my new community


my new community:

Nyaoga is a small community consisting of a couple sub-villages, one-room school houses, and a medical dispensary in the South Nyanza province of Kenya. It's inhabitants make up the majority of the Luo tribe. Luo's pride themselves on their fishing skills and pride itself. Nyaoga is located in between Mount Homa (a cluster of about 5 hills with the peak at 1753 meters - very fun to hike) and Lake Victoria in a small peninsula near Kendubay. (don’t get too excited, Lake Victoria is not a swim-able body of water) It’s very hot and even though I apply SPF 70 everyday I still managed to get burned to the point of peeling. At first, the nights were unbearable, but you get used to it. (A donor visited our compound and brought a thermometer and I looked at it once when I found it to be a very cool morning and it was 82 degrees farenheit.) Ps - There is no plumbing or electricity throughout any of Nyaoga.

my new job:

The Dispensary (which is basically a clinic) is owned by 'The Board', a group of local older mama’s. They chose to create this place when an American woman, Mary, decided to donate through an organization called Give Us Wings (Mary is the founder). The purpose was to 'give wings' to the community so that it can 'fly' on it's own. But, this community is experiencing trouble. The goal was to establish a clinic that was able to give free healthcare to The Board and provide them with an additional profit. But, the clinic isn’t making money and Give Us Wings is still supporting a good portion of the costs to run it. And, I believe, that’s why I’m here: to help the clinic become self sustainable.

A unique component to Nyaoga is that it has a primary school, the Lake Victoria Michelle Obama Academy/Adult Education, that allows mothers to attend class with their infants. Normally these women would go without any education and would stay at home with their children. Give Us Wings provided the funding necessary to build a school house and establish a system to allow these mothers to pursue an education.

Another feature of this area is the dependence on rain. They survive on a water catchment system, which accrues rainwater from the gutters of a building into a very large reservoir. No rain means no water. (Though, you can always attain the cholera and giardia infested water of Lake Victoria.) My first week here I wasn’t able to bathe or flush our indoor latrine because of the drought. (And to think, a couple months ago I was irritated about not having running water) The community had started a 5-year long water project to assure a constant supply of water, but it was sabotaged and now the whole thing needs to be re-done.

my new personal life:

I have two and a half roommates. Rosalyn, who just turned 23, is the head Clinical Officer of the only health facility for the. Diana is turning 28 soon and has an adorable year and a half old baby girl, Tamalia. She is the ring-leader of this complex, which is no easy feat (I’m referring to Diana, not Tamalia). We spend our evenings watching cheesy Hispanic soap operas (that have been dubbed over in English) until the battery of our solar panel runs out. Yes, even I have become addicted to Soy Tu DueƱa. (I can hardly wait to find out if Valentina will give in and stop fighting her desire to be with her next door neighbor, San Migel, who saved her life by sucking out the rattlesnake venom in her leg that her evil cousin planted in her bathroom in an attempt to kill Valentina so that she would get all of her money and the estate.)


some big changes

It was a Thursday at 2pm in the afternoon when I was going to meet a friend for a picnic when I was attacked.

After spending the morning in the office coordinating for the upcoming OVC event that I was running in town, I was meeting a friend for a lunch and I decided to go early to have some time to myself, maybe read some of my latest book, write in my journal, and just relax.

A man came out of the woods and told me, in the clearest and most perfect English that I’ve ever heard, to give him his life. He grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the bush, I screamed and fought him until he ran off.

I walked away with a few scratches and bruises. I was really lucky. Peace Corps thought that it would be best for me to return to America to recuperate. I was given the gift of seeing my family and friends, the use of some American luxuries and the gift of time. Yet, all I could think of was getting back to Kenya. Now, I’ve moved into my new house and started to get to know my new community.


masero vs vasomi... the circumcision-ers have returned.

the musical instruments (left) and the marching (right)

I have recently been enlightened about the truth behind the circumcision ceremonies. It turns out there is not only a a single tradition, but there are two groups with two traditions. At one point the groups were united, but in 1935 the vasomi group diverged from the masero group. (note, masero translates to skins in kiluhya - because when the boys return from the forest after healing from their procedure symbolizing their journey into manhood they wear cow skins while vasomi translates to people who study... or the 'educated').

The masero group is the one that I claim for myself, they are the ones that all of the pictures have been taken of... the truly traditional group. They are the ones that drink basu (home brewed alcohol) and have their boys wear crowns of leaves and dance naked with all of their community dancing with them. The music is supplied from home made instruments (2 sticks hitting against each other) and mostly consists of everybody beat-boxing the main rhythm of the song they are singing while also singing the luhya lyrics. After the initial (and only) naked-dancing round, the first day, the boys will go with their elders into the forest where they are circumcised the next morning. No women are allowed near the forest at this time and if a man happens to wander through he cannot leave until the boys are fully healed. (they, supposedly, will just kill the woman... though I've been told if it was me they would ask me what they can do to help me and then safely escort me to the main road... not sure how true any of this is, but i certainly don't want to test it in-spite of my recently public engagement to one of the elders.... and, no mom, i didn't consent to this... and by engagement i mean Freddie [the guy that i was dancing with in my older post on circumcisions] dragging me around the market by my arm drunkenly screaming to everyone in ear-shot, "THIS IS MY WIFE THIS IS MY WIFE")

itumi: culture of the circumcision.

About two weeks from their original entry into the forest the boys will return to the market place where they initially danced, but this time with their home made outfits. The elders of their circumcision group will take the skin from cows and wrap it around their bodies to cover them, while the boys father's (or father figures) will make them a basket with eye holes to wear on their heads, and finally, their mother's (or mother figures) will decorate their final outfits with plastic bags, cd's, and other things to distinguish them from the other boys. The same beats, as the previous dancing ceremony, are laid and the same songs are sung. But, this time the boys will separate from each other long enough to dance with their individual family's (mothers, sisters, brothers, but never fathers.) In fact, I'm not sure where the fathers are at this time. During their stay in the forest I've been told that they are taught how to be men. Some say they are told how to farm, when their crops are ready for harvest, how to be a good husband and father. Some say they are taught how to practice magic... to put curses on people and stuff. One one person even told me that they are taught how to have sex. (just an fyi, the person who told me that they learn how to do magic was from a person who looks down his nose at the masero traditions... he thinks they should be abolished because of the "un-chrstian-like" behavior)

The boys.

Eventually after their passage into manhood, a couple weeks of healing and learning, the boys return for one last "hoo-rah" of singing and dancing with the community and they spend their last night in for forest. They return early the next morning for the ceremony of the clothes. For the first time as men they will put cloth back on and return to society as men.


When the original group of men and men-to-be split into two, it was a big deal. Lines were drawn and bridges were burned. The group left because the church. They believed that the original practiced traditions were un-christian-like in behavior and they believed that they wanted to better themselves while still maintaining a version of the "right of passage" for their boys. They were told that in order to be civilized people (as the colonization by Great Britain had taught them) that they must wear clothing made of cloth, they must abandon their barbaric habits and go to school to become educated (hence their new name)... also, along with this new learned behavior came the kenyan handshake... (it's kenyan because there is no 'shake' to it, you just put your hand out and squeeze the other person's hand and then release. Also, it is used every time you see a person. Whether or not you like them or even know them you must shake everyone's hand every time you see them.).

So, the main differences between the masero and the vasomi, from my perspective, are: there is no singing or dancing in the vasomi, the boys never surface to the public eye during any part of the process (they just go into the forest and then come back out a couple weeks later), the boys never put on cow skins, there is no home-made music, the elders of the group will just parade up and down the street at dusk strumming away on their drums with no particular beat in mind while someone waves around a flag of another country symbolizing that they are the super-power group. [usually it is the American flag, but I only saw the Canadian flag being waved around... how interesting, huh? Canada being thought of as a super-power nation]

And to be completely honest, my only experience with the Vasomi group was as I was walking home from the naked-dancing of the Masero group and ran into the Vasomi's marching towards the Masero group as if to start trouble.


this crazy culture

One Sunday afternoon Caro received a call, around 5pm, from one of the local boys in town, Dennis. Dennis, who is Caro’s “age-mate,” works at the local hospital and wanted Caro to come visit him at his home because he was feeling sick. They had known each other for years and had been friends so she went to see him. He greeted her and welcomed her into his living room where he left her, locking her in behind him. Odd behavior, don’t you think? Well, in Luhya culture, this means that they are married. Yes, that’s right, Caro is now married to Dennis solely based on this occasion. When Dennis returned three hours later with some tomatoes and onions, they spent the ne couple of weeks on their honeymoon. Now, when I say honeymoon I mean Caro stays in Dennis’s house (her new home) all day and all night, cooking the meals and keeping the place clean and when Dennis comes home from work they… well, they enjoy each others company. Caro is not supposed to go into the Shop where Milcent works, she is not supposed to visit friends or shop for the necessities. She is supposed to stay in that house all day resting for when Dennis returns. Infact, Caro one day being who she is, decided to do what she wanted and left to hang out with Milcent. Caro’s mother found out (because word spreads fast in small towns) and called Caro yelling at her to, “get back in that house and wait for her husband!”


kenyan friends

Walking to church on a very warm Sunday morning.

(Milcent and Caro)

Milcent (the one with the umbrella) is 30 years old and has not only graduated from secondary school [high school], but went on to get her diploma in theological school and then she studied fashion. This is highly unusual for this culture because, generally, men see an educated woman as a threat and don’t want anything to do with them. But Milly isn’t afraid to do what she wants, she puts herself first. Not only is she an amazing clothing designer (wait until you see what she’s made for me), but also an amazing person.

Caro (short for Carolyn) is my age and more of a typical female in this village. She has a 2 year old daughter named Falcity who is taken care of by her parents because Falcity’s father was chased out of town just after Caro found out she was pregnant. Why didn’t they just get married, you ask? Well, Caro’s father didn’t like the guy and wouldn’t hear of it. Currently, she is learning from Milly to be a seamstress so that she can open her own shop one day.

This is Hudson washing dishes.

Hudson is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Anywhere. He is 32 years old and is like an older brother to me. He, and his brother David, would walk me home whenever it was getting late and always protected me of cultural misunderstanding with other villagers. He owns a shop in town that sells fabric and materials for clothing businesses. He travels to Nairobi and Kisumu to buy sewing supplies in bulk and then resells them to the villagers for a decent price. This is the same shop that Milcent and Caro work out of (free of charge). He is engaged to a wonderful woman named Rachel from another village and they are going to be married December of 2011 (I’m SO excited for the wedding!).

Hudson is one of those people that you just have to love. He has a good spirit, a warm personality, and is always laughing. Normally, men wouldn’t be caught dead helping out women in anything… even their wives. Hudson, though he thinks it’s funny, but is always willing to help with anything (sewing, washing dishes, cleaning the house, farming his shamba, etc.) and always has a good attitude about it. [keep in mind women do everything. EVERYTHING. While men seem to never be around.]

David, Hudson's younger brother, has recently turned 30 years old and is currently farming his family’s land. Everyday he chops wood, milks the cows, picks the vegetables that are ready to be eaten, prepares the land for planting, harvests the corn… etc. Before he returned to do this, he was living in Eldoret (a city a couple hours away) living with his sister, and her family, and helping her run her restaurant. He wasn’t able to graduate from secondary school (high school) because his father died while he was in form 2 (10th grade) and he was no longer able to afford the school fees. He is the most westernized in my group of friends. He likes going to night clubs, social drinking, American culture, playing games and sports, pop music, picnics, and trying new things… When I first met him, he was emotionally recovering from the death of his friend Bramuel. (Bramuel was a local businessman/church youth leader who was killed by a reckless driver. It was a huge devastation to the community) I had never seen a Kenyan cry, let alone see any kind of emotion, when I saw David mourning the death of Bramuel it really opened my eyes to him.

This is Triff.

Triff is the four year old son of Eva. Eva got married at a decent age (mid-twenties) to a local man that she had known for the majority of her life. She did it the “right way” by going to the Pastor of her church and getting approval and then having a big formal wedding. Their marriage started out healthy, but then took a turn for the worst. He abused her. So, she left him. She is now living with Triff on her families land in their own house. Triff’s father was financially supporting them until recently when he found another woman and married her (without a divorce from Eva) and stopped paying for Triff. In the meantime, Eva was getting an education at a local college with a focus of finance. Now, Eva is consulting a lawyer to ensure a positive future for Triff.


world AIDS day.2010

Our Banner
(my partnering organization participating)

To bring HIV/AIDS awareness into the rural areas of Kenya every year activists celebrate World AIDS Day on December 1st. Within the Tiriki division, the HIV testers/counselors, people living positively, and anyone who wants to join comes together and marches through a local town. While the chosen town changes from year to year, the activity remains the same. When the marching/singing crowed reaches it's destination at a local school, rehearsed skits are performed followed by sodas and a speech by the local chief. During the skits and speeches there is a private area set up for testing and blood donations.

Our Skit

Several skits are performed by every VCT organization in the area and this year took about six hours. They are performed in Kiswahili and relate common rural life to HIV transmission prevention. My group, Rehema AIDS Intervention Program, acted out a skit with a drunk father bringing home his dangerously promiscuous lifestyle to his wife.


sigh... kenyan meetings.

i hate going to meetings. absolutely hate going.
first of all, they never start on time... i'll get a text at 6 pm requesting that I come to a very important meeting the next day at 10 am. So, I show up at 10 am and i'm the first one there. About an hour and a half later they decide to start this meeting and it always starts out the same way. The person leading the meeting will greet the group... "Hamjambo," and then the group, in unison, will reply, "Hatujambo," and then the leader will say, "Hamjambo tena," and then the group will reply, "Hatujambo."
Next is roll call. The leader will sit facing the group and then call out names in a similar fashion to the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off and continue to repeat a name until that person responds or someone else steps in and says that they are not there. I suppose this wouldn't be that strange except that there are never more than six people at these meetings.
Following roll call is an explaination of why the meeting is being called and past activities that the group that was called to be there has accomplished. (confused yet?) well hang in there, 'cuz you ain't seen nuthin yet.'... this continues for over an hour in a repetitive way that consists only of kiswahili. During this time the head-honchos of the group will sporadically show up and not pay attention to what's going on anyways.
After awhile they will decide that it is there turn to talk and sometimes write down the points of their speach on a piece of paper on the wall to emphasize their points. During this last meeting, that I had to be at, was for the "youth" group that associated with my partner organization. And when i say youth group i mean a bunch of people ranging in age from 20-50 who get together maybe twice a year to play sports and maybe give skits on topics. And i have no idea what the topics are. (i'm hoping to alter a lot of this over the next two years).
So anyways, the head-honcho man was trying to get the group involved by asking easy questions that are pertinant to the community and then writing their answers on the paper on the wall. First, he writes "Good Practices" and then underlines it. Then he asks, "ok, so what are some good practices that our community does?" and after a full 2 minutes of awkward silance (i'm not joking, it was a full 120 seconds of silence) he then writes, "1. Male Circumcision" and then he picks up a hand-out from an organization that did a study on MEDICAL CIRCUMSISION that concluded from their research that when MEDICAL circumcision is practiced the spread of disease is decreased. Head-honcho then decides to explain to the group that the second circumcision ceremony of the year is coming and it is a good thing because taking the boys into the forest, circumcising them with the same group machete, and then releasing them back to society as 'men' will decrease the prevelance of HIV within our community.
(now please understand, that i love these traditional practices and i fully support them, BUT i do not agree with the notion that they are helping to reduce HIV transmission and of course I cannot voice my opinion and correct any of this because that would not only black list me within this mans eyes by undermining his authority, but it would also label me as a rebel-slut... incase you didn't know, any woman who stands up to a man is a prostitute.)
Anyways, after listening to him talk about eliminating HIV, he then reaches for another topic that is a good practice within our community. And then, out of the small group, someone says, "women inheritance." AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! I'm seriously going to SCREAM! [Women inheritance occurs when a husband dies leaving his wife, a now widow, behind (and usually with a couple of kids running around) to his BROTHER and if he doesn't have a brother to another male relative. It doesn't matter if he already has a wife or two, this woman now belongs to her former husband's brother]. Head-honcho goes on for 20 minutes about how this is such a wonderful thing and how it reduces HIV. At this point I just can't listen anymore. First off, it's well known that this not only does not reduce HIV, but infact, it advances it! If this married couple happened to have HIV, now the brother and all of his wives will acquire the virus and continue to pass it on to whoever they're sexually penetrating as well.
I know this sounds crazy. Infact, I must be making it up, how could it possibly be true? I wish I could be creative enough to make it up. Incase you don't believe me... just see for yourself:

"Good Practices."
As the meeting continues into it's 5th hour, the head-honcho wants to make a couple phone calls and puts the TV on for the rest of us to watch Afrocinema (a Nigerian version of soap operas)... it being 3pm and my stomach starting to eat itself, i decide to sneak out to get some food only to be stopped by one of my co-workers, Wheelkista. She's a sweet girl, but don't get between my acidified empty stomach and food. She told me that I couldn't leave, that i had to be there. I stared at her blankly for probably 43 seconds and said, "I've been here since 10am, 2 hours longer than you and i'm hungry." she then said, "ok, well let me check with Charles to see if you can leave."................. SHE MUST ME JOKING. She absolutely has to be JOKING....
No, my friends, no she is not joking. At that point I start considering my options and conclude only one thing. RUN. No, I'm just joking. I just explain that i'll get some food kubeba (take away) and that i'll be right back. some chai and kenyan cake later, the meeting hasn't resumed. we wait around for head-honcho to resurface and finally when he does, he takes off and the rest of us are just waiting to leave. WAITING FOR ANOTHER 2 HOURS TO LEAVE. The rest of the meeting was a blur, i think we talked about World Aids Day on December first, i think they want to get T-shirts... and basically they waited to sign some US Aid papers showing that they were there and allowing them to receive 500 KES. Then they all take off.
I've come to conclude that that is the only reason that anyone ever comes to any meeting... to get a traveling/lunch stipend. I hate meetings.