(No time for editing or proofreading, so pls ignore typos and misspellings). :)
Nothing crazy and new to report… Life in Malava continues to treat me well. Many thanks to Dad, Mary, and Samantha who have all my love for sending my first three piece of mail! And many thanks for the emails. It’ll take some time to getting back to y’all, but I did read and appreciate them all. As compared to the reports I’ve gotten from Seattle folks, it’s hot and sunny and dry here. The temperature in Malava has been over 100 in the sun, and a sweaty 90 in the shade. We’re in the heart of summer… so it’s not surprising. And we’re in Africa, near the equator, so nothing earth shattering to imagine hot and dusty weather. And dusty it is. The soil here is red, and with dirt roads, it’s very dusty… in your eyes, in your hair, on your clothes, and especially on your sandal wearing feet. My feet are disgusting, and I’m thankful to Maggie for sending me to Kenya with “spa gloves.” I’m not sure if this is their intended purpose, as I’ve never owned spa gloves, but they’re great at scrubbing off some of the red dirt.. though I suspect my feet and toe nails with be stained red for years to come. Moving on from my feet to more exciting things…
Did I already mention we’re getting milk delivered from a neighbor’s cow? We have to pasteurize it ourselves (suppose I can add that to my resume?), and currently have lots left over. We made pudding last week, banana flavored with local bananas that grow in our yard, and it was the absolutely BEST pudding I’ve ever had. It was also the first dessert I’ve had in weeks so that might have something to do with it. Beyond pudding though, we still have extra milk. So, if anyone has recipes for yogurt, ice cream, sour cream, butter, etc… do send them over by snail mail. (No printer at the internet cafe, sadly). Or, if you have recipes for curries where we can use milk instead of coconut milk, or recipes for soups with cream bases, or recipes for whatever – milk related or not – do send them over. :) Our veggies are getting harder to find, and more expensive, b/c of the drought. Even as wazungu we’ve noticed the prices increase in the first month we’ve been here, and have noticed that veggies we had the first few weeks haven’t been around in the last few weeks. We can still find tomatoes, onions, potatoes, groundnuts (peanuts) and have some very expensive kale and cabbage. Why I didn’t bring any kind of recipe book is beyond me… guess I was used to having wireless available anytime I was cooking and needed a recipe.
Anyway, what else to quickly mention? Yesterday we joined Sr. Catherine and Sr. Nekesa on a road trip up north to Kitale to drop off a check somewhere. We didn’t stay long to explore Kitale, but it was nice to see more of the countryside. The trees here are gorgeous and make me wish I had a book on the plants of Africa. Maggie gave me a fantastic book on the animals of East Africa, but I don’t know the plants and the locals don’t always know the names. From what I hear phonetically, here are the names of my three favorites.
DIY: Do It Yourself Website Day
1. Pretend I had the ability to post pictures
2. Pretend I knew how to spell tree names correctly
3. Go to google images and search for the following:
nandi flame trees – short tree with gorgeous bright red flowers (hence the “flame” name)
acacia trees – the classic tall, flat tree you’d see in an Africa postcard, probably with a giraffe pictured underneath
jacaranda trees – amazing tall tree with purple flowers all over
4. Comment on what gorgeous pictures they were, how it must be so amazing to see such wonderful vibrant colors in a place that is otherwise oh so dusty, and how you hope to visit sometime soon to experience the beauty yourself. :)
What else to mention? After we got back from the 4 hour drive to/from Kitale, we got home to find that someone had gotten into one of our windows. There are bars on them so they can’t much more than an arm in and can’t grab anything big, but they made off with some small, sentimental things from Cindy’s room. We know not to store things near windows that can be opened so it shouldn’t happen again. It was just sad for Cindy, but she’s over it.
What’s a sampling of what Cat is reading while in Africa, you might ask?
- I finished Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama – definitely recommend it to everyone. First half is about racial identity in the states, the second half is about his trek to Western Kenya to meet his father’s side of the family. They are from Kisumu, about 1.5 hours from here, so the traditions mentioned in the book are all very real to me as they’re still alive and well in Malava. Men have multiple wives. There is domestic violence. People live in mud huts. Read it and you’ll get a vivid picture of Kenya’s Western Province where I’m living.
- Also finished Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – not bad. It takes place in Botswana and my biggest complaint is the simple writing style and simple plot line. That said, it was fun to read fiction about Africa. Botswana is further south, right next to S. Africa, and hosts the Kalahari Desert. The story includes lots of details about life in rural Africa, so that part of it was fun. It’s a quick and easy, light read.
- Simplified Swahili by Peter Wilson – excellent guide to teaching yourself Kiswahili. I’m borrowing Cindy’s copy when she’s not using it and it’s super helpful. Did you know Kiswahili has 9 noun classes? And that there’s nothing simple for plurals like adding a “s” at the end of the word. Nope, you change the pre-fix to designate who you’re referring to (2nd person singular, for instance), change the in-fix to designate singular or plural items, change another in-fix if you want to make it negative, and then change the suffix to designate other stuff I’ve already forgotten (like tense). Makes it hard to look up words you see or hear since the prefix and infix aren’t the root word. That said, I’m told by the locals that I’m a quick learner. They also said I know more Swahili in my first few weeks that Sr. Carolyn knows after 30 years in Kenya. (I’m not sure if that’s a compliment for me, or a statement on Carolyn’s lack of attempt to learn Swahili, but I’ll take it and will keep at the book… I’ve got another 50 chapters to go).
- Disabled Village Children by David Werner – amazingly relevant and helpful and INTENSE. I can only read a chapter at a time b/c it’s just too intense. It’s by the same guy who wrote “Where There is No Doctor” and it goes step by step through common disabilities… how to diagnose/detect, prevention, treat with therapy or surgery, how to build aids (crutches or wheelchairs) when you don’t have places like hospitals or Home Depot for supplies, how to help them fit into the home or village, etc. Very intense, but very relevant every step of the way.
What else to mention? I did laundry this weekend (in wash basins, outdoors of course, scrubbing together my clothes with bar soap). I also swept with a straw broom banded together by a piece of rubber. I also cooked some arrowroot and kunde (cow peas). Finished another African themed book. Haven’t been sick yet. New digital camera still won’t work. Lazed around abunch.
Would you believe I’ve been consistently sleeping about 7 hours per night? This might be a record… I honestly don’t think I’ve slept this much since I was in middle school. Now I need to find a 24 Hour Fitness and start working out to be truly healthy. The foods here are so starchy, and the milk is definitely whole milk, so I might just come back from Africa a few sizes larger than I left. Starving Africans or not, this starchy food cooked with oil and fat isn’t good for my waistline.
We hope to get bikes at some point, so that’ll be nice for exercise and for exploring the area. It’s not like I can put on a tank top and shorts and jog around Greenlake or Town Lake… that wouldn’t fly. But a bike eventually will be great, even if we are the only women in town riding. Men are the only bike riders here, and the main transportation in the area is bike taxi. Not to be confused with bike rickshaws like in India or China. Here a bike taxi means sitting/balancing on the back of a bike above the rear tire. Imaging have a disabled youth and needing to make a 40 km trek to Malava for therapy. How easy do you suppose it is for a mom to bring her 14 year old child who can’t walk? Difficult, to say the least.
Okay… not sure what else to tell y’all. The kids are great, really really great. It’s fun to be working directly with kids again after 4 years in an office, though it’s super INTENSE. That might be the theme of the work. I’m getting to know them. Some are unable to move limbs or respond to noise. Some are deaf and mute. Some are too tragic for words, and some are too adorable for words. One little one called Julia is working on gross motor control (upper and lower limbs). She’s starting to walk, but has awful balance and equilibrium. She’s deaf and mute, but squeaks and squawks like a monkey. She’s fond of climbing all over me, likes to sit in my lap, and likes her belly rubbed. (A girl after my own heart). She also likes to be chased around the yard, like to drool, and has the best, most infectious giggle in the world. Hard not to fall in love with the kids.
I was playing soccer the other day with a three year old with club feet. We were both running around, sweating in the hot midday sun, occasionally saying something in our own language that we knew the other wouldn’t understand, and all the while smiling from ear to ear. And I had the moment of awe and reality: “I’m living in Africa working with disabled youth and life is good.” I love those times in life when you can have a moment like that and think “yes, I’m truly happy and content with life at this exact moment in time.” I’d like to bottle them up, or at least write them down, for there are definitely moments in life when nothing is working out and everyone sucks and at those times it’s good to have the reminders about the good days. Anyway, it was a great moment. Perfect blue skies. Playing games and kicking around a soccer ball with a sweet, sweet, sweet three year old. With club feet. In Kenya.
And with that, I’ll offer a reminder request for recipes, and will let you go. I’ve got to get home to start dinner and water my sukuma and kunde. (Did I mention we’re trying our hands at farming? We did the planting last week and the week before, and the kunde is starting to come up!! The sukuma isn’t looking too great, but it’s too early to tell with it). Wish us luck. Lots of love to everyone…