Thursday, July 23, 2009

Living, Loving and Laughing in the Motherland

July 4th - July 16th, 2009

Today marks my 1st month in Kenya. As cliché as it sounds time has flown by. Even though I miss home I do not want to leave my work and new home here. I have explored so much of Western Kenya in these past two weeks that the list of my adventures is exhaustive. Not complaining at all though.

On July 4th, Jen, Amanda and I had made plans to visit Lake Victoria that day to celebrate Jen's birthday. We went to work that day as it was the 2nd last day of training. Amanda and I had planned to sneak off to arrange some surprises for Jen. I had found us someone in the town who could bake us a cake. May not sound like a big deal, but in a town like Oyugis it is HUGE! I think the guy who baked Jen's cake is one of the few who owns an oven here. Probably 97% of Oyugians use Jikos (charcoal stoves) for cooking purposes. So we were really excited. Rightfully so, as it was the best cake I have ever tasted!

So after arranging to pick up the cake in the evening, Amanda and I rushed to the hotel to prepare for the day trip. We were very excited as we were taking some of our good friends with us to spend the day with. Not only did we explore the lands but we also went on a boat ride. It was the first time on a boat for a few of our friends. Regardless of warnings that there might be hippos and crocodiles in the water we still went ahead. Like Jen put it, you can't live life in fear of being eaten by animals. The day was beyond amazing. I don't remember ever laughing so much so often. It also felt different yet so right to be walking on the same grounds as our ancestors thousands of years ago had walked on. The same grounds on which they had lived, hunted, fought and prospered on. Africa is truly the Motherland in all sense.

The next day was the last day of the training. It was a bittersweet day. Mamas from both the groups and us interns were sad that we would be bidding farewell to the Mwanza Mamas the next day. Despite of that sentiment we still celebrated all that the Mamas had accomplished so far in both, Kenya and Tanzania. We sang and danced to some traditional African songs sung by the Mamas and exchanged a few words with each other that conveyed our appreciation for the efforts put in by all those involved with the project. The speeches got many of us very emotional and tears flowed freely. That much was a given as there were at least 20 women in the room. Roy was the only representative of the other gender. Great addition to the group too as he was translating between Luo, Kiswahili and English the whole day. He is a translating machine.

The rest of the week was more or less the same. The girls and I said goodbye to the Mwanza Mamas and caught up on personal related things. Work had kept me incredibly busy. I had also been really sick for a good chunk of the week so that had continued to drain me of energy. Thankfully I got better by the time the weekend rolled around since I ended up going to Kisumu, Kenya for the weekend (so last minute!).

Saturday was Imamat Day (Shia Ismaili religious celebration) so I visited our family friends to take part in the celebrations with the Aga Khan community in Kisumu. It was so different to be visiting a city after living in a rural town for almost a month. Roy, who had traveled with me, took me to Nakumat (Kenya's "Walmart") where I was reacquainted with the modern way of living. Saw freezers, insane amount of shopping options, a bakery (my fav part of the store!) and so many other items I use to take for granted back home. It was a bit overwhelming but introspective at the same time.

After the shopping excursion, I went to my Uncle's house where I had a home-cooked meal! I also realized that being a vegetarian is not a permanent change for me as I could not resist my Aunt's food. It was a major change from my daily diet of rice, beans, chapatti or fries. I even had a salad! Jen was really jealous. The weekend continued to be loads of fun: went to Khane (Mosque) for the first time since I had left Toronto, met an eclectic mix of people and partook in the religious celebrations. Also saw lambs being roasted on an open spit for the first time! Def took a picture of that.

What was interesting to note while I was in Kisumu were the dynamics that existed between the different racial ethnic groups. Even though I was not there long enough to deduce anything concrete, I noticed that the different racial groups hung out within themselves. Indians were usually with Indians, Caucasians were with Caucasians and so forth. Also even if you were, say a 4th generation Kenya, if you were anything but local you would still be considered a foreigner. For example, my uncle whose family has been established in Kenya for many generations is still considered to be a foreigner. I think for countries to prosper they need to unite to grow. Obama summed it up pretty well in his speech to the citizens of Accra, Ghana on July 11th, 2009:

"Africa's diversity should be a source of strength, not a cause for division."

After a fun weekend in Kisumu, I returned to a jam packed week at work where things were functioning at a great pace. We will be beginning production on Sunday and distribution begins on Monday for the 1st 300 participants. So excited!! More about the project in my next blog =)

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