Tuesday, May 31


Walking around the city of Mombasa with gothic-pale skin one tends to stand out.  Especially if you happened to be joined by two other whities.  People are constantly trying to get our attention (they must recognize me from my blog) and yell out almost anything to do so.  It has been a weird adjustment to have to rudely ignore people in the street but I am getting adept at this.  Here is a list of some of the common and not-so-common things people have yelled at me (or us) in the street here:

1.  Mzungu! (white person) - very common
2. Howayu???  - all the time
3. I love you
4. I like you
5. Obama! (I'm assuming that they were trying to build a quick rapport and not that I resemble the American president)
6. Norway?  Norway!  Norwaaay! - just once, apparently I'm *that* white
7. Ca va?  Ca va bien. 
8. Excuse me!  Excuse me!  Arrrrrgghhhhhhh!

Hi-C and I sat in on the classroom/nursery school next door to our office in to observe a child's performance in class.  We were treated to a lesson about petticoats that was addressed to a group of co-ed five-year-olds.  For those who don't know what a petticoat is - fear not - I was in the same circumstance as you just yesterday.  It is not, in fact, a coat of any sort.  It is a slip or some form of undergarment that goes under a skirt but over the panties.  The teacher called out during a lesson about how we get ready in the morning and what we wear "And WHY do we wear a petticoat???  In case we sit carelessly and our legs should open!"

Sunday, May 29

Muh muh muh muh muh My Shimoni

We may have had to work Friday unlike our classmates attending teaching clinic - miss you! - but, then again, we went snorkeling with our supervisor and a multi-cultural parade of other Mombasa volunteers.  A two hour matatu ride south of the city brings you to a place called "Shimoni" and a boat across a short stretch of salt water gets you to a small island by the name of "wasini".  This place has about 4 small towns (maybe 1200 people total on the island) and not one car.  It would be difficult to build roads through the rocky, coral covered island where shells are so ubiquitous the paths seem to be paved by them and they are trampled without a second thought.  The lodge we stayed at was about $7 for the night with cozy beds, nice* showers and bathrooms, and an incredible view of the ocean. 

There was some to-do about booking our snorkel boat, the hotels and meals but generally I tried to stay out of it.  I think there were some miscommunications and perhaps a bit of desperation on the part of the lodge owners who hadn't seen visitors in three weeks due to the May low season.  Overall, when you look past some of the attempts to charge way too much (500 shillings for a meal vs. 80 at a local restaurant which took us quite a while to find on our own) they tried very hard to make us happy, took us on a tour of the island, provided a mosquito coil while we sat and chatted on the balconies, brought us glasses for our drinks and sent someone to the mainland to bring over beer to the 'dry' island.  The son of the owner, a sweet kid about 12 years old, hung out with us at times (showed us around) and shared some local legends about how the large white birds perched in the trees were once Arab men in white cotton shirts who had come to kill a resident of the island, so the legend goes, but was foiled by a local Sharif. 

We didn't make it to the snorkel spot until high tide so we were fairly far above the coral and fish but the view was still incredible:  a giant blue starfish, nemo, angelfish, zebra fish, parrot fish, a multitude of other colourful fish and large corals.  It took some getting used to swimming in the open ocean (deep water has always been a fear of mine) especially when there really could have been sharks (although highly unlikely).  The boat stayed close by and we all floated on the surface, face down for an hour before heading back to Wasini to tour the island.  Only 7x3 km the island hosts an amazing grove of old coral reefs that have turned to towering stones and a mangrove forest home to the Trogdor crab** (see below). Money from entry fees to tour the coral park (only $2) go towards town projects like schools and medicine for the dispensary.

The Mombasa ferry.

There is always room for one more on a matatu.

Dhows in the harbour at Shimoni.

Our lodge (or basically our lodge)

The view of the balcony (sneaky pic there, Hi-C)

Low tide on Wasini island

Where water bottles go to die.  For all the beauty in Africa this sight taints every single one.

Just a weird duck.

The Trogdor crab (just one beefy arm!)

The coral forest near dusk.

*Nice meaning clean, toilet paper available, flushable toilets and showers with enough water pressure to get the shampoo out, even if it was cold water. 

**Trogdor is a cartoon dragon with one beefy arm sticking out of its back.  The idea may well have been stolen from these crabs.  They should sue.

Thursday, May 26

Living at Mombasa Pace

We have been in Mombasa, Kenya for almost a week now.  There is much to say but I'll intersperse with pictures to keep you interested (or do you all just look at the pictures?). Topics to cover:  our house; the city; the work.

Here are some pictures of our sparse but cozy living quarters:
Cute little matresses on the floor (now complete with mosquito net!).

The dining room (the living room is just behind with one comfy chair)

Kitchen.  We can't drink the water, brush our teeth with it or wash fruits and veggies so we lots of jugs.

Hi-C cooking at our propane tank by lantern light (not that you can tell it is dark; thanks flash)
We have pet geckos frequenting our rooms and ants will infiltrate anything within minutes.  Poor Hi-C has managed to be bitten by some bug or another routinely.  The house itself is situated on an amazing compound run by the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK).  For the first two days we were here we were so busy we didn't tour and had no idea about everything going on around us.  There are multiple workshops on-site where people with disabilities are employed to make crafts; there is a leather workshop, jewelry, textiles and a shop for creating Kenya-friendly wheelchairs.  A daycare behind the house provides care for children with cerebral palsy.  Even more surprising is the restaurant with rural Kenyan theme-park - recreations of traditional huts from all over eastern Africa and actors playing traditional music or welcoming visitors into their "homes". 

These big dudes are EVERYWHERE!

I was pretty excited to find an extra-large one. 

Hi-C was a little less excited.

We didn't even realize what a hub we were in until last night when we stumbled upon a performance of a traditional African dance on the compound only to discover that it was hosted for delegates from all over the world that are here to attend the World Fair Trade Organization summit.  They will all be displaying their wares here tomorrow - uh oh!

I have a little extra cash for fair trade stuff since we can make dinner for under $1.50 for three people using fresh veggies, spices and chapatis or rice.  A delicious, juicy fresh mango is 15 cents!  15 cents!  I'll say it again - 15 cents!

Swahili update:  I still can't say much.  But I did finally figure out why everyone looked so confused when I would introduce myself:  my name is one tense vowel away from the word "sit!" in their language.  I've started calling myself just "Kate" and it seems to go over just fine.

And now to attempt to explain the city.  I wish that i had more photos but I hate how voyeuristic it feels to whip out my camera in the street here (nevermind the fact that I have a a digital camera when most people live on less than a dollar a day).  The city itself (called 'town') is on an island but, like the GTA, it splays outward almost indefinitely.  Surrounding town is a series of "suburbs" which, also like in the GTA, all look very much the same.  The difference being that outside of town there are few stable, permanent structures.  Along the main road where matatus, pikipikis (motorcycles) and tuktuks often jostle past eachother in threes on a two lane highway the sides of the roads are lined in dirt.  This dirt becomes mud when it rains (which tends to happen in rainy season).  After rain the large divots along the road become ponds filled with opaque grey water (I won't speculate about its contents).  Most businesses are clapboard huts with tin roofs or, like the restaurant we frequent nearby, a frame made of thin tree poles with black plastic walls.  The general layout is veggie shop, veggies shop, fabric, tailor, veggie shop, corner store (ie. pop, cellphone minutes, etc), veggies shop, furniture maker x5.  All of the shops seem to hawk the same wares - especially produce places that consistently offer bananas, tomatoes, mangoes, onions, leafy greens and occasionally cilantro, eggplant, oranges, garlic and papaya.  At the restaurant I mentioned you can get a hot meal of ugali (corn meal mush bread) and beans or cabbage plus a chai (the word for all tea here) for about 50 cents.  Honestly, almost the entire expanse of suburbia beyond the downtown is what I would have initially guessed to be a 'slum' and I'm still not sure if it differs much from the major Nairobi slum Kibera (which we will be visiting later in the placement to do some work at a school there).  To call it is slum is not an attempt to degrade it but to qualify in a fairly north american term what this feels like.  The problem with the word slum is that is automatically connotes suffering, hopelessness (helplessness?), and despair.  I don't feel any of these things walking through the main areas - I have seen fewer people overtly begging for money than on the streets of Toronto - people work hard and live on little but many own their own businesses, support their families and are extremely welcoming. 

The other side of the shilling is that many people do see white skin and assume money.  Children will ask if you have any treats, some people out right ask for money or possessions (give me your shoes) - even people who hold permanent jobs.  Just as we have no real concept of what it is like here until you come (and even now, do I really know?) most do not really know what our lives are like in Canada.  For example, I joined a Kenyan employee of IPDK (who functions something like a community outreach/social worker) out in the field.  I relayed a story that while waiting for her a pikipiki driver had asked my name and then proceeded to tell me that he loved me.  We had a good laugh over this and I felt like we were understanding each other.  That is, until later in the matatu ride when she asked if I was engaged and, discovering that I was not, offered me here brother for marriage.  I can only assume he was in his early 40s based on her age.  I politely declined and laughed a bit, thinking that was that.  No.  About an hour later she turned to me in a quiet moment "So, it is agreed, you marry my brother?".  I guess I have a way to stay in Kenya if I really want....

The field work itself was interesting and eye-opening.  It challenges my faith in my own usefulness because what the children with disabilities here need is often just parents to talk to them, to get down to their level, to use gestures or pictures to communicate but, with so many other children to care for and mouths to feed it is a constant feeling that even these suggestions are quickly forgotten as you walk out the door.  I'm not sure I can blame them.  I do not know what it is like to be a single monther of four young children living in a one room cement box with a bed, (maybe) a chair, a corner for the coals and small pot and a few possessions.  This was a common scene during field work meaning these mothers also had at least one child with a fairly severe physical and/or intellectual disabilities.

The streets here definitely make those in Toronto feel so dull and boring.

Sunday, May 22

Mombasa, Kenya

Even though it is 30+ degrees and humid in the sun I oddly find myself craving a hot chocolate or a coffee.  We arrived in Mombasa last night after being on the bus all day and hopped in a taxi headed for Bombolulu (best. name. ever).  It is a workshop that employs people with physical disabilities and we are staying on the compound with H-Can, our clinical supervisor.  She is generously letting us crash for free here for three weeks so our expenses are transportation (i'll get to that) and food.  Fresh fruit and veggies are so cheap and, for 30 cents, you can have the best mango you will ever taste.

Transportation here is unbelievably cheap.  The matatus, or 10 seater vans that prowl the streets, will take you 10 min down the road for just over 10 cents!  I've been learning to barter because I'm usually quite a pushover and feel quite badly about haggling over the equivalent of 10 cents but it is the principle!  I'll admit that I don't like being ripped off just because my skin is white.  Like I said, my instinct is not to care since I do actually have mroe than the people running matatus but it is considered uncool to bow to the higher prices because it drives inflation for everyone.  A good example is that last night we met up with a big group of couchsurfers in Mombasa and, we were all standing on the side of the road to catch a ride, a matatu saw a big group of mzungus* (white people/foreigners), pulled over, kicked all of the local riders off the matatu and - with big dollar signs in his eyes - offered it to us.  No thanks.  We waited for the next one to drive by.

We hung out on the beach today before starting our placement Monday.  The sand was perfectly white and had the texture of fine powder.  The water is room temperature and very clear. 

Therapy bonuses:
1. I worked on the word "orgasmic" with a client the other day.  The exercise was to read an article in the newspaper and highlight difficult words and that was one of them.  So we broke it in to syllables (or - GAS- mic) and defined it. 
2. This week was my first little kid who had never seen a mzungu - as I was talking to his parents he was playing around at our feet and, since I was wearing capris, he would reach over and touch the skin on my leg every once in a while.  Perhaps just to see if I felt the same as other people.

*People will literally yell or state "mzungu" as you pass them on the street.  It isn't really meant to be good or bad but just an observation.  Car!  Mango Stand!  White person!

Thursday, May 19

A Language Lesson

It has been a great week (read:  tiring) with plenty of interesting clients.  After a good chat with a client's husband (Hi-C was seeing the wife so the husband and I had some chai) two things happened:  he told me that I'm close to the spirit of god and invited us both out to their farm where they grow coffee!  Let's recap:  some super christian man said I'm closer to the spirit of god than he is.  Yikes.  Perhaps he is very sweet but not a very good judge of spirity-ness.  And - hecks yes we want to go to a coffee plantation thing.  Unfortunately we are off to Mombasa (the coast) on Saturday morning but we exchanged numbers so it might still happen when we return to Nairobi.

Since we'll be off to Mombasa where people tend to speak more Kiswahili than English we had our first language lesson last night; a bit of a crash course in greetings and the verb "to be".  To a native English speaker the language is complicated and just not intuitive.  But beautiful and interesting.  My favourite greeting so far is "shikamoo" = shee-kah-MOH-oh = "I touch your feet?"  to which the elder answers "marahaba".  How cool is that? 

How else is it not intuitive?  Well, for starters, "si" is the way to negate (at least in present "to be").  For someone who has studied Spanish for a long time this is confusing because "si" means yes*. 

Embarrassing language moment:  I couldn't even break a word into syllables!  I was working with an adult client on speech and one technique is to break up the syllables by pacing (speaking more slowly) and emphasizing the sounds to be more easily understood.  I had the client teach me a few new kiswahili words and off we went.  Fundi = technician.  /foon-dee/  Syllables foon-dee.  Right?  Wrong.  The syllables are foo-ndi.  The /n/ goes with the /d/.  I did this multiple times with the client and didn't realize until that night after doing some research on the sounds of kiswahili that I was way off.  At least we all had a good laugh the next day about my ineptitude.

Mimi ni Katie.
Mimi ni mcanada.
Mimi ni msichana.

I'm a person (in the first noun class) and I'm just one person so all of the nouns referring to me take on an /m/.  If it were about Hi-C and me it would be "sisi ni wacanada".  Plural takes a "wa".  But only for classes 1 and 2 of nouns (I think there are 10ish classes - we haven't gotten there yet).

AAAAAnd the big REVEAL:

Where will Hi-C and I be going for our final two weeks in Africa?  Our (tentative) plans are:
 -finish placement in mbita on the coast of lake victoria
-grab a bus to jinga, Uganda for some white water rafting.
-get back on the bus and head to....RWANDA for a few days.  See some sights.
-head back to Nairobi
-3 days in the maasai mara (aka serengeti) tracking animals and waiting for the wildebeest to migrate
-back to Nairobi to fly home

*Technically the "si" should have an accent on the /i/ to mean yes instead of "if" but I don't feel like figuring out how to do that right now.

Sunday, May 15

The Tourist Circuit

We hired a driver today and hit the tourist circuit near Nairobi.  Sometimes you just have to do that; there is a reason tourists flock to these places.  Who can say no to baby animals???

On the way there we speculated about the animals we might see.  Can you guess what we are?

The animals themselves were slightly more exciting.  But I'll tell the story in photos:
Shaking hands with Benny the spot-nosed monkey.  Very soft little old man hands!

Hanging out with a teeny little dik-dik.  Full grown!

Feeding an ostrich....a grabby guy.

Orphan baby elephants coming out for their lunch.

Mud party!

I swear, he is finding peanuts in there.

tight with the giraffes.  don't be fooled - she wouldn't stick around one second after the last pellet disappeared

Giraffe kisses - with whisker burn!

Crocodile meat (which I promptly spat out)

i actually consumed ox testical. 
For lunch, after a hard day of animal petting, we hit up carnivore restaurant.  For a set fee men wander around with sticks and swords of meat and offer to slice a hunk onto your plate.  Lamb, miss?  Turkey?  Ostrich meat balls?  Yes please. It isn't my typical haunt and I was basically meated-out after the first pass but it was pricey and i was feeling adventurous so I pressed on.  The exotic meats on offer today were ostrich (gamey but good), camel (my fave of the  day, so tender with great spices!), crocodile (the most repulsive - full of cartilage and the strongest fish taste I have experience...not my cup of chai) and a few organs of which I tried ox balls.  Yes, testicles.  And I have to admit, it was the second-best tasting item of the meal to my surprise.  I still gagged a little knowing what it was....

Saturday, May 14

A Stalker and a Slasher

Yes mom, I'm fine.

It has been one week in Nairobi and we're still alive and (almost 100%) well.  There is so much to talk about so I'll try to keep it interesting and touch on all the important stuff:  placement, my digestive system, today's adventures.

1. Placement:  we love it.  Our two supervisors are fantastic and they are extremely hospitable.  So far we have only worked with E and she just throws us right in.  Sink or swim and we're treading water.  The clients are wonderful, they often come in with their entire families.  So far we have seen all adults and in one week it has ranged from fluency to voice to aphasia to dysarthria (speech issues) and almost everything in between.  Dysphagia too - feeding for a videofluoroscopic swallowing study.  Score!  The cultural differences can be a barrier and they can be a conversation starter.  Everyone is extremely warm and I have a sweet client working on his speech while teaching me kiswahili.  Nataka chai = I want tea!  Different interpretations of appointment time is something that can be difficult to get used to (plus traffic in Nairobi can be horrendous).  On thursday we had clients scheduled back to back at 11am, noon and 1pm and all showed up at noon.  There is only one SLP room but luckily there were 3 of us so we split up and found nooks in the rehab department to do therapy.

2.  Digestive system:  nature isn't calling, she is stalking me now.  It is getting old.  We were find until we decided to purchase some juice made from fresh grapes.  I knew the result even before I paid for my drink but, apparently, it wasn't deterrent enough.  Three days later....I'm on a regimen of pro-biotics and some homeopathic remedy and some rehydration gatorade-like drink was thrown in today.  Annoying but still manageable (knock on wood).

3.  Today's adventures:  Leaving the house mid-morning today we set out to see "town" for the first time - meaning downtown Nairobi.  We grabbed our first matatu - a cheap form of public transport involving a large van that may or may not come to a complete stop to let passengers on and off and that may or may not obey the rules of traffic* - where the driver insisted that we ride shotgun with him.  We finally saw the real Nairobi: half torn up roads, a used goods market outside bigger than 5 values villages, a scrap yard for cars on the way into the downtown, people walking between moving cars selling candy, bananas, shoes and just about anything else.  We "alighted" from the matatu (proper term) at our destination which was not at a proper matatu "stage", risking imprisonment and ran into our supervisor having tea with a Canadian friend.  We sat with them to sort out our route and were quickly informed that downtown was no place ot carry a purse (even if it had very little in it) so I tucked money in one cup and my camera in the other (thank goodness I had a jacket on to cover the extra bulge!) and my phone in my pocket and stowed my bag with our supervisor E. 

We toured the city seeing beautiful fabric shops, city markets where it is impossible to move 3 feet without someone imploring you into their stall ("looking is free!") or pulling your hand and approaching you with a clever ruse to get you into their shop ("do you have a canadian flag pin for trading?  I will trade you something for it...I will give you a good price now that we are friends").  We had lunch at the Trattoria, an old colonial cafe with servers in blue coats and white collars.  I had to remove my camera from my bra when entering the conference centre as it set off the metal detector...woops.  It wasn't easy to get photos of the real city as most places in the heart of the city weren't really safe to pull out a camera.  Most of the photos are from a car window but you can still get an idea.  Now I have walked all over Cusco, Peru at all times of day and never felt unsafe but there were times in heart of downtown Nairobbery that I wouldn't have walked alone in broad daylight.  It isn't exactly dangerous but you do feel out of place.  We met friends downtown for a ride home after a long day of walking and, when we had almost reached their car, I looked at Hi-C's bag and found a gaping slash right through it!  Thank goodness it was just a flimsy shopping bag that contained only some cheap souvenirs and nothing went missing (those slashers must have been disappointed) but it was clearly cut with a razor. 

Now for the photo recap:

One of many cool old cars in town

Hi-C at the Trattoria

Nairobi from a random high window

BEST NOTE EVER.  Left on a message board at the Thorn Tree Cafe.  Photo taken with my siblings in mind.

Side of the road on the way home from town.

The Kenyatta International conference Centre.  Sci-fi lovers - isn't that building great? It rivals Toronto's City Hall as most likely to open up and abduct surrounding citizens before returning to the home planet.

*rules of traffic seems to be subjective for all vehicles.  A four way stop in this city consists of a game of chicken through the intersection but hardly any stopping. 

Wednesday, May 11

Sleepless in Nairobi

Another blurb about time adjustment: not easy!  At least I'm consistent:  consistently awake at 5am.  It wasn't so bad this time since I was asleep just after 10.  But what do you do with all that time in the morning if you don't have placement until 9am?  I have a suprising amount of downtime here because we aren't really allowed to leave the house after dark and it gets dark at about 6pm.  We could, in theory, take a cab somewhere but we would need to know a destination.  We have yet to see the downtown of Nairoberry so that will be our goal this weekend (along with kissing giraffes!). 

Last night we got off placement before the sun set so one of our host sistaz kindly took us to the market and acted as our negotiator.  I haven't learned anything from South America and still can't bargain to save my life; I just feel too bad!  Let me tell you, this girl takes no guff and she takes no guff in kiswahili so no one messes with her.  I got myself a little fabric doll for 200 kenyan shillings - I would have paid the 450 she was asking but The Negotiator brought down the price.  200 shillings (or "bob") is about $2 ish.  Plus a little wooden mask for 100.  Hi-C cleaned out the market and drove some mega-hard bargains. 

Our Nairo-fam has been treating us so well.  The other night we hit up the local Indian mall and the outdoor foodcourt.  Instead of waiting in line like chumps you just sit down and people rush over to bring you their menus and you can order from any or all of them.  We got some rockin' chicken tikka and butter paneer along with my very first glass of sugar cane juice and our first madufa - a cousin of the coconut.

They are also passing along their chapati making skills to us.  The mom can churn out a perfect chapati in about 7 seconds.  After about a minute of rolling I usually end up with dough stuck to the rolling stone.  But I think they find our excitement over the art of chapati making entertaining so we're good for something - if only slowing down dinner. 

And now for some photos of around the neighbourhood.

Home-sweet-compound - notice the barbed wire fence.

a street behind our apartment building

Chapati time!  Which is ftting because I'm wearing my new Indian shirt


The view outside our window.  One of those is a mall....