Kenya Dig It?!

After years of talking about the possibility of going to Africa, I'm finally doing it and I couldn't be more excited. Just a chill girl in a hot country, livin' a funky little Kenyan life, ya know?

SAP: Savannah Adjustment Process

Don’t even get me started on the REAL SAP’s, useless excuses for development.  For all of those whom I might have worried, it’s all just fine here.  I am starting to find my pace, and learning there isn’t a whole lot of pace, everything at my house moves sort of slow like honey and sometimes it’s a little hard to find where I fit in, but I’m learning.  My mama sat with me while I finished my dinner and talked to me a little.  It wasn’t a lot.  But just a little was enough to make me feel better.  I’m realizing my hesitation maybe has to do with pre-concieved notions I have about how things should be, and my assumptions about what my role was supposed to be.  A little observation time and I little decompressing time at the beach with friends is just what I needed.  The ocean was so warm.  Suspiciously warm.  I am obviously a product of my environment because I missed the cold water I am used to. 
I’m talking to my dearest Laurney about studying abroad. This blog is a place for me to say things that people are not supposed to say.  I don’t regret coming here by any means (I don’t really regret many things, sort of a waste of time right?).  But it’s sort of a leap to go somewhere far away from all of your friends and family.  I know that part of the reason I came here was to impress people.  To impress myself.  I know a lot of people who travel all over.  I assumed it was my calling, as I often assume that their lifestyles are somehow a map for my own.  Undoubtedly I will come home more adventurous, less hesitant, for confident.  But perhaps not with the strong inner desire to always be on the go.  I like where I am.  Maybe I’ll go somewhere else someday, if people I’m attached to go with me and I need a change of scenery.  I don’t know how to internalize or externalize this experience.  I don’t know what this experience.  It’s supposed to change your life, but for me, right now, it seems to keep reaffirming what I had suspected about myself.  So I’ll come home with a little more confidence.  With a lot more knowledge about development.  What is my responsibility now that I know these things?  

Lives are not comparable.  Not even close.  To try to compare cultures is useless, to try to understand them more effective, more sensical.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed with all the things there are to know.  Sometimes I think maybe I should not try to know them all.  I miss writing.  I write lots of letters.  I hope they say good things.  I stopped keeping my journal after it got rained on.  I now rip the blank pages out of it for my brothers and sisters to draw on.  Without thinking about it.  That’s normal, but it’s not normal for me.  I like to feel everything 10 times more than I should.  So yes, I love this experience, but I will be happy to go home and feel things.  To feel all of THIS.  I am trying to feel it now, but I think I am just a gal who needs to write and talk and write and talk in order to process things.  I’m stubborn when it comes to the ways in which I run my emotional life.  And Kenya has too much to process.  And every part of it is the experience.  The place I am sitting to process, is part of the experience itself.  So I can’t fully swallow it. 

God, people must think I’m crazy.

Mid-Kenya Crisis

I’m struggling hard to find my balance in Mtwapa.  Real hard.  Daily panics, where I jump from being OK, to near tantrum mode.  Culture shock is very hard to explain.  Because it is not actually that the culture is shocking, it is the realization that you do not fit into this culture, and that you don’t know how.  That you don’t even know how to ask about simple things, or about how to fit in, because you are not sure what sort of boundaries you cross just by doing that.  The language barrier and cultural barrier is actually exhausting.  I almost never feel comfortable here, and constantly feel like I am doing something wrong.  I am sure it will get better, but for now I can not help but count down the weeks. (I keep tempting myself with days, but I think if I saw the number it would be daunting).  I should be amazed by my experiences, but I keep being overwhelmed instead.  It’s not something you are supposed to admit, but since there is no way to change the course of events I can say things like this: I am ready to go home.  It will pass. But I feel sort of trapped and unsure and tired and mostly I just want to see a familiar face, and feel that little punch of relief.  Jama comes to visit me next week or the week after, I am so excited to see him.

Work is good, but there is this strange dichotomy of having all of these people taking me under their wing, but these same people being the ones who make me feel sort of inadequate.  No one in Mombasa believes I know Swahili and they have no reason to.  They talk too fast, they use perfect grammar, they have different accents, they all talk at once.  I can’t understand what they are saying, and I get daily head spins trying to.  I’m trying to embrace it but it’s frustrating.  I don’t even try speaking, for the most part, because my swahili is so limited and slow-paced it seems useless half the time.  My little brothers and sisters are the only people who speak to me in Swahili, because they don’t know english, and I think through them I’m improving.  

I get this creeping sense that everyone here wants something from me, and it’s not my friendship.  I’m American, and it is assumed I have money.  And a swimming pool.  Someone told me the other day that all American’s have swimming pools.  That Americans don’t know how to cook.  That there is no sense of community.  The same exact generalizations I accuse America of all the time when I am home, but here I find myself defending.  It makes me realize that despite how materialistic our culture is we still have some sort of heart in the US.  Particularly the circles I run in.  When little kids see me they yell “JAMBO” and then everyone in the work van says “they’re saying hi to you, you know”.  On my worst day of panic, this happened, and apparently my response sounded negative.  A co-worker asked “it annoys you?” not meanly, just sort of a passing comment.  Of course I can’t say YES because that would make me heartless.  But when I already feel like I am sticking out, all alone, this little thing emphasizes all of the fears and discomforts I am already having.  

I’ve been trying to explain how their assumptions are wrong.  But it’s hard to prove.  When I’m nervous and not sure what my role is I am flighty and useless.  I seem clumsy and lost ALL the time here, and not in a charming way.  

 5 weeks til the ‘rents start arriving.  8 until I am home.  I feel like I am slipping through the cracks of everyone’s minds while I’m here, mostly because I feel so much more disconnected.  It feels like a long time. Some of this is not Mtwapa culture shock but just straight up home-sickness.  Maybe the heat is making me more delusional than usual.  Kenya, if anything, has taught me perhaps what I already knew.  How much I depend on the people around me at home and how much I love everyone there.  Wisco, I have a feeling that as soon as I cross the Illinois border and enter your beautiful farmland my shoulders will slump in relief.  Even if I love Kenya, which I think I do (not quite confirmed yet), my loyalty to the people I normally surround myself with makes it really hard to be away from them.  I always say I will always follow people I love, rather than places and Kenya seems to be confirming that.  I don’t know what this says about me, and for the time-being I don’t care. So please, take me with you.

Feel better already after writing that.  I think I just needed a little time to decompress.  To sum it up using some wise words my brother wrote: “It’s gettin better all the time. I’m moving forward most the time. Nothing can come between us, living parallel lives.”

Bring on the Bees

It’s risky to blog at home because my host sibling LOVE my computer, but don’t really understand how to be gentle, and gentle is not a word I have learned in Swahili yet.  Being in Mtwapa is making me feel like my swahili is uselessly bad, everyone thinks I don’t know any, even after I tell them that I have been studying it for three years.  Mtwapa is even more of an adjustment, but I am trying my best.  

I am going to be learning ALL about bee keeping while I am here, thanks to my pal Benson at Kwetu.  I already learned a lot today, though according to Benson, not really, I have a ton more to learn.  But what I DID learn is that bees are amazing insects, and according to Benson, they think a lot harder than us humans.  He really loves bees, and it shows, and it’s great.  So please, field all bee questions to me, I might know the answer and if I don’t, he does. 

Neem is another specialty at Kwetu, it is a type of tree that you can get oil and powder from, and it is supposedly the best preventative medicine you can take.  Mwabili is the Neem expert at Kwetu, he makes candles (for insect repellent), a sort of lotion (good for the skin and also keeps the bugs away), powder (you drink it daily), Shampoo, and soap.  It is a cheap way for people to prevent malaria and to keep from getting sick.  Like Benson, you can tell Mwabili loves his job.  He really wants to do more plant research if he gets the chance and believes that Kenya is rich with resources that have not been discovered by more of the world. 

Regardless of what Benson says, I think I’ve learned a ton today, and can’t even imagine how much I will know by the time I am done with my 6 weeks.  Apparently the bees in Africa are more vicious than American bees, but as always, my delusional self thinks I have a special connection with animals and I’m not too worried about my encounters with the bees.  But confidence is the way to go, it’s not good be afraid of the bees.  

OK, feel as though I am maybe being rude to my family by not interacting with them, and I think I have to work more on my paper.

Lots of love, I feel like I’m on a different planet, or dreaming, I feel so sort of freaked out that I can’t really function normally here.  But I miss you all and can’t wait for the COMFORT of home.

In the ‘60’s people from all over came to Madison. Paul told me about all the Runaways. Mifflin street co-op was the only co-op in town, and it doled out food these young runaways, and helped foster various other like-minded businesses. Madison has a good heart, even if it has been slightly tainted by my generation. Many say that the Sterling Hall bombings put an end to it. It crossed a line, it was too violent, and droves of people left after it happened. Karl and his brother learned how to fly planes, stole one, and tried to bomb some WI company’s fields (I of course don’t remember the name or what they produced now). And they managed to do all of this without killing themselves in the process.

The don’t condone violence. But to care about something so much, to be so frustrated with a system that ignores and ignores the fact that thousands of people are dying, for no apparent reason, that you don’t know what else to do is amazing. I feel like that is so lost on my generation. Lost on me. I have written and angry essay or two, but I never DO anything. All these people that raised me, my fake aunts and uncles, they were a part of something, they were a part of a movement, they were fighting for what they believed in and being stupid college kids at the same time. I am just being a stupid college kid”


I stand corrected.  I stand so corrected.  I should be there.  And it is breaking my heart a little (lot) bit that I am not.  

Pre-emptive Nostalgia


The realization that my time in Nairobi is coming to an end is bringing me heavy heart string tugs, and making me realize I like it here more than I thought.  Or maybe not the place itself, but like that this is a place where I learned how to do things a little more on my own, a place that was completely foreign to me (I rarely travel to places I don’t know anything about), and I got to know it, and I know how to get around the city. 

Today my sister had some friends over, and we were just sitting around teasing each other etc etc.  This is a home, of sorts.  I am trying not to feel things before it is time, but I know I will miss Kenya.  It’s that sort of wonderful panic that comes with loving all the places you go.  How can I love them all at once?  LEARNING TO LOVE WHERE YOU ARE MORE THAN WHERE YOU ARE NOT.  I am starting to love it here, but not love it HERE.  I know, intrinsically that I don’t love this PLACE.  But I love my Nairobi family, I love coming home and talking to Mariam and watching soap operas with her.  I love taking matatus down town and feeling like I know what I’m doing.  I love class with Jama and Fred and Judy.  Today was my last day of swahili ever after 3 years.  I like to think things like this are a big deal.  I like to put a lot of weight on things.  

It scares me to love a place that is so far away.  The other places I love are far, but I can get there.  I can hop on the train/plane and get to Portland.  I try to keep the places I love close to home.  Kenya is not so easy to get to.  It’s expensive.  I like the pride that comes with making a place yours.  I feel like I have properly dug my feet in here, feel like I have some small spot here.  I feel like when I go home a lot of things will be easier.  I won’t be nearly so scared of things.  Won’t be afraid to travel by myself or to do things by myself (though I think I will still prefer not to, because I like having company).  Things will be hard to.  The Kenyan culture is not in your face, it is sort of subtle and reveals itself slowly, so I won’t notice that I am accustomed to it (though I suspect I am).  It will be hard to come home and have to be on time to things, to have to look at the clock.  It will be sad to not be able to run to Toy (Toy Joy, as I fondly call it) or Adams Market and get a whole outfit for under $10. And chocolate bars from Nakumatt.  And getting my safaricom minutes from the dry cleaners.  And talking to my two favorite gate dudes each morning. (I will post a picture of them shortly).  I will miss people walking everywhere.  And matatus honking at you to move because they are driving on the sidewalk.  and the terrible food service (when I get sentimental I miss everything, even the shitty stuff).  I will miss blackouts, that force the TV off and lead to wonderful discussions with my host family.  I will miss haggling, the pride I have in attempting to use my Swahili, which is pretty much a lost skill at home.  And I’m pretty sure I’ll be back.  And you’re coming with me. It’s nice to have a place to come to if I have to escape now. 

There is a former MSID student who is in the middle of a life transition and she came here to figure it out.  She might end up going home.  But she got to come here because she has connections here, roots here, and it’s a comfort that I’ve made such a place for her. I will write letters to my host family and to the MSID staff when I am home.  I know, I shouldn’t be planning this stuff now, I’ve got 2 months left.  But when these things make me panic the best way for me to deal with them is to figure out how I will handle my missing.  I’m just a missing sort of a gal.  

I will end with my bit on trickle-down economics, mostly because I think it’s sort of funny, but it’s not really as funny as I think it is. (Windsors saying “you don’t think I’m funny like I think I’m funny?” comes to mind).  We were sitting in class, talking about trickle-down economics, and being the word person I am, I get really distracted staring at the words on the board.  Trickle… trickle… trickle… Wait.  When has a trickle ever been a good thing?  I don’t really know anyone who really appreciates a trickle of water.  When I’m thirst I want a full glass of water, not just a drip.  In what universe does trickle-down sound good?  You aren’t even getting the full trickle, you are getting the dregs of the trickle. Economic theories are so theoretical they don’t actually make much sense (I apologize Mrs McDaniels).  

I will really miss class discussions with Jammin Jama, like A LOT.  I might actually have to call him just to talk it out sometimes.

Down to the Left of the Third Valve

"In the second chamber, of my fourth heart, down to the left of the third valve, is a room, I keep for you. For me, just to think of you. "- Lisa Olstein/ Jeffrey "Jeffy" Foucault (had to give them credit for stealing some lyrics for a blog title)

Oi vay, so much to write and yet I’m feeling sleepy due to prolonged sun-exposure etc.

Kenya isn’t what I expected. Or rather, it is what I expected, but my feelings towards it aren’t what I expected. While my views on politics and on life are being reinforced, I am not finding the heart I expected. I don’t know if this has anything to do with Kenya though, and more with myself. Everyone else came to Kenya to find themselves, I came to Kenya to get lost and I think I’m doing a marvelous job.

I’m the type of gal who suffers/enjoys heart string tugs daily, who gets overwhelmed with the beauty and joy of everything, weak kneed and weak hearted almost always. I’m not like that here. Or I haven’t felt like that. Maybe I’m thinking of this as such an un-permanent thing that I am having trouble making relationships strong enough for this. Or cultural boundaries prevent me from properly expressing myself, though I am trying harder to do so with my host mom and sister and the results have been positive. I’m sure you could tell though, look at my writing, it isn’t fluffy and so full of love that it is almost overboard. I think this is partly because I am just having this experience and not spending all of my time trying to figure out how to describe it.

We went to Kibera today. This and our trip to Simon’s are my two favorite experiences so far in Kenya, though technically they are the most subtle and most short. Kibera is amazing. You’re supposed to be heart-broken when you look at it. You’re supposed to be heart-broken when you come to Africa and witness poverty. I’m not. Like I said, communal culture is popular around here. Despite the strange attachment to television, people are the most important thing here. Here is the strongest sign of love I’ve seen in Kenya so far: We started talking with this little girl, who was cute (they all are) but asking us for money. Simon starting talking to her and asking her why she wasn’t in school and where her mother was etc. The little girl was 4, about the same age as Simon’s daughter. The rest of us had ignored her request for money (not because we are heartless but because everyone is asking for money and it is dangerous to hand it out, they will keep asking you, some people will follow you or look for you each day). After talking to her for a long time, Simon walked over to this small stand and bought her a bag of mangos and sent her back home. It’s a tiny thing. I can’t explain it’s importance, I’m not even sure if it IS important in the great scheme of things, but it gave me a heart-string tug, so it’s important to me.

Kibera is amazing. The houses are made of mud and dirt and rusted tin roofs, which sounds like such a terrible stereotypical description. It’s sad because they are citizens of this city and their needs are not being met. But it’s so full of life, and I’ve never really lived in true poverty, but part of me thinks that this is more important. No. All of me thinks that this is more important. It’s a bold statement, it’s probably wrong because I live a life of privilege. I am still having trouble believing that a country can become modernized without losing it’s heart. Kibera is like a mini city. It’s sad and tattered, but it’s functional. They’ve found way to illegally get water and electricity to the area. It’s not ideal and it’s probably not pleasant to live there, but the fact that people have created this on their own amazes me. Kenyans can’t depend on their government systems for anything really, and they’ve found ways to come up with their own systems as a replacement. They are flawed, they don’t address the core problems, but damn, at least they did something about it. Without complaint. Not that they should be silent, but the fact that they aren’t “whiny” amazes me. There are rows and rows of houses, all so close to each other and they still manage to find ways to plant some small amount of vegetables (sukuma wiki, which is like spinach and kale). I want to be resourceful. America doesn’t offer the opportunities for that, though my mother has successfully instilled this desire to be practical in me. We don’t learn how to be resourceful because it isn’t economically viable. We do the jobs we know how to do and we pay someone else to do the rest for us. I have no skills. I hope I gain a few here.

I am slowly slowly (pole pole) finding my Kenyan heart. I can’t properly explain this without sounding like I am missing something important from the experience, but I am so excited to come home. My heart should be going through so many more jolts here than it does at home, but it’s not, and these heart jolts are what keep me excited. I’m looking for them in Kenya, and I’m sure I will find them. It is strange and disheartening to find that a place I have so much love and admiration for is not a place I feel like I can stay. I thought this would feel like home. It doesn’t feel unwelcoming at all, but I just don’t find myself having the same love for it I have for Madison and El Cafe. Maybe my roots aren’t deep enough here. I mostly love places because they people I know loved them first. This was supposed to be my place, and I don’t get the sense that it is. I feel like I’m always loving it from a distance. Maybe at my internship it will be different, maybe I’ll be more a part of the experience rather than feeling like I’m just sort of looking in.

I’ve made my own sort of communal life in the states, and I’m not awesome at being away from it. The little things are most important. And I am not finding lots of little things here. Maybe I’m being too distracted by the big things. I feel like I am constantly defending myself when I write things like this by saying “DON’T WORRY, I’M STILL ENJOYING THE EXPERIENCE”. In the same way people don’t really seem to want me to feel anything negative here, and whenever I mention it they seem to tell me “but you’re in Kenya” as though that is a cure-all.

I feel like this experience should FEEL more important than it does, and I wonder if it will when I get home. I just miss the feeling of my heart wanting to explode from love. And I’m not sure why it isn’t. And I’m worried I’m doing something wrong. Maybe it’s my struggle for independence. For having an experience and not having it justified or analyzed by anyone but myself. That’s not how I do things, normally. I hope I figure it out. I feel so stagnant when I want and expect myself to be almost in tears. And I can’t shake the thought that I am somehow disappointing everyone. Or maybe just disappointing myself because I thought something about being here would make me seem more impressive, and I’m realizing that I am as impressive as I’m ever going to be, which is plenty for me, but maybe not enough for everyone else. This is not a cry for a confidence booster or for a pile of compliments or even a passive-aggressive way of saying I’m not given enough credit (because I don’t think that’s true). But just a sort of final realization that you simply can not make everyone love you, you can not impress everyone, no matter what you do (including going to Africa. Seems pretty obvious right? You’d think I would have figured this out a long time ago.)

Lots of love to everyone, don’t let this confuse you into thinking I am not having a good time, or not learning anything, because that is definitely not the case.


I am supposed to be doing research for my paper right now, we are at the UNEP library.  But instead I am looking up articles on Wisco and thinking about culture.  My pride for my state is oddly Kenyan.  Wisconsin has a good protest history.  La Follette.  Vietnam.  It’s a state with a lot of heart.  And a lot of cows.

The world is on fire and it is amazing.  It is amazing that Wisconsin is going through a miniauture revolution while the Middle East goes through their large ones.  I’ve always said I wished I was alive during Vietnam, to be a part of something with so many people with so much heart.  But I’m discovering there is still a lot of that left in the world.  It’s exciting, we talk about it in class a lot and I’m becoming increasingly interested, I keep feeling empowered.

Yesterday we talked a lot about communal culture versus cultures that promote individualism.  One of the biggest attractions of Africa is the continent’s strong sense of community.  I think it is so important to preserve this.  I just kept thinking about how much money matters in the US, about the American Dream about Death of a Salesman.  How being accountable only for yourself makes you so materialistic, how the individualistic ideology doesn’t promote the importance of relationships, the importance of unity.  Someone mentioned that the US is one of the most “charitable” nations.  Yeah, we give money so that we can feel a little less guilty.  We give money, don’t pay any attention to where it goes or how it is spent.  And we only give money after we have afforded ourselves all of the luxuries.  I was raised with a strong sense of community, a strong idea of looking out for the people around you, and the joys that come with fostering good, strong, caring relationships.  I’m not convinced, even remotely in the idea of the individual.  I don’t know if I’m articulating this well.

My host mom told me something important she said “I guess something I don’t understand is that students like you come here and notice all of these things like poverty in our country, but you don’t even deal with them in your own country.” or something roughly along those lines.  She’s right.  Here we are sitting, trying to come up with solutions for how to improve housing conditions in Kibera when we don’t even know anything about poverty in our own country.  I think our systems tend to frustrate us at home, and we thought that maybe, somewhere else, they would be less frustrating.  They’re frustrating everywhere.  There are always people falling through the cracks. Being here has made me have a little more faith in the US systems.  That is not to say they don’t need a lot of improvement, because they do.  That is not to say they are the systems that are right for every country.  But to realize that there is some amount of functionality is encouraging.

I’m learning a lot.  I’m learning that I already knew more than I thought I did.  I am learning to articulate my thoughts and I am learning new ways to think about things.  I feel like I had so much more to say.  I feel good things coming.  Not personally, but on a global scale, ya know?  Chin up, heart up, let’s go.

Today I have the house to myself for a little bit and the internet, two rarities (though the internet will be more frequent because I got an internet stick that works finally).  This of course means that I am suffering a heavy bout of homesickness, starting at the concert I went to last night, (the second half was better than the first half, I’ll give them credit) that made me so homesick for music, of all things.  Of parties at friends houses with whatever music we choose, of Lauren, Anna, and I sitting in our living room listening to Joanna Newsom.  Or “raging” in Madison.  And waking up and going to get a Gotham bagel.

Oh the sad plights of being abroad.  I know it will pass, all I need is cadbury mint chocolate bar and some chips (french fries) and I’ll be as good as new.  I am starting to feel so comfortable here, I can get places via matatu without any fear or any issues whatsoever.  Going to Adam’s and Toy market and having pleasant conversations with the sellers and getting fair prices for things.  It’s not like I’m a Kenyan, I won’t go that far, but we have carved out a place for ourselves here, at least for a while.  We have to leave soon for our internships.  I can’t say I’m ready.  Maybe my homesickness is worstened because this is starting to feel like home.  and I am so proud that I made this home.  But also, so afraid of replacing my other homes.  I am so clumsy and balanceless.

This week has been strange, it’s been fast and I feel like I haven’t seen everyone very much, but it’s been really good. I’ll rewind to last weekend quick since I never updated you. We went to Hell’s Gate to go camping. Getting there was a little rough. There were 6 of us, which is too big a group to travel in and we were all trying to catch a Matatu to Naivasha. We’ve been told not to get on empty Matatus so we went for the one that had people in it. But as we were getting on the matatu, everyone was touching our stuff, claiming to be “helping” us. 4 of us boarded the matatu, and the “passengers” on the matatu started to get off, and everyone was acting generally sketchy. One of the girls made the call to get off the matatu (I hadn’t yet boarded) so everyone deboarded, but once we got away from the matatu we discovered that one of us had had our phone stolen from their pocket and that they had tried to unzip our bags. They successfully unzipped mine, but there was nothing in it except for some water logged school notebooks. Though we escaped the situation mostly unscathed it was frightening. And there were too many of us and we didn’t really know what to do and were a little bit shaken. We called Simon, one of the MSID staff members to ask him what to do and he came to rescue us. I would just like to state here how awesome the staff here is. They are always watching out for us and taking good care of us and are also the most fun to be around. Simon helped us find a safe matatu (though we had to walk through a large crowd, everyone grabbing us and our stuff and after our earlier experience we were almost in tears/about to punch the next person who laid a hand on us by the time we made it to the bus ticket window) and we headed on our way but we were heavily shaken and were on edge for the rest of our trip there. Hell’s gate in itself was totally beautiful and we got to climb and see the gorge. To be honest, I enjoyed Simon’s more, the desert-like landscape but with trees pulls my heartstrings a little bit more. The night we arrived it was late and we had to have some friendly Kenyan’s lead us to our campsite, and we had to take the “short-cut” in order to beat the darkness (buffalo aren’t so friendly at night, or so we heard). The short-cut was, in reality, an intense hike up a fairly steep hill (cliff?). It was dark so we didn’t realize how much we had climbed until we woke up the next morning.Amanda and I returned to Nairobi the next day while the others stayed for an extra night. The trip back with just the two of us went so smoothly, we had no issues and felt proud to make it back unscathed.

Oi vay, can you tell my heart isn’t properly into writing this shit down? I can. Sorry dudes, the rant portion of this entry is about to come. Today we went to see the US Embassy. It was frighteningly American. The people that work at the embassy spend most of their time in this weird bubble. And when they are not in this bubble they are in their weird “American’s only” neighborhood equipped with a gym, a swimming pool, and even a bar and restaurant. In other words, they don’t actually interact with Kenyans or Kenya at all. And these are the people debriefing the President and helping make policies? It’s crazy. It’s disheartening. Even more disheartening was the way my shoulders inadvertently relaxed as soon as we sat down. It is definitely not worth the “comfort”. When you hear foreign service you sort of assume a well cultured and well traveled individual. But a lot of the staff don’t ever leave the American bubble’s built for them. Technically, they aren’t really allowed to. How are you supposed to be helping a country develop when you have never even driven through Kibera, one of the biggest fucking slums in Africa? If you can’t assess the needs of a country or the culture of a country, it is impossible for you to help. I don’t give a fuck if you have 3 masters degrees. It’s so frustrating. I’ve read about this sort of shit in books about aid, but it’s a lot different to interact with it directly. It was my first little taste of reverse culture shock, but probably worst than it will be when I get home because I would never spend my time in a place so neatly manicured and so carefully decorated (with an indigenous African art and Native American art theme, cute) at home. Half of these people live more sheltered lives than most American’s. They are the one’s representing me in foreign countries? And most confusing to me is why these employees feel like this is OK. There is a little hope though, a few people wiggle their way out of the rules and actually live in Nairobi, with Kenyans. Some of them take public transportation and actually visit the areas where their projects are set up. Oi vay, I can’t believe this shit but at the same time, most disappointingly, I’m not particularly surprised.

This program has us constantly rethinking aid, development, and politics. It’s so difficult to explain without cultural context, and it is so difficult to provide cultural context. In some ways we are learning to appreciate the US government more because despite a lot of it’s failings it does a decent job of taking care of its citizens. But also, I (we?) don’t want Kenya to just follow in the footsteps of the US. To call a country “third world” is so demeaning and so useless. Or even developing really. Aren’t we all supposed to be developing? To assume that the pattern of development should follow some linear pattern of development that other western nations have followed is crazy. It obviously wasn’t perfect. Kenya is still in a position (in some sectors), though the chance is starting to slip out of its fingers, to develop sustainably. The world is in transition and these “developing” countries have a chance to try something different than the western countries, something that might work better in this day and age. I’m learning a lot, the teachers here are so amazing and so smart. But so much more open to everyone’s ideas, so much more appreciative of the thought process, of discussing things. At Madison it always feels like discussion is actually just a weird competition to see who can sound the smartest. This means that no one is ever listening to each other, but mostly thinking about what they’re going to say next. It’s not conducive to good discussion, it’s not conducive to coming up with new ideas.

On a really quick side note: all I want to do is listen to Jay-Z, Dr Dre, and Snoop.  I hope you guys are ready when  get home.

I’m sitting in my bed listening to Joanna Newsom post a 2 1/2 hour laundry session (it turns out that the red Masaai land dirt is real hard to get out of your jeans). My computer seems to be working, but the battery is dead so I have to keep it plugged in at all times or it shuts off. And the screen is a little messed up due to water damage, but I am happy to see it mostly functioning. Friday after class we headed to Hell’s Gate and had a hell of a time getting there. (OK, as always, I’ve moved since I started writing this blog entry, and I am looking at protest pictures on facebook, and get a lil teary eyed because I wish I could be there. and because be groups of people getting together to protest just sort of gets me all riled up anyways. Proud of my great state and my city. Real teary eyed. Hot damn. KINDNESS PREVAILS.) You know what, I’m not actually going to tell you about Hell’s gate right now. I’m going to do some reverse blogging, because I feel like I haven’t been digesting everything properly and mom wanted me to describe my walk to school and just what things look like here. First of all, it’s dirty in Nairobi. And everywhere they just throw trash on the sides of the roads. There are sort of real sidewalks, but there are a lot of dirt paths that we walk on too. Traffic is crazy, people drive crazy, and if you’re walking on a dirt path it is not so unlikely that you will hear a honk behind you as some car tries to avoid the traffic jams. Matatus are these 14 person busses, but usually they put more that 14 on each one and they are in such a hurry to get back and forth (the more trips the more money) that they will often off road it or drive on the wrong side of the road and off-road it. There are speed bumps all over the road, and huge potholes, so every car/bus ride is particularly bumpy. Lots of people ride bikes as well with wood and various other things piles on the back (usually huge bundles of wood or sugar cane). There are people with wheelbarrows of sugar cane on every street corner. Soda is sold in glass bottles for twenty-five cents and is made with real sugar. They don’t have ketchup, they have “tomato sauce” which looks like sweet and sour sauce and taste roughly like tomatoes. Most Kenyans drink all their beverages at room temperature or warmer. This means that whenever we go out in a big group they always run out of cold Tusker. Most toilets don’t have toilet seats. Everything takes longer in Kenya, but everyone is more patient. Every morning as I wait for my classmates by my gate I have a short conversation with the people who seemingly live on the hill next to the gate/around the neighborhood. They are usually brushing their teeth. At night we have real watchmen but they are sort of the unofficial day-guards. Today my heart is in Wisco. Just for today, I’ll allow it. Love you.