Time has FLOWN since I returned from Kenya. There is so much to say about how appreciative I am for the experience I had with The Western Organization for People Living with HIV/AIDS this summer. It seems nearly impossible to express how much I learned, but one the thing that amazed me on the daily was learning about the complexity and capacity of WOPLAH’s work within their community. Words seem to be failing me now, but here are pdf slides that describe all the different ways WOPLAH tries to achieve their goals. Total photo cred to the amazing Nicole Jorgenson!
1. You crave Ugali as if your life depended on it
2. You wake up at 6:30am every day because that rooster couldn’t let you sleep in just that one time
3. On average you have at least 5 siblings (but usually more)
4. You envy your rafiki’s new mosquito net
5. When 80% of your answers to questions are either “hakuna sheda” no problems or “hakuna matata” no worries
6. You have the most beautiful dresses made out of colorful fabrics
7. You don’t need to exercise like the Americans because you walk long distances most days and carry heavy loads (like food and water)
8. You are friendly and accepting of your neighbors whether they are Christian, Muslim, or any other religion
9. Your backyard is filled with rolling hills of greenery
10. You’re not afraid to learn new dance moves
I literally SCREAMED when I discovered that there was finally a Kenyan grocery store that carried double stuffed Oreos.
Some of you may be wondering… so what’s the big deal about some Oreos? To the average person these may be just another cookie—but to me Oreos are a little piece of home. They remind me of all of the people I hold dear in my heart and carry with me wherever I go. So, in celebration of this finding, this one is for my people. Lots of love from Kenya.
1. Blogging is WAY harder to keep up to date on than I thought. We were welcomed to Mumias, Kenya by the wonderful Ambassadors of Hope (AOH) of our partner organization the WOPLAH about two weeks ago🙂
2. RATS, COCKRAOCHES, and ANTS play a huge role in the circle of life here. Less than 24 hours after my team and I arrived, we found ourselves in our first battle against Linel, one of the house rats. Those suckers dart across the floors and walls so fast it puts me constantly on edge—we’ve found them in bedrooms, in the kitchen, and have even heard them on the roof. My team and I set traps that caught me… but not the rats. Then we resorted to pesticides. That afternoon we saw one of the rascals stumble out of our kitchen and breathe his last breathe on the porch. Even though it was a relief that we found something that worked, it broke my heart. I could talk go on about the roaches and ants—but in a nutshell we have a fair amount of unwanted friends.
3. Each and every single one of my teammates are AMAZING. I am so thankful for this opportunity to work with such a diverse and talented group of gals. CLAIRE aka Clarisse (like the queen from the Princess Diaries movies) is one of the biggest sweethearts I know. She is very thoughtful and in general has a calming presence. LIBBY is the kind of person that can make me smile no matter what mood I’m in. Her non-stop singing, playful spirit and caring heart make her a great roomie. In the short amount of time I’ve been able to get to know NICOLE, I can tell that she is one of the most driven and hard workers I know. She is not afraid to be herself and I have mad respect for that. Beyond that, she is the bomb diggity photographer that takes all of the pics I post🙂 SHANNON, our team leader is so knowledgeable and considerate. I’ve known Noonie for a while, and she is always such a supportive friend—aka no matter how bad my jokes are she’ll go along with them.
4. There are SO MANY children here. The average Kenyan family has 6 children as a part of their culture. When we walk by children, they say “How are YOU?” because that’s the English translation of their greeting ‘Habari!’ It’s hard to explain but it makes me so happy every time. Our neighborhood kids are so adorable and have so much energy. I love coming home and playing with them🙂
5. My new transportation of choice is a small motorbike called a BODA BODA. These are one of the mainstream ways of getting around Kenya. It may sound cheesy, but I feel so free on them! And no need to worry mom, they’re safe!
6. In this post I can only scrape the surface of the GROW internship and WOPLAH sadly. So far in my time here I’ve been absolutely BLOWN AWAY by the scope of people WOPLAH’s services reach and how WOPLAH executes their missions. This organization truly does a good job of tackling all of the intrapersonal, interpersonal, and societal structures that contribute to HIV/AIDS stigma. I’ve already learned so much and can’t wait to learn more these next 4 weeks.
7. And lastly, I made a new friend. I named her Bessy and feed her banana peels in the morning🙂 She is one of our house cows and has taken up working out with us in the morning;)
All Photo Cred: The wonderful Nicole Jorgenson!
Zanzibar is known for their amazing spices so my team and I decided to spend our first full day on a local spice tour. It was neat to hear about the multiple uses for the natural spices and all of the fruit was SO GOOD. For sure, the best bananas I’ve ever tasted were here. Towards the end of the tour I was surprised when we saw a woman of the local village roll down a path then run waving her arms around. I was concerned but not quiet sure how I should react. My team member Shannon asked our tour guide if she was okay. He replied that she was one of his neighbors and believed that she was ill. She rushed past us then another village member caught her and guided her back to her home completely un-phased. It was only a brief moment, yet an impactful one.
This moment highly resonated with a book I read in my Sociology of Health Course called Crazy Like Us by Ethan Watters. The overall book centered on the westernization of mental health in various cultures. My favorite chapter of the book was called “Schizophrenia in Zanzibar”. This chapter exclaimed how traditional views enabled a family to accept and incorporate their daughter who had schizophrenia. For example, when the daughter had good days she was expected to help around the house with chores and participate in normal family activities. On days where she was not as functional, the family took care of her and focused on letting her rest. Overall, the family was very accepting of the daughter as a whole. Culturally, this is a drastically different response to mental diagnoses than a typical American. Once individuals are diagnosed they are highly stigmatized and isolated from society.
Reflecting upon this and seeing the calm response of the village members to the woman seriously perplexed me about foreign aid and health access in general. Knowing how the extent that American practices can have on other countries makes me fear the loss of traditional—and perhaps more beneficial—ways of viewing health. I am still struggling to process how I feel about this, but hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to explore this more through out the following weeks here with WOPLAH.
The little island of Zanzibar is no stranger to international tourists. Staying true to Tanzanian hospitality the locals were extremely welcoming and curious as to what we had to share. However, nearly every time after my team and I said that we were American students people would give me a strange look and ask me directly, “But where are YOU from?”
As a result of being raised in the American melting pot I haven’t experienced a lot of adversity for not looking like a stereotypical American white person. But repeatedly being singled out because of my black hair and brown skin by strangers abroad didn’t feel too great. It was bizarre how a simple 60-second interaction could make me feel like I didn’t belong to the group of people that I grew up with. This made me question a lot of things, but the things that struck me the most was:
1. Reflecting on the power of small interactions and how impactful they can be on one person’s feelings
2. The power that a stereotype has on our initial reactions to an individual who comes from a different place to use