Tuesday, September 25, 2012

More Than Four Years

Kenya. Bungoma. ICODEI.
Uganda. Zanzibar. Kenyan Coast.

From more than four years out, it's like these memories are so vivid and so real, but so far removed from who I am right now. I read these entries and I see myself, maturing in my vision of how things are and how things should be, prepared to tromp off and do some good somewhere--anywhere.

It's interesting to see the pains that I sometimes took to see myself as doing it right. As if somehow, me, precocious engineer and wanna-be humanitarian health worker, had viewed the answer and knew that I could help it along. The picture is more complicated than that, and I guess I'm not doing myself justice to say that I was ignorant of the pitfalls of the sort of aid philosophy that I was taking part in. I'm not sure I was completely wrong, it's just with things like this there are aspects that just can't be quantitatively measured. The 'why?' asked too many times at the different justifications I made for my work and travel leads ultimately to some fundamental ideas...ideas that really aren't based in anything more than the taught principles of a relatively privileged Western white viewpoint.

The sound of the tortoises in Zanzibar...creaking and expelling breathy entreaties for more food. The clinic or rural mobile clinic days with explosive music and medicine, and dancing and clapping and the solar panel that ran a few light bulbs and sitting under the mango tree in the hills and midnight SCUBA and Mnemba island and just-right timed ipod sing-alongs and sugarcane sugarcane sugarcane...Lake Victoria and tilapia and ugali and as many kinds of mango as I ever knew existed in every size and level of ripeness requiring a mango tasting vocabulary that doesn't exist.

Echoes of east Africa colored and contrasted my time in the middle east.

The website for volunteerkenya.org features three of my photos from the trip in the main banner.

I keep in touch, sparingly, with some of the more prominent personalities that I experienced on my trip. I am so thankful that they all took care of me (or, that we all took care of each other). Yes it sounds overstated when I say it, but what's a great memory but for emotion?--my heart is overflowing with love for friends and people I truly think of as Kenyan family. It's hard to call Kenyan women Mama (name) without really coming to see them that way.

Reminiscing is a great way to spend a few moments after a second-year med school neurology exam day. I am sad to say that I really don't write as much as I used to--but again, there will come a season for it!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The End of the Journey

On August 10th, I arrived home. But not before having a spectacular goodbye to a place that, as I've said time and time again, utterly shattered my expectations and imaginations of what my experience would be like.

After leaving Bungoma for Nairobi, I went to two national parks, and some requisite wildlife pictures are featured below. We were in Amboseli National Park and then Tsavo West National Park. Jill, Brett, Ingrid and I then went to Mombasa for a night, explored the Old Fort, and rested. Next we headed north to Watamu, an Italian resort village in Kenya...where everyone spoke Italian and where the foods were all from Italy. We stayed at a hotel/resort that was shockingly nice for the $30 or so for a room each night. Also from Watamu went to the Gede ruins, which were every which way ancient and mysterious, with gargantuan trees--one of which had a platform to view the site. It was generally a fantastic experience, despite the odd insects (after all, the forest there hasn't been affected all that much by humans in the last 400 or 500 years; it was precisely like going back in time).

Brett and Ingrid left from Watamu and Jill and I continued the trek north up the coast to Lamu, a paradisaical island with a traditional and gorgeous old town in typical Swahili fashion. No cars [the main street was never more than 5 or 6 feet wide], but literally thousands of donkeys paraded the island for transport of people and goods. Jill and I, for a ridiculous price in the neighborhood of $15 each, essentially had two floors of an amazing villa. Each level was littered with Swahili-carved day beds and chairs. A full breakfast was also served. We took a day trip on a traditional dhow, sailing to Manda island and having fresh caught fish for lunch.

We decided that instead of taking a round-about 18-20 hour bus ride back to Nairobi, we would fly. So I had some extra time to do a bit of tourist-style shopping, relax, and contemplate my journey--both as an individual traveler, as part of the project to start a VCT center; Ultimately, as a person genuinely interested in how people everywhere on earth are so enormously different in their styles and beliefs, I was once again was impressed with the common threads that are part of a greater 'humanity'. Anyway, that's a bit of stereotypical "everyone is different but also the same" sort of speech, but it's hard to genuinely capture the kind of education that can only come from experience.

In travels and work, I wonder if anything will take me back to Kenya--, to Kisumu, or to Bungoma; to see all of the people there that I found to be like family by the end--like Joyce and Mama Betty and the Lubanga kids and Epico Jahns Primary school. Now I only hope I can keep in touch until I am there once again!

Here are some shots from the last 10 days of Kenya!, in completely random order...

Sand castle I spent probably an hour creating on the empty, vast stretch of Shella Beach on Lamu island
Tito, Brett's carved giraffe from the gate of Tsavo West, at the Old Fort in Lamu
Tree in Amboseli National Park
View of rooftops from the terrace of our villa in Lamu looking east
Zebras in Amboseli National Park. They were everywhere...
Me, riding Watermelon. When I was traveling, I rode Carrot (the donkey in the background). The guy sitting there is Lemon, our guide and dhow captain
Standing next to a gargantuan tree at the 13th-17th century Gede ruins on the coast near Watamu--home to a surprisingly advanced town for that time in Western Kenya that must have had an extensive trading network given the articles found there. Everyone left in the 17th century though; no record of why
The iconic tusks in Mombasa; photo taken from the middle of the street--there's a matching set over the road to the right of the line of trees
This little guy and several others were near our campsite in Tsavo West National Park
Near the Old Fort in Mombasa, there was a photogenic vining plant taking over a traditional Swahili Mombasa-style carved door
The typical sights of Lamu: donkeys and a dhow--, and Manda island across the water where the mangroves are
Night view from the Lamu villa. Flowering vines crawled up and over the alleys, from rooftop to rooftop, littering the streets with their blossoms--usually pink and yellow
One of my favorite Lamu shots, taken from a few feet off the ground (sometimes I took the phrase "shoot from the hip" to heart when looking for good candid shots)--there were maybe thirty or forty donkeys off to the left
Me, sitting on a platform overlooking the springs in Amboseli National Park. Were it a clear day, Kilimanjaro would have been off to the right
Standing on a 200-300 year old volcanic lava flow in the midst of the Chulu hills, where there were many dormant cone volcanoes
Left to right: Brett from Tenneessee, Jill from Pennsylvania, Ingrid from D. C., and me; this was our safari group. We toasted our trip at Carnivore (one of the top 50 dining experiences in the world), and toasted the end in Watamu, the strange Italian resort town, over pasta.
The Chulu Hills; this was truly an experience of sublimity--utterly awe inspiring in its scale and grandeur as we tooled around in our van with removable roof surrounded by animals usually confined to zoos
A hippo--the most dainty creature I've ever seen walk, as if on its tip-toes
A poor quality photo of Kilimanjaro from the ground in the early morning of our second day in Amboseli
A nice view of Lamu, the town--on Lamu, the island--part of Lamu, the archipelago (in Kenya, East Africa?)
These carved doors were incredible. Most were not nearly as elaborate as this one; however, many were carved rather delicately with lovely artistic discretion
A nice panorama at Amboseli, where the hordes of elephants were sunk down into the water that the grass and plants were emerging from--the baby elephant could easily inspire a rousing "Circle of Life" chorus if you were feeling like a tourist
First course of breakfast at the villa in Lamu was always fruit...often these three were substituted or supplemented with fresh papaya or mango
The first large animal we saw after leaving Nairobi was this giraffe just outside the car window
This sign is excellent all-around, but I particularly like "The National Parks are not responsible for any eventuality"
The wildlife, however fun to look at, was often just standing in the middle of the road. It was weird, we were looking at them and they were looking at us; and sometimes they took a while to move--this one looks perfect, bordering on artificial
This is a hill of volcanic ash. There are three people in this photo: Ingrid closest, then Jill nearing the bottom of the path, then Brett still up almost on the hill horizon line. Spot all three?
The sunset while waiting for the plane in Cleveland to go back to Dayton
Guess which safari van was ours? Hint: Our safari company was for the fiscally conscious. Basically, I mean the super dirty one.
This is a dik-dik, an insanely small (30-40cm high) and light (3-6kg) antelope that were hard to spot most of the time. This one is on the lava flow in the Chulu Hills

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Through the Lens: Bungoma Town/The Clinic Update

Opening ceremony and songs at Epico Jahns; every Monday and Friday mornings.
Me and Melchzedek--the number one math student in the 4th grade math class I taught! I gave him pencils, pens, an apple, and a pencil sharpener.
This is the 4th grade math class I taught while here in Kabula/Bungoma, Kenya.
Basically, I just liked this photo...I told them to jump or look happy, and they loved the results so we took so many shots...
Me and some of the Epico students.
This is the consultation room in the VCT part of the clinic. Notice the curtains, walls, floor...we re-did them all and this is the result!
Me standing in the clinic entry with the new curtains...
Here I am in front of the main hut. Mostly this is just a 'for memories' picture.
Here's the hut I lived in, with me in front of it! I lived in there for two months minus a few weekends and the trip to Zanzibar.
These are the kids that were jumping...This is the well that we filter water from to drink; also the water we bathe with.
The street in Bungoma Town! Note the boda-boda on the left.
Boda-boda drivers waiting in front of Shariff's plaza--where I'll take the Easy Coach bus to Nairobi tomorrow. The bus company's slogan is "Experience Dignity".
Boda-bodas, and a woman riding side-saddle.

The other VCT consultation room!
This is Joyce! I'll miss her.
Matatu stand in Bungoma town.
Selling oranges!
Another selling of oranges!
Me; and the grocery store Khetia's.
The newly painted ceiling. I painted two rooms of ceilings.
Lilian, the cook; and me!
Me on the matatu, fields going by.
And here I am with Elizabeth, who will be the manager of the VCT. Back and to the left you can see the storage room with new door and shelves.

Other news: The ICODEI dog, Luii, died--it was terrible and there was nothing we could do. Also, I spent the night at Joyce's last Saturday and attended a Catholic church on Sunday. It was under construction and huge, and we went at sunrise--beyond beautiful, especially with the incredible singing. The whole congregation is one big, talented choir singing in who-knows-how-many part harmonies. Lastly, there have been noises and music at night. Western Kenya has a lot of ceremony around circumcision when a boy reaches a certain age (14-ish?), so they're having all of those parties now.

Tomorrow I head out!
Time for last-goodbyes on the farm.