Monday, April 9, 2012

Until We Don't Get What We Want

Yesterday was our Non-Program day, and it was full from sun-up to sun-down.  We began our morning making our way up into the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro in search of a waterfall, before the sun had even peaked its head out to brighten the skies.  All of us were excited to find our way into the only lush-green lands in southern Kenya, as we'd been looking at dry savannah grasslands for a long time now.  The rains were temperamental, the winds cool, and the skies overcast with clouds labeled "unpredictable-keep-cautious." The mud grabbed at our boots as if trying to hold us still, and to take in the fantastic landscape surrounding us.  The hike was long and beautiful, and the prize at the end of the trip worth every scratch along the way.

This is a beetle's shell. Naturally formed, it's stunning!

I got to eat my sandwich perched on top of a large boulder, while the spray from the waterfall cooled my heated-self (this hike was intensive!).  After playing around in the water for a bit, we took time to hike along the foothills some more, and came across a decoratively colored beetle.  This small bug has the most unbelievably beautiful shell imaginable, it looks something like a bead, or as if this little fellow has his very own African kanga garb to wear.
   After our trek in the wilderness, we drove a short ways into the town of Loitokitok, where we first visited the VCT.  The Voluntary Counseling and Testing Center for AIDs (or VCT), is a facility that provides those who are tested positive for HIV with counseling, as well as opportunities to increase their household income to provide for their families.  We spoke with 5 women and heard their individual stories, and I was in awe of their determination to accept their status, and work to ensure their husbands and children are taken care of.   One woman determined her status only after her son had tested positive, and another had been locked away for 3 months by her family after revealing that she was HIV positive.  While there are 84 members in the counseling sessions, only some participate in bead-work and sales.  This money is dispersed to the women to help pay for other familial costs, and after we got a go at their store we were happy to hear that they had raised enough for school fees for their children.  I'm sure I paid for three or four children alone with the shoes I bought.
   After our visit we ventured into Loitokitok for a day at the market.  Saturday is sokoni day (market), and the area was alive with color!  There were bags, shoes, fabrics, hardware, vegetables, fruit, and just about anything you could imagine floating about the wooden stalls.  Markets are always interesting to visit, and I'm always buzzing about in excitement, thrilled at the prospects for a day of bargaining.  Finding items that you want is always good, but getting the price you want to pay for it is even better.  Why there isn't more bargaining in America I'll never understand, because the process is electrifying.  I dare say I even have become adept at determining the giving-point of shop owners, because I never walk away without paying a price I am comfortable with.  The give and take, the bartering, the knowledge that you can choose a price for yourself is a powerful feeling... and, well, it's fun!
   A lovely woman, my new mama Lisa (I have so many mamas now!) was a wonderful sort of character to meet.  Her smile touched the heavens, and her laughter echoed out over the mountain.  She is a shrewd saleswoman, and after she's sold you a bag she's quick to invite you to dinner.  With a chuckle and a "God bless you," she would sell us her stock and then send us on our way.  
   From the market we sped away to Club K, a local joint for dancing, drinking, and chapati.  While I only partook in the dancing and chapati, I found myself struck by a poignant thought in mid-twirl: here I was, dancing and snacking, with locals in Loitokitok of Kenya, and I felt right at home.  There was no feeling of awkwardness or insecurity, just an overall feeling of joy.  I do not know if it had really occurred to me before how much I love being here, and I no longer think it's too much of a stretch to think I will be returning.
   Today is Easter Sunday, and it was a day for hiding and hunting eggs.  Yes, indeed, there was an egg hunt in the Kilimanjaro Bush Camp, and the competition was astounding.  You never really know how competitive someone really is until they're on the hunt for colorfully decorated eggs.  My friend Fumika was practically biting the metaphorical bit to sniff around for the small treats.  Some eggs had student names on them, and they were filled with local candy.  I have found that the Kenyan form of an Air-Head is a Maoam Stripe.  They're so tasty sweet.
   My itinerary for my flights home is finalized, and I'm very excited for the prospects of seeing my family and friends in Charlotte.  I'll be starting my departure-process on Sunday, May 6th, at 11:45pm and finishing on Monday, May 7th, at 7pm.  However, I'll be parked in Nairobi airport for 8 hours before we leave.  
   Still, I'm excited.  First, however, will be to finish and present this research project, and I'm quite happy with the prospects ahead.  The only snag in the line so far, however, is that some individuals are placed in a research group with a topic they did not want.  Tempers flared, because it is easily determined that science majors want nothing to do with environmental policy.  It was disheartening to hear some people complaining that their experience is ruined by having to participate in a different topic than they wished, because I don't think anything could bring a bad taste to this sweet experience.  Hopefully they'll find that getting to personally interact with locals for several days, and trekking across the countryside, is worth not getting your research topic. 

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