On my last day of health club at Karima Primary, the head teacher invited me to her house to milk her cows and "cultivate the land". I thought she was kidding, turns out she wasn't. She served us tea, then took us around her farm. While Dorcas and I waited for her to prepare lunch we looked at old photo albums. One photo, of the head teacher and two other women holding dried corn husks, was dated October 25, 1994, my sister's third birthday. It was so strange to think that while we were at home celebrating her birthday, they were in Kenya posing for that photo. At the time I would have been five and had no concept of the rest of the world. I also would have had no idea who the people in the photo were, although I do now. It's easy to get caught up in your own life and forget that there are other people out there living theirs. I've got much of the world left to explore.
"Did the art class volunteer ever come on Friday" I asked Kitabu.
"Yes, she was here, but why did you not come? We waited for you" he said.
"You never called me. You said you would call when she got there. I thought she never showed up."
"Oh. I forgot. I got busy reading storybooks."
"I feel bad I kept her waiting."
This morning was a "reading baraza" for young kids living in the area. A group gathered and did fun educational activities together all morning. Kitabu told me that as a result of the library promotional activities we'd held, one student from Mwithumwiru, five from Kaaga, and three from Karima had become library patrons. Also, seven kids had signed up for the Reading Stars program!
In the afternoon I went to Makena. Usually all of the women aren't at the shop on the same day, but I'd told them that I wanted them all together on the same day so I could take a group photo of them for the website. When I showed up with their new volunteer to introduce him, they were noticeably more dressed up than usual. I brought the volunteer back to town and returned to Makena to wrap up a few last-minute things. When I arrived the women were setting up for a farewell party. They served tea and bread with Blue Band and had me sit at the head of the table as they all introduced themselves. Afterward, I showed them images of the website, logo, brochures, and business cards because most of the women hadn't seen them yet. They were really excited! Then they presented me with a carpet they'd made as a thank you present. The event ended with a spontaneous dance party!
I then showed the computer class how to use the internet and Gmail. They were thrilled to be able to send their first email to Fridah. It was a perfect last day at Makena!
"I found two volunteers. One for the IT project and one for physical education" said the head teacher of Meru Teacher's College when I called him to check in.
"What was the physical education teacher for?" I asked.
"For the art class" he said. Oh no, not this again. I could have sworn I'd explained that the art class involved painting.
One of the volunteers, a professor at Meru Teacher's College stopped by the office later that day to meet me and hear about the position at Makena that I was looking to fill. He agreed to work there once a week, helping them out with the computer and internet and maybe with some marketing! He will be working there until the new American volunteer, Sandi, arrives next fall, but potentially longer if he decides to. If he has to stop volunteering early for any reason, it is his responsibility to find a replacement. Sustainability? Check!
Luckily finding an art teacher also worked out really well. The physical education teacher has a background in carpentry and woodworking and has taught at the Meru School for Mentally Challenged Children before. The school also has a wood shop class that he might be able to help out at.
On December 12, 1963 Kenya gained its independence from the UK. Apparently today isn't celebrated as much as it used to be, but I did get off work! Chuka and Chogoria met me in Meru at Sherlock's Den for lunch.
"Someone vandalized the fiber optics in town" was the reason I was given when I asked why the internet had basically been out for the past 5 days.
It's the beginning of my last week in Kenya, so I've been spending most of my time putting together a couple of final reports. The power was out for a full day, followed by the internet for a day, so I haven't been overly productive.
Here is one of my finished final reports that explains everything I've worked on over the past 3.5 months!
“Triumph of Love is my favorite show. Do you know them?” Do I personally know the characters of a Mexican telenovela?
“Oh no, I don’t know them. They actually live in Mexico.” She looked confused. “They’re not from my country, they live in a different country.”
“Oh” she said, disappointed. “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“What does he look like?”
“I can show you a picture.” She nodded, wide-eyed.
“Ohhh he’s beautiful! Oh, I mean, handsome. What’s your mom look like?” I showed her. “And your brothers and sisters? And your house?” What was this? Twenty questions?
“Is Kenya beautiful?” she asked.
“Yes, it’s a very beautiful country. Do you think it’s beautiful?”
She smiled in silent pride, “Yes, very much. Is your country beautiful?”
“Yes some places are beautiful.”
“Which do you like better?”
“Umm I don’t know. I like them both.”
“I want to go to Australia.”
A girl who’d just finished Class 7 had shown up at the office right as I was about to leave for the day. She wanted to visit Fridah, who’s currently in Boston, and since I’d just sent an email to Fridah I asked if she’d like to send another to her.
“OK, here you go. Just sit here and type what you want to tell her.”
“I don’t know how.”
“Press the letters that you want and they will show up here” I said, pointing to the screen.
“OK. Can I have tea?” Right, I’d forgotten the Kenyan custom of serving tea to visitors. I went to the kitchen to make some and brought it to her with a few slices of white bread.
“Right here” I said, pointing to the spacebar.
She finished typing and we walked to the couch so she could drink her tea. “Can you swim?” she asked.
“Yes, can you?”
“No” she shook her head. “Why do you wear your hair so long?”
“I don’t know. I like it long. Your hair is long too.”
She pulled at her braids and the blue hair which had been woven into them. “No, it’s not my hair.”
I was awakened by something cold and wet on my face. A man stood over me in the bus’s aisle, clutching a cardboard box full of water bottles in one hand and a single, sweating water bottle in the other. He smirked. I glared.
I may have wanted a water bottle, but there was no way I was going to buy it from him now.
I was hoping that becoming a "registered alien" in Kenya meant that they'd stamp my passport with "extraterrestrial" or "ET" for short, but unfortunately that wasn't the case.
Before flying to Kenya I was told by the Kenyan Embassy that I'd be able to ask for a short extension to the 90 day travel visa I was to purchase for $50 at the airport. And I arrived in Kenya expecting this to be the case. After three days of travel, a day walking the streets of London, and minimal amounts of sleep, my walk into the Nairobi airport felt like more of a vague dream than reality. I handed over my passport, asked for the extension, and was flat out denied. The woman was rude and downright unpleasant and rather than argue with her I figured I'd just sort it out later.
So here I was in Nairobi, two days before my visa was supposed to expire. After unsuccessfully trying to call and email the US Embassy in Nairobi, I decided just to show up. I asked the front desk of my hotel if they knew where it was located and a maintenance man standing nearby told me it had been relocated further out of the city after the "bomb blast". Great.
I took a cab to the Embassy, realized I'd been dropped off across the street at the a UN building, and walked over a busy road to get to it. My passport was checked twice by armed guards and the woman who dragged her magical, beeping black wand across my arms and legs told me i'd have to make an appointment.
"It's after 10:00" she said.
I checked my phone, it was 10:35 am. Really? "I came all the way here from Meru, I need to do this today."
"Let them know."
I walked up to the building, and after a third passport check, was told that I was at the wrong place. I had to go back to the opposite side of town to the immigration department.
Back in a taxi. Told to get out and switch taxis. Bag checked at the gate of the immigration department. Went to the wrong side of the building and was redirected to the other side. Waited in line. Got a form. Filled it out. Got back in line.
"You're at the wrong window. You need to register as an alien."
"You can't extend your visa. If you were only here one extra week I could waive it, but you're here for two" she emphasized the last syllable. Way to rub it in.
I was given a new form and instructed to bring it back with 2,200/= and 2 passport photos. Walked to the customer care desk. Asked where I could get photos taken. They made a call. A man came, picked me up, walked me to his photo shop. Sat down. Smiled. Blinded by two flashing lights. Filled out my form and made faces at a little girl while waiting for the photos to print.
Asked for directions to the bank. Crossed a four lane road. Waited in line at the ATM. Got money. Walked back across the street and back to security at the immigration department. Walked to the correct side of the building. Waited in line in front of Window 3, redirected to Window 4. Submitted 2 forms, 1 passport, 2 passport photos, and paid 2,000/=. Sent to Window 6 to pay the additional 200/=.
Called back over to Window 4 while waiting in line at Window 6 and told to take my receipt to Window 5.
“Why are you here?” asked Window 5.
“Because he told me to” I said, pointing to Window 4.
Incredulously, “Is there a problem” said Window 4 to me. Didn’t he just send me there? Was he really blaming this on me?
If there is a hell, I bet it’s just like this, an eternity of waiting in line, filling out forms, and switching windows.
Back at the end of the line at Window 6 when called back to Window 4 again. I hesitantly left the line.
“Just pay here. 200/=” I handed it over. “Now sit down and wait.”
“How long will it take?”
“Thirty minutes”. In Kenya that means 1-2 hours, miraculously it only took 15 minutes.
While waiting I sat next to a tourist who was talking to his Kenyan friend, “It would probably be easier just to marry someone” he said, obviously getting frustrated. “Professional occupation…does ‘hobo’ count?” he asked.
“What did you write last time?”
“On! On!” a woman shouted from behind yet another window. It took me a moment to realize they were looking at me…Anne? I’ve never been called by my middle name before. I walked up to the desk.
“You are Anne, we have your picture” said the woman.
“That’s not my name” I stupidly replied.
“But you have written it here.”
“I mean, no one calls me that. Where I am from everyone is called by their first name, not their second. That’s why I was confused, sorry. I go by ‘Gwen’”.
“Why not ‘Anne’? Anne is beautiful.”
I was feeling feisty, “Is ‘Gwen’ not beautiful?” I said, laughing.
“No, it is like for something big” said the man next to her. He repeated, spreading his arms wide, “something big”. These fat comments are getting old.
Signed a form twice and sent down a hallway to another office. Waited outside in a chair.
“I have been calling you and you have not heard?” said the man in the doorway. Must have been calling me Anne again.
He rolled ink across a metal bar and ran my fingers across it. Twenty fingerprints. Cleaned my hands with cotton balls and turpentine in a bottle. Then back to the main room to collect my passport. In line at Window 3 and sent to Window 6. Got my passport.
800/= cab to US Embassy
1000/= cab to immigration department
2000/= registration as an alien
200/= renewal fees
4,200/= for the best day of my life? Totally worth it.
Move over Katy Perry, there's a new alien in town: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Sd5c4o9UM
"How was the rest of your bike ride?" an elderly woman, and American volunteer, asked me when I got back from biking the 8 mile loop through Hell's Gate National Park.
"It was great, but I'm soaked. The road flooded on the way back and I had to wade through it" I replied.
"I'm surprised they let you bike back, they wouldn't let me. As soon as the water broke over that cliff they stopped sending people back, said they were worried about snakes in the water." Uhh...like Indiana Jones, I have a slight aversion to snakes. Glad I didn't know that before.
The left side of the bus, or at least the tires on it, must have been shorter than the right as the bus seemed to lean perpetually to the left. The bus heaved and moaned as each passenger climbed aboard via the only entrance, also on the left. With each new passenger the bus threatened to give up its struggle to stand upright and keel over, lying on its side like a wounded and worn-out animal. It had obviously seen better days but at the moment was showing its age.
I’d wanted to take a matatu to Nairobi, like everyone else does, but Stephen insisted I take a Kensilver bus. It’s one of the nicer and safer bus companies in Kenya and essentially the equivalent of a Greyhound back in the states, whereas a matatu more closely resembles a Fung Wah, that is if Fung Wahs packed people past capacity and had a reputation for killing people.
I felt like I was back in France as people pushed past me to get to the ticket window, thrusting their hands ahead of them and clutching 500 shilling notes. The man standing behind the caged window unenthusiastically exchanged their money for handwritten, carbon-copied receipts.
When in doubt, or when trying to get anything accomplished, act like a local. I made my way to the front and held my elbow up beside me, securing my spot in line.
“Name?” the man behind the cage mumbled just loud enough to hear.
“Gwen,” then knowing he’d have no idea how to spell it, “G…w…”
“…e…n” I finished.
“…e…n” he repeated.
I looked down at the ticked he’d handed me with “Ygwen” written across the top. Close enough.
Getting on the bus appeared to be a free-for-all and it was only a matter of seconds before there were more people on the bus than there were seats to accommodate. I politely pushed my way to the back and asked a couple of women in the last row to make some room for me. They scowled and refused, responding to me in Kiswahili. Another woman shoved me aside, wanting to sit in the seat directly ahead of me and to the left, it was occupied by a child. Was she serious? There were four other people in line in front of her. Apparently she was because she swooped in, picked up the kid, and put him on her lap. Strangely, she didn’t appear to know the kid or his mother.
At this point there were no seats left. A man got on the bus and started kicking people off who had bought their tickets more recently. I was getting ready to exit the bus, when he checked my ticket and directed me to a now vacant seat. The rude women from the back apparently had just purchased their tickets because they too were forced off the bus and angrily stepped out. Karma.
The bus shuddered and shook as it made its way up a hill. I peered at the valley that lay below the road’s thin, grassy margin, wondering if the cement blocks that acted as a guardrail would be enough to hold us if we decided to go careening over the edge, and knowing that they wouldn’t.
A few people had gotten off of the bus and I was told to move to the seat directly behind the stairs. It was great having my own row and a widow seat, until one of the ticket collectors came to sit down next to me.
“Can you assist me with your phone number?” he asked after wanting to know my name and if I go to school in Kenya.
“Oh, uh, I’m only here for one more week.”
“It’s ok” he said, pulling out his phone, “zero, seven…” He said, dictating the first two digits of my number and waiting for me to fill in the rest.
“I’m only here for a week. There is no point.”
He dejectedly shoved his phone into his pocket. He didn’t give up though and asked me to “assist” him again the next time I pulled out my phone to respond to a text.
Chogoria, one of the American volunteers told me not to pay more than 500/= for a cab from the bus stop to the Sarit Center where I was meeting up with everyone. He texted me to repeat “Mimi hulipa mia tano” until someone agreed to the price.
“Thanks! What does that mean?” I texted back.
“Either ‘I dream of taking a cab driver to the US someday’ or ‘I am accustomed to paying 500’ I can’t remember” I burst out laughing when I read it and the people sitting around me gave me strange looks. Oops.