Sunday, May 07, 2006

No News is Good News

I ask that you excuse the tardiness and the relative brevity of this post; I know it has been a while since I last communicated with most of you but perhaps the peace corps motto rings true in this sense: no news is good news.

Over Easter weekend (has it been that long?) a group of 20 volunteers and I traveled to Jinja, Uganda for a rite-of-passage rafting trip at the source of the Nile. We spent several days at the adventure outfitter, kayaking, rafting, and generally carousing with the rest of the risk-seeking hooligans who gathered there. The first day of kayaking was thrilling for the sole fact that I was on the Nile – groups of Africans clustered along the riverbanks as we floated past, laundering their clothes and bathing, and baby crocodiles poked the tops of their scaly heads out of the water. The rapids that we traversed in kayaks ranged from Class 1-3, and weren’t as menacing as I would have preferred – granted, I had never been white water kayaking before, and perhaps the desire to test my physical limitations in the water would have been better served with a bit more training. It did, however, reinforce the realization that I need to live near water when I eventually settle down.

The rafting trip the following day was much more challenging and thrilling – I think I swallowed enough parasitic Nile water to kill a large horse. The following day we headed to Kampala for a few days of relaxation at a posh backpacker resort.

After Uganda I returned to Nairobi for a week of Peace Corps training which brought my original training group back together, minus the 8 who have early terminated since that time. It was a good chance to see everyone and catch up, although the nun who ran the catholic retreat at which we were staying wasn’t enthralled by some of the volunteers’ reunion shenanigans, and suffice it to say that Peace Corps isn’t allowed back at Mary Ward Center anymore.

A week later I managed to ruffle the feathers of another Catholic official, who wasn’t happy about the fight that broke out at our community talent show. It is doubtful that we’ll be allowed to use that venue again either.

The day that training ended I accompanied four volunteers into one of the slums surrounding Nairobi (if you saw ‘The Constant Gardener’ you will get a good picture of the atmosphere). A local Kenyan volunteer introduced us to three of the families in the neighborhood with which he worked, after which we returned to his house to cook dinner for all of the families. For some of them it turned out to be their first meal in two days. All of their stories were tragically heartbreaking – one father of four lost his sight two years ago because he couldn’t afford the $50 medication to cure the disease which caused his blindness. Another single mother of five was hospitalized two weeks after giving birth to twins via C-section; her stomach ruptured after she returned to work on the farm so that her children could eat. Many of the children were adorable, and the unconquerably optimistic spirit that seemed to pervade the slums was uncharacteristic of the general defeatist mentality found in Nairobi. It was refreshing, but on the drive home that night I couldn’t help but feel guilty about the situation – all of the families would be returning to their one-room shacks surrounded by fetid sewage while I was heading back to my three-room concrete house with electricity, with more food than I really need.

Last weekend we held a talent show to support the Gatanga Community Library in my village – over 50 performers signed up for the show, which included comedy, dance, music, and rap acts. The area Member of Parliament showed up to give some words of encouragement to the 400+ community members who were also present. Everyone involved commented on the outstanding success of the event, especially those who left before the drunken brawl that prematurely ended the show. We managed to raise about 8,000 shillings for books and other educational materials, and to raise awareness about the library in the process.

I’ve also stepped up my efforts to make my house feel more like home – I adopted a chameleon I found on the road (his name is Jomo) and I also had a local metal fundi (expert) make a metal planter for my front porch, which I loaded with vines to populate the metal trellis out front. I already feel much better about it, and I find myself looking forward to coming home at the end of the day to see how my plants are doing and whether Jomo has learned how to turn himself yellow yet.

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