Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! (better late than never)

Of course we don’t get the day off for this American holiday and I spent most of my week out here:

Image

But we were still able to pull together a pretty classic Thanksgiving, with everything made from scratch! And we’re never going back. This food was ridiculously delicious (no more cream of mushroom soup for me).Image

We had a chicken, green been casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, apple pie and cookies. Delicious! And you know what we even did? We even fried the crispy onions for the top of the green bean casserole and I am in danger of making these every day just to snack on – they were so easy and delicious.

Image

Image

 

These pictures are less than amazing because the lighting in our apartment is dismal and this is from my phone, but I feel like we need to prove that we DID make and eat all this delicious food!

And what are we thankful for? 2 years of marriage this past week (!), our life here in Western Kenya, our families (even though they are far away), and all the support and love that has helped us to pursue this adventure together – so thanks to all of you!

 

Advertisements

5 Things That Happened

5 Things That Happened

IMG_7414

Marlene got malaria (and we got a bug zapper racket)

Based on my own observations, expats in Africa are divided into two camps: first the “I’ve never had malaria and I can’t believe you have – surely you aren’t very careful!” group and the “I get malaria every two weeks and can’t figure out what to do about it” group. I’m not actually sure it’s possible to do anything about it (or anything more than we’re doing), but I’m hoping we end up somewhere in the middle, since now that we’ve both had malaria I would really like to avoid the experience again! There are no pictures of this particular adventure, since waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat as though someone had poured a bucket of water on you is not the kind of thing you want photographic evidence of. We always do our best to keep the mosquitos away, but this past week we finally managed to get our hands on a bug zapper, and hunting down all the mosquitos in our apartment has become a nightly ritual. I would also like to know why our treated mosquito net seems to kill every bug that lands on it except mosquitos. Thank goodness I was able to kill the mosquito that found its way into our net the other night… by nearly swallowing it.

photo 1

Way too excited.

photo 4The imprint on our wall of the mosquito that I am convinced gave me malaria. About two weeks before I got sick, I fell asleep outside the mosquito net. I woke up to Tim smashing this mosquito, full of my blood, against the wall. It had been biting my eyelid, which was really itchy and annoying. Then I got malaria. Is this blood splatter a little TMI? Oh well.

4WD up Mt Elgon

IMG_7314

Easily some of the most fun we’ve had in Kenya, our fun maximized by sharing it with Anne and Cameron when they came all the way out to Western Kenya to visit! Rocketing our way through the jungle, pausing to climb through caves and around waterfalls… the far out there corners of Kenya at their best. I was only slightly nervous about getting Marburg from this cave, but so far so good! (More coming soon from the epic adventures we took with Anne, Cameron, Madison, and Nate!)

IMG_7397

We started to actually enjoy ugali

At lunch the other day I ordered a large portion of ugali and couldn’t stop eating. I’m sure that my enjoyment had something to do with the amazing pile of nyama choma we also had, but it looks like we are finally integrating into the local culture if we are learning to love this stuff. Also, I can highly recommend a little place in Ekero for the best nyama choma in Western Kenya.

photo 2 (1)

My fear of snakes was confirmed

IMG_7514

My number one irrational and over the top fear here is SNAKES. I am way more afraid of them than things I should be more scared of. However for some reason seeing this on safari – when you’re supposed to see wild and crazy animals – was just awesome. But let’s keep the snakes out there.

IMG_7519

 

Yes, Tim actually took these pictures.

We played with animal poop

Our awesome friend Angela is here visiting! She is working on a study that involves testing animal feces. Since we’re really familiar with all things poop in our lab, we were happy to help out. So we’re in for some exciting field work collecting animal feces while everyone gives us funny looks. Crazy white people collecting animal poop!

photo 5So that’s a quick update about what’s been happening here! But that’s not everything, so more posts and pictures to come soon!

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! 

Image

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!

Image

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. 

Image

 

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.

Image

 

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:

Image

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.

Image

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.

-Tim

IMG_5329

Apple Oatmeal Muffins (Makes about 12)

Adapted from Plum Poppyseed Muffins from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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

Why do you do what you do?

20121027-160042.jpg

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.

20121027-160243.jpg

Beautiful Kenya!

20121028-131949.jpg

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.

20121028-132345.jpg

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!

20121028-131519.jpg

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!

20121028-130737.jpg

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!

Morbidity and Mortality

As I experience more of life in Kenya, I begin to understand the realities that lie behind the words “morbidity” and “mortality” that we so often use to describe the effects of disease.

Mortality – death – is the most definitive and the most sobering way to measure the effects of a disease. Simply put, how many people die because of it? 1.8 million children die from diarrhea worldwide each year. In 2010, malaria killed about 655,000 people – mostly children in Africa. These numbers are large and sobering, but in reality the simple number on a page doesn’t elicit much of a reaction, especially if you happen to spend a lot of time reading about such horrible things for your job (as I do).

But living in the midst of it is quite different. The town mortuary is right across the street from our lab and next to our apartment, and is regularly surrounded by crowds and buses and parades of mourners. Families bring a coffin to bury their loved one, usually strapped to the top of a car or sometimes the back of a motorbike. Sometimes I can’t walk to work without tearing up as I witness the ebb and flow of loud singing, at first seeming celebratory, and softer mournful hymns. But the thing that gives me goosebumps is the regularity with which the family is bringing in a small, child sized coffin.

Over the next few days Tim is going to be in Kisumu doing some training on verbal autopsy – an interview with the family of the deceased so that if a child who is part of our study dies, we can try to understand the causes. It is so devastating to consider that we have to prepare for these children who are not yet even born to die. I am glad that we will be able to look at the causes of mortality in this study to help prevent other children from dying in the future, but I hope that Tim has no use for this training.

As awful as it is to dig into mortality, morbidity is a more silent but still insidious force. Mortality is very clear cut and easy to measure, and we tend to assume that as long as someone recovers from their illness everything will be fine. But in reality even a complete recovery from illness can leave detrimental effects, and all too often there is lasting damage that has been done to a person’s body or mind by the trial they have suffered. Over the past few days I have been so struck by what an impact illness makes on work and productivity. Today it seems like half our staff is sick at the doctor or are taking a child to the doctor. Malaria and GI illness are the biggest culprits. Last week one of our staff was out with “a little malaria and a little typhoid.” He returned to work the next day because he said he was bored at home, and it is a regular occurance for staff to come into work with malaria. Despite this generally strong work ethic, 7 out of about 70 employees are out sick today. The cost to organizations and families of this lost work and productivity is enormous, and the loss of income due to illness can be devastating here as it is anywhere.

I don’t mean to be depressing, but I think it’s important to recognize the stark realities and upsetting facts behind the numbers. Understanding the sobering reality gives a purpose to what we do, and make me grateful to be a part of a group of people that are trying to change that reality. The numbers are impressive and maybe that should be enough to galvanize a response, but the reality is that there is nothing like living next to the mortuary in Kakamega to show you the true impact of preventable disease.

Karibu Kenya Part 2 – Tim Arrives

Karibu Kenya Part 2 – Tim Arrives

Wow – I can’t believe I have already been here a week! Despite still looking for a place to work/volunteer, I have been surprisingly busy.  Let me try to go through a brief rundown of the things that have been keeping me occupied!

In Transit, SFO-NBO:

The trip from San Francisco to Kakamega was anything but short. Perhaps the longest part of my journey was the time I was not actually traveling while I was waiting in the airport in London. After 11 hours sitting in airport seats, walking through duty free shops, and trying to catch a nap while holding onto all of my luggage, I experienced a sensation I don’t know that I’ve felt before – I actually wanted to get on the airplane and sit down for the next 10 hours! Jet lagged and tired – I happily fell asleep on my flight from London to Nairobi.

In Transit part 2, Nairobi to Kakamega:

Upon arrival in Nairobi, I had to board a domestic flight to Kisumu. As I left the international terminal, I had to walk across and unmarked parking lot – vaguely following an arrow to the domestic terminal. Once there, I was happy to find that my gate was clearly marked “Kisumu.” As far as I could tell, there were only two gates: one for Kisumu and one for Mombasa. At least that made the domestic terminal much easier to navigate!

The Kisumu International Airport is probably the nicest airport I’ve been to in Africa. It is also probably the smallest airport of any kind that I have flown into. There are no ramps to the planes, just a small building next to the runway. I’m not sure there are any international flights, but the airport had a full area for customs and immigration in case they ever decide to fly internationally again. After collecting my bags, I finally met up with Marlene who was waiting there with a taxi driver to bring us to Kakamega. It was so good to be back in the same place after 3 weeks of distance and unreliable communication. John the taxi driver welcomed me and then almost immediately he asked me which English Premier League team I support (John the taxi driver supports Chelsea). I guess that I need to finally choose a team to support in the EPL if I’m going to fit in here. In my time here so far it appears that Arsenal and Manchester United have the most supporters with Chelsea a close third.

The road to Kakamega from Kisumu is a simple paved road that is intended to have one car driving in each direction. In reality the road often has a bus parked on either side, at least one bike/motorcycle carrying 2-3 people, and those two cars it was intended to have. As a result, the road can be quite an adventure. Fortunately we were in the hands of a very competent taxi driver who knew the informal rules of the road. I’m still not sure how it all gets worked out, but everyone does seem to get where they need to go.

Living in Kakamega:

For the first couple of nights we were lucky enough to stay with the Research Manager who Marlene had been staying with for the past several weeks. I spent much of the first two days sleeping in order to adjust to the 10-hour time difference. Fortunately I didn’t have to work as much as Marlene did and I was able to adjust pretty quickly. A few days after I arrived, we were informed that our new apartment was ready for us to move in! We quickly moved all of our stuff over into the empty apartment and slept on a loaner air mattress for the first couple nights.

With Marlene working hard during the week, it was my job to run around Kakamega in search of everything we would need in order to make the apartment livable. I spent the first day at Nakumatt, a gigantic store that reminds me a little bit of Target where you can get basically anything. They were the best place to buy a refrigerator and oven and they even offered free delivery! As is true with all things in Kenya, you have to work a little harder in order to get the things you purchase to work properly. In this case, the oven did not come with a propane tank and fuel and there is no such hookup to our apartment. I spent the next day searching for a propane tank and managed to find a stand that sold propane tanks not too far from the Nakumatt store. This stand had full propane tanks, but didn’t have the regulator necessary to connect it to an oven forcing me to go to a third place to get this oven to work!

After tackling the kitchen, I turned my attention to getting furniture for the apartment. Instead of going to Nakumatt (which does sell furniture) we had heard from the staff at IPA that a furniture store near downtown Kakamega had the best prices. I headed over there and found two stores right next to each other. Interestingly, these stores were made of big tree branches staked into the ground and wrapped with corrugated metal roofing material. Inside, there was so much furniture packing the dirt floor that you could barely walk and see any of it! This was their showroom. Out back, carpenters were actually making all of this furniture from big logs. At least I didn’t have to deal with any markups from middlemen. Over the course of two days I found a bed and dining room table to finish our apartment for now.

In the process of setting up our apartment I really felt like I got to know Kakamega and I’m starting to feel at home here. Though it is definitely a different lifestyle than I came from in Menlo Park, I am looking forward to this change of pace. Now that I’ve gotten the apartment sorted out, I’m turning my focus towards what I will be doing here day to day. I’ll keep you all posted on any developments!

-Tim

PS – You can see pictures of our apartment here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3762154927464.2145875.1084290209&type=1&l=646a6e1dc6

Karibu Kenya!

Well it has truly been a whirlwind of a week, and I am just now finding the time to update you all on everything that has happened.  The short version is that I am here in Kakamega, it’s beautiful, the people I’m working with are wonderful, and I have been VERY busy as I’ve hit the ground running at work!  Read on for the long version…

I arrived in Kakamega at last after a long long journey – if you ever have to spend many hours sitting in an airport I would recommend Heathrow over Nairobi! After a ten hour flight, a ten hour layover in London, a nine hour flight to Nairobi, six hours in the airport in Nairobi, a one hour flight to Kisumu and a one hour drive to Kakamega, I was falling asleep standing up. Quite literally – I almost fell over a few times. After dropping off my things, Michael (the previous lab coordinator) took me straight to the lab. I met the people, got the lay of the land, and fell asleep having not eaten anything since “breakfast” on the plane from London.  Suffice it to say that traveling is not my favorite.  I am always excited to reach my destination, but hours on a cramped plane, jet lag, and grabbing whatever food you can find are just the necessary torment you must endure before the adventure begins! I never feel more miserable or out of control of myself than when I am jet lagged – and a ten hour time difference is a lot.  It’s embarrassing to be unable to keep your eyes open or your head up straight while you are trying to meet new colleagues and trying to learn the ropes.

Things at work this past week have been very challenging, but have gone well at the same time. In short, my position as the Water Quality Lab Manager means that I make sure that water samples collected by a survey team are properly processed and data is properly collected to evaluate the level of fecal contamination in the water.  Right now I’m also keeping an eye on a team collecting data on parasites – which means that there is a lot of poop floating around the lab right now! I wouldn’t recommend stopping by between 12:30 and 1:30, when the smell is particularly ripe.

I won’t pretend that I haven’t made any mistakes, or that I didn’t fall off a stool while counting colonies because I was so tired, but overall I think I have gotten to the point where I know my way around and the staff respect my judgment and guidance.   While I am clearly needed to be sure that things run smoothly, protocols are followed, and big decisions are made, I am lucky that the staff is truly fantastic.  We have two lab technicians and two interns right now.  The lab techs keep me busy trying to help me improve my Swahili, and the interns have been rock stars when it comes to taking care of a lot of tasks that the lab has fallen far behind on.  One of the best things about this job so far has been working with the talented and educated Kenyan staff.  I have not had the opportunity before to work with so many local professionals, and I love seeing the expatriates and the nationals on staff working together with so much mutual respect and appreciation.  Also, I am very lucky that when I need to get emergency distilled water, my lab staff happens to know where I can purchase some.  So overall things are going well – but since I worked 16 hours most days this week, I am looking forward to things slowing down a bit.

So today I am finally getting a chance to breathe, watch movies, and write this post.  There was a group that went to see hippos near Kisumu today – but I have a whole year to see hippos and I am totally beat. But I am not completely anti-social – last night I went to a gathering with a bunch of staff at one couple’s house and had lasagna! The food was amazing, and the opportunity to relax and hang out with some fellow Americans was fantastic.  Today I feel like I finally have both feet firmly planted on the ground, and I am getting excited to move out of my boss’s apartment where I’ve been staying and get our own place!  I just can’t wait until Tim gets here and we can set up our home together. I’ve certainly already seen that this year will hold many challenges, but once Tim gets here I am particularly excited to face the difficulties and enjoy the good together. There is so much that is wonderful about Kenya, and I can’t wait to travel, explore, work, and make this our home for a little while. I am so excited for Tim to join me one week from today! Stay tuned – once Tim gets here and things calm down a bit at work, we will have much much more to share!