Saturday, September 25, 2010

Making Pineapples into Pineapple-ade

As you have read, since coming to the baby home, I have become involved in the ongoing issue that is hydrocephalus in Mwanza. It is something that has touched my heart and left me asking, “Why?” on so many occasions. Again, such a simple procedure that can save a baby’s life is being held off because of money.

This is something that I feel I need to clarify based on some responses I have received regarding my previous blog entry about hydrocephalus. As you may recall, I wrote that the women in the hydrocephalus ward are “literally just waiting for us to help.” Some might interpret this as meaning that these mothers are “lazy,” unwilling to work for themselves, their children, or their future, and would instead rather wait for mzungus to come and “save” them and their children. This is neither the case nor what I was trying to convey.

In America, when one discovers she is pregnant, there are a series of tests and scans to determine anything and everything about the unborn child. Our technology is so advanced that we can even tell if the child has his father’s nose (3-D ultrasound) or his mother’s lips. In Tanzania however, a woman finds out she is pregnant and then hopes she and the child survive. My point is, parents would be completely unaware, before the birth of the child, if the baby has hydrocephalus or not.

Now, imagine you are this pregnant woman. You start to feel contractions so you gather about a week’s worth of food for your two young children whom you are leaving at home alone while you have the baby. You now make the five hour journey by foot on uneven, dirt roads to the nearest hospital (keep in mind this walk is being done while you are having unbearable contractions). You reach the hospital and have the baby without any labor-related complications besides the beatings you received by the doctors and nurses for making noise while pushing (true story- women must be silent during child birth or they are beaten).

A few days after giving birth, you begin to notice the size of your child’s head growing rather large and altogether too quickly. Your baby is diagnosed with hydrocephalus. You and your baby are now moved upstairs to the hydrocephalus ward where you discover you will be spending the next undetermined amount of time in a small room with thirty other women and thirty other babies.

The reality of the situation is that your child has been born with hydrocephalus and is slowly going to die because you cannot pay the $250 for the surgery. You also realize that your two small children at home are also probably going to die because you are not allowed to leave the hospital or this new baby.

I stand corrected: The women in the hydrocephalus ward are NOT “waiting for mzungus” to come and help them. They do NOT expect that anyone is going to come and help them pay for their baby’s surgery. They have simply been given a sentence to carry out the next six months or so in the hospital because they have a baby with hydrocephalus. They have no way of knowing their baby was going to have hydrocephalus and even if they did, it would be impossible for them to save up enough money in even three years time to pay for their surgery. They simply do not make that much money here. It would be like a mother in America having a baby that needed a million dollars worth of medical treatment. If this mother could not afford the million dollars (and insurance didn’t exist of course), she had to wait in the hospital until the child died.

Again, these women did not expect Amy to come and help them, but it just so happened that Amy found out about this situation and wanted to help.
Now that that’s settled...
Cacey, Emma, and I went back to the hospital to take more pictures for the women and children there. Guess what? Because Amy put the photos on the baby home website and asked for donations for the surgeries, we got all 27 babies their surgeries!!!! There were only a few babies that we recognized from the last time. They had all gone home. To us, it was $250. To them, it was a miracle.

Unfortunately, there are now 38 babies and their mothers in the hydrocephalus room. This is less than a month later. Like I said before, hydrocephalus is an ongoing issue in Mwanza. There are always going to be more and more babies with the disease until someone comes and does research and then educates the people on prevention (if possible).

Knowing that this problem is bigger than we are, Emma, Cacey, and I decided to make it our mission to bring just a tiny bit of joy into these women’s lives by taking and bringing them pictures of themselves and their babies. We also brought them each two cloth diapers and two towels. The excitement we caused in the hospital that day is hard to explain in words. The women were elated. It was a child-like, Christmas morning type of excitement. They were proudly showing their gifts and sharing their pictures with one another, giggling as they bounced about the room. Although we were doing something so small, it was nice to be able to do something to break up their solitude and sorrow that will last for weeks to come.

Just putting it out there one more time: If you or anyone you know (organization or personal contact) would like to sponsor one, a few, or ongoing hydrocephalus surgeries, please, please, please let me know.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Is Aid Killing Africa?

This is a controversial topic that was brought to my attention during my time at Ol Malo and I want to bring it up to see what you all think.

There is a rumor going around that different types of humanitarian aid are doing more damage to countries in Africa than they are actually helping. This is not a new idea, but it was brought to attention at an international level with the release of a book called "Dead Aid" written by an African economist Dambisa Moyo. Her opinion has indeed ruffled a few feathers on the political level and economic level (NGO's, etc.) and raises an important question for people who provide different types of donations to third world countries.

I would like to preface this blog by saying I am not an economist, and I know very little about the structure within African governments that controls the distribution of aid, but I want to share what I've learned from seeing it first hand at Ol Malo with the Samburu tribe and talking with people who were born and grew up here.

Basically, foreign aid is an unstable phenomenon in Africa. People usually give in spurts; during times of drought or the recognition of extreme hunger and poverty. Everyone in the western world believes that giving giving giving as much money or clothes or to funds that send food is the best possible way to support these suffering people. The reality is that for individual groups of people in Africa, the aid is fleeting. The governments receive the aid and either tax it before distributing it to the different groups, or they distribute in large amounts at the wrong time! The result is, for example, a village who has become dependent on rice/grains, and when the money stops flowing (like when there's an economic crisis!) the grains stop coming and they are left with no skills to help them make money and get more food. There is a well known adage that explains this concept: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

This is a very simple truth that when you look at aid in Africa seems to apply in a startlingly sound way. The corrupt governments in place here seem to live off of the idea that Africa needs pitying. This has crippled their industrious spirits and allowed room for complacency. Of course this isn't true in every case of foreign aid, and there are millions who have been saved by medical aid, clean water, etc. but even things like this have killed more than they have helped.

A few real examples:
There was an organization that donated thousands of pounds of corn meal to a Massai village in northern Kenya. The Massai's entire way of life is based on the condition and number of cattle they maintain, and they do not typically rely on grains to survive. They eat a diet that consists mainly of meat and blood which is obvious due to their cash crops of cows. In 2009 there was a horrible drought and the people in this particular area began to eat the grains and not their cattle because this cattle was a symbol of status and they wanted to do everything they could to keep up their high numbers. What happens as a result is that the high number of cows eat the depleting amount of grass because there has been no water. The cows end up dying anyway because they have no more land to graze and the Massai end up going hungry. What should have happened was they selectively kill their cattle which in turn eat less grass and when the drought ends, there is not a lot of cattle, but there is enough to sustain the smaller herd. Very basically, you can see how in this situation aid wasn't the right answer for these people. They needed someone to teach them about sustainable grazing rotation, etc. The fact is, had the aid not been there the people would have just eaten the cows as usual and been more careful about the impact the herd had on the grazing lands instead of being preoccupied with the status of many cows.

The Samburu tribe who live near Ol Malo have also come across a problem with this same type of food-aid. They receive a type of aid that they don't actually consume as food. The Samburu eat a similar diet to the Massai which is meat, milk, blood. They receive this grain and end up getting bored and brewing it into a type of alcohol. Now, they're diet consists of meat, milk, blood, and alcohol. You can imagine the types of problems which stem from this: alcoholism, violence, death, etc. It sounds grim and maybe a little far fetched since everyone thinks all aid has to be good, but it isn't!

The fact is that when some of these organizations (who do mean well) come in to "save these poor people" who seemingly live this 3rd world lifestyle they aren't examining what might actually help them in the LONG TERM. A very simple way of looking at this is that if you give a young girl who normally wears a kikoy and beads (and nothing else) a dress from the U.S. and she wears this dress everyday and tears it all up on the acacia trees because its made of a different material, or it gets worn by the process in which they wash their clothes, or faded by the sun on the equator because she's outside all day long-then of course this girl is going to look horribly disheveled. In reality she doesn't NEED the dress, or shoes, or shampoo, or whatever else westerners think she needs because culturally it was never needed. She is also happier wearing her traditional kikoy and beads because she feels more comfortable in them.

Over the past few weeks it is clear to me that certain types of aid for certain types of people is completely unnecessary because their culture just doesn't call for it. You and I might think that giving money for someone to have certain types of food or clothes is a great thing because we can't imagine living without those things but they just don't need them! It causes more problems than it solves.

I am not saying that all types of aid are bad, nor that anyone should stop wanting to give or find ways to better the quality of life for others around the world. All I am suggesting is that people need to be more aware of what their money is really going toward. It might help to actually research some of these places that are legitimately helping in the long term, and aren't just a temporary fix for a larger ongoing problem. I can suggest you pick up the book Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo just as a starting point to understanding the different types of aid. I don't think her solutions outlined in the book are necessarily correct, but I definitely got a different perspective about aid in general by listening to her talk about the book itself. You can also look up "Aid is Killing Africa" on YouTube and it comes up with some videos of this author talking about aid in Africa.

There are many people in Kenya who believe certain types of help are completely useless, and it has been interesting for me (as someone who's here mainly to VOLUNTEER) to talk with them about what I am doing here and why it may or may not be the best thing. There are many churches, for example, who are set up to help "save" people and then they leave about two years later a small town built around an abandoned church that houses thieves, prostitutes, and no more resources. Again, I don't want anyone to think I am suggesting that their donations aren't legitimate, but you all need to be thinking about how to help others in a way that is going to build on their skills and create opportunities for them, not just allow them to rely on foreign assistance that may or may not come in the future.

*You can also check out I know my immediate family knows about this but it's a website you can go to and you basically loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs in developing countries for them to buy, say, a cow or something small to get their milk-selling-business up and running. So you "loan" this $50 to a man in South America and he gets this cow and starts his business and makes money, and pays the loan back to you. Kiva sends you a message that says, "You have KIVA credit..would you like to donate the money to someone else? Would you like to cash out and get your money? Or Would you like to make that $50 a donation that the man in SA can just keep? It is an awesome system, and it's a great example of the right type of aid. Having hospital floors tiled is another good one...

Sorry this blog isn't so "exciting" but it's been on my mind an incredible amount. Kenya is a country full of creative minds and it's horrible when the guy who makes and sells me my sandals at the coast goes out of business because Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt just sent a truck load of FREE sandals to Watamu and now no one will buy them from this guy because there's free sandals everywhere. He's now going to take his extra corn meal and brew a batch of bubbly to drowned his unemployed sorrows.

Okay maybe that's a bit much but seriously guys, just think about it.

New Slogan: "Ol Malo: Making Travel Insurance Compulsory"

Animal Sightings, Scary Walks, and Close Encounters

**I decided that since Europeans and most Africans take baths and not showers there exists a very simple way to tell how good/exciting your life is by examining the color of the bathwater! So, at the end of a bath you can tell if you've had a good day at Ol Malo by just how muddy the water is when you get out. :) I have tried to rate each of the following experiences by the color my water would have been after the day's events.

One night after dinner Chyulu and I started to make the 1/4 mile trek from the Guest House back to her place/my tent in the darkness with our flashlights. We had just finished telling the guests the story of Andrew running into a lion on the path back home one night and I was as a direct result not particularly excited about this walk. Chyulu said she didn't like walking at night without Andrew (he was away at the coast) and she stopped to pick up a rock. I laughed nervously, stuffed my belongings into my pockets to free my hands and picked up two of the largest rocks I could throw. We continued walking and about halfway we heard a very loud roar. She stopped and said, "oh, that's a lion." I thought, "no kidding!" and my next move was to turn around, but she said we needed to get home. I walked as quickly as I could to keep up and we decided to sing loudly and clap the rocks together to let the lion know we were very large and scary things not to be messed with. I was just hoping hoping hoping we didn't run into anything because even a small dik dik would have made me pee my pants. We made it home safe, but the next morning were horrified by the site of a large oryx carcus left by lions about 15 yards away from the path we were on. These things were so close, and we didn't even know it because of the cover of night. Bath water: fairly cloudy!

I was left at Ol Malo for one day and a half to run everything while the Francombe's went to a family gathering in Nairobi and I had to walk home to my tent from the Lodge in the dark...alone. My flashlight decided after about a minute into my walk that the battery was too low to go on and I was left in the dark trying to find my way. I thought all my good luck had finally run out I decided that I would need to just take a deep breath, let my eyes adjust for a minute and keep walking. Since there were hyena in the area I started singing "We all live in a Yellow Submarine" over and over marching along making big loud steps to let anything know that I was coming. I'm pretty sure anyone in Laikipia could have heard my horrible singing because I was shouting the words as loud as I possibly could. My heart started beating really quickly and I gave my flashlight a smack against a tree for being so stubborn. The battery must have just popped back into place or something because it came on and I pointed it forward to try and find the path again. All I could see were big yellow-green eyes. Six of them. I gasped and froze, trying to see if the eyes were big enough to belong to a cat. They were just to the right of the path, so I knelt down and picked up some large rocks to throw. My plan was to throw, scatter the eyes, yell and scream, and then run. This was the best plan I could muster and I tightened my head-torch and began throwing as hard as possible. I don't know what the animals were, but the combination of my fear of the lonely night walk and my previous experiences at Ol Malo made me certain they could have swallowed me whole. It might have just been a few jack rabbits but I was at my tent in such a short time it would have given any African short distance sprinter a good race. I laughed out loud at how scared I was and put the dogs to bed, fed the owls, and brushed my teeth without any concerns. Bath water: somewhat cloudy.

The longest night in Africa: I went to bed in the second week exhausted as usual and really looking forward to a good sleep. It had started raining and I was wondering how well my tent would keep me dry that night. I wrote down the day's events in my journal quickly and must have fallen asleep straight away. About two hours after I had gone to bed, around 11:45ish, I heard something walking around my tent. I thought it was the wind or just general night noises but then I got a sense that it was an animal milling about and it sounded larger than the average curious night creature. At one point I noticed there were several of them, and they were sniffing about. I tried desperately to go back to sleep and convinced myself it was just dik dik or the resident black-tailed mongoose on the hunt with a friend. About an hour later I woke up to a cold nose in my face (my cot was at the edge of the tent the mesh netting started right about bed-level). The nose sniffed twice hard and I immediately froze. It moved slowly along the edge of my tent and collapsed at the front of it, bending my tent in slightly. It was a small group of hyena! If anyone has seen the t.v. specials on hyena, they are disgusting creatures (they are actually quite amazing but I was upset at them for messing with my sleep). They are dirty, smelly, and efficient animals. They can bite clean through bone and my sturdy tent seemed more like a barrier made of paper when I realized they were sniffing at ME and basically had me surrounded. I could hear them going into my "bathroom" and running into the large drums of water for my shower, and just HANGING OUT. I realized they were getting shelter from the rain under the tarpola of my tent but I didn't sleep one bit. I was awake the whole night making a plan if one of them tried to get in and tried to gage how long it would take Andrew to get down here with his gun if I screamed. I coudn't remember from discussion if a hyena would get scared and run away or if they would get scared and attack. This lapse in my memory and concentration made the night very frustrating. I can honestly say that since I was alone with my thoughts and so scared about my bed making that loud squeaking sound similar to a wart-hog that I was absolutely terrified. The beasts moved on around 4am and I have never been so happy to see the sun rise. Chyulu and Andrew laughed at me since the hyena would have most definitely run away had I made any kind of loud noise, and Andrew had fun teasing me and insisting that it was probably only a lone hyrax (small rodent-like mammal) keeping me awake. Bath water: significantly muddy.

One day in the car on our way to a Samburu Manyatta (homestead)we spotted three cheetah about 100 yards away. There was a mamma teaching her two young teenagers how to crouch and then sprint. We watched them sprint off and it was so amazing! Bath water: still pretty clear

I rode horses down to the river with Andrew, Chyulu and their friend Toby who was visiting. I am not very experienced on horses so I always think it's very exciting to ride. My horse was terribly disobedient and loved running through thick acacia trees covered in thorns and this particular ride I had to dig out about 12 thorns from my limbs afterward. The exciting bit of the ride started when my horse decided to gallop downhill and my saddle came undone. My feet came out of the stirrups and I knew I was going to get hurt before the day was done. I luckily hung on and finally got my horse to stop and Andrew and Chyulu stopped to help me get sorted out. Andrew was standing next to me when Toby's horse stuck his nose in Chyulu's horses bum. The horse freaked out and gave two great kicks. The second one was harder than the first and hit Andrew square in the shin. The noise that comes from a snapping bone I can tell you is enough to make you lose your breakfast. Luckily for me we hadn't eaten yet and we all scrambled to get off our horses and help Andrew. He is the toughest Kenya Cowboy there is, and we had to talk him out of continuing on horseback down to the river and waited for a car to come intercept him. [He is "fine" now and still insists that his leg isn't broken too badly at all. He limped about for only a few days and then announced he wouldn't limp anymore despite the pain because he didn't like the look of a man limping.] I rode on with Toby and Chyulu the rest of the way and a few hills from the river site we stopped because there were lion on the opposite hill. My horse figured out what we were discussing very quickly and decided to run the rest of the way since he already knew the path and wasn't too fond of lion. I lost the reigns after one of many sharp turns and had to hold onto the mane-hair for dear life. Once again I had accepted defeat when we arrived at the site and my horse stopped. I got down in the most ungraceful fashion and nearly collapsed on the ground. Samuel worked at the stables and was waiting for us and was pleasantly surprised by my early arrival. He could tell I had been over a few bumps and kindly squished his face at me to acknowledge my obvious discomfort, but laughed as I walked away without my usual smile. I thanked Chyulu and Toby for offering a leisurely horse-ride back after lunch and chose instead to sit in the big, predictable, diesel-fueled car with the guests and the guide with the gun. I thought I made the right decision and ended up seeing a pack of wild dogs, or African Painted Dog about 23 strong (one of the most rare animals in the world and the hardest thing to see in Africa) as they ran into two lion! We got about six feet away from a large female lioness as she sat on her kill also. It was the coolest ride back from the river ever! I was thankful for the traumatic horse ride because I wouldn't have chosen to sit in the car that evening on the way back! Bath Water: You'd lose the baby for sure.

Another day Chyulu and I took a young girl to Baboon Rock on horseback where she was to meet her family (they chose to walk). This was actually the first time I had trotted, and then cantered on a horse. It was very amusing to my two companions who are both very experienced on horses and loved watching me bounce uncontrollably and generally having a hard time holding on. Chyulu and I were to take the horses back quickly because the sun was going down and we didn't want to be stuck on horses in the dark. We had gotten pretty far and I thought I was used to the cantering when Chyulu said, "okay, if you're comfortable we will canter up to the top of this last hill to the planes and then canter back to the stables because we need to hurry." She gave me a few pointers and said "just hold on!" We started up the hill in the dim light and were galloping before I knew it. About 3/4 the way up Chyulu's horse slammed on its breaks and reared nearly throwing her off. My horse quickly stopped and luckily I was concentrating because he reared and Chyulu started yelling at me to turn around and go back down the hill...quickly. I looked ahead and about 45 feet up the road were two large elephants with ears raised and trunks swinging and shouting charging at us! I just thought, "oh goodness this was on the list of the worst possible things that could happen on a horse out here!" and then she reminded me outloud that it was THE WORST and I turned my horse and he knew how quickly I wanted to go back down. I knew I couldn't fall off. When we got far enough away we turned to look and the elephants had stopped and were on alert just looking downhill toward us. We noticed then that they had a calf with them and Chyulu said she didn't think they would come any further but that we needed to watch for the rest of the herd who would most likely sneak up on us in the dark. After rounding up the stray horse with no rider and creeping slowly up the hill we made it to the top without incident in about 35 minutes. It was very dark by this point, and the horses were spooked by every little movement in the bush on the way back. They knew it was past the time they were supposed to be out and we were all pretty tense for the rest of the ride. Chyulu exclaimed when we got back that it was the most exciting ride she's had here in years, and I was so happy to be alive I found myself giggling annoyingly for the rest of the night. I was definitely high on adrenaline, but thought how I will enjoy telling my kids someday how their mom is the coolest lady ever for having run from a charging elephant in Africa and live to tell the tale. I have never felt more alive. The closest experience I have that compares to the feeling afterward is from when I went either skydiving or bungee-jumping, and now putting all three of those things together my life seems more adventurous than ever! Bath water: Get out a shovel and the Draino.

Some other fun occurrences include:

Meeting the pet Kudu at Ol Malo for the first time (a kudu is about the size of a small pony and looks a lot like a very large deer), her name is Tendala which means "kudu" in Swahili and she crept up from behind me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. To my surprise, this HUGE animal had been curious about me and decided to say hello. I was sitting on the edge of the cliff at the Lodge and nearly fell off I was so startled.
Feeding the owls...these owls are so sweet and I will try to get pictures up but it was my job to catch mice, crush their skulls, cut them up, and feed them in pieces to the owls. It was a horrible job and the first time I didn't feel well after, but cutting up animals was something I unfortunately became accustomed to at Ol Malo. The owls are so big and beautiful and I loved petting them and greeting them everyday.
Seeing lion was always exciting, and it made walking to my tent at night interesting. I saw two lion very close up, and others from cars and on horseback. They are so beautiful, and more curious about humans than anything else.
Seeing the Wild Dog was incredible. Everyone gets excited because its such a rare occurrence, and I didn't have my camera on me when we saw them but they look like a cross between a dog and a fox, about the size of a coyote, deep black in color and every single one has a different pattern on its fur in either white or deep red. They are beautiful and very elusive animals. They are the most efficient hunters in Africa.
I was also lucky enough to see a large porcupine one night steeling dog food, scorpions, spiders the size of tennis balls, jenet cats, mongoose, impala, gazelle, elind, giraffe, zebra, and more! The cool thing is that I saw these things while either walking, riding horses, riding camels, or driving which is very cool and exciting.
I was also made to test an solar powered electric horse fence (yes it was definitely working and yes I was concerned about my heart murmur but when they tell you "no dinner unless..." I have to say I was always the "dummy").
I was made to run up Baboon Rock to deliver twelve cold Tuskers to a group of guests who were having sun-downers on top of the rock and in my sandals I slipped going up the steep face of it. I landed on my tail bone and immediately didn't care who needed beer. Ouch. I was sore but became a hero for delivering the beer with record speed (meaning it was still cold when I got to the top).
I caught a catfish with my bare hands from the river with Dixon-he said that since I did it without a hook and lure I am now truly a fisherman. :)
Went for a walk with a large group and Hussein, our guide, said that if they saw us started to charge we needed to strip off our bright clothes and run up the hill following him. There were some guests who didn't get the "no bright colors on nature walks" memo and Hussein at one point turned and said quietly but with gumption, "Take off the clothes and please go quickly with me." Like usual, I laughed after everyone was safe at all the things I would never hear in California.

As you can tell my time at Ol Malo was very adventurous and exciting. There are so many more gross and gory stories I have written down but these are some of the more interesting ones. If you want to know about scraping spider eggs out from under toes or drinking goats blood I can share them with you per request but thought they'd be too much for some people. I think I am now twenty five times more brave (times one for every day I spent at Ol Malo) and am going to have a hard time looking for adventure and trouble as exciting as I have experienced so far in Kenya. Had I been taking baths and not showers, I would say there was enough mud in my water at the end of each day to cloud a lifetime of bathing sessions. :)

With more to come and much love,

Now You're Speaking my Language

This is an account of all the tasks and things I was in charge of doing at Ol Malo. The range is fairly large and I loved/appreciated doing all of it to prove I was a hard worker and earn my keep.

I must first introduce you to a woman named Wenjiku. She is a very hard working woman who runs the House at Ol Malo. This means that at any given time she is responsible for making sure up to 20 people are well fed and have absolutely everything they might possibly need (and trust me, these guests pay a lot to ask for the most outlandish things you've ever heard of and she makes it all happen). I worked a lot of the time with her at the House and got to know her well. She is single (which is unusual for her mature age) and in charge which makes it extremely difficult for her since men don't respect women in authority positions and many of the other workers are male. She is probably the hardest working woman I have ever met aside from my own mother and I came to admire her very much for her ability to do whatever Andrew and Chyulu asked with such grace and determination. I spent a lot of my time working at the House with her and learned all my odd jobs through her instruction.

Everyone who knows me knows I am capable of massive amounts of cleaning at once and that I am very thorough. Ol Malo is constantly kept in top condition and everything is cleaned and dusted everyday which makes for a huge task since there are six large rooms with at least two beds each in the House. I scrubbed floors some days, took everything off shelves to dust, cleaned the bathrooms, swept hallways, you name it! The rooms are so much more beautiful than the pictures online can capture, and I was caught frequently sitting in empty bathtubs just admiring the view and scolded for it. :) I worked twice as fast as anyone else so I figured taking short breaks to look at the workmanship of the high ceilings or lose myself in Samburu artwork in the corridors was okay! I washed dishes in the kitchen and got used to the Kikuyu music playing on the radio. My favorite thing was to get the more serious guys in the kitchen to dance with me as we washed and dried and put away hundreds of dishes and everyone would laugh at the crazy Mzungu trying to dance like they did. If nothing else I think they appreciated my attempt at making what they came to call "deesh-time" more fun.

Give me four days, two large very chaotic pantries, and free reign and I will work a miracle. Chyulu gave me permission to clean and organize the food stores. Oh it was such fun! Most people (actually I think everyone else) would think I'm crazy, but I really enjoy organizing pantries, cupboards, etc. I had so much fun re-labeling food shelves and cleaning out containers people started to watch as though I were putting on a show. I think the main reason the kitchen staff in both the Lodge and the House liked me so much was because I made their job of finding butter beans and saltanas so much easier. I made an inventory system for them as well to keep track of how many of each item they had left, and established pars for each item so they knew when they needed to order more. I felt so much better afterward and we celebrated with cups of Kenya tea and a newly discovered bag of dried apricots.

I put together a recipe book for Wenjiku and taught Dixon, George, and Kazungu (the kitchen boys) how to make all my favorite things. We had fun serving this food to the guests and looking through the windows at their reactions to this food since the staff have very different tastes to most Westerners and thought my food was rather gross. Most guests approved though and I picked the most simple recipes to share so the kitchen liked how easy it was to prepare. The recipe book was a gift to Wenjiku when I left and she said that all the recipes in it were to be named after me. On the last day we had "Kezi's Bean Salad," "Kezi's Quiche," "Kezi's Fried Rice," "Kezi's Bloody Mary" and "Kezi's BBQ shrimp." I felt really guilty for inadvertently taking credit for these things that weren't my creations but thought it was a sweet gesture.

I was usually scared before spending time with guests I had just met. The people who stay at Ol Malo are all very well off, very well traveled, educated, influential, and generally way more interesting than I will ever be. These people are difficult to talk to, but I found myself having amazing conversation with them and enjoying serving them their drinks and making sure all was as it should be. I have come up with a list of these interesting characters, some very cool and some not cool at all:

A family from SANTA BARBARA! I was amazed at meeting this family on my second day at Ol Malo. The young girl actually applied for a job at Santa Barbara Roasting Company and I recognized her immediately. Taken so far out of context, I only knew she looked familiar and she looked at me the same. I was astonished that I had actually done a phone interview with her and we had mutual friends in SB. It gets even more weird...her mom is best friends with Mark Gustafson's mom! Mark is the guy who visited Guy who was with him to pick me up at the airport when I first arrived in Nairobi! She was talking about the son of this friend of hers who was visiting a schoolmate from S.B.and I said, "Are you kidding? Is his name Mark Gustafson?! I spent 8 days in Nairobi with him! I went to Vegas with him! I am his friend!" Oh wow, I couldn't believe that here I was in the middle of nowhere in Kenya and here are these people from Santa Barbara. What. A. Small. World.

Along the same lines...a politician and his family from Newport Beach who are originally from SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA. They lived off of Hwy 227 in SLO and actually knew where my house was. They had family who graduated from AG High. No way. The dad was taking a last vacation before returning to California to run for public office. He was very nice and I would vote for him. :) All his children either graduated from Harvard, Stanford, or Duke University, so they were educated and interesting people to talk with.

Dr. Green from E.R. My mom would appreciate this reference because most people know this man as Goose from Top Gun, but I knew him as Dr. Green because we watched E.R. after dinner sometimes at home when I was younger. He is a very nice man, has a very down-to-earth family.

The man who invented the Mac Book: He is very nerdy, somewhat socially awkward, but a very nice guy. His family included a spoiled six year old named David who was the worse-behaved child I have ever seen. No one else in the family even heard David once he started whining and I thought they must have all developed a high selective hearing condition because this type of whining was impossible to ignore. After getting to know the dad I asked him why MacBooks don't have a USB port or CD drive and he laughed and said it was "all part of a larger plan" ...ya, to make money I teased. He responded with an all too well rehearsed "Can you wait for the second version?"

Future Duke of Yorkshire. He was part of a bigger group traveling with Andrew's family, and after about two stiff drinks this rather scrawny and pale English boy named Edward or "Eddie" divulged that he "rather fancied [me]." He actually stole a guide's machete, ripped off his shirt and asked me, "Would you kiss me if I told you I tamed lions?" When I bit my lip and swallowed my laughter he quickly removed his glasses and asked, "how about now?" I was rolling after that, along with everyone else, and it's one of my fondest memories of any car ride at Ol Malo. I did get out of the car, bow in his presence and kiss his hand just to be fair. That's probably the closest thing to royalty I am going to get without my sister being around. :)

There were also some authors, doctors, businessmen, a rich spanish guy we all called "oil tycoon," a few fun newlyweds, adorable babies I got to take care of for a few hours here and there, a guy who worked with Obama and had a bunch of pics on his camera of funny things in the White House (like dancing on tables and licking statues!), and then just some small families vacationing in Africa looking for some adventure. I really got along with most the guests and insisted on hugging them all when they left. It is amazing how close you can get to people just by serving them their tea or swimming with their kids in the river during the course of only a few days.

I loved all my odd jobs at Ol Malo, and for every privilege I was awarded there was a lot of hard work to be done. I don't think I have ever been so fit and tan in my life after spending so much time in the hot sun doing so many different things. I am now known as one of the hardest working crazy Americans in Kenya which isn't a hard title to earn since there aren't many of us here. :)

More to come...

Love, Cacey

Friday, September 10, 2010

Arriving at Ol Malo

Hello everyone!

I am so sorry it has taken me so long to get these blog posts up, I have been away from the internet and it has been so lovely! :)

I want to start by acknowledging the huge difference in the subject matter of my posts in comparison to Ciara's posts. We are both experiencing different sides of Africa and are obviously both incredibly moved by them. I want to send Ciara my love for being so brave and strong for those babies. I can't wait to see her and help do what she's been doing for the past few months. Her spirit is absolutely incredible to me!

On the 8th of August I got on a plane from Wilson Airport and flew to Naynuki to meet a family friend of Guy's named Chyulu Smith. She rides horses for Kenya and was competing in a horse show there and is the fiance of Andrew Francombe whose parents own and operate Ol Malo. I was to find my way to the sports arena and drive up to Ol Malo with Chyulu after the competition.

I got off the eight-seater plane and my plan was to grab a taxi and ask where the sports arena was and wander around until I found Chyulu (who I'd only met once). As soon as I got off the plane and grabbed my bag from underneath a man came up to me and said, "Are you Kezi?" Close enough! I decided I was and asked him how he knew I would be here. :) He replied that blonde horse girl asked him to come pick me up and I decided in Africa this was the closest thing to a safe bet I was going to get and hopped into his taxi and prayed he would take me to the right place. Don't worry, he did! He also offered to take me climbing up Mt. Kenya someday because his second job is a guide for climbers, so I got his information and wandered around the sports arena looking for Chyulu. I found her quickly and decided to relax and enjoy the sunny weather since I'd been stuck in freezing Nairobi for weeks. After she was done we loaded up the horses, packed all the stuff away and headed down the road toward Ol Malo. After about five hours on a washed out dirt road, I thought I had a mild concussion from all the bouncing, but we had made it. The drive for the most part was absolutely beautiful and I was so excited to be getting farther and farther away from towns and cities; this was The Bush.

In the dark I could tell we were in the middle of nowhere and Chyulu and Andrew's newly built house didn't have electricity so I couldn't wait to find my bed and wake up to this place everyone revered so much. It took me a few minutes to find my tent in the dark, and I remember running into a large steel drum at one point and running into what seemed to be small structures built with sticks and grass. I slept soundly despite all the far away animal noises and woke up to a man "knocking" on my tent to serve me hot tea around 7am. Wow!

I spent the first four hours there learning how to clean horse tacking and it was a messy job! I hadn't seen much of the grounds yet, but it was green as far as I could see. From the horse stables I recognized both the Lodge (the original building where Rocky and Collin Francombe host guests) and the House (built four years ago, where Andrew and Chyulu host guests), each right up on the edge of the plateau overlooking the whole of Laikipia. After earning a professional degree in horse tacking-cleaning we headed down to the river to share lunch with some guests.

On the way down I saw both types of zebra they have at Ol Malo, giraffe, their camel herd, Impala, and elephant! The lunch site was the most beautiful picnic you've ever seen looking upstream on the Ewasso River right next to some rapids on a clean patch of sandy beach underneath a massive fig tree. I was in love already. We set up safari chairs, small oak wood tables, a small bar area, and a table full of fresh salads, quiches, fruit, and cheese for lunch with the guests. We had towels for everyone, intertubes for going down the rapids, a rugby ball, and lounging areas. I would get used to setting up this site many times but I was always amazed at how civilized and and luxurious a lunch in the middle of nowhere could be. We had a great lunch and the river was cool and refreshing, and after the guests left Andrew suggested I stay behind and help pack everything up.

This is where the hard work began, and it was a welcomed task having spent so much time with people not letting me lift a finger or clean up after myself at all. The hot sun factored into the speed of our work, but after about an hour the three guys from the house and I had everything loaded up onto camels and we started walking towards where the car had been hidden. It is about a fifteen minute walk uphill from the lunch site to the car and carrying baskets full of wet towels and jugs of water wasn't easy. I was happy to see the car, and we unloaded the camels and started loading up the vehicle. This took another 20 minutes and we loaded into the back of the truck right as the sun was setting. On the drive up we looked for game, discussed where my ancestors came from and they tried to teach me some Swahili and Samburu. The latter is the language the local tribe near Ol Malo speak, and it is very different from Swahili. I would come to know all the kitchen guys and drivers very well, and we were friends quickly.

Upon arriving at the Lodge I was instructed in broken English to go back to Andrew and Chyulu's house because I smelled bad. I giggled at their honesty and headed toward where I thought was Andrew and Chyulu's house. :) Well about 30 minutes later (literally on the correct trail it takes five minutes to walk to their house from the Lodge) I arrived in the dark to their house sans flashlight or torch of any kind, with a huge gash in my left leg with a thorn stuck inside it about 3/4 an inch.

I literally ran straight into Muriuki, the man who served me tea that morning, and he told me my shower was ready. I didn't know quite how that worked since a shower is ALWAYS "ready" and was pleasantly surprised by the accommodations. My shower was basically a tin bucket with a fawcet head coming out of the bottom, with water heated by a small fire from underneath the steel drum I ran into the night before. The water is hoisted up by a rope thrown over the branch of a tree and a flat rock is placed underneath for you to stand on. So clever! The shower area itself is enclosed by large branches and filled in with grass. It is surprisingly private and works very well! I had a hot shower under the stars and thanked God for allowing me to be in such an extraordinary place. Then I remembered I had a gash on my leg and quickly went back to my tent to sort things out. I brought my first aid kit and decided it would be more fun to use the gloves and sterilize the tweezers to get out the acacia thorn. I thought I was being so brave and rugged sitting in my tent performing small surgery on myself, but the reality is I might have only gotten on stitch at any hospital and any African would have just pulled it straight out, dusted off the dirt and slapped the leg and said "I'm fine." Well I'm from California and I thought I was being brave. :) I butterflied the thing and got dressed for dinner and didn't mention my adventurous hike to anyone.

Dinner is a always a four course meal beginning with cocktails and ending with fresh ginger or mint tea. I served drinks in the beginning and helped host during the meal and took wake-up tea/coffee orders for the following morning. Every meal goes down relatively the same in each of the different breakfast/dinner/lunch settings and I learned quickly the order of business and my role and hostess with an eager enthusiasm.

The first day, although I didn't know it at the time, was a very typical day at Ol Malo: wake up early, have tea, organize the guest's day, go to the House and help prepare either breakfast or lunch, go down to the river and set up lunch site, pack everything up, get back and shower, serve drinks before dinner, eat dinner, prepare for the next day, sleep like a rock. There was a certainty you'd run into some kind of danger or have an adventure of some kind. This guaranteed bit of excitement made every day different and so much fun. I could make a blog for every day in the near month that I stayed there, and am so thankful to have learned so much about the Samburu tribes, the people who lived and worked at Ol Malo, the animals, the land, and some interesting high-profile guests we spent so much time with. I am forever grateful to the Francombe's for allowing me to stay in that tent I came to appreciate so much and for feeding me and keeping me safe but on my toes. I feel like a different person having stayed there and seen so much, and I hope you enjoy reading about all the different facets of Ol Malo through my experience.

I will keep blogging as fast as I can, because I leave for Mwanza in three days! I can't wait to see Ciara. I miss everyone so much, and am looking forward to December when I can give my parents and brother long obnoxious hugs. :)

Love, Cace

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An Unexpected Find...a Baby!

Today was a great day! The other volunteers, some mamas, and I took ten of the big toddlers swimming! We crammed 17 of us in one car and headed out to the pool. It was so fun! At first, almost all of the kids were a little nervous about the water, but by the end, it was hard to get them out of the pool! The mamas had a great time too. (It might have been even harder to get them out of the pool than the kids)! We are going to try to make this a weekly activity from now on. The happiness it brought was simply spectacular.

After swimming, I was walking home from the baby home and I was thinking, "So many of the children at the baby home have been abandoned, found wondering on the streets, but after spending three months total here, I have never seen an abandoned child on the street." I am not making this up or exaggerating AT ALL, but literally about one minute later, I saw this little tiny person walking in the middle of the road, all by himself. As I got closer, I realized it was a baby (probably about 18 months old)! He looked so scared, wearing only a t-shirt (no diaper, pants, or shoes). He had this little whimper with tears streaming down his cheeks.

I looked around, wondering if maybe he belonged to someone close by. There was no one around. There were a few men working across the street who also saw the little boy. They looked at each other and then watched him walk by. I thought, "Is this REALLY happening? Did I really just think about finding an abandoned baby and then I actually found one?!"

I heard a car coming behind me, so I quickly ran to the baby. Cars here have no mercy for pedestrians. They will drive at you at 40 mph (on a dirt road) and then you have to jump out of the way. Even when you are walking on the side of the road, they get as close as they can to you. It's scary!

Anyways, so I scooped up the crying baby and went to the men and asked if he belonged to them. They just pointed up the road, towards the baby home. Hmm...were they telling me he was abandoned so I should take him to the baby home, or did they know where he lived? Then, I looked at the baby again.

I recognized him! There is a woman (who lives the equivalent of about 2 or 3 blocks away)who we go to to have clothes, purses, blankets, etc made. I've been there twice since I have been here and both times this little boy would come in with his mother. I think his mother is friends with the tailor. It didn't immediately register that it was him as I picked him up to avoid the crazy car coming at us, but as I started walking with him, I remembered who he was.

I walked him straight home. The especially crazy part was that when I brought him home, his family and the other people that live near and were hanging out outside the house just laughed and said, "Asante sana (thank you so much)", very calmly, as if this wasn't a big deal at all.

I said in my most astonished and enthusiastic voice, "I found him over by my house! He was all by himself! Alone. Walking and crying by himself!" They kind of laughed at me and said, "Asante," again.

Only in Africa. Only in Africa. Good thing I recognized him. What if someone else found him? He would have been taken to social welfare and then ended up in an orphanage and my good friends over at the tailor would have a missing child!

Ahhh! Watch your children people!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tanzanian Hospitals

(Continued from the previous blog entry)

To give you a better understanding of what the hospitals are like here in Mwanza, let me explain what I saw when I went to visit the kids with hydrocephalus in order to get a head count of how many kids need surgery. Proceed with caution.

Where do I even begin? The hydrocephalus patients (all babies) are all put into one room about the size of a living room. There are about three or four babies to one bed, not separated by anything at all. The mothers of these children are not allowed to leave the hospital or their children at any time, so they are also all cramped in this room. Where do they all sleep you ask? On the floor. Where do they shower? They don't. What do they eat? Only food that someone brings them (if they decide to do so).

Quick tangent: The hospital does not provide food or water to any of its patients at any time. That means that if you don't bring your own food or have someone bringing you food from outside the hospital, you starve...and many people do, literally, starve to death. Also, many children are abandoned in the hospital because their parents can't afford the medical bills. Who feeds those kids? No one. They die of starvation. Or what happens when a mother dies during childbirth (which is estimated by one of the mamas at the baby home to be about 1 in 10) and is therefore unable to feed her newborn? The baby dies. The only time this doesn't happen is when a nurse calls Amy and says, "There are a couple of starving babies here with no mothers, can you bring them some formula milk?" Amy brings milk every time they call, but unfortunately they don't call often enough. Will you ever complain about gross hospital food again?

Back to my story: So these thirty women and their sick, dying babies just sit in the hospital all day, everyday waiting. They are waiting for a surgeon to select them as the lucky free surgery of the week OR they are waiting for mzungus (white people) to come and pay for the surgery for them. In the mean time, they just wait. The babies are not receiving any type of medical care AT ALL. They are literally just hanging out in the hospital, waiting.

This is another thing that we, as Westerners, are completely blind to. We have no idea that there are people in countries like Tanzania literally just waiting for our help. They know that we have money and they don't, so they pray for us. They pray for us to come and save their babies' lives. Oh, and I also forgot to mention that many of these mothers (probably most) who are staying in the hospital with their babies also have children at home who they leave in order to be at the hospital. One woman came up to Amy and I at the hospital and asked for money and/or a job because she has this sick child with hydrocephalus, and a one-year-old who she has left home ALONE. A one-year-old left home alone for who knows how long - could be months! So not only will this baby with hydrocephalus likely die, but the mother will most likely go home to another dead baby!

And she's waiting for us!!! I know I didn't realize there were dozens of individuals waiting for me to save their lives in Tanzania while I was sipping my Starbucks and going about my day while I was at home. How could we know?

While in the hydrocephalus room, Amy and I took photos of the children and their mothers so we could put them on the website and in emails, in hopes of bringing awareness and donations for their surgeries. We also promised the women that we would give them copies of the pictures in a few days. (Amy should be posting these pictures on her website in a few days, so look out for them). Amy didn't have time to go back to the hospital to give out the pictures, so she sent me and Emma.

I have never seen anyone so happy to see a picture of themselves in my life.

For us, we see pictures of ourselves from birth. We grow up with video cameras, digital cameras, and now even web cameras. These women have literally never seen themselves on film, ever. When we handed out the photos, the women were screaming, hugging, and kissing us. They were SOOO happy. To think that something as small as a photo could bring joy (and so much joy) to a woman with a dying child. We decided we would do that for them every few weeks. Not only will it be nice for them to have photos of themselves, but they will also be able to see progress and change in their children after their surgeries. Sometimes it's the little things. :)

As we were leaving the hydrocephalus room, Emma and I went to talk to the nurses on the surgery ward about arranging surgeries for these babies. A woman told us that the head nurse was in a room down the hall and to the right. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to see.

(This is the proceed reading with caution section).

The room the nurse was in looked similar to a bathroom you would find at a campground; cement floors with a few drains in the middle of the room. There were two children in this room, both screaming and crying. Both of them were burned from head to toe. They no longer had black skin, but were instead a mixture of white, open flesh and red blood. All of their skin had been burned off. As if this scene wasn't horrific enough, the water was running and the nurse was scraping off the little bits of skin they had left on their little bodies with a pair of scissors and some cotton. The children's parents were holding them by their arms as this was done.

Both Emma and I stopped in our tracks, trying to hide our horrified expressions. Seeing us, the nurse stopped what she was doing and walked outside the room to talk to us. We kept telling her to go back inside (as we felt she was quite busy and had more important things to be doing!), but she insisted she walk us down the hall to discuss the number of hydrocephalus surgeries needed. Meanwhile, the children remained screaming with their skin hanging off their bodies. Please, please, please pray for them. They will probably not receive any pain medication, and if they survive, they will have a long, hard, and extremely painful recovery.

One more story (for now) about the hospital - this one disappointing rather than horrifying. There was one difference I noticed in the hospital since the last time I was here. The floors of the hallways have all been tiled (before there was only cement floors all throughout the hospital). One might think, "Huh, this is nice looking, a little shinier than before." Well, apparently, a university from America paid to have the floors tiled. They paid millions of dollars to have tiles brought here and installed. Let me just say that I do not know who in their right mind would come all the way to Mwanza, visit the hospital, see all of the horrible things you see there (dead babies sharing incubators with live babies, children with no skin, tumors the size of basketballs, AIDS, doctors who don't wash their hands between surgeries, reusing IV tubes, etc, etc)and think, "I know! What this place really needs are some shiny floors! I'm going to write a grant to get millions of dollars worth of tiles for this hospital in Africa!"

WHAT?!!! The cost of one surgery to save a baby's life is $250! With millions of dollars, you could save EVERY person in the whole hospital! Are you kidding me that you want to buy tile?! Tile?!!! What?!!!! I seriously cannot believe that story. Spend five minutes in that hospital and you will know they DON'T need tile. UGH! Utterly disgusting.

So that is what the hospitals are like here. And that isn't even half of it.

More soon...
Keep spreading the word.



I hope I'm not disturbing or depressing anyone with my updates. I have just really been affected by a lot of really difficult-to-talk-about (and/or see) issues lately and I think it's important for people to know what it's really like here. If it is upsetting you, please read the next section with caution.

There is a little girl at the baby home named Elizabeth. Elizabeth is about a year old and has had a very difficult life so far. Elizabeth was brought to Forever Angels after being abandoned in the hospital when her parents found out she had been born with hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is a condition in which the fluid that surrounds the brain does not drain properly. Because of this, the fluid continues to build up around the brain, expanding the size of the child's head. Elizabeth's head is about twice the size of a normal child's head (it looks almost as if she has a big ball growing in the top of her head. It's so large that she cannot support it on her own, and probably never will be able to.

To make matters worse, besides the physical size of her head being so large and uncomfortable, the fluid build-up also causes brain damage. Children with hydrocephalus often become blind and deaf, if they survive at all.

Apparently, hydrocephalus is common in Mwanza. No one knows exactly why, but Amy has a theory that it is caused by the high levels of mercury used in the mines in this region. The thing about hydrocephalus is, is that it is not only preventable (regulation of mercury perhaps), but it is also treatable if caught at its early stages. If caught early enough, the child will not become brain damaged at all. Want to know how easy it is to detect hydrocephalus in newborns? It is as simple as measuring the circumference of the infant's head at birth. If the head is too large, put a shunt in to drain the fluid. Simple as that.

Unfortunately, doctors and nurses here do not do this upon the birth of a child and instead wait until it is too late and the child's head is visibly abnormal.

Having Elizabeth at the baby home has really shed light on this issue in Mwanza. Currently, there are about thirty babies in the hospital waiting for shunt surgery to cure their hydrocephalus. Some of these babies are six months old and have been there since birth. The longer you wait to do the shunt operation, the more brain damaged the child becomes. The surgeons at the hospital do one surgery a week for free. When asked why they don't just do all these baby's surgeries at once and save all their lives and prevent brain damage, the surgeons said they don't like doing shunt surgeries because they are "boring." That's right. You read that correctly. They think that shunt surgery is boring. "But it's a quick, simple procedure that will save lives!"

"Yes, but it is boring."

The doctors won't do the procedure unless they are paid. Want to know how much the surgery costs? $250 (and it used to be $50!)! Two hundred and fifty dollars is what a lot of people pay for a pair of jeans or a nice dinner with friends back at home. Here, $250 could literally save a life and prevent major brain damage. Maddening.

Because of Elizabeth and her prior frequent visits to the hospital (she has had the shunt surgery), Amy became very involved in the children with hydrocephalus at the hospital. She is now trying to raise enough money for all 30 surgeries to be done. The problem is, however, that once these thirty surgeries are done, there will be 30 more babies born with hydrocephalus because it's an ongoing issue here. Because of this, Amy has given me and another volunteer the job of finding a continuous donor for these children. The last few days we've spent a lot of time looking up hydrocephalus organizations in the US and Europe and we plan on emailing them as soon as possible. If you know of anyone who might be interested, please let me know.

For more information about what hydrocephalus and other patients have to deal with living in the hospital, read my next blog entry. I thought I'd break them up to make for easier reading. :)



Hi everybody!!!

I apologize for not keeping up on my part of the blog. After the last one, I kinda needed a break. I also want to thank everyone for the kind emails, messages, thoughts, and prayers you've sent me over the last two weeks (especially my mom for crying with me on the phone as we talked about the death of a baby). We were going through a lot of difficult stuff around here and it was very comforting to know there were people there for me. Thank you.

I do have some good news. Remember Jacabo, the 14-month-old with Infant Depression who was breaking my heart because he was just so sad? Well, we got him to smile!!! Actually, we've gotten him to smile a few times! I have been working with him a lot in "therapy" and I also told all the new volunteers what they can do to help (extra love, cuddles, kisses, and energetic play), and he is doing so much better. He is definitely not "cured" or even up to a normal level of happiness, but he will smile on occasion. Yeah Jacabo!

I also decided to take the advice of many of you who emailed and messaged me, and I involved myself in a little "self-care." Emma, another long-term volunteer, her boyfriend who is visiting (I'm jealous), and I all went to Malaika for the day. Malaika is a beautiful, new hotel right on Lake Victoria. It was great just to relax and enjoy the company of my new friends. After that, Emma invited me and a few other volunteers on a "sunset cruise" on the lake. When I heard "sunset cruise," I imagined one of those large, two-story boats where you mingle on the top deck, sipping cocktails, and eating fancy finger foods.

Silly me. I had forgotten I was in Africa for a second. The boat we went on was the same size as the little boats we take ocean fishing in Mexico or the one that picks us up in the lobby at the Marriott in Palm Springs. In case you are still unaware of the size I'm talking about, there were seven people on this boat and that was plenty. I also later found out that the boat was built by a couple of our askaris (the guys who guard our house). Hmmm...I've never known anyone to actually build a boat, so for a moment, I was a bit concerned.

Though I had my reservations about the boat when I first jumped on board, once we set off onto the lake, I couldn't have felt happier. Between the rush of the air blowing in my face, the beautiful sunset over the largest lake in Africa, the great company, and just being on the water, I felt amazing. I actually felt like I was home. The other volunteers kept laughing at me because I kept saying, "I'm so happy! I'm SOOO happy!" It makes me smile just writing about it. AND it was only $5 for the ride AND the guy said we could call him any time for another ride (day or night!). I might just have to participate in a little Californian behavior...and go tanning on the lake! Mom, I wish you were here. He also said he would take me fishing! What a treat! Dad, I wish you were here. :)

After our sunset cruise, we docked at another local hotel/restaurant/bar and were invited to a private event held by the owner and our boat driver, Tim (a German guy about my age). They had just been hunting and had prepared a huge meal for us and about twenty of their friends. The food was excellent. There were two big pots of this meaty stew with carrots, onions, potatoes, etc, and rice. I later found out that the meat we were eating was Impala! Only in Africa...(and man was it goood!).

As we were feasting and listening to stories from other volunteers from around Mwanza, Tim asked if we'd like a drink. I was about to decline considering I'm not a huge fan of alcohol, but Tim and his friends insisted they could make me a drink where I wouldn't be able to taste the alcohol. About a half hour later, Tim came back looking a little tired and holding three huge coconuts. He had just climbed a coconut tree, in the dark might I add, just for my drink! He then mixed the drink inside the coconut using the fresh coconut milk. Deeelicious! I've never had a better drink (of any kind)! Paradise!

That night was so fun. For the first time, I began to feel like I lived here, like I was a part of something - rather than just a visitor to Africa. And I loved all the people I met. It was really cool to be surrounded by people that all have the same passion for Africa as I do. All of them came here looking to make a difference and finding out that they were actually falling in love with Africa. Many of them are here for the second or third time like me as well. We had conversations about everything from our names to what Africa needs in order to be improved and what we can do or are doing to help. I loved these conversations! I didn't get any shoulder shrugs or conversation ending comments like, "Yeah the situation in Africa is never going to get better." The responses I got instead were passionate and well thought out. These people really care about the people here, and more than that, they have their hearts set on helping them. There is something about being surrounded by people with such passion for making a difference that is so exhilarating. I found them. I finally found people like me, people who can never have enough of this wondrous place.

I have much more to write, but I'm running out of time. More to come asap.

Sending love from my happy place,