This week seems to have been plagued with all things attached to ropes. Earlier this week, we spent several nights putting soap on a rope for hand washing sessions that the nurses will be conducting at several schools over the next few weeks. The past two days have been filled with sightings of people walking down the streets with their goats on a rope, trotting not so willingly beside them. All of the animals that are grazing, are tied to ropes on the side of the road, and I guess their owners move them every once in a while for new grass. Since very few people own property here, specially closer to the cities, all the animals graze on public land in the ditches along the roads. I can't even tell you how many times we've come dangerously close to driving right into a cow or a donkey. Normally the ropes are about an inch too short for the animals to run onto the road, but sometimes they're about 3 inches too long to prevent them from doing so.
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.