August 21, 2008

Back in Minnesota

Well I'm back . . . arrived safely Saturday evening after uneventful flights. On the flight from Nairobi to London I sat next to a couple who were so happy to be leaving Kenya . . . I snarled at them a few times and they finally stopped talking to me about how great it was to be going home.

The culture shock in coming back to Minnesota has been more difficult than going to Kenya. I suppose it didn't help that my first full day back I went to Target! My sister came with me and after about 15 minutes she had to do the shopping and I just followed her around pushing the cart.

It's great seeing friends and family . . . I'm grateful for having them in my life. And, I'm happy to invite them to visit me in Kenya! I'm working on my scholarship application and plans for return. I'm trying very hard not to keep saying how much I miss Kenya.

But I really do - it's in my blood now -

And it's back to the reality of school and internship and my teaching assistantship . . . and all the details and scheduling that come with it. Yikes - way more intimidating than living in a new culture :)

Thanks for coming along with me on my trip to Kenya for the last 11 weeks. I expect I'll be taking in what I've experienced for quite some time - what an amazing thing I've had a chance to do this summer. Thanks for all of your support - and all the ways in which you've supported me - they encouraged me and made my trip easier.

August 11, 2008

My Last Entry from Kenya

Sounds very sad, doesn't it?! I'm not even going to talk about I feel about returning. Today a friend who thought I had another week before leaving said that it was too soon to go. I said you're telling me?

Today was a great day. This morning, I had quite an interview with 3 pastors from the Kibera slum who worked with and are still working with refugees in IDP camps. These men have been - still are - traumatized themselves from the post-election violence, and still are committed to helping their church members and families cope with their losses. Although our focus was on their perceptions of refugees' experiences, clearly they spent a lot of time talking about their own experiences and how they are coping. As I've said before, they gave so much to me - and yet, thanked me for all I had given them in the interview. They've joined others here in Kenya who are praying that I'll be able to return next year . . . I hope their prayers are answered in a positive way!

This afternoon my friend, Roselyne, and I went to the Bomas . . . it's a place to see traditional dances from across Kenya. It was great! Great fun to watch the storytelling in the dances from different tribes. I've been wanting to see traditional dancing for 3 months . . . finally got it!

I may have one more interview tomorrow - but it looks like my data gathering has come to an end. Now to the write-up.

I am hoping to spend my last 3 days in Kenya in a Maasai village . . . maybe they'll kidnap me and I won't be able to get on the plane. You never know - a warrior might think I'm worth losing a few cows to keep me around :)

Lest I sound ungrateful . . . I do miss my friends and family. I AM looking forward to seeing you all again - emails/blogs/ text messages just aren't the same as talking face to face. And, I'm grateful not to be living out of suitcase any longer. And I'm looking forward to ice in my Coke. And, it will be great to have something to wear other than the same clothes for the last 3 months!

I'll write again once I've arrived back in the US . . . probably one of those nights that I'm awake at 3 in the morning because my body hasn't made the time adjustment yet!

August 5, 2008

Differences

Here's what my day has been like so far (it's almost 4 in the afternoon). When I got up I did 45 minutest of yoga, then I showered and ate bananas and drank apricot tea. Then I got ready and walked about a mile to Langata Link. It's a place that has a travel agency, a chiropractor, a salon, some offices, an outdoor restaurant, a clothing shop - it's built in a square with the restaurant in the middle surrounded by flowers, cacti, trees. The trees have all different kinds of birds making noise and flying around. Really idyllic. So, I sat down for breakfast (2 pancakes with pineapple conserves - very good - and tea . . .and then, because I was there so long, a cold Coke - no ice, mind you, but still cold) and turned on my IPOD and journaled for a bit. There were only about 4 people there so it was really quiet and a great way to spend the morning. A couple hours later, I walked back to the apartment, stopping along the way to buy tomatoes and sukumawiki from a woman who was just setting up her fruits and vegetables to sell by the road. Sukumawiki? Not sure what to compare it to - it's green and leafy and kind of like a lettuce but not really . . . it's a staple here. 3 tomatoes and a bunch of sukumawiki cost me 20 shillings. 50 shillings is about $3.00, so I'll let you math whizzes figure out how much my lunch cost. To go on this morning trip, I was pretty casual - the important thing here is that I wore flip-flops. My $5 Target flip-flops - not Manolo's or even Enzo's - just inexpensive flip-flops that we all have back home. I passed a man who wasn't wearing any shoes. (Now, I realize this is sounding like a commercial intended to make you cry - but stay with me here.) He was fully clothed with no shoes. And the thing is, as we passed each other, he looked down at my feet. I wanted to take off my cheap flip flops and give them to him. I didn't. The path we were walking on is full of stones and sharp points, there are thorns that fall off the trees . . . I can't imagine what it would be like to walk on this path with bare feet.

So, I kept going. Back to the apartment which was empty except for Lois - the woman who comes to clean once a week. Now this is a small apartment, and she came at 9 this morning . . . she's still here. I should be so lucky to have a house this clean. She works so hard - cleaning each room, mopping the floors, doing the laundry, the kitchen is spotless, she's ironing now - she even washes the garbage cans that are placed outside. This place is beautiful! While she and I have been here together, I've done some computer work, done some writing (yes, I'm finally writing), taken a little nap, made my lunch of tomatoes and sukumawiki with onion and pasta and olive oil with some ricotta cheese on top (quite good, if i do say so myself), back to the computer to do more writing . . . and watching this woman who hasn't taken a break. If she's stopped to eat, I haven't seen it. And she was in the hospital recently for a couple weeks - she fell carrying water jugs (she doesn't have running water in her home) and hurt her back.

You know what? Life can be hard here. Obviously not for me . . . I've not had to use the "bush" bathroom yet on this trip, I've only had a couple weeks of having to stand over a hole in the ground for a toilet. Granted, I've had to drink my Coke without ice, and there are no fast food restaurants here to satisfy my cravings for junk food, the potato chips here are horrendous. But, all in all, I've managed to survive quite well. But I've been made uncomfortable (again) with the differences between me and the Kenyans I've crossed paths with today. Here I sit writing my blog entry, and when I'm done I'll go back to writing my Fulbright application explaining why they should give me money to return to Kenya for a year so I can do research on hurting people. And what of the hurting people I'm proposing to do research on/with/for? I go home in 10 days and although I'm a poor graduate student, I'm relatively comfortable compared to many people here.

Now, not every Kenyan is poor. Not everyone is without running water and electricity. And I don't want to infer that there is not hope (tumaini in Swahili - "too-my-eenee" - it's my favorite Swahili word, actually my favorite English word, too), or that people don't have joy and good things in their lives.

I wrote earlier in this blog that I wasn't sure if I'd ever resolve the tension that comes from being an American in an African country. I'm now quite sure I'll never resolve it. I'm happy to say that, after almost 3 months here, the differences still bother me. I'm still not sure what to do with myself - how to think about this, how to feel about it - I know feeling guilty isn't a good solution . . . besides, my guilt doesn't offer any dignity to Lois or the man I passed on the road without shoes.

I'm not sure what I want to say, or that I'm even saying this very well. Again, I'll do the therapist thing and notice it all going in and around me, and leave it at that for now. What would you say? What would you do? Would you have given the man your flip flops?

Somehow, and I hope it's not stupid or insensitive of me to say this, my experiences today contribute to this beauty here. I don't know if that makes sense, or if it is part of the luxury of being me, but there is this sense I have that even the discomfort is somehow part of the beauty of Kenya. I'm probably getting a little too philosophical . . . I'll stop or you won't want to read anymore entries!! Hang in there . . . 10 days left of this trip. I hope you'll be back for Africa 09 - because I certainly am planning to be!

August 1, 2008

What a Load I've Been

Ok, so don't tell my advisor and my committe - but I haven't gotten a thing done this week on my writing and research. I have gotten a bunch of movies watched, spent time with a friend, done some crossword puzzles, read some good books, written some emails, gone shopping at a great set of shops (twice), ventured out and grocery shopped by myself (feel quite proud of this), ordered a pizza to deliver, got some great help for my Fulbright scholarship . . . basically, have done just about anything not to sit myself down and write!

I leave two weeks from today, and cannot stand to even think about this. I want to come home - catch up with friends and family - and get right back on a plane back to my second home. I don't know how I'm going to get on the plane to leave. It's a great problem to have . . . . I'll bet I'll cry the whole way home.

I have a week yet to write - and I will - I'm out of movies and books and money so I can't shop anymore :)

I've had some great comments from folks following my blog - thanks for writing me. I want to see you all and catch up - and I know that my first couple weeks home will be really full. So, know that I'm trying to figure out how to see you - and don't hesitate to contact me so we can get together. I've got a bunch of pictures to show you all . . . and a beautiful, handmade African dress that I look great in, if I do say so myself! I've been told that staying in Kenya for 3 months makes me Kenyan, so get ready to see a Kenyan when we meet up!

Hopefully, I'll have a good writing report on my next blog entry! Take care - Janet

July 26, 2008

Eldoret

Just returned tonight from my third trauma seminar - this one in the town of Eldoret. What an incredible group of people. Most of the participants were pastors, counselors, leaders in the community - committed to helping the traumatized people coming to them for relief. Over and over they tell me what a blessing I am to them, that what I have to say to them is just what they need to hear, won't I come back soon and give them more? And, they don't seem to know that I'm the one who is blessed, I'm the one who is given so much. I'm so grateful that I have these opportunities to be with these leaders. After the seminar, I met with 9 individuals who have been working in IDP camps with refugees - the stories of indignities, of abuse, of loss - I wonder just how much pain these individuals can continue to hold.

It felt good to return to work - I've had two weeks away from seminars/teaching/research which was good - but I'm glad to be getting back to the work that brought me here. My dad was in Kenya with a team from his church, I spent much of their visit with them in Naivasha. We took a day and a half to go on safari in the Maasai Mara - saw so many animals: zebra, giraffe, lions, wildebeests, waterbucks - it's an incredible way to spend a day!

This week I'm in Nairobi - alone at a friend's apartment - to do some writing for my PhD program as well as to write an application for a Fulbright Scholarship in hopes of returning to Kenya next year. I have fallen in love with Kenya and am more determined than ever to come back, hopefully in a permanent way. (If I'm repeating myself, sorry, can't remember what I wrote in my last couple entries!) I'm auditing a Swahili language course at the U this fall . . . my friends here tell me I'm doing a good job learning Kiswahili, but I can't yet carry on a conversation so I figure I'd better take a class!

Thanks to all of you who are reading my blogs and emailing/responding - I'm glad that you've enjoyed my entries - and it means a lot to me to have you tracking the trip with me! If I can find something exciting in my writing projects, I'll write later this week . . . otherwise, I'll wait for the following week: my final trauma seminar in a Nairobi slum.

July 8, 2008

Back "Home" in Nairobi

Kenya is starting to feel like a familiar place to me. I'm getting to know Nairobi like I've begun to know Kitale . . . and I'm really loving it here. I could see myself living here in Kenya . . . been thinking quite a lot about it. We'll see! I've even adjusted to driving on the other side of the road. If I do move to Kenya, you're all welcome!

I spent the weekend in Naivasha and will be going back there for about 10 days end of this week. Another beautiful place in the mountains looking down over the Rift Valley. It's about a 2 hour drive out of Nairobi, some of the land along the way is owned by the Delamere family. Those of you familiar with "Out of Africa" may remember Lord Delamere or "D" as he was referred to in the movie. Quite a lot of flower farms between Nairobi and Naivasha. Also, there is a large IDP camp . . . I'm hoping to have some interviews at that camp for my research. While in Naivasha, I stay in a round cottage - basically a great room which includes bedrom/living room/dining room with a fireplace, and a kitchen and bathroom off the big room. The view is spectacular. I have pictures, but haven't the internet time yet to download them. I hope to do that soon so you can see some of the places I've been.

Similar to my thoughts on Rwanda, I think about the juxtaposition between the richness of this place Kenya and the poverty that is here. There are parts of Kenya which still feel like off-shoots of England. There are roundabouts and people driving on the left side of the road, some of the buildings are so English in their design. I've met people who've lived in Kenya for 50-60 years, born in England or in Europe and have lived most of their lives in the bush. I'm not sure yet how I'm tying all this together - richness, poverty, colonialism - just noticing it right now.

For this week I'm in Nairobi - taking it easy, seeing people, setting up appointments, seeing some parts of the city I've not seen before. Sunday I went to the Masai Market . . .I'm extremely popular here (which is probably why I want to stay) - I'm a white woman, I have money. I've offered to show them my bank account but they're not buyin' it! I got myself a Masai blanket and some gifts. Markets can be a bit overwhelming - your arm is being grabbed all the time, "but madam I'm hungry" - you can feel like a real jerk sometimes. Some mzungus here never go to the markets - they shop in the Nakumatt (Kenya's answer to Target) and the supermarkets - mainly because they don't like the crush of the place. I can understand that . . .but, the craftsmanship, and the fresh vegetables and fruit!

Today I went to a beautiful glass factory which is part art gallery/factory/home/bed and breakfast called Kitengela Glass. Smack in Masai land - in the Kitengela Plains, the Masai Gorge runs alongside the factory. Vast spaces with thorn trees dotted here and there. Rutted roads - I can't believe my insides are still in the places they were originally placed - and it's absolutely beautiful. You can view for miles - I could see Nairobi from where I was in the distance. Turn a bit and I'm looking at the Ngong Hills. "Ngong" in Maa means "knuckle." It's said that God put his fist down and created the Ngong Hills. Again, "Out of Africa" starts out "I once had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills."

Tomorrow I have a massage at Karen Blixen's farm. Ok, enough movie references. Although, if you go to the Karen Blixen museum, you can see the pants Robert Redford wore in the movie. For some, that might be worth a trip to Kenya!! I am also meeting a counselor here in Nairobi who, among other things, wrote a book I used as a text for the Pre-Marital Counseling course I taught in June. I've been hoping to meet her to establish another contact here in the Nairobi counseling network.

I didn't think I had much to say this week . . .after reading this, you may think I didn't. But, here it is anyway! My uncle celebrated his birthday this past week - happy birthday, Ted. Of course, you know I put that in here to make sure you're reading my blogs :)

Life is good for me here - I'm so blessed to be here. My dad comes next week - I'm glad he'll get a chance to taste what I'm experiencing this summer. I feel your support and encouragement and love from home - thanks for that, and for keeping up with my trip. Talk to you later!

July 1, 2008

Gorillas

I didn't get to see them . . . I started the trek and wasn't able to finish it. Probably the gorillas had baked a birthday cake for me, and I didn't get to eat it. Disappointing, but I had some funny stuff going on with my heart and decided to stop. I'm fine - and was fine soon after I stopped - it was the right decision, but I wish I could have seen the gorillas for myself.

I had a wonderful driver who took me through Rwanda - and he did a great job making up for the gorillas. My next stop after trekking was to Gisenyi, near the DCR border. There's a beautiful, huge lake - Lake Kivu - there, reminds me a lot of Lake Superior. We sat at the beach and watched the water for a good long time - so that was great. Then, Petit (my driver) said there was a concert at the cultural centre. Great! I'm thinking it's going to be traditional Rwandan music and dancing.

It was a rap concert. With rap sung in french and kinyarwanda. And, I'm telling you, you haven't heard rap until you've heard it in a language you don't understand. It was great. No way will I ever have another birthday like this again :) I couldn't have chosen a better way to celebrate my birthday - I had a great time, and I highly recommend letting someone who has known you only 2 days decide how to spend your birthday! Thanks, Petit - definitely a memorable 45th!

Rwanda is beautiful and I'm so glad I was able to go. Still haven't figured out the beauty/tragedy stuff - still not comfortable with it - probably will never be, and I think I prefer it that way.

I'm back in Nairobi. Went to the Kibera slums today to hear a woman's story about her family's home being burned down in the post-election violence . . . she and her husband and children escaped, but not many of their few belongings did. I'm going back tomorrow to interview three people for my research project. I'll celebrate Fourth of July in Naivasha for the weekend -it's about an hour or so out of Nairobi.

Today - July 1 - is Rwanda's Independence Day. Happy 4th to my family and friends . . . I'll drink a warm Coke to you.

June 26, 2008

Rwanda

I've been here only 24 hours - but I have internet access, so I'm going to post an entry today. Rwanda is beautiful - in different ways than Kenya's beauty - but there is some breathtaking scenery and I've not yet gotten out into the countryside yet! The capital city of Kigali has a lot of hills and valleys - you can see so much from really any point of view. I got a tour of the city on my way in from the airport yesterday, and we ended at the Genocide Museum. It's a beautiful, haunting, well-done memorial of the million people who were killed in this country 14 years ago. There are memorials throughout the country - tomorrow I'll be visiting two of the more devastating ones - Sunday I'll go into town to see the Mille Collines Hotel (Hotel Rwanda). Kigali is very busy, it feels like houses are being built on top of houses, construction everywhere - it's an odd feeling to hold the tragedy and the obvious attempt at moving on together. I'm told people are not recovered from the genocide - which, of course, makes sense - there is a sense that death is not something they are afraid of; people look dazed, not altogether with you when you talk with them. Everyone here has a genocide story.

But if you came from another planet and had never heard of the Rwandan genocide, apart from the memorials you wouldn't know there had been such suffering. There are no dead bodies piled up on the side of the road, no traces of blood seeping into the soil. All the pictures we've seen of the tragedy they're pictures of the past - you don't see those things anymore. I don't quite know what to do with it all - I may not be explaining myself very well - but, it's what I've been experiencing since I came to Africa . . . terrible stories of horrible suffering, but the actual events didn't happen when I was here. I am somewhat removed from them - I don't see the evidence of the mutiliations and murders and rapes except in the faces of the people I meet.

I guess what I'm trying to get at is holding such beauty and such tragedy together. Because that is what you have here in Africa - both/and - I'm staying at a beautiful guesthouse with a veranda and porch overlooking a garden, and 5 minutes away is the place where tens of thousands of Rwandans are buried in mass graves because the individuals weren't able to be identified.

I'll visit the gorillas in 2 days - on my way I'll see more memorials - not to mention the tragedy that has happened and is happening with poachers maiming and killing gorillas - I'll save that for later. I suppose if I can accept the ambiguity of what I'm experiencing, I'll come to some understanding of the complexity of this place. I don't know - maybe I won't - maybe it's not something that can be understood.

June 24, 2008

Mt. Elgon

"My daughter, I am deeply embraced by these teachings, they have sunk into my marrow and joints." That's what one of the elders said to me on the last day of the trauma seminar. I love the language of it!

A great seminar - people were so open with their stories and with their willingness to learn about how their community has been impacted by 2 1/2 years of violence. The stories I heard I will not soon forget - torture and interrogations, body parts hacked off by militia members, homes burned, farms and cows taken, rape, disappearances, humiliation and loss of dignity. There is such strength in the people of this community - and, even more powerful than what they've lived through, is their commitment to forgiveness and restoration. I was humbled at their experiences and that they would be willing to listen to me talk to them about loss and grief.

About 108 people came - most walked 1-2 hours each morning and then again home in the afternoon to attend the seminar. The chiefs commited to attending every day which was a huge statement to the people that they believe in the importance of healing from the violence. The people were so gracious to me, warm and welcoming, and they taught me some of their language - Sabaot. They were kind in applauding my Kiswahili efforts . . . i had a translator, who I know expanded on some of my information :)

The seminar lasted 4 days - by Friday I literally could hardly stand up I was so exhausted. Mt. Elgon doesn't yet have electricity . . . the showers were cold, there was a toilet but no seat (yikes); but, the women cooked great meals for me with cabbage and greens, tomatoes and onions freshly picked minutes before cooking! The fact I survived the bone-jarring trip there and back speaks to the importance of my calcium pills!

I've had 3 days of rest and relaxation back in Kitale. In about an hour I'll leave for the Kitale airstrip - yep, a little plane - back to Nairobi. Tomorrow I fly to Rwanda for 6 days. I think I'll have internet access, not sure, so I'll write another entry when I can. I found out yesterday that I'll be giving a trauma seminar in one of the large Nairobi slums in August. Very excited about this. There was quite a bit of post-election violence in the slums. I'll also be able to do some interviewing for my research.

So, I'm well, happy, and looking forward to my birthday with the gorillas!

June 15, 2008

Trauma Seminar

I'll be without internet access for the next 6 days so I wanted to post another entry to update you on my world. Had my first trauma, grief and loss seminar this past week - a 3 day in Kitale. It was well attended - there were about 160 people, we had thought about 30-40 might come. The large numbers are really an indicator of what's been going on in this country the past 6 months especially, and certainly in the last few years. There is so much trauma here - a room of 160 people and it's not exaggerating to say that at least 2/3 of them have personal stories that are almost overwhelming in their scope of tragedy. The seminar participants were wonderful - so generous in their comments. The people that came to the seminar are counselors, leaders, pastors, and some who aren't in any of those capacities, but came hoping they could be helped.

The stories that were shared were difficult to take in - by day 3 I felt like my body had absorbed all that it could, and yet, that's when more stories came . . . by the end of each day I was like a cooked noodle, barely had the strength to stand up straight! I brought some yoga DVD's and am really glad I did - exercise has been really helpful to me these past 3 weeks.

I've been re-reading Parker Palmer's book "Let Your Life Speak." I can't seem to move away from the first chapter! He talks about vocation, and quotes Frederich Buechner's definition of vocation: when the world's deep pain (I think that's the word he uses - maybe it's need) and your deep gladness come together. As exhausted as I've been from this schedule of teaching and seminar leading, I'm loving it. What I am doing is such a privilege - I can't believe these wonderful, suffering, generous people will come to hear me talk about trauma and loss. They teach me - and asked me to come back. I hope I can - I'd love to come back for part 2!

I'm slowly learning Swahili - some of the employees here at the school have taken it upon themselves to teach me new words each day. I guess I still have an accent, but they tell me I'm doing pretty well. I had a translator at this seminar and could actually understand some of what was said without translation. It's fun - but I have a long way to go . . . I have, however, learned how to order Coke. Ok, that's not such a great example, since CocaCola translates :)

Tomorrow I'm headed to Mt. Elgon - a town that experienced a fair amount of post-election violence, burned houses and fields - for a 4.5 day seminar - it's very remote. As I said, no internet access; a generator is turned on each night from 7-10, otherwise, no electricity. I'm not clear yet on the shower/flushing toilet situation . . . yikes. The men and women who attend the seminar will be walking from 2-8 miles one way to get there. Tad bit of pressure there.

The IRB (U ethics board) accepted with stipulations my application for research here - the stipulations are easy to manage. So - good news - and in time for the second seminar as I'm expecting to be able to interview a number of people in Mt. Elgon.

I have been so healthy on this trip - a few mosquito bites, but otherwise I'm feeling quite good; losing weight but that's what I wanted, so it's all good! I'm so grateful for my health as my last trip to Kenya I was sick for 2 weeks straight.

What little news I've been getting sounds like the midwest is getting a lot of rain and storms. I hope all of you are safe and dry.

I'll write again before I visit the gorillas and Rwanda!

June 10, 2008

McDonalds?

While I'm writing this blog entry, my students are taking their final exam. I think the class has gone well - other people are telling me my students have made positive comments about the class. I'm pleased with that. The other comment is that I talk too fast - and with an accent. Of course, I think they talk too fast and with an accent. Got to work on this for the upcoming trauma seminars . . .

I had a great conversation with a student who worked in an IDP for about 6 weeks - he gave me such good information about the lived experiences of refugees. The thing that brought them to the camp - tribal violence - was the thng that didn't exist in the camp. There are 42 tribes in Kenya - a number of them were represented in the camp, but there was no violence in the camp. I asked him why and he said, because there was a bigger thing at work in the camp - humanity. The refugees humanity was more important than their tribal affiliation. I'm still sitting with that . . . I went away from the conversation very energized for the work I'm here to do. What a privilege.

We've had a lot of rain here - I mean A LOT. Multiple times a day it rains and often hard. Most days the sun will come out between rain showers, but the last couple days it's been mostly cloudy. It's very cold for the people here - they have jackets and sweaters on, and I'm going around in t-shirts and flip flops. Crazy mzungu :)

Looks like I will have an opportunity to learn how to cook some African food - from a Masai student - I'll let you know how it turns out. Actually, if it works . ... I'll cook African when I return and you can all have a taste of what my meals have been like. Well, the dinners at least, because breakfast is bread with peanut butter. I'm craving meat - even with my protein bars (which I NEVER want to eat again) and peanut butter - can't seem to get enough.

Went to lunch Saturday with Esther and Dorcas - they took me to the Pine Wood Resort Club - good food. Both of them have lived in the States when their husbands were in school. Dorcas told me how much she loves and misses American food . . . McDonalds, mostly! I told her she was a true American.

Not to guilt you all, but I've gotten one comment on the blog. Don't leave me out here without comments!!! I'll be without internet access all of next week, I'll try to write another entry before I go. Hope all is well with you.

June 6, 2008

Barack Obama - Son of Kenya

Two nights ago, I was having dinner in a hotel restaurant - the only white person in the room, the only American in the room. The lead story on the news was Obama's nomination - we were all glued to the TV! Kenya claims Barack Obama as one of their own, they have watched the campaign with a great deal of interest, and they are very excited about his nomination. They are hopeful he will go all the way to the White House, and hopeful that he'll offer positive change between the US and Africa. "Obama for President" buttons are worn, schoolchildren are dancing, people are pleased about this. It was a surreal experience for me to be here at a historical time for my country. When I told my students the nomination came when he was in my hometown, they thought that was very cool!

I am learning a lot - and hoping that my students are, as well! Even though I had been tracking the results of the December elections and the tribal violence that came after, I was not aware of the extent of the trauma that has been felt by the Kenyan people I am meeting and hearing about. I have been told that many are anticipating the trauma seminars that will begin end of next week and be held in different locations. It is a humbling thing to be given this opportunity to share what I know . . . I have much to learn from them.

I am well. I have a toilet that flushes and a shower that has hot water. Things are good!

June 1, 2008

The People I Want to Have Big Egos

For some time now, I've been of the opinion that if a brain surgeon is going to operate on me, I want that doctor to think she or he is the best surgeon in the world, can't possibly lose or make a mistake, just one level under God. I've decided to add airline mechanics to this list. I left Nairobi yesterday from the Wilson Airport, it's a small one that handles the in-country flights. I was headed for Eldoret to catch a ride to Kitale where I'm teaching. Check-in at Wilson is at a kiosk outside, I walked about 20 steps to security, and then back outside where I watched my luggage being loaded onto the plane (nice to be sure your luggage is going with you!). The down side to being able to watch your plane is that you see when there's a problem. The flight was to leave at 7:15 a.m., but when the pilot started up the plane, one of the propellors didn't move. So, for an hour or so, I watched a mechanic work on the problem. This guy had a swagger about him as he went back and forth between the plane and the hangar - and I decided I liked that! He had confidence in the fact that he was going to fix this propellor, and everybody else could just step back and watch the master. He did get it fixed, our plane took off and landed safely, and I'm in Kitale ready to start class tomorrow.

The rest of my flights to Africa were uneventful which is how I like it. I've been taken good care of and am excited to be here. It still feels surreal - have to remind myself to use my water bottle for brushing my teeth - otherwise, I'm settling in.

Every Kenyan I talk to tells me how traumatized the people are from the election violence. Some people are still living in IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps, some can't go home because an official gave their home to another from their tribe, some are - of course - mourning dead family members, there is a curfew of 7:00 p.m. here in Kitale in order to avoid the violence that occurred in other towns, Kitale is safe, and most other towns are safe, but there is a lot of concern about how this situation will be resolved. I am told the issue is land - and the people don't believe the issue of land is being addressed. I asked a man if there is hope for Kenya, he said "for my children, yes, but it will take some time." Children are hurting - they have seen things they should not have seen.

I have been welcomed and made to feel that my presence and course and seminars are much anticipated. Class begins tomorrow . . . Other than a blow dryer that fell apart on my first day, I'm doing great!

May 26, 2008

3:30 a.m.???

It's Monday morning - 2 days 'til I leave for Kenya. Been awake since 3:30 and can't get back to sleep . . . my alarm will be going off in half an hour so there's not much point in trying to sleep now. Clearly, it's finally sinking in that I'm going to Africa for 3 months! My brain is going almost non-stop - it seems I'm at Target every day picking up one more thing - setting aside clothes and hiking boots and toiletries - keeping in mind my checked luggage can't be more than 50 pounds each! Think I'm sliding in under the free checked luggage - not flying American - as if flying wasn't difficult enough . . .

One thing at a time - one day at a time. This is becoming my mantra in these last days before leaving. Even though I say it's sinking in that I'm leaving soon - it still catches me off-guard. Saying goodbyes and realizing I won't be seeing friends and family I'm used to seeing daily or weekly. I am looking forward to time on my own away from the familiar . . . and, at the same time, having moments of thinking that the familiar is a really good thing, what am I doing?!

There was a tornado or funnel cloud or really bad wind storm (I've heard all three possibilities) here yesterday. A toddler was killed and others injured. We live in a difficult world which often feels unstable. This thought heightens my awareness that things will happen while I am gone - I am also aware that I am not going alone, wherever I go, the Trinity goes with me, your thoughts and prayers and mindfulness go with me. And with you, too. You are in my thoughts, prayers, and mindfulness, as well.

May 20, 2008

Itinerary

May 28 is getting closer . . . spring semester is done, I'm writing the pre-marital counseling course and trauma, loss and grief seminars, crossing things off my to-do list, taking weekly malaria pills . . .

I have an intinerary for the first part of my trip - I'll share it with you so you have idea of where I might be. Things, of course, can change throughout the day, but here's what I know today! As I get more information and as things change, I'll update the blog.

May 28-30 Travel - from Mpls to Chicago to London to Kenya.
May 30 Nairobi
May 31-June14 Kitale. Teach Pre-Marital Counseling course at International Christian Ministries school (2-10). Lead Trauma, Grief and Loss seminar (12-14).
June 15-21 Mt. Elgon. Lead Trauma, Grief and Loss seminar.
June 22-24 Kitale. Project writing and data collection.
June 25-30 Rwanda. Genocide research, vacation.
June 28 Virunga National Forest - tracking gorillas on my birthday!
July 1-5 Eldoret. Lead Trauma, Grief and Loss Seminar
July 6 Nairobi. I think for the remainder of my trip I'll be working out of Nairobi . . . more details to come.

People ask me how I'm feeling about the trip . . . to be honest, there's been so much to do. So many details to wrap up from the school year, things to get ready for . . . my thoughts have been taken up with lists and making sure I've crossed t's and dotted i's. It all feels surreal right now - I'm going to Africa for 11 weeks - how is that possible? I'm pursuing my passion and being given the opportunity to hear people's stories and learn more about lives that have experienced loss and trauma and grief - I can hardly take it all in!

But I will . . . soon. I'll keep you posted on my feelings and thoughts as I get closer to departure. It's exciting and scary and overwhelming and wonderful and it's going to be quite an adventure! I wonder what I'll be like when I return . . .