Sunday, July 20, 2014

Time is the weirdest thing ever.

Sasa? (Wazzzup?)

I am currently on the bumpy dirt road on the way to the lowlands site. I’ve been coming here every day for the past week, thus my boredom of the road and usage of the computer distraction. I have been working on the particulate matter portion of the study, which means I go to the field every day and place smoke detector monitors in a house and a kitchen. Smoke/dust repels mosquitoes so my professor and her PhD student are investigating essentially how much smoke is needed for this to happen. I’ve also completed all 12 of my interviews in the lowlands, which was a great feeling. I interviewed the 6 positive deviant (PD) families (families with low incidences of malaria) and the 6 non-PD families (high malaria). The community health workers and the research field assistants helped me to identify these families, but that process was a challenge in and of itself. Of the 6 PD families, there is one that holds true to the criterion and definition, which at first frustrated me and then excited me. The PD approach outlines how difficult it is to identify these very few individuals, and in my short time here, I was able to identify at least one family! Next week, I’ll be heading to the highlands to conduct 12 additional interviews there. We’ll see how it goes.

 Bednet Action

I’m trying to think what else has been happening  - it has been a long time since I’ve written. Sorry-o! A couple of weekends ago we headed to our project coordinator’s village. There was an event, Saba Saba, happening which is the day the current opposition holds a lot of rallies. So it was suggested that we get out of town, just for extra security measures. On the way to his village, we took a ferry to Rusinga Island, beautiful little place on Lake Victoria, and later stopped at President Obama’s grandmother’s house. I was skeptical of this old ma, so I Wikipedia-ed the info and she’s actually Obama’s paternal grandather’s third wife… close enough. She was funny though – didn’t speak a word of English. In the local tribal language, she told us that she was going to give us her sons to marry (i.e. Obama’s uncles) and that education is the most important part of life. I informed her that I wanted to be the first female president. She wished me luck in my pursuits. :-)

Mrs. Obama and us whities

My project coordinator’s home was absolutely beautiful tucked away in green and yellow mountains with a stunning view of Lake Victoria. We spent the day milling about, greeting all of his relatives (which seemed like the entire town) and enjoying the company of our hosts. It was a nice reminder of what life was like in Salone for me. We headed back to Kisumu and finished up the work week.
During my week of long drives, I’ve been reflecting on the past, present, and future. I think too much. Oh well… Here are some of my thoughts…

Maurice's Beautiful Compound
Lake Victoria Bluffin'
 The best dinner ever - fresh Tilapia, tomato sauce, cabbage and ugali

My friend and workmate, Elise, just got her invitation to serve in Peace Corps Burkina Faso. I’m so excited for her! Being with her during this time (and on top of that, back in Africa) has allowed me to process what my service meant to me. For starters, I’m definitely more cynical – an attribute I hardly had before PC. I’ve also realized how much I’ve grown and how much confidence I’ve gained since PC. The experience trained me to see people for people despite culture, environment, etc. I’ve learned to empathize instead of sympathize, and through these emotions and a significant reduction in shocks and surprises (had those in my early days of PC), real work can be done. Instead of feeling sorry for people, I feel like I can truly work with people in low-income countries and empower them to find solutions to their own problems, which is to avoid the top-down and outsider-over-insider approaches. I’ve realized that this is truly the field I should be working in, because it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve also realized that even though I lived in Africa for two years, it doesn’t mean I know everything about Africa. It sounds obvious but coming to Kenya has continued to humble me and allow to me realize that there is always room for growth and learning regardless of your past experiences. 

It’s interesting being in Kenya, another African nation dominated by poverty and corruption. I sometimes wonder how I maintain any ounce of hope in situations so (what seems) dire and complex. I’m not ignorant of the wars and the ugliness of the world we see every day in the headlines, but I still seek to understand them and be a part of some sort of change. CRAZY! I feel like my mom dropped me on the head when I was baby…

In Kenya, I’m constantly reminded of my status as an outsider by the little nuggets screaming “mzungu” (“white person” in Swahili). The same name I had heard before, apoto, puerto, gringa – different words with all the same meaning. I’m reminded that no matter where I go, for however long, I will always be an American and despite the many faults of my country, I am proud to say that I put my hand of my heart for the red, white, and blue (Is that a song??).

I spent a great deal of time this past year trying to figure out who I am back in the U.S. and I think it took coming back to Africa to realize who that person is. My relationships with family and friends had changed from my two years away – not for the worst, just different, because I was different. I spent a lot of time trying to hold onto this new person and trying to incorporate my old self. A lot of my graduate school friends actually thought I was older than what I actually am, and despite the maturing that took place in PC, I was additionally trying to act older – grow up too fast. And for anyone who knew me before PC, you would know that one of my greatest fears was getting older. I now realize that it’s all based on your perspective and anyone older than 24 will probably say I’m crazy for even thinking about age. Well, I’m a thinker, so I can’t help it. :-)
Next year is the first year in my life that I don’t know what is going to happen. I tried to fight it looking into Fulbright and Peace Corps Response, but I think it’s time I let nature take its course. Nature could be moving to Hollywood and fulfilling my childhood dream of becoming a famous actress. Da sky’s da limit! My life has been so overwhelmingly blessed and aligned – high school, college, Peace Corps, grad school. This path is often the path a parent would dream of for their children – one full of education and experience, but what many people have trouble realizing is that everyone has a different path and a different time line for that path. There’s no formula, there’s no “right” way of going about life. This is an important realization as my 25th birthday is coming up next week. What does it mean to be 25? To be half way to through my 20s? There are so many conceptions about what one should have achieved by this point. I now know that it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. I’ve had a poor attitude about this past year of graduate school – the boredom/monotony of classes, the thought that more learning comes through experience and not books, but if I look at school as a way to expand my thinking, my disposition changes and this next year seems more achievable. 

Well, my friends and anonymous, avid readers (if any… womp, womp), I’ve given you a life update – how I’m feeling about being back in Africa, aging, life courses –  we’ve covered a lot. 

I hope you all are given the opportunity at some point to think about these things. If not, turn the screen off (any and all of them), go for a drive down a long, dusty road, and let your mind wonder – you might just surprise yourself. 

All my love and more.

"Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity." - Aristotle

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Great Lights of Nairobi

This past weekend, I boarded the Easy Coach Express and headed East to the great capital of Nairobi. First impression, this was no Freetown. A western-style city nestled into an African backdrop - I couldn't help but be enthralled by the street lights, the malls, the LAWS! I was happy I got to see some of the sights and experience the late night hours and the late night characters of Nairobi dance clubs. Here are some pictures from the weekend:

If you run into Tour Guide Johnstown, be sure to ask him about the gorillas and their imminent threat in replacing local housewives. 

Jump on to Matatu 126 and jump off at the sign for "Carnivore". You won't be disappointed by the mixed flavors of osterich, crocodile and oxen balls. 

Get picked up by Robert in the Parklands Neighborhood and he will tuk tuk you all the way to town.

And in ending, I want to wish all Kenyans a peaceful holy month of Ramadan!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Workshop Business

On Thursday and Friday last week, we hosted a "Good Clinical Practice" workshop for all of the field assistants. Some of the topics covered included: a historical context, research ethics, research approval process, and study-specific information and guidance. Here are some snaps from the training:

Also, the workshop was at this quaint little resort by the Yala River:

Over the weekend, us gals went on a bike bicycle tour with some new friends. We hit up the Kisumu Musuem, the local port, and a real, live African market. ;-)

Yesterday, we went to the lowlands clinic and met with some community health workers. Tomorrow, I'll be piloting my positive deviance interview. Wish me luck!

Asante sana!

"You don't have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great." On a poster of Rhianna (and a calendar) in the guesthouse the other night. Classic!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Zebra Kicked


My first week in Kenya has been fantastic. Over the weekend, Ashley, Elise & I went to the Impala Sanctuary, where I got kicked by a zebra. I couldn't resist my urge to get as a close as possible to them and try to touch. Lesson learned: zebras kick like donkeys... strong donkeys.

We went out for some dancing on Friday night. I was pleased to hear the smooth jams of West Africa. P-Square is a hit all over the continent! It was nice to get to know some of the people who are also staying in our compound, too.

On Sunday, we headed back to the highlands. We got to witness the field assistants walking around to the different study sites tracking their latitude and longitude coordinates, which will later be imported into a GIS map.

Maurice is the project coordinator and the main guy helping us with our individual projects. Happy to have him as a supervisor!

 We've also been busy preparing our projects and getting settled into our temporary home. I'll be talking to the field assistants, clinic staff, community health workers and some other community leaders to try to identify some of the positive deviants and then hopefully I'll be able to interview some of them. (Refer to the post from June 9 for more information about my project.)

 This picture is of a bednet being used for a chicken coop.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rainy Highlands

Spent last night in a more rural, mountainous area about an hour and half outside of Kisumu. The lush rolling hills and the crispness of the late night rains are enough reason to stay forever. We met with some of the field assistants, who are working with the research study and surveying homes in the highlands area. We'll probably be working with them quite a bit this summer.

Our abode in the highlands.

Friendly neighbor

 Ash and Elise at the EQUATOR. Cool!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

This Ain't No Peace Corps.

After two missed connections, lost bags, and awkward plane sleeping, I've arrived safely in Kisumu. I've been traveling with my classmate and friend, Ashley, so it was nice to have a travel buddy. We were welcomed by Elise, an undergraduate student at UA, and our professor and her family. The compound we are staying in is the bomb diggity. The first picture is of our apartment - with wireless internet! The second snap is the pool in our compound and the last picture is Simba, the compound dog. Living large!

I'm still adjusting from sleep deprivation and the time difference, so not much of an update now. Today, we are heading to the study site in the mountains, otherwise known as the highlands. More to come!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ndiyo, nyuma Afrika!

Hello there old friend! It has been awhile since you’ve visited. I apologize for my absence, but it turns out that graduate school is an all-consuming event leaving me little time and energy to update this blog. But I’m back and ready to tell you about my life happenings.

My first year of graduate school has been a whirlwind. I’ve been challenged in my courses and have pushed myself to self-reflect on my interests and passion as I continue to navigate my life path. Some highlights from the past year have been:

1. Living and loving Tucson, a place full of character and characters
2. Ringing in another new year with family and friends back home
3. Visitors! My brothers and high schools friends were feeling the west coast vibes
4. Acclimating to desert life and taking advantage of my geography to learn more about the US/Mexico border
5. Being a part of a team of students who traveled to the Mexico/Guatemala border to learn about migration in Latin America
6. Discussing and writing, with an academic lens, about some of my experiences in Sierra Leone and relating them to my coursework
7. Bouncing over to Chicago to dance with my Peace Corps padi dem

Now that you’ve been officially updated, I want to share my (new) news with you – I’m escaping the unforgiving Arizonan summer to venture to Kisumu, Kenya for my Master of Public Health Internship. 

Yes, back to Africa (as this blog titles informed you)! Back to the warmth and comfort of the African sun – to a place I still call home. I feel fortunate that my path has brought me to East Africa again, but this time is different than the first. Once a wide-eyed and na├»ve girl, I have now grown into the woman who I will be for the rest of my life. I’ve gained confidence and self-awareness and am ready to continue to learn and grow through this new experience.

The last couple of days I have been reflecting on how this trip to Kenya will affect me emotionally. Will the guilt that I felt leaving Sierra Leone resurface? Will I meet Kenyans and see the faces of my friends and be reminded of my homesickness for Sweet Salone? Am I even ready to open my heart and my mind to embrace a new land?

Welp! I’m on the plane on the way to Nairobi, so we’ll find out the answers to those questions sooner than you think. Stay tuned!

You may be wondering about this internship business. In November of last year, one of my professors sent out an email to our school announcing an internship funded by her current research study with malaria in Kenya. I jumped at the opportunity to go back to Africa and to work with malaria again. I feel so privileged to have been awarded this position and am eager to work towards achieving my professional goals.

(Wow, I sound like I’m writing for a school application. Sorry-o! I’ll add in the spunk you all love when I’m blogging about my Kenyan tales.)

The project that my professor is working on involves the effects of climate change on mosquito populations in a mountainous setting and how malaria is becoming an emerging infectious disease in the area. Sounds pretty cool, right? I will be working on one aspect of the project that I’ve had sparks of interest in since Sierra Leone. The title of my project is “Using the Positive Deviance Model to Identify Community-Based Malaria Control Strategies in Western Kenya.” Positive Deviance (PD) explores the notion that in communities where there is a prevalent issue, may it be obesity, female genital mutilation, malnutrition, or what have you, there are individuals and families in that community, who despite similar obstacles as their neighbors, are able to overcome that particular problem. I will specifically be observing families who use bednets and other malaria-preventative strategies and try to better understand why these people chose to do so and what are the underlying forces that help sustain the health of their family. My exploration will be channeled through observing, interviewing and digital storytelling. I’m ecstatic about this opportunity to wear the hat of a researcher!

Well, my friends, I’m off again, but I only leave so that I can come back again. J Wish me luck! Please keep me in your positive thoughts and prayers. Can’t wait for all things Africa. Keep you posted.


p.s. I haven’t forgotten about my niche. Here you go…“Communities and countries and ultimately the world are only as strong as the health of their women.” — Michelle Obama