Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kenya handle this super long blog post?

(Sorry in advance for the spelling & grammar errors)-

I have no idea where to begin this blog post, it has been such an amazing week! I'll go in chronological order of events. Well, a few days ago I was m.o.d., which is kinda like student of the day. Being m.o.d. I had to give a r.a.p. (reflection, announcements, presentation) after dinner. For my presentation we played a game where everyone gets in a circle and has to do a goofy dance move. The catch is that you have to repeat the dance moves of everyone a head of you. It's pretty funny by the time it gets to the end and the last person has to repeat the dance moves of everyone in the circle. For my reflection I read a passage out of my favorite book, The Grapes of Wrath. Here's the passage I read (the last fews lines are my absolute favorite ever)--

"And the stars down so close, and sadness and pleasure so close together, really the same thing.  Like to stay drunk all the time.  Who says it's bad?  Preachers, but they got their own kind of drunkenness.  Thin, barren women, but they are too miserable to know.  Reformers, but they don't bite deep enough into living to know.  No, the stars are close and dear and I have joined the brotherhood of the worlds.  And everything's holy, everything, even me."

On friday I had four hours of my Environmental Policy class. It was a loooonnnggg day. We also had a guest speaker come in and talk to us about Maasai culture. It was extremely fascinating. She talked a lot about FGM and how it is still really prevalent in Maasai culture. She explained how it was practiced and perceived by the women and community. The rest of the day was spent doing homework, which is really difficult to get done since there's been no internet for 4 days and my current homework involves researching articles.

Saturday was AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING. (I know i keep using the same words, like amazing, wonderful, incredible, fascinating, but my vocabulary is limited and those words fit so perfectly with my experiences so far.) Anyways, I went to Amboseli National Park again on saturday and did a census of all the animals. No other SFS students have been apart of a censes before, we were really lucky. The census was through KWS (Kenya Wildlife Services) who are the head government conservation people (they are pretty much a big deal). Taking part in a KWS census meant we got special access to the park, so we got to go off roading! The only vehicles allowed to go off the roads are ones doing research in the park, so we got to go pretty much where ever we wanted. We could ride our jeep right up to a herd of zebras or wildebeest, it was the coolest thing ever. Our job that day was to count all the animals we saw, so each jeep took a block of the park and counted all the animals in that block. Our block was filled with large herds of elephants, zebras, gazelle, and wildebeest. When we got to a large group of animals we would count each species and write it down. It was a hard task. There was one time when we counted over 250 wildebeest in one little area of land. Now every time I see animals my initial reaction is to count them. It was so fabulous to go off roading at Amboseli National Park, definitely a highlight.

On sunday we went to a huge Maasai celebration. This celebration only happens every 15 years and it was incredibly special to see. The celebration was for young men and boys to become junior warriors. Maasai from all around Kenya and even Tanzania gathered at this one village to hold the celebration. The men going through the ceremony were dressed in red and had their hair and faces painted with dark red paint. In the early morning they slaughtered a few cows and roasted them in a circle were the men would go in, eat a piece of meat, and get a cow skin ring placed on their finger. They would than exit the circle as a junior warrior. There were tons of people at the celebration and it was so much fun to walk around and talk to people. The people there were some of the most welcoming people. I had so many interesting conversations. I talked to one guy about FGM and it was really fascinating to hear a locals perspective on it. He told me although it's still going on, in his community it has become less common. It was also fascinating that he was so open and willing to talk about it. I talked to another guy about music for a little bit and he told me all about the local music scene in Nairobi. He also told me all of his favorite artists, which included Ne-Yo, Chris Brown, Usher, 50 Cent, and his favorite, Eminem! I  found it so interesting that he listened to all the same artists that are popular in the U.S.. 

Everyone I talked to kept on welcoming me to the celebration and told me to take as many pictures as I like. Even though all of us stood out as foreigners and were obviously not Maasai, I really didn't feel uncomfortable or like an outsider. It was such an incredible event, I felt so lucky to have gone to a celebration that only happens every 15 years. Also, I forgot to mention the jeep ride to and from the celebration. We literally drove out to the absolute middle of nowhere to get there. We drove for about an hour and a half and for a majority of the drive there were no roads. The jeeps we drive are so intense, they can handle anything. Driving on some of the roads here would be the equivalent of off roading in the U.S., only with way more bumps.  

Today (Monday) was the best day here in Kenya thus far. FABULOUS. Words can not even describe what a great day it was, but i'll go ahead and try. Today we did home stays with local Maasai mamas. We were split into groups of two and went off to different Maasai villages. Me and another girl walked to our home stay, while most other groups drove. We met our host mama and she was so nice, her name was Joyce. She didn't speak any english and knew a little Swahili, but didn't understand anything I tried to say in Swahili. She mainly spoke a Maasai language. We didn't really communicate through speech, yet somehow we had a lot of fun together. She wanted us to take pictures of everything, it was kinda funny. We would be pouring tea and she would say "picture" and wanted us to take a picture, than she would look at it and have the biggest smile. She went about her daily routine and we helped her out, it was really cool to shadow her for a day. 

We started the day rolling up cow hides, which the Maasai use as mattresses. We than walked a long ways to collect water from a stream. My host mama filled up large cartons of water and placed one on my back. That thing was heavy! A rope went around my head to help me carry and support the water, but I thought I was going to topple over. I can't believe the mamas do this multiple times a day, it's intense labor. The walk back was sooo long and after I set the water carton down my arms felt like jelly. We than did the BEST thing ever. My host mama handed us buckets and took us into the cattle area. We had no idea what we were going to do. She pointed to cow poop and motioned for us to pick it up. I started laughing hysterically and I could not stop! I just couldn't believe what we were about to do. It was so gross at first, but I embraced it. I picked up the mushy cow poop and loaded it up in a bucket. The mama than poured water and dirt in the poop and started mixing it together. We were going to be helping her fix up the outside of her house. She grabbed a chunk of the cow poop mix and rubbed it onto her house. I started grabbing the cow poop and putting it over the cracks on the house. It was actually really hard to blend it in, there is a definite strategy to layering the poop on the outside. Spackling that house was one of the coolest things i've ever done, ever. Instead of cow poop I just kept telling myself it was like clay haha. 

After fixing up the house we washed our hands and started making tea and cooking lunch. Lunch was ugali, which is pretty much like grits in a cake like form. It doesn't have much of a taste, but is a very commonly eaten food here in Kenya. We also cooked cabbage, onions, and tomatoes with half a container of pure vegetable fat. I'm not exaggerating, we cooked the vegetables in so much fat! And they were delicious. The mama served us the biggest pieces of ugali, it probably weighed a pound. I proudly finished it all and gained 5 pounds in the process. Lunch was spent with a group of other women and although I didn't understand anything they said to one another, it felt like I was just 'lunching with the girls'. After lunch we hung out and played a little with the two kids my host mama had. They were so adorable. I also got to hold a goat! So cute. And there was the CUTEST puppy hanging around the village, I wanted to take him home. I tried to give him some water and he ended up drinking a little out of my water bottle, so now I have to bleach it so I don't get worms. Apparently most of the dogs here have worms, but I can't help myself, I have to pet them all. Later in the day we sat on a cow hied in the shade and did some bead work. It was incredibly time consuming and it made me appreciate all the work that goes into the jewelry the mamas make. I helped my host mama make a beautiful bracelet and than I got to keep it :) It's my new favorite piece of jewelry. It was so much fun to spend the entire day in the life of a Maasai woman. It was one of the best days of my young life.

~Lexi's weekly dose of Swahili~
Question: "Habari?" (pronounced ha-bar-ee) meaning "How are you?"
Answers: "Salama" / "Mzuri" / "Safi" (pronounced salama / ma-zer-re / sa-fee) meaning "Peaceful" / "Good" / "Clean"


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lions, Bush Babies & Elephants, oh my!

Hello all! Well, this week has bee packed with classes. We get one non-program day a week, but the rest of the week is class, class, class. This past Saturday and Sunday were spent in classes most of the morning and afternoon. The classes are pretty interesting, but also a little challenging to grasp. The conservation issues here are a lot more complicated than they seem. It's super fascinating to learn about how the local people feel about conservation and wildlife. Anyways,.... since my last post I've been to a market, club, safari, wedding & more! I went to the local market last week and it was very, very, overwhelming. The mamas that sell their jewelry will circle around you and are very persistent that you buy from them. They follow you and do not leave the foreigners alone. I learned how to say "No thank you" and "I don't have any money" in Swahili, but they always respond in English by saying "No problem, no problem" and keep following you. The market was a very interesting experience. Afterwards we went to Club Kimana, which is a bar like hangout place. The bathrooms there were very interesting, to say the least- it's a hole in the ground. There were two stalls that looked pretty normal until I opened the door and saw a little hole in the cement ground. Most bathrooms in Kenya are like this. Still, club Kimana was extremely fun to say the least :)

Last week I also went on my first safari! We drove to Amboseli National Park and had to count all the animals we saw. And we saw A LOT of animals- giraffes, zebras, hyenas, hippos, gazelle, waterbuck, wildebeest, elephants, baboons, & more. It was so wonderful!! We road in the jeeps and got to take the tops off of them. It was sooo much fun riding in a jeep hanging out of the roof! I felt like such a safari tourist with my binoculars (binocs, for short) and camera. I now know why dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows haha. At the beginning of our drive we could see elephant herds off in the distance. After a while we got to a heard of elephants that were right next to the road. We got extremely close to them and it was such a sight!! They made the most wonderful crunching noises while eating. I <3 elephants, so much. The hyenas were also incredible to see. I didn't expect them to walk so distinctively, they are really fascinating (and cute) animals to watch. As we were driving on one road, baboons started to flock towards out car and they were such hams! They would just plop down in the middle of the road and pose. Amboseli was so, so, so, so wonderful to see. We are going to go back next week to do more animal counting. Oh and also, most importantly, there is one rule to follow on any safari- no shooting. "No shooting" means no farting (ahahaha), this rule is for the drivers sake. 

Around four days ago we got invited to a Maasai wedding reception of one of the staff members here. Their were people dressed up with beautiful fabrics and beaded jewelry. The reception consisted of everyone dancing and jumping in a circle for hours and hours. Everyone would lean in the circle and jump back, over, and over again. I eventually joined in and it was super fun! Some of the men would have jumping competitions in the circle to see who could jump higher. I finally got to witness the amazing jumping skills the Maasai have. They can jump a good 3-4 feet in the air! After attending a wedding it is customary to give the bride and groom a wedding gift, so we are putting our money together to buy them a goat. The other night I went with the group on a nighttime nature walk. I was soo paranoid that I would run into a snake, but so far i've only seen one nonpoisonous snake. I did see bush babies on the walk, and they are the cutest lil' nuggets! Their eyes peak out in the trees and they leap amazing distances, they are seriously the cutest. 

Now, I thought i'd fill you in on some random things that are here in Kenya. First off, there is dust EVERYWHERE. Seriously, everywhere. Dust flies everywhere I walk and everywhere we drive. There is always dust in my hair, on my feet, and in my nose. There are also little prickly things EVERYWHERE. They are like mini thorns and the bottoms of all my shoes are covered in them. They always manage to sneak in my bed and on my clothes. There are also little bed bug like insects here that leave red spot all over my arms, so I had to get my mattress washed. And strangely enough, I have never seen a mosquito flying around, yet my entire body is covered in mosquito bites. The weird thing is NO ONE ELSE HAS ANY BITES. I talked to a staff member about it and she said mosquitos just like some people more than others. So apparently mosquitos love me very, very much. Good thing it's not the wet season yet and malaria is not as common around this time of the year. There is also garbage and plastic bags littered through out the entire landscape of Kenya. Driving down every road, I probably see thousands of plastic bags on the ground and stuck on plants. There is no such thing as recycling here, in fact, the way they dispose of garbage is by burning it.

Monday was incredible. We visited a local school and hung out with the kids. The kids where really fascinated with us and wanted their picture taken all the time. I really didn't want to take "those" pictures, ya know, the ones with groups of nameless poor children, I just seems to overdone and a little unethical. But I eventually caved. The kids love to see the pictures taken of them. So I took a lot of pictures just to show the kids, they got so excited and had the biggest smiles on their faces when they saw themselves in the pictures. We worked at the school painting a classroom. The room was in poor condition and very small, but somehow managed to hold 70 students. The kids talked about how they had no school supplies or water, which was really sad to hear. The kids did seem really happy though. Some of the SFS students played soccer with the kids, and others (including me) had a dance party with them. It was so much fun!!!!! One person brought ipod speaker so we played music and danced. The kids gathered around us to watch, and some joined in, while others just giggled at how ridiculous we probably looked.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was a non-program day so we didn't have classes, but we were still pretty scheduled. In the morning we took a hike down to a gorge. The climb down was pretty steep, but at the bottom of the gorge it was beautiful. It looked like something out of Jurassic Park. Seeing any green plants or trees here is a rarity since it's the dry season, but the gorge was filled with green, it was breathtaking. After our hike we drove to an AIDS support group center. We met a group of women and they told us their stories about living with ADIS and the stigmas attached to it here in Kenya. It was really fascinating and sad to hear. For me, the worst part was to hear that the husbands are the main ones that bring AIDS home to their wives and yet take no responsibility. Many of the women we talked to said their husbands would not admit to being unfaithful or contracting the disease to their family, and the women just accept it, stay with their husbands, and sweep it under the rug. The support group raised money by selling jewelry and so they had a little store filled with nick nacks. I definitely spent way to much money there, but the jewelry the women made was beautiful! Later that day we went to Club Kimana and it was, yet again, another fun night. We also watched The Lion King that night, which either takes place in Kenya or Tanzania. There are actually a good amount of Swahili words in it. Simba means lion (which was the first Swahili word I had down), Rafiki means friend, and Akuna Matata really does mean no worries. My inner child was extremely happy to be watching The Lion King in Africa. 

Today was spent out in the field talking to farmers in the local communities about their crops. It was really interesting to hear their stories about how elephants and zebras destroy their crops and also to see how their farms are run. However, it is not fun to have stomach problems when the only place to go to the bathroom is a hole in the ground and instead of toilet paper there is news paper. Lets just say it hasn't been the most pleasant day. It was an experience though. Anywho, sorry if this post is all over the place. I've been writing it sporadically throughout the week and have to wait to post when there is a strong internet connection. The only website that is fast is FaceBook oddly enough. Loading this blog and my e-mail takes a few hours, but FB is pretty fast.

I thought i'd post a Swahili word/greeting at the end of every entry: 
~Lexi's Swahili word of the week~
question: "Vipi?" (pronounced vee pee) slang for "What's up?"
response: "Freshi" (pronounced freshee) means "I'm fresh"
☮ Lexi

Thursday, September 16, 2010

First post from Kenya!

(Internet connection is very, VERY, spotty. I wrote this post a fews days ago, but haven't been able to post it until now. Also, the internet won't allow me to upload photos to this blog site, so I will try to put picture on facebook, but it might take a while, sorry! (Sorry for the poor writing on this blog, I really didn't spent any time re-reading it or checking grammar & spelling) But thanks so much to anyone who is reading this! I hope it's worth your time!...)

Jambo! (which means 'Hello' in Swahili). So much has happened this past week.... I don't even know where to begin! I guess I should start at the beginning though. Well, before arriving in Kenya I had a 12 hour layover in London so I decided to leave the airport and venture around the city. As it turned out, the Tube was on strike that day, so the people of London were scurrying around the city looking for transportation. This meant that we had to do a lot of walking in order to get around. And by 'we' I mean a few other SFS students who I had met at the Newark airport. London was fun to wander around, especially after the 8 hour flight it took to get there.

We eventually got back to the airport and had a 9 hour flight to Nairobi. I didn't sleep much on the flight, but I was so energized just to be in Africa that the jet lag hadn't hit me yet. We exchanged our money, got our bags, and loaded them up in the SFS jeeps that were waiting for us at the airport. It was such an amazing feeling to finally be in Kenya after days of traveling, and it was also my birthday! When I hopped in the front seat of one of the jeeps I saw that it was decorated with streamers and balloons (which I happen to be terrified of, but it's the thought that counts) for my birthday :) Also, after dinner later that day they brought me out a cake that said "Happy Birthday Lexi"! It was so nice of them. I couldn't have asked for a better birthday. Arriving in Kenya was possibly the best present ever.

But backtracking from that, we then drove 4 hours to reach the camp, Kilimanjaro Bush Camp (KBC). On the drive down I learned that I am 40% more likely to die on a freeway in Kenya than on a freeway in the U.S. (not comforting to know haha). After getting to the camp it was so exciting to look around and settle into a banda (a thatched off the ground house/hunt). To my surprise the living conditions were a lot nicer than I had expected, but it might take awhile to get used to the bathrooms....which are not exactly what I'm used to. The showers are not heated during the day, but after 6:00 the generator turns on and the water gets a tiny amount of heat. I have internet every other day from 6:30pm-11:00pm, but the internet is EXTREMELY slow and some nights doesn't work at all (which is why i've been bad at updating this blog). My banda gets electricity after 6:00pm, so it's a little strange not to have light in the morning or afternoon. 

It gets dark pretty early here, like around 8pm. At night I have to wear a headlamp everywhere I walk so I don't step on snakes. Apparently there are many poisonous snakes I have to look out for, such as a black mamba, green mamba, and red spitting cobra. There are also scorpions I have to watch out for, since I'm told there bites hurt extremely bad. My bed has a mosquito net which has to be tucked in at all times, even during the day, so snakes and other insects don't get in. I was told by a staff member that no students have ever been bitten by a snake though, which made me feel a little safer. BUT, I was also told that one girl forgot to tuck in her mosquito net one time and woke up with a black mamba in here sleeping bag. I'm so paranoid after hearing that.

I stared my classes a few days ago and they seem pretty challenging, but also really interesting. My professors are all from Kenya and know a lot about what they are teaching. The classes I'm in our Wildlife Ecology, Wildlife Management, Environmental Policy, and Swahili and Culture. At the camp there is wildlife all around me. There are many beautiful (and noisy) birds here and yesterday I saw a baboon casually walking through camp! I also had one of the most incredible experiences of my life the other day- we got to visit our neighbors, the Maasai, who live across the road. It is traditional when meeting neighbors for each party to preform a song and dance. The Maasai sang beautiful songs and were dressed in colorful, bright clothing and beaded jewelry. It was so amazing to meet them! In return we had to preform a dance, so we decided to do the macarena. Let me just say, there were 28 kids doing the macarena and it was hilarious :D The Maasai seemed to enjoy it, they were clapping and some were trying to follow along. We then got to take a tour of one of their homes, which were made of cow poop, tree brush, and other materials. It was so fascinating to see! The inside had a bedroom/living room, kitchen, closet, and a little den for baby goats to sleep. After that, the Maasai women gathered in a huge circled and laid out the beaded jewelry they had made to sell. It was so pretty, wanted to buy it all! It was also really inexpensive, for example, I got a big circular beaded necklace for around $12. The Maasai women are very pushy when it comes to selling their goods and I had to learn the art of hackling, because they start their prices very, very high (since they assume all Americans are rich).

Today was packed full of adventure. We left camp at 7:30am and drove an hour to climb a hill (more like a mountain). On the way there I saw wild giraffes, zebras, kudu, and gazelles! Seeing packs of wild giraffes was so exciting! There is something indescribable about seeing them in their natural habitat just chillin'. Earlier that day I knew we were going to do some sort of a hike, but I had no idea what I was in for. Climbing that hill/mountain was the most strenuous physical activity I have ever done. It was EXTREMELY steep and slippery. I had to lift myself over boulders and with the high altitude it was hard to catch my breath. But I made it to the top! Once at the top, I had to walk over huge boulders to get to another huge boulder where we all sat and had a class. Yes, we had Environmental Policy class on top of a mountain, sitting on a boulder, it was amazing. The teacher got out a stand with notes, stuck it into the ground, and started his lecture. As he was explaining the different land areas around us, he was able to point each one out and from where we were sitting we could see the exact area he was describing. The hike down was a little tricky, and very slippery, but iI felt like I had accomplished something spectacular afterwards. Well, this blog post is already super long so I guess i'll stop here... Goodnight or la la salama as they say here in Kenya :)

☮ Lexi

Sunday, September 5, 2010

my first blog post....

I decided to start this blog to document by study abroad experiences in Kenya and Tanzania. While there I'll be studying the wildlife, environment, and culture. Now, I've always found blogging to be a little self-indulgent, but I thought this would be a good way for my family and friends to see what I'm up to in Africa. 

So, at the moment I don't have much to blog about. I'm leaving for Kenya tomorrow and have a lot of last minute things to do. I'll be traveling for two days and taking three planes to reach my final destination: Kenya! I leave from Detroit to New Jersey, then to London, and finally Kenya. I'll be arriving to Kenya on September 8th, which just so happens to be my birthday :) I don't think it's hit me yet that I'm leaving tomorrow, but I'm sure when I get to the airport i'll be getting that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. As of right now though, I'm filled with excitement and can't wait to be in AFRICA. 

I'll be spending my last day with someone i'll miss a whole lot..... my dog Bartley :)