This week has been an incredibly packed week in Ugenya. Nina, the local coordinator, and I have been working 12 hour days the entire week, and we’ve been moving around constantly. It’s been super exhilarating, and I’ve enjoyed it a great deal. I think I’m beginning to get a better handle on this idea of community development work. I’ve never done anything like this in my life, so it’s fantastic to have such hands-on experience.

For instance, we have been spending much of our time this week working on a banana farm that was planted here about 3 years ago. It hasn’t been doing so hot; in fact, it’s been virtually bleeding money in a number of places. The local facilitator first brought us up to date on the work that has been done there and how it has been cared for in the past. Then, we went out to see the caretaker of the plants, got a short tour of the farm (about 400 banana plants) and came back to compile the results. We looked through sheets and sheets of financial data to see what our biggest costs were, how we could cut our losses, and what we might innovate to save the farm. We called a local agronomist to consult about why the farm was not producing the way it should have been. We even met with a local business giant to listen to how he made his banana farm work and to try and get the title deed to the land he “donated” to us to start our own farm. That meeting, to say the very least, was extremely entertaining. We are now writing a 1-yr work plan to organize our findings so as to decide where to go from here. The banana farm is just one of the projects we have been working on while we have been here. It ends on Sunday when we go back to Nairobi for me to fly home. Having finally just gotten familiar with the area, I’ll be going home. But my brother finished his high school career yesterday and I want to be home to see him walk across the stage.

The flurry of activity as we left Kuria very much complemented the rest of our week there. We had chai and a bread/starch dish for breakfast as per usual, and before we knew it, our ride arrived, we said goodbye to the family that had so generously hosted us and shown us incredible hospitality, and we left. It all felt somewhat abrupt, but there is work to do elsewhere. I had grown especially fond of the youngest daughter who I liked to call a princess some days and a terror others (both of which she always grinned in response). I would very much like to see them again in the future, but none but time can predict when such a return may happen. We traveled all day through Kisumu—where we met one of the sponsored “children” (though he is by no means a child any more)—and on to Ugenya. We’ve now arrived and begin the 2nd part of our adventure this week.

In Other News: I have been studying for the MCAT and am finally looking forward to it after weeks of dread and anxiety. There is still much to prepare, but this is one hurdle that I will relish clearing. My brother graduates from high school soon, so those are at least 2 things to look forward to at home. I am certainly enjoying my work here, but it’s hard for me to believe my time here is over half over and I’ll be on a plane again. I am beginning to understand day to day difficulties in development work now, even if only in this specific setting. I anticipate that I will draw on this experience in new ways that I do not realize now for many years to come.

I am growing more and more accustomed to this place, and I think it is growing more and more accustomed to me. I scuttled onto the plane in Cincinnati knowing I would need to constantly be mindful of how I might offend Kenyan culture through my actions and attitudes, but, as for every place I have traveled, there have been some cultural clashes for which I have not been at all prepared. Kuria, Kenya has been teaching me much about community work projects in a foreign place. Having worked in groups more than enough times in my college career composed of members with multiple backgrounds and wielding various skill sets, I came into the onslaught of meetings we have been having over the past two days with a very clear understanding of how group work should be done. The way I work best in groups is often with much structure, division of responsibility, and clear procedure before anything begins. For the sake of comparison, I would offer the word ‘inorganic’ as an accurate characterization of my general work style where as things here in Kuria have been quite the opposite, i.e. very organic. We may have a certain meeting agenda, but if another, more pressing issue arises, group members (local community leaders in this case) have not been apprehensive about getting up to deal with said issue before continuing. Things generally get done, but at a much more slow, sometimes more thorough and others more scattered, way. We have recently been meeting about starting a farming project on 29 acres of land as well as building a community center on the land. Things are currently moving along, but it is in a manner with which I am unfamiliar. My work here has been quite different than the hands on experiences of South Africa or the academic studies of Costa Rica. I feel incredibly blessed to be here and I look forward to seeing the fruit this trip reaps, both here in Kenya and in my own life.

Nina and I attended a PCEA (Presbyterian Church of East Africa) this morning. It was the first time I had ever been unequivocally called out and marked as a visitor; they gave us rose pinions to wear so that everyone we talked to would know we were guests. Today highlights one of the reasons why I deeply love the modern expression church: the hospitality exercised towards strangers is exceptional and welcoming, speaking volumes for the kingdom of the Lord just through plain kindness. There are plenty of aspects that have long strayed from the biblical ideal and must be examined, but this is one strong point I notice in general.

We leave for the rural tomorrow by bus, so I’m glad I finally bought another pair of pants today. I neglected to realize before arriving here that men rarely wear shorts at all; almost everyone wears pants (I’ve seen 1 person wearing shorts in my 3 days in the capital city). So, I brought plenty of shorts, of course, and not enough pants so as to even try and demonstrate some sort of cultural awareness. But I am slackless no longer, for today I bought a pair from a friend of a friend who owns a shop in town. Also, just took another MCAT practice exam and did work on the computer.

It mystifies me that such volumes of work could be organized out of such a small office with so few people. This organization serves thousands of people in various ways in Kenya and abroad with only a handful of people working in the main offices. Nina and I spent the entire day getting oriented to work within the cozy office and learning some of the intricacies of non-profit management and operation. The day’s activities included: exchanging currency at the bank, sorting through our 100+ pounds of donations that we brought over from the States, rehashing the list of assignments which we will attempt to accomplish, getting briefed on communication and travel in Kenya. Tomorrow will be a more relaxed day, and I think Nina and I will try to attend a church on Sunday morning (which is what I’m really looking forward to). The churches I attended in South Africa were completely protestant, but Catholicism has a stronger presence here in Kenya, so I’m curious as to how it operates. Praising God corporately while in a foreign place brings into sharp focus the oft referenced unity of the visible and invisible church Catholic which Calvin describes in his Institutes (Book 4, Chapter 1.2). I find that I reflect on this beautiful quality of the church most when I am estranged from my familiar community and God grants some comfort through such contemplations.

Post from 5/11/11

After about a day and a half of traveling, we arrived in Nairobi late on Thursday and were picked up by the program manager on site. Nina has been a great travel partner; we watched a movie together on the plane, keeping in time with one another by pausing for a couple of seconds and trying to synchronize the videos. Not much more to comment on the journey.

Except that I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the airport was wearing such smart clothing. The general public sense of style was clearly much more prevalent there than in many places in the States. Nina and I went to an art museum in the airport during our layover in Amsterdam and most everyone who walked in was snazzily dressed and stylishly attired. A friend was studying in Eastern Europe last semester and also commented on the fashionable clothing. I don’t know why I remember that detail; maybe subconscious fashion self-consciousness.

As I sit under my mosquito net writing this post to later transcribe onto the internet, I think about our work ahead and I find myself more accepting than excited. I don’t feel jitters or dizziness (except a little bit from malarial meds), but just ready. I’m not sure if it is a product of having traveled a good bit in the past year or if it’s airplane fatigue, but it is I how I feel. Either way, more orientation begins tomorrow.

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I how I feel. Either way, more orientation begins tomorrow.

We have come to the conclusion that, no matter how hard we could ever try or how much we could ever work, there will inevitably, perpetually be another project that this organization wants us to do. They have a fantastic knack for utilizing all the excitement their interns have to move things along in the villages in which we work. Today, my partner and I furiously wrote down all the myriad assignments we have for our time in Kenya which include everything from talking to a village notary/aristocrat to try and get a land deed from him to meeting with the various sponsored students in order to write updated reports on all of them. It looks like most of my studying/reading/writing will be done through the night. Kenya rides the equator, so it’s only light from 6:30-6:30, so there should still be plenty of time for everything. Our aerial voyage begins tomorrow afternoon.

I’ll be traveling abroad again, and that means time to reboot the blog for another adventure. Kenya is my destination this trip, and more specifically, to a couple of villages that are supported by the organization that I’m working through. And today began our training. Just a couple hours from home, Cincinnati sits along the Ohio River border of Kentucky and is where my trip will begin. A friend from Duke and I will be here for a couple of days for training before shipping out. Today, we even had a small homework assignment to formulate a short AIDS talk to give to the classes we’ll meet. Coming off of South Africa last summer and Costa Rica this past fall, this summer is sure to bring even more clarity about future career options.

To all of you followers returning to my blog, welcome! And thank you. To all newcomers, I hope this can be a small way to keep in touch with what I am doing over these next few weeks. I’ll be in Kenya until early June, but I don’t anticipate having full internet access, so please bear with me on the frequency of posts. Ambitiously, I had planned to post every day, but things don’t always go according to plan, especially in Kenya. I hope my journeys allow God to work on your hearts and increase their compassion for the impoverished as much as he has mine over the past 2 years. Comment and enjoy!

Also, short disclaimer. All thoughts, ideas, opinions, statements, and postings made on this blog in no way or form represent the thoughts, ideas, opinions, ideologies, or doctrines of my sending organization. All comments are completely my own and represent no one but me. You may not appropriate anything I say to any other organization or person; all postings are completely my own.

Today was the end. We are officially free of all academic responsibility for the remainder of the semester. We’ll be leaving Las Cruces field station on Saturday morning for some unknown location; our professors want it to be a surprise (we have a lot of those in this program, especially with grades). Some preliminary reflections on the trip: this semester has been an exceptionally incredible one in terms of witnessing the effectiveness of a medical system focused on primary care in contrast with my own nation’s private coverage system. Hearing people talk about their faiths and observing the dynamics between belief and ritual has been a fantastic part of this trip as well. What’s more, we’ve talked with so many people and made a huge number of contacts throughout the semester. A successful program I believe.

But home is looking more wonderful each hour. My brother had gastrointestinal surgery on Tuesday and is chilling in the hospital for a bit right now. He’s a trooper: my mom and dad say he is recovering very well, up and walking around today, and was able to eat some solid food. I want to be back with him so he has some more company. I’m sure living in the hospital is dreadfully dull; hopefully he’ll be home soon. With one son in the hospital and one in Costa Rica, needless to say it was a Thanksgiving to remember for my parents. I think this break will be good time for some reflection on this past semester and listening to God on how he’d like my experiences here to color and direct my future endeavors. I hope to update the blog a few times over the break, but tune back in in January for more *regular* posts (as long as the semester doesn’t get too crazy).

Just a short update for anyone who might be wondering whether or not this blog is dead, for it is most certainly not, or whether I’m still alive at all, which I must think that I am. We finished our lectures 2 weeks ago and have been working on our research projects and studying for our exams (which are tomorrow) like crazy. The rest of the semester has not really felt like school cause we travel so much and experience so many things, but these past couple of days have been just like finals at Duke. Voy a regresar a mi hogar el porximo lunes; nuestro tiempo es limitado.

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