Thursday, 22 April 2010

things i learned today

i actually learned this stuff on wednesday. i was not able to get any internet access in kisumu so . . . this is a bit late, but still relevant (i hope) . . . i wrote the copy, but now have added some photos.

i am in kisumu, Kenya. i flew up at 7:am, and was incredibly tired.

not too tired to take photos tho!


i LOVE how used the land is. the lines and signs of agriculture


it is cool because i feel like i can tell the man-made stuff from the God made stuff
man likes straight lines
God really digs more meandering paths
i think there is something pretty instructive about life in this truth

this is the water of lake victoria

water and hyacinths of lake victoria
the hyacinths are taking over the lake
which is creating alot of innovation for uses of the plant
clothes, paper, etc

as soon as i arrived we headed out to see a group
who is selling waterguard and teaching people about
handwashing, sanitation, and how to use waterguard.

we met on the equator
as you can see

it was kinda a jungle

this is a group of people that are living positively
and helping to teach there community about safe water

this little one was so precocious and wanted to hang out with me the whole time i was there
she crawled in my lap and stole my pen
then decided that writing on skin was awesome
i budding tattoo artist maybe?

one of the products being distributed by these group is a solar lamp
that also charges cell phones
people in these villages will walk an hour
to get to a place where they can pay 20 kenyan shillings
to charge their phone
they have to stay there the whole time the phone is charging,
because if you don't your phone will most likely not be there when you get back
being able to charge a phone in your own village will be a revolution
it means people will be able to communicate more freely
and will save time and money!

this is the shop of one of the vendors
i bought some stuff here
it is cool to be able to buy directly from the artist!

the artist
you can't see what this is,
but it is a mobile with bikes made of wire and soda bottle caps

the shop

my exhaustion was so apparent that Alie, the program director for the Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP) here, suggested i go take a nap mid-day. i figured i would lay down for a minute and then go for a swim. i ended up sleeping for 2.5 hours. deep hard core sleeping. i woke up feeling like a new person. and that newness was apparent too. alie commented that i seemed like myself (we met this morning . . . i am kinda worried to know how lame i was before the nap.

Lesson 1: you have to take care of yourself in order to help others. being over tired and just pushing through doesn’t really work.

(a side note, if you are looking for an organization to donate money to, i would recommend this one)


alie is the mizungu in the red dress
the woman in the white shirt to alie's left is kathleen, she is the nurse for the clinic
everyone else is a community health worker


the clinic

SWAP, amoungst a number of other things, negotiates subsidized prices for products that provide water, sanitation, and hygiene. They train trainers to teach people how to purify water, how to wash their hands and why, and address other issues of hygiene. Using micro-enterprise, they train vendors to sell products that promote health. all of the vendors are living with HIV. the vendors sell a variety of things:

  • insecticide treated bed nets
  • soap
  • water treatments (water guard, pur, etc)
  • sanitary napkins (no tampons, because of concerns of TSS. in Kenya, people are quite thrifty and in a quest to save money, might leave a tampon in too long. i think there could be some education on this and it could help . . . seems like it should be an option. you can compost tampons . . . at least O.B.s)
  • solar lamps (which help reduce the amount of fires people burn in their huts
  • and a number of other things

I was amazed at the answer to my question: “what do women do who don’t have sanitary napkins?”

Answer: depends on where you are. in kisumu many people just use rags and other cloth. girls often miss school when they are menstruating because it is “embarrassing” to be on your period. they are made fun of by the boys if there is an accident (which happens regularly when you are just using a wad of cloths). this causes many teenage girls to stop attending school. imagine, ending your education because of your period!

the masi use cow dung as a pad. they dehydrate the dung and then tie it to their bodies with ropes and cloths. i am wondering if this creates a higher rate of vaginitis, and if other reproductive health issues develop. i don’t know. maybe dehydrated the dung is just a bunch of dry fibers and super absorbent. maybe the masi are on to something awesome in the realm of “reuse, recycle”. or maybe there are bacteria in the dung that create infection? i don’t know.

then in a tribe in the north of Kenya, near Sudan, where water is EXTREMELY scarce, women train the dogs to clean them off. they also train the dogs to clean off babies that soil themselves. so if you are part of this tribe and on your period, you don’t wear any underwear, and when you menstruate and feel that gush, you call the dog and the dog licks you clean. and no, it doesn’t necessarily feel good because most of the women in this tribe have experienced circumcision or female gentile mutilation.

lesson 2: the normal flow of life for women is an incredible barrier to education, productivity, money, and access.




this conversation lead to a conversation about how women do 80% of the work in Africa. this always infuriates me, but today i am grateful to have learned there is another side to the story. alie told me of some sensitization work that they do with tribal leaders and spouses. they go through a normal day hour by hour and have the men and women describe what they are doing during that time. it always shows that women are doing the lion’s share of the work. alie told me that one of the senior chiefs of a local tribe cried when he learned how unbalanced the workload was. he said he mourned that he had not realized earlier that he was making his wife and daughters work so hard.

frankly, i was shocked by his response. i am super good at turning gender issues into matters of us vs. them. i often see men as “the other” and feel very disconnected from their world. today softened that for me. alie’s story about the chief made me realize that there are men out there who once made aware will work to make changes. and that it is very difficult for them to see just how differently the sexes live. i know that this is true. that when you are not the one being discriminated against, it is very hard to see discrimination. by the time the non-discriminated become aware, the level is so high that it is even more difficult to change.

then later we were talking about the violence that took place in kisumu after the elections. i knew it was brutal and very scary, but hearing first hand accounts makes it more real and more terrifying. i will touch on this in a bit . . .

alie told me about a woman who had come from masi mara carrying her husband’s decapitated head. he had been chopped up into pieces and she couldn’t carry anything more, but insisted on giving him a proper burial. she carried his head in a cloth until she got to kisumu where she dug a pit to bury his head.

there is a whole book of stories that i could write, just from what i heard today.

as we were talking about all this violence and alie and cliff (the study coordinator for all of SWAP’s research) went back to discussing gender. i started saying that sometimes i feel sorry for men because they are trained so early to be detached from their feelings. “be a man and stop crying” or “don’t be such a sissy” or “you are acting like a girl” as if being a girl is about the worst thing a person could ever be.

as we talked about how trapped men were. how they are not free to be sad (let alone cry) and how they also can’t be too happy. how the level of intimacy they are able to experience in their relationships with other men or limited due to homophobia. etc. etc. you know the drill. cliff said something super interesting that i think will stick with me forever. he said “we are trained to live insane”.

i think it is true. men don’t have an outlet for letting their sadness, disappointment, fears out. i remember learning the DSM and being so upset at how feminine the definition of depression is. though i am not sure if it is socialization or genetics, but the DSM characteristics of depression:

  • sadness
  • teariness
  • lethargy
  • isolation
  • dysthymia (not liking to do things you used to take pleasure in doing)

are really feminine. it is an internalized emotion. whereas men (and boys) externalize depression. they get angry, aggressive, stay away from home, etc.

i was struck by cliff’s humanity. how he, and all men, are trapped in these definitions of what it means to be a man and thereby become captives to society at a similar magnitude that women are. only women have each other and men suffer alone. sure men perpetrate the bulk of the world’s violence and women are the victims of that violence, but it might be that everyone is feeling the same . . . scared, alone, sad, depressed but can’t get it out?


sunset at lake victoria

liz, you would LOVE this place

there was a thurnderstorm brewing through the entire sunset!
it was spectacular

following the theme of exhaustion, i ordered room service and went to bed early . . .

i took a photo of my salad because it was DELICIOUS
lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, green pepper, and oranges
b/c of the oiliness of the avocado
and the acidity of the orange
you don't need any dressing
just some salt

you know your hotel is swanky when they have their name lithographed on the sheets!


what is this fruit
it is ENORMOUS
but no one knew what it was . . .
@ least of the peeps i asked

the next day we went to the CDC/KEMERI research station. it was a super informative meeting, i won't get into the details. i do think most people don't know half of the super cool things the CDC does!

turns out that president obama's father is from a kisumu village. his grandmother (sarah obama) still lives in her hut. she is 86 years old, and recieves visitors daily
apparetly the place went WILD when he won the election

it should be noted that in first grandmother obama's village
only 28% of the people have access to toilets.
cholera outbreaks are common here.

this is a place for lunch just outside the CDC

made me laugh

this is the flight out of kisumu
there was this beautiful storm brewing . . .
it is rainy season here
which is kinda awesome



1 comment:

The Slade Family said...

Wonderful post Kim! What beautiful pictures...incredible views from the plane... And fascinating info about periods...wow...cow dung! I'm going to appreciate my tampons more!