the past 6 months I’ve had purpose, and I feel like I’m “making a difference” blugh I hate when people say that…but I say it meaning that it was making  difference FOR MYSELF.  I was developing myself professionally, and also I was spiritually in a beautiful place with calm and peace constantly around me.  The stress level is very low, and I’ve come accustomed to this lifestyle.  I don’t want to go back home and deal with the life that I left behind, and go back to hustling tables to make life work, and endlessly struggling with my school fees and incompetent advisors.  I know I am being whiny and pestilent, but I don’t care.  

I know this is the PROCESS blah blah blah.  And I do have to admit there is a growing, albeit still tiny, ball of excitement growing in me to be home.  There is soooo much I love about home.  Most of those things are people, which can’t be replaced or reproduced in foreign countries.  And that does wear on you.  Loneliness and isolation does happen here, of course, but it’s about feeling a part of you that is inside and pushed aside, because it has no place here.  That’s the very deep part of you, the original part that comes from your childhood and your fondest memories, when you came of-age and when your inner self emerged and you became you.  But now, in Kenya, you have to push that all aside to and focus on the new and the exotic.
Now, I need to go home and reconcile these two parts of me, and reignite the deep part of my soul.  And look towards the future, which is unknown, which is scary as hell, but that’s the next step for me.  It’s what has to happen!! And the bus tomorrow night to Nairobi is booked, and the flight from Nairobi to London, and London to Newark, and then the train from Newark to Boston…and then my lovely mother will pick me at South Station and then 2 hours later I will be in my bed! After a long hot shower.  And that is going to be what I have called #travelhell, but then I’ll be home, and with my friends and familiarity.  And cheese.  OOHH there will be cheese.  So all in all, it’s not that bad. 


Community Tourism - You're doing it right

When you work in development, especially in the field (that field being an extremely remote, rural, under-resourced, marginalized county in a developing country) you apply yourself to the mantra that the work you are doing will take months, sometimes years to prove fruitful or sustainable.  This way you stay positive when you hit the inevitable bumps in the road... and when you face seeming insurmountable hurtles.  Doing something simple like printing can take days because of power outages, flooding, the inability to replace an ink cartridge, or that the office woman didn't show up.  Because even simple things take time and frustration, your long-term goals must be as simple and achievable as possible (SMART taken to a whole other simplified level....)

Working in this environment takes saint-like patience and also out-of-the-box creativity to achieving your goals (not forgetting to make sure everything you start is able to continue without your presence when you leave). So when you reach your goal early, and not just early but with a flying rainbow of successful colors of beautiful awesomeness, you kind of go into a shock.  Which is what I'm going through now...because I saw a vision come to fruition, and most of it by standing back and watching!  The Isecheno Women Conservation Group, only a month old, with a 2 week constitution, successfully programmed, organized and facilitated a ecotour event in the form of a Community Village Tour.  The tour was 3 hours long, and cost 900 KSH per person (approximately 11 USD). Our test-group was an amazing bunch of University of New England college students on a 3 week end of course tour through Kenya visiting health, environment and development based organizations.  So the students were pretty useful test subjects, as they were coming into it with a very critical eye as well.  They were vary wary of cultural exploitation and getting into something at "tourists" and not the serious students they were, many of them also majoring in gender and women's studies.  They, and I, were delighted and showed just how community tourism really isn't tourism at all if its done right.  If its done right, its immersion.  Tourmersion?  Maybe...but the tour was anything but a show, it was a sharing.  The beautiful images below show some of the amazing experiences that were shared during the tour....

"Mama" Sandra earned a head wrapper when she mastered grinding the millet before the ugali cooking class.  The Luhya grinding song and clapping energized everyone!

Chairwoman Beatrice Asudi introduces the women to the students, and shared an original poem about the group's goals "What Can I do?"

Women Tour Guides Rosalind, Christine and Beatrice explain the tea plantation's significance on the community and the rainforest.

Visitors try balancing a 20L jerrycan on their head just like the elder mama we met on our way to the river

Greeted into the home by the entire women's group with some song and dance

Making lifelong memories, connections and friends
Once through the village, the tour brought us to a home of one of the women, and we were greeted by the whole group of women (26 as of now) with singing and clapping.  Once everyone was ushered into the house, we were served chai and mandazis.  Everyone sat around and talked for a while, sharing stories and talked about our families.  The women were very open to questions about their lives, and also continued to talk about the importance of their group and how it applies to conservation and community development.  After tea, they put on a little “skit” to illustrate the role of medicine women in the village, and how to mix certain herbs, and how you usually bring a chicken with you to scare away evil spirits.  Josephine (the woman of the house) speaks only Kiluhya but Beatrice did a great job with translations.  After the herbal medicine, we learned how to grind millet to make the black ugali.  Everyone got to try and it was a lot of fun…when the woman professor got going all the women began singing the song that goes with gridning the millet, and soon everyone was clapping and singing!  It was such fun and all of the visitors had a really nice time…even when we moved into the kitchen and suffered through the smoke to learn how to cook ugali and mboga kienyeji.  We stayed in the home and shared the food and chatted some more.  The students had only been in Kenya for a week, and they had been staying in hotels in Nairobi and Kisumu.  This was the first time they had really seen a Kenyan home and they had lots of questions, but the women handled them all with great aplomb and courtesy.  You never would have guessed this was their first tour.  The timing was amazing, everything was organized and planned out…you could tell all the women had practiced what they were going to say and worked together to make it a very very successful program.

The women described the event as fun and successful...they remarked on how helpful the workshops we had done the last few weeks on customer care, leadership and tour guiding principles were.  The whole event left me feeling excited, proud and humbled at the same time.   I felt like I had witnessed a very genuine moment in both parties' lives, it was more than a tour ever could be because we understood more about each other and ourselves...which is what ecotourism should be.  And now the women have quite a chunk of change to become officially registered, open a bank account, and to decide what they want to invest in!  The tour has gotten the attention of Honey Care Africa, which will be coming to visit the group and donate some hives if they want to learn how to start producing their own honey.  The new possibilities of empowerment and entrepreneurship are endless for them, and I am so humbled to have been a part of it. 


Women and Awesomeness Part II

Chairman Benjamin Okalo addressing the women's group

The following is part of the weekly update I wrote, to keep everyone involved about the progress of the group.  We also had a VERY successful Customer Care workshop yesterday!  The women learned from the banda manager Solomon and a KEEP Nature Walk guide Enosh, I provided the role playing scenarios.  Tomorrow we have a Tour Guide workshop, and on Friday we're doing a jiko installation practical! (see below)  Very awesome and exciting things going on at KEEP this week :-)

Last week started off really positively.  There was another meeting with the womens’ group on Monday, and this time Chairman sat in and gave his input about the group and the community tours.  He is REALLY excited about this initiative and had a lot of ideas!! I was so happy to have such positive support and participation from the executive board for this new program.  Chairman thought it would also be a great opportunity to involve the women in more of KEEP’s outreaches, like the jiko stoves and running workshops.  Enosh is going to run a workshop next week on how to install the jikos, and the women are going to be going around the village advocating for the jikos.  Every installation they complete will get them 400 shillings!!  So it would be a great opportunity for some income generation for them, and it will help get rid of the three-stone hearth that uses a lot of firewood and also produces a lot of unhealthy smoke.
Enosh leading a workshop on Customer Care
So next week we have a Customer Care workshop planned for Monday, and I’m also having Adult English class sign up.  I’m expecting a lot of women to sign up, I want to have a class on Wednesdays and Fridays for anyone interested, and I will hopefully be able to split up the group into two skill levels.  We are also doing a guacamole making class on Tuesday!  The women requested it, because they want to know how to make it for visitors who maybe don’t like traditional food (this kind of forward-planning shows how excited the women are for the village tours – I really hope we can do some runs in the next few weeks! 


Women and Awesomeness

So I have spent about a month total here in Kakamega Rainforest, and I have been really overwhelmed with projects connected to KEEP and the EcoLodge bandas, but overwhelmed in a good way.  Every day there is a new challenge! Even challenges that supersede things like rainy seasons, flooded streets, power outages...I have felt some personal challenges the past few weeks.  It is hard to find your place of use when you're brand new, and also very different from the people.  It takes time to gain trust, in those you work with and in the community.  It also takes time to gain confidence, and that has been my main struggle.  Its hard to learn everything about an organization in only 10 weeks, let alone create some projects that may actually be beneficial.  There have been days when I even question my own worth...what was all of that studying and investment in this education for?  What do I ACTUALLY have to offer??  But today I found some use for myself.  The past few weeks I have been thinking really hard about what I can do to connect the people in the community to the tourism part of KEEP.  I wanted to model what I had seen from other GVI projects with the implementation of a community/village tour, something that will be organized and implemented by a local group of people, where tourists can actually walk through the village and learn about how people LIVE.  How they cook their food, where they sleep, how they farm, what their children are like...I wanted to make this connection because its something that I crave myself.  I want to know everything, and I want to be accepted by the community.  I want to feel at home, not like an outsider...I want to really know how people here live, and so I can live like them too.  And I thought, if I want to know these things, maybe other people do too...and it can give both parties an opportunity to learn from and about the other.  So, I created an advertisement for such a tour, came up with the basic plan, and asked to meet with the women's group.

And that is what happened today, and at 2:00 I sat anxiously at the conference table at the bandas with my proposal and advertisement, with a sign in sheet and waited.  Then, it started to rain.  POUR actually, and my heart sank.  It would be really hard to travel in the rain, and lets face it, who wants to dredge across town to speak to a mzungu they don't even know.  But I stayed anyways, and slowly by slowly (polepole) women showed up, although they sat as far away from me as possible at the other ends of the table...and we had VERY awkward conversations about the weather (which just its not even that deep of a subject).  But after about 30 minutes, there were 15 women seated around the table, and all talking excitedly among themselves.  I took a deep breath and told myself to be confident, I had something to share, and it was positive.  So I started talking, and in some very shaky and certainly broken KiSwahili, told them who I was and where I came from, and what I wanted to offer as a project.  One of the women next to me, whose name is Beatrice, was clearly the leader of the group and helped me to translate.  Just after the first few sentences, I saw women's eyes light up, and lean forward and whisper to each other.  I gained confidence, and started to talk about the income-generating opportunities this would bring, the ability to learn more English and customer service skills, and the sharing of knowledge of their culture and their history.  Suddenly, everyone started clapping!  Beatrice told me they were really happy with the idea, and that it was really exciting and they all wanted to be involved.  From that moment on, they took the meeting by storm!  They started to form committees and set up the program, all had ideas to share and everyone was talking excitedly.  I just had to sit back while they hashed out ideas, elected team leaders, and started brainstorming roles and responsibilities.  They started to talk about how the income earned would be divided, they want to use it as a group and divide it to the registered members, to help send the children in the community to school.

It was AMAZING.  I felt pure elation.  I FEEL pure elation.  At the end of the meeting, there was chapati and beans that we all shared.  Everyone was smiling and clapping and shaking my hand...I felt like I belonged.  I felt like I had done something positive, and I felt like I was a part of something really cool...I was doing development, I was doing what I had always dreamed of doing.  I walked home with a great feeling in my heart.  Some of the women walked home with me, and we were all talking excitedly and as I turned onto my road to go home, they shook my hand and gave me a big smile.  I felt so accepted and happy...and productive and everything that had been a struggle was all worth it for that moment. 

The next steps are: getting some tours done!! We need visitors and if you're in the area and want to experience and contribute to some community development...please stop by ;-)  For the time being, I will be going on the tours, giving feedback, and running some customer relation workshops (aka, how to deal with white people). 

In the words of Pam Beasley from the office from the Beach Day episode "yeah...its a good day"