Thursday, October 2, 2014

Long Distance Relationship Ideas-Joint Blog Post with Nate

 Hey Hey,
             So this blog post isn’t about my time now in India but instead Nate and I have written a joint blog post about our long distance relationship. We decided to create a list of the things we can remember doing over the course of, mainly the time that I was in Kenya, but also kinda over the course of our relationship until now.  They are things-mostly little things that we believe helped keep the magic in our relationship alive. We were together in a long distance relationship (3-5 hours apart for the first 11 months that we dated and then we were 7-8 hours time difference apart for the following 22 months. Now we are finally not only on the same continent-but also in the same country/county/town/compound! And it’s AWESOME!!!

Ideas for A Long Distance Relationship…That Worked for Nathu + Zabet

  • NEVER underestimate snail mail- everyone loves getting mail no matter if it’s a postcard or a package-everything is good!
  • Going along with the snail mail idea, we found that it was a good idea to number each envelope we sent to each other and then we would know a) how long letters would take to arrive b) if one was missing c) how many we’d sent over the course of our time apart
  • Take pictures before you leave on 2 disposable cameras (1 for each of you) but then when you get them developed (if you do before you leave, don’t show the other person) and then send them with letters or postcards as a fun surprise/reminder of past memories made
  • Cut out interesting newspaper clippings (comics, stories of interest, sweet pictures & funny misprints) to send each other which can be fun to read but also good reminders of current happenings to reread later
  • Rarely, if ever, say ‘I miss you’- and we realize this one might seem weird. You can say I miss you to friends and family but don’t say/write it to your one and only homeslice cause you know it’s always implied and saying it sometimes makes seem more real and harder to be apart-not that it isn’t hard being away from family and friends too but you know what I mean
  • Create a scenario with the two of you doing fun things that you’d like to do together in the future (places you want to visit/restaurants to try/parks to explore) and tell each other these through thrilling letters, phone calls or emails
  • Send little packages of…fun things they might miss/never have seen (food & candy can be great!) if you’re in a new place/funny things they might have no use for except to get a good laugh
  • Create an album on FB where you can share pictures
  • Make surprises for each other and give little hints for suspense-from things as little as a special postcard idea to a package in the mail to a flash drive
  • Create a list of things you want to do/movies you want to see/places you want to travel when you’re together again so neither of you forget; and because crossing things off of the list later is really fun!
  • Write down your love story thus far so you can reread it whenever you want –get the key moments like first kiss, first ‘I love you’, first hangout, trips taken together and any really memorable times together
  • Send mix tapes! That might sound really 90s but a) the 90s were awesome and b) getting new music is always good especially when it’s suggested by someone you love
  • You can go a step farther than just the mix tape and send a list of hints/reasons for each song on the CD that they can look at the first time they listen to it and then send the list of actual artist/song names that they can check out after a full listening
  • Copy little phrases or text messages sent that were especially cute or special in someway onto a word document to reread later
  • Send a list of Top 10 things you’re excited for when you see them
  • Send dried flowers, leaves or other things to give them the flavor of the season they might be missing
  • Create ridiculously over-the-top cute/punny/ridiculous cards
    • ‘Owl’ always love you
    • I love ‘ewe’
    • I’m longing for you (pic of giraffe or swan)
    • “There is always some madness in love but there is also always some reason in madness”-Freidrich Nietzche
  • Come up with fun exchanges to do when you’re together – like if you do something then they’ll do something in exchange like a dance, song or crazy dare – make ‘em as foolish as you want! Or you can create exchanges for you to do apart and then you have to document them for each other and it’ll bring some great laughs
  • Send a journal back and forth or two journals so that you can read/write in both and almost always have one to continue writing in
  • Send each other a flash drive back and forth with short videos you take, pictures, little stories or whatever you want. And my advice is if you are only sending the USB in a regular envelope-tape it to something else like a pencil or whatever so to disguise it a bit and then people won’t want to open it and take it.
  • Calculate time differences and make sure the times of phone calls are convenient for both people, and don’t over think it if one isn’t able to make a pre-decided time.
  • Explore websites to find the cheapest rates for calling, if free Skype isn’t a possibility. Also, buying Skype minutes is usually on the more expensive end—ex of a cheap calling rates website:
  • Exchange a couple T-shirts or something before you depart—it helps you feel close even when far away (take your time washing them for the first time, cause the scent goes away).
  • For the time difference: Ironman Triathlon watches have a two-time setting—if you’re bad at simple math, it helps.
  • Send each other stuffed animals of your sprit animal….
  • Don’t be afraid to write venting letters (about things happening in your life, but not relationship related, just if you had a rough day) if phone calls aren’t a possibility at the moment. It helps to get thoughts out on paper, and maybe it can help you partner better understand the situation or even learn something about you. 
  • Difficult conversion topics can be brought up in letters initially so each person has time to evaluate their thoughts/opinions before discussing it on the phone
  • If you’re able to send text messages, make little funny random ones/jokes/cheesy pick up lines-to let your partner know they’re on your mind (think the scene from Enchanted J ‘That’s How You Know’)
  • Calculate when special holidays/birthdays are coming up and how long it usually takes for the mail to deliver and send packages filled with special items for those days like balloons, funky party glasses, streamers, cards and confetti!
  • Check out the website: which has some more good ideas for long distance relationships

Hope this list gave you some ideas if you’re in a long distance relationship-no matter the distance! Believe in your relationship, communicate and if it is meant to last, then it will stand against all odds.
Good luck!

Kisses from India,
Zabet & Nathu

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bus Project Update!!!

Hey Hey Hey!

 This is a short blog post with an update on the bus project!!
So as you probably know, I’ve been working with my Kenyan counterparts on raising money for a bus for the school. I was evacuated a little over a month ago but the idea is still strong and actions are being made to keep the dream alive!

My school has been doing their part and raising money since the walk by talking churches in the area as well as visiting schools. Their goal is not only to raise money but also to raise awareness of our school and the Deaf community. Now it’s our turn to raise the money that would’ve been raised through the grant had I been able to complete my service there.

A website has been created with information about my school and the bus project and a place to donate on the top of the webpage.
The website link if you’re interested in learning more/donating:  

If you have any questions about the school or the project, please leave a comment underneath and I would be happy to answer them for you!

Lastly, For more information on the actual walk, there was an article written about it by a local Kenyan from Sipili:

Also, I had written a blog post on it back in June: 

Thank you for your generosity, well wishes and prayers!!
Love, Zabet

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kenya-Ethiopia-USA-India & Words of Wisdom from Sipili

Hello friends!
 It has been way too long since I’ve written a blog post and so now I have a few for you to catch up on! As many of you know, my life has been pretty crazy this past month with many transitions. The last time I wrote a blog post I was in Kenya but since then I have been evacuated from Kenya, been a tourist in Ethiopia for 9 days, visited with family and friends in America while slurping up milkshakes and flown to India. All within about 5-6 weeks. It’s been kinda crazy to say the least.

It all started in early July when we found we were being evacuated from Kenya for security reasons. We officially left the country about 3 weeks later after a few consolidations, transition meeting and packing/saying goodbye to our communities. Saying goodbye to my kiddos was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t know how many of them I’ll ever see again and that is the hardest part of it all. Leaving America to initially go to Kenya was tough but nothing compared to waving to my kids and not knowing when/if I’ll ever see them again. They don’t know how to use the internet and all of the students I taught will graduate from Sipili School for the Deaf within a few years since the youngest kids I taught were in 4th grade. It’s really hard to think about and I am crossing my fingers I can go back within 4-5 years when it’s possible for me to return to visit.

I am still in contact with my school and there is still hope for the bus project!!!! Many of you know that I have been actively working with the teachers to raise money for a school bus and this is still in the works. Originally I was going to do a Peace Corps Grant but now that I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), I am no longer eligible for the grant. I am now currently working with my family to try and figure out a new plan involving PayPal so that I can still raise the $10,000 that my school was counting on with the grant. I will keep you all updated on that news and hopefully very soon I will have more information on the progress but I am very excited for it and hope it all goes well!

After Kenya, I visited Ethiopia and had a blast! And I wrote separate blog post on that which will be either right before or right after this one.

Following Ethiopia I flew back to ‘Merica and it was crazy. It was so good to be back and see people but it was also just strange. I hadn’t really fully processed that I had left Kenya and wasn’t going back and then being back surrounded by people was a lot but mostly great! I ate a lot of good food including a milkshake almost every single day I was back, Chinese and sushi and salads-delicacies! And caught up with people who I hadn’t seen for a while too! In addition to all of that, I also had officially decided to travel with the University of Pittsburgh to India.

The brings me to the last country, the one I am currently in. I am now in India as the Resident Assistant to 17 University of Pittsburgh students from now until the middle of December. I am so excited about this new adventure! We arrived in Delhi last Monday and drove the 7 hours up to Mussoorie on Tuesday. Delhi was pretty toasty which makes living in the mountains that much better! Mussoorie is a beautiful town tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains and I am already falling in love with everything. The other bonus about being on this trip is the company. Not only do the students seem pretty cool as well as the staff here at the Center but I am also here with Nate’s Dad who is the main professor and leader of the trip and Nate too! After being in a relationship living on separate continents for 22 months and only seeing each other for about one of those months, we now get the chance to experience what living in the same community is like and I couldn’t be more exited!

This week has mostly been figuring out the system, meeting the staff & students, figuring out what my job will entail and orienting myself with everything and everyone. I am living at the Hanifl Center which is connected with Woodstock School (an international school about a 10-15 minute walk away). The students live in a dorm directly next to the building I’m living in and will have class in the building that I’m in as well as meals. They have a pretty sweet schedule which is half made of classes pertaining to this area and half made of excursions, whether they’re day trips or 10 day treks. I will be going on some of the excursions, most likely the large 10 day treks and exploring northern India with them. Also while I am here during the day I will mostly likely start to help out at the Woodstock School doing whatever they need me to a few days a week or if I can find a senior activity center, then I hope to help out there but so far I haven’t had any luck finding one. My days will be working at the school/running/self-teaching myself ASL/reading/attending the occasional lecture and whatever else until 5pm when I am on duty so I hope to find something cool to do a few times a week while the students are in class.

I also must mention the food here and town. Nate and I walked to town yesterday (about 45-60 min walk away) and explored everything. For him, it was remembering stores he loved and reminiscing about ones that had left from when he was here last about 4-5 years ago. For me, it was exciting to see food being sold that I remembered from when I studied abroad my junior year in southern India as well as clothing but also just exciting to take in everything using all of my senses. We had lunch at this little dosa place that Nate loved and I had some of the best masala chai I’ve had in a really long time. We also bought some juice on the side of the road that we watched being made with pomegranate, oranges and apples and it was like I was back in Ethiopia with all the fresh amazing juice, made me so happy! I also bought a brightly colored hanging chair (blue, purple & pink) which is gonna be soo sweet when I have my own place in America to set it up…assuming I can get it back to America somehow hahaha it may be slightly larger than I thought and doesn’t fit into my suitcase exactly… We also were able to buy a few books at a bookstore that Nate knew and it will be perfect and I can see myself returning many times. The last main place we stopped was this super cute cafĂ© that has some American things in it and is run only by Indian women. It had a good vibe, cool decorations and delicious masala chai and crepes-you can’t go wrong with that! The last thing I gotta say is about the food here at the Hanifl Center and how amazing it has been. I’d heard the food might get old after a while and not be as interesting to eat often and I know I’ve only been here a week but I gotta say, I don’t see myself getting bored with the food. After living in Kenya and eating only maize with beans & kales for lunch and porridge 95% of the time for breakfast, this food is glorious! We had cereal-3-4 types on daily rotation, some sort of egg (scrambled or hard boiled), a type of different bread (bun, chapatti, toast) and a fruit with juice and PB/jelly/cheese to put on our bread. Sooo goood!! And let me just throw it out there that we had chocolate mousse with lunch 2 days ago that had actual chocolate chips!!!!! On the top of it! sayyyy whattt?! My mind was blown! So overall, yeah, things are good here J I’ll probably update you all again in a few weeks once things get into a routine here.

And I leave you all with words of wisdom/thoughts on the world from my headmaster from Sipili, a slightly ridiculous man.

·      “Don’t walk alone because it could kill you. How? From stress. It’s twice as tiring psychologically to do that compared to walking with other people”
·      “It’s hard to find a hearing impaired teacher who is fat because it takes a lot of energy to teach”
·      “Medium heavy rain could kill you-it’ll just soak into you and kill you”
·      “If you take Viagra without a partner-in fact, you could die”
·      “Americans don’t like white hair”
·      “All short men are hot tempered”
·      Everyone has sex before marriage. Anyone who says they haven’t/didn’t are lying and probably want to keep it private and that’s why they won’t tell you”
·      “When it’s cold, all the girls are moody”
·      “Everyone who has a green card is definitely a slave”
·      “Two wives are better than one”
·      “The most wise people are very sexy”

Have a great start of school/start of September!
Love to you,

Ethiopia Trip!!

Hey guys, this is a late blog post about the 9 or so days after Kenya and before America. It was an amazing trip that I did with a bunch of other volunteers from my group and we had a great time.

Our journey began on Tuesday as I flew out of Kenya at 10am with 2 other PCVs. The crazy thing was that we met an RPCV on our flight over. She was a Health PCV for the first 8 months of my service until her service was over and then she went back to the USA to go to grad school. She was working in Ethiopia for 2 months and had just gone to visit Kenya for a long weekend when we were flying back with her. She was really helpful as she helped us find a cab, our hotel and a place a stay at the end of our stay.

On our first day we didn’t do much except explore the capital and eat a delicious lunch with tej (honey wine). Eran, Jocelyn and I all walked around together to try and find sim cards for our phones…much harder than it should’ve been. We walked all around looking for phone stores but many of them didn’t sell the sim cards-only phones. At long last we found one and he told us he needed a passport picture of us and to see a copy of our passports. So then we had to go on another adventure to find a copier and a picture place. Eventually we did but we were running by the end of it since the guy at the phone store said he might close shop soon. We made it but something weird was going on with my phone so even after all that trouble, my phone could only receive texts and calls but never could successfully make them. Oh well, we got to see a good bit of the city throughout the whole ordeal. That night we were able to meet up with the 4 other PCVs that had flown over earlier in the day and we all slept very well that night.

We woke up at 6am so that we could try to catch a bus to Bah-hee-a-dar (spelling is phonetic). Wrong choice. We discovered that transportation is different than in Kenya. We had to preorder a ticket the day before. It took us 2 hours of our morning to figure out a new plan, buy tickets as well as in country flight tickets and decide on our plans for the day since we weren’t leaving the country until the next day.
Side note on transportation- It is very different than Kenya in a lot of ways. Long bus trips need preordered tickets; which is sometimes true in Kenya but usually only during holidays. Also, people wait in long lines-lines!-for the matatus! It was crazy! In Kenya if you wanted on a matatu, it was often a free-for-all but in Ethiopia, people actually stood in lines to wait. The roads we traveled on were actually nicely paved as well. Granted, take all of these comparisons about Kenya and Ethiopia (and ones I make in the future), with a grain of salt, because I got to know Kenya pretty well over the course of 22 months whereas I only spent 9 days in Ethiopia. And in Ethiopia, I was in more touristy places and we flew a few times. That was the other big difference in transportation-that some of the roads are so bad/it takes for-ev-er to travel on some of them, that in-country flights are fairly common there.

Back to day 2. Since we couldn’t travel very far we decided to take a day trip to Wenchi Crater. It took about 3-4 hours one-way to get there and since there were 6 of us, we just hired a vehicle for the day. It was a beautifully scenic trip. When we arrived at the crater we paid not only to get in the park but also to ride on horseback the 4 km down to the crater and back up. We hopped on our horses which were being led by Ethiopians and within 2 minutes, the rain started and got heavier and heavier. Our horses were quickly led to a ladies house nearby so that we wouldn’t get completely wet. The sweet older lady invited us inside the little wooden house where she instantly started making a fire in the middle of it. We sat around on the edge of the bed and a bench while she got the fire roaring. We were at 3000meters, in their winter season, soaking wet and fire was the perfect cure. All 6 of us plus all 6 horse guides as well as the lady and her grandson were packed into her house and it was perfectly cozy. We sat there warming up, not saying much as there was a large language barrier, for about an hour while the rain continued. They asked if we wanted coffee and knowing how big it was in Ethiopia in addition to how cold we were, we instantly jumped at the chance. The mama went through the whole coffee ceremony. She started by bringing out coffee beans; much lighter in color than we expected, and we realized the reason in color difference was because the beans still had to be roasted. She got a large pan and roasted the beans on it, flipping them constantly until they were black. Next she took out a small goblet and started to grind the beans using a large heavy stick to pound them in the goblet. She made it look so easy, smiling the whole time. She then started to boil a large pot of water in a coffee pot and eventually added the ground coffee to it. She mixed it by pouring a little into a cup and then back into the pot shortly after. It was a long process but then it was made and she poured some into all the cups for us to drink. She also had a little bit of salt-big grains-which she added to our cups to add a little something extra. Now I normally don’t like coffee, let along black coffee, but it was pretty awesome to be drinking coffee after watching the whole process in some random lady’s house in the middle of Ethiopia. We ended up spending about 2 hours in her house while the rain raged on until we finally had to head back to the capital. We never did get that ride down to the bottom of the crater but we saw it from the top and I enjoyed our random coffee experience much more. On our drive home, we got stuck for about 30min and ate a large platter of enjera with various sauces and vegetables on top with our first taste of Ethiopian beer.

We didn’t get much sleep that night since we woke up at 3:30am to drive to the bus station. After 45min of wandering around the bus station, staring at signs written only in Amharic, we found our bus. That was another unusual difference between Ethiopia and Kenya that we noticed. In Kenya whenever you walk into a matatu or bus stage to find the right vehicle going to your destination, you can barely walk one foot without someone coming up to you to ask where you want to go. Sometimes when you travel through the same towns often enough and always know where you’re going, it can be annoying, but if you’re in a new town, then it can have its advantages. Ethiopians, however, always just let us wander around knowing/hoping/trusting we’d find the right bus. The bus itself was also quite different. The buses that you take for long distances in Kenya are fine but the seats aren’t too comfortable and the windows are tinted weird colors so it can be strange to look out them. The buses in Ethiopia that took us to Gondar in northern Ethiopia were very nice! We got 2 bottles of water, a piece of cake, nice seats and they had 2 TVs hanging in the aisles which actually played Ethiopian music videos the whole time! It was spectacular to say the least. The view was also amazing. We passed so much flat farmland that was as green as a cucumber! There weren’t many towns along the way, just lush green land. We finally got off of the bus around 10:30pm after about 17 hours sitting on the bus with only a few toilet stops and one stop for lunch. Thankfully we’d been able to contact an Ethiopian to meet us at the stage and take us to a hotel. Robel was amazing! We got his contacts from an Ethiopian PCV who knew he’d be willing to help us out. He had recently married a PCV who had just left after her close-of-service and was waiting on his marriage visa to go through. He hung out with us for the full day we were in Gondar and showed us around from a local perspective.
The next morning we met Robel for breakfast and juice-delicious!!! And then headed off in a taxi for 45min to the Simean Mountains. We’d decided to do the half-day hike and walked around the mountains with a tour guide for about 3.5 hours. It was incredibly beautiful! We saw the tree with branches that some people use as toothbrushes and some bleeding heart baboons. We got much closer than I’d expected us to! Overall the mountains were beautiful and so green! It was unbelievable! We spent our afternoon at the market and walking around town which was also really cool since we were with Robel, a born and raised Gondar man. That evening after a short nap, we all got ready for a night on the town. We met up with Robel again and he took us to find dinner. We wandered around but a lot of places had closed since it was 8:30 or 9pm until eventually we found a place that we were initially just going inside of to use their restrooms but then after Robel talked to the guy for a little bit, the manager agreed to stay open for 30 more minutes and give us food! We ate an unusual but so good combo meal of enjera with sauce and lasagna. The next stop was a little hole-in-the-wall bar where Robel took us to get a drink and teach us to dance. It was our starter course. We all attempted it for a while but none of us really succeeded, though it was hilarious the whole time! Then we went to the next level and he took to the ‘House of Camelot’ where we saw traditional dancing and participation was highly recommended so naturally, we all jumped in and made complete fools of ourselves J  The last place he took us to that night was a slightly underground night club which played popular American songs intermixed with popular Ethiopian songs and the whole crowd danced with a mixture of styles which was so cool to watch and try to attempt!

On Saturday morning we woke up early, again, to fly to Lailibela. We made it there in the morning after a 25min flight and found our hotel. We walked to market about a 30min walk away since it was actually market day and it was in full swing. We ended up meeting two high school boys, Abraham and Antonio, who helped to show us around and showed us the juice place. The afternoon was cool because we went shopping in our town and we met a really sweet athletic lady who is Deaf! I could only understand about half of what she was signing but I was with 2 other Deaf Ed volunteers and between the 3 of us, we had a good short conversation. We found out she had competed in Athletics in Addis Abba recently and was a pretty decent runner and now she is a great business woman who has her own shop in Lailibela! It was really uplifting to hear about her success and think back to my students and hope they can have the same success! We ended our day by relaxing outside with a few cups of coffee and a delicious large Ethiopian meal.

On Sunday we woke up at 4am trying to meet up with 3 other PCVs from Kenya who had taken the bus up from Nairobi instead of flying like we did, because we were going to go to a monastery to hear the monks chanting and singing. However, luck was not on our side and we didn’t know we had to buy tickets for it beforehand so we said hellos and went back to our hotel to pass out. I spent the morning with some of them walking around town and we ended up running into Antonio and Abraham again who showed us a shelter for the homeless who now make and sell scarves! Pretty neat. And our afternoon ended with the church tour. That is the main attraction of Lalibela, the sweet super old stone churches. There are 11 total, split into 3 groups of monolithic, semi-monolithic and cave church I believe. They have been around for ages and the coolest part is that at least some of them are still in use sometimes. That evening we went to a bar where we saw more traditional dancing, and it’s always astounding how they’re able to move their shoulders like that.

The next morning we woke up early again and hung outside one of them to listen to the chanting and drumming as they started the celebration for one of the holidays, St. Marys Day I believe. Then everyone headed out of Lalibela either to travel around the north a bit more or to fly back to Addis to fly home the following day. Jocelyn and I were the only ones to hang around for one more day and we took it pretty easy. We were exhausted from the little sleep we’d been getting and were looking forward to a pretty relaxing day filled with Ethiopian food, movies and wandering the town.

On Tuesday we flew back to Addis in the morning and met some cool people on our flight. One couple had gotten married in January and were now taking their honeymoon of 14 countries in 40 days-and the guy had actually grown up in Hempfield (Lancaster, PA!). We met the other PCVs in the hotel to grab our stuff and say farewell as they flew off that afternoon. We ended up staying at Joe’s house (the RPCV’s workmate that we met when we flew into Ethiopia). He took us on a tour of the biggest open air market of either East Africa or Africa, called Mercado. It was super muddy but awesome. On the way back and the way there actually, we stopped for coffee at a place called Tamoca which is known for having the best coffee in Ethiopia. Then on the way home I had between 15 and 20 people tell me that my leg were dirty/offer to wipe them off/chuckle and point at my legs…even in Ethiopia people thought I had dirtbag tendencies hahaha. It was all because I had a skirt on but had rolled it up when we walked through the market because of how incredibly muddy it was and then on the walk back to Joe’s house, the mud had caked on and I had a beautiful splatter paint thing going on. That evening was fun as Joe took us out to a Sudanese restaurant with 4 of his friends who work there but were originally from various parts of Europe and Australia. The next morning was my last day in Ethiopia and so I decided to go get my hair done. The first two places wouldn’t do it-one because they were booked until after lunch and the second just looked at me and shook their head-but the third time was a charm. They put small cornrow braids in my hair. It took an hour, we (Eran and Jocelyn came with me) got served coffee and bread and the whole thing only cost $5! I ended my stay there by eating lunch with Eran, Jocelyn and Joe. We ate enjera with raw meat! It was actually really good and apparently a lot of Ethiopians eat raw meat often. Overall I’d say the sort of spontaneous trip there to transition between Kenya and America was awesome!


Monday, June 2, 2014

A Walk through ‘A Walk for a Bus’: Part 1

Hello Everyone!
 Well, WE DID IT!! We completed the walk to the best of our ability and I think we’re halfway there money-wise!! It was an adventure of all sorts. I’d co-planned it and yet I still went in unsure of a lot of things but they all worked themselves out in the end. It was quite a week. The people: 10 learners (2 from class 7 & and 8 from class 8), Wairia & Thairo (teachers), Gishoki (our cook), our driver and me. The week: 26-30th May 2014. The what? Our ‘Walk for a Bus’. The How? Read on…

The craziness began last Saturday. We still hadn’t decided if we were going to leave on Saturday or Sunday and there was a lot that I was stressing out about. On Friday afternoon, Wairia, my co-teacher, was in Nyahururu, and he was supposed to be confirming our vehicle for the week. I was here in Sipili and was supposed to be talking to someone to confirm our place to stay on Sunday and see if we could extend the invitation to Saturday. Neither of us had the conversations we wanted nor neither could get in contact with the people we were trying to reach. It was rough. Saturday rolls around and by the afternoon I’d assumed we would leave Sunday because as far as I knew we didn’t have a vehicle or place to sleep. Nope, that wasn’t in the cards. Wairia called me at 3:15pm and said to pack everything because a matatu was coming to pick us up from the school. The kids were scattered everywhere because they were off collecting funds from the market in town but we got them all in one place, packed and ready to go. We pulled out of Sipili around 4:30 with 10 learners, Thairo, another teacher and myself as well as Gishoki our cook. We had our book bags, 6 mattresses, some buckets and our banner and that was it. We met Wairia in Nyahururu where we hopped onto another matatu and rode off into the sunset to Nanyuki although it didn’t feel like a fairytale. I still wasn’t sure what we’d gotten ourselves into but I was glad we were on our way and it was actually happening! We pulled up to the Likii Special School for the Mentally Challenged around 9:30pm where Wairia had called and they said it was fine to come. Our school had stayed there for a week during Games a few months ago and so our kids and their kids knew each other and it was fine. The special schools here really look out for one another and are always willing to lend a helping hand to other special schools, it’s really neat. We got fed ugali and kales and slept in 2 separate classrooms. Side note about the classrooms, they were recently built and had a lot of new devices like a trampoline, toy shelf and were painted with tons of visual aids however, the classes had no lights or electricity.

Sunday came bright and early and after drinking our porridge we left for the same Catholic Church that the students had attended during Games last term. We attended the first service and were allowed to say a little blurb about ourselves but not pass the donation plate around. We stood outside the gate afterwards and got quite a few donations though. Then we went back for round 2 and the second service was much better. Waria talked for a bit longer and then had two of the students come and say their thanks. And then the kids signed a song while the church sang along and it was such a cool experience!! Next they had the donation baskets in front so people could come and give and we were so blessed by donations in that service! It was incredible! Other things about church I noticed was that there was a music conductor, which I don’t think, I’ve seen since arriving here. The church was humungous and had a small choir in front with the conductor and she was really enthusiastic. The artwork at this church was also probably the coolest I’ve ever seen in a church. In the front the wall was extremely tall and they had this crazy awesome painting. There was a pale yellow sun swirling around on the top and the earth on the bottom in a semi-circle. The earth was textured and colored with the prefect mix of green, blue and white. And then in the middle was a copper (maybe?) statue of Jesus elongated so that his feet were in Africa and his arms outstretched overhead to the sky. I took a picture which I’ll post on Facebook next week, but basically, really cool. The last thing was something I learned during the sermon. Now the whole service-both services-were in Kiswahili-2.5hours times 2 services-a long time-but the priest said a handful of sentences in English and this was one of them, my take-home: “Don’t kill your brother, that doesn’t make sense. If you feel the need to kill, come here and we’ll take you to Somalia and you can kill Al-Shabaab”. Yep, that was all I got out of the sermon. Hahahaha oh man. After church we relaxed all afternoon getting ready to begin the walk the next morning.

Monday. Fun day. Walk Day!! We woke up early, ate, packed our bags and waited for the a-ok from Gikunda, our headmaster, to head over to the Education Offices to get officially flagged off. We walked over around 10 and by 11 we were starting with a few speeches and a prayer. There was maybe 5-6 high up Education people there as well as someone from KBC News. It was pretty exciting! We walked out of the Education offices with our banners held high, ready to make some money towards our bus! Our system was receipt tickets. Our students each carried a bunch of cards that said ‘I supported Sipili School for the Deaf to buy a school bus’ and then we had for 50Ksh, 100Ksh, 200Ksh, 500Ksh and 1,000Ksh. The students would take their cards and show people them and then if they wanted to donate they could choose how much. Soon after walking around together in a large group, we split into smaller groups to cover more ground. I had 3 students with me and I would walk around holding one of the smaller posters while the students went up to everyone and then if the person had a question, the students could call me over. I will say that system only worked if they knew English and could understand me with my scratchy voice but it worked well enough. That was the other thing of Monday, I woke up with a pretty sore throat and walked around all day with a fever, splendid way to start the week. So while walking around I met an older Italian man who studied US History in university and loves America. He has lived in Kenya for 3 years but it planning to go back to Italy soon because business is tough. He says he hopes to visit the US soon too because he really misses it. We reminisced. He told me he has crossed the continental US 4 total times using Greyhound twice, a car and a train and I found out that not only had he heard of Lancaster PA-he’s visited there because he finds Amish culture fascinating. I did not expect to find someone who has been to Lancaster while I was in Nanyuki that’s for sure! The other interesting person of the day was meeting a lady at a coffee shop who knew Sign Language because she learned it in college and now hopes to come and visit our school at some point! Cool beans! Lunchtime rolled around and we got a free lunch from the high up Education people and realized we’d made a good amount just in the morning from Nanyuki town! We sold tickets from 11-4:30 before hopping into the matatu to head to our next school to sleep. We’d planned to walk on the road a bit on that first day but we walked around town so long and knew we were going to have to cook dinner at the next school so our time was limited. We arrived at Talent Academy, a hearing primary school for Classes 1-5, about 5km off the main road. It felt very remote. We slept in the classrooms with us girls sharing 2 mattresses between the 5 of us. The students cooked dinner of ugali, cabbage and meat and it turned out very well. This was the only place we had to cook because it wasn’t a boarding school and it all worked out. That night was the worst of my fever/cold but I knew that if I could make it through a night sharing a 3in thick mattress with 2 other girls in the cold higher elevation of Nanyuki, I could make it through the walk while feeling sick.

Tuesday morning we had an assembly with all of our students combined. We talked about our students and how they were just as capable as the hearing students at this school, just that they communicated differently and we sang some songs for each other as well as prayed together. They walked us to their gate, wished us well and we were off. We went to Naro Moru town first and then we walked on the road for about 2 hours before reaching our next town, Chaka. In Chaka town it was cool because we met a Deaf carpenter there. He even remembered one of our girls when she was a Class 1-2 girl at her old school. The kids loved being able to talk to him and story with him about things happening in town and his carpentry work. That night we went to Mary Immaculate All Girls Primary School to sleep. It’s a primary school for classes 4-8 only and it was a big school. They had 276 girls, all-boarding and it was so different. Their compound was beautiful and everything was so nice. The girls also were so excited to meet our 4 girls and show them everything. They were all very eager to learn sign language and were so helpful in showing them where to eat, bathe, hang out and sleep. I slept with our girls in one of the dorms. It was a dorm for all of the class 4 & 5 girls-had about 40-and was the smaller dorm. The other 2 held around 150 I think. I did get a warm water bucket bath that night in my own room, which was the highlight of my evening. Twas a bit funny because I was given these 2 small beach pails with warm water and had to kneel on the ground at an awkward angle to get all of my hair wet (something they don’t have to worry about) to wash it but it worked out and the warm water was so wonderful. I found out I had a 101.12 temperature that night and so after eating more ugali and kales for dinner, I went to sleep before all of the girls had gotten back from their nightly study session. Such a night owl I am J

A Walk through ‘A Walk for a Bus’: Part 2

Wednesday morning was full of rain and clouds. Thankfully this was the day we were planning on starting a bit later because the students had washed their clothes and they needed to dry. We had an hour-long assembly with all of the students and it was really great. Everyone learned something including a lot of new signs! We left around 10:30 and went to sell tickets in Mweiga town. We walked for about 2 hours afterwards towards Kiaware town. The walking in-between towns was my favorite part-so relaxing and enjoyable to hang out with the students. I had two interesting experiences in Kiwara town when we reached. We split into group again, as usual, and I ended up making a small child scream bloody murder. He saw me coming and immediately wanted his dad to pick him up and then when I was a little bit closer, I’m talking about 20feet away, he starts screaming his head off! He was terrified!!! I walk past him and am about 5 feet past him and he’s calmed down until he lifts his head a little bit to look at me and screams again-he repeats this cycle about 3 times before his Dad walks away. We are now back to being 30 feet apart and at one point he couldn’t see me which was great until I was in his line of vision and he loses it again. Hahaha I couldn’t win, first white person he’s seen somehow and he wasn’t a fan. I was more surprised because this town is right on the tarmac and I would’ve though they would have more exposure that way. The other interesting person I came across was an older man, probably 65 or 70, who started asking me a one or two questions about the ‘Walk for a Bus’ like why couldn’t I just buy the bus myself? This was right before asking if I was married or not. I told him I was and he asked why my husband couldn’t just buy us a bus. He also said if my husband wasn’t with me in Kenya, I should just marry him. Man, he really knew how to charm me ;) I said no thanks and we had a repeat of the same convo once or twice before he left. Then 20 minutes later we’re walking down a street when he passes by. He tells me point blank that I should really just come and live with him. I tell him I’m working and will be for a while and that his plan won’t work, he asks why not, it’s easy. I just have to stop working and live with him. That I can easily move-in. Wow, well, as hard as that was to resist, I did and as he walked away, I told Jane, the student who was watching the whole interaction go down, what he was asking/my reaction and she burst out laughing hahaha. Oh my. We finished the town, walked for a bit before hopping into the matatu to go to our next school. We slept at Mugunda Secondary School for Girls. We ended up having a pretty late assembly with them that lasted from 9-10:30pm but they all really enjoyed it. The girls became fast friends with our students and it was a great time. After the assembly Wairia wanted all of the girls to get leg massages so I was in charge of that which I did but the girls thankfully weren’t too enthusiastic about getting them. They, like me, wanted sleep more. I’d had a temperature that morning and I could tell it had gone down but it was still there a little bit so after some quick massages, it was lights out.

Thursday came and after breakfast and a photo, we were on our way around 9am. We started in Nairuita town quickly followed by Jikazi then Mario4 with some walking in between each. It was a good start to the day. And it was also good because my fever was basically gone give or take! Around noon we arrived in Nyahururu and met up with our reinforcements! The students were so excited because 5 more learners from our school were there and 2 more teachers! There were so many stories to tell! So we quickly ate lunch and started around on the town. Splitting into groups worked well again although 2 of the 4 learners were from Nyahururu and so as excited as they were, sometimes they’d get carried away and forget to keep me in eyesight but overall, it was a great afternoon. It was nice for me and the students to finally be back in a town that we all knew. The students also were able to see some friends and story a little. That evening we took public transportation to the Muthengara Special School where we’ve been before and it about halfway between Nyahururu and Sipili. We traveled with the 5 learners although Madam Beth went back to her house in Kinamba and Nelly stayed in Nyahururu so I was the only female teacher again. It was totally fine though, we all ate ugali and kales and started to watch the movie ‘Knowing’ in their dining hall but it was too suspenseful and scary for me and I soon went to bed with some of the other girls who felt the same way.

Friday morning we got a call from our driver who had stayed with us up to Nyahururu and was going to help us again, saying he had vehicle problems. We weren’t sure what we wanted to do so we stayed and had a short assembly with the hearing school next door. The special school used to be a unit until they broke away and have their own school but they still share a fence like we do with the primary school next door to us in Sipili. We taught them some new signs, introduced ourselves and showed them how similar they are to the kids there before we were on our way. Right after the assembly was finished and we got back to school, the vehicle showed up and all was well in the world. One group went to Karandi town while my group did Muthengera and then Tandare town with a bit of walking before we all met up in Kinamba town. We met up with Madam Beth at this point and we took on the town with force. We ate a quick lunch since people from Sipili kept calling us wanting to know where we were and to hurry up. The closing ceremony was to start around 2pm…which is when we left Kinamba via the matatu that we had. We drove 3/4ths of the way before getting out to walk. After about 10 min of walking we met up with Gikunda (headmaster) and Kirumba (Senior teacher). Around the next curve we met up with all of the learners from class 4-8 who weren’t able to go on the walk with us. It was soo cool! There was so much excitement in the air and so many greetings and story telling going on everywhere! Then in addition to all of our kids greeting us and starting to walk with us towards town, there were a lot of hearing kids lined up with them and they started walking with us too! We had started to accumulate quite the large mass of people. Around the next curve 5 or 6 motorcycles were waiting for us and a few learners got to hop on the back. Also Gishoki and our night groundsman got on the back of the first two motorcycles to hold the banner and we took a loop around town following the motorcycles while they beeped their horns the whole way. There were so many people and so much noise; it was just so so amazing!! Sipili School for the Deaf was the popular school for the day, it was nuts! J We ended our Sipili tour at the main little intersection in town opposite the matatu stage. Awaiting us was Wainina, the last teacher in our staff who had been putting the ceremony together, and maybe 5-6 other main important people. There was a short hour-long ceremony in which the main people spoke including the MP, one of the education officers, a few principals from nearby schools and our headmaster. A lot of kids were standing around listening as well as a lot of people in town who had come out of their shops to listen. At the end they asked for donations and we ended up raising 7,800ksh from the ceremony alone! And thus, the walk was over. I went back home for the first time in 7 days, cooked myself a dinner that didn’t include ugali or kales, looked in a mirror for the first time in 7 days and saw how tan my face had gotten. I also checked my email/FB for the first time in a week and it felt so good to see the support of my friends and family! Thanks everyone for rooting for my school and me on through this crazy time! We ended up earning roughly 100k so we’re around halfway there which seems a bit nuts but, to quote the song ‘Burn’ by Ellie Goulding “We don’t have to worry bout nothing cause we got the fire and we burning one hell of a something…”. At times since then I’ve started to freak out about how we’re going to get the rest of the money but I have faith and I think it can happen. We started the fire burning and we’re going to keep going until we’ve got a bus on the compound that we can call our own!

Please keep your prayers coming as my school figures out a way to get the rest of the money for the 25% of the grant. I wish you all a happy Madaraka Day (todays holiday) and I hope your new month is off to a great start! Personally I can’t believe it’s already June-I have nooo idea how that happened. I was reminded on FB that today I’ve officially been in Peace Corps for 20 months and have 6-7 left before my service is over! Say whatttt?!

Happpppy June!!!!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Walk for a Bus Week!

Hello Hello Hello J

  This blog is an update on the latest biggest project happening at Sipili School for the Deaf!!! As some of you know, back in March, my school was planning a ‘Walk for a Bus’ to raise money for a school bus. However, 3 days before the event was to take off, some unforeseen issues popped up and we had to postpone it. But now we’re back in business baby!!

Some information on our school and the walk…we became an officially registered school in 2006. We are the only school for the Deaf in all of Laikipia County, which ranges from Nanyuki to Sipili, 240 km, about 4-6hours in length. We are a public boarding school with 80 students registered from infant class to Class 8 with an additional vocational class.

Every year we aim to attend Games, Music festival, Drama festival and field trips however, the transportation is difficult to arrange. Our students are such visual learners but sometimes they cannot attend festivals or trips because we don’t have the means to get them there and back. We are hoping to purchase a school bus so our students have an opportunity to see more of Kenya and learn about various topics while seeing them in person.

We realize raising money is difficult but we are hoping to apply for a Peace Corps Grant after the walk. The PCPP (Peace Corps Partnership Grant) is a grant that can reach $10,000 as the maximum and that is what we’re aiming for. The community must raise 25% of the total in order to receive the grant and that is why we’re doing the walk, as our community contribution. The grant is not like most grants as it gets the money from donations. My school has to apply for the grant with a variety of papers and budget lists. Then it will go through a review process done by other PC volunteers in the Grants Commitee. After it has passed the test, it gets sent to PC headquarters in Washington DC and if it is fine, then it will be put up on the PC website. Once on the website, it is up to any supporters in America to donate. I will have a short paragraph about our school and the project and how much money I am hoping to raise for the school. Anyone can support us. If you search ‘Peace Corps Partnership Grant’ the website will pop up and you can check out every PCV around the world who has a grant up. I will tell you all more about that once the walk is completed, we know how much we’ve raised and how the grant application is going but that’s the direction we’re hoping for.

The walk is now taking place from 26th-30th May. We will leave tomorrow afternoon for Nanyuki so that we are able to attend church the following morning. The learners and teachers that went to county Games in April had gone to one church while there, 2 months ago, and received a lot of positive response about our school. We hope to go back to the same church on Sunday and receive some donations to help our cause. We will sleep in Nanyuki again on Sunday before the walk begins on Monday morning. We hope to start the walk off and then walk around Nanyuki trying to get donations first before walking onwards. We are going to walk about 8km past Naro Moru where we will be spending the night at a school. We hope to do lots of walking and lots of collecting donations J The rest of our schedule goes as such, for those of you with a Kenyan Map who may be interested. Day 2 we leave from Naro Moru and go to Mwaiga to sleep at another school. Day 3 we’ll leave Mwaiga in the morning and go to Nairutia to sleep at our 4th school. Then on Day 4 we’ll walk to Nyahururu, my banking town where we have informed a lot of businesses, banks and higher up people to let them know we’ll be arriving and we’re hoping to receive a lot of support in town. On Day 5, our last day, we’ll walk to Sipili past Kinamba. We are aiming to reach Sipili between 3 and 5pm and receive a big welcome from our town and school!

There will be 10 learners participating alongside myself, another teacher- Wairia, one of our cooks and a B.O.G. (Board of Governors) lady who wants to walk with us the whole way. Our principal will be there for the flagging off in Nanyuki and our deputy may meet us for a day on day 3 or 4. We have informed all of the high up people in Laikipia County, the police, the education officers and Peace Corps people.

While we are all on the walk, the learners and other teachers here will be doing their part to continue raising awareness and collecting any money from the community. Two teachers will be taking some learners to market on Saturday, since it is our market day which means there are tons of people in town, and telling people about what we’re doing. Then on Sunday a few teachers and all of the learners will attend the big Catholic Church they go to every Sunday and will make an announcement and try to raise more money. It is a continuous process.

I can tell you this has not been the easiest thing to plan with my counterpart. We’ve had our share of hiccups along the way and I will be glad when it’s over but I also am excited for the adventure. It will be a week of strictly Kenyan food-no pasta for my dinners, talking to as many Kenyans as possible while on the road, hanging out with the same 13 people every day and hopefully walking a lot of kilometers!

We are ready this time! The banner & posters are ready, the packing list is made, we have places to sleep every night, the learners are informed, Sipili town has posters everywhere and the schools/churches have had announcements made.

Lastly, I ask that you please send us your thoughts and well wishes that we may finish the walk, receive donations, stay safe, remain healthy and have a great time learning and walking together!!

Thanks and many kisses,