Monday, November 29, 2010


We have moved! I know, I know, I lack in information on the blog. Last you heard we were only mildly disinterested in work at Lochmara. Well, here is how it went: Ben and I spent weeks going back and forth debating over whether we could 'stand' it for X amount of time longer, when finally we cracked and determined that both of us wanted to leave. I 100% blame our glorious managers, as in the last week we were there I had the realization that I was actually having a good time... just never at work. Luckily, I had the arts gig  and some time working in reception that kept me going, but Ben only worked in the volatile environment of the kitchen the whole time. In fact, the day we left (two days ago) yet another kitchen employee, Olivia, who just got there a week ago, already decided she could not handle working in there. Ha! I really hope something gets worked out there, because the owners of the lodge are fantastic. 

So, I worked until the last boat two days ago, we picked up our rental car, and drove to Nelson. We stayed the night in Nelson and got some needed supplies, and then headed up to Takaka. We visited this town about a month ago, and probably should have just moved here from the get go! It's an artsy-musicy-hippie town in Golden Bay, and the commercial (if you can call it that) hub before you head off into the oblivion of the northwest coast. Remember those pictures of the beautiful beach? Yeah, now that is only about 1/2 hour away. Ben started work this morning, and I slept in and gathered my bearings before heading out in search of a job... 
I hate looking for jobs. I am not sure I know anyone that does like looking for jobs though, so I just have to suck it up and hope for the best. At least something part time! Otherwise, I'm going to have to buy a sewing machine and hawk my wears about town. 

We finally got a cell phone! The number is 011-64-027-868-2588. We also live in a house for really cheap that is owned by the guy that owns the Cafe Ben works at! However, I do not know the address yet. Ta for now!

Sunday, November 7, 2010


always scaring away baby animals
whariki beach, outside golden bay
caves everywhere!
dancing amongst the rocks
this rock was fantastic, it looks like a superhero

More pictures

crazy caves
whariki beach or something like that

teletubby land

this is the second clearest water in the world
@ the Pupu Springs, clearer than no other besides the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica

i made that
siamese lemon!
red jellyfish outside our house!

Internet for free!

Internet is free at the library! Hallelujah, because it hasn't worked at the Lodge in over a week. Not that I have needed it, because using it would probably result in the desire to leave and go work somewhere else. After a minute breakdown in spirits last week due to the extreme shitiness of our managers (both Ben and my manager suck at managing, and being managers ourselves did not help the situation), we rented a car, drove on the wrong side of the road, and made it to Golden Bay, about 4 hours NW of where we are. We were on the ocean amongst gorgeous surrounds, slept and ate in a hippie town with delicious food, and lifted ourselves to a level that made us content on continuing to work at Lochmara. I did realize that we could easily move to a new place and begin work at the beginning of December, i.e. aforementioned hippie town, but together we decided not to pursue that until a later date. Basically, our managers only have like THREE EMPLOYEES EACH and for some reason they were 1) not able to give us 2 days off in a row, 2) play favorites with guests, 3) have no sense of humor or an ounce of fun in their bodies-- plus the damn chef kept shooting down every idea Ben had. Them being 2 of the 6 employees we work with makes this situation even more annoying. 

Since our excursion, the chef has let Ben do whatever he wants, I haven't been working in the Cafe as much with the annoying manager (more Art stuff, and we have a new employee, who spices up the lot). Golden Bay was absolutely wonderful, and it made us dream about the time when we can save enough money to just go explore NZ and Australia in a few months. For now I will just leave pictures. The first 5 are from a tidepool outside our house, and a Blue Cod that Ben caught and we ate... even though this is illegal in our area. Woops!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


this is actually our phone number, if anyone cares to call!
we will answer... if we are home :)


Monday, October 18, 2010

address, phone number, and pictures

Our Address 
Britta Schroeter
Lochmara Lodge
P.O.Box 172
Picton 7250.

Britta Schroeter c/o Louise and Shayne Olsen 
12 Russell Street.
Picton. 7250.
South Island

Our Phone Number: 5734653 (when calling from the US, dial 01164 first- we are 18 hours ahead of Central Standard Time) 

Look at us! We have a spot in the modern world! 

Arts & Farts

At the conclusion of week #2 at Lochmara, I can finally say, without hesitation, that I am beginning to feel quite comfortable here. Our first week almost broke me, where the stress of working lots of overtime while still trying to overcome jetlag made my body just say ‘no’. I was also a little disheartened in the first week that I was only working in the Café, with no mention or guidance on my actual position while here- Arts Coordinator. However, a week later I believe I have an accurate grasp on what that position actually entails. It took some detective work, as not one person really had a full picture of the arts at Lochmara, but I have talked to a lot of people and have come to some conclusions. Conclusion #1: I need to be entirely self-motivated and proactive in this. Done. Conclusion #2: I can pretty much do whatever I want, within reason, of course. Awesome.

 The first person that I talked to about the arts here was Shayne, co-owner of the lodge. He is an artist-sculptor-builder-idea man, somewhat in the vein of my uncle Richard. Has great ideas, has started a lot of fantastic projects here, but is not necessarily the organizing type. His dreams have been adapted by various organization-minded people (Louise, his wife, as the main one) to create the Lochmara we have today. Of course, his ideas for the lodge are not something that everyone shares. Last year, the Arts Coordinator happened on her job by chance, was mostly thrown into it, and didn’t really have an affinity for art at all. Thus, Shayne hired an arts consultant out of Christchurch to help him sort out some ideas that he had. However, she wanted Lochmara to be something totally different, and in the end Shayne did not necessarily like the help she was providing. Like-mindedness shouldn’t be something to hire someone by, but sometimes you have to.

 While Shayne provided me with vague information about the art on property and a loose structure of what my duties would entail this year, it was Allanah, our Marketing gal, who defined my purpose a little more clearly. Allanah had been managing all the art and artists over the off season (June-Sept). Though she mostly just knew about documentation and contracts with artists for our galleries and workshops, it was through conversations with her that actually drew out for me what I should be doing from day to day. Then a series of random appearances this weekend at the lodge cleared my fuzziness even more. Kim Gabara, one of the more prominent artists showing on site right now, is a retired metal and wood sculptor who lives in Picton and is anal to the perfect degree. Meaning: he wants to communicate, he wants things done well, and he is willing to help in any way possible. Just yesterday I was working in the Café and a woman came up to me and introduced herself. “Hey! I’m Kate”. Uhhh… hi Kate. Was I supposed to know her? I looked at her blankly and she said she is part of the Eco Artists Trust, a group of environmentalists that are also artists, started by Shayne and Louise three years ago that create environment-themed or inspired artwork and use a portion of the profits to benefit environmental causes. Kate also happened to be a wealth of information about the history of art at Lochmara, which I had not heard yet, and besides that- she is an artists’ rights consultant, mainly working in contracts or ‘agreements’.

 Though I don’t know if I will ever see an end to the things that can be done with the arts here, I have developed something of a plan as to what I can do in the next months. First off, on property there is the main Gallery (called the Huia Gallery) and the Café as showing space. In the Café there is a small kind of separate section called the “Window Gallery” where artists can showcase their work. Really, this space does not strike me as any different, but that’s just me. There is also artwork outside (sculpture) and in the rooms, and jewelry and smaller pieces in reception. As all artwork on property is for sale, I will be handling art sales, and incoming artists and organizing shows in any and all gallery spaces.

 We also have an Artist Residency (more info on the Lochmara website) which offers a 1-3 week residency to basically anyone that applies (I ruled out one girl already because her email was f-ing WEIRD). The resident artist is housed here for free, and has total reign over the whole property, shop, and studio during that time, and are offered a $100/week stipend. I am in charge of contact, selection, and coordination of all residents (so it would be sweet if people I knew were to apply!)- I am super excited about this, especially to have some really cool people on property.

 The final aspect that I will be working on later in the season is coordinating artist workshops. Though Lochmara just provides itself as the venue for workshops, there remains an element of organization and communication that I must provide in order for them to actually happen. Artists that conduct workshops usually have their sh*t together and book everything for their students, but there is bound to be something that needs help from our end.

 I am only supposed to be working about 15 hours a week doing art stuff, so right now I am focusing on getting everything on property labeled, having consignment agreements updated, and improving our communication about the arts on property. I would like to develop more interest in what we have here, as it is really cool, but I think guests are uninformed about most of it. I am also readily accepting artist-in-residence applications, hoping to get the next few months chock-full of artists!

 In the meantime, we were able to get one more short trip into town, and I got a bank account. Hallelujah. I can get paid. Sometime I’ll have to explore Picton more seriously. Until then… 

1st week (back-blog)

Greetings to all of those who thought we had fallen off the planet, or simply forgotten to contact you! We did not. To be honest, Ben probably did just forget, or decided otherwise. But I have pulled through! On our third day (fourth technically, more on that later) and 50th hour of work at Lochmara for this week (yes, you read that correctly) I can finally say that I have had a chance to take a breath. Sitting on the end of our boat dock I am delighting myself in sunshine and the sound of water lapping on shore, if only for the next hour. We must return to work for the dinner shift.

 We arrived in New Zealand last Friday, landing in Wellington on the second shortest runway I have ever seen, next to the Lukla, Nepal airport on the Everest Trek. Wedged cozily between the hills and ocean, ocean, and more ocean, the runway was probably about a half mile long. We spent three days in Wellington, pretty much just sleeping in our posh hotel room (splurge) and eating foods of various ethnicities. NZers do asian food RIGHT.

 Then on Monday morning we hopped the early ferry to Picton, a beautiful three hour ride across some of the world’s deadliest waters. We had gone to the “Wellington Museum of City and Sea” the day before and perhaps spent a little too much time lingering in the “ferry disasters” section. Nonetheless, we had clear skies over the Cook Strait and all was well! When we arrived in Picton, we realized that we had altogether TOO MUCH STUFF when we tried to haul a** from the ferry terminal to our water taxi. I know we are moving for a year, and we don’t really have that much at all, but trying to walk briskly for a quarter mile carrying 100+lbs of bags is hard, no matter how you do it.

 At the taxi dock we met Shayne, husband of our Lochmara owner and manager, Louise. He drives the taxi and pretty much whatever else Louise tells him to do (his own words). We did not meet Louise until a bit later at the lodge, but she was just as warm and welcoming as Shayne, with the addition of a hearty hug. They have two daughters, 10-year-old-red-headed Meg, and another one that I haven’t met yet, but that Meg describes as “a TEENager” whilst rolling her eyes. Ha!

 Upon arriving at the lodge, we noticed it was a little busy…alright, it was slightly busy, but FAR too busy to be handled by two people. Erica and John are the Front of House Manager and Chef, respectively, and had pretty much been working by themselves since the day they opened, two weeks ago. Neither had had a day off, and they had been working 13+ hours a day- so Ben and I jumped right in! Jumped at first, and then were asked to work all meals for the next three days, so that they could have a few days off. Though they are both still around (I mean, we don’t REALLY know what we are doing yet) to answer questions, but they at least get a little time to themselves. Luckily it hasn’t been too busy for the past two days, so we have been getting into it alright. Though I feel as though I have a bit more on my plate right now than I can chew, I am getting it (evidently Erica thought that I managed a restaurant before…. Er, no. I found this out yesterday and quickly corrected her. I have managed a Front Desk. And worked in a restaurant for 3 months. Kind of different.) I am a bit puzzled about being the Art Co-ordinator…as no one has told me anything about this yet, and that is supposed to be my primary job… but I am guessing help in the café/restaurant is more crucial right now. If they don’t talk to me about it in the next week, I’m going to demand some answers.

 On the up side, I have effectively learned to make coffee! Yes, everyone in NZ drinks espresso drinks, and thus I have been thrown head first into Barista-ville. I think they are pretty good. I mean… pretty good as I have only been making them for three days. However, two hours after learning how to use the machine, foam the milk, the differences between the drinks, yadda yadda, this guy comes in and orders two Flat Whites (NZ thing) and 2 lattes. I make them as best I can. He comes in later to tell me that they tasted “just fine” and that he owns the coffee company! Thank the good lord I did not know that before making them.

 Though we have not seen much of the grounds besides in the darkness, I can say this: we are living in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And I am pretty sure that is not because we just got here. We have had 5 bluebird days since arriving, so that probably helps, but imagine this: a Costa Rican rain forest where there are no snakes, no predators, on the ocean, where the temperature is between 60-70 and perfect humidity. Yes. That is it.

 The lodge itself sits on a tiny bay in the Queen Charlotte Sound, and is built on a steep hillside. In addition to the café and 14 rooms, a winding network of trails takes you through the forest to different coves- a lizard rehabilitation center, a bird rehabilitation center, an art studio, a spa/bath house, a vegetable garden, a hammock ‘observatory’, and a glow worm (!) gully . All the while, each path and every nook and cranny of this place is filled with sculptures. Sculptures carved into trees, popping out of moss, blocking your path, and creating a sense of wonder pretty much everywhere you turn. Our cottage is just a 10 minute walk from the lodge, and sits just above the water. Though it is a bit of a hike up and down from the lodge, it is a nice workout, and at night (which is most of the free time we have had here so far) glow worms pop out of dark areas all along the path. Seriously, I had only seen those on Planet Earth, and they are just as nuts in real life. I heard today that when the algae blooms, it creates phosphorescence in the water. Whhhhhaaaaat?

 Now I must head back to work. For all those curious about our communiqué while out here… we only get one free hour of internet per week… otherwise it is crazy expensive. So I think I may get a landline, or a cell number. I will find out more on our day off this week (Sunday) when we go into town and buy more food. Living on ramen noodles is just not enough right now! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Next up: New Zealand

 We are leaving for New Zealand a little over two weeks from today. Going to Kalispell tomorrow will hopefully be the last and final preparation for the trip; plane and ferry tickets have been purchased, car has been sold, clothes and belongings have been weeded through and sorted, ready to be mailed, donated, packed into Erica’s car and sent home, or placed in a corner of the room to be packed up later.

 The trip is both the most sudden and the easiest planning I have ever experienced. I guess going to an English-speaking Western country does have its perks after all! Ben and I applied for working visas about a month and a half ago. To be more precise, I applied for a working visa at the end of June, but the application was put on hold until I submitted a chest x-ray that proved I did not have Tuberculosis. Traveling to so many countries in the past five years made me a troublesome visa case, but I eventually did get the x-ray and submitted my paperwork. Ben applied shortly thereafter…I think he was waiting for me to make the move first. It literally took 3 days to get the visa. This was all too easy.

 Shortly thereafter we started looking for jobs. I applied to an assortment of hotel-bakery-childcare-education-management type positions on various job websites, but heard nothing. Then I turned to my own devices. Following a lead on a position that Ben found on a job website, I decided to start email small lodges directly. Even if there was nothing posted, I figured hey… we have skills. We are attractive, awesome people. We heard back almost immediately from two places, and to this date a total of four. I think I only applied to 10 total- which to me seems like incredibly non-American-job-market odds!

 So we are going with it! The lodge we ended up choosing (after some debate as to whether or not we should get visas for Australia and work at a helicopter-access-only all-inclusive resort in the Great Barrier Reef…more on that at another time) is in the Marlborough Sound, the north tip of the South Island, about a 5 hour ferry ride from Wellington and a 5 hour drive from Christchurch. Lochmara Lodge appears to be very small, with only 14 rooms, and mainly specializes in day guests, vacationers from the nearby town of Picton and trampers on the Queen Charlotte Track.

 The tip that sent me into extreme attraction with Lochmara is their art gallery and sculpture garden. Though Glacier is fantastic, it really hasn’t been a conducive environment for creativity, besides a few random days when I lock my self up and sew something in my room. Not only will I be the “Arts Co-ordinator” (what that entails may just be working in Excel spreadsheets, but I don’t care), but the South Island itself has a huge art community. I jokingly have started referring to myself as the Arts and Farts Director… for any of you who have the pleasure of being acquainted with Wet Hot American Summer.

 As for now though, there is still the final week of work at Many Glacier. I try to take everything a day at a time, so that my brain doesn’t get ahead of itself, but this past week just drove me crazy. Perhaps it is best summed up in the words of Wendell Barry (from Jayber Crow), “ I was no sooner convinced that I was going to leave than I became eager to be gone.” 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Finally... the tally!

Hello all! I would like to let everyone know that I finally remembered to bring my notebook to the computer, and I can finally give everyone that summation of donations that I promised like 2 weeks ago! Before I state the facts, I would like to share with everyone this quote, from a book I read while on the beach in Zanzibar, that pretty much summed up my feelings during the most aggravating of moments at the camp. However aggravating, it was one of the biggest learning experiences of my life.

From A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, by Eric Newby (his recount of a trek into Nuristan, circa 1950)
"Mustering this sad, mutinous little force, I drove them before me up the Linar Groge, cursing the lot of them. It was not difficult for me to muster up a rage at this moment. All of a sudden I felt that revulsion against an alien way of life that anyone who travels in remote places experiences from time to time. I longed for clean clothes, the company of people who meant what they said, and did it. I longed for a hot bath and a drink. "

Total Donations: $925

$77 Tree Planting - Each family/tent received 2 trees, 5 different types amongst 154 trees

$50 Shosho Basket Group start-up for supplies

$87 Nursery School
- Blackboard, Chalk, Erasers, Teaching materials/books, Charts

$14 Covered Samuel, Camp Chairman's family's hospital bills for his wife and baby (had malaria and diarrhoea, respectively)

$13 Supplies for Welcome Sign for camp (plywood and paint)

$530 Construction materials and labor for Community Center (two room, 9 foot by 18 foot space with two access doors and one window)

$135 Construction materials for miscellaneous chairs, desk, and shelves for Community Center

$15 Bank international withdrawal fees, transportation to get supplies

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! Pictures to come one week from today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

once constantinople.

Now sitting in the chilly internet cafe attached to our hostel in Istanbul, it's hard to believe that just a few days ago I was sweating myself silly in Zanzibar. Istanbul has the crisp air of spring, a beautiful city that seems a world away from Kenya. Modernity and cultural beauty are welcome, but not without the perspective and insight that our trip to Kenya brought.

Zanzibar in a nutshell: Hot. Beautiful. Touristy.

We stayed two nights in Stone Town, aka Zanzibar Town, which was both beautiful and exhausting. Roaming the spaghetti bowl of streets during the day, we encountered the Zanzibari Door- an intricately carved massive piece of woodwork that the island is known for- and cooled our bodies in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. It was really really hot in Zanzibar. Really hot. Like 90 degrees with 75% humidity hot. Not being a huge fan of hot weather, I appreciated it, as it came with an ocean breeze. However, night was a different story. Electricity in Zanzibar had not been working for three months. Evidently installed by the French in 1960, the Tanzanian government is waiting for the French (or some other country) to repair it. The Pyramid Hotel, a gorgeous historic hotel with authentic Zanzibari Beds (big, canopy beds with paintings on them) was our home for two nights. However, once the generator stopped (at approximately 11pm every night) and it felt as though we were swimming in a waterbed of our own sweat, Ben and I would resign ourselves to the roof, where we slept on rope benches. Later on we would meet people with similar Stone Town stories of sleepless nights- but evidently no one but us thought of sleeping on the roof!

We then made our way up to the north coast of the island, the area known for the best beaches...pretty much the best beaches in the world. And that they were! Though we arrived at the beginning of the windy season, and the crystal clear water wasn't as still as it sometimes is, it was fantastic. I didn't wear shoes for an entire week. In fact, when we went back to Nairobi, I found myself taking off my sandals and thinking I could just walk around. Unfortunately, the city isn't as conducive for that as sandy beaches. We stayed in Kendwa, the smaller, more homey of the two northern beaches (other being horrendously over-resort-ridden Nungwi). For 6 days we pretty much sat on the beach, played in the water, and ate delicious Swahili seafood curries. The hotel we randomly picked happened to be awesome, as it was the cheapest, and had the most delicious food. Our bungalow was about 100 yards back from the water, making it amazingly simple to be entirely lazy. Only one day did I walk up the beach at low tide to the town of Nungwi, and once was enough. I realized that if you have enough money, you can stay somewhere big and ugly, where everything is provided for you. Our second to last day we went snorkelling in the Mnemba Atoll- a huge coral reef surrounding the private island of Mnemba off the coast of Zanzibar. My first snorkelling experience, it took me a while to get used to breathing through a tube, as probably my biggest fear of dying is by drowning. We went out twice, and for the first hour and a half I think I was hyperventilating the entire time. Woops! The second time we went out I was much better though, maybe my body finally believed that I was fine. Though I would love to scuba dive sometime, I think I might have a mild heart attack if I do. The reef itself was amazing- an underwater landscape like none I have ever seen before, with exorbitant amounts of multicoloured fish, sea stars, sea cucumbers, anemones. I mean, Nemo and Dorie were poppin' up everywhere.

After Zanzibar there was a really unattractive couple of days of travel- an overnight ferry and two awful bus rides- wherein we decided that flying straight to Zanzibar is not merely a quicker option, but probably cheaper. Lesson learned. Alas, we did get to see Mt. Kilimanjaro, which was quite large and in-charge, as it is the tallest mountain in Africa! That being said, I can check it off the list and say that climbing it appears to be not very difficult, but that is sheerly from a perspective of looking at it from my hotel window in Moshi, Tanzania. Back in Nairobi, we stayed at the Milimani Backpackers Hostel (our new and only favorite place to stay in Nairobi) for a night before departing for Turkey. We got to Nairobi on the night of the 14th, leaving the 15th open for me to go back to the IDP camp to visit! Though I was sick of sitting on buses, I was super excited to see what had been going on in the weeks we had been in Tanzania, so I got up early the next morning, left Ben in bed, and walked to downtown Nairobi to catch a matatu to Gilgil.

I headed straight for the camp, and was greeted almost immediately by Nova (the preschool teacher), who heard I was coming back on the 15th. I'm pretty sure she heard the chorus of ~how are you?~ upon my entering the camp, and ran out of the school house to greet me. Such a sweet, motivated woman, she invited me for lunch at her tent. Unfortunately, I told her I would only be staying for a couple of hours and had a lot of people to talk to! Soon thereafter, Dan found me to show me the newly purchased furniture for his house that Ben funded, and he, Francis, and Daniel (the men who helped build the house) all posed for photos in the new sweet pad. I then found Secretary John and Chairman Samuel, and they showed me all the recent goings-on of camp. The community center was built, and in one day! The two room structure has a 9' x 12' meeting space with a window, and a 6' x 9' storage space for grains, a food bank, and other miscellaneous community items that need to be locked up. Through the generous collection of my mother, I had received another $100 in the past week, so I passed that along to him for the construction of a table, chairs, and shelves for the storage room. The Kenyan Red Cross was in the process of delivering new tarps for each tent (to cover the holey, decrepit tent roofs) while I was there, which was nice to see, however small a donation. Robin's donations from family were put to excellent use in the construction of water piping and a water kiosk at the camp! Though the residents still have to pay for water, it is extremely cheap, and much closer than any other water that is available. Unfortunately, a pipe on the mountain broke three days before I was there, and no one in the area had water at all! Alas, all new projects have trial periods. It was fixed in the midst of me being there, and I got to experience the mad rush for water at the new kiosk!

I want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you that donated, as in total I raised around $925!!!! That is stupendous! I know that I said I would post exact numbers of donations to specific projects, but I forgot my notebook again. That will be done in the next week though, for sure. Getting such an amazing response from friends and family was very encouraging, and you can be sure that each dollar went into creating a more sustainable life for the residents of the Ebenezer IDP camp. Our main goal while there was to work with the residents of the camp and teach them all of the knowledge that we held (and each of us had something different to offer), which is something that doesn't have a price tag. We wanted to encourage them to again lead their lives for themselves, not in wait for foreign or domestic donors for aid. Every dollar that was donated went to the start up of a project that will keep giving- whether it be the community center providing space for the teenage girls' bracelet making group, or the tree seedlings that will grow to provide shade, firewood, and food for every member of the community.

Thank you all for reading my blog also! Even when you're abroad, and experiencing tons of new things every day, you still want to hear from people back home, and I feel like this time even more people read than when I was in Nepal! I loved it. I'm not done yet though, so if you're in for hearing more of my ramblings while in Istanbul for the next three weeks... stay tuned!

Monday, March 8, 2010

oops...a little late

Sooo, I actually wrote this post 5 days ago, when we were on the ferry to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam, but I never got to transcribe until today! Zanzibar internet is hella expensive, so this was the first time I used it. Since the post we literally haven't done ANYTHING, except walk from our room, to the beach, to the restaurant. Encompassing a radius of about 100 feet. Today I ventured a little further though (about 2km down the beach) to cheap internet! The weather is delicious, the water is clear, and I have nothing to complain about. As for the post I was going to write:

I am writing right now from the Indian Ocean (to be transcribed to the blog later) aboard a ferry to the island of Zanzibar. It has been a sweltering 4 days since leaving the IDP camp- and the beach is in sight! Well, not yet, but hopefully by the time these words make it to the internet. Last night was horrendously hot, a humid heat that I have not felt in a long time. Even in Costa Rica it cooled off at night, but not in Dar es Salaam. Like the fitful sleep of a fever, I woke up many times praying for it to be morning. My solution was to soak my travel towel in water, lay it on the tile floor, and lie sandwiched between it and my equally water-soaked bandana. Though there was a ceiling fan, the stale back-alley-air brought no avail to the heat. Lesson learned- splurge on the A/C room.

We were both excited to find air conditioning in the VIP (read: foreign) section of the Zanzibar ferry, after walking around in a heat-induced stupor for the past 24 hours. It also has given me a chance to collect my thoughts and write this- of which I should have written many days ago. I always find that the further along I get in a trip, the harder communication becomes- especially when moving around a lot! And when sporadic electricity comes into play.

We left Ebenezer and Kikopey a week ago Saturday afternoon. Both ready and anxious to see our efforts becoming a reality- I think the parting was bitersweet. Ben's house was nearly complete when we left (save for the door and the floor), Robin's water project was beginning Monday, and my plans for a community center should have started on Thursday (see bottom for full project details and donation money spent). The night before we left we took John and Samuel out for some roast goat meat and beers at Nyama Choma, and I realized that I would actually miss these hilarious guys a lot. Both inspiring, funny, and so incredibly motivated, they make me believe that change is possible. But again, they are only two people. There are a handful of other equally inspiring people at Ebenezer that can hopefully keep the progress rolling after we all have left. But in truth, only time will tell. I began reading "The Challenge for Africa" while in my final week at the camp, and it made me reconsider the historical complexities of many of the issues we faced. Written by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, if you're interested in the effects of colonialism and missionaries on the African psyche- check it out!

After leaving the camp we went to Nakuru for the night and splurged on a nice bed, ice cream, and cookies. Quite a celebration! Then we booked it to Nairobi, stayed the night at a cute backpacker place, and got on the train to Mombasa. The overnight train was much like The Darjeeling Limited- reminiscent in a kitch way of colonialism-meets-African-bush. We got a sleeper car (something I can't afford in the US!) with dinner and breakfast... and the train moved so slowly that we could hang out the window and animal spot all night! We even saw a giraffe silhouette... pretty sweet.

Well, my time has run out on the internet, but I will write about Zanzibar at a later date!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

the news!

This will have to be kind of short and sweet, because I have another computer project I'm working on today and my internet minutes are racking up! I just wanted to send out a huge thank you and update to everyone that has donated so far to the various and extensive projects we have planned for the next few weeks. Though Ben and I will only be here for one more week, we are trying to get as much accomplished as possible. Here is a little list of everything that is going on, because I love things in list form:

-First off, everything seems to be back to normal. No more Maasai fears... for now. I think this is an ongoing struggle though. But for now, it has abated.

-The blackboard is almost complete! Just one more coat of paint and it should be ready to go for school tomorrow, along with the (surprise) charts for Nova. Don't worry, I took lots of pictures, and someday I will put them online.

- Ben and Daniel (and maybe some others) will commence building the very first wood-sided house at the Ebenezer Camp on Tuesday, when the supplies are delivered. The project should only take about two days, we think. Then Dan and his family can move in together again!

-Robin and I have almost completed all the interviews for the Asset-Assessment project (minus those people that can NEVER BE FOUND... they are very illusive), and will be meeting with the camp Monday evening to address all of the information we have gathered. Basically, we have put everyone into groups based on skills and ideas (i.e. Rabbit Rearing, Milking Goats, Knitting, etc.) and will give a short debriefing on how to go about forming small groups and starting projects (making proposals, budgets, and designating roles). Then we will leave it to them to come find us with their ideas!

-Also during the meeting, I will be announcing Tuesday as tree planting day! We have decided (based on finds and accessibility) that each family/plot will receive 2 treelings, each of a different variety (of which I do not have English names for). They are fast-growing and shade-producing, and should be able to reach close to full growth within one year. John and Samuel and I will go pick up the trees from the nurseries on Tuesday morning (hopefully) and planting will happen Tuesday evening. This should be perfect timing, as it has been raining almost everyday, so the soil is nice and soft for planting.

-Our first group, the "Shosho Basket-Weaving Group" (read: grandma basket group) has already formed, even without our help! The 5 ladies have some great baskets, and we have begun talking to them about collaborations and a start-up budget. I will be giving them $50 to start, and then purchasing some of their baskets as a little extra 'push' in their new business. This should get them going with supplies for about 10 new baskets, allowing them to keep all income and intiate a budgeting system.

- Robin has raised enough money to start the water project (getting water to the camp), so we will talk again this week with the water commissioner about logistics, and maybe even start it up...but it probably won't be done until Ben and I are gone.

-Robin, Ben, and I have all been talking about gathering our remaining funds to build an office/storage shed for the camp. Locked storage is ideal for things like medical supplies, project supplies, and porridge for the nursery school children, and an office for all the small groups that are forming (plus the Camp officials) would be great! I'm pretty sure this can be managed, but might not be built by the time we leave. We'll just have to rely on Robin for photos...

-This week I'm also going to be working on making a welcome sign for the camp, to be hung on the side of the school, and smaller signs for the Nursery School and Community Center. I just got an itch to paint some stuff, and I have leftover paint, so I figured, why not? Also might paint the door of the school and the windows too... we'll see.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Oh it has been more than a week since I last wrote! Apologies. A lot has been going on. Especially in the past four days. I am ever so slowly realizing how complex it is to live in a society ruled by tribes and tribal conflicts. Last week Ben, Robin and I began sending out emails requesting donations for various projects that we would like to complete in the next week and a half (Robin has a bit more time, as she is staying a couple of weeks longer than us). You probably got my email- and thank you to all that have donated so far! I can now begin planning all of my small projects, and we can start funding some start-up business groups at the camp. In fact, today I am in Gilgil to purchase all the supplies for the Nursery School blackboard, and I am hiring one of the very active camp members to install it. Ben was extremely successful in raising funds to build one of our favorite (and hardest working) camp members a house, as his tent burnt down in November, and he is left bunking with a friend in his tent, while his wife and children live far away with family. But, hopefully, by the end of next week, Daniel and his family will have their own house! Robin has been working on determining exactly what she wishes to raise money for, and it looks like right now she is going to work toward piping water to the camp. So yes, things are moving. And then again, things are not.

Ben and I took a weekend vacation to Lake Baringo, about 4 hours northwest of where we live, simply to just sit around and not operate on grandma time for a full two days. It was really nice. Similar to our last weekend trip, we stayed on a very hippo-filled lake. However, this time there was no electric fence to keep the hippos out! Let me tell you, when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but you can hear a hippo munching and grunting outside your tent, you decide it is probably better to hold it until daylight.

Upon returning to the camp however, situations had not been that good. Evidently a camp member had been killed by the Maasai for stealing a goat ("beheaded" was the actual term they used, but we realized later just his throat had been cut). The Maasai are known to be one of the fiercest warrior tribes in Africa, and they were the tribe that pushed most of our camp residents out of their old area during the 2008 crisis. Well, whatever genius decided to purchase land for the IDP camp just so happened to purchase on the Maasai grazing path, so tensions have been rough ever since they moved in last year. The Maasai don't want people on their grazing grounds (they are nomadic, so really, these grazing grounds are everywhere), and the camp is extremely scared of the Maasai, so they get a little crazy when tensions are high. Almost all of the camp is Kikuyu, a naturally non-violent tribe, so they have no weapons. After the police came and interviewed a witness to the crime (evidently some man on a hilltop somewhere), it was realized that the dead man was not in fact stealing a goat, but involved in a relationship with the Maasai man's wife. Ahhh yes, your typical crime of passion. Alright, so you think this would put everyone at ease. It wasn't really about tribes, so we're all good, right?

Wrong. The night after we came home I woke up in the middle of the night. Struggling out of my dream, I eventually came to and realized I woke up becuase people were wailing, and children were screaming. Like they were in pain screaming. I woke Ben up because I was horrified. Of course I thought the worst. Being in a dream-like state still, I imagined the Maasai burning down the camp and coming to our house next. Alas, after looking out the window, and hearing the commotion die down, I realized someone's tent was burning down. It was a cold night and I figured they had left the cook fire burning too long, and the tent caught on fire. Ben insisted that everything was fine (though I'm pretty sure he wasn't really awake for any of this). We found out the next day that 7 children (no parents) had been in the tent, and all were taken to the hospital for burns. Luckily, only one was seriously hurt, and all would be released sometime this week. Still. Scary.

That takes us to this morning. This morning I walked to town with Camp Secretary John, and he relayed to me the intricacies of everything that has been going on this week. Last night, no one in the camp slept. Around 7 pm, just as the sun went down, a man from camp spotted the Maasai at the base of the hill that the camp sits on. They were carrying arrows and torches. The women and children all slept in the school house, while the men guarded camp all night, through the pouring rain. The Maasai never made a move, but the fear is there. John insisted that they were probably just guarding their livestock, but it had horrified everyone. Peace talks need to come soon, or the culture of fear will take over and something bad will happen. The District Officer is coming to camp today to talk to people about a meeting time, and I really hope all will be resolved in a meeting of some sort. No one in camp is sleeping, and for good reason! John has also been in communication with two other IDP camps in the area, and they have been experiencing trouble with the Maasai as well. It's like going back in time. Or like being part of rival gangs. Africa. That's all I can say.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

the elders.

"I used to sit in the middle of the village with my guitar on one knee, and a beautiful woman on the other," said 73-year old Waweri, smiling, during my first community-assessment interview. I couldn't have picked a better Ebenezer member to start with. Waweri, confined to a wheelchair for the past 10 years or so (he doesn't really remember, and claims his paralysis from the waist down is due to "old age") was a hoot. He talked of working on the home shamba (farm), working for the Italians on a major peanut farm (a job from which he incurred various injuries...and he showed me all of the scars for proof, don't worry), but his emphasis was on the music he played during his younger years. Before his father broke his guitar in a fit of rage, Waweri played for the village he came from almost every night, which to him was a natural talent, but also came in handy when woo-ing the ladies. In fact, halfway through the interview my translator left me- and I was left with Waweri, babbling in Kikuyu, and playing an air guitar for me with a toothless smile.

Our asset-assessments thus far have been going very well, everyone is MORE than willing to talk to us (yesterday I had a line of people waiting), and most are very interesting to talk to. Granted, there are some very young, uneducated, single mothers that have less than one word to talk about, but that was to be expected. They are, in fact, the ones that we hope to help the most- by pairing and grouping them with more experienced, outgoing, talented older community members, so that they don't fall between the cracks and bring their children with them. Yesterday I talked to a variety of people, but three of the community's elders were the highlights of the day. One older woman (and I can't for the life of me remember her name) talked about how much she would like to give cultural talks to the community, because no one remembers where they come from, or what their tribe was (and is). She used to make traditional costumes, baskets, beads and loved to dance...While right down the road from her a younger woman also makes beads, but has not restarted her craft post-violence. Another young woman, my age actually, with 5 children, has had an onset of random illness (unidentifiable by doctors she said) since the violence occured. Ranging from headaches, to stomach aches, joint pain and nausea - the only thing doctors told her was that perhaps, it was ulcers. My non-medical degree would say, post-traumatic stress? Sometimes I forget what these people went through, but the results and effects that are not easily seen from the outside lie deep within. Some of the residents have been dislocated at least 4 times in the past 30 years.

Over the next few days I hope to compile a list of things needed, little pet projects that I have been thinking about over the past few weeks where I can help make a donation to the camp in a viable, but not entirely unattainable manner. Like a guitar for Waweri, so that he can give guitar lessons. Or the start-up funds so that women can have a knitting group. Or a chalkboard for the Nursery school. So everyone, look out! I may be asking for money sometime soon. Not a lot, just a little to go a long way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

week 3.

We're halfway done! With time that is, halfway done with projects... well, that could take a lifetime. The week started with a trip to Naivasha and Hells Gate National Park, a 1 1/2 hour ride from Gilgil on two matatus (read: minibus crammed with at least 14 people). But, the transport was only about $1.50 and we were a world away from the camp, which was pretty welcome at that point. There occurs a time during every trip I have taken when I get a little anxious. Not for any particular reason, just because. This was it. It probably also had to do with the fact that it was my birthday, and let's face it, I've never really been into my birthday (for reasons unknown to me). But this was going to be a very relaxing vacation, for sure.

We rented a "banda" (read: small house with 4 beds and a bathroom) for about $30/night on the shores of Lake Naivasha. It was UBER RELAXING. We ate delicious food and drank beer from the open air patio of the restaurant on the lodge's grounds- they even had 'sticky' chocolate cake for dessert! Though I am not sure how sticky played into the cake at all. At 6:30 pm every night, a two foot high electric fence was activated and spotlights were turned on so that we could view the hippos coming out to graze. Big, fat, and hairless, I was pretty much satisfied with everything I saw over the three days we were there. After a relaxing first day, the following morning we woke up early to rent bicycles to ride through Hells Gate National Park. 8 hot, dusty, sweaty hours later, we had seen more herds of zebras than I had ever imagined in my life. The park has amazing topography- cliffs and rock monuments, rolling grasslands and acacia forests. Pretty much everything you think of when you think of African landscape. And by bike- fantastic!! Though the first turn we took was probably the wrong one (think, biking uphill through sand in search of "Obsidian Caves" that actually don't exist anymore because they collapsed 5 years ago... thanks for changing the signage, park employees), we ended up with sore backsides that were well worth the journey. We determined that we rode a total of 40km (rough estimate) mostly in sand or on rocky surfaces on 20 year old mountain bikes with names like "CHevrolet, the Heartbeat of America". Hahaa, only here. We pretty much got up close an personal with warthogs, zebras, gazelles, kudus, antelope, and 2 giraffes! I was actually 100 yards from the giraffes, but Ben and Robin were much much closer- I was a little jealous. It was a low point in the ride and I was struggling know, typical heat exhaustion. I was glad we didn't encounter any hostile animals...because really, I cannot imagine trying to out-bike a rhino or wildcat. I could hardly out-bike myself walking. Our third and final day was spent lounging again, mostly in the same chair all day. It was fantastic. Though we knew we had to go back to the camp, it re-energized and vamped our spirits for the next three weeks, especially because I know Ben and I will have some more supre awesome times post-volunteering.

Back at the camp this week it was slow going. Everyone was kind of in a rut. Our assessment project keeps being pushed back for some reason or another (laziness on part of our interpreters? Not really sure) And the greenhouse roof ripped off over the weekend due to high winds. Ben spent an entire morning fixing it HIMSELF, without the help of anyone at the camp for some reason, while I held his rickety ladder steady so that he wouldn't kill himself in the name of some 500 tomato plants. The camp was supposedly "preparing for a meeting" with some government official, which in the end, didn't even happen. Yesterday I took charge and said that we should start this interview process, interpreter or not. So we started with Rev. John (everyones name is john, and this one is on the way to becoming a reverend..hence the nickname). He was the perfect person to start with! He is probably the most motivated person in the camp, having worked as a mason, carpenter, on an industrial wheat farm, owned his own restaurant, and many many other talents. I think a direct quote of his was something like, "I can do pretty much any job." He is totally motivated, but lacks connections with people in the camp to start projects with. Hopefully our project will help this! Ben and I were invited to dinner at his tent last night where we had ugali and greens (much tastier than the ones we have at home) with he and his wife and their 5 children. While Ben talked to John about anything and everything (the usual question/answer session that takes about 3 hours with every Kenyan we meet), I talked to the youngest two boys, ages 8 and 11 about school and soccer. They both have VERY good English skills, most definitely due to the ferocity of wit and intelligence of their parents.

Well, must cut this short so that I can respond to some emails, and return to the camp to do some more interviewing!

Friday, January 29, 2010

week 2.

I would like to say it's hard to believe that we have been here two weeks already, but in reality, it feels like we have been here months. Not in a negative way, but simply because we have gathered and learned SO much information in the past two weeks- not only about the IDP camp, but about the area and Kenya in general. I think I have used my brain more since arriving in Kenya than I have since college. It feels good.

At the beginning of the week we completed the (beg pardon) godforsaken greenhouse! After determining that we would need to chop the greenhouse plans in half and leave the remainder for construction at a later date, we worked furiously hard on Monday to remove and re-build one wall of plastic. The few volunteers that were left on this project were as unenthusiastic as we were, but we did it! It is finished! On Tuesday the seedlings were planted, and most of them are taking quite nicely to the soil. The entire project is very ill-planned, as whoever decided to donate this obviously did not think about the climate and situation of the people at the camp. We ran out of donated water today (water is about 20 cents/5 liters, and the plants take about 500 liters a the calculations), but luckily our contact (Irene) at VICDA came through and gave us some more money and promised a water truck (80,000 liters) to come next week. I think that she now realizes how ridiculous the project is, and hopefully it will impress her enough that she will follow up with potential donors in the future as to the logistics and site-specific requirements of each project.

While Ben worked on expanding and perfecting the chicken coup (he got 9 very enthusiastic volunteers to help!), Robin and I went to the Pipeline IDP camp near Nakuru, about a half hour's drive from Kikopey. Pipeline is a camp of 1,000 families, roughly 6,500 people. It is huge. With this major increase in size comes (obviously) more funding, projects, and talents. It was a fantastic visit because it not only gave us community-organizing ideas (about what works and what doesn't work), but it also gave us a new spirit of inspiration (which we desperately needed after the greenhouse situation). We met with the Camp Chairman and Secretary, and then were given a tour by a current volunteer (read: total space cadet) in their medical clinic. Two of the original volunteers to the camp were an older couple from Australia, and upon leaving, they donated a very substantial medical clinic and business center, solar panel, library, and tin house for a "special needs" school. They also have a security guard, a community center, a huge chicken coup, a greenhouse (same donor as ours), a school, and a fish pond. They are also in the process of building tin and wood houses for all residents (see for more info). We learned that with more people there are not only more problems (mostly health related), but more willing people and more talents to draw from. Nonetheless, the chairman and secretary still admitted that sometimes, it is just them building something. And most of the time, people don't agree with what they have to say. But like all good leaders, they take it into consideration and pursue what they believe to be best for everyone. Pipeline was a good base, a great foundation that we can look at for ideas on how to begin to organize our small camp. What is one crucial thing that Pipeline has that we are in complete deficit of? Water. They have a pipe that supplies water directly, at no cost, from the town of Nakuru. Funny how something so simple can change the way everything works.

So, why don't we have water? We found out from Irene that the District Commissioner for Naivasha (our DC) basically sucks. The DC for Nakuru made sure the IDP camp had a water source almost immediately upon moving in to their new land, whereas ours has denied any involvement for the past year. Robin and I were about to go pound on his door the next day- but the Kenyan Government just (today!) established a new position for a DC of Gilgil- our town! So, we're going to hit this guy while he's new, and find out what it takes to get water to the camp, and residents of our valley. We should be meeting with him next week. If not, I'm getting Amnesty International in here. There is water in the mountains, why can't we have any?

After talking to those at Pipeline, and another volunteer that was just leaving Pipeline after a 6 month placement, Robin and I decided it was best to begin our Asset-based Census project ASAP. What Ebenezer needs is some group inspiration. And calling them together as a group doesn't work. So we figured, why not go house to house and perform a census? Mapping the community both physically and through assets/talents will (hopefully) identify common interests, talents, and ideas. Though we know there would be no "concrete" or physical result from this project, we really do believe it will create some crucial ties and bonds that will help Ebenezer become more cohesive in the future. Performing an asset-based assessment is relatively new, as most assessments of communities are done based on 'need'. Though we will be deciphering needs through this as well, we hope to focus more on past successes, future dreams, and solid talents and skills to inspire both the residents and their leaders in forward growth and cooperation. And we get to meet everyone in the camp! We are going to start this up next week, and we really don't know how long it will take... it depends on how much people want to talk to us. While focusing on smaller side projects in the morning (like talking to the DC), we will perform the census mostly in the afternoons/evenings, when people are home. Then, hopefully, we can evaluate the material and go from there! We hope to encounter ideas and stories that will help us to identify how we can best direct funding and VICDA, so that money isn't wasted, as it was in the greenhouse. Better yet- we can map out future projects so that when more volunteers come here, they will have an idea where to start!

I also went to school this week! I have wanted to go for a while now, but I finally had time on Wednesday. Nova had 45 children that day, ages 3-5. Yikes. It was a lot of kids. Luckily, she is young and fun, but overworked and underpaid- as usual. She is basically a volunteer, receiving 50ksh/month, per child. The equivalent of $0.75/mo/child. Just being there, though I didn't know the language, helped out a ton- I could focus on discipline while Nova taught. Flustered and tired, during the children's recess, she came over and asked "what should I do?". She is so sweet. So, the next day, we met and talked for almost two hours about teaching methods and lesson plans. In fact, we created a notebook of information (as much as I could provide with my random teaching experience!), and mapped out a theme-based lesson plan for the next 12 weeks. She seems really excited about it, and I am too. She's going to begin next week, when she has volunteers (we recruited 5!) to help her. It was like pulling teeth to get people to help out (seriously, how hard is one hour per week, when school is 5 steps from your house?? ) but I feel like the 5 we roped into it will actually find it much easier than they think. I will help out when I can, hopefully for an hour everyday, and just be there as support while she tries out different teaching methods.

Wow. Maybe I should try writing more than once a week. I never get to talk about when we're not working! Basically all we do when we're not at the camp is read, write, talk and eat. We just discovered this place in town (Kikopey) where we can get a leg of delicious goat and a beer for like $4- and no one bothers you! It is a daily temptation. Especially when you have dry yams and tea for two meals in a row. FYI- the stomach does not respond well to starch-on-starch. For the second yam meal I insisted they let me make yam pancakes with pico de gallo... because I couldn't even imagine trying to swallow dry yams again. Ben needs to get his ass (pardon) in the kitchen sometime soon. I think he's a little disheartened by the fact that they laugh at him whenever he says he's a chef. I told him that just one meal would change their minds.... we shall see. Perhaps this weekend- we're going to Hell's Gate National Park (you can bicycle through with giraffes and rhinos!) and Lake Naivasha (flamingos and hippos!), and hopefully we are going to have a kitchen and a real bed. Did I mention we are in bunk beds in an 8'x 12' room? Hilarious. I love it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

on the big screen?

On our way to town today with Samuel and John, we heard that in today's Nation (Kenyan newspaper) there was an article- about our IDP camp! Evidently a Danish film crew came two months ago and used camp property and camp residents in the filming of their movie- about a white doctor in Darfur. Hm. Interesting. Samuel and John were both very excited about the whole thing (John was even quoted in the article!), but after further reading, Robin and I determined that this was kind of a weird situation. I'm still not really sure how I feel about it, from an ethical standpoint. I mean, these guys came in and paid the IDPs minimal wages (which to them of course, seemed more than enough) for their participation in a movie about Sudanese refugees. The residents of the camp that were lucky enough to look like residents of Sudan were chosen as participants, and now that Sudan has found out about it they are very angry. For good reason. An interesting moral dilemma. Check out the link for a picture of the camp though! The two men sitting in the background are two of the hardest workers on our current greenhouse project.

Ah yes, the greenhouse. Yes dad, it does require a lot of water. We don't really get why they chose tomatoes as opposed to say... potatoes? Other root vegetables that require less water? We did ask them, and the simple fact was that it makes more money at market. We still don't know how we are going to keep them alive. Right now we are trying to focus on the task at hand. A few of our questions were answered the other day when our contact at VICDA (the volunteer organization in Nairobi) came to visit. Irene told us that they had provided funds for the entire start-up of a greenhouse at three separate IDP camps. The other two camps are already producing, and have harvested their first crop. We, evidently, got the slacker camp. Samuel and John said that they did in fact try to start the project when they received supplies two months ago, but in the middle of the night someone stole 30 meters of plastic from the exterior. It took us 10 seconds to look around the camp and find who it was. 50 feet from the greenhouse was a tent entirely covered in neon yellow plastic. Hm.

Shortly after the plastic was stolen, Samuel and John removed the remaining plastic, for fear others would steal the remaining. And they kind of put the project off. I think they were probably partially embarrassed and partially scared to talk to VICDA about it. They are the leaders of this camp, and they have a hard time actually "leading" the people in any sort of direction. I believe they encounter more difficulties dealing with their residents than any other camp in the area. In fact, the 240 family camp was recently split into two camps- Ebenezer A and B- we think because the people that DID work together didn't want to deal with the others any more. Yikes. So, we had to regroup. Our tomato plants are ready to be planted in the ground- the seedlings are currently being held at two other IDP camps with functioning greenhouses- so we have to cut our greenhouse in half. Originally we thought about buying the extra plastic to make up for the missing piece, but when we heard that it was stolen we decided it would be better to work with what we had. Hopefully we can get it all done by Tuesday! Meanwhile, the chicken coup awaits it's remodel... hopefully no chickens die in this waiting period. It's pretty dirty in there. Like, 2" of chicken crap dirty.

More about what Robin and I hope to do in the form of Asset Based Assessment for the camp next week.... we want to go around and talk to everyone at the camp, each in their own homes, about their talents, their strengths, and just basic information about their families. There is no documentation of anything here, and I think it would be great to have a map, both physical and asset/need based in order to identify where each resident can help/participate, and where donors, if they are absolutely necessary, can give for the greatest return. Because no one works well together, maybe we can hit them on the individual level...and ease them into the idea of teams and groups. Yep. More on that later.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

mzungu (aka "white person" in swahili)

To all those who are wondering whether we in fact fell off the face of the earth, we did not! It being about a week since we left the good old USA, I figured it was about time I wrote a little something. Now inhabiting the outskirts of the small town of Kikopey, near Gilgil, we have been at the Ebmezer IDP camp for about 5 days. Ben and I are staying with Theresia, an older woman who lives on her own, but has a revolving circus of relatives and children constantly coming to help her out (something is wrong with her foot... I think she broke it a while back and it is now pretty severely infected...thus why she has the house help). Her house is 5 steps from the IDP camp, so getting to work in the morning is super easy! She has been feeding us so much food that I think I will probably come back home 20 lbs heavier than when I left. After spending the last couple of months whittling my stomach down to miniscule proportions (thinking that we would not be eating that much), both Ben and I have been forcing down three huge plates a day of delicious food. Potatoes with beans and corn, chapatis with lentil and goat stew, pancakes and eggs in the morning...seriously, FAR more food than I can afford when living on my own. And the "ugali" that guidebooks say is the nastiest Kenyan staple food? Not bad. Actually, quite delicious. Think corn flour made to a mashed potato consistency. Everything is turning out to be very good, except of course, the condition of the IDP camp. We are starting our term of 6 weeks with another volunteer, Robin, who has worked in an international volunteer organization in San Francisco for the past couple of years.

When we arrived on Sunday, we got the tour. We would be working with Samuel and John (everyone has English names and Kenyan names, English are easier), who are the Camp Chairman and Secretary, respectively. Samuel gave us the low down and we hung out with some of the kids, and returned the next morning to start "work". Monday and Tuesday were spent brainstorming. The facts: There is very little water. There is little food. There is no source of income for the camp residents. There are no other organizations working in the camp. In fact, all other organizations pulled out about a year and a half ago, when the crisis wasn't a "crisis" anymore. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the residents of the camp that we have run into (and will surely prove to be a continual challenge throughout our stay) is their unwillingness to work as a group. The Kikuyus (the most populous tribe in Kenya, and the residents of the camp) are known to be stubbornly individualistic, almost to a fault.

After hearing all of these things, it was hard to know where to start. Obviously, water is critical. When the 240 families at Ebmezer relocated from a more massive camp at Lake Naivasha 1 year ago, they moved to the current location hoping they could start anew. They purchased their own piece of land, hoping to farm little by little and get back on their feet. However, the camp sits on a hill. The hill is about a mile from a lake. Unfortunately, it is a salt lake. The sodium deposits in this area have robbed the soil of almost all nutrients and rendered most water sources nearby unusable. The closest water source for the residents is 7km away during the dry season (which happens to be right now), and most of the residents are single mothers who lost their husbands in the violence...making it hard leave the home to retrieve water. During the wet season it is better, but no one has any means of water collection. There are 4 unused tanks right now, because no one has come up with a way to capture the rainwater (it is hard to put a gutters on a tent).

Right now we are working on brainstorming ways to collect water more efficiently during the rainy season, for cheap or free. I'm actually looking that up on the internet right now! In the meantime, we have two other projects underway, things that were started that no one ever cared to finish (see what I mean about the unwillingness?), and LOADS of ideas for other things. Most of the unwillingness probably has to do with the fact that when you are hungry, or when you are thirsty, you can't think about anything else. Even if that something else is going to help you in the long run. Samuel (camp chairman) is a very inspirational man, but to a fault. I'm pretty sure he makes false promises to these residents (like all politicians). But, the good thing about him is this: he wants people to come together in the camp, even if it is the last thing they want to do. Because he knows it will help them. Which is what we all believe too! So while here, we are the enforcers of group work and group participation in any and all projects that we start. Because in reality, this camp is theirs. They cannot rely on outside donors or funding ANY MORE. They seem to rely on it right now, even though it is little and far between. We want to make them more sustainable, because that is what will help them grow as a community and as individuals.

The two projects we are beginning with are 1) a greenhouse for 1,000 tomato plants (some supplies and plants donated by someone... sometime and never finished), and 2) a functioning chicken coup (they have one right now, but it is overcrowded, dirty, and there are like 5 roosters. I mean come on, this is not going to work). The past two days have been spent constructing the greenhouse, slowly but surely, with most of the help provided by the male residents (when given a task, men will do something!). Unforunately, the ladies sat around and barked orders yesterday, and didn't even show up today. You'd think, with 1,000 people living there, more than 10 people would show up (especially when you don't have a job...), but no. We need to work on this. The chicken coup project, led by Ben's passion for farming chickens (he is SO EXCITED to be using farm knowledge. seriously.), will start when this project is over, hopefully next week. We also have ideas for many other things, but I won't bore you. I'll try to write more this weekend. It's hot. It's dirty. But we petted a cheetah and Africa is proving to be awesome.