Saturday, July 31, 2010
There was also a Tortoise pit with a couple of monitor lizards in it. The tortoises were awesome. One of them was as old as 75 years old! I couldn't help but get a little Earl sick watching them. There wasn't exactly much to watch..they don't really do much. We got to hold one of the big guys though and I may have convinced a few of the girls here how awesome turtles are.
Meru is freezing cold. I'm currently in a toque, a fleece hoodie and wool socks. I brought extra warm clothes with me because I was intending to climb Mt Kenya, and even then I thought I was being a little ridiculous. I ended up shoving an extra sweater in my bag at the last minute simply because I found 2 cm more room in my backpack to squeeze it into. I'm glad I did though!
Thursday, July 29, 2010
1) We went to Kiirua Boys Secondary School to talk to the boys about the benefits of not polishing the maize in the githeri, and about soaking the beans and maize overnight before cooking the githeri. These were our recommendations for this school but the headmaster literally laughed out loud at us claiming that the boys would never ever agree to eat the githeri that way and would probably not even try it. The next day, we went back to the school to eat the new and improved lunch with the boys. We sat outside ate githeri and chatted about a million different things just like we would have at home. It was nice to be able to hang out with guys our age who spoke English well and were able to have real conversations. They ended up loving the githeri made with Mbembe maize and even asked the headmaster if they could have their githeri made this way forever. We were beyond stoked! So stoked that I made my facebook Status “Mbembe Maize 1 : Muthikore Maize 0 : Kiirua Boys was a success!” next thing I know a whole bunch of the guys add me to facebook, see my status and laugh hysterically at me and a couple of them even commented on it. A little embarrassing.
2) We gave another parent Family Nutrition Session to Kinyenjere Primary School. It went really well and we had another big turnout of about 100 people. This group also included men, about 25 men and 75 women. We were getting ready to leave, saying our goodbyes to the group, when I take a step backwards to start to leave. Little do I know, there is a stool right behind me that I trip over and fall, literally, flat on my back in front of 100+ people. So I lay there, in the grass, on my back in front of 100 people and I couldn’t help but burst out laughing because what else was I supposed to do? Shortly after, the 100+ Kenyans erupted into laughter as if they had never in their lives witnessed anything quite so funny in their lives. At least the presentation was memorable...
3) Sleeping in a mosquito net is really annoying. You have to tuck it all up under the mattress, and then attempt to crawl into bed without un-tucking the whole thing. Not to mention it makes getting up in the middle of the night to pee extremely difficult. Stumbling out of bed in the middle of the night half asleep is bad enough, but having to also navigate your way around a hundred yards of mesh makes it that much harder. Sick of hte stupid net, I decided to rebel and not use it a couple nights ago. I have only ever seen one mosquito since I got here so I figured it was a pretty safe move. Well I was wrong. Thank goodness for Malaria meds because I woke up the next morning COVERED in bites and am still incredibly itchy. Specially my elbows. If you've ever tried to scratch your elbows, you would understand how unfortunate this is.
4) Cooking and baking in Kenya is a new adventure in itself. None of the equipment is the same, and all of the ingredients are slightly different then at home. We don't even have measuring cups. We have a scale so we've been converting measurements to weights and it's been working out really well. So far we've made Chocolate Chip Banana Bread and Carrot Cake (seen on left). And last night, Silas, our chef, taught us how to make one of my favorite Kenya foods; Chapati. We added pumpkin to the dough to add some much needed nutrients and they were delicious! We're hoping to be able to teach the women in the womens groups how to add pumpkin, carrot and other vegetables to the dough to make them more nutritious.
5) We spent the day today working on our infant weaning slash transitional feeding presentation. I won't lie. I didn't actually know anything about transitional feeding when I woke up this morning. We spent a good chunk of the day finding papers to read and learning all about introducing solid foods to your child and what to introduce when etc. Now that I've been reading all day, I am soo beyond stoked for making up the resource for the parents and putting the presentation together. It's a little bit ridiculous how excited I am. My new found knowledge of transitional feeding makes me feel a little bit better about my lack of maternal instincts at the orphanage.
6) Barefoot Running Update: I am now running 8 km barefoot on the treadmill. The distance isn't so much inhibited by running barefoot, but it's just so freaking boring that I want to barf after 10 minutes. But I'm slowly training myself not to hate the treadmill, either that or I'm getting better at forcing myself to do things I hate.
7) We donated some cups to Ruuju Primary School on Tuesday. We noticed that last time we were there, there were not enough cups for all of the nursery school students to eat their uji at the same time, so some kids had to wait until the others were done before they could eat. We bought another 24 cups and gave them to the school on behalf of our prof who was here so that all the kids can now eat at the same time. The kids were sooo cute when we were handing them out!
Quote of the day (courtesy of Mama Parkes): Don't limit your challenges, challenge your limits.
Monday, July 26, 2010
We woke up at the ACK, the hostel where we are staying at, to a church sermon blaring over the loud speakers in the breakfast room across the hall from our room. The ACK stands for the Anglican Church of Kenya, but the hostel is clean and safe and where Henry wants us to stay whenever we are in Nairobi (assuming we don’t want to spend mega bucks and stay at the Fairview again). The crowd that stays here is pretty predictable. Mostly missionaries here from the states or the UK. Breakfast was really quiet since most of the guests were in church but we were still full from Carnivore on Friday night to eat more than some fruit and an egg.
Ronald picked us up and we loaded all of our newly acquired goods into the combi and headed to the Giraffe Center. The Giraffe Center is basically just a raised wooden platform a few feet shorter than the average giraffe. On the grounds, there are 12 giraffes that just roam free. Not exactly wild but it’s a tourist attraction and the proceeds go towards giraffe conservation or something like that. When you climb up onto this platform, there are buckets of giraffe food that you can take to feed to the giraffes. I should have asked what giraffe food consists of, but it never occurred to me at the time. It looked like giant guinea pig food; large green pellets. While we were there, only two giraffes were at the platform, and there weren’t very many tourists there either, which was kind of nice. We fed the giraffes from our hands, and then we got adventurous and decided that kissing the giraffes would be a brilliant idea. We put the food pellet between our lips and the giraffe took it right off our faces with his tongue slash lips. There were huge strings of giraffe drool hanging off our faces and we were covered in giraffe slime but it was awesome! My camera died on Saturday while taking pictures of the elephants so we were relying on Christina’s camera for all the giraffe pics. Unfortunately, her camera was randomly dunzo and none of the pictures turned out. They are all blue-ish in colour or have giant stripes through them. Looks like we’ll be going back next time we’re in Nairobi in order to get some good pictures!
The drive back was long and boring. But the combi was much better for car-sickness than the Toyota corolla was that we took into Nairobi. At least this time Christina didn’t have to barf into her purse, and I felt a lot less nauseous. We stopped in Karatina at the market to buy some fresh fruit and veg. We bought tomatoes, bananas, a watermelon, and (drum roll please!) fresh green PEAS!! My all time favorite veg tied with beets. I was contemplating making creamed peas on toast with them as soon as I got back to the compound but it was too close to dinner. Plus I’m the only person on the planet that actually likes this food so it would be mean to Christina to make her eat it. We also stopped into the Starbucks to grab some take-out lunch. Not sure samosas and chapattis can be considered lunch but it was better than nothing. Plus I can now say that I’ve been to the Starbucks in Kenya.
Our second stop on the way home was at the lodge that Henry suggested we climb Mt Kenya from. We went to figure out how many days it would take to summit so we could get an idea of the cost. Bad news bears though because it takes 4 days to summit, plus there is a bunch of equipment that needs to be rented on top of the fees to climb. Meaning that it would cost us about 700 dollars US each to climb. This is WAY over our budget and so I think we’ve had to give up on the dream, which is really extremely disappointing. I was really excited about climbing it, and had not anticipated it would cost so much. Elizabeth recommended we do an all inclusive on the coast for a few days instead, so we’re looking into the Turtle Bay Beach Club which so far sounds pretty awesome and somewhat reasonably priced. We’re still working it out with Henry though, because getting to and from the coast might be an issue since it’s kind of far away. We really want to do something fun for our last week though.
It sounds as though all I’m doing here in Kenya is fun trips but I guess the day in and day out work just isn’t quite as exciting to write about. But we've successfully convinced 2 schools to switch from polished to unpolished maize, and 3 schools to soak their beans and maize overnight before cooking the githeri. Small steps but very very exciting! The current and future students of these schools will officially be better nourished when we leave then when we got here!
Saturday, July 24, 2010
We started the morning off by visiting the animal orphanage in Nairobi. If you are ever visiting Nairobi, do NOT go to the animal orphanage. It was expensive and not worth the price at all. The animals were kept in tiny cages that left them pacing around their fences and growling, and there really wasn't very much to see at all. There were a bunch of cheetahs, lions and a leopard, but none of these cats seemed very happy at all. It was basically just a really small, crappy zoo. We were pretty grumpy that we paid so much to go when it was so lame, and a little sad to see all the animals in such small pens.
After the animal orphanage, we went to Seldrick Elephant Orphanage. We were expecting more of the same here but figured we'd give it a try since we wouldn't be back in Nairobi long enough to go another time. It turned out to be well worth the 300 ksh. There were 19 baby elephants that all came out to be bottle fed at the same time and were rolling around in the mud being super super cute. They got close enough to touch! The organization rehabilitates the elephants and releases them back into the wild. By wild I mean a game park but close-ish to the wild.
While we were on Safari at Sweetwaters, we met a women who is from Nova Scotia but who has been living in Nairobi for the past five years. Her husband works for the High Commission and she has two sons, one of which is our age. We met up with her for lunch today at Westgate Mall in Nairobi. Oh man! This was the nicest mall ever! There was even a store that sold Mac computers and ipods. It was so surreal. It was like being back home for a few hours! But, I found a cupcake shop in the mall which made my day complete. I've been hoping to find a Kenyan cupcake at some point but had basically given up hope. It was delicious!
After lunch, we met up with Henry again briefly. Both Christina and I mentioned that we would love to live in Nairobi once we're done school. Next thing you know, Henry is on the phone setting up a meeting for us with one of his connections at either CIDA or the University of Nairobi. He wants us to meet this guy and talk to him in September before we leave because apparently he can hook us up with really sweet jobs in Kenya once we graduate. Oh Henry....he always knows someone convenient!
We headed to a giant outdoor market that had hundreds of different vendors all selling art work and jewelery and carvings and pretty much anything you could possibly imagine bringing home from Kenya with you. Of course this meant about an hour of being pestered by every single person selling stuff. "sista, come to my shop", "Sista, I give you good deal". We were about to punch the next person to call us "sista". After walking around the entire market once, we decided what we wanted and didn't waste time getting down to business. We were bartering up a storm, and being extremely firm. Maybe a little too firm...we had this old lady and her son basically yelling at us because we wouldn't budge on our offer. We eventually had to give in a little, but seeing how unhappy they were with us made us feel fairly confident we weren't being ripped off. I got 2 pieces of art work that I am really excited about. One canvas oil painting and one framed watercolor painting. I'm not sure where I am going to put all the stuff I've bought yet since I don't own a house and only have a small bedroom at school with limited wall space, but I'm sure I'll find a spot for everything eventually. I'm really really happy with all my purchases so far. It;s a good thing I have an extra suitcase to go home with though or else I would not be bringing very much back at all.
Tomorrow morning we're going to feed some giraffes and then say goodbye to Nairobi, bye to salads and un-fried vegetables, and bye to free internet. We'll be heading back to Meru where we'll be right back into the grind of report writing and school work. We picked the perfect weekend to come to Nairobi though. Only 2 weeks until we head to Masai Mara for the Wildebeest migration. We would have come next weekend instead though if we had known that the African Athletics Championships were going down. I would have loved to get tickets to go watch!
Friday, July 23, 2010
We drove to Nairobi today for a nice weekend away from reports and school work. We stopped in Ishamara where the vet students are staying to pick up a cooler of cow poop to take to the lab on our way into the city. We met their cook who made us a delicious glass of fresh passion fruit juice and who invited us to stay for lunch on Sunday on our way back to Meru. We are hoping to take him up on his offer as we have heard nothing but very very good things about his culinary genius. We drove past the Karatina Market, where we will hopefully stop on our way back to Meru to get fresh fruit and veg for the week. We also drove past the Starbucks in Karatina. I thought it was awesome that there is a Starbucks in Kenya. Sure it's just a hotel, but the fact that the power of the Starbucks brand name trickled it's way all the way to a tiny little market in Kenya blows my mind a little.
When we got to Nairobi, we met with Henry. Henry is more and more awesome every time I meet him. He has magic powers of some sort which make it possible for him to arrange absolutely anything you want in Kenya. Lucky for us he's our go to guy. He took Christina and I out for lunch to Java House. We haven't had lettuce in a very long time, or vegetables that havn't been soaked in oil and extremely well cooked so seeing salads on the menu was basically the highlight of my week. An americano, followed by a greek salad followed by fresh fruit with yogurt, honey and nuts was pretty much the best meal I have had since arriving in Kenya. We left Java House fed and happy and met up with Henry's assistant / accountant / employee (?) Susan. Susan took us to Biashara street to go shopping. Our mission was to buy about 30 sheets of kikoi. (The reason for the excessive quantity will be revealed in the next couple of days) We hit the jackpot. We got the kikoi for cheaper than we expected and found amazing kikoi bedding at the same place. The owners gave us a sweet deal since we bought so much and we absolutely love our purchases.
We checked into our hotel, which has free internet! This is an extra awesome bonus because we didn't think it would have internet and the internet we do have via safaricom modems is sketch at best. After settling in and checking e-mail, our driver Ronald took us to Carnivore.
Carnivore is a glorious glorious place. We called and tried to get reservations but they were all booked, but some how Ronald talked them into giving us a table. As soon as we sat down, drink menus were placed in our hands, and a man came around with hot towels. In no time I had a pina colada in my hand and an entire table full of food in front of me. The meal started with "bites", some random quiche-ish apps. Next came a homemade cream of leek soup with bread and butter, followed by a two tiered Lazy Susan of assorted salads and sauces. On the top of the Lazy Susan was a white flag. When you are ready to surrender, you lay the white flag down, signifying that you cannot possible eat any more. Before we even got a chance to make a dent on the salads, we were each given a hot plate and some baked potatoes with sour cream. We were still trying to finish the salads when along came a long line up of men with HUGE spears of meat. We had several types of chicken, pork sausage, kenyan sausage, pork ribs, beef, crocodile, chicken liver, ox testicles, ox heart, ostrich meatballs, lamb and turkey. By the time we had tried everything, and had seconds of the good stuff, I literally could not move. Everyone at the tables around you notices when you surrender, so as soon as you even put your hand on the flag, someone will chirp in with a "don't do it!" or a "just one more ox ball!" and of course you look at them as if they couldn't possibly have any idea how much pain you are in from over eating, but not wanting to wimp out you call the waiter holding an entire leg of lamb on a skewer over to cut you one more piece. Finally, after 2 hours of straight eating, we gave up and surrendered. But of course, at this point, when you think there is no possible way that anything else could fit into your stomach, they bring you the dessert menu. It's already included in the price so you can't turn it down. This is when we somehow managed to eat passion fruit cheesecake, pineapple pie and ice cream and coffee. I'm not sure how I haven't thrown up yet.
Monday, July 19, 2010
The first hill we climbed was very steep. I was expecting the hills to be kind of steep but to have a little bit of a path from the base of them to the top, but I was clearly mistaken. The first hill was rocky and grassy and we literally just trudged our way right up the side of it. We tried to zig zag up as much as we could to prevent from falling to our deaths but most of the time we were gripping onto long tuffs of grass to prevent ourselves from falling backwards and rolling right down the hill. There were a few close calls; a few slips and more then a couple of times that what we thought was a good place to put our feet resulted in one of us sliding a few meters back down the hill. We got to the top in about 40 minutes though, and the view was worth it. We packed homemade chocolate chip banana bread that we baked, carrots, apples, almonds and peanut butter sandwiches with us to share, and Salomie brought onion mandazis so we had a fabulous little picnic lunch on the top of the hill. Unfortunately, it turned out that the hip high grass we were climbing through also contained burrs and thorns. By the time we got to the top, our pants and shoes were absolutely covered in burrs and you could barely even see the fabric through them all. We spent about 40 minutes trying to remove the thorns before we headed back down so we'd have enough time to climb another hill. By climbing down, what I really mean is falling strategically. Up was the easy part! Going downhill seems to use strange muscles you didn't know existed, not to mention we managed to get even more burr covered on the way down then up. Every inch of my pants were covered. Turns out lulus and burrs are not a good combo.
Lesson of the day: Up is better than down.
The second hill was much less steep and actually had a path most of the way up. It was more of a hike then a climb. We chilled on the top for about 40 minutes and then headed back down to head home.
(I had some awesome top of the hill pictures to add to this post but for some reason the internet freezes right up whenever I try to add them so hopefully I can figure it out soon.)
I was wearing my Nike frees because my old crappy runners that I brought because I totally don't care if they get ruined were soaking wet. Our cleaning lady Gladys is a shoe cleaner extraordinaire, but unless you hide your shoes under the bed, they get cleaned. I'm not complaining, but I really didn't want to wear my brand new, white shoes trekking around Kiirua in the dust and grime. I've been using tweezers to try to get the burrs and thorns out of them for the past two days and I think they're almost as good as new. Gladys managed to get her hands on them today though, so I'm sure by tomorrow once they are washed, they'll be whiter then they were when I got here.
We went to Kiirua Boys Secondary School today to tell the students about the nutritional benefits of unpolished maize. The staff liked the idea of not polishing the maize for the githeri as it saves them the money is takes to have it polished, but they did not think that the students would find it acceptible. The headmaster thought that hearing the benefits from two young Canadian girls might make them more willing to try it. Tomorrow, they are preparing the githeri with unpolished maize for the first time and want us to go back to eat lunch with the boys. Nothing like good ol' peer modeling to make kids (and grownups) accept new foods!
Friday, July 16, 2010
Giving the feedback to the school was awesome. The staff at Kamuketha were so incredibly attentive and hung on to our every word, not once doubting our expertise despite only being students. It was pretty fun to be able to teach them things that they were excited to try. Simple little changes that will enhance the health of all the students. None of the changes are drastic, but they are realistic and achievable, which is the best part. It's too bad we can't come back next year, because when the new nutrition students who come next year go to visit the schools, they'll be able to see that what we have recommended is being implemented and positively impacting the students.
We went to Ruuju Primary school on Wednesday to give our very first family nutrition seminar to the parents of the nursery school kids. We called the headmaster the day before to see how many parents were expected to show up and he told us around 30. There are about 70 nursery school students so while we weren't thrilled with this number, we felt that it would be a fairly good sized group to speak to and to be able to facilitate a good discussion with. We were a little worried that the 30 expected would not all show, and we would be left with an audience of about 5 people. We weren't really nervous but couldn't help but have some butterflies as we stood infront of a room full of mothers looking at us expectantly. We had a teacher translate for us since we don't speak the language and many of the mothers do not speak strong English. We would say 1 or two short sentences and then allow the teacher to translate. We're not entirely sure what she actually told the women but it took about 5 minutes of Swahili (or Kimaru...not entirely sure)for every 2 sentences of English. We knew going into the presentation that presneting to women in Kenya would be different than presenting in Canada, but I don't think either of us was fully prepared for how extremely different it actually was. Women were trickling in in groups of 4, 2 or 6 throughout the entire presentation, often accompanied by crying children. Since the group of women quickly expanded from about 30 women when we started to well over 100 women by the end of the session, teachers were constantly coming in carrying more and more benches for the parents to sit on, shuffling the already seated women around completely and causing a ruckus as everyone jammed into the little classroom we were lecturing in. It was a little but frustrating to have so many interruptions every few minutes. With new people coming in, the existing audience members being rearranged, children on lunch break playing and screaming outside and children popping their heads through the window trying to get a look at what was going on, it was hard to focus on what we were actually presenting to the women. Luckily, we happen to be in Kenya, and I think Christina and I were the only two that even noticed the distractions. All in all it went really really well! We had the women fill out an evaluation form in three groups to get feedback on how they felt it went and the comments were overwhelmingly awesome. Everyone seemed really happy to have been invited and were excited to try out some of our tips at home. We even got thank you cards given to us with a standing ovation from the women. The card will be hanging on my bulletin board in my room as soon as I get home!
We had another parent session planned for another school the following day and were pretty excited about it since the previous one went so well. When we walked up to Kinyenjere, the school seemed awfully quiet. There are normally kids running around everywhere but there were only a few little kids playing outside. Turns out that there had been a death in the community and the majority of the school, including ALL the parents of nursery school kids, were attending the burial that morning. So we were a little disappointed; not a single parent showed up to our session. We rescheduled with a teacher for the following week and then went into some of the classes and taught the students about the 3 Kenyan food groups instead. Once the kids got bored of the food groups, we taught them all the hokey pokey which they found beyond hilarious. We eventually had a giant school wide circle of hokey pokey-ing going down which I would have loved to get a picture of. I knew that pulling out a camera would mean everyone immediately running towards me to look at the picture I had taken so I didn't even bother trying.
Martin came to pick us up in the afternoon on his way back from Nairobi with 2000 Banana tree seedlings in the truck. We headed to the Muchui Business Center where we were greeted by about 20 women who were waiting for Martin to arrive with the plants. We all crowded into the greenhouse, where polybags full of sterilized soil were all ready and waiting. martin gave us some instructions and we got to planting. it only took about half an hour to get all of the tree seedlings planted but that was more than enough time to get completely covered from head to toe in mud. Somehow Kenyan women manage to stay 100% clean 100% of the time, regardless of whether or not they are farming or having tea with the queen. Us on the other hand, had mud from our toes to our knees, our fingers to out elbows, and even smudges on our faces. The women were a little disgusted with us and ushered us to a water tap to shower off. They weren't quite satisfied with our bathing job though and kept giving us death stares, pointing to our muddy feet and speaking in swahili to one another. Oh well! I loved banana planting. Being able to work with the women in the farm was awesome, and made me feel like I was actually being useful instead of just giving sessions on what they should be eating. They find it so incredible that white people would be willing to help them do manual labour so they were all really grateful despite not even needing to be.
Monday, July 12, 2010
There are very few things that motivate you more to slather on copious layers of sunscreen every hour than the realization that you are no longer invincible against sunspots and wrinkles. I like to think that the hours and hours I’ve spent in the sun throughout my lifetime have been not so much out of choice but a necessity as an outdoor summer athlete. I always wear sunscreen at the beginning of the summer when I'm still super white and burn, but once I've established a base tan, I normally forget to put it on everyday, despite being on the water for several hours a day all summer long. In the back of my head I know this was unwise, and when I retired from paddling I told myself I would start taking the time to look after myself properly. I was legitimately making a bigger effort to wear sunscreen everyday and re-apply here but the one day I decided I would lay outside and read I got ridiculously burned. I looked in the mirror a few days later and realized that I actually had the beginnings of wrinkles and several new freckles on my chest and arms. This really really freaked me out. I don't want to be one of those people who you walk by and instantly know they had spent a lot of time in the sun when they were younger. So the past few days I've been putting on about a gallon of sunscreen every hour in a frantic attempt to prevent further damage or reverse any damage I may have already done. I know I'm only 21 but this whole getting old thing happens quicker than I thought!
We provided a school with feedback based on our data analysis today for the first time! It was really exciting to be able to finally to the job we can here to do. We made up a handout for the head teacher of the school with several tips and a brief summary of what we found. We sat down with the head teacher, the gardener, the cook and another teacher who was involved in what was served to students and went through what awesome things they are already doing, and areas in which they could improve. We provided several tips to make these changes possible and then had a lengthy goal setting session with them. We made concrete, realistic goals with dead lines that the school could strive for that would make the recipes they use more nutritionally adequate for all students. I think the staff were very receptive and appreciative and by the end of the session they even seemed pretty excited and determined to achieve the new goals we had set with them.
To get to the school, we called George, our taxi man, for the first time. He was a little bit sketch, but he is the friend of David, who one of Henry's go to guys and since Henry is awesome and so is David, then we figure George must not be as sketch as he seemed. The road to Kamuketha Primary School is treacherous to say the least. Not to mention we didn't know how to get there. We tried calling Martin, the guy who drove us last time, who is a employee of farmers helping farmers, but when we passed the phone to the driver for Martin to tell him where to go, he simply instructed the driver to stop at another school to pick up a student who could show us the way. We got out of the car at the school and as they pulled a a little boy out of a grade 4 class and was forcing him to get in the car with us, Christina and I refused to let them take a student out of school so a few teachers, the principal and 3 students later, the driver finally got an explanation of how to get there. There are no road signs, so the directions consisted of "turn left at the rock that looks like a banana" and take a right at the cactus". We had to stop like 5 times to ask directions from guys herding goats and women carrying hundreds of pounds of water on their backs on the way but we made it eventually. When Martin drove us to the school last week, he drove very slowly and swerved around all the boulders and eased the truck up the mountain. When I say the road is treacherous, I mean that this road looks like a really decent hike up the side of a mountain, not the least like a road that would allow cars to actually pass. George doesn't have a truck. He has a little car. His strategy for getting up the mountain and over the boulders was to go really fast with a running start. It worked after rolling down the maintain backwards only a couple times though!
After a good day at school, we headed to the junction to Irene's salon for manicures and pedicures. I was a little sketched out about the sanitation of the tools she was using, which aren't washed between people and may never have ever been washed so I settled for getting my nails filled and painted. I stopped biting my nails when I got here for safety reasons and so it's the first time I've had nails long enough to paint which was kind of exciting. She also got disgusted with how dirty my feet were and washed them for me. Good thing to because while she was washing them she found a parasite and dug it out of my toe with a needle sterilized with some sort of alcohol (well clear liquid, I assumed it was alcohol). In Kenya it's called a jigga, but I think it might have actually been a Hookworm. Either way I hand sanitized my feet hardcore when I got home and will have to start bathing more often I guess.
When we were all getting our nails done (all six of us), Jennifer's brother's wife came in, who is also Stacey's grandmother. Stacey is this little girl who comes over all the time to colour in my Toy Story and Monsters Inc colouring books with my crayons that I brought. She had her cell phone in one hand, was wearing a very nice business suit and in the other hand had a chicken. A fully alive, fluffy white chicken. It happened to be her dinner for tonight! She told me that next time she buys chicken, she'll call me up and let me help butcher it and de-feather it and cook it up. I'm sure this will maybe make me cry a little - I can't imagine killing a chicken, but I think it's really important to be as involved as possible in the entire process of your food. I want to raise chickens in my backyard one day, so I think it would be good for me to learn now. I don't really think it would be fair of me to eat chicken as often as I do if I wasn't willing to at least witness the entire from field to table process. There are chickens everywhere here. You can't look outside without seeing one running around. I think I may have fallen in love with them. I decided that if I ever get chickens, I will name each one after a meal. For example, one could be Pot Pie, or Stew, or Drumstick, or Dumpling. The possibilities are endless really.
Yesterday, during hte world cup final, there were a serious of bombings in Uganda. The nurses are a little freaked out that the violence may somehow end up in Kenya but I'm not to worried. I'm keeping my eye on the headlines just to stay informed but I'm sure if anything major ever happened that was any threat to us here, Farmers Helping Farmers and the University would be sending us home asap. Last time the school sent nutrition students, they ended up being robbed at knife or gun point and were consequently sent home on the next flight. Henry is magic and would have us in Nairobi and on a plane within hours of anything happening so I figure we couldn't possibly be in any safer hands.
I will try to put some pictures up soon, but the internet is slow and now that my prof isn't here to take 200 pictures a day there aren't nearly as many to put up!
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Last weekend I got sunburned. Really really sunburned. It turns out that the sun is pretty strong here at the equator...who woulda thought. Anyways, so I got burned, re-applied aloe every 30 minutes for 2 days in an attempt to be able to sit and move without pain (this was an entire body, from neck down burn). I didn't end up peeling very much at all, and now it has all turned into a tan, which was a bonus because I had never seen a burn on the backs of my legs turn so purple before. It was bad. Yesterday morning I got up early to go for a run on the treadmill before heading out into the real world outside our little locked up compound. The room where the exercise equipment in is quite literally as close to a jail cell as you can get. A stationary bike and treadmill fit snugly into the room together. The room can't be any bigger than 6ft by 6ft and one wall isn't actually a wall, its a giant door. Half of this door is metal and the other half is just metal bars. So as I run, my view is either the curtains if they are pulled, or I can see a tree through the bars. It's not exactly the funnest place to exercise but it's better than nothing. This little room gets really hot, even at 7am. As I get off the treadmill drenched in sweat, I realize that I have developed tiny little blisters all over my body, but worst of all in the spots where my burn was the worst but didn't peel. My entire body actually felt like my skin had turned into bubble wrap. I showered and they still remained, and then I eventually figured that my entire body was covered in blisters that were filled with sweat. As they ruptured throughout the day, I could feel the sweat slash liquid gushing out of them. Luckily I woke up this morning bubble wrap free so I'm a happy camper.
We were invited to go to a women's group meeting yesterday. It was an all day affair and the 4 nurses and 2 vet students joined both of us nutrition students. Jennifer, whos house we stayed at the first week, is the leader of the Muchui women's group and also is heavily involved with helping the Ruuju women's group get up and started as they are much newer. The women from these two groups have never met. Their headquarters are about an hour apart, and each member of the groups are paired with someone from the other group as a pen pal slash they talk on their cell phones (which everyone in the entire country has) but have never met eachother. So the Muchui women rented a bus for the day to take all 65 of them to Ruuju for a meet and greet and we tagged along. The morning was fine, we went to various farms seeing all that they had accomplished since the group started. We saw our very first eggplant plant which was for some reason really exciting. The sad part is, Christina and I have been to so many farms in the last 3 weeks with Farmers Helping Farmers and at the schools, that we can recognize all the crops, we know which questions to ask about crop rotations, about harvesting methods and about which plants may be missing from their garden. We're trying to teach people to plant more indigenous greens that are more drought tolerant and resistent to Kenyan climates. Currently, many of the women are planting mass amounts of cash crops instead of plants they can actually eat themselves. They often get an incredibly unfair prize for their maize, making it next to impossible to support themselves and their families. Although the man of the family owns the property, the women do all the work. It is not unusual to see the men laying drunk and passed out on the side of the road or high from chewing miraa or khat. So what we're doing with the women's groups and the school gardens is trying to teach them how to grow a small kitchen garden along with their cash crop shambas (shamba = swahili for farm) where they grow enough vegetables and fruit to feed themselves and their families. Wow I am totaly off on a tangent right now and will have to reread this paragraph to figure out what I'm even talking about. oops.
Ah yes, ok so after walking around the farms, we regrouped in the dining hall of the school they use as a headquarters, had some Kenyan tea and bananas (which by the way, taste almost nothing like the bananas at home) and then the guest speaker starter her inspirational speech for the women. Cramming 150 people into a small stone dining room in the middle of the day makes for a very hot and sticky and sweaty and smelly and uncomfortable afternoon. It didn't help that the speaker spoke Kimaru ( the local dialect) the whole time so we sat in the heat all squished together for over 2 hours listening to a speech in a language none of us spoke. We were all very very grumpy by the end of her speech. The only english words she said the whole 2 hours was "make yourself betta and betta everyday in every way."
All of the women were wearing wigs for the occasion. This was both hilarious and frustrating. We know alot of the women from visiting their farms, they are teachers at the schools we've visited, or just women we've met several times and are now friends with. But since they were all wearing wigs, it was so hard to find the ones we knew because they looked totally different! There is an entire aisle in the Nakumatt devoted to hair pieces, and I think these women must have sold them out before the meet and greet. Even some of the women farmers who we had seen the day we toured farms in Ruuju, who had dying goats and kittens in their yard, and looked as though a breeze would blow them right over were there in fancy wigs. I guess it just goes to show you that since the culture is so dramatically different, what we perceive as a horrible living situation, might not be that bad at all. This women who broke our hearts by giving us eggs two weeks ago, was now dressed in her uniform, happy as could be with all her friends and wearing a giant wig that made her unrecognizable.
On the way home, we had to drive through downtown Meru. The president was in Meru yesterday for a rally about the referendum. It was actually madness! There were a million people everywhere. Half of them were wearing bright green shirts that had YES written on it in giant white letters, the other half were carrying around rifles and GIANT guns of all types casually as if it were no big deal. And then there were the multiple truck loads of army clad men with even bigger guns then the pedestrians. I was very happy we were only driving through and not actully stopping in town for anything. We haven't heard of any violence occuring yesterday yet so that's always a good sign. We were told not to leave the compound on August 4th when the population is voting. We were also told not even to unlock to doors to the compound that day as it's not safe for us to be anywhere. They are expecting quite a bit of violence that day I think and just want to err on the side of caution with us.
Last night, we had some drinks and played scrabble. There isn't much else to do within the compound when we're not writing reports, analyzing data and preparing presentations so we either read or play scrabble. I love scrabble. I'm thinking if the nutrition thing doesn't work out for me I might just travel the world finding scrabble gurus to teach me their ways and ultimately become the scrabble champ of the world. I won't lie...I am way way far from getting to that point. My skills still consist of words that only Dr Suess could be proud of, but I'm learning! I played the word Toxin the other day on a triple word score. It was probably the highlight of my scrabble career even though it wasn't even very many points. The nurses always joke that nurses don't drink a lot, just enough to forget the day. Wine and scrabble was actually the perfect way to ungrumpify after an unpleasant afternoon.
Friday, July 9, 2010
We went back to Muchaka, the children’s orphanage today. Unlike last time, when the whole purpose of our visit was to simply feed babies and play with children, we actually had to collect data today. This turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated because they don’t actually measure anything. It’s extremely hard to quantify ‘4 handfuls of sukuma wiki’ to input into a nutrient database, or to figure out how much milk they add to uji when the amount they add is based on ‘ just knowing’ how much they need. So of course we hop out of our van, clipboards in one hand, measuring tape and scale in the other, looking for exact measurements of everything but sometimes it’s just not possible. We have the densities in g/mL of about a million vegetables because often they add 1 ‘bucket’ of tomatoes or 3 ‘jugs’ of onions. We’ve been able to calculate the volume of the containers used to measure and then convert the volume into a weight of veg but it all seems a little sketch at times. We’re doing the best we can but I can’t help but wonder how accurate all this actually is, and if it even matters. Without even putting the recipes into our World Food database, we already know what we will eventually recommend. Stop polishing the maize, add more vegetables, soak the beans and maize overnight, add milk to the uji, add more types of cereals to the uji flour etc. Hopefully our data is going to be used for some greater good other than these recommendations. Yes the recommendations are important; we’ve seen in some schools that by simply adding some sukuma wiki (kale), which they already grow in their gardens, the nutrient content of the foods served sky rockets, potentially preventing deficiency diseases from occurring and curing those that already are.
Since collecting data took less time than anticipated, we actually did manage to find some time play with and feed the babies. I wasn’t exactly bouncing off the walls in excitement to feed them again after getting fired last time but I wasn’t dreading it either. (Honestly, I was more excited to play with the preschoolers on one of those play-ground features that is circular and spins really really, really fast and may or may not be called a merry-go-round (minus the horses though, and you can spin it as fast as you want). It’s essentially a giant Lazy Susan for kids to play on). Although I didn’t get fired from feeding the babies today, I did learn a valuable lesson. I am apparently lacking any maternal instincts whatsoever. I cannot feed a child if my life depended on it. We both end up covered in goop, which quite frankly grosses me out a bit. I like kids, and I like babies, but I should not be allowed near anything under the age of 2.
One thing I think is incredibly underrated is soap on a rope. The nurses are going around to a bunch of schools to give hand-washing clinics to the students. They are bringing with them boxes of soap for the schools. Each school is getting 20 kg of soap and there are 5 different schools. These boxes contain 20 1kg bars of soap that are really long, so all the bars had to be cut into normal soap bar sized portions, had to have holes drilled into them and had to have string tied around them. We now have 100kg of soap on a rope ready for the clinics. I’m sure there was a much better way to spend our last weeks worth of evenings, but it had to get done eventually. It actually made me kind of want some for my shower at home. It wouldn’t get all slimy where it sits in the dish and if it slipped out of your hand, instead of flying across the bathroom, it would stay firmly attached it it’s rope and where ever that rope was hung.
Exciting happening of today number a million was an e-mail from the UPEI swim team coach about next year’s team. Last year the schedule was pretty slack. Very few practices were mandatory, and those rules were never even reinforced. This was convenient for me since I was just kind of swimming for kicks and not competing because of my ticker but it did nothing for team spirit. This coming year is going to be way more intense. First of all, they are only taking 12 varsity swimmers on the travel team this year, and there are even tryouts! Eek! I’m a little scared I won’t lie. I’m not exactly in the best shape of my life and I won’t even be able to step foot into a pool before September 12th when I get home. Tryouts are September 7th-19th so essentially my tryout will also be my first swim since April. I e-mailed the coach and he seems to be ok with that and I think will hopefully take into consideration that I’ve been in Kenya for the 3 months leading up to tryouts but it’s still not a very comforting feeling. Needless to say I need to hardcore google body weight exercises that are good for swimming and somehow come up with a fitness regime while I’m here so that I don’t embarrass myself too badly in September. I’m really, really super excited to swim though! Even if I don’t make the varsity team, I’d still swim everyday with the club team because I love swimming. I didn’t train hardcore last year, I just kind of chilled in the slow lane working on technique and pacing at about a ‘brisk walk’, but this year I’m actually going to train hard and try to get faster than the 10 year olds that swim with the Charlottetown Bluephins. It’s a pretty lofty goal, I know, but I can dream right?
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Silas, our personal chef, made us a delicious Kenyan meal tonight of chapattis, sukuma wiki (kale) and baked beans. I can’t complain about the living arrangements. We have a women named Gladys who has our laundry clean and folded on our beds for us every afternoon when we get home from the schools, and a chef who has dinner on the table for us every night at 6pm and even does all the dishes he used for cooking. It’s going to be hard to get used to doing my own laundry and cooking again once I get home! I do sometimes miss cooking for myself, but not enough to fire the chef. We even have enough left overs from every dinner that we have lunch for the next day too. The problem is, the chef told us today that his goal is to send us home bigger than when we came with all of his food. This goal, combined with the fact that there are no mirrors bigger than a foot square, no scales and the only clothes I bought are stretchy might be a recipe for disaster. But for now I’m just going to love life and enjoy Kenyan food.
In other good news, turns out you can get Tusker in Canada? My brother told me it was on sale because of the world cup so I'm super pumped to track it down once I get back home. I doubt that I will find it in PEI but hopefully it'll turn up in Ontario somewhere.
Monday, July 5, 2010
This morning, to break up the monotony of the weekend, Christina and I went to church with Jennifer’s brother Sammy. The key to Kenya is to embrace the awkwardness of doing random things with random people you don’t actually know. It turns out that Sammy is pretty cool and very easy to get a long with. When it came time for the service, Sammy ushered us into the building and sat us down on the bench beside him. A few minutes later, once the rest of the congregation had wandered in, we look around and can’t help but notice that there are no women on our side of the church and no men on the other side of the church. It turns out that the church actually divides itself for service, with women on one side and men on the other, and we happened to be sitting on the wrong side. Sammy assured us it was fine because we were guests but I can’t even count the number of weird stares we got. It may have been that they were staring because we were also the only white people there but who really knows. Half way through the congregation, we hear the minister slash priest slash reverend (what ever he was) say the words ‘visitor’ and ‘say a few words’. Since he had a severe Swahili accent, those were basically the only words that we could make out. Next thing we know, he’s looking in our direction holding a microphone out. We kind of looked at each other and then to Sammy to figure out what was actually happening. We were ushered onto the stage with no idea what the heck we were supposed to be saying. This was especially awkward because I didn’t actually understand more then 10 words the preacher dude said the whole service and the entire congregation was starring at us expectantly. Finally we introduced ourselves, explained what we were doing in Kenya and then thanked them for inviting us. I thought we were done, and so I handed the microphone back to the preacher man but he was still looking expectantly as if we were supposed to continue with a something religion related. We kind of handed back the microphone and slinked back into our bench on the men’s side of the church thoroughly embarrassed and still not entirely sure what was going on.
Today I organized my entire timetable for classes next year and am all ready and am pumped to register next week. It will be potentially my last time picking courses ever which is both terrifying and super exciting at the same time. I have some room for electives this year and I have picked some really awesome ones that are pretty much completely random but hopefully easy and interesting.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
My barefoot running project was temporarily a major fail. After two 6-8 km walks in flip flops and a treadmill run barefoot in the same 2 days, I am now nursing golf ball sized blisters on the bottom of my feet. So I grumpily put my sneakers back on today to be able to walk around the Meru hospital without walking funny. The blisters are much less fluidy today than they were last night so the golf ball sized lump of pus-y blister is now only about the size of a marble. We have the next 3 days off so I can recover and start running again by Saturday. I think it was the flip flop walks that that gave me the blisters and not the barefoot treadmill run because the roads are not really roads, they’re like walking through ankle deep super fine sand. I probably would have been better off walking barefoot!
This morning we headed to the Meru District Hospital to meet with the Nutritionist there. Unfortunately she had double booked because she got called into a last minute meeting with the district someone or other. We met with the district medical officer instead and then a dietetic intern took us into the children’s ward to see the cases of severe malnutrition that were currently being treated in the hospital. The medical officer asked us not to take pictures, which was totally fine by us. Apparently a group of Scottish people had come previously, taken lots of pictures and then published them and made the hospital look horrible. He emphasized that Kenya is a poor country and that although the hospital isn’t exactly state of the art but they were doing the best they cook with the resources they have.
The children’s ward was absolutely heart breaking. It smelt horribly like urine despite the scrubbing that the nurses were doing of the hallways and tables. Half the room was filled with mothers and their babies slash small children, and the other half was filled with orphaned babies. I felt like a monster standing there, listening to the doctor and the dietetic intern explain how they treat the different deficiency diseases, while the mothers starred at us wondering why we were there. Although apparently the mothers had been warned that we were coming as nutritionists to learn, I couldn’t help but feel like these mothers were sitting there feeling as though we were judging them. Our professor then asked us to pull out our notebooks to take notes, which made me actually want to cry. The thought of standing in front of these people writing notes about their malnourished children was mortifying and felt incredibly inappropriate. I realize that there are students all over the world in hospitals taking notes and learning from other peoples diseases and illnesses but I couldn’t help but feel like we were being insensitive and should not have even been in the ward at all. The orphaned side of the room was even worse in terms of the severity of the malnourished children. There was a baby who was so severely energy malnourished that he was literally skin and bones. Other babies were so protein deficient that they had edema so bad they looked about 20 pounds over weight. It’s hard to be in the hospital seeing these kids and not actually working within the hospital to help any of them.
After the depressing hospital trip, we went into Meru on the hunt for a reliable taxi man. Jennifer, who is the head of the Muchui Women’s Group (who we are working with quite closely on crop diversification and giving family nutrition and infant nutrition seminars to) had a lead on someone she felt was trust worthy but he was asking way to much. Our current driver Steve also had a lead on someone else who we eventually convinced to drive us around to all the different schools and women’s groups at a reasonable price. His name is George and he will be our taxi driver for the rest of the trip. Everytime we met a new potential taxi driver, our professor talked to him, Steve talked to him in Swahili and Jennifer talked to him to make sure they would take good care of us and to negotiate a price. Meanwhile, Christina and I were being introduced to them and it felt as though we were basically being put on display and being sold to the lowest bidder. In the end though we now how a reliable taxu driver who will be safe to travel with and who can take us to all of our presentations and meeting and to the grocery store. It will be nice to have some freedom and be able to leave the hospital compound whenever we want.
I’ve been keeping up with everyone’s blogs in an attempt to keep up with what’s going on in the world back in Canada but I’m doing a horrible job keeping in touch with everyone and replying to emails and such. So I apologize in advance. I’m blaming the sketch internet connection.
This week sometime we are going to talk to Henry the planner extraordinaire to plan a trip to either Samburu Hills or Lake Nakuru for another safari and to arrange our climb of Mt Kenya during our last week here in September. The professors leave tomorrow so we will be able to settle into a real routine starting next week which will be awesome. It helps that Prof Jen will no longer be cooking 5 course meals for us every night so I can eat normally and exercise regularly too! I have to start training for climbing Mt Kenya!
(A Few Hours Later...)
I am currently sitting with a bunch of nuns drinking wine and twirling the ends of kikoy into fabulous spirals by rolling them along our legs. I never thought I would spend Canada Day in Kenya drinking with a bunch of nuns. Good Times.