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

1 comment:

  1. This was lovely, Rachel. I'm proud of you and even happier to have you as a friend/future colleague. See you in a few weeks.