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August 5th, 2006
08:46 am

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A few MORE photos
Am visiting my parents right now in Michigan, and found these photos from my Mom's visit to Kenya in September 2005. Enjoy!

http://www.imagestation.com/members/dfmoser

Click on "A Couple Years In Kenya". To see the new pics, select "366: Flashback: ..." from the pulldown menu and go from there.

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July 24th, 2006
01:52 pm

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A few more photos
Go here:

http://www.imagestation.com/members/dfmoser

Then click on "A Couple Years In Kenya". No need to sign in or any of that nonsense if you just want to look at the pics, just click on the orange "View Album" button near the bottom of the screen.

Then, to see the most recent pics, select "349: Mamas selling bananas ..." from the pulldown menu and go from there. Happy viewing!

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July 21st, 2006
01:47 pm

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Kwa Herini!
Under nine hours and counting now until I’m in the air. Jeez, what to say? How to summarize this experience? I think I’ll avoid that task for now, especially since I’m not feeling so hot. I checked out of Peace Corps medical today with a clean bill of health, I won’t be bringing any intestinal pets back to the States with me, but all the same I’m feeling a bit woozy and nauseous. I think it might be the stress of leaving Kenya, coupled with eating way too much Western food in the last three days here in Nairobi. If there’s a positive side, it might be that since I’m really tired, I just might sleep on the plane.

First this, because it’s really funny: For those that watched the World Cup final, you might be amused by this: http://addictinggames.com/zidaneheadbuttgame.html . What was he thinking? I don’t think he was.

Random moment: A few of us volunteers were waiting outside the bank yesterday for the Peace Corps van to come pick us up and take us back to the office. As we were waiting, we saw this pick-up truck plastered with donkey-related stickers, the official vehicle for the Donkey Welfare Project ("Heshimu Punda", which means "respect donkeys"), pull into a nearby parking space. Wha? Our first thought was, wow, they’ve got their work cut out for them. Donkeys must be the most-abused animal in Kenya (besides the matatu?), and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. That’s not to say that I disagree with the group’s overall objective of "Sustained Efficiency of Utilization and Community-led Welfare of Work Donkeys for Kenya", but I admire them for the task they have ahead of them. For more info, go here: http://www.kendat.org/viewpage.php?PageID=a1e79affe795a3b0b078aebea81411d1

There’s a Swahili saying that goes, "A man without a donkey IS a donkey". I’m not sure what that has to do with anything, but it popped into my head and it’s about donkeys, so there’s that. Maybe it means that donkeys are so indispensable that if you don’t have one, you’re playing its part. Yeah, I think that’s it.

OK, enough procrastination. Time to talk about leaving, I guess. These last few days have been a blur, running around the office wrapping things up in order to get the plane ticket. Yup, all paperwork had to be complete before they issued any tickets, and since Peace Corpse is a gubmint agency, there was lotsa paperwork to do. But now that’s all behind me, and the only thing I need to do is get to the airport by 7pm to catch my 10pm flight. From there on it’s all in the pilots’ hands. Gulp.

I’m glad I did this Peace Corps gig. It enabled me to visit sub-Saharan Africa and form many friendships, both American and Kenyan. I think it’s given me a broader world view, and greater respect for other cultures. Before I came to Kenya, I was thinking that I’d come to Kenya and help Kenyans more than they’d help me, but now I see that the reverse is true.

Oh great. I’m in an Internet café right now, and they have the radio playing. We just heard that there’s a gunfight happening right now in downtown Nairobi, which is where I am, so I think I’ll be staying in this café until things die down. I think it was a bank robbery that started everything, and two people have been killed so far.

OK, back to the wide swipes with the deep thoughts brush. I’d recommend Peace Corps to anyone interested in working internationally. I think it gives a good foundation for any future international work because it makes you place cultural values before any what’s-the-most-number-of-people-we-can-"help" discussions. I think that may be why I originally felt like I did less "work" in the second year, but now I see that that year was more effective. During the first year, I just charged into things and did lots of activities that look good on paper, but the second year was spent using a more hands-off approach by letting the community tell me how they’d like me to help rather than me making presumptions.

For someone with skills like I had pre-Peace Corps (I worked as a mechanical engineer for eight years), I might recommend looking into the British volunteer organization VSO before Peace Corps. VSO volunteers seem to be assigned to larger projects, while still working with host country nationals. Anyone can be a Peace Corps volunteer, as long as you have a college education (and even that’s not a hard and fast rule), but VSO requires some job-related experience, which may have suited me better. While I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, I’ve seen that Peace Corps is the best volunteer organization for people just graduating from university. For those with skills, maybe check something else out first.

What’s in store for me post-Peace Corps? Well, first things first: bicycle tour. I’m flying back to Salt Lake City to visit with friends for a week, then to Michigan for a week to see my family (I haven’t seen them in over two years, so yeah, I’m just a bit excited to see them), then to Prague in mid-August with my best friend to ride our bicycles around Eastern Europe for a few months. Our plan is to ride from Prague southeast to Istanbul, then west and north up the Adriatic Sea coast through Croatia, curling around to end in Rome. At least that’s the route at the moment, but it could change. If you have any friends or family in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey (Istanbul only), northern Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, or northern Italy that would be willing to host a couple bicycle tourers for a day or two, let me know! My email: so_theres_that@yahoo.com . Stay tuned for the URL for the tour journal, but if I forget to update this journal with the link, visit http://www.crazyguyonabike.com in a month or so and search for my name (Dave Moser).

And lastly, for my family and friends that sent letters and cards, wrote newsy / quick / funny / lengthy / all-of-the-above emails to me (sorry for the long delays, but it IS rural Kenya after all), put together care packages and mailed ‘em to me (wasabi peas never tasted so good) despite the expense, kept me in your thoughts and prayers, visited me (Mom!), and otherwise kept me afloat for these past two years, a simple thanks doesn’t seem to suffice, but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway:

THANKS!

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July 20th, 2006
12:01 pm

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My DOS
Tomorrow I leave Kenya. Yikes. The past week has been really busy: packing, saying goodbye, giving stuff away, all that fun stuff. The last two days have been spent at the Peace Corps Kenya office taking care of official business. As far as the last two years are concerned, I'd say that it hasn't ALL been spent basking in the equatorial African sun. If you're wondering just what the heck I HAVE been doing here, feast your eyes on this action verb-packed doozy:

DESCRIPTION OF SERVICE
David F. Moser
Kenya 2004-2006


Summary
David F. Moser worked as a rural community development advisor while living in a small village in central Kenya from July 2004 to July 2006. He served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Public Health sector, and assisted many small organizations with their public health, environmental conservation, and income generation activities. During his stay in Kenya, Dave immersed himself in the culture, learning both the national (Swahili) and local (Kimeru) languages and forming many lifelong friendships.

Training
Dave arrived in Kenya on May 26, 2004 after completing a competitive application process that examined applicant experience, skills, and cultural adaptability and sensitivity. Upon arrival in Kenya, he began an 8-week training course in Naivasha that included Swahili language training (140 hours), technical training in public health (105 hours), cross-cultural training (72 hours), and field-based training and development studies (6 days). He lived with a Kenyan host family for the duration of this pre-service training.

Upon successful completion of training, Dave swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and began his service on July 23, 2004. He was assigned to work under Kenya's Ministry of Health with Kwama Ntharene Environmental Project, a small community-based organization located in the village of Ntharene, Meru Central District, on the eastern side of Mt. Kenya.

Site Activities
From July 23, 2004 until his completion of service on July 22, 2006, Dave collaborated with his community in three main areas: public health, environmental conservation, and income generation. His first two months in Ntharene were spent conducting a baseline public health survey, visiting over 30 families in the area and filling out a questionnaire that he developed. Based on the results of this survey, much of Dave’s time focused on people living with HIV and youth both in- and out-of-school, while collaborating with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), and faith-based organizations (FBOs). His primary area of coverage was South Imenti Constituency, which has a population of 156,000 covering 250 square miles.

Public Health
HIV/AIDS Awareness: Throughout his service, Dave developed and facilitated HIV/AIDS awareness workshops, conducted in a mix of Swahili, Kimeru and English, with twenty local primary, secondary, and tertiary schools, five CBOs, and five FBOs. Topics covered included HIV/AIDS transmission, prevention, risk assessment and reduction, disease progression, stigma reduction, living positively with HIV, and life skills. Through these workshops, he reached over 5,000 people between the ages of 14 and 25. Many of these workshops were conducted in association with the community outreach program of a local hospital and HIV-positive members of the community willing to discuss their status and how they live a positive, healthy life.

Ntharene VCT Center: Dave and a local CBO established a voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT) center in Ntharene to address the unmet demand for VCT services in the community. He assisted the CBO in applying for, receiving, and administering a $4,825 grant towards construction of the facility. The VCT center serves the greater South Imenti community, and was constructed on public land with the approval and encouragement of local health officials and community leaders. Members of the community contributed labor towards construction of the facility, and the grant funds were used to purchase building materials and skilled labor. Prior to the completion of the VCT center, he assisted the CBO in selecting four people from the local community to attend workshops on VCT Counselor Training and VCT Quality Assurance. He coordinated the counselor selection and financial assistance for these trainings with a representative from the CDC.

Mobile VCT: In collaboration with local and national NGOs, Dave organized five mobile VCT clinics. Two of these clinics were held at Ntharene market to raise awareness about VCT, and the other three were conducted at local teacher's training colleges in response to the high demand for VCT services at these institutions. Over 350 people were tested for HIV during these five clinics, and client flow at nearby stationary VCT centers increased as a result of the clinics.

HIV/AIDS Support Group: Dave facilitated the development of South Imenti HIV/AIDS Action Group (SIHAG), a local support group for people living with HIV. He assisted the group by attending meetings, providing support and encouragement, and conducting workshops on nutrition and home-based care. By the end of his service, the group’s 30 members were meeting every two weeks to share experiences, support those that have tested positive for HIV, and financially assist community AIDS orphans.

Low-Cost Mosquito Nets: To help lower the area’s high incidence of malaria, Dave collaborated with the NGO Population Services International (PSI) to provide low-cost insecticide-treated mosquito nets, 60% cheaper than those found in local stores. After discussing malaria prevention with the local community, Dave conducted two malaria awareness functions in Ntharene in conjunction with PSI, where members of the community bought hundreds of mosquito nets. In response to the high demand for these nets, he then established an easier method of delivering nets to the community by linking PSI with four local health centers. The public can now buy nets any day from these health centers rather than having to wait for a visit from PSI, and the health centers also benefit by earning a small profit with each net sold.

Environmental Conservation
Energy Conserving Stoves: Dave identified a workshop that makes energy conserving stoves, and then introduced these clay stoves to the Ntharene community by having one installed at a local restaurant for the public to evaluate. After observing the fuel saving benefits of the stoves, ten members of the community then purchased and installed their own stoves. These stoves consume less fuel wood and generate less smoke than the traditional open fires used for cooking.

Bio-gas: Dave organized a trip to a local bio-gas installation with six interested community members to show them how cow manure can generate a combustible gas that can be used for cooking and lighting. He then assisted these same members with their goal to install their own bio-gas systems by linking them with local and international NGOs working in the field of appropriate technologies.

Income Generation
Passion Fruit: In response to another local CBO’s desire to initiate an income generation project, Dave directed the group to an organization that exports passion fruit from Kenya to Western Europe. Twenty-five of the CBO's members are now growing passion fruit on individual 1/8 acre plots, and are earning twice as much by selling to the exporter than at local markets. Encouraged by the success of this project, Dave then assisted this same CBO in obtaining and implementing a $4,035 grant for a one-acre passion fruit farm. The profits from this farm assist local AIDS orphans and people living with HIV.

Languages
Swahili: Dave achieved a conversational level of Intermediate High, as scored by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), for Swahili by the end of pre-service training. He continued to study and practice the language during his stay in Kenya, communicating at a level of Advanced Low by the end of his service.

Kimeru Manual: Recognizing the need for a book on how to speak Kimeru for English-speaking adult students, Dave developed a 36-page Kimeru self-instruction manual with the assistance of four community members. This competency-based manual is now being used by Peace Corps Kenya during pre-service training for volunteers being posted to the Meru area.

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July 10th, 2006
12:29 pm

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Dinner at 10:20pm? Gee, thanks!
I watched the World Cup final last night in Ntharene, at Henry and Consolata's place. They have one of the few color televisions in the area, so I took them up on their offer to let me watch it at their place. Granted, it was a 13" screen and the reception was sketchy, but at least we could make out who had the ball and, for that matter, which white spot on the screen was the ball. We were happy to see Italy beat France, but weren't too excited to see the match decided with a penalty shootout - the 120 minutes ended with a 1-1 tie.

Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa in general were World Cup crazy. I watched almost every match, and I'm not even that much into football. It was easy to get caught up in the excitement. I'm sort of glad that it's over, for a couple of reasons: we can now talk about stuff other than the World Cup, and I can now get some sleep (the matches usually lasted until midnight, and last night's was no exception).

At Henry and Consolata's place, I was witness to the most amazing instance of late night dining since I've been in Kenya. The game started at 9pm and lasted until 12am, so I got there at 8:45. When entering their rental unit compound, I saw someone cooking chapati (thick tortillas) outside of their place and didn't think anything of it. In fact, I thought they were cooking chapati for the next day. As Henry and I we were watching the first half, Consolata was milling about, and I thought she was just doing stuff related to their 1-year old Makena. Nope. She was preparing dinner. At 10:20pm, 10 minutes into the second half of the game, Consolata brought out the food and served me a humongous portion of rice, ndengu (sorta like lentils), and chapati. Now, I like all of those foods, in fact I think ndengu is my favorite, but after 10pm? Yikes. She must've seen the look of horror on my face, because she quickly asked, "Have you eaten already?" Wow. I said, "Yes, I've already taken dinner", to which she replied, "But I think you can continue", meaning "yes, I've heard you say that you've already eaten, but here's more, and you'll eat it because if you don't, I'll be offended." End of conversation, bon appetit!

So I ate some, but not all of it. That's the way it works here. You can never refuse something that's offered to you, but if you don't finish all of it, that's ok. The food was great and I thanked Consolata profusely, partly to offset any disappointment she may have had at seeing me not finish my plate.

Today is Monday the 10th, and I leave Ntharene on Tuesday the 18th. Eight days, yikes. This last week will basically be spent saying goodbye to people in the area. It's weird, I didn't realize just how many relationships I'd formed until this week, when I started thinking about who I wanted to visit with for a while to say goodbye. I'm terrible at goodbyes, it just seems like a huge ordeal to me, but Kenyans in general seem to have little problem with people leaving. They are big into hellos, with general greetings sometimes lasting five minutes, but the goodbyes are pretty quick. So I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Last weekend I met the volunteer from the new public health group that will be replacing me. He finishes training in early August, and will be moving to Baranga (just next door to Ntharene) right after training finishes. He'll be working with Bumwe, a different CBO (community-based organization) from my host CBO, Kwama. I'm happy about that, I think he'll enjoy Bumwe. I can't say that I've really enjoyed working with Kwama, but I've loved working in this community. Man, what a soap opera. I could write for hours about the differences between working with Kwama, Bumwe, and the community in general. It's been a real learning experience for me, and I hope that the new volunteer will have an easier time than I've had. Basically, Kwama wanted me to only work with Kwama and not the community in general. Fine, but Kwama doesn't do enough to keep me busy, so I worked with other organizations as well. Now I think that Kwama just wanted to have a mzungu volunteer work with them in order for them to receive funding for projects. Ugh. Donor dependency, lack of using locally available resources, harmful gossip, blah. I'm sad to be leaving the relationships I've formed, but I can't say that I'm sad to be leaving the work situation.

It's a bittersweet situation, for sure. I'm so excited to get back to the States, to see my friends and family again. It's not the modern convenieces of the developed world that I've missed during my stay here, it's the lifelong relationships that I've been away from for two years. But, at the same time, I'm honestly bummed about leaving my friends in Ntharene. I've been telling people that I might not make it back to Ntharene again until 2030, which usually makes for an interesting discussion about how we'll all be wazee (old people) at that time, how HIV/AIDS hopefully will be a thing of the past by then, etc.

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July 2nd, 2006
09:47 pm

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Enough blah blah blah, how about some pics?
Go here:

http://www.imagestation.com/members/dfmoser

Then click on "A Couple Years In Kenya". No need to sign in or any of that nonsense if you just want to look at the pics, just click on the orange "View Album" button near the bottom of the screen.

Then, to see the most recent pics, select "229: Me at Fort Jesus..." from the pulldown menu and go from there. Happy viewing!

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June 23rd, 2006
08:53 am

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Pets
Last Sunday morning was spent listening to a Cannonball Adderly tape while making pancakes for Murimi, Winnie and I. I usually make pancakes once a month or so, and they are so yummy. Especially when topped with slices of the small sweet bananas that are so prevalent around here. Am getting hungry just thinking about them.

Anyhoo, while mixing the batter, I asked Murimi where his dad (Mr Kimathi) was, and he said he's out searching for Pindo, their dog. Apparently, Pindo ran away the day before. Hmm. That's the first time that's happened. I then asked Murimi, "Habari ya Page?" (how is Page, the Kimathi's other dog), and he answered with no visible emotion or discomfort, almost offhand, "amekufa jana" (he died yesterday) WHAT?!? Then I asked him, how's Orange, the cat? "Amekufa." Damn.

So in the space of a few days, both Page and Orange died and Pindo, perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, ran away. Neither Winnie nor Murimi seem terribly shaken by these losses, which is a surprise to me. Especially with Winnie - she and that cat were inseparable. But that's the way it goes here, pets get sick and die. Orange and Page were both scrawny little things, with ribs protruding and tired looks in their eyes. I know that the Kimathis didn't feed them much, if at all, but that fits with the survival of the fittest thing that's happening here.

Pindo managed to live through his first year. How I have no idea since he wasn't really fed anything, but he made it, and left last week for greener pastures, or at least better chances of being fed. Orange and Page were both less than six months old, and it just killed me to see them so hungry and sick all of the time.

Many times I wanted to take the pets to a vet (yes, there are veterinarians here, but their services cost money, which is why the Kimathis don't take their sickly pets to see them) then feed them a proper meal, but I knew that that type of care wouldn't continue after I left Kenya. I used to give Orange my empty tuna fish cans to lick, in order to cheer her up, but beyond that I didn't give anything with any real substance. Maybe because I saw Pindo make it through his rough first year, and hoped Page and Orange could do the same. Nope. Natural selection at work.

Generally, this is the season when lots of dying happens. The temperatures are cooling down - comfortable for me, but too cold for most Kenyans. So for those people, pets, etc. hanging on by a thread, the cold temps can be the last straw. (too many metaphors? sorry) There's been lots of funerals happening lately, more than usual, and hearing about the deaths of Page and Orange reminded me that we've entered the rough season.

So now, Mr Kimathi wants to get another dog. Of course. He likes to have at least one dog in order to protect his family, but either can't or doesn't want to feed them. Hmm. Since I've been here, I've seen four dogs come and go at the Kimathis: Simba got hit by a matatu, Page numbers 1 & 2 appear to have died of malnutrition, and Pindo ran away.

It's been quiet around my place without the dogs and cat, and I'm sure I miss the pets more than anyone else at the Kimathis. Pets here don't seem to be as much a part of the family as they are in the States. People don't get attached to them here, maybe because they know there's a good chance they won't be around for long.

OK, enough depressing dead pet talk. On a lighter note, the other day I rode in a matatu with all sorts of phrases plastered to its interior walls. It's pretty common for matatus to have sayings and slogans emblazoned on both their exterior and interior, but this one was especially chock full o' words of wisdom. A couple of highlights:

"Mix business with pleasure and you will see blackout."

"There is no lift to success, you have to take the stairs."

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June 8th, 2006
12:07 pm

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Mr Muthamia and his "Home For The Aged"
Last September, when my Mom visited Ntharene, we had dinner one night with the Zachary and Gladys Muthamia. They are samaki wakubwa (big fish) here in Ntharene - they live in a relatively nice home, he used to work at a large Presbyterian mission hospital a few kilometres away and now owns his own health clinic, she used to be a teacher at a nearby teacher's training college and then at Ntharene public primary school. During dinner, which consisted of massive portions of githeri (maize and beans), Mr Muthamia paused, leaned back, looked at my Mom and said, in a stentorian tone, "I want you to find me a sponsor", with each word clearly annunciated and heavy emphasis on the first syllable of "sponsor". My Mom, understandably, looked a bit confused, and I thought, oh man, here we go.

Mr Muthamia went on to say that he wants to build a "home for the aged", a PC way of saying nursing home I guess, here in Ntharene. He said that he needs about seven million Kenya shillings, about $100,000, for the facility. These discussions always fascinate me, because, despite so much talk about Kenyan culture using a lot of indirect communication, it's been my experience that Kenyans sure are direct when they ask for money. They just get right to the point. Instead of Mr Muthamia explaining that, as a longtime member of the Ntharene community, he sees a need for such a facility, and describing how such a facility would remain solvent, he just launched right into sponsor / donor talk. Man, donor dependency is deep here.

So, my Mom handled it well. She said that she'll keep his project in mind and, upon her return to the States, if she hears of anyone that wants to contribute to such a project she'll let me know, and then I can tell Mr Muthamia. I couldn't have said it better myself. He seemed satisfied with that reply, and we didn't talk much more about his idea. But I knew that I had work to do - I see Mr Muthamia at least once a week, and I was sure he'd be coming at me to discuss his idea. As my Mom was addressing his request during dinner, I was thinking about what the logical first step would be for such a project.

Finally, yesterday, over eight months since that dinner, we had some progress: Mr Muthamia and I went to visit Meru Hospice at my request. Meru Hospice has been working for about three years, and I think they are one of the few organizations in the area that are working effectively. Sure, they rely 100% on donor funding, but from what I've seen, it's put to good use. They provide palliative care for people dying from cancer and AIDS, they make home visits to anywhere within 25km of Meru General Hospital, and their services are totally free. They have their act together and have a good handle on the status of public health in the area, specifically in relation to the elderly, so I thought it'd be good for Mr Muthamia to discuss his idea with them. He seemed a bit disappointed with my request that we visit them, I think he just wants lotsa money to build his building, but visiting Meru Hospice was the only thing that made sense to me as a first step.

Both Mr Muthamia and I think the meeting went really well. We talked for about an hour, and I was happy to hear the two people from Meru Hospice say what they said: a baseline survey needs to be done to ensure that demand exists for such a facility, financial sustainability needs to be addressed, acceptance of the facility by the community must be ensured, etc. Sitting in that meeting yesterday, I thought, "As long as organizations like Meru Hospice are around, there's hope. HIV-related stigma will drop and the community in general will be better educated." Even better, everyone working at Meru Hospice is from the Meru area, it's a locally-run organization. They discussed things I hadn't thought of before, like the fact that many grandmothers that are taking care of their HIV+ grandkids due to the parents dying from AIDS are becoming HIV+ themselves due to improper home-based care procedures, they aren't protecting themselves adequately.

Meru Hospice thinks that, overall, the project is a good idea, but needs more investigation. At its root, it goes against stereotypical Kenyan culture - in Kenya, when your parents get old, it's just a given that you'll return home to take care of them, unlike in the States where it's not such a given. Mr Muthamia says that, with many Kenyans moving away from their home areas to big cities like Nairobi and adopting more of a Western culture, the chances are less that they'll be returning back to their home area to live with and take care of the 'rents. In Kenyan communal culture, your "family" consists of not only your immediate nuclear family, but also the community as a whole. Mr Muthamia says that he is seeing this change as more kids adopt the individualism inherent in Western culture. In days past, you stayed in your home area, but nowadays you go wherever there's work, which sometimes can be on the opposite side of Kenya.

Near the end of the meeting, a bit to my dismay, Mr Muthamia asked them if they could find a donor for his project. I was happy to hear Meru Hospice answer right away that it's not difficult to find donors if you have a well-written proposal, show that your project meets a pressing need in the community, and will be sufficiently sustained. I believe that as well, and have seen that it's true - most donors won't just throw money at any project that comes around their desk, only the ones that look serious.

So, good, a start, a "way forward", as they say here. However, after the meeting, just before Mr Muthamia and I left each other - he to return to his clinic in Nkubu, me to do some more stuff in Meru town before heading home - he told me that he'd write a proposal and give it to me to take back to the States to find a sponsor. Um ...

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May 24th, 2006
01:38 pm

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Tuanze kujenga ("let's start to build")
Good news! The funding for the VCT (Voluntary Counseling and HIV Testing) center came through on Monday. So now Kwama Ntharene Environmental Project, my host community-based organization that will operate the VCT center, gets to start construction immediately. They estimate that construction of the 600 sq.ft. building (two counseling rooms, a large waiting/meeting room, and an office/store) will take about three weeks Kenya time, which roughly translates to five weeks U.S. time. Either way, the building should be complete by the time I leave Kenya. They hope to open the VCT center in July.

Funding didn't come through the Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) that I wrote about many months back, it came through PEPFAR - the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief. That's the program that started immediately after Mr. Bush mentioned, in a State of the Union speech (2003? can't remember exactly when), a desire to throw $15,000,000,000 over five years to the fifteen countries most affected by HIV/AIDS.

The building that will be built with PEPFAR funds will be smaller than the one that would have been built with PCPP funds, since each PEPFAR project has a limit of $5,000 (the PCPP proposal was requesting over $14,000, which was just too much - contributions weren't trickling in fast enough for the project to get underway while I'm still here).

For those of you that contributed to the PCPP project on the Peace Corps website, thanks very much for your contribution! However, it won't go towards the VCT center project, since the PCPP project will be canceled. It'll go into the general fund, to be used for PCPP projects initiated by other volunteers.

For those of you that have not yet contributed and are thinking about contributing, don't! The PCPP project will be removed from the website in the near future, I assume, since the VCT center will be funded through PEPFAR.

So that'll be my main focus for the next month or so, getting the building constructed and the VCT center opened. It'll be a relatively busy time (I may only get to read two novels per week instead of my usual four), but I'm sure it'll be fun.

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May 9th, 2006
02:27 pm

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Jeremy Kithinji, Kenyan gender roles, eatin' termites
Yesterday morning I was in my house getting ready to ride to Nkubu town four miles away to run some errands - buy food at the market, make some photocopies, dodge the glue-sniffing street kids, the usual - when a guy I know shouted to me from a distance that I have a visitor waiting for me by the road. Wha? I went to the road and met a guy I know from a nearby support group for people living with HIV. He said he'd been waiting by the road for two hours, but was scared to enter the Kimathis' compound because of the dogs. Dogs here are just not friendly to strangers, so I understood his hesitation, but two hours? Damn.

His name is Jeremy Kithinji, and basically he walked over ten miles round trip from his home to ask me for money. That's the short of it, of course; his visit lasted for about a half hour, and is pretty typical regarding how I'm seen outside the periphery of my immediate community.

People within, say, a two mile radius know that I'm not a donor, that I don't have money, that I'm not able to financially "sponsor" anyone for anything and that, furthermore, I don't know of anyone back in the States willing or able to sponsor lots of Kenyans. But outside of that two mile radius, all bets are off. I'm a mzungu; therefore, I have lots of money. While I do come from one of the countries with lots of money, where relatively speaking most people have a high standard of living, Peace Corps doesn't pay me enough to give money away. Sure, stuff is cheap in Kenya compared to the States, but even with that, I'm not able to give out money. Earning $6 per day doesn't give me a whole lot of disposable income. And telling people that my country can't give more aid because it's giving most of its money to its Department of Defense doesn't satisfy their requests.

So back to Kithinji: he has a valid need for some pesa. He came to me to ask me for 970/= (970 Kenyan shillings, about $13.50) to cover the medical cost for a huge growth he has on the back of his left knee. God, it just kills me. This HIV+ guy, who is not exactly a spring chicken anymore, walks over five miles in the rain on muddy roads to visit me unannounced (what if I wasn't at home?), has to wait for two hours to get someone to help him negotiate the Kimathis' dogs, asks me for money so that he can get the growth removed, hears from me that I can't financially help him, asks me for a sponsor from the States to help with his kids' school fees, again hears from me that I can't help, then walks the five miles back home.

I knew from the start that he just came to ask for money, but we eased into it anyway, played that game. I gave him some water (I don't make or drink the ubiquitous "chai" - milky sugary tea - if I don't have to, too sugary for me), we talked about the group of people living with HIV that he belongs to, he talked about his family, I talked about what kind of work I'm doing here, all that. It was actually a nice visit - even though I'm sorry that he didn't succeed in his mission, I hope he enjoyed the chat as much as I did. He told me about his need for money - bum leg, school fees - and I said I'd love to be able to give him some pesa to help out but I'm not able. I told him that I'm a volunteer and don't earn any money, only enough to cover my immediate expenses. While this is true, I suppose I could dip into my savings in the States to give Kenyans in need some money, but if I did that I'd have every Kenyan within a day's matatu ride coming to visit me and ask me for money, and then I'd REALLY be out of money. D'oh!

It's tough. $13.50 and this guy's life would be lots better. Like most Kenyans, he's unemployed and just stays at home, subsistence farming on his two-acre plot of land. Even the public hospitals, if you can put up with the horrendously long waiting times, would charge kitu kidogo (something small), so Kithinji can't go there either.

Relatively speaking, though, life here in the Meru area is not too tough. There's plenty of rain, the ground is fertile, temperatures are mild, so it's not too difficult to eke out a living by just working your shamba (farm). Other areas, like in northern Kenya which I recently visited, are a different matter. It's hot, crops don't grow too well, there's very little water, and you rely on relief food. Yikes.

The other thing that I've been noticing with some interest lately is gender roles. I think it was a few closely spaced meetings/gatherings that did it for me, seeing just how separate and defined gender roles are here.

First instance: last Thursday I helped a local community-based organization prepare their passion fruit farm. We were digging post holes and hauling lumber. What does THAT look like here? Well, they both involve the machete, the most widely used tool I've ever seen. We dug the post holes by jabbing the machetes into the ground, loosening up the dirt, then scooping out the dirt with our hands until each hole was about 8" diameter and 24" deep. If you're thinking that'd take a long time, yup, it did. I've yet to see a post hole digging tool here like you see everywhere in the States - why use that when it costs money and a machete works just fine? I think it has to do with constraints - most people I know in the States are time-constrained and want to use a speedy device like a post hole digger, while most here are money-constrained and are content with the good ol' machete. We also used machetes to help with carrying the posts on our shoulders, but that's a bit complex to explain. Let's just say that they made the job much easier. If you want more detail, come visit me before July 21st (when I fly out of here) and I'd be happy to show you.

In the shamba, the men dug holes in one area and the women in another. Then, at lunch (we ate ugali, a spongy monstrosity made from water and corn meal, and cabbage - not my usual lunch, but I wanted to eat with the group), the women sat in one area and the men in another. When one of the men was finished with his tea, he'd sorta grunt and a woman would get up and run right over to refill his cup. But it's not like the women did less work on the farm than the men - they dug just as many holes and carried just as many posts.

Second: At church, men always sit on the right side, and women on the left (facing the altar, if you're keeping score at home). When they perform at the front of the church, I guess you could call it a choir, the men sing a song, then the women, but not together.

Third: At a recent HIV/AIDS talk I gave to a local faith-based organization (sorry, Mr. Bush, but they had questions about condoms and I answered them honestly: condoms are effective at reducing the chance of transmitting HIV and other STDs), the men in the group were the ones doing most of the talking and asking, and the women just served food and chai near the end of the meeting.

Women play a subservient role here, but without them this place would fall apart. From what I've seen, they do more work than the men. It's as if men and women kept the roles they had in hunter-gatherer days, but since those days are all but passed, since there are no more wild animals to fend off, men now seem to have it pretty easy.

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan lady (can't you tell by the name?), won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. That didn't make some of the male samaki kubwa (big fish) in my area too happy. They gossip about her, shake their heads while whispering that she divorced her husband - generally, write her off as a rabble-rouser instead of appreciating her as someone that's trying to make life better for Kenyans. I think that, by earning such an award, she went against accepted Kenyan gender roles - some people see that as a progress, others see it as a threat to the Kenyan way of life. Talk amongst yourselves.

In other news, last Wednesday I ate fried termites at Raiji Muthuri's place. This time of year, during the long rains, is when they come out - the kids catch them, and then their moms just fry 'em right up. Raiji laughed when I blanched a bit - I mean, c'mon, these were termites, with wings and all - but, after telling myself "what the hell" and eating a handful, I found that I enjoyed them. And apparently they're quite nutritious. So I've got that going for me.

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