Friday, October 18, 2013

Gecko poop, fertility and other adventures in Cameroon

So, in my last entry I talked about starting a new job. I’m now 4 months into said job and living in Cameroon. Cameroon is beautiful and different enough from Kenya that it provides a lot of new challenges- the language for one. Cameroon is both French speaking and English speaking. I took a fair amount of French in college and this has been a great opportunity to refresh and improve my French skills. I know that I’ve posted before about funny language mishaps with Swahili. Now, I’ve had the pleasure of having some interesting French language mishaps too.

My confusion with “gestion” as in “gestion de stock” (stock management) and “gestation” (same as in English) always seems to break the ice and provide a welcome laugh during otherwise uneventful malaria stock management meetings. I don’t know why, but that one never fails to trip me up when I’m speaking.

Also, there was that one time that I confused “preservatif” with the English word “preservatives.” They are not the same. At all. One great example where you cannot just say an English word using a French accent and get by.

Luckily that conversation was with a Cameroonian friend who’s very understanding of other cultures and was not in the least bit judgmental when I said in French that “I don’t like to eat McDonald’s when I’m in the US because of all the condoms (preservatifs) they put it their food.” 

That would've been quite a plot twist in the film Super Size Me. Anyways, I'm a bit behind the times now because McDonald's has apparently gone healthy and has a whole assortment of new items on their menu (condoms not included).

Well, as I mentioned in the title, I’d like to take a moment to discuss gecko poop. When I lived in Kenya, I had a number of geckos that I cohabitated with. They weren’t the worst roommates I’ve had; they didn’t make a lot of noise or eat my food and were generally quite respectful of my space. There was just one little the exception- their little droppings. They would leave tiny dots of their previous meals around my floor and sometimes on my wall. It wasn’t enough to make me go all warrior with a can of bug spray to kill them, but it was an annoyance and just kinda gross. So for 2 years we mostly just tolerated each other in a mutually symbiotic relationship. They paid their rent in the form of eating other bugs that I dislike even more than them and I allowed them to remain and raise tiny gecko families under my roof.

Recently, in my new house in Cameroon, I’ve started to notice those same black dots. The Geckos have moved in. The strange thing is that I have yet to see an actual Gecko, though. Perhaps they’re more timid in Cameroon? Anyways, it was an odd mixture of comfort, nostalgia and annoyance at their return.

In between cleaning up gecko droppings and working, I’ve been dodging ever increasing fertility questions from my mother. Like “have I thought about freezing my eggs?” and do I know “about the incidence of deformities in babies the older a woman is when she gives birth”….and other lovely pressure-filled gems that come up in the middle of unrelated conversations. (Side note- When did my life turn into a Cathy comic?!)

I think she’s trying to remind me about my 30th birthday that’s around the corner. Or perhaps it’s payback for my ever-so-casual reference to her ability to join a 55+ “seniors” community soon. I’m not sure.

Either way, that woman is really keeping me on my toes in every conversation. Love you Mom!

A la prochaine….

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


I'm now officially an RPCV-- Returned Peace Corps Volunteer!! I was blessed with a few really great options and I chose the one that felt like it would be the best fit. So....I'm now living and working in Yaounde, Cameroon. After 2 years, countless frustrations and many brilliantly happy moments, I still haven't gotten enough. I guess Africa really sunk it's teeth in.  I get to live my dream and work in a field that I'm passionate about (Malaria prevention) and for a company that I believe in. Couldn't be any luckier.

Guess I'm actually an NRPCV- Never Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

In addition to the genius that is  I found this out there on the intertubes. It's pretty on point for the most part, I think.

15 Symptoms of Chronic Peace Corps Withdrawal:

1. Guilty feelings about your indulgent lifestyle.
2. Salivating when you hear poly-rhythmic music.
3. Decorating more than 2 rooms of your house with host country memorabilia.
4. The desire to do everything outdoors.
5. Confusion between "immediately" and "by next week".
6. Greetings exceeding three sentences or eight seconds.
7. Making deprecating comments about American beer.
8. Subscribing to magazine normally found only in libraries.
9. Anxiety induced insomnia from lack of mosquito net in bedroom.
10. A fixation with ethnic restaurants.
11. Feeling nostalgic when your commuter bus is filled to over capacity.
12. Involuntarily using foreign swear words and interjections.
13. The inability to use the left hand when making cash transactions.
14. Reaching for the pepper before the salt.
15. Considering yourself better informed about third world countries than top level state department officials.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Chickens: Way too many to count have come and gone at the point… but the current count is 10. Rabbits: A new and delicious addition! 5 at the moment
Guinea fowl: 2

This post is about the friendships I’ve made in Kenya- not with fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, I have those too- but with Kenyans.

As a Peace Corps volunteer there are times when we face loneliness. When I first got to site it was a bit of a shock. Here I was in a foreign country, all alone, with a nebulous job- work on improving the health of the community, transfer skills, empower people. Granted I had been through training, but once I got to site there was so much freedom and flexibility. My job and service here could be whatever I wanted to make of it. It was a bit overwhelming and I wasn’t really sure where to begin at first. I had to get to know the community, their problems, health issues and start to build relationships. Living on the Coast, there are much fewer PCV’s, so I had to work hard to build friendships with Kenyans. This is a big part of why I came here anyway, and it’s one of the goals of Peace Corps. It took a long time to form these great friendships with Kenyans and they are people who have forever changed my life.
The thought of having to say goodbye to any of them is really hard. I’m reminded of a close friend in America who once told me that “friendships are like stars, sometimes they shine brighter and sometimes a little fainter, but they are always there.”

The Gambo family- 

They live in my village and I am very close to the whole family of 6 (2 parents, 5 children). The mother does not speak English, so communication was a challenge at first. The father was a teacher, but now is working for a textbook publishing company. I usually eat dinner over at their house 1-3 times per week. Sometimes I go with the mother to her farm or to visit her relatives in neighboring villages. We go together to pick food for my rabbits or to collect firewood or to plant corn. I’ve taken their kids to go swimming a few times and to a nearby zoo. Their children had never been to the beach before I took them, despite living on the Coast. Their 5 children are the sweetest and most entertaining children. We have weekly movie nights and they come over and watch kid’s movies, play soccer, volleyball, cards and otherwise just hang out at my house. We have watched the entire Harry Potter series (multiple times). Unfortunately they also love Jurassic Park 3. A LOT. Which is my least favorite one and I’m not sure what I’ll do if I get one more request to watch it. Although, I suppose I will be able to add a few bullet points to my resume “Has memorized every line from Jurassic Park 3,” “Able to withstand torture.” Okay…Jurassic Park 3 wasn’t terrible…but….any parents reading this blog?? I’m sure you can relate!

The kids range in age from 6 months-11, so only the oldest one, Phillip, can understand the English spoken in the movies. But they love all the action, especially the Quidditch scenes. It lights up my life to have the children around and I look forward to a point in my life when I’m ready to have my own children. I see how the Gambo parents love their children, how they work hard at being good parents and try to raise their children to be good people and it warms my heart. No matter what country you live in, be it Kenya or America, love for your child is universal. You want them to grow up to be good people and to have a better life than you had. They work hard and sacrifice for their children so that they have the best opportunities despite their limited financial resources. They are really great people and have taught me so much about parenting and life in general.


I met her right after I got to my site in my shopping town, Kilifi. She’s originally from the Taita hills area of Kenya. She is funny, caring, sweet and loyal. She worked at a juice stand in town and makes the best darn mango and passion fruit juice in all of Kenya! We’ve known each other for about 2 years now and she’s one of my closest girlfriends here. We can really laugh and enjoy ourselves together. She went through the loss of her baby late-term in her pregnancy last year and she has had a very difficult physical recovery. After that loss, she came to my village to work with me as my counterpart. We worked on a number of projects together and she was an inspiration to the girls in my village. She really helped a lot of the girls that I had been working with for the past year through her willingness to be very open about her experiences in life and providing a lot of advice to girls that are dealing with a lot of challenges. I so admire her strength, faith, courage and determination. She has not only changed my life, but the lives of all the girls we worked with in my village. She’s back in Taita right now to rest both her mind and body and to fully recover from the challenges she’s faced over the past year. I can’t wait to see her again and it is comforting to know that even though she is far in physical distance, she really is only a phone call away.

I met her through one of the nurses at the clinic where I work. She lives in a nearby village and is mostly a stay-at-home mom but also sells beans and chapati in the evenings to people passing by her house. She has been so much fun. We instantly bonded and have a regular practice of spending the whole day together chatting, cooking and watching Bollywood movies. I had never seen a Bollywood movie before because of my general dislike of musicals; but I’ve come to find out that they can be pretty enjoyable to watch. We talk about everything from our personal relationships to our faiths. We come from different faiths, I am Episcopalian and she is Muslim, but I really enjoy the conversations we have on this topic. She has shared so much about how her faith has impacted her life, her marriage and her children’s lives and I feel so honored that she has shared those stories with me.


He was my counterpart for about a year and we worked together on a number of projects in my village. I have learned a lot about the culture and practices of the Chonyi tribe through him. He has become a great friend- like a younger brother to me. In general it’s not easy to form friendships with members of the opposite sex in the village-type setting that I live in, but I definitely have that with him. He moved away from my village to join the National Youth Service, (a ROTC type program) so I don’t get to see him very often anymore. Whenever he is back home in the village he helps with any projects and we get to chat and update each other on our lives.

Steve & Anne- 

 photo DSC00270_zps9cee6793.jpg
I have the most fun with them out of anyone else in Kenya (PCV or Kenyan). They both live in Nairobi, so between their visits to the Coast and my visits to Nairobi or passing through on my way to another destination, it usually means I get to see them about once a month only for a day or two at a time. Steve works in IT at a big NGO in Nairobi and I met him through my work with that NGO. Anne and I met through Steve. We instantly bonded and I have enjoyed spending time with each of them so much. They are really spontaneous, intelligent and fun people. We have only know each other for less than a year, but already have been on so many adventures together- snorkeling, museums, bowling, movies, dancing. I could talk to either one of them for hours about any topic and never get bored. We talk about books that we’re both reading (Freakonomics), our favorite TV shows like Lost and Prison Break, our families, job stuff and of course lighter sillier things too.

There are many other people that I haven’t mentioned here specifically, but have made an impact on me during my service and my life. In general my whole community has been really wonderful and supportive throughout my service. When the time comes for me to leave my village it will be a very difficult task. When I think about leaving all of these people whom I’ve met and developed friendships with over the course of my service, I’m reminded of this Pueblo Indian Prayer I was once given by a colleague before I left to join the Peace Corps:

“Hold on to what is good, even if it is a handful of earth. Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself. Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here. Hold on to your life, even if it’s easier to let go. Hold on to my hand, even if someday I’ll be gone from you.”

I’m not sure what will come next for me, as there are a number of options on the table and different paths I can take. But I will for sure update this blog once a decision has been made and I begin a new or continue with a journey.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The day I killed a black mamba, or just your average Sunday

# of black mamba snakes killed: 1

This is the story of how I went up against a black mamba, one of the world's most deadly snakes and emerged victorious. It was a lazy Sunday morning and I had just woken up. Already, 2 little girls were at my door asking to borrow playing cards to play on my porch. I gave them the cards, then went to go make breakfast and begin my morning routine. My village was pretty quiet, everyone was at church. My plan for the day was to do some laundry, clean my house and work in my garden. Just an average Sunday. I put the 5 baby chicks I have outside to let them graze on earthly delights that they enjoy and went inside to make coffee.

I had just finished pouring the hot water into my coffee cup when I heard the girls crying. Normally, I don't run when I hear a child crying as usually they are just fighting and will resolve it themselves. This time the crying was different. I knew that something was really wrong this time. I ran to my porch to see what was going on and saw the girls standing near my door crying hysterically. I quickly scanned the scene to see what was disturbing them so much when I saw it. A small grey snake. At first I was in shock at the situation. Then after 30 seconds or so it registered what kind of snake it was. The grey body color, the way it was moving and lifting its body off the ground, the hissing, the black inside the mouth and the strange way the mouth was open that looked like it was almost smiling. I realized it was a young black mamba. One of the most deadly and aggressive snakes in the world. It didn't run away like most snakes, it stood its ground.

I quickly grabbed my jembe from inside the house(sharp long garden hoe) threw my gum boots on (for leg protection against bites)and ran back outside. As I approached the young snake cautiously, jembe ready to strike, it continued to remain in its position. I quickly smashed it once on the middle body, afraid to get close enough to strike and sever the head area. The blow didn't cut it in half like I expected, so I hit it again this time closer up on the body. The snake began to die, it was suffering and thrashing around because I hadn't smashed the head. Despite it being a very dangerous snake, I felt bad that I didn't provide a quick death for it, so I got one final blow to it's head area and it died right after.

Right after I quickly looked at the girls to see if they were bitten and went to find their mother and explained what happened in swahili. The girls were very lucky that neither of them had been bitten while they were playing.

After the adrenaline wore off a little I realized that the snake was probably hunting one of my little chicks that I had on my porch. It's their favorite food. Then I took some pictures. Of course. At least I didn't reach for my camera instead of my jembe when it was living, right?!?

Some other children came running to see the snake after hearing the news. They began to play with the dead body, so I decided to move it away from my house to a compost pit. Not even 5 minutes after putting the dead snake in the pit, a crow came and carried it off to eat it! Crows will eat just about anything.

And that is the story of how I killed a young black mamba. There's just one more thing I want to know...where's the mother?

The end.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

I've lost the war against spiders and a chicken update

So much for trying not to wait 3 months between posts... I'll try not to wait 7 months between posts next time! I'm doing great and there is SO much to update that I'm not even sure where to begin... so I'll start with the chickens!

Chicken update: The rooster ran away 2 weeks ago and is still missing. Have decided not to post “Missing Cock” signs around the village.

Brown hen #1 has recovered from a mysterious illness, but still has not laid any eggs. Her days are numbered if she continues to be unproductive. Nothing worse than a lazy chicken.

Brown hen #2 was eaten. It was delicious.

White hen laid 8 eggs. All hatched yesterday and today. Mom and her little ones were moved into my house to avoid the disaster that befell Black hen & her chicks (see below). They are currently living a life of luxury in a box on my living room floor. You can’t beat that prime real estate.

Oh black hen. She has been through so much in her little life so far. All but 1 of her 12 chicks died. The remaining chick is really strong and now fully feathered so odds are in his/her favor.

# of spiders that have fallen onto my face: 1
# of Men needed to lift a Matatu (van sized public transport vehicle): 8
# of Rabbits that have died under my care, or should I say lack thereof: 2
# of girls who attended a reusable sanitary pad making event: 47
# of adorable baby girls born to my friend Hadija: 1
# of kidney stones I was thought to have: 2
# of dreams I've had about Target: 1

Ok, now onto the trauma that I have recently had. I'm still processing it, so it's a little hard to talk about, but I'll try so that maybe someone else can avoid the same fate that befell me. It was a rainy day and all I wanted was to find a poncho. Is it too much to ask that I remain dry and warm? I searched all over my house for the 3 ponchos I brought with me to Kenya. I couldn't find a single one. Frustrated at an all to common occurrence where I misplace my things, I decided to just use the plastic that my mattress came wrapped in. It wouldn't have been stylish, but it would have kept me dry. I blindly reached up to the top of my closet shelf and began to pull down the plastic. That's when it happened. A spider fell on my face. Not just any spider. A GIANT spider. I attempted to brush it off my face, only for it to land on my shirt. At this point I think I was screaming. I'm not entirely sure. It's all a bit of a blur. I started to rip off my clothes in an attempt to get away from the devilish creature. My front door was wide open. I don't know who saw what. All I know is that I ended up in my bedroom in nothing but my undergarments and rain boots. And I was almost in tears. The worst part is that I don't know where the spider went. It remains at large in my house and haunts my dreams. I am still afraid to go into my closet. And that is how I lost the war against spiders.

I was in a matatu going to Mombasa one day a few months ago. I was running late (of course) to meet a friend and the matatu got a flat tire (of course again). We stopped at a gas station and got a spare but the driver didn't know where to put the jack. He put it in the wrong place and just when he was about to put the new tire on, the van fell off the jack. Luckily, no one lost any bodily appendages. I then watched in amazement as 8 men lifted the van and the driver replaced the tire. It was totally worth being extra late.

My ventures in rabbit raising have ended very badly. I don't know what went wrong. It could be because they didn't have a properly ventilated home. I did keep them in my bathroom after all. Anyways, that was about $10 USD down the drain. Not literally, of course, as they wouldn't fit down my drain. I'm going to give it another go in a few more months. Rabbits of Kenya beware! I'll do it right this time though and build their housing before I get them.

I held a reusable sanitary pad event in my village a couple of weeks ago and it went very well. I never thought I would be so excited about menstrual products! I taught 47 girls aged 12-17 years how to make reusable sanitary pads. This was a part of a larger project aimed at economically empowering a group of 20 girls in my village who are in a soccer club together. I wrote a grant application to a Gender and Development Peace Corps committee and it was funded. With the grant we purchased materials, made the pads, and will market and sell them within the community. In addition, 2 business skills classes will be held for the girls, so that they can learn basic business skills. The aim is get the girls involved in an income generating activity, while providing a needed item for the community. The money they make will also help to fund some of their soccer activities.
I like to joke, but this actually is a big issue; an estimated 2.7 million Kenyan school girls between the ages of 9-18 years need sanitary pads. Of those 2.7 million, most cannot afford to buy them from the shops. If girls cannot afford them, then most just don't go to school during their period. This means that a girl will go to school for about only 3 weeks in a month; whereas a boy will go for the full 4 weeks. This sets girls up for lower marks in school because they are attending fewer days than boys, less chances to go to a good secondary school and university and subsequently lower economic and job opportunities. The need for sanitary pads is so big, that some girls will even exchange sex for money to buy sanitary pads. Transactional sex is quite common in Sub-Saharan Africa and poses a serious problem given the high HIV prevalence rates, as condom use is often not at the female's discretion. When women have a high economic vulnerability, they can lose the ability to negotiate safer sex (like condom usage) and sexual exclusivity in relationships. Economic empowerment of women is the way forward. If I accomplish nothing else during my service, I am proud of the work that I'm doing in this area. I hope that I'm having an impact on the girls that I am working with and I know how I want to spend my second year of service.

On a lighter note, the family that I am good friends with, The Gambo's, recently had a baby! I'm attending a naming ceremony tomorrow and I'm really excited to see the traditions that are practiced related to births. The baby's name is Jemimah Gambo and she has 5 fingers and toes and a full head of hair. She is adorable! Here is a picture of the mother Hadija and the kids (baby Jemimah is still a bun in the oven here):

I was sick a couple of weeks ago with terrible stomach pains and a host of other gross symptoms. I went to Mombasa hospital and had an ultrasound and the doctors thought I was pregnant. Just kidding!! I wanted to see if you were paying attention. They thought I had 2 kidney stones. So, I was brought to Nairobi and I had another round of tests: urine, blood and stool... yippee! I also had an X-ray taken and it ruled out kidney stones. Turns out I had a very bad bacterial infection in my stomach. I'm now fully recovered! Thank goodness.

Last but not least. The other night I had a dream about Target. I'm not sure what my life has come to that I'm having dreams about department stores and not hunky men (that's you Mr. Pitt). All I can say is that I was in pure delight wandering the aisles of Target (pronounced Tar-je). Starbucks may also have made an appearance.

Until next time....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Yes, I'm still alive

# of language tests passed: 1
# of kids taught in 1 school: 180
# of marriage proposals: 2
# of giant spiders killed: 4
# of spider bites: 3
# of hours spent in church service: 5.5

So it's been so long since my last post! Time has been flying by and the last half of training was so hectic that I barely had time to respond to emails or do anything besides studying kiswahili. So the good news is the I passed my language test! I made it to intermediate low, which is the level required to remain in service and swear in as a PCV. Swear in was a lovely ceremony and it had great food at the Ambassador's house in Nairobi. After swear in we were off to our sites and that pretty much brings you up to today.

I've been at site a full month now. I really love it here! There are challenges and frustrations of course, but overall I feel so lucky to be here. I don't have electricity yet, but it is coming soon. I think within the next month I'll have it and running water possibly in the next 6 months. I am very excited about the possibility of having a fan! It is HOT and HUMID here.

My job is going well, I'm working in a dispensary (clinic) and doing health education activities. I started teaching health education & lifeskills in 2 schools this week. 180 kids in 1 school and 86 in another!! It's been keeping me pretty busy and I feel pretty fulfilled in my job most days.

I've gotten 2 marriage proposals so far- 1 from a matatu (bus) driver and 1 from a guy standing outside a shop. It's quality not quantity, right? I'm holding out for at least a mechanic though. I mean c'mon... I can do way better than a loiterer.

Spider bites vs. spiders killed: BOOYAH! Who's winning now!?! Oh and the spiders here are pretty fierce. I got a bite on my leg the night before swear in and it swelled up and it is STILL swollen a month later! (Family- rest assured that medical has taken a look at it and I will be fine. My body's just not used to the creatures here.)

And finally, I spent 5.5 hours in a Pentecostal church service on Sunday. No, that wasn't a typo. It was like Hotel California... you can check in but you can never leave. A friend in my village sings in the choir and invited me to attend, and since I'm trying to integrate into my village and get to know people I thought it would be a good idea to go with her. I think I went through all 5 stages of grief during the service:

Denial- "I'm ok, it's hour 2 and I'm sure it's just about wrapping up. This is just slightly longer than church service back home."
Anger- "WTF!? It's been 3.5 hours and this service is still going on! Why is half the congregation sleeping!?"
Bargaining- "Hour 4.5...Maybe if I just give a little more in the collection plate they will just end the service"
Depression- "Hour 5...I'm never getting out of here. What's the point of even trying?"
Acceptance- "Hour 5.5 It's going to be ok. This is how faith is celebrated in this church and it's a strong part of life here in Kenya. Maybe this won't be a weekly thing for me, but at least I'm meeting people. And never again will I balk at a 2 hour church service when I get back to the States!"

Anyways, that's it for now. I'll try not to wait 3 months before my next update!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fun with Language!

Number of shots so far: 8
Number of times I've been sick: 1
Number of times I've seen a Nairobi fly (aka Blister beetle) in my home: 1
Number of chickens killed: 2
Number of times I've watched WWF Raw: 3

"You are never as far away from home as when you are sick." ~The Ponds of Kalambayi

The other weekend I got sick for the first time in Kenya; despite the 8 shots I've been given so far. It wasn't a oh-my-god-I-have-MALARIA-sick, but still it wasn't pleasant. I spent most of the day in my room resting and skipped dinner that night. It seemed to do the trick because the next afternoon I was back to normal.

I don't like bugs, especially those that sting, bite or cause heinous blisters on skin. So far I've only encountered small spiders and roaches but last week I had my first encounter with the Nairobi fly... aka blister beetle. A big thank you to medical for the presentation on all things that bite and sting here in Kenya, otherwise I would've had no idea that the bug crawling on my table was a nasty bug that I needed to stay far away from! The Nairobi fly causes awful blistering on the skin when they are touched/brushed off. It quite painful from what I hear.

Last weekend I made chicken and rice soup again. It was yummy.

No comment about the WWF Raw except to say that I found out it is also shown on Sunday afternoons. Awesome. I've also gotten into a Phillipino soap opera called Imposter. It is quite ridiculous and entertaining. The plot would put American soap operas to shame.

I am having a fun time with Kiswahili, as this blog title implies. I have learned that mdudu is the word for insect (sounds like doo doo). That word caused about 15 minutes of poop jokes and much laughter from my language group and teacher. I've also had a few mishaps with language... i.e. the word for house and to fart are very similar. A week ago I accidentally asked my host mom 'how is your fart?' instead of the common greeting 'how is your home?'. Loooovely. This week I have a practice language test and the final one is in a few weeks. I'm a little nervous about it, but it's just a conversation not a written test so hopefully it won't be too difficult.

I'm really excited because next week all of the trainees (including me) are going to an HIV workshop, so we get to leave our little training town for 4 days! I forget where we're going, but it's only about an hour or two away. Then when I get back, the following day I get to go to the Coast! I'm visiting a current volunteer who lives not too far from me near Malindi. I'm so excited!! I'll be on the Coast for about a week I think. I'll also get to visit Mombasa and I'm stoked!!!

Anyways, that's all for now. I'm happy, healthy and really loving Kenya. Hope you all are doing well :)