Recently we have been enjoying playing football (soccer) with our colleagues after work as often as possible. Our project has two offices, so we decided to turn our practices into preparation for a face off in competition with the Bungoma team for the WASH B cup! Hands in, everyone!


Since we had a few people leaving the project and we were supposed to do a team building event soon anyway, we turned the competition into a big party, complete with four goats. It’s not a party in Kenya without a goat! The day before the party the goats were running through our meeting, threatening to knock over the projector. It seems almost impossible to keep live animals out of our office here. We tried not to get too attached to the goats however… because the next day we ate them. But first, football.


I shouldn’t have to tell you that the Kakamega office (obviously) won the game!


The competition was fierce, but I think it’s possible that the group singing and cheering on the sidelines were more sweaty and exhausted by the end of the game than the players.



We awarded ourselves the football cup, but we also took the opportunity to recognize some of our staff for their excellent work. It was nice to take the opportunity to celebrate people who contribute as such valuable members of the team!


The amount of food was absurd, and we all ate pilau, stew, ugali, cabbage, sukuma wiki and nyama choma until we couldn’t eat any more.


I guess if you’re a meat eater you should know where your food comes from, and despite having met the goat I was blown away by Moragia’s ability to grill some amazing nyama choma (with Osborn’s help of course!).


It was really nice to spend a fun day with all our staff eating great food and kicking around the soccer ball. The football games continue, and today we even went to a Kenya Premier League game to watch our local team, the Homeboyz, face off against KCB. So the football and the fun are far from over! Karibu any time.



Hell’s Gate

When the animators for the Lion King wanted to find the perfect inspiration for a beautiful African savannah against the backdrop of pride rock, where did they go? Hell’s Gate! 


For our first adventure to the Rift Valley we headed to Hell’s Gate – not only does the park have impressive rock walls and gorges, it’s one of the only parks in the region where you can get out and wander among the animals. The best way to do this is to rent a bike!


We didn’t exactly plan or prepare very far in advance, so we arrived at the camp outside of the park at about 1 in the afternoon with a plan to see everything there was to see before sunset! So around 2 we grabbed some rented bikes (with horribly uncomfortable seats) and biked the 4K to the park entrance. 



We’ve been on safari and seen a bunch of animals before, but it was a completely different and amazing experience to be outside of a vehicle and out among the animals. 

Except the buffalo. You’ll notice we don’t have any pictures of buffalo, because they were enormous and scary and we booked it out of there as fast as our half broken bikes would go.



Aside from watching out for the buffalo, we would recommend that you plan to give yourself a little more time to bike from the camp, through the park to the gorge and back before sunset. We just barely made it back in time, but we made it! Not only did we bike all over the place, we learned about red ochre paint from the Maasai:


and climbed down into the gorge that gives the park its name. Hot springs ooze from the side of the canyon, and there are even a few tiny pools hot enough to boil an egg! Some geothermal energy companies are working in the area to utilize all that power sitting under the rift valley.


Our whirlwind trip through the canyons of Hell’s Gate made me more exhausted than I think I have ever been after an afternoon bike ride, but it was a great adventure and a great intro to the Rift Valley! Just watch out for the buffalo…


Kenya is Home

IMG_5358Kenya is about 10,000 miles from our last home in California. That’s about 2 days traveling on airplanes and through airports just to get there. An 11-hour time difference. The languages, the people, the weather are all different. In many ways, we are worlds away from our home.

This past week, I received one of the many weekly updates from our church in Menlo Park, California and was interested to see that a team from the church is coming to Kenya in June. They will be coming to Homa Bay on the shores of Lake Victoria, which is about a 2-3 hour drive from our home in Kakamega. Understandably, this trip got me thinking about home in California. To my surprise I began to realize that after moving and having many family members and friends move away my home is not really back in California; it is in Kenya.

To many of the people on this trip in June, Kenya will be foreign, way out of their comfort zone, a new place that seems so different from their own houses and jobs in Menlo Park. They will travel home with fantastic stories to tell their families about the different world they witnessed during their week or two in Kenya. If they are anything like I was on my short-term trips to Botswana in high school, they will be raving about it for months, and hopefully it will change them for the better. Then slowly, the memories will fade as they return to their normal routine, their work, their church, their friends, their home.

In many ways, we are about to have the same experience. At the beginning of March we will be heading back to the US for a few weeks to see family and friends, eat out at nice restaurants, get our favorite coffee, experience the cold and snow in London and Connecticut, and bask in consistent electricity. However we will return home not to the Bay Area, but to our new home in Kenya. For us, the memories of the US will soon feel a world away and we will return to our normal routine: our work, our apartment in Kakamega, and our friends on this side of the pond. Kenya is home.IMG_5301

We recently acquired a bunch of new furniture from a departing expatriate on our project and our apartment no longer feels like a temporary space. We are cooking more than ever (see attached recipe for Apple Oatmeal Muffins!), inviting company into our living room for food and fun. We are exploring Kakamega (we recently bought bikes so that we can head up to the Kakamega forest). In everything, we are learning to embrace the quirks of living in Kenya like the muffin tins that have weird patterns on the bottoms or the fact that everyone in Kenya wears long pants all the time even though we live right on the equator.

We are still short-term visitors (at least compared to Kenyans), but we are finally feeling like the Kenyan residents that we legally are. We hope that those on the trip with our church or others coming to Kenya get a little taste of what it is like to live here, that they get a little taste of our new home. Karibu Kenya. Karibu nyumbani. Welcome to Kenya. Welcome home.



Apple Oatmeal Muffins (Makes about 12)

Adapted from Plum Poppyseed Muffins from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook


  • 6 tbs unsalted butter, melted and browned
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup plain, whole fat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • Extra oats, sugar, and nutmeg to sprinkle on top


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Combine sugars and egg in a bowl, whisk together until smooth
  3. Brown butter on the stove until it has an amazing, nutty smell and little brown flakes. Add butter, yogurt, and vanilla to the egg/sugar mixture
  4. In a separate bowl (or lets be honest – I don’t use a separate bowl, I just stir these together on top of the wet ingredients before fully combining them) combine the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves
  5. Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients just until moist
  6. Fold in the peeled and chopped apples
  7. Grease a muffin tin with butter (I like to use any leftover browned butter, because it gives the muffins a particularly delicious buttery crunchy outside) and drop batter into each muffin cup
  8. Sprinkle a few dry oats, a pinch of sugar and a pinch of nutmeg on top of each muffin
  9. Bake for 16-20 minutes, or until brown and crispy on top and knife inserted in the center comes out clean

What’s Cooking?

I feel like I should address right up front that it’s been about 3 months since our last post. Oops! Huge apologies to anyone who actually reads this blog, but recently at work we’ve been at a full run just to stand still, like going the wrong way on an escalator. We are exhausted and a little brain dead, but the great news is that our study is launched (!), and we got to have some much needed rest and experience some culture shock in London over Christmas.

Now that we’re back, we’re full speed ahead trying to finish the first block of our study before Kenya’s general elections, which are set for March 4th. As we work ourselves into a frenzy in the office and in the field, all around us political activity is heating up. Kenya seems to be collectively holding its breath in anticipation of an election that will really determine a lot about the future of democracy in this country. Everyone is nervously hoping that the widespread violence that followed the last election in 2007 will not repeat itself, and the new constitution that was drafted in the wake of that tragedy would successfully provide guidance to the whole process.


In this election season the great contrasts in Kenya are thrown into even starker relief. Kenya has big business, pockets of great wealth, white sand beach resorts, safari lodges and incredible natural beauty and wildlife. The climate is just about all I’ve ever wanted – in Western Kenya it’s warm and sunny, with regular bursts of refreshing rain (except in January, when it is scorching hot!). At the same disease is a constant threat, only 5% of people in our district have electricity, and political instability and ethnic clashes stunt the growth of a country with magnificent resources. Despite all the lushness around us here in Western, Kenya makes the list of the top 10 most food insecure countries in the world.


We experience this divide all the time, because we’re lucky enough to have the resources to appreciate those things that make Kenya so wonderful, but our work is focused on (and often encounters!) the huge challenges here. For example, this past weekend we settled in for a bit of relaxation – we have become great(er) cooks since moving to Kenya, and we made lemon chicken, hummus, tzatziki sauce, roasted tomatoes and rice (my favorite food in the world!). I’ve also been indulging in a spectacular number of dirt cheap local plums, and Tim has been a guacamole making machine. We also spent a day driving down the gorgeous route from Kakamega to Kisumu to relax onthe shores of Lake Victoria. It could not have been more idyllic as we sat there appreciating the cool breeze off the water, drinking mojitos, and eating fish curry. It was calm and beautiful and we returned home to Kakamega refreshed.

But this is election season, and on Sunday morning we woke up to news of riots all over Kisumu after the political party primary results were released and the peaceful illusion we experienced on Saturday was shattered. Fortunately we had gotten ourselves back home and far out of the way, so we spent the rest of the weekend in the deep calm and quiet of the outskirts of Kakamega, filling our apartment with the aroma of good cooking, exercising, and enjoying the view of the rainforest in the distance. The most startling thing was a cow mooing loudly (and believe me, that actually can be pretty startling). We’re just praying that the beautiful, peaceful Kenya that we love is the version that prevails.


Why do you do what you do?


This past week Tim and I both finally succumbed to all the disease floating around Western Kenya and got as sick as we’ve ever been – he with malaria, myself with a tick-borne rickettsial infection. I would highly suggest that you avoid both! Laying in bed completely miserable, far from the comforts of “home,” we kept thinking to ourselves – why are we here? Why are we doing what we’re doing? Why did we leave lucrative job opportunities and a comfortable life surrounded by friends and family to come to Western Kenya?

This is a constant question in development work, and the answers are as diverse as the people who work in this field. Sometimes it’s a love of adventure that drives people to seek out lifestyles and challenges different from their own, and sometimes it’s an academic interest in the way that the “other” lives and works. Sometimes it’s a compassionate bleeding heart, and sometimes it’s a longing for a simpler quieter life off the grid. I’ve heard all these reasons and more, and in each one of those reasons I see a piece of myself – I do love adventure and sought to cut down on the influence of material possessions in my life, and I deeply care about and am interested in the ways that although we are all different we are all the same and worthy of compassion. But none of those things are quite at center, none of those things are exactly what’s really driving us.

Tim and I recently listened to a sermon as part of the Soulology series at MPPC called “Meaning,” in which Kevin Kim tackles the small problem of the meaning of life (Check it out here or on itunes). He discourses on some of the different philosophies that guide us as we make decisions about how to live our lives and how to find meaning in the confusion that they often bring, and the conclusion that he and we came to after a lengthy discussion was that the prospect of ongoing life after death and God’s ultimate promise to renew the earth gives a weight and purpose to everything we do that simply doesn’t exist if life ends with our death. Sure this is a controversial point, but after playing devil’s advocate for a while Tim and I remained pretty convinced that while it is a worthy goal to improve any individual’s life in the present, the hope that God will participate in that work with us into eternity gives all our efforts an extra meaning regardless of our failure or success in the moment.

You may be thinking to yourself, “That’s wonderful, Marlene, but how in the world does what you’re doing fit into that philosophy? You are trying to prevent people from getting sick and kids from dying NOW, in this life! What kind of eternal significance does that have? How many souls are you “winning for heaven” by examining contaminated water in Kenya under the umbrella of a secular organization?”

My answer is that eternity starts now. We live our lives doing the work of bringing God’s kingdom here now – not because we think that we alone can change the world, but because we believe that participating in the good that God is doing now and will make perfect into eternity is a worthy goal that brings us closer to God and to his people all over the world. We participate in the work of lifting up the poor and the sick in the present with the knowledge and encouragement that the work does not end with us or depend on us, and the trust that God is fulfilling his promises now and into the future.

So despite the occasional moments of discouragement when we are oh so sick in bed, we know why we do what we do! We are having incredible adventures, meeting new people and enjoying new places, developing our compassion for those different from us and those with less than us, and relying less on our material possessions. But ultimately we are here because God has asked us to be, and all of those other motivations take on a whole new color when viewed as part of the ongoing journey towards a restored world.


Kweisos and Colonials

A gorgeous view of green rolling hills, a tree swing within a perfectly manicured garden, tea and horseback rides… sounds more like we are in the English countryside than in Kenya, doesn’t it? This past weekend we joined 15 other expats, mostly IPA employees, for a stay at a beautiful colonial home situated just next to a farm owned by British settlers. We ate some delicious meals, lounged on the porch looking out over the spectacular view, and enjoyed the company and familiarity of other Americans.


While it would be silly to limit your experience of a new country to people who are from the same place as you, I will be the first to admit that it can be really wonderful to relax with people who know where you come from.  Sometimes it takes a lot of energy to be different. In Kenya, that circle of “people who are like me and relate to my background and new experiences here” extends beyond Americans to any English speaking person from a developed country. We have British and French and Australian friends who all understand the experience of just how different Kenya can be from home. You are not, however, going to become instant friends with any American – and although I am always curious about the story behind any mzungu I see in town, I think it’s wise not to fall into the “you’re white, and I’m white, so we’re destined to be friends!” trap. I suppose it’s really about finding the shared experience of being an “outsider” since it’s certainly possible to pick out black Americans in a crowd, but would you approach a stranger on the street to talk about how you are the same race at home? We’re lucky we’ve been able to make connections through IPA to find people to share this experience with, instead of resorting to racial profiling on passerby.


In addition to all of our relaxation, we were able to head over to the main farm and spend some time with the animals.  We went horseback riding, which was a really ideal way to see the countryside. Unfortunately my horse was a little crazy – I could tell it was emotionally unstable from the moment I saw it – and refused to listen to my commands the whole time. That in addition to the bizarre (to me) English style of riding saw me falling off of the horse towards the end of the ride when the horse refused to slow from a canter. Fortunately I was able to get right back on, and after begging a little we had the opportunity to play with adorable little lambs and milk a cow!


The weekend was absolutely idyllic, but it left me with a lot of unsettled thoughts. Disparities are thrown into sharp contrast here, and it is confusing to see black Kenyans living in deep poverty just outside the perfectly kept gardens of a British estate. Even within myself I see a struggle – sometimes I miss everything we left back home and I just want to fly to Nairobi to see a movie and eat twizzlers, while other times I feel incredibly guilty about buying a bottle of (cheap, not very good) wine at the grocery store because everyone around me is buying only flour and cooking oil. Being part of “the 1%” is a new experience for me, especially since we’re also part of “the 47%” that don’t make enough to pay US income taxes. Many people would even criticize the fun and frivolous weekend we had away from our weekday work with the poor on the basis that international aid workers are supposed to be more altruistic and indulge in their privilege less than those back home. But what about the wealthy (or even middle class) Americans who pass the homeless on their street every day without a second glance and spend their career in pursuit of money?  Ultimately I am hoping that all of us can find a way to recognize and appreciate our privilege and live generously – and as we return to the grind at work, I am very thankful for our opportunity to have a fun and relaxing weekend in beautiful Kenya.


Water, Water Everywhere

But not an (uncontaminated) drop to drink! When we agreed to move to Kakamega I knew that we weren’t coming to the oppressive heat that everyone imagines when they think of Africa, but I had no idea I would so regularly be cold and wet! The average temps range from 85 to 55 degrees F – which doesn’t look as cold in print as it felt before I converted those numbers from Celsius! Despite the fact that it’s not too hot the sun here is pretty intense for a person as extremely pale as me – we’re right on the equator and at elevation (5,000 ft – another conversion I had to do for you). As for the wet part, it rains here almost every day for a good portion of the year – I guess that’s what you get for living next to a rainforest!

Last night we had a particularly intense storm – Tim kept saying it felt like someone was shining a strobe light in our window, and it was pretty amazing to watch huge forks of lightning light up the sky. The rain was torrential, and it was cozy to light some candles and watch the storm from inside! Unfortunately we still have a bunch of water in our living room since our roof blew off a couple weeks ago and hasn’t been replaced…

So this abundance of water is great for growing corn and there isn’t a big problem with drought in this part of the country – however this doesn’t mean that anyone’s water is clean! We have such an awesome team to do water quality testing at the lab, and I am really excited for them to get started on the main study in a couple weeks! In the meantime we have been doing training and everything else we can to get the lab ready to go!

On this particular day we were practicing taking samples in the yard outside the lab – like I said, lots of water means there are plenty of places to collect practice samples!

We take the samples in these plastic whirlpak bags – these are super portable and disposable and keep water from getting contaminated or leaking out during transport. They are used for sampling liquids in a bunch of different fields, including food and water quality. Finally we take the samples back to the lab and look for bacteria!

Here’s Phabian, our awesome lab technologist, taking the lead.

We’re almost ready to start! And given the amount of rain we’ve had, I’m sure there will be plenty of water to sample. But hopefully it stays out of our apartment!

Beautiful Kenya!


Well we’ve been a little off the radar recently! Fortunately that means we have a lot to update you on! After a few months of hard work, Tim and I got to take a little vacation with some days off that I had coming since I started working before my contract actually began. The best part about that is that we didn’t have to take actual vacation days to take our little holiday! We are so excited to have the opportunity to see some of the amazing and really beautiful parts of Kenya. We love our little home of Kakamega, but it’s easy to get bogged down in the difficulty of work and extra life challenges that go along with living in rural Western Kenya, and it’s nice to be reminded what an amazing place we’re in and how lucky we are to be here!

Last weekend we took a quick last minute trip to the Masai Mara to see the wildebeest migration! It’s supposed to be an amazing sight to see the wildebeest crossing the river, and in their vulnerability often succumbing to a crocodile or a lion. However, the wildebeest decided not to cross while we were in the park! 20121028-130900.jpg But we weren’t overly disappointed, since our other animal sightings were well worth the trip. We traveled to the Mara from Kisumu, leaving early in the morning with our friends from IPA – Tomoe and her fiancé David (both are from France and speak beautiful French) and Anne, who is from UC Davis and studying nutrition. They were a really fun group to hang out with, and made the hours of driving so much more fun! Although we sped along some nice tarmac for a while, the road nearer to the park is one of the worst I’ve been on in Kenya! We inched along through a spine-jarring experience. In fact, the roads inside the park (also dirt) were much nicer.


Tim’s a great photographer (although I took some good photos too!), so here are a few of the best for your enjoyment. The best part of the trip was our encounter with a pride of lions, including a bunch of babies who played and jumped around unconcernedly as we sat in our vehicle only a few yards away. The male lion was majestic but pretty sleepy, and so we felt lucky to see the lively cubs interacting with the three terrifying females. 20121028-131353.jpg We also saw a cheetah that seemed to be stalking a nearby herd of antelope, but are still on our quest to find a leopard! The camp that we stayed with had permanent tents that each had a little bathroom, and although very simple it was comfortable and the food was good! We were lucky to go on two 6 hour game drives in just two days, and all agreed on Monday morning at work that none of us had ever been so tired in our lives. When I took a shower, the water that ran out of my hair was brown with dust turned to mud, and I had to shampoo several times! It was an incredible experience, especially for a short and spontaneous trip – and we’d be happy to return with anyone who wants to visit and go on safari!


After a couple days at work, busier than ever, we took off Tuesday night on an airplane bound for Mombasa. Tonight is our last night, and we’re loving sitting on our comfy bed watching the Olympics – two things we don’t get much of in Kakamega! Tomorrow morning we’ll head back home, but I’m starting to understand why one of my employees told me “If you go to Mombasa, you will never want to return”!

The past few days have been gorgeous and relaxing and full of delicious food. In fact, we’re used to eating such relatively simple fare at home that the volume of the food and all the meat that we’ve had has been a bit too much! I feel like I’ll never be hungry again. On Tuesday night we got in late, ate some snacks and watched the Olympics in our hotel room, and luxuriated in the feeling of being on vacation! Wednesday was our city day – we walked around the Mombasa Old Town through winding streets much like those on Zanzibar and visited Fort Jesus. 20121028-131653.jpg Built by the Portuguese in 1593, it’s literally designed to look like the shape of a person from the air and was named after Jesus. It’s a great example of Portuguese military architecture from the period, and has a pretty turbulent history with possession switching between Portugal , Oman, and Britain over the years. Between 1631 and 1875 it changed possession 9 times! Upon capturing the fort, the Omanis increased the height of the walls by three meters because they were much taller than the Portuguese! The fort was fascinating and included a small museum describing some of the history of the area. There were a lot of school kids there, so we felt like we were on a field trip too! Later in the day we went to the mall and the grocery store and ate some delicious ice cream, and then went and saw the Dark Knight Rises in a really nice movie theater! It was such a fun and relaxing day.

From Thursday morning until now we’re been on the beach at Diani, just south of Mombasa. We’re staying at a hotel called the Sands at Nomad, and it’s beautiful! We can just barely see the ocean through the trees out our window, and the room itself is large and incredibly comfortable – including a bathroom with a really nice, reliably hot shower. There’s a restaurant with delicious food and a nice pool, but best of all, the ocean is warm and beautiful! Yesterday we went on an all-day snorkeling trip to nearby Wasini Island. We saw dolphins right next to our boat, and got an amazing view of an octopus, moray eels, stingrays, and a lion fish along with more brightly colored tropical fish than I could count! After spending the morning getting sunburned as we swam all over the reef, we had an enormous seafood lunch which included a full crab for each of us, plus a fish appetizer and a main course of fish with rice and delicious coconut sauce. After all the swimming and all the food, we fell asleep in the shade on the island and almost get left behind when the boat left!


Today we are exhausted from all our adventures, and spent some time relaxing and reading and sleeping in. Unfortunately during a quick dip in the ocean Tim stepped on a sea urchin, and got a ton of spines stuck in his foot! He was bleeding and it stung a lot, but that didn’t stop the beach boys from trying to sell us trinkets as he hobbled up the sand. A really helpful man at the hotel seemed to know exactly what to do, although I think Tim and I were both nervous as he approached with a big knife and the tips of some sisal leaves, which he used to pick at the edge of the spines to expose them. Then he pricked a green papaya and rubbed the oil on the spines. Tim said that it really helped a lot with the pain, and it looks like it has already started to dissolve the spines – which are really difficult to pull out. It was an interesting experience, but poor Tim!

Overall we are reluctant to return to Western tomorrow after such a relaxing incredible vacation, but back to work on Monday it is! We feel so lucky to have the opportunity to experience some of the best of Kenya – it is a country absolutely brimming with natural beauty!