Saturday, February 28, 2009

It's not's Husky-n

I've made a decision regarding nursing school...I will be attending the University of Washington in Seattle! I'm going to be a Husky! I was almost positive that I would end up on the East Coast, but over the past couple of months, I've realized that UW is the best fit: it's the cheapest (by far!), it's a really good school, and it offers a Master's specialty that the other schools don't (global health). It also just feels right. I am very disappointed that I won't be living near some of my high school and college friends in New York and Boston, and I will again be on the opposite corner of the US from my family, but I am excited to be back in the Northwest near all of my L'Arche friends. There would have been disappointments no matter what school I chose, but I think I've made the right decision.

Do you think I'll have to wear purple scrubs?

Lorngosua, Part 4: Bleet for God

As I said, I did some more goat herding this past week. I think baby goats (kids) are so cute and funny. They hop around like little puppies do when they run. When the goats are taken out for grazing, the goats kinda do their own thing and search for vegetation that they can munch on. Naturally, the kids get separated from their mothers. The kid will then bleet, and the mother will bleet back so that the kid knows where she is. The kid walks towards the mother but then gets sidetracked by some nice green leaves to eat. Eventually, the kid bleets again, and the mother bleets back, yet the kid is distracted again by some delicious grass. This call-and-response pattern continues for several minutes, and sometimes, the mother doesn't bleet back, but she's still in the same place waiting for her kid. Finally, the kid makes it to Mama and then goes to town on her udder. (HOW does that not hurt?!)

I found the whole interaction really beautiful, and it reminded me of my relationship with God. I long for God, and I'll make the occasional "bleet" to be closer to him, whether that's through prayer or through an act of kindness towards someone else. God then bleets back, and it's great. I know I'm heading in the right direction! But then something will come around that distracts me (school, work, etc.). And then when I realize that I need the good stuff, the food of life, Mama's goat milk (as it were), I bleet again, and God bleets back. And sometimes God doesn't bleet back, but I still know that He's there and the general direction to go. Hopefully, one day, I'll get through the distractions and finally make it to God, like the kid found his mother, and I can live off his sweet milk. :) I admit it's an imperfect and weird analogy, but I like it. It speaks to me.

And yes, I just compared heaven to sucking on a goat's udder. Hmmm...

Lorngosua, Part 3: Can I get a friend?

For the whole week, I practically followed Anthony around. Originally, we were supposed to share a twin bed at night (what?!), but I quickly told him that I have a REALLY hard time sharing a bed with someone (especially another male) because I stay up wondering if I'm taking up too much of the bed or making too much noise. Luckily, we found another mattress, and I don't think I offended him. Despite that momentary "ummm...," I really enjoyed being with Anthony. He speaks English very well, and he was happy to answer all of my questions. Though at one point, I realized that I was starting all the conversations. I was worried that I was being a burden.

But on my last night in Lorngosua, he said, "Bill, I have a crazy question. Can I get a friend in the United States that I can talk to and share my problems with?" At first, I thought he was asking me how he could make friends with some Americans, so Facebook popped into my head. But then I realized that maybe he was asking me if I would be that friend. I asked, and it turns out that he wants to be pen pals with me! I felt very, very touched. He has to set up an e-mail account first. I have a friend!

Lorngosua, Part 2: They call me MISTER Mzungu!

Just as they were in Inyonyorri, the kids in Lorngosua were suckers for sweets and digital cameras. I had a posse of about eight kids (probably 8-years-old and under) that would follow me around after school. They liked the Indigo light on my watch, so they would push it and then my hand would suddenly come "alive" and tickle them. I also would pick them up and throw them around a bit (until my back gave out). I taught them how to write my name, which was really cute. We didn't have any paper, but we had a pen, so they would write my name on my hands or on their arms. There were many variations: BIJJ, BIIL, BLLL, and others where the B was reversed or rotated. I taught them my name because I was tired of being called "mzungu." It's not an offensive term, but being called "white person" all the time gets a little old... I'm more than that!

At one point, Wilson (Anthony's son) was calling me "Camera" with a thick Maasai accent. It was at that point that I decided to leave my camera behind and just be. Having a camera is great, and it definitely cheers people up (especially children) when I ask to take their picture and then show it to them. But having a camera can be a crutch in a way because it prevents me from being fully present. So on my lasR Mzungu!t day in Lorngosua, I left my camera with my other stuff, and by that point I had run out of sweets, so I had NOTHING to offer anyone. But the kids still swarmed around me after school, and I had some nice conversations with a few adults. It was nice.

(I would post pictures of the kids because they were super cute, but I'm not going to waste my time waiting on the internet connection here. So they will be coming some time in the future...)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Lorngosua, Part 1: "This Is Africa"

After four days of doing nothing but reading and watching presumably bootlegged DVDs at the ICROSS base in Nairobi, I went back into "the bush" for another five days. I thought I was going for only a couple of days, but apparently, in Kenya "two days" means "five days." Oh well. As I've been told several times...T.I.A. "This Is Africa." I returned to "Maasai Land," this time staying with the nurse at the clinic in Lorngosua. I had stayed there for five days the last time I came to Kenya, so I was familiar with the location and some of the people. I recognized some of the kids and some of the adults, but they didn't remember me. If they said they did, they eventually realized that they were thinking of a different mzungu. Apparently, all white people look alike to non-white people. I know that generally people of a certain ethnic group find it difficult to distinguish between people of a different ethnic group. But I thought Caucasians had a leg up because we have a wider range of hair and eye characteristics than those of African, Arab, Latino, or Asian descent. Apparently not!

Nonetheless, people still warmed up to me (especially the kids), and I had a wonderful week. It was a little easier in some ways than my week with Johnson because there wasn't nearly as much walking involved, but I did many of the same things, like herding goats and spending time in the clinic with the nurse, Anthony. I actually helped at one point! Anthony asked me to prepare some medications for people. And on Wednesday (aka "Baby Immunization Day"), he let me give a polio vaccine to some of the babies (just two drops in the mouth). I was happy to actually DO something for a change. Up to that point, I had just been observing and absorbing the culture and my surroundings. Of course, that's very important, but I'm a do-er by nature. I need tasks to be completed.

I've also learned some Maasai, which is actually really hard. I learned in my psychology classes that as we learn language as infants and toddlers, our ears get attuned to the specific phonemes (oral sounds) of our mother language, and we lose the ability to hear phonemes that aren't used in our language but maybe are used in other languages. Does that make sense? Well, for the past week, I've been struggling because their "u" sound sounds an awful lot alike their "o" sound. The traditional Maasai greeting is "Supa?" ("How are you?"), which sounds more like "Sopa?" to me. When I try to say it like they do, people always repeat it after me as if I said it funny. I guess it just takes time to figure it out. Nevertheless, I still learned some Maasai. I know how to say "How are you?," "Fine," "My name is Bill," "What's your name?," "Do you speak English?," "I understand little Maasai," "I'm from America," and my personal favorite "I voted for Barack Obama." (More on Obama and Kenya in a future post.) That last one (Ategelua Barack Obama) got a warm response whenever I used it.

"Diarrhea forever?!"

So in addition to the bracelet and walking stick, it turns out that I received another gift (of sorts) from Johnson and his family...AMOEBIC DYSENTERY! No joke! Last Saturday, I wasn't feeling too hot: I had the runs, chills, fatigue, general weakness, and stomach pain. Hmmm... So I went to the doctor, which was quite the experience. (If you're not too squeamish, ask me about the circumstances surrounding the sample I had to give them...) But after some tests, it turned out I had A.D. I laughed when he told me. I feel so exotic for having it, and I feel a sense of solidarity with the people ICROSS helps. Is that weird?

Fortunately, I feel much better now, though still not back to normal. I'm going back to the doctor today for a follow-up. Hopefully, I'll be 100% within the next couple of days.

But the BEST part of all is the cost of health care here. For an examination from the doctor, blood & stool labs, and three medications, I had to pay a total of...TWENTY-THREE DOLLARS! WHAT?! Needless to say, I did not give them my insurance card. That's the price of a co-pay! So here's some advice to all of you: get sick in Kenya, not the States.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I hate using the internet in Kenya! It's SOOOOO slow! It's taken me forever to upload photos onto Picasa, and now I can't figure out how to put the pictures on the blog without them being ginormous. Oh well. If you want to see pictures of me with the donkeys and goats, of some of the kids I stayed with, and of Johnson, go here. These might be the only photos that I'm able to upload while I'm in Kenya. The rest might just have to wait until I get to Europe.

Inyonyorri, Part 5: "You gotta warn somebody next time, Shrek! My mouth was open and everything!"

This might be an inappropriate subject to discuss, but I can't help it...

Donkey flatulence is perhaps one of the funniest things in the world. There were a few times in Inyonyorri when I was giggling like an 8-year-old boy, especially during the long, drawn out ones.

OK, that's all. Sorry, Mom.

Inyonyorri, Part 4: "I don't need to SEE that!"

One night, I was in Johnson's family's manyatta (little house made of sticks, mud, and cow dung) with Johnson's kids and some other relatives, while his wife Gladys was cooking. Gladys was holding her two-month-old son Frederick while doing this. At one point, Frederick was crying, and Gladys just whipped her boob out! I didn't know what to do! Do I leave? Do I look away and completely avoid the feeding? Or do I stare? I settled on something in between. I treated it as if it was totally natural (which I guess it is outside of the Western world). I didn't stare, but I didn't not look either. At one point, EVERYONE was watching because Gladys had pulled Frederick away, but he started crying again, so she switched to the other boob. Everyone was laughing and watching. Once I got over myself, it actually was quite a beautiful thing to see naked, little Frederick feeding. But also weird…

Inyonyorri, Part 3: "Walk Like a Man"

The Maasai men (and even boys) carry walking sticks (or engudi oositeti) whenever they are shepherding their animals or on safari (on journey). On my first day, while Johnson and I were walking to his home, I asked about the sticks, and Johnson said that I in fact "walk like a woman" because I don't have one. He gave me one the next day, and I LOVE it. It's so light yet really sturdy. I loved walking with it, which is good because we walked at least 12 km (7-ish miles) every day. I'm hoping that I can take it to Spain with me for my pilgrimage. I probably can't take it on the plane, so I may have to pay extra for extra "baggage" or somehow attach it to one of my other bags.

Johnson's wife, Gladys, made me a traditional Maasai bracelet (or enkirina), which I also love. It's very big and very colorful. I'm not usually one for bling, but this has so much sentimental value that I'm going to try to rock it. It's not too hard to pull off in Kenya, but we'll see how it goes in Europe and back in the States. This could be my own special form of bill-ing? Anyone? No?

Inyonyorri, Part 2: Children are suckers for suckers...

[So that last post was really long. I typically get overwhelmed by long e-mails or long blog posts and generally skip them, so I've decided to break posts up so that they're less intimidating and so that you, the reader, can skip to another post if the current one is boring you. :) I also really like coming up with titles.]

Both times that I've been with the Maasai, I've been closest to the children. They learn some English in school (and they're less afraid to use it), and they're suckers for candy and pictures taken with digital cameras. The kids would sing songs for me that they learned in church: "Der ees sumdeeng happeneeng een dee house of de Lawd!" ("There is something happening in the house of the Lord.") They would also just say random things in English that they learned in school. They would be speaking in Maasai and laughing and then start saying, "Mondeh, Toosdeh, Wednesdeh, Thahsdeh, Frrrrideh, Satahdeh!" And they would also dance and sing Maasai harmony. I was very impressed and touched.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Inyonyorri, Part 1: The (Un)lonely Goatherd

I just got back from being "in the bush" for 5 days in southern Kenya, outside the small town of Inyonyorri. This part of the country is very, very rural and only inhabited by Maasai tribespeople. In Inyonyorri, ICROSS has a clinic for the Maasai, run by Johnson. Johnson is Maasai himself, and I stayed with him and his family for 5 days.

I visited a Maasai tribe when I was here last time. The Maasai are what you think of when you think of an African tribe. They wear brightly colored fabrics, they have lots of colorful beaded jewelry, they plug their earlobes, and their main source of income is raising livestock. I took so many pictures last time that I didn't try too hard to get photos of the Maasai in their traditional garb. Here's a link to the pictures I took in 2006.

I had an AMAZING time with Johnson and his family. The Maasai are such a contemplative people that I felt like I was having a monastic experience at times...lots of stillness and silence. (The language barrier helped with that...) It was also a very formative experience. I can now say that I have been a shepherd, a goatherd, and a, um, donkeyherd. (More on that later.)

Johnson is one of the two nurses at the Inyonyorri ICROSS clinic for the Maasai. Though it’s next to the primary school, it’s still in the middle of nowhere. You have to drive about 2 miles on a dirt road to get there (which is far considering that no one owns a car). Essentially, people come to the clinic, tell Johnson what’s wrong, and he prescribes them meds. Lots of cases of malaria and fever. I don’t think it’s what I hope to be doing as a nurse, but I’m still glad that I was able to shadow him for a couple of days.

Sunday morning, I helped (kinda) Johnson and his brother David herd 9 donkeys to a "river" (aka small water reservoir) about 6 km away. I loved it. It was a nice, slow walk, and some of the views of the nearby hills and of the Rift Valley were beautiful. At the river, we filled up fourteen 20 L jugs of water and loaded them on the donkeys. When it was time to leave, Johnson told me to go ahead and start walking with the donkeys. What?! I said, "Um, okay. Uhh, let's go, donkeys." Thankfully, the donkeys stayed together and knew where they were going (I had no idea), but I was still really, really nervous for those 6 or 7 minutes.

Later that afternoon, Johnson said that we needed to go herd their goats and sheep around so that they could graze. There were about 100 total. At first, I was really excited because I had enjoyed herding the donkeys so much. But then we started walking and it SUUUUUUCKED. Awful. The goats themselves were okay. The problem was that we weren't following a specific trail. We were just walking around "the bush," as it were, which is very unpleasant. We were hardly ever on level ground. Instead, we were guiding the animals on the sides of hills (more like small mountains!) which are covered in loose rocks and deadly plants! I am not kidding when I say that EVERY PLANT IN SOUTHERN KENYA IS COVERED IN THORNS! BUSHES, TREES, EVERYTHING! Grass is the only thing that doesn't have thorns, but it's so dry there (they currently are in the middle of a drought) that all the grass is dead. I was cursing up a storm to myself. If I was looking up to avoid thorny tree branches, I'd step on a loose rock and nearly fall down the mountain. But if I was looking down to see where I was stepping, I'd get my shirt and/or hat caught in a tree. I was miserable...

But then I would catch a panoramic view of the Rift Valley. Or Johnson would offer me some fruit he picked off a tree. [Me: "What is it?" Johnson: "Wild fruit." Me: "Um, okay." (I put the small fruit in my mouth and chew. It has a pleasant, sweet and tart taste, but then all of the sudden, it tastes like I have 8 Warhead sour candies in my mouth. I quickly spit it out.) Johnson: (laughing) "You're not supposed to chew it!" Me: (thinking) "What the hell?! Thank you for the detailed instructions! Where I come from, people chew fruit." Apparently, you're just supposed to bite through the skin of the peel, suck out the juice, and spit it out.] Halfway through our journey, I remembered something that I read in Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. He said that we're to treat everything in our day (even the things that hurt us or that we dislike) as a gift from God. I felt better when I realized that I may never again get the chance to herd goats in Kenya. Even though the plants were very hostile, the country was very beautiful. I became a little more appreciative, and that renewed spirit would last 3 or 4 minutes until I got caught in another giant, thorny bush. I had to keep reminding myself of how fortunate I was. But I also remembered something else that Bloom writes about. He says that we are to constantly be aware of the turmoil in our lives so that we can (and have to) depend more on God. Needless to say, I was praying a lot during the goatherding... And after three-and-a-half hours of mostly misery, it was over. Yes...

Later that day, Johnson's 8-year-old son Alex taught me how to milk a goat. Actually, I think forced me to milk a goat is more accurate. He gave me a cup and nudged me to the ground, and before I knew it, I was squeezing its udder. (You have to squeeze pretty hard.) I'm an unlonely goatherd indeed. Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!

Friday, February 13, 2009

My whiteness may just be skin deep, but that's still pretty deep...

I am currently in the city of Nakuru in a cyber cafe near the Nakuru ICROSS office. ICROSS is currently researching simple, effective ways to disinfect water. In many small villages in Kenya, people share water with their livestock, so water-borne diseases (like dysentery) are rampant. One thing that ICROSS has discovered is that by leaving a clear bottle of water in the sun (which is REALLY bright here) for 6 hours, all the dangerous microbes are killed. The UV rays and the heat work together. It's so simple! (There's more information at the ICROSS website:

So yesterday, I visited a small village where several people were using the water bottles to disinfect their water. I was with two other white people in a rural village. Needless to say, we stuck out a bit... All of the village children were following us and shouting "mzungu!" (i.e., "whitey!"). Then we'd turn around and pretend to chase them, and the kids would laugh and run away. At one point, some of the kids wanted to hold my hand, and one little boy kept rubbing my arm, fascinated by my pale, white skin. I think he thought that the white would rub off. Nope. I've tried.

It was also weird to be in that village because everyone there was so incredibly hospitable and welcoming, yet other villagers had been kicked out during the post-election ethnic violence last year. (History Sidebar: For a very long time, members of the Kikuyu tribe--the biggest in Kenya--dominated the government. But in this past election, there was essentially a tie between the incumbent Kikuyu president Mwai Kibaki and the opposition candidate from another tribe Raila Odinga. The results were disputed because there were accusations of voter fraud. The country was then in an uproar, and all these tribal tensions that had been dormant suddenly and violently came out in the open. Neighbors that had been friends for many years were beating each other and burning each other's houses because they were of a different tribe. Things are kinda back to normal now. You could say that the lid is back on the pot, but things are still simmering. Something like this might happen again during the next election.) In the village I visited, we saw homes that had been burnt down, and we heard stories about people being kicked out of the village. It was so unbelievable because the people we met were so nice and so poor; why would they kick out their neighbors when they knew they didn't have any place to go? Clearly, it's hard for a Westerner to comprehend tribal identities. Not that having a strong tie to a tribe is just cause to kick someone out of their home. But aside from that, the people were great.

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills."

I'm alive! I made it to Nairobi without a problem. I saw some pretty good movies (The Duchess...I'd say it was a SUC-cess), some OK movies (W.), and some bad movies (Eagle Eye = Stupid Eye).

And after three days, I think I have finally overcome my jet-lag. It's been a little rough, I must admit. But I think I am able to be fully present (and awake) now. But even when I felt exhausted, I was very happy to be back in Kenya. I have missed the smells. And to be honest, some of the smells aren't necessarily pleasant (dung, B.O., etc.), but they're tied to such pleasant memories that I don't find them too offensive. :) Is that weird? Yes.

Anyone recognize the quote in the title of this post? It might be easier to figure out if it's read with a Dutch accent. Anyone? Well, I'll just tell you...Out of Africa, the book and the movie. Karen Blixen owned a farm in a town called Karen. That's a weird coincidence, yeah? (It's like how the Pilgrims left Plymouth and landed in Plymouth!) Actually, it wasn't named Karen then, but the town was named after her. (Karen Blixen owned a coffee farm, and she was a very strong advocate for "her Kikuyu'' that lived on her land.) The ICROSS base is in Ngong, which is very, very close to Karen.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Frugal and desert...hmmm...

A gmail chat message from Mike Meegan (the director of ICROSS), talking about my time in Kenya:

"it will be a very frugal and desert experience in many ways my friend, very challenging
but you are good at that"

Let's hope so!

Oh la la! Mes cheveux!

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I got a VERY short haircut for my trip. I don't think my hair has been this short since my 9 months in the womb. I've got a LOT of forehead. But now I don't have to worry about my hair at all, which is a relief. And more importantly, I won't have a mullet when I return to the US in May. Score.

"It's the day (before) the show, y'all!"

Welcome to my first blog! I don't know what I'm doing! I decided to do a blog this time because I know a lot of people aren't fans of mass e-mails (myself included). And it might just be easier to do shorter posts every couple of days rather than a long e-mail every week. My hope is to post pictures online during my travels, but that may have to wait until my whole adventure is over.

AAAH! I feel very overwhelmed right now as I am getting some last minute things done before I leave tomorrow. It's very typical for me to get so bogged down in the details of a trip that I don't start to get really excited until I'm in the airport. So at 11:30 AM EST tomorrow, I will be feeling good, but now I just feel very, very scattered.

Anywho, here's my basic itinerary for my trip:
-Feb. 10-Mar. 10: Kenya with ICROSS (International Community for the Relief of Starvation and Suffering)...not sure exactly what I will be doing, but it will be wonderful.
-Mar. 10-Mar. 31: Not sure of exact dates yet, but I will be visiting my study abroad host family in Paris, visiting my high school friend Melanie in Berlin, visiting my L'Arche friends Joy and Beranger in Grenoble (French Alps), and possibly visiting my sister-in-law's sister in Vienna and Budapest. That's a lot for three weeks, and if I do all of those things, it will probably take me more than three weeks to do them.
-April: Walking across Spain on El Camino de Santiago (the path of St. James)! Hello, blisters!
-May: Returning to Grenoble and maybe visiting a monastery or religious community somewhere before I return home. My departure date depends on what nursing school I end up going to. (I'll be making a decision while I'm in Kenya.)

As you can see there are three-ish month-long stages: (1) ICROSS in Kenya, (2) Trekking all over Europe, (3) El Camino, and (2 cont.) more European trekking. I guess you could call this my version of Eat, Pray, Love, but with only a month in each of these places. Maybe my trip should be called Love, Pray, Walk or something like that. I don't know. But I like the idea of three distinct stages. It seemed to work well for Elizabeth Gilbert, though I do not want to return home with an older Brazilian man...

I think it's important to have goals before starting a new adventure, so here's the list I have so far:
-Journal every day
-Write blog posts regularly!
-Pray every day
-Learn some Swahili and Spanish
-Take lots of pictures
-Have fun

I'm sure I'll come up with other things once I'm in the thick of it. But the main purpose of this trip is to see the world, grow deeper in my relationship with God, and have fun because this might be the last time that I don't have ANY responsibilities!

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.