Friday, September 29, 2006

Rough Day

Today has been a tough day. I had some things I was trying to find out, and it ended up being the worst of the possible scenarios that I had in mind. So today was a day of bad news.

I came to Kisumu this afternoon with my 2 research assistants. We were going to be about halfway to Kisumu anyway for some business, so we planned to just come to Kisumu when we finished so we could continue working and charge the computer at the same time. Right now we’re doing a lot of focus groups, which are kind of like group interviews or group discussions and we’re recording and then typing them, which uses a lot of battery and takes a long time. So we thought we could take this evening and tomorrow and spend a good amount of time transcribing them and also go home with a charged computer. We’re staying in a guest house in town tonight, which is pretty nice for as cheap as it is (we’re all sleeping here comfortably for about $7).

So on the way to Kisumu, after everything else that had already happened, the conductor tried to overcharge us (like often happens). I didn’t have exact change, so I gave him a bill and expected change. He had taken 40 shillings each instead of 30, and I asked for the correct price, asked if he raised it because I was a mzungu and then burst into tears, almost hysterically (I could hardly breathe), until I’m sure the entire matatu thought I was crazy. I explained that today had already been a very bad day and that this was just the last thing. They seemed to be very understanding and the conductor returned 20 or the 30 shillings he had overcharged.

Then when we got to Kisumu and I went to the customs office to negotiate the taxes they wanted me to pay on the package Dave’s mom sent. At first I thought the taxes were so high because they thought I wanted to sell the things, but he explained the way the taxes are calculated. They take the declared value of the items and charge a 25% import duty. Then, after adding the import duty, they charge a 16% value added tax. I said that it was ridiculous, especially since I was paying tax on the tax. He agreed, but said that it is the law of Kenya. The tax on the form was about 45% of the value of the package! So, as soon as he said that it didn’t matter if the items were for sale or for personal use, I burst into tears again and explained again how it had been such a hard day already and that this was just the last thing. It probably didn’t help either that it was the end of a long day and we hadn’t had a chance even to eat lunch. I told him that I didn’t know how I would pay it because I’m just a student here and he said that he himself couldn’t cancel the taxes, but that his supervisor could authorize him to reduce it and write a new bill. It was too late in the day to do today, so I have to come back Monday and we’ll take care of it. So, instead of the $52 they wanted, I think I’ll end up paying about $7 (so Cheryl, you don’t have to worry. The package has come and I won’t have to pay and arm and a leg to get it). Whew. So at least one thing will be okay.

So we came and found the guest house (thank you Lonely Planet!) and chilled out a little bit before going to find some dinner. For dinner I had a chapati, beans and yummy mixed vegetables, all things that made me very happy. I’m having fun with my girls. Before going to bed, Joyce was commenting on her big stomacn (which is completely non-existant) and we started comparing our stomachs in the mirror. It was fun. We also saw some beautiful scenery as we were out and about today. I wished I had taken my camera.

Well, if I want to do better tomorrow, I’d really better go to sleep now. Please pray for me in the next few days as I deal with the issues that I discovered today. Pray for grace, wisdom and understanding. Thanks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Update from Dave

Well, it's been a while since I wrote, so I thought I should let everyone who is reading this know how I am doing. First off, I guess, you should know that I am currently in Gaylord, MI, my hometown, doing an orthopedics rotation for school. Now, I happen to know a few orthopedic doctors up here who have graciously allowed me to bug them about ortho for the past four weeks. Of course, one of those docs also happens to be my Dad.

It has been a great rotation. As I've spent the last month here, the fall color has started to come out. On my way up here on Labor Day, there was hardly any color, maybe one or two trees here and there had changed. Now, about half the trees have changed and the rest are changing. It occurred to me a few days ago that while Sarah is on the equator, I've spent the last month halfway between the equator and the North pole. So, I decided that I should take a picture of me on the 45th parallel to add to the one she posted of Sarah on the equator.

I've had lots of fun on this rotation. At N'Orthopedics there are four doctors. So, I spent one week (more or less) with each doctor. I spent the first week with my Dad. We spent most of the time in the office. His support staff said they were glad that I was there because, "Now he has someone else to ask questions." Dad does like to train his staff well, and I did get quite a few questions from him. All the questioning, though, really helped me to learn what I needed to know.

All the support staff in the office were great. They were quite the pranksters though, and of course I was above pranking them back (note sarcasm!).

Over the month I probably spent the most time with Dad's partner Dr. Goetz, whom I didn't really know before starting the rotation. He was a great teacher. The first surgery I saw with him was a total hip replacement. I asked him to review the anatomy, so I got an hour and a half (or so) lecture on the surgical and functional anatomy of the hip. He's been trying to convince me all month that I should do orthopedics instead of general surgery. He's really put in a good effort, but I don't think he has me convinced... yet!

During the month, I spent about 3 days a week in the OR. Over the course of the month I saw more than 50 operations. That's about the same number of operations I saw during my last two surgery rotations combined! And on this rotation, I wasn't behind residents and interns to get in on a surgery.

Dr. Habryl, another of Dad' partners, was also very helpful. Of all the doctors there, I knew Dr. Habryl the best because he had been the ski team coach for the high school team when I was on the team. I also worked with Dad's newest partner, Dr. Noirot, this last week. He was also fun to work with. He sees a lot of shoulder patients, so I learned a lot about shoulders this past week.

It was interesting to see the differences in the practice of each. They all see a wide variety of orthopedic problems, but they all have their areas of interest.

Well, the rest of the time at home was fun. It was fun to spend the month with my parents and have some company around the house. I haven't had to worry about meals and all that, which has been great.

I head back to Novi this weekend. I'll be studying for boards for the next two weeks, then I'll start Cardiology for the next two weeks.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Things I Miss

I’m starting to miss things about being home. I miss having a variety of food. I miss good Mexican, Indian and Thai food. I miss Detroit. I miss my stove, over and kitchen gadgets. I miss my church. I miss being able to visit my parents’ house and Dave’s parents’ house. Not that we went all that often, it’s just the idea that I can’t go. I want my Dad to make me homemade tacos and enchiladas. I miss being able to go places on my own and just hang out. I miss being with my husband. I miss being able to get up in the morning, bathe, make breakfast and be ready without having to depend on other people to heat water, make tea and go to the shop for bread. I miss having electricity at night. I miss being able to talk to Dave, my parents and other friends on a regular basis. I miss cooking for myself and deciding what I will eat.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

More wazungu in the village

There is a peace corps volunteer at Mundaha, the village where I was teaching in 2002, and part of the area where I’m doing research. On Thursday, we went to visit a health clinic there and then ended up going to the NGO where she is working to ask for a room where we could type notes. Well, Joyce and Emmy (my research assistants) are good friend with most of the people who work there and we ended up just talking most of the afternoon, they with their friends and me with Jessica. It turns out that she is from the Detroit area, so we are just neighbors even at home. We didn’t get our work done, but it was a really good time. I think it was really good for Jessica to have a chance to talk to someone else who could understand both her own culture and the place where she is now. There were several things that I was able to explain a little bit more about the way things work here. It was also nice for both of us to have a long conversation in fast American English. It was funny, though – when we started talking, I could hardly get a word out in English, because I’m so used to speaking Swahili. It only took a few minutes though, to really get going. She got here just before I did in August and so will be here for a while. She offered to help continue our work if there’s something that we get started while I’m here. On that note, I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do to make sure that my work actually makes a difference here and benefits the community. I think that it will be very helpful, but I need to do good follow-up work.

It’s a little weird to have another mzungu in the village, because I’m used to being the only one. A little bit of me is used to being a novelty and I think that as much as I have days that I don’t like being the novelty, it’s part of my identity here and I think I feel a little weird to be sharing that with someone else. When I got to Mundaha that day, one of the shopkeepers thought that I was here. When I told her that, she said that several people have called here Sarah as she’s been around the village. At least if I lose my status as the only mzungu, I’m still known and loved around. I didn’t realize how much being a mzungu impacts how I see myself here until there was another one. If I’m honest with myself, there’s a part of me that want people to like me more. I also feel a little more self-important that I was here first and that I know my way around and people just know me. Isn’t that all crazy?! Anyway, once I get over it all, I think it will be really fun to have someone else around to share with and even someone nearby in Michigan who knows here.

On the way home from Kisumu yesterday, there was another mzungu in the matatu with me. At first we didn’t say anything to each other. I don’t usually talk to lots of other people, so why should I talk to someone just because they’re a mzungu? It’s always hard to know what to do. Sometimes I think we mzungu are just silly. Anyway, one of the Kenyans in the matatu asked her what she was doing here and they talked for a few minutes and then I asked her again what she had said she was doing. It turns out she is working for an organization that does sustainable development and is wanting to place interns in the area. She’s only been here for about 2 weeks. She also lives very far “inside,” which means far from the main road, not far from where my host mom comes from. So she could be a good contact for my research and also a potential source of partnership with people in the village here. If we had just kept quiet, we never would have known that we were doing complementary work. I told her that the 3 of us would need to get together one of these days to share about what we’re each doing. Maybe we could have a Thanksgiving party.


There was a funeral yesterday for a man who died of AIDS. His wife is also very sick and they have several small children, at least one of which was born with the virus. I don’t think she’s getting regular treatment, so unless she does, she will die soon too and leave the children. ARV treatment makes such a big difference in terms of people living, but not everybody knows about it or is able to access it. It’s really sad to see young parents dying and leaving their children behind when you know that if they had the right medicine, they wouldn’t be cured but they could go on for a while working and caring for their children. There was a funeral for another young girl maybe 2 weeks ago.

I have seen a big difference, though, in how people deal with HIV/AIDS. People acknowledge when people die of AIDS. Many people are also willing to admit that they are HIV positive and there are support groups for people with HIV and for people who have tested negative so that they can live well and stay negative. I went to a funeral for a teacher the last time I was here, who I thought had probably died of AIDS. The first week I was here this time, my host mom said something about that teacher who died of AIDS whose funeral I went to. They told me that her husband had also died. We were talking about the changes a bit last night as we were talking about the funeral yesterday and they told me that when that teacher had died, the husband wanted to marry again, so he told everyone that she had died of something else. So he married again, has died and his second wife is very sick now.

Life with Children

Life is definitely different with children around. They don’t really have toys to play with, so they play with empty bottles, old papers and anything else they can find. During the day, they just play outside, but in the evening, sometimes it’s tough to keep them occupied, especially when we’re trying to fix dinner. They are a lot of fun, though.

On Friday afternoon, Ian asked to use the pen that I was using, so I gave him my pencil to use and a piece of paper to draw on. Then Brian and Wales each took and turn. When I could see that Brian and Ian could stay on the paper without drawing on the table, I gave them each a pen to draw with. I helped them each write their name on this picture and then taped them up on the wall and made a big fuss over them. My, were those boys proud. The rest of the evening Friday and then all day yesterday and today, Brian has been saying, “Look at the pictures!” and we all make a big fuss over them. Sometimes I think they just need more attention. One afternoon last week, they were really fussy outside while we were working, so I just picked up each one, told him I loved him and just held him for a minute. All they needed was a little love.

At the same time, though, I have a low tolerance for kids who whine and cry for no reason and who ignore everything adults tell them to do. I feel a bit like the nanny on TV as I’ve been disciplining them, but I think the kids are learning. I’m trying to help them learn how to use words to ask for things instead of screaming. I also make sure that they know what I want them to do and the consequences if they don’t, and then follow through if they don’t listen. They get a lot of “Don’t do that,” and “Get down. You’ll fall,” during the day along with, “I’ll beat/spank you.” The worst though is, “Stop that or Sarah will beat you.” When they don’t do what they’re told, though, nothing happens. So, we’re working on that and we’re all learning together. I’m trying to give them both the love and the discipline that they need and they are responding very well to me. They know that I love them a lot, but they’re also learning that I won’t put up with certain things.

This afternoon, I printed some of the pictures that I had taken and gave them to my family tonight. I could not believe how excited the kids were about them. They were shouting things like, “Look at Mama!” “Look at the picture!” Aggrey (my host dad) got out the picture albums to put the pictures in and then the kids looked through the albums for the next hour. They looked at the same pictures over and over, yelling to look at whoever was in the particular picture.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Where we cook

This is the kitchen behind the main house. We cook over a fire and using a charcoal cooker. Usually I can't stay in the kitchen too long because of the smoke.

This is me, probably cooking spaghetti, over the fire. The pot sits on 3 stones, with the firewood underneath. This is the day I went to Kisumu, hence the trousers. I don't usually wear them at home. By the way, these are trousers. If you say "pants," you are talking about underwear.

Where I live

This is the old house, that the family lived in before building the new house (below). Now, the boys live in this house until they finish building their own houses. This is the style of a typical house, but it's a lot bigger that you would usually see.

This is the new house that we live in now. My room is the second window from the right. It's a pretty nice house.

This is the cow shed. On the left you can see Eucalyptus trees, which are really not good for the environment but make good fireweood and are good for building. They are a defining feature of the Western Kenya landscape, along with banana trees, which you can see on the right.

My friend Noel

Here is my friend Noel when I visited her at home. She is the one that we (you) have sponsored to attend the Journalism and Mass Communications course in Eldoret (see earlier post). I thought you would like to see her. She is doing very well and wanted me to say thank you again to everyone who helped her to continues her studies. She loves what she is doing, but asks that you would pray that God would help her to find work or to get the necessary materials to do free lance work.

No More Braids

Here is my hair after taking out the braids, but before washing, from the front and back. May host dad told me he thought it looked very smart (which means good).

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm still alive

I know it's been a long time since I've posted anything. I'm still here. I'm still doing fine. I'm still very busy. No more of this write blog posts 3+ times in a week and then posting them. Partly I'm really busy and also we're using the computer a lot for research work and it's not easy to charge, so I can't take a lot of time on the computer that's no work. We checked with Apple to see if there was any kind of external charger to charge batteries without needing to be in the computer, but they don't make anything like that. If anyone has any other ideas, please share them! At least today I bought a bicycle in Kisumu so I'll be able to go myself to charge the battery. That will make it at least a little bit easier.

Last weekend I went to Eldoret, a town in the Rift Valley area to visit a friend and a host sister. Before I left, we visited a local creamery and had (good) ice cream and I bought some cheddar cheese. At home, I used it to make scrambled eggs with lots of veggies, which my family really enjoyed. I made spaghetti a few weeks ago, and then againlast week with eggplants. Yum. I enjoy cooking and it's especially gratifying when people like what you make. My only problem is the smoke from the fire. My eyes are a bit sore most of the time, which isn't good.

In Eldoret, I went to visit my friend Noel, who many of you helped sponsor to do a 2 year college training course in Mass Communications and Journalism. She is loving it and will finish in December. I visited her school and talked to the principal of the program who said that she is doing really well and is especially good at broadcasting, which is difficult for a lot of people. She has the drive and strong personality required for it. The thing she needs now in order to be able to start working on her own is a computer, digital camera and video camera. I'm working on getting Dave to refurbish my old laptop a bit (well, actually I haven't asked him yet). It's from 1998, but it will at least be a start and it would be free. If anyone else has anything better or parts that they would like to donate, please let me know. Also, if anyone has an old digital camera that they're not using anymore, or an old video camera (preferably digital), please let me know. There's no money to buy things like this, but if there's anything we can gather, it would help her a lot to be able to do free lance work and to continue getting experience. Dave will be coming in December, so I'm planning for him to bring whatever we can manage to find to give to her.

My research is going well. Briefly, I'm looking at the development work in the area where I lived when I was in Kenya as an undergrad. I'm looking a government projects, NGO projects and the work that lots of small groups are doing. I'm trying to see what all is happening as well as to understand what people's goals and priorities are in the area. What kind of development and life do they themselves want. I think it will be really good, but definitely a marathon from now until December. A friend advised me before I left not to try to do a PhD's worth or research for a Master's thesis research, but I think I will end up doing exactly what she told me not to do. But, isn't that what I always do? Make every project twice as big as it needs to be, then stress about getting it done? Seriously, I think it will be really good and I think that it will make a difference in the community, although not necessarily in the ways that people are expecting. They want tangible help, but the help that I will give them will be with ideas and building capacity. In the end, I think that kind of help is what will be the most useful.

Last week, Julie asked for clarification. Right now I am in Kenya and will be here until the end of the year. Dave is in Michigan (actually up north right now doing an orthopedics rotation with his Dad and his partners). He will be coming to Kenya just before Christmas and will visit the village where I'm living. Then together we'll go to Malawi for him to work in the hospital for most of January and February. So, we had 6 months apart all together before he comes, out of the 8 months that I will be gone total. Right now, we're about halfway through. By the end of this week, I will have been here in East Africa for 3 months, and will have just over 3 months left before Dave comes.

Well, I'd better go, since I have a short amount of time and LOTS of things to do. Maybe sometime I need to come for a whole weekend and just sit with my computer here! It's tough because I'm trying to be intentional about staying in touch, but I also have so much school work to do. I keep coming to town with too many things on my list and lots of things just get pushed off to the next week so the list just grows. So, I'll go for now. I had hoped to post pictures, but there are other things I need to do first - like write an update for my advisor.

September 1 update - a bit later

Here is a blog update I wrote the last time I was in Kisumu but there was a problem with the network and I didn't have time to upload it before I had to leave to go home. So, here it is.

Well, I didn’t write any updates during the last week. I’m definitely getting going on research and staying very busy. I visited a youth group’s meeting on Saturday and sat in a pit helping them fill bags of dirt to start tea seedlings, while talking about the group and about life. We talked about the culture of getting married and waiting or not to have children in Kenya and the U.S. We talked about AIDS and abstinence. I tried to encourage them that there are a lot of good things in Kenya and even in the village, and that life is not perfect and easy in the U.S.

On Monday, I addressed all the community members at the village council meeting and introduced myself and explained a bit about my research (all in Swahili!) People seemed to appreciate what I was doing. On Monday afternoon, I met with one potential research assistant.

On Tuesday, I spent most of the day waiting for the electricity to come at Khumsalaba so that I could charge my computer and the photo printer so that I could finish printing the pictures for the youth group. For everyone who is participating in my research by talking to me or showing me the work they’re doing, I’m taking a picture of them or them with their family to give them. Most people don’t have cameras, so people have only a few pictures of themselves. Anyway, I got to Khumslaba and there was no electricity, but I decided to wait because I knew it was the only day I would have a chance to go. So I wrote a letter to my brother (which I had planned to do anyway), I read a little, I greeted everybody who came and went at the shop. At lunch time, Benina, the shopkeeper fed me, and then I went to the post office and talked to a number of people selling food in the market. After that I helped Benina weigh and bag sugar, sold sodas and flour and got change for people. It was fun, I felt like I was able to be a bit helpful, and overall I wasn’t feeling too tired and impatient. I was supposed to meet with the second potential research assistant that afternoon, so my host dad sent both of them to Khumsalaba. I bought them sodas and mandazi and we talked again about what I was looking for. As soon as they came (about 4pm) the electricity came and I was able to mostly charge one of the batteries for my computer and the printer before heading home before dark.

On Wednesday and Thursday, we (the two research assistants and I) spent all day at a capacity building seminar for community groups in the location. It was very interesting and everyone learned a lot, including me! After the first day, I was able to explain to the girls a little bit more the importance of having good notes in research and the kinds of things that are important to write down. On Thursday they did an excellent job and I think together we’ll be able to do some really good work. I also think that we’ll be able to be good friends, which is what I was praying for. On Thursday, I had a chance to talk to the group (for about 45 minutes, in Swahili, after having a 30 minute discussion outside during the break about development and Kenya vs. the U.S. in Swahili!) when I explained my research, answered questions about it (and explained exactly the ways that I could and couldn’t help – ideas, opportunities for reflection, etc and NOT with money. In fact I started to say that I wish I could help with money, but then said that I wouldn’t want to bring lots of money because then they would depend on me and not themselves.) Then I discussed with the group the best way for me to learn from them about the work that they’re doing in their groups. They had some good ideas and we made a plan for how to proceed. Hurray!

So everything’s going well. It rains every afternoon. This is good, though annoying sometimes when you need to go somewhere (like home after a long day!) and have to wait an hour until the rain stops, because it means that people can finish planting maize and that the maize that’s been planted will germinate and grow. I’m still getting used to not being able to go anywhere after dark. At home, so many things happen in the evening and it’s a time you can see people – like for dinner. There have been at least a half dozen people who have tried to come see me this week only to find me gone. By the time I get home, it’s almost dark. Around here, everything has to be done between 7am and 7pm, including work and socializing. I’ll definitely have to work on finding a balance between all the things I need to do and the times of the day in which I can do them. Please pray that I would not be anxious about the things I need to do, but would be able instead to plan well and then let it go.

Well, I’d better go. There was more I wanted to do and it’s time to go. Love you all,