Sunday, December 9, 2012

Here and There

I've been home now for about 2 weeks and I have to say, I'm glad to be back.  It's nice to feel some sense of normalcy again, especially now that the jet-lag has worn off.  Coming home from living halfway around the world the day of an important event was probably unwise.  I may have spent a  significant portion of Thanksgiving curled up in the corner of the couch asleep.  Don't worry, I did wake up for pie.

Back in Kenya, this week marks the culmination of all the work I and my standard 8 pupils have put in over the past year.  This week they took the exams for their Kenyan Certificates of Primary Education.  I've been thinking about them and crossing my fingers all week.  I'm very proud of all the work they have done this year to prepare themselves.  Michele wrote a lovely post about it for the GVI blog, which you should definitely go read:

I won't get the results for a few months, but I will try to let you know how they did when I find out.  Until then I will be subbing in LPS, reconnecting with friends and enjoying all of the holiday festivities.  If I haven't gotten ahold of  you and you'd like to hang out, let me know.  My phone number hasn't changed.  I intend to be in Lincoln indefinitely; or at least until the end of the school year.  Then I'll see what the universe has in store for me.  My apologies if you don't hear much from me in the coming months, it's hard to find things that seem worthy of writing about when life just feels normal!

Monday, October 29, 2012


Forgive me, readers, for I have sucked.  It has been 24 days since my last post. 

Yes, I’ve been busy.  But never am I so busy that I can’t find a little sliver of time to write an update when something remarkable happens.  No, the real reason is slightly more interesting than simply a lack of time.  The main reason I haven’t written is that I have felt as though I’ve had nothing to say. 

It’s not that life got any more boring – it’s never really dull here – rather, it’s that I’ve gotten too used to it.  I’ve reached homeostasis.  I’ve reached the point where life here is just life and it couldn’t be any other way.  All of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that at first were so interesting and notable are no longer cause for notice.  I still make sure to take pleasure in the little joys of everyday life, but not because they are novel; just because they are nice.  Even the sparkling excitement of going away for the weekend is abating.  I’ve been to most of the places that we can get to in a weekend and the appeal is quickly fading.  The people and the jokes change, but the experience is largely the same.

I don’t mean to say that I know everything about this place and its people.  On the contrary, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t understand.  I just mean to say that I’ve settled in.  My tourist goggles have largely fallen away and Mombasa is more and more becoming a place I refer to as mine.  If I had a few more months here, I would probably revel in my newfound sense of place.  As it is, it comes just as I am beginning the process of saying goodbye (perhaps because I am saying goodbye?).  And I’m ok with that.  I’m glad to know that I’ve been here long enough to achieve it, but I can’t wait to get to a place that doesn’t require such a severe settling in process.  A place that is already home.

When I left Lincoln 5 years ago, I knew I would be back and forth, but I wasn’t certain I would live there again.  I certainly never thought I would be so excited to move back.  But, time goes, things change and now I can’t even wait to be home.  I can’t wait to see everyone and just settle in.  To just be instead of constantly relearning how.   To take a break.

I’m a little bit nervous, though.  The fact that I’ve gotten so used to things here makes me feel like I may have a bit of a time readjusting to such a completely different world.  The potential for reverse culture shock is great.  So, if you see me in December looking a bit dazed and confused, please be kind.  I’m dealing with the fact that the mundane has suddenly become noteworthy again – then check back here because I’ll probably feel the need to write about it.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Object Observations

I think that one of the main things I have learned from living here has been the versatility of everyday objects.  I feel like, at home, we tend to associate objects with specialized purposes.  We rarely divorce them from each other, so, when we have a new problem to solve, we go and get the object we are supposed to use to solve that problem.  Here, it’s not so much an option most of the time, so I’ve learned to divorce the function from the object and repurpose it for new uses.  For instance, last night, I spent several hours applying paste from a coffee mug with a butter knife.  It was actually very effective. 

I also spent several hours reliving the gelatin smell of my synchro days.  I don’t even need an ingredient list to tell you that Kenyan paste is not vegan friendly.  It was the first time the connection between horses and glue felt real for me.  

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Terminator Must Charge

I spent most of last week marking compositions.  I can't say that this is one of my favorite pastimes.  It takes a lot of time to edit them all and their stories tend to be a bit...dramatic.  I get excited when actually find a story where no one dies, gets beaten or goes to jail.  It almost never happens.  Occasionally, though, things like this do happen:

"I went to the sitting room to watch the news and the journalist announced that the people they to watch out themselves because that smartly dressed man he was the robot named Terminator and he was looking for a place to charge himself. 
When I heard that, I went to the shelf to look at the photograph in the album of my brother.  I saw the robot in the picture then I knew that my brother is the one who made it so let me help it to avoid the policemen." - Lucky

I may or may not have laughed out loud, by myself, in the living room.  Of course, the robot then went on to kill several officers of the law with a hand grenade. Thus continuing the cycle. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012


I’m terrible at picking favorites.  I can never settle on just one thing.  I’m much better at making top pick lists.  In that vein, I’m going to declare that I have recently added one more to my list of favorite days in Kenya.  A couple weeks ago was Eid-al-Fitr, a Musim holiday which marks the end of the fasting month, Ramadan.  I happen to live in a rather Muslim city.  I also happen to love experiencing local celebrations the world over.  You can probably see where this is going.

I headed downtown on Sunday afternoon with the other volunteer staff, enticing them with promises of street food.  Sadly, it was a bit rainy and we were a bit early for the food portion of the evening.  We entertained ourselves by taking pictures of one of Mombasa’s beautiful sights – a garbage dump right next to a lovely park.  Then, after a pit stop for amazing chicken and samosas, we finally started to happen upon the promised food stalls serving meat on a stick (Paula’s favorite) and Zanzibar pizza (Paula’s other favorite).    We also found plenty of shawarma, though we were a bit too full for it at the time (I’ll be back for you!). 

Guys, go take a picture with the rubbish!
Then, just as we thought we’d exhausted our options and it was time to head for the market, we discovered…the carnival.  This turned out to be one of my favorite places (there I go again) in Africa and I kind of never wanted it to end.  There is no reason that I liked it so much except that it just seemed so perfect for the time and place.  It was just like any carnival at home, with amusement park rides and food stalls and souvenirs and photo booths and camel rides (what, you don’t have those?).   Except that it was just so African.  Everything about it.  All of the rides were based on very basic physics and appeared as though some guy had welded them together in his garage.   The food and souvenir stalls were the same cobbled together shacks you see on every road, in every market.  Nothing felt mass produced or modern.  Everything felt a bit rickety and unstable.

The girls decided to be bold and try out a flying Dutchmen ride while I took pictures (spinning rides make me feel ill) and then we all decided to ride the giant swings.  Think of two benches facing each other, connected by the floor and pushed almost to the horizontal by a couple buff men.  You used to occasionally find these on backyard playsets, albeit scaled down a bit (and without the men, of course).  Full disclosure - I expected it to be kind of lame.  Actual experience - it was really awesome.  I really think the fun factor was significantly increased by the complete lack of oversight in the safety department.  Falling out seemed like a legitimate concern, unlike most amusement park rides at home.  If ride people would just stop making everything so safe, they wouldn’t need to make things nearly as high or fast to achieve the same level of terror.  Just a thought.

On our way out, we stopped to get our picture taken in one of the myriad photo booths set up for the occasion.  Whereas, at home, you might find a couple of plywood figures with their faces cut out, waiting for you stick yours in and snap a silly picture; here you find little stalls swathed in rainbows of gaudy fabric and Eid banners where, for a small fee, you can pose for a picture.  Don’t worry, we made sure to pick the tackiest one we could. 

Staff photo!
After the fair, we took a quick jaunt back down the street so Leigh could pick up some more amazing samosas and I could check out the ice cream parlour I’d had my eye on.  It was totally worth it.  Actual chocolate.  Soft serve.  Coated in chocolate sprinkles.  Served in the stalest cone ever.  The perfect end to an absolutely wonderful day.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Fish, fish, fish,fish, fish

Yesterday we went to the beach for what I expected to be a lazy, uneventful Sunday afternoon.  We went down to the water and were just chilling when Leigh suddenly pointed out to me the fishermen on the shore, pulling ropes on either side of us.  She informed me that they were pulling in their nets.

Let me just take a moment to say, that I can't imagine the energy it takes to pull in one of these nets.  I'm terrible at judging distances, so suffice it to say that the net is rather far out at sea and at least as long as several of me stacked on top of each other.  Not to mention that the bottom half is weighted with rocks.  And it's hopefully full of fish (though it's mostly full of seaweed).  The drag it must have is astounding.  And these guys haul it in several times in a day.  There're also about 15 of them, but still.  

We watched them pull it in twice and both times joined the crush of locals trying to see what they caught.  (I can only imagine how old it would get to have so many people crowded around every time you tried to do your job, but my sympathy was overruled by my curiosity to see what they brought in.)  It was really cool.  I'm bummed because of course I've reached the point where I think I've seen everything, so I decided not to bring my camera, and I would love to show y'all what we saw.  There were, of course, a fair number of  man-hand-sized fish and loads of smaller fish, most of which disappeared pretty quickly.  But there was also an odd lobster and crab, many many blowfish and several of the most beautiful sea urchins I have ever seen.  They were big, dark black-purple, with gorgeous red and blue designs on the shells.  So pretty.  This is what I really want a picture of.

The fisherman gathered up all the good-sized fish and anything else worth eating pretty quickly.  Once they were finished, the locals were left to dig through the mounds of seaweed looking for the tiny fish, which I'm assuming will either become dinner or bait.  We got to hold several of them before they were taken off and I just have to say that fish are so beautiful before they are dead.  They are colorful and iridescent and just brilliant and then when they die they go a lifeless dull grey.  It's a shame, really.  

All in all, I would say it was a rather successful trip to the beach.  I've never noticed them hauling in the nets before, but I'm really hoping we catch them again sometime.  You just never know what you might find in there.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Candy Land

This past week the kids at Olives have been on summer holiday.  Instead of having classes, we’ve essentially been having summer camp.  Most of the kids are busy at home or up country visiting relatives, but we’ve had a pretty steady 30-40 kids from the village turn up to play games and do puzzles. 

It’s been loads of fun to get to just relax and play with the kids.  Most of them don’t really have access to games and puzzles, so it’s been interesting trying to teach them through the language barrier.  They’re having a blast, though.  They come in and get right down to the business of playing.  I’ve been really impressed with how respectful the kids have been with all of the materials.  The first couple days were a bit chaotic but now, by Friday, everyone is happily occupied with their game of choice and actually playing it correctly, which is an achievement.  Thanks to all the volunteers for having the patience to teach everyone!

I think it took Jan several days before the kids started to understand how ConnectFour works.
I managed to pull Standard 8 away from their studies for 3 mornings in a row!  They were fans of Scrabble.
I think the thing that’s been the most fun for me this week has been the reminder of how simple games can surpass so many boundaries.  It’s been surreal to see our village kids playing the same games as the kids back home, half a world away.  I always appreciate these little reminders that all kids everywhere are essentially the same.  I also think it says something for the games themselves that something like Candy Land can stand the test of time and be so universally understood.  
Candy Land, unlike ConnectFour, was understood and enjoyed almost immediately.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fantastic Friday

Hello, all!  I hope you’re having an excellent Friday thus far.  I, for one, am having a great day.  I’m having an ‘I love Kenya’ day.  Would you like to know why?  Of course you would!  (If you don’t, you should probably stop reading because, if you hadn’t already guessed, I’m going to tell you now.)

My lessons this morning were awesome.  We got finished with our grammar a bit early in standard 8, so I got out the collection of “James and the Giant Peach” books that my mom got in book donations and brought out with her.  They are actually an adaptation that’s a play, but what’s great about them is there are enough so the kids can follow along as I read.  I read the first few scenes, acting it out and trying to make voices for the characters and the kids had a lot of fun with it.  We’ve had a pretty good week in standard 8 in general, what with jazz hands and a grammatical version of Pictionary/Charades.

Then, I was doing my planning for standard 7 and realized that I wasn’t looking forward to teaching at all.  And if I’m not looking forward to teaching, the kids probably aren’t looking forward to coming.  That’s not good.  So, instead of working on our grammar like we’ve been doing, we spent the class period making up actions for our vocabulary words and then testing each other on them.  I may or may not have made up a song about baking that sounds very similar to a song about making a peanut butter sandwich. 

After school I had to make a trek into town to renew my visa, since the wonderful immigration officer at the airport only gave me a month instead of the 90 days I paid for.  I can’t say I was looking forward to this task, but it turned out so much better than I dared to hope.  I asked for 4 more months, expecting them to give me 3 and tell me to come back.  Instead, he kindly gave me 6, which is the longest you can stay without leaving the country.  So now I’m good until January, and it didn’t even cost me extra.  Thanks, immigration officer, you’re my hero of the day.  (Don’t worry, mom, I’m coming home in November, promise.)

After my excellent rendezvous with the immigration office, (which, by the way, I managed to find without getting lost!) I did a wander of downtown Mombasa, which I always enjoy.  Found loads of street food, though I mostly just looked, and bought some produce that we don’t usually get at the house (apples!).  Now I’m just chilling, charging my computer so that I can go watch the synchro finals tonight.  Huzzah!  (I probably shouldn't get too excited about that just yet.  In Kenya, nothing goes as planned.)

At any rate, that’s been my day.  I hope everyone else has an equally wonderful day to take them into the weekend.  Cheers!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


I’ve actually been feeling the urge to blog a lot more since I got back to Mombasa.  It’s tricky, though, because I’ve reached that point where life here no longer feels worthy of talking about.  Instead it just feels like life.  Consequently, I feel like every blog is going to sound the same: Things are good.  Really busy but I’m enjoying my work.  Life’s moving along.

And that’s pretty much it.  Things are pretty good.  I think I’ve settled in.  I finally got some pictures up on my wall, which always gives me a stronger sense of calm than I expect it to.  On the job I feel like I’m wearing so many different hats I haven’t quite figured out how to keep it all straight, but I’m getting there slowly and chipping away at some long-term tasks that are beginning to look more manageable.   I’m appreciating the chance to use all the skills I’ve gained over the last few years. 

Personally, I’m finding time to relax, exercise and get into a book or two as well as getting to know some awesome volunteers.  So it’s good.  My life is generally enjoyable, sometimes frustrating, mostly fulfilling and relatively balanced.  I don’t think you can ask for much more (though I’d take an oven).  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Madam Monkey

I’m finally getting more and more of the village kids to call me madam instead of mzungu (Kiswahili for white person).  All but the Olives kindergartners, at least.  We were doing well until yesterday when I walked by a lot in a tree that started calling me Madam Monkey.  I let it go until they did it again on my way by this morning.  I’m still investigating where on earth this came from as I have absolutely no clue, but you can be sure I’ll report back straight away if I do manage to solve the mystery.  

Update:  My super sleuthing, aka asking the kindergartners outright, has turned up exactly zero bits of useful information.  I'm afraid the world may never know how Madam Monkey came to be.  

Jazz hands, please

It occurred to me recently that I don’t always take the time to really appreciate some of the moments in the classroom that make my job great.  I tend to take most things in life in stride, which sometimes means I don’t fully process the amusing moments that make class interesting.  I have a very ill-defined notion to rectify that. 

For a start, I’d like to share the fact that I got almost all of my standard 8 pupils to begrudgingly participate in a jazz hands competition at 8:15am this morning.  I know they thought it was completely stupid, but they did it and they enjoyed it in spite of themselves.  And I’m ok with that.  It’s totally fine with me that half of their enjoyment came from chuckling at me dashing across the front of the classroom signaling each section.  Sometimes you just need that to get going in the morning. 

I’d also like to mention that I had to detain standard 7 for 20 minutes after class because they insisted on speaking Kiswahili during English.  I decided to use the opportunity to teach them some things they might like to say to each other during class, using their English.  We learned things like “Can I borrow a pencil, please?”  and “Can you move over, please?” and “Can you stop touching me, please?”  The boys did a great job figuring out the pattern and making it their own, which led to some fun questions like, “Can I love you, please?” and “Can I sleep with you, please?”;  to both of which I suggested thinking twice before making either request of a girl. 

Today’s anecdotes have been brought to you by 5 very itchy mosquito bites.  Pop by again to see what else standards 7 and 8 have been up to!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Mom in Mombasa

This past week and a half has been full of new experiences for me.  Last week I got my first batch of new volunteers since becoming the coordinator for Olives, so it’s been all about getting people settled into their new lives as teachers.  It’s been extra special this time, because they aren’t just any batch of volunteers.  My mom and her friend have had the privilege of being a part of my inaugural class.

When I first started talking about coming to volunteer in Africa, my mom was interested in possibly coming out as well.  She was bummed that she couldn't make a visit work during my first time around, so when I decided to come back, she decided to make a trip as well.  She signed up to volunteer for 2 weeks on my project here in Mombasa.  She’s been a huge help at school, filling in and doing loads of odds and ends.  I think it’s been interesting for her to see my world in action and put faces to some of the names I’ve mentioned. 

I’ve been enjoying the chance to show her a bit of my life here in Mombasa.  I’m glad for her to see it, though I’m not sure if seeing it in person will make her feel better or worse about my living here.   It’s kind of a crazy place, commonly lacking in any Western notions of safety.  I think she’s enjoying her experience but I’m not sure she would want to stay for months.  Either way, I’m proud of her for coming out to see what I do and help out the kids.  Don’t know too many moms willing to do that. 

Aside from just figuring out the new bits of my job and showing my mom around, things for me are good.  I have so much to do before I leave, I can’t even believe it, so it’s a bit busy, but I’m finding balance between working and enjoying my last few months in Kenya.  I realized this weekend that four months from last Sunday I will be back in Nebraska eating turkey.  Well, hopefully, assuming all goes to plan.  I‘m not really counting down yet, but I am looking forward to spending the holidays with everyone at home.  I wish I could just bring my work back to Nebraska and have the best of both worlds.  Such is life, you can never have everything.  At least for this month I get to have a piece of home here with me.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Back in Action

I’ve been back in Mombasa for just over a week now and it feels good to be back to work.  Each day has flown by but I’m also having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it hasn’t even been two weeks yet.  Haven’t I just always been here?  It seems so natural, I’ve just picked up where I left off. 

There have been quite a few changes since I was here last.  For one thing, we’ve been through quite a lot of volunteers in the past 2 months and I’ve had a lot of new faces to get to know.  At school Michele has been very proactive in setting up programs to build on the reading and English levels of all the kids.  We now have a more focused reading time each day as well as daily phonics lessons with standards 1 and 2.  I’m really proud of all the work everyone’s been doing and I think, after this past week of trial by fire, I finally have a handle on all the new things going on.

As if that wasn’t enough to get used to, I’m now officially a volunteer staff member, so I’ve also been busy learning about what goes on behind the scenes and getting used to the fact that I’m in charge.  I think that last bit has been the trickiest.  It’s kind of strange not having to go through a superior when it comes to things at Olives.  It’s also rather convenient.  I can now officially do what I was essentially already doing before, without having to ask permission.

That’s pretty much it for me.  I’m missing everyone at home already, but I know the next few months will fly and I’ll be home before I know it.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ruminations on Ethiopia

I am currently slowly making my way back to America, stopping off to visit several friends along the way.  My first stop was Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to visit a new friend that is the principal of an international school there.  I was only there for a few days, 2 of which I spent helping out at school, but that was still plenty of time for a few adventures and some random thoughts.

- If you haven’t flown internationally, you should give it a try, particularly in Asia and Africa.  My flight from Nairobi to Addis was only 2 hours and I still got a full breakfast.  Also of note, Ethiopian Airlines has excellent radio stations.  Egypt Air does not.

- As a general rule, people in Addis Ababa were incredibly helpful.  So many strangers went so far out of their way to make sure I got where I was going, which was really good because…

- …it’s very difficult to get around Addis as a foreigner.  Seriously, streets are not labeled well and the minibus system is really confusing if you can’t read or speak Amharic.  (It’s so hard!  ‘Thank you’ is so many syllables long!)  On my first day, I took one 20 minute minibus ride to get from Joyce’s house into downtown.  To get home I took 3 minibuses, walked several blocks and, after an hour and a half, finally gave up and just took a cab for the last bit. 

- Apparently elementary school is my natural environment.  I spent one day helping out in first grade and within an hour or two I was correcting kids, creating/giving a math assessment and making a plan for the work I would get done during my break. 

- If you ask one guy about something on a map, you’ll soon have every man in the area peering over your shoulder to have a gander and put in their two cents.  I’m not sure if this has more to do with what appears to be men’s innate love of maps or the fact that they were banned in Ethiopia until not that long ago, thanks to the Russians helping the country be communist briefly during the 70’s and 80’s. 

- The food is cheap and the coffee delicious.  Though, personally, I am not sold on the amount of traditional dishes that include raw meat.  I’m willing to give that a go once, but I’m just not sure I need to push my luck repeatedly. 

- Despite being neighbors, culturally, Ethiopia and Kenya are worlds apart.  Ethiopia has a very long history of influence from the Egyptian/Arabic/Ottoman north that really shows in their culture. 

In between lending a hand at school and pretending like I could actually get places, I managed to hit up a couple museums where I saw the remains of some of the oldest humanoids discovered thus far as well as some very interesting prehistoric animals.  I had never considered how different they would be from North American prehistoric animals.  I also got to see inside an Orthodox cathedral, which was not at all what I expected – much more functional than beautiful.  A huge thanks to Joyce for being such a lovely host – I had a great time catching up with her.  Until next time!
Mock-up bones of Lucy (I'm pretty sure the real ones are still on tour)
St. George Orthodox Cathedral

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Last Day in Kakuma

My last day in the refugee camp was a Sunday and William, my host from LWF, was kind enough to walk me around the camp.  We started the morning at the Burundi Pentecostal Church, which was so much fun.  Everyone was singing and dancing and praising the Lord.  It was great to see so much joy under one roof. 
Burundi Pentecostal Church
In the afternoon we went on a walk through the Ethiopian and Somali sections of the camp.  As we were walking I timidly asked if it would be possible to see inside someone’s house.  William responded by telling me that Mama Phyllis had just called and invited him to a wedding and would I like to go to the wedding and see the house?  Umm, yes, please. 

Mama Phyllis turned out to be quite possibly the biggest character I have met thus far in Africa.  She was a very large woman with a presence to match.  She commands the men in a man’s world.  We picked her up from her home and went with her to the wedding.

Father of the Bride, Me, Mama Phyllis
The actual ceremony was finished but everyone was still celebrating.  They led us into the house and sat us down on a low cushion couch as a fresh rug was brought in for the floor.  Then, almost by magic, a coffee table appeared, followed by several pots of fake flowers.  One of the young men was sent to get sodas and water for the visitors and we proceeded to sit with Mama Phyllis and the father of the bride, joking and talking.

As it turns out, Mama Phyllis has been a major driving force for peace in her home community, as well as in the camp.  In the past she was invited to the States by the UN as an advocate for peace.  When I met her she had just come up for resettlement and was looking forward to moving to Minnesota.

In the midst of the conversation, a man came in with a huge platter of bread and cooked goat liver for us.  It was amazing.  One of the best meat dishes I have ever eaten.  The thing that really struck me about it, though, was the level of hospitality.  For people who have so little, they were willing to give so much.

2 girls watching the dancing
We finished off our day by heading to the Sudanese section of the camp to watch the traditional dancing of the Dinka tribe, which happens every Sunday evening.  Watching all of the people there, particularly the children, I couldn’t get over their uncanny resemblance to the kids I taught in Houston.  It was crazy to look at them and see my former students, and I appreciated being able to place them in both contexts.  To know that this is where they’ve come from and then to think of them trying to make it in America dramatically increased my level of compassion.

All in all, I’d consider it a pretty successful last day.  Thanks to everyone at LWF that made my visit possible, especially Winnie and William for showing me around!

If you are interested in looking at the 100 or so pictures I took while I was there, you can look at them here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lessons Learned from a Refugee Camp

Talking with the young adults in the camp, I was again reminded of how arbitrary much of a culture can be.  It’s hard to see it when you are living it; it’s not until you take a step back and try to explain it to someone with essentially no shared background that you realize how strange your customs can be.  I feel as though I have this experience often as I travel around and it always surprises and humbles me before putting things back into perspective and extending my compassion.  In this particular instance, I was answering questions about how the American education system works.  The youth couldn't understand a system where age carries so more weight than skill level when determining classes, which, if you ask me, isn't an unreasonable argument.  I can see both sides (though I would tend to side more with the refugees to some degree). 

Cultural differences aside, life in Kakuma is difficult.  Over and over I heard about a lack of resources.  Youth talked about not being able to go to school for lack of space, foster parents lamented their ability to get enough clothing and otherwise support their children.  The camp helps to meet these basic needs, but there is never enough to give everything to everyone in the endless stream of refugees pouring in.  And, just as in any society, the people here face a variety of social pressures.  Youth are teased for being different or coming up for resettlement before their friends.  Foster parents are discriminated against socially and sometimes passed over for resettlement because of the difficulties in resettling a family with a foster child. 

Throughout all of these conversations, I felt like the most important word here was hope.  The hope of getting out someday, either returning home or going to a new country, is what carried everyone forward each day.  Without that, I think it would be too difficult.  That said, many had a relatively positive perspective on their current situation.  Those that remembered living through conflict recognized that being here was better than being there.  At least in Kakuma they aren’t hiding in the bush starving, constantly running.  Here they are safe and have steady food.  It’s not home, and nothing is ever as good as home, but at least it’s safe.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

[Several times while I was in Kakuma Refugee Camp, I was asked for advice from refugees awaiting resettlement.  They wanted to know what they could be doing in the camp to prepare themselves for their new lives.  I had a hard time coming up with ideas.  How do you prepare yourself to move from a mud hut in the edges of Kenya to a modern city in the West?  This is my complete stab in the dark at useful advice.]

Advice to a Refugee

As you await your resettlement, the most important thing I can tell you, is to practice English as much as you can.  I can’t stress it enough.  This will be the key to opportunity.  The better your English, the more options you will have in your new home for school, for jobs, for friends.

My next best piece of advice is to cultivate a willingness in yourself to try new things.  Go to other groups in the camp, try the food, find out their customs.  This way, when you get to a new country, you will be used to new and unusual flavors and ideas.  The more things you are open to, the easier it will be to embrace the culture of your new home and start your new life.

Finally, know that it won’t be easy.  I don’t say that to be discouraging.  I actually think that having an accurate expectation will make it easier.  Just know that arrival is not the end of the journey.  There is still much to be done once you get here.  The opportunities will be there, but it will be up to you to seek them out and make them happen.  And of course you can and you will, because you have already made it this far.  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Visit to a Refugee Camp

One of the things that I wanted to do before I left Kenya was to visit one of the refugee camps in the northern part of the country.  A large portion of the students that I worked with in Houston were refugees from various countries in Africa.  Many of them had only known life in a refugee camp before they came to the States.  This created an interesting behavioral dynamic that I sometimes had a hard time handling.  I wanted to at least see what life was like in a camp, so that, hopefully, I'll be able to relate better to future refugees that I work with.

The way things worked out, I was able to spend about 3 days in Kakuma Refugee camp, near the Sudanese border.  I am in no way suggesting that this is even close to enough time to really understand what it is like for the people who live there.  I am also not suggesting that the camp I visited is like every other camp.  I have no idea how representative it is.   That said, I do think it was a worthwhile visit and being there did allow me some perspective and interesting insight into the lives of the displaced.

In order to get there, I did some research to find out which organizations were working in the camp and managed to find a fairly comprehensive list of acronyms.  So I googled each one and sent out emails to any organization with an accessible email address explaining who I was and why I wanted to visit the camp.  A couple weeks after I had given up on hearing back from any of them, I got an email from the Lutheran World Federation saying that they would be happy to help me out with my visit.

LWF helped get me on the UNHCR flight and shuttle from Nairobi to the camp, which is basically in the middle of nowhere.  From the tiny tiny airport in Lokichoggio, we had about a 2 hour drive (with an armed convoy) through essentially open wilderness to the town and the camp.  LWF also hosted me in one of their guesthouses, set up opportunities for me to meet with some of the refugees and showed me around the camp.  I wouldn't have been able to do much without their help.

Kakuma is huge.  It currently houses about 80,000 refugees.  It is separated into different communities, largely based on ethnic origin, and each community has leaders that help deal with the day to day running of the community.  Residents and locals are allowed to come and go as they please (though residents can't go farther than 10km) but by 6pm residents must be back in their communities and locals must be out of the camp.  Apparently there is a lot of commerce that happens between the locals and the refugees.  I was amazed at how developed the communities were.  Each one seemed to have its own shops, restaurants, hairdressers, etc.  I had expected to find nothing but temporary homes in tents and huts.
Shops on the main road in the Somalian community.
Several homes

I had told LWF before I left that I was most interested in the lives of youth and families in the camp, so they set up several meetings for me with various groups including a group of junior high/high school youth, a few unaccompanied minors, and a large group of foster parents.  They also showed me the reception center, where refugees first come when they arrive at the camp, as well as some of the youth and cultural programs that were happening within the camp.  I had a really interesting time talking with my LWF hosts and the different groups to find out about life in the camp.
Girls in remedial classes during spring break - there has been a lot of emphasis on helping girls in the past few years.

This is the first home a family receives when they arrive.  They stay here for 2 weeks before they are moved to  a more permanent home.  

Overall, I felt like I had a very successful visit.  Three days is not nearly enough to really understand the life that the refugees lead, but I feel like I got a good sampling of what it's like.  It was very eye-opening to see people that reminded me of my former students and their parents in a context outside of Western society. I feel like I have a much better understanding of their frame of reference when arriving in America.  Which is good, seeing as that was the point of the trip and it seems like a valuable insight, especially given that I'd like to do more work with refugees in the future.
The Dinka Tribe (from South Sudan) still practices their cultural dancing every Sunday evening.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Last Days in Mombasa

The last few weeks have been a bit…manic.  My last few weeks in Mombasa were spent finishing up the first term with my kids, saying hello and goodbye to fellow volunteers and revamping some training materials.  There was also, of course, the mad dash to leave as much curriculum help as I possibly could, to get everyone by until I can get back and really put it all together.  It’s really hard to be gone for so long!

I told my kids just a couple weeks before I left that I would be gone for 2 and a half months, but I would be back in July.  This news was met with varying reactions.  Standard 8 whined that it would be boring without me (I’m assuming that they are referring to my more interactive lessons and not the fact that I’m pretty sure they constantly laugh internally at my absurdity), Standard 7 was upset with me and Standard 6 essentially shrugged their shoulders and said, “Whatevs” (they are pretty used to volunteers coming and going).  Actually saying goodbye to them on my last day proved to be a bit more anticlimactic than I expected, with the exception of one or two students in Standard 7, who responded to my friendly goodbye with outright hostility.  One of them just looked at me and said, “I won’t miss you.”  That’s ok, J, I understand.  I’ll still miss you.

For my last night in Mombasa, we went out to our favorite Western cafĂ©, where I ate a ridiculous amount of chocolate cake (it had to be done).  I also got my certificate for successful completion of my volunteership, which includes a crash introductory course in TEFL.  I found the certificate a bit ironic considering the fact that I had just spent the previous week completely rewriting, giving and training other staff in the training program that I was now officially certificated in. 

I left Mombasa 2 weeks ago and now life is just travel and relax until I get home at the end of May.  I’m not going to say much about my travels here because the coming week will, hopefully, be filled with posts about everything.  I have quite a lot to say already.  So far, though, it’s been a generally enjoyable 2 weeks and I’m looking forward to getting to Greece, catching up with Kersten and settling in.  Cheers!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Magic of a Story

I love reading books to children.  It doesn’t matter how old they are, when I open a book and begin telling a story, something magical starts to happen.  Things start to get quiet.  Conversations stop.  Fidgeting slows.  Eyes drift in my general direction and, by the second, maybe third page, I am holding captive, with my magical story book, every child within earshot.  It’s great.  For those 5-10 minutes while I’m reading, we are together, just sharing the experience. 

Today I got to spend the morning reading books to the younger grades as part of our creative arts day at school.  We had a blast, dancing, wiggling, chanting.  It was great.  Even with their extremely limited English skills, they could still appreciate and enjoy the storytelling experience. This is one of the things I miss about teaching lower elementary school.  The older the kids get, the less opportunities you have to read things aloud.  Luckily for me and my kids, though, fewer does not mean zero and I still take any chance I can to enjoy a good story with them.  From what I can tell, no matter how old they get, most still appreciate an excuse to revert back to their youth.  And who am I to deny them?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

That wasn't in the plan.

You may have noticed that I've been on a bit of a hiatus from blogging.  This hasn't been on purpose and I apologize for it.  Rather, it's been more a function of circumstance.  I've had a busy month.

I spent a week at the beginning of March camping in rural Kenya, helping a community of former poachers develop income-generating projects.  This was an amazing experience and I have lots to say about it, but I'm going to save that for another post (coming soon, promise!) because my trip isn't the real reason that I've been such a bad blogger.  It's much more exciting than that.

I've been asked to stay.  I met with the staff here a couple weeks ago and they basically told me that they think I'm doing awesome work and would like me to stay for as much of the school year as possible.  I'm currently the English teacher for Standards 6, 7 and 8.  It is the first year that our school has had a class 8, which is the highest grade in primary school, and it is a huge opportunity for the kids.  They will be able to sit their primary school exams at the end of the year and have a chance at getting into high school.  The goal is for me to stay with Standard 8 for as much of the year as possible in order to help them prepare.  All of their exams are in English, so having a native English speaker and a trained teacher is a huge advantage.  Plus, they are wonderful and I really enjoy teaching them.  I've also been working on developing the curriculum that the volunteers use.  We don't get very many trained teachers on the project, so I'm trying to leave as much teacher knowledge as I possibly can.  Unfortunately, with 3 classes, I've barely made a dent in getting together all of the resources I'd like to leave.

Before they talked to me, I wasn't planning on staying.  I spent most of February sending in employment applications and making plans for a summer and fall in Nebraska.  I was actually looking forward to something approaching normalcy for a bit.  On the other hand, I really love my kids and my work here.  So, I've spent the past couple weeks doing a lot of thinking, intuition-listening, financial planning, option weighing and logistical assessment. This is the real reason I've been a bad blogger.  I've been a bit distracted trying to keep up with my schoolwork and make (what have felt like) monumental life decisions.  

In the end (in case you hadn't guessed by now) the children won.  I love the work I'm doing here.  I feel like I am actually using all of my skills to make real change and I am absolutely in love with my kids.  So, when I leave them in a couple weeks, it's not goodbye so much as see you later, which is lovely.  I'll be back for them at the end of June.

Until then, I'll be taking a bit of a vacation to keep up some plans I had already made for visiting friends on this side of the Atlantic before heading home to resupply, hold my nephew and maybe see everyone else.  (Just kidding, I miss you all and can't wait to see you!)  I'll be home for most of June and then come back to Mombasa as the Standard 7 and 8 English teacher and Volunteer Coordinator for my school.  (That's right, I'm coming back as staff.  Unpaid staff, but still, I'm moving up in the world...)  The current plan is to stay through the exams at the end of October and be home in time for Thanksgiving and the little nephew's birthday.  (mmm, turkey...)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Week Near Tsavo

The Chairman leading a meeting about the hides and skins business.
A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to work on another of GVI's projects here in Kenya.  In addition to the teaching projects and conservation work, GVI also works with several communities near Tsavo National Park that have historically been known for poaching in order to make a living.  We work with them to develop income-generating projects that can bring in a stable income instead of poaching.  Actually, many of the former poachers we work with are now working as scouts to stop others from poaching.  It's great to see the pride they take in their environment.

Me leading a handicraft workshop.
Anyway, there are 4 different communities and each one has different projects that suit their needs and skills.  One has an eco-tourism center, one raises chickens, one has bees and most do some sort of handicrafts.  The community that I worked with is the newest one to join forces with GVI and it's definitely got a bit of growth ahead of it.  They are working on developing a hides and skins storage facility (for domestic animal skins) as well as some handcrafted leather- and beadwork.

I spent the week camping in the middle of nowhere, helping the community develop some of their handicrafts to suit a more Western market.  It was quite an experience.  The community was lovely and I really enjoyed working with them.

Women celebrating the birth of a new baby in the community.
Maasai men celebrating.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

We Made Circuits!

 Yesterday, I put my kids in groups, gave them some wires, light bulbs and batteries and asked them if they could make the light bulb light up.  And they did it!  All of the groups were happily engaged and successful in every task I gave them.  I was so proud.  It was super fun watching them watch their bulb light up.  I loved how the lighting of the bulb was mirrored in the brightening expressions on their faces.

I also loved the innovation - these guys helped their batteries stay together with some paper and broken rubber band.

Hooray for science!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Standard 8 Wins

Standard 8 is totally winning right now.  I know I'm not supposed to have favorites, but I can't help it right now.  They were just so wonderful last week - I'm so proud of them!

I came in two weeks ago and they were preparing for some practice state exams.  I attempted to help them answer the questions they had about their social studies exam and quickly realized that I was pretty much useless.  So I did the only thing I could think of.  I went to the library, got out the random assortment of encyclopedias from approximately 1971 and brought them in to class.  The kids loved them.  The only problem was, after they looked up the answers to their questions, they didn't want to put them down.  I literally had to pry the books out of their hands so that they would keep reviewing for their exam.  Feeling a bit bad about denying children knowledge, I promised them that we would get the encyclopedias out again after their exams were finished the following week.

The day after exams, I brought them out again and let the kids loose.  I don't think they had ever seen anything like that before.  It seemed like they just kept finding things they didn't even know existed.  They spent the entire hour-long period engrossed in the books and, by the end, everyone was able to tell me at least one new fact that they had learned.  It made me really proud to see how interested they were in learning.  I have never seen a class so eager to read the encyclopedia.

As if that weren't enough, we also took them on a field trip last week to an outdoor museum with several mock-ups of homes of different tribes in Kenya.  The kids were wonderful.  I was really impressed with how well-behaved they were and how genuinely interested they seemed to be in their culture.  They asked lots of good questions, took loads of notes, helped each other get all the information, and danced with the Maasai.  It was great and it made me super happy to see them enjoying it.  I'm pretty sure that 14-year-olds back home would be way too cool for the run-down playground at the end of the trip, but these guys had an absolute blast.

Standard 8 is probably the end of the road for most of my students.  This is the year that they either pass their state exams and get sponsorship for high school or end their education, a fact which they are all too aware of.  They know that this is the time to buckle down and apply themselves, which means that I am essentially teaching an entire class of students that actually want to learn.  It's wonderful.  More than that, it's great to watch them learning and enjoying themselves.  They definitely deserve it after all of their hard work.

oh, Queen...

We had a bit of extra time at the end of class in Standard 6 today, so I decided to review a song that we learned from their textbook a few weeks back.  They enjoyed that but clearly had not had enough singing.  We finished the song and I don't even know how it happened but the next thing I know, the entire class is pounding out the rhythm on their desk and singing "We will, we will rock you!"  All the words, the whole thing.  It was awesome.  I tried to film them but I had a camera fail.  Regardless, this is a big thank you to whichever volunteer before me taught them that.  It totally made my day.

Rockin' the Grandma Look

Turns out I look like a grandma.  I was talking to some girls from Standard 7 after class yesterday and they informed me that I have grandma glasses.  This was shocking to me because I actually think my glasses are kind of cool.  When I told them this, they conceded that my glasses were fine but unanimously agreed that my hair needs some work.  Apparently my daily bun is just not very hip.  There is, however, a solution.  If I put my hair down with some bangs, then I'll be beautiful.  (To which I replied, "Are you saying I'm not beautiful all the time!")  

I suggested getting braids and this was met with scrunched up faces and glaring disapproval.  That would not be a good look for me.  My skin is just too white.  If, however, I were to paint my skin brown, including my scalp, then I could get braids.  But I still might look like a grandma.  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stop and Look

Every once in awhile, I stop and actually see our school, the village, the children's clothes for the tatters that they are.  It always surprises me.  I don't see the poverty in the day to day.  I just see people.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life's Reality

"It will always be difficult, but if you cry like this every time, you will die of heartbreak.  Just know that it is enough sometimes to know that it is difficult." 
- TED2008, Chris Abani's talk on Humanity

I stumbled upon this quote today while looking through an old document and it struck me how fitting it is here.  One of the standard 4 boys at Olives died very suddenly on Friday.  We aren't sure what happened (I'm not sure that anyone really knows) but he was at school in the morning, went home ill at lunch, and, before the end of the day, he was gone.  From the bits that we did get, it's possible that he had some sort of chronic condition.

Everyone, local and volunteer teachers alike, was visibly upset by the news.  The local staff was clearly sad, but calm.  I watched the classroom teacher cry and move forward, obviously aware of the reality of life for our students.  For us, it was an abrupt reminder of where we are and the risks our children face.  At home, there would have been a medical record and a hospital visit.  The likelihood of such a sudden death is low.  Here, we didn't even know that he was sick.

I think the local staff understood something that is harder for us to grasp.  Here life and death are both clearly visible.  People don't shy away from either. Rather, they embrace the good bits in preparation for the bad ones and recognize that you can't dwell in the sad spaces.  It just gets too hard.  The sad truth is that things like this are part of life in the village and dwelling on them doesn't make them any easier.  It's enough to recognize the tragedy for what it is and move forward.

I think this same principle applies to the world at large.  Everywhere I look there is a problem to be solved, a person to be helped - a war, a natural disaster, poverty.  If I stop to think about every single person that needs help, it's too much.  I can't cry for every single one.  I would never stop.  The best that I can do, that anyone can do, is to know that they are there and validate their struggle.  Then, instead of letting it overwhelm me, I focus on what I can do and try to make it a little less difficult in whatever corner of the world I've got.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm Baaaack!

I can't believe I have only been back in Mombasa for a week.  It feels like I never left.  It's great.  I've pretty much picked up right where I left off, except with brand new volunteers.  (I do miss all of my old friends, but I suppose the new ones are pretty cool, too.)

Things at school are going well so far.  I came back and somehow things were magically better.  One of the teachers left, which is helping, and one of the really great ones has been put in charge of discipline, which is also helping.  The headteacher is still there and he's still a bit...rough around the edges.  I still have some reservations about him being there, but he has been good so far.  I feel like, as long as someone is keeping an eye on him so he can't get out of hand, it'll be fine.  My kids are the same old, cheeky bunch.  Gotta love 'em.

We've had a lot of school improvements over the past two months which make our time on campus so much enjoyable.  We got a new roof, which is amazing.  My room has a clear panel in the new corrugated metal, which makes it a bit brighter and cooler.  It also hopefully won't rain into my classroom anymore.  I can't fully convey how exciting this is, but trust me, it's awesome.  We have also relocated the kindergarten classes to a brand new building next to Olive's church down the road.  Their old classrooms have been converted into a library and a staff room, which is also amazing.  We actually have a place where we can sit and work at school.  I'm hoping that it will help get the local teachers and volunteers interacting more.  It's hard to branch out, but it would be really good if we got better at working as a team.  (This is something I am still working on for myself.)

The boys dig the ditch to lay the cable under the ground.
Right now, Mr. Joseph and the boys in the upper grades are working on getting electricity to the kindergarten rooms so that we can put in a light bulb.  That way the kids can come to read or do homework after dark, since most of them don't have lights in their homes.  It is amazing to me just how transformative such little things can be.  One light bulb is a huge deal.  Some new sheets of corrugated metal can make all the difference in a classroom's conductivity to learning.  I'm glad that I have the chance to really appreciate those things.  It just reminds me of what really matters in a life and how much I actually have.

This week I am starting to teach the new standard 6 along with my old standard 6 (now standard 7) and possibly standard 8.  I'm still working out the timetable to see if it's possible to fit 8 into my schedule.  I'm hoping so.  I feel like we were just maybe starting to get to know each other when I left last year.  Plus, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was just starting to get good and I feel bad leaving them hanging.

At any rate, it's getting a little busier in the best way.  I'm really enjoying my work and I'm doing my best to make the most of each day that I have here.  I know my 3 months will be over before I know it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Where I Slept in 2011

I stole this idea from a friend.  You can visit her post about her 2011 here.  I thought it might be an interesting catalogue of my year. So, here are all of the places that I slept in 2011:
1.       Wahoo, NE
2.       Lincoln, NE
3.       Houston, TX
4.       New Orleans, LA
5.       Casablanca, Morocco
6.       Marrakesh, Morocco
7.       Skoura Palm Grove, Morocco
8.       Tamtatouchte, Morocco
9.       Sahara Desert, Morocco
10.   Fez, Morocco
11.   Paris, France
12.   San Antonio, TX
13. Mahoney State Park, NE
14.   Nassau, Bahamas
15.   Titusville, FL
16.   Orlando, FL
17.   Somewhere near Cairo, GA
18.   Kansas City, KS
19.   Lake Lotawana, MO
20.   Salt Lake City, UT
21.   Black Rock City, NV
22.   Reno, NV
23.   Omaha, NE
24.   Mombasa, Kenya
25.   Watamu, Kenya
26.   Diani, Kenya
27.   Stone Town, Zanzibar
28.   Nairobi, Kenya

9 states, 6 countries, and 3 continents - I think it's fair to say that I've had a pretty busy year!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Shameless Fundraising

I'd like to take this moment to put in a plug for my school here in Mombasa.  At Olives Rehabilitation Center we are starting a new year with even more kids, which is great.  We are helping to give 100 more kids a chance (we have 410 kids now!).  Unfortunately this means that we need even more financial support.  It doesn't take much by American standards to make a big impact.  It takes just 94 cents to provide lunch for one kid for an entire month and about 17 cents to provide water for that same kid each month.  These, along with textbooks, are two of our biggest needs right now.

We are also saving money to buy land so that we no longer have to worry about rent, which will free up future funds for these recurring needs.  We are about a third of the way there, woot!  To read more about the land fund, check out this link: .

Our goal, as with every G.V.I. project, is for the school to eventually be self-sustainable.  We are currently working on getting an income-generating project underway.  Until we get there, the help of any and all donors is much appreciated.

If you would like to make a donation, you can go here: or let me know via the comments section, Facebook or my email wood.kimberlymarie (at) gmail dot com.  You can do this as a one-time donation, or maybe you can find a few dollars in your monthly budget to put toward a good cause.  If you have any questions or want any more information, just let me know, I'm happy to answer anything you'd like to know!

Ok, shameless plug over.  I promise not to make this a habit.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I climbed a mountain.

A big one.  Tallest one in Africa.  Welcome to my 2012.  (It's probably all downhill after this.)

It was the first time I've ever done anything like this and I definitely learned a few things during my time on Mount Kilimanjaro.  For one, I am probably not going to make mountain climbing a regular hobby.  Sure, I loved the experience and I would definitely be up for climbing something again - the experience at the summit makes every moment worth its effort - but I think I'm more of a casual hiker and/or rock climber.  I'll enjoy some pretty scenery and I'll love hauling myself up a rock face, but when it comes to walking up a mountain, really, it’s not something I need to do every weekend. 

Porters carrying camp up the Barranco Wall.
The one caveat to this is if I found a mountain that required the sort of half hiking, half climbing endeavor that took us over the Barranco Wall.  Something not shear enough to require ropes, but too steep and rocky to just walk up.  Now that I could do all day and be very very happy. 

I suppose it's kind of a shame that I'm not so much into the mountain climbing, because I also discovered that apparently I am pretty good at altitudes.  Most people experience a bit of dizziness, headache and/or nausea at a certain point.  Some have really severe reactions.  There is a decent percentage of people that don't make it to the top.  I had a bit of headache the first time we went up past 4000m and aside from that was pretty much fine.  I actually kind of enjoyed watching how my body reacted to the different altitudes.  We kind of had a stairstep approach on several days where we would hike up a few hundred meters during the day and then come down again to sleep.  While this seemed like a lot of extra work, it also gave my body a chance to adjust.  Going up was really tiring and uncomfortable, but then when I got back down I felt amazing - even if I was at a point that had felt terrible the day before. 

In terms of being at camp, I have determined that, if I ever do something like this again, it is worth it to bring things for evening entertainment.  A long enough book or deck of cards is not an extravagant weight expenditure, but an integral part of the experience, regardless of whether I am carrying it or giving it to a porter.  (Did I mention the porters?  They carry everything for you and somehow manage to do it twice as quickly.  Camp is there when you leave in the morning and then magically it's already waiting for you when you get to the next place at the end of the day.)

Sunrise from the top
Overall, the experience was pretty incredible.  I am still amazed at the beautiful views, the energy required and the logistics of the entire operation.  It took 10 people to get myself and Kurt, my climbing partner for the week, to the summit.  All we had to do was walk.  And walk we did.  I don’t think I have ever done so much physical activity in any given week in my life.  It was definitely worth it, though.  Nothing I have done so far compares to the experience of reaching the summit.  We walked up to the snowy peak with the sun rising above the clouds to the left side of the ridge and the moon still setting on the right. That fleeting moment of surprising beauty coupled with the elation upon reaching the highest point on the ridge are the legacy of a hike on Kilimanjaro.  Already, the moments of headache and fatigue are fading, but the pride (and relief) of knowing that I did it, I persevered through the Shira Plateau, the Barranco Wall, the Karanga Valley, all the ups and downs, to stand and look out from the ice and snow of the Rooftop of Africa will always be with me.