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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Out of Africa

For my 100th blog post, nothing could be more apropos than the fact that I’m writing this from the Amsterdam airport during my layover back to the US – my move home. I’ve had 3 hours of sleep and 2 glasses of wine so emotionally driven content level is high. So much has happened in the past couple of weeks – it was pretty bat shit busy for me getting things packed up, saying goodbye to friends, wrapping up personal business, and still working full time etc. I didn’t have much time to sit and write.

Madness preceded this scene. One of me, 8 suitcases, most of which had broken zippers.

I am having a hard time putting into words how amazing the past 2 years in Kenya has been. I know it’s so overdone to come back from some period of being away and claim to be all changed – BS right?...And pretty annoying to most readers. But honestly, sincerely, I do believe people can be deeply changed by their environment and circumstances – but this is not an “I traveled to Africa and now understand the meaning of life” –This has nothing to do with orphans or poverty or anything of the likes ;-) – What this is, is an, ”I stepped away from my normal routine and environment for a couple years and there are things I have realized because of it and the people I have met” story.

Being away from the expectations and pressures of society at home, being away from all my places of habit and conditioned responses and away from all those predetermined roles that I’ve adopted from childhood experiences – and meeting some amazing people who I got to be very close with - I think it sort of enabled me to iinstinctually just be who I am with no trepidation - like an unadulterated version of myself. I think I realized how much I was trying to adapt to societal expectations and stifle my personal statement to fit in in DC – it’s a breath of fresh air to have some clarity. I do feel somehow a bit more pristine and definitely more content – And I’ll say most of these I can attribute to specific people and I am forever grateful - others I learned from the entity that is Nairobi and others just from myself.

So if you’re still reading after all that jibber jabber (sorry) - None of it is earth shattering but here are the things I’ve picked up about myself (or confirmed) and pray to hold on to as I move back to where I was before:

I love wearing big earrings and cheap market jewelry, I’m not really into pearls or Tiffany’s or anything else someone else is already wearing (ME);

Having fewer material possessions piled around you can bring peace and simplicity (Nairobi)

There is so much crap I don’t need out there and if it wasn’t advertised in my face every day, I wouldn’t buy it and I wouldn’t miss it either (Nairobi).

I like to connect with new people , hear their stories and let them in; and I’m gonna smile at you when we pass, even if you grumble back or act like you didn’t notice me (ME);

Whatever’s in my closet is probably sufficient (Nairobi);

I do not worry about whether I look or act “my age”- I will probably feel 25 forever (Graham, Candice, Megan, byu);

I love my long hair and probably wont be getting it cut any time soon;

I love feeling community with the village that I live in (by village I mean, my physical community, neighbors, etc)(Rebecca ,Ndishu, Wilson, Joel, Sandlewood);

There’s nothing wrong with hanging out on Sunday nights even if you have to work the next day (Nairobi) ;

I need a group of people (not necessarily family) that I can call “home” and vice versa (NES friends) ;

I like having an open house policy regardless of how messy the place is or that it means you won’t get your downtime (Nairobi);

Downtime can also mean friend time (byu);

I am socially awkward but it makes people laugh so it’s good (Scott);

I want to be done doing things out of obligation or guilt – it’s being dishonest anyways;

I will air my dirty laundry to a friend I just met and I want them to do the same (Megan/Emma);

Allow Plan A to change if it needs to, even if plan B is not fully in tact (Emma)

I like hearing people sing from the pit of their soul (Rose);

it’s okay to stay out really late once in a while even in your 30s (byu, Rose, Candice);

It’s okay to constantly be trying to figure out what to do with your life and how to get there (Frannie, Megan, ME);

I want to work really hard for something I have incredible passion for, even if I don’t get paid for it (yet ;-);

I want to be someone that makes others feel good about themselves – in the end they will never forget you for it (Ash)

To hell with the schedule, shit will happen (Nairobi);

I have to be authentic – small talk makes me nervous (ME);

I know that each person is fighting their own battle even if their life appears perfect, so I’m gonna stop judging so damn much and start supporting people more (LIFE, Tara);

I’m not the type that sends cards but it makes people feel damn good so I will, not out of obligation but out of love (Byu)

I LOVE making people laugh cause sharing a joke is the easiest way to bridge differences and make you familiar (ME);

I want to be someone that goes out of my way to give someone a ride (Scott);

I want to learn to go out of your way in general, not out of guilt but out of love (also Scott);

Be exactly who you are (also Scott/Megan);

Say yes to doing more stuff (byu);

I want to live a life filled with stories and have friends everywhere - I don’t want life to just be about professional achievements and my immediate family – (for this to happen to have to say yes more as seen above)(Nairobi);

I love talking to a total stranger that crosses my path because so often it has made my entire day (see above “life filled with stories”.. as in buying a beer for a Congolese Catholic Priest at the Airport a few hours ago)(ME);

I am learning that I am self-fulfilled and whole and adequate just as I am on this planet and I must stay grounded to that so my core isn’t shaken every time life changes or someone casts judgment or hurts me (Daksha)(ok this one is a process..but I guess these are all processes) –

So, that’s it. I mean, that's not it - it's just what I have figured out so far. It was a pleasure sharing my Nairobi experience with you all over the past 2 years on this blog. I'll post some photos later of the past two weeks and the relocation experience.

Thanks to all of you in Nairobi that made it home. I miss you guys.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My visit to Springs of Hope Children's Home

Okay, back to last Saturday because I really wanted to tell you guys about Springs of Hope Children's Home.

This amazing place is home to 37 orphaned and/or vulnerable children that have no other alternative place to live. There are countless childrens homes/orphanages in Kenya, but I have NEVER seen one that is as nice and well run as this one.  Molly Mitchel Bail, fellow American,  is a missionary and Director of SOHK. She has built this children's home into something that is so inspiring and filled with LOVE. Immediately upon visiting, the joy is almost tangible. The kids were running around playing, some were taking karate lessons, and some were sitting in the grass giggling with each other. What I love about visiting this place is that the kids are completely unphased by muzungu - In many homes, having a visitor means the kids have to line up and do a little introduction thing and like recite things. I hate that. And when you are a whitey - they will flock to you or stare or they get scared. Not at SOHK. Here they could care less if you are visiting - they are too busy doing their thing and I'm pretty sure Molly has let them know that when people come through, they should just keep right on playing and they don't need to stand at attention or anything unnecessary like that. It's just so natural and really feels like a HOME.
Here's some photos:
The drive out there - it's just breathtaking. Really the colors are just vibrant. Greens and blues and Red tile roofs. I will miss these views.

View from Springs of Hope - looking over Nakuru

The house! It's amazing - like a million times better than any children's home I've seen here.
Karate Classes! The instructor is on the Kenyan national team! How cool is that?

The kids were adorable

The dining hall and living room - it looks like a safari lodge. Growing up away from any family sucks, but if you are lucky enough to get placed here, you will get love, 5 meals a day, a beautiful house and good TLC.

Very nice bathrooms - one side for girls and one for boys

And this is little Mike -he's the youngest one there - probably 2, they aren't quite sure. I followed the story about his mom around 3 months ago  - she passed away from complications of HIV - she was pretty young - maybe 15.  There was a big search for any remaining family and they found no one. He is the cutest little thing ever - and it's a sad sad thing, especially how they found him just there next to his mother sort of wasting away in her little mud room - but the fact that he is at SOHK is blessing. He's thriving there. Everyone looks after him - He's the baby. And the good news is he is HIV negative, which is just huge.

Meal Time at SOHK

They have their own PARK! Finding a park anywhere is impossible but these kids have their own park! And  i've heard that kids from that area get to come over and play since a park is a pretty awesome luxury. SOHK also does feeding programs for kids in the area that need assistance.

View from the parking lot of the park.
What I love about this place is that Molly and the staff are more than just feeding and clothing these kids. They are offering them a well rounded childhood - with love, activities, stimulation, nice surroundings they can take pride in, and they are offering them dignity and respect as children. I love it. If you want to help, your contribution is much needed.  Molly is constantly trying to raise funds since sending all these kids to school, feeding them, getting many of them needed medical treatment, and providing activities costs a ton of money. SOHK also does a ton of community outreach in Nakuru for other children that need assistance. If you are looking for a great place to support - THIS IS IT. You can visit too - they like visitors. Here's more info: http://springsofhopekenya.org/

Friday, May 11, 2012

1000 Diapers for Joytown Primary School! SHARE LOVE!!

Hi guys – There has been a brief interruption in my review of last Saturday’s activities because a competing priority has reared its head. About 2 or 3 months ago, I attended a Rotary Club big giant Sunshine Fun day that was held for children with disabilities in Nairobi and in towns around the circumference.  I haven’t written about it because honestly, finding words to describe it to actually transfer the vivid images in my mind from that day over to you –it’s just impossible.I know this blog is long but please try to read through and then watch the 2 min video at the end. This post is about Joytown Primary School for the physically and mentally handicapped and a very very easy way you can make a HUGE difference.

Being disabled in Kenya is whole other thing.  In most cases, you are discriminated against, ostracized from your family/village, and forced to live in a world that has zero accommodations for people like you.  No wheel chair ramps, no sidewalks, no handicap buses, no handicap bathrooms (if you can find a bathroom). Finding a job is close to impossible.  Furthermore, for the most part, people do not have discretion when they see things that are different than them. They stare and they point.  And they do not always accept people with disabilities as being part of main stream society. (okay, this is not just a phenomenon in Kenya – I think we in the US have a ways to go on this too).   And top of it all YOU ARE A CHILD!   Maybe abandoned by your family because of your disability, maybe not, but definitely stared at constantly, made fun of by people that see you, and ostracized in the community. There aren’t enough care facilities or special schools for these kids  or even staff and the conditions in many of the places are crazy substandard – even for Kenya. The cost to take care of kids with disabilities is astronomical and so these places do what they can but it’s often not enough to meet basic needs. Medical treatment is not available for everyone and most can’t afford it anyways. It’s just a sad situation. 

So, on Rotary Fun day various schools for kids with disabilities loaded up their kids on buses and brought them to this stadium place in Nairobi for the day. It was not a big giant fair day by our standards. It was basically just some stands that the kids could sit in and watch a few clowns on the field, see  a guy walking on stilts and hear music being played and get some milk and muffins.  No interaction really – but it was still really fun for the  kids and something new and different than their normal routine and setting.  Kids that could, danced and clapped and there was an MC that had them laughing and singing. Here's some photos of the day:
Setting up

Crazy Sergeant Clown

little cuties waiting for the potties

Machakos School for the Deaf - these guys looked fancy. Very nice uniforms, etc

Entertainment Dancers and drummers

 Busses pulling in

Some schools, like Joytown School, a Salvation Army founded institute,  had more seriously disabled kids that had mobility issues. It was clearly one of the more severely financially challenged schools and the kids had more needs than many of the other schools.  But these kids were amazing. Everyone helped each other get up into the stands – the kids that used crutches helped the ones with wheelchairs and the ones with wheelchairs helped the other ones in wheelchairs..i mean seriously.  These are KIDS!  I mean, they still giggle and have fun and you see they were just happy to be there.  It broke my heart and warmed it at the same time.  Their resilience was just striking.  These are God’s kids you know? I mean, really – it’s incredible what they are born with and go through.
Joytown Kids

The clowns sort of traveled around the stands making the kids laugh..or scaring them half to death depending on how you feel about clowns
Let me get down to the point here. These kids need new equipment and the school needs stuff.  I saw one little girl using a lawn chair with some wheels that had been rigged to it. Other kids had chairs that were just falling apart…kids had pieced together crutches and everything was just old and decrepit.  I didn’t take pictures because I wanted to be discreet but I knew I would need some in order to try and seek some help from the outside.
I spoke to the Director of the school and he says yes, they could use some wheelchairs but one of the main priorities is diapers for the kids.  As you can imagine, a school like Joytown, with over 300 kids, must go through TONS of diapers. So, I have been in contact with the wholesaler of the adult diapers that I am to buy - And I have some funds set aside, my own funds and some other from my family, etc.  But, these diapers cost about $25 for a box of 30.  So, our money doesn't go very far with prices like that. 
Many of you expressed that you would like to help in whatever way after I closed the fundraiser for Mwikali's school fund.  This is a genuine and direct opportunity for you to support these kids. I would like to set a goal of 1000 additional diapers beyond what the money I already have set aside can buy.  At say 4 diapers a day (i dont know) that's pretty much just taking care of one kid for the year..but that's something.

Here's a quick video I found on youtube that someone put together about the school. It really shows you more about the place:

 So, if you want to donate one pack of diapers ($25) or whatever you can do, I have set up the you caring account again, (click on that link) until Tuesday or if you are familiar with paypal you can just send it to my paypal at lenna41678@hotmail.com. That account is only used for this and Mwikali's fund and I know exactly how much is there right now for Mwikali - so anything that goes in over that is for the Joytown kids.

Let's get them 1000 diapers by Tuesday! WE CAN DO IT!! (I'm leaving soon and need to wrap it up quickly!) If you have any questions, just email me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Vera Bradley on Steroids - Bagamoyo - GET YOU ONE!

Well it was quite a weekend folks. Jam packed with activities. More like Saturday had about 4 days of stuff jammed into it - and Friday was used for preparation for Saturday and Sunday was used for recuperation from Saturday.

I had planned a while ago to drive out to Nakuru (2 hours from Nairobi) to visit the Springs of Hope Children's Home that a beautiful woman named Molly Mitchel Bail runs.  I was connected to Molly through another friend that has a children's home in Nakuru and have been stalking her and the action around her  home on FB for a loooong time. Since I'm approaching my move date, I wanted to take this opportunity to gather up allll my stuff that i'm not taking with me and give it to them to find good use for. I really am trying to pair down - thinking about going home to all my stuff in storage makes me sick. I wish I owned nothing but what I have here with  me sometimes. Such a free feeling. No furniture, no boxes of scarey porcelain dolls from younger days, no shoeboxes of photos from jr high and highschool that I'll never do anything with, no yellow cases of old orthodontic retainers that for some reason I just couldn't throw away...(c'mon how badly did you want to wear a retainer in elementary school - you know you were the kid with the straightened out paperclip wrapped around your teeth to try and look cool - Oh i know you).

Anyways, besides donating my stuff I really wanted to visit the kids and see their bag making operation called Bagamoyo. YOU NEED TO SEE THIS PLACE. It's legit. In fact this post will only be about the Bagamoyo workshop since it will be a long one - Tomorrow I will tell you about the Springs of Hope Children's Home.

Here's all the crap I took with us - and can you believe I even forgot one whole duffel ..so there's more. I mean, I cleaned house. Food, medicines, clothing, fun stuff, shoes, shower stuff, jewelry I dont wear, all sorts of stuff. I know Molly knows many women that work in the workshop and the home and around there that could use all of it - so we brought it all.

We set out at 9am - It was Me, my awesome and inspirational friend Megan (she deserves to have a blog post devoted to just her and her fantasticness) and Abu - one of the guys that used to drive for RTI - he was our driver - I get a bit worried driving on the highways here - craziness - and it's the rainy season and Abu does it much better.
Megan just chillin in the green machine
We arrived around 11am and the first stop was to meet Molly and visit the Bagamoyo workshop that she created to fund the orphanage and to support women that are HIV+ in the community.  Sustainability People. It's a good thing.  These women and the operations manager design and create the most AMAZING bags of all kind.  The workshop and store is so nice! I was in shock that Molly put all this together so quickly - they have a legit operation going on and they are making such HIGH QUALITY bags - you just have to see for yourself and you really need to buy one - they are gorgeous!  It's incredible and Molly, the Director of Springs of Hope and the Bagamoyo workshop is a BEAUTY by the way - beyond the fact that she has given her life to all this and has changed the lives of so many - she is just a gorgeous woman (i hope you read this Molly cause you should know :-))
On with the photos of their amazing, incredible, unbelievably cool quilted bags and workshop:

Bagamoyo means Lay down your heart in Swahili -  The Perfect name for their mission and method. It's an undeniable cause.

Inside the Bagamoyo Show Room - So colorful

More awesomeness

and More...

All their bags are incredibly well quilted and made from very strong materials. It's seriously way better than anything Vera Bradley has ever made and they are cheaper AND the money goes to a substantial cause - the livelihoods of vulnerable children and women with HIV

You can even pick out your own fabric from their really gorgeous selection and have your personal bag made - or dress - or pants - or shirt or whatever! Oh you know I'm having a bag and a dress made - you know me too well.

The women that make them - Talented group of women and some men in there too.

I wish you could see the quality up close...oh but you CAN! I'm bringing some back to DC to sell for them!

Se Moi!

Here are the bags I bought and will sell once I get home - Get in LINE!
Beautiful Green patterned Tote

Gorgeous  - Love the pattern

Perfect for that college student going to school in August!

LOVE - could be a purse, diaper bag, laptop bag, or all three!

Green tote again

MAC book case! SO COOL! I have another one like this that is larger and with a different pattern - I forgot to take a photo of it.

The quality is amazing on all of these.
And this is Molly - the Fearless LEADER!
I hope she doesn't get mad that I stole this from her FB profile! But, the world must know what an awesome woman this is.
If you want to buy some purses -  you can see some of the options here: Bagamoyo Facebook Link and you can pay with paypal!  Okay so I'm going to cut this off here since it's long but there is SO SO SO much more to tell about Saturday - More to come tomorrow on the visit to the Spring of Hope House.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Insanity Review

Well, I have had a week of insanity! No, I'm not referring to my normal state of being - I'm referring to the Beachbody Workout series.  First things first: I think the name is ridiculous - clearly a marketing ploy to make us all think - "wow, this work out is gonna be INSANE and the biggest challenge of my life!". And it sort of reminds me of that song by Cypress Hill when I think about the work out - You know the one - Insane in the Membrane. yep. And I also wonder what the hell they would name the follow on..I can almost see the commercial now.... "Get your copy of the newly released follow on to the Insanity work out: Totally Bat Shit Crazy!! This work out will make you scream expletives and have a seizure. Warning: you may poop your pants."  Can't wait! and I only have to pay $250 bucks for that?! Like my dad says, might as well pay someone less to take me out back, kick me in the balls and call it day! (Love my dad!)

Uh, this move is not recommended for pregnant women. Shawn T is really really serious about being insane and if you didn't know that, just look at his face in this picture.

Okay, enough shenanigans (I heart shenanigans).. on to the review:

Pros - If you aren't fully conditioned - they give you a series of DVDs that you follow for the first month that are shorter/less intense so you can sort of build up to the maximum ultimate insanity later in the series.  Many of the workouts in both phases include plyometrics so if you aren't used to jumping drills, you will most likely find this the most challenging part (knee tucks, high knees, squat jumps,etc). It's mostly that and the body weight stuff, walking push-ups, plank jacks, etc. Most of the DVDs blend these types of body movements into shortish intervals - maybe like 4 minutes on and then 30 seconds break.  You will be fully winded for most of the workouts. He sort of repeats intervals going faster and faster each time - so, you can work out as hard or as easy as you need to. To get the full benefits you really have to push yourself, yourself. Shawn T is not going to come out of the screen and blow a whistle in your ear. Once you feel stronger and conditioned (or after 1 month) you move on to the like MAX series where you get an hour  instead of just 40 minutes for each workout. I like these much better. If you are going to put your tennis shoes on and do this thing - you might as well do it for an hour. There's a schedule you follow and I think it provides for one off day and one easier day of yoga type moves. For the most part, you do not need weights - just yourself and a towel (or a mop in my case). There is one or two dvds that use weights for an old fashion sculpting workout. Bottom line, you'll be doing a workout everyday so if you are also simultaneously watching what you eat, you will trim down. Working out is never a substitute for eating less - so you have to do both. If you are new to working out, it's probably a good idea to use a heart rate monitor. This workout is tough for even advanced home worker outers like myself.

Cons -  I dont understand the running timer on the screen - it's confusing. It seems to not correspond with what's going on. Shawn T is okay but I wish he would enunciate better.  The number one thing I do not like is they lead you through a 15-20 minute pretty strenuous warm up on each dvd and it is pretty much the SAME exact warm up on EACH work out. So, one third of the workout is the same every damn day.  That's the part i dont like the most.  And the moves are somewhat repetitive.  Oh and it's hard to do this workout and eat a burger at the same time - Too much jumping ;-) 

Okay that's it. I think if you can get it at a discount buy it. Otherwise, just do bodyrock.tv and pick maybe 3 of their workouts to do simultaneously for free. It's the same concept and much more variety.

Comments?? Agree?? Disagree?? Agree to Disagree??

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Floods and comfort food

So lately, we’ve had a little bit of rain in Nairobi:

 A parking lot turned river

This one literally had a serious current and wave action.

This one had me worried some but I saw some of those smaller cars making it through so I forged ahead.

It's a good thing there is such a strong drainage system or we would have some serious flooding. (yes, sarcasm)

My street was a literal river  - the entire thing was filled with about 1.5 ft of water - the whole way. Those people walking were getting housed by all the water both on the street and splashes from the cars.

It's a damn good thing that I drive a monster truck. A few smaller cars got stuck ahead on this road..a.k.a the road to my apartments!
And next time you are losing your patience while you are sitting your car in mega traffic due to bad weather..Think about all these guys that get transported from their work site crammed in the back of this giant truck with a piece of plastic to keep you from getting fully soaked…thinking of that will help you relax. It works for me.

And now I have a treat for you -
I will now share my delicious, simple, and healthy chicken enchiladas (I used turkey breast) with you – because I love you and you deserve something so tasty.
I make these things like at least once a month and it will feed you all week. For big families, you might as well make 2 pans at once.
Chicken or turkey breast – for just one pan of enchiladas you could use like 3 split chicken breasts – that’s if you like a lot of chicken in yours – otherwise use 2.
Green and red peppers (I don’t know..maybe 1 of each)
Onions (1)
Corn tortillas (you can use flour too..go ahead get nuts on this one)
Sour cream
Taco seasoning
Store bought enchilada sauce (red or green, whatever you like)
Prepare your chicken or turkey breast by coating them with taco seasoning

Chop up your veggies and sauté them with a tiny bit of olive oil and taco seasoning

Cook your chicken – I used to have a foreman grill before I sold it and that worked great for cooking up the chicken. Now I use the broiler. Cook it till it’s just done. Then chop it up!

Then get out a baking pan, or use the same one from the chicky like me,  and begin making your enchiladas. In each tortilla put some chicken, veggies, salsa, tiny bit of cheese and if you want, a tiny bit of sour cream. Roll it up and place it tightly in the pan, then continue with the rest of them.

Lastly, pour store bought enchilada sauce – any kind you like – all over the enchiladas.  Sprinkle the top with a bit of cheese – just a little if you want this low fat. Then pop it in the oven till it all gets hot and everything cooks together a bit. Maybe like 10-15 min. Then ENJOY! Mmmmmm.
Hmm..this looks good but it just seems to be missing something....

Ah there we go! All better now - How to make home cooking taste more like crappy fast food - cover it in mild sauce! so delish.

Side note: I have decided that Old El Paso Red enchilada sauce is the same thing as taco bell mild sauce. Amazing. And for some crazy reason they stock it in Nairobi! Also Amazing.