Monday, August 20, 2012

First few days in Sagalla

I arrived to Sagalla last Thursday with my counterpart/supervisor (considering the supervisor on paper, who is on leave, would prefer me to work with my counterpart, who in turn has a lot of responsibility on his own.
My counterpart's name is Godrick Machofe, whose last name actually means beer because his grandfather used to run a brewery. He is always busy working as a prevention outreach specialist and basically the only CHEW in an area where there is 76 CHWs.
Sagalla is divided into 8 villages, with the biggest geographical divide being Upper Sagalla, which is on top of these giant hills which are basically mountains to a flat land native like me (I'm from a very plain town in New Jersey), and Lower Sagalla, which is bellow the hills. While both suffer from lack of water and crop failure, it is Lower Sagalla that bears the worst of it, being attacked regularly by elephants and having no medical facility (it takes a half an hour by matatu to get from the level 3 center where we are situated in to the lower lands, and that's down hill).
I've been reading the Community Mobilization book given to me by the Peace Corps and have identified together with Machofe a goal that he has long been working on and noticed that the CHWs have been focusing on too. While HIV in the youth remains, based on my interviews with CHWs and Machofe's assessment, there is a serious need for food that isn't government hand outs (I'll get into more detail on that in a second). Much of this is because water shortages and lack of market has wiped out any ability for people to be able to feed themselves properly. As Machofe pointed out, handing out ARVs to people living with AIDS is only half the battle if they can't even have a nutritious meal. There is no market here, in fact, finding a bottle of water at a duka is a lucky feat I have found out (though of course soda is abundant, go figure). So our goal is

1. Empower every individual to take care of their own ability to feed themselves.

To do that, will take more research, but it helps to identify some problems, I'll go into further detail throughout this email. Again, if you got to this point of the email, my thanks and I appreciate it.
On Friday, I met with all 76 CHWs and observed their latest endeavor, I am proud to say that I was able to greet and introduce myself in Kiswahili (as well as say a few Kisagalla greetings). They have worked with a member of the Ministry of Agriculture (and coincidentally, the architect of the fruit free grafting project at Wildlife Works in Maungu) to create the foundation for about 25 lemon-mango graft seedlings, as well as natural plants such as bluegum. A graft is where they cut a piece of one tree into the roots of another, so that the strength of a lemon tree root is added to a fruit tree such as mangos. The ultimate goal is to create a resource center where farmers within Sagalla can learn and produce their own types of trees and learn of sustainable agriculture techniques, so that they may feed themselves and sell their produce. Because there is no market day here in Sagalla, that's a long term goal (in order to have a market day, you need something to sell and someone else willing to buy it). Unfortunately, it takes about 150 shillings matatu to get to the nearest market, which is Voi, so many can't really afford that, and walking up and down takes a lot of energy, and how many people can afford that when they are putting so much energy to meek out a meager existance?

As for the challenges of the inception of the shamba (farm), it is situated underneath a dam built by a missionary in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, no one was taught how to take care of the dam so much of it has been not maintained and every year, a giant pile of silt blocks water from going through the fields. As a result, what used to be a water pipe going to the lower lands has been blocked by the government because there is not enough for upper lands. Every year, World vision does a "food for work" program, which Machofe dislikes because when the program finishes, no one will have enough investment when the food runs out, and of course, this is the first year, that the program is not running to get rid of the silt. So now the silt needs to be removed within a month. The cultural theme here seems to be that they are waiting for money to pay machines to remove it, or for the government, or for anyone else with resources to do it for them. But Machofe (and I, though I don't like to put my idea so blatently when I just arrived), think maybe we can do it ourselves, we have the manpower, we have the shovels, and we certainly do enough time (just barely).
On Saturday, we went to a program initiated by our Level 3 Health Center called Outreach. As I have mentioned earlier, it's extremely difficult to get to the Health Center from Lower Sagalla, so the nurses and Machofe go to them with vaccines, HIV tests, and prenatal care. I counted at least 30 women, 6 men, and 40 children, which apparently was a slow day because another organization was handing out food aid (again, another theme here). 
I met more people who have said they have problems with elephant raids and it allowed me to research something I found out about Sagalla last month. Apparently, there was a scientist who discovered that an active way to get prevent elephants from raiding crops (and as such, from retaliation by farmers), was to construct relatively inexpensive (relatively) bee hive fences. The elephants, who would be stung in the nose and eyes, were effectively dettered by the bees, and the farmers had a secondary source of income through the honey. Apparently, this scientist, Dr. Kelly, made two fences a few years ago, and made plans in 2011 to construct five more. I contacted the person from the ministry of Agriculture for his input, as well as one CHW who is neighbors with one person with the bee hive fence. I want to research more (and have already gathered materials on the construction of bee hive fences as well as bee hive keeping, which the community was long looking into here) and will have a meeting this Saturday after work on the shamba to see the plausibility. Again, I have to work hard to make sure I'm not just putting my own idea in front of the community, it's so important that I don't let pride get in the way of being a volunteer whose goal is to volunteer into the work of the community, not just give work to the community.
Yesterday, Machofe told me of his idea to have an International AIDS day so we went to Rule 2 in the Community Mobilization book and started breaking down the Target Community to 
1. Youth in Schools
2. Churches
3. Married Couples, which can be broken down to
3a. Women's outreach
3b. Mens outreach (trickier)
4. Farmers (which is tied to 3a. and 3b.

As for 1 and 2, Machofe loved the videos Lorenzo gave us prior to him COSing, and I suggested finding a way to make a movie night for the youth, and playing the UKIMWI video during intermission to educate. So that's a possibility. The nurses at my facility also enjoyed the videos and wanted a copy as well. The cell phone versions were very popular too. Thank God for Lorenzo, who spent is last year as a PCV making them.

A lot ideas in this short of time is a warning to slow down. Rome wasn't built in a day, and I'm neither a builder nor Romulus (and hopefully not Remus), I'm here to serve and as such, have told the people here to use me more like library where I can provided information, and have made a point in saying that I do not have money. As for grants, I will definitely wait longer before I even think about them so that I have a better idea of. And I should start thinking of my needs assessment.

But as for living situation, I believe my room will be ready today, it's a two room building with electricity, though no running water. My bed frame will be ready today, and my couch, two chairs tomorrow. I will buy a two burner gas stove tomorrow as well. The chujio, which although at first leaked at the spout, is now working well thanks to the help of William, the hospital daytime watchman.  I'm better at ideas, though now I must be better at just learning how to live on my own, such as learning to properly cook, clean, and maintain my own room. I am grateful for my co workers of Sagalla for allowing me to stay in the former storage room of the kitchen, it is clean and safe from bugs, and provides me a way to communicate with people at night before I go to sleep (everyone else lives in the dispensary here). I think my point of calm is giving myself some luxury when I go to my room, my father said I should spend some of the money I brought with me here to give myself some convenience. So I might buy a refrigerator. It's not because I need one, but the idea of every man's home is his castle (which I learned from reading about Jagger's assistant in "Great Expectations"), appeals to me as my base. Now to figure out and start reading the Needs Assessment guide.

Talk to you when I do.
God bless you,
Tanim Awwal
PCV Stationed in Sagalla

Biggest Challenge so far: Transportation, matatus are far and between, and getting a bicycle to go up hills here is also a hard task to contemplate. Ah well, that is the pride of a volunteer, to grow stronger.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Let's not be Sukuma Wiki

       In one week I'll be sworn in as a volunteer, and I've been selected with the most intelligent woman in our training group to write and deliver a speech for our swearing in speech (she'll deliver the English version in Kiswahili). It is an honor I do not deserve, but will undertake with the utmost sincerity. 
       It's funny, it's like every new transition in life seems to be toughest thing you've ever done. Whether it was graduating high school and trying to get into a dream school, finishing that 20 page paper the night before, playing that game that you hate when you count how many days it takes to get a reply from a job posting, or wondering if the Peace Corps will finally accept you as good enough to join.
          So now, this new big hurdle is heading off to Sagalla, next is learning to integrate within my community, the one after that is trying to actually learn enough to feel useful within my work. And after that... Sukuma wiki (stretch the week)?

Friends, why does everything seem to be a hurdle? I can take the high road and say "But of course, I can just breathe and be happy", but that's not always realistic. But neither is thinking every step is a hurdle. There must be a goal in being content with the nature of our purpose, a path we willingly seek and follow. Here is a question.

What are your dreams?

          When you think about that, is it scary for you too? How about trying to figure out how to actualize them? We've been told for so long in our adult lives that dreams are for the unrealistic. But I've been so used to saying "what's the point" about my dreams, that it scares me how little of a purpose I've had. I hope, and if you're reading this, I implore that if you feel the same way, that it's okay for you to dream. Without them, how do we move forward day to day? Let's figure them out together. Bit by bit.  

As for why I mention this. It's because my father gave me good advice the other day, he told me 
"First off, you have to believe that you are good enough"

 And he's right, I do, and I think you should believe in yourself too.

I think it started for me, that first time in high school, when I got my first F in an AP Bio test, and got a set of consecutive C+s in a math class, that I mentally consigned myself to being okay being stupid.
But I think there is a difference between being okay with myself, and believing that I'm okay thinking I'm not good enough.

Hillary Clinton mentioned that the US Government must use "smart power", which is a combination of "real" military might and "soft" diplomacy. But really, it sounds like we are just using the carrot and the stick method.
The Peace Corps is so much more than that I've noticed. It's about development that acknowledges culture and sends people to be part anthropologist, part teacher. We aren't representations of ideals or smart power, we are promoters of "intelligent empowerment".

And I will work hard enough to embody that.

      My dreams are to willingly understand a community and, without imposing myself, do as much as possible to try to meet those needs as a volunteer. My desire is not to be burnt out doing so, and I believe training as made me aware of how important it was for me to do things for myself that keep me real. My aspiration is that I hope I can trust people. I somehow lost a lot of that trust in the last year, as I look at my green multitool that was a gift from someone I cared about, I blame a lot of it on myself not being able to figure how to make myself happy without relying on others. So perhaps my first step is figuring out that previous thought? I don't know, it is, and I am, a work in progress. 

My long term goal, though it's susceptible to change at any moment, is to go to grad school for policy and development. And this is where my Dad's advice is relevant, I'm going to shoot for Princeton. That's a 780 for the math, a 720 for the critical, and a 5 or higher for the essay on the GRE. I know that is a lofty, really hard goal, especially for the Woodrow Wilson School for Public Affairs, but it's a goal I can prepare for, even with my life being here for two years God willing, I can prepare and try to aim higher.
Because I am good enough, and will continue to live a dream worth living.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Conversations about God in Kiswahili

Nilipoamka, na nilipocheka, na niliposalia, ninafikiri juuya Mungu. Kwasababu, ninapenda ambayo ninakaa katika Kenya.

When I wake up, when I laugh, and when I pray, I think about God. Because I love that I am living in Kenya.


That was basically the highlight of my final Language Proficiency Test, which is basically a 20 minute conversation with a tester that involves talking about who I am, where I am from, what I am doing here, and a role play or too. I think because I told him I was fasting, we ended up talking about God. And I'm glad I could speak well enough to respond about at least some of my inner feelings.

I really am grateful to God for letting me live here, and learn this language. This was the first time I actually wanted to take a test, I really enjoyed it.
My results was Intermediate Mid, which meant I passed, but I look forward to speaking this language more and more. The fact that I can talk to random strangers here in Kenya or have at least 40% of my conversation with my host family be in Kiswahili fills me with great satisfaction.

Now, I should start learning how to cook before I leave Loitokitok.

Talk to you all soon,