Friday, January 16, 2009

Nguluni and Novak

Dear Friends in the USA – Monday and change is fast approaching. Kenyans are very excited, an almost everyone claims to have some relationship with Barack!

I am going to summarize my past week in Nguluni. I only wish I could include some pictures to make this more real for you. This may be long, but bear with my day by day life. It has been most interesting and challenging to say the least. If you go to wikpedia and look up my town (village) it will be described as poor African town. Those are kind words. My emotional roller coaster has been from the very highest peak to the lowest valley and I am taking life one day at a time.

I was very disappointed to have my assignment site changed at the last minute, but as many of you wrote – there is always a reason. I think I am beginning to see why. My services (what ever they may be) are really needed here.

My counterpart/supervisor and I left Nairobi on Friday for a 90 minute matatu ride to Nguluni with my 4 bags + the additional bags of books and buckets Peace Corps requires. Quite the site – we took up at least 3 seats, of course I had to pay extra for the bags. I will say, 90 min. is a short ride, some of the group going to the coast were on matatus for 2 days and taking who knows what to get to their sites.

Arriving in Nguluni, I am thinking what am I doing?? It is a very poor community of about 2,000 people, most of whom are children or unemployed adults. There are 2 pool tables at the matatu station which attract all the “undersirables” every day. Many of the people here work in Tala, about a 60 minute walk from here.

We left my bags at the Kenbrick Vocational Training Centre where I will be doing a variety of tasks, from computerizing their records to teaching business and HIV/AIDS classes and possibly a computer class or 2. Who knows? (si jui?) The 2 gentlemen I am working with, Mr. Mutua and Mr. Kelly, are the founders of the school. It was started a couple of years ago to provide opportunity and to train the youth of the community in motor vehicle maintenance, tailoring and dressmaking, cabinetry and joinery, and hopefully, with my help Accounting/Business. Their goal is to provide these youths with the opportunity to find employment and break the poverty cycle. They have about 30 students right now who are second year students. They are busy trying to recruit new students now. Tuition is about 1500/term + 450 in catering fees. Keep in mind, 79 KSH = $1. This is a LOT for these students.

The school is located in rental space, and is rather falling down, but they seem to do the job of holding classes and providing an education for their students. They have electricity, but not running water. The dream is to purchase a plot of land near the existing school and build one class room at a time. There is actually a plan in place to achieve this goal. I give them credit! Students are asked to provide beans and maize for lunches. That is ALL they eat, every day. I had some today, and it was pretty good, but every day? The school is about a 10 minute from where I live. I should mention, the sewing machines were stolen a couple of months ago, and they have just managed to replace one machine and one finishing machine. They make the blouses/shirts for their students’ uniforms.

My housing. My 2 rooms are in a compound of 8 units. My rooms are about 9 X 9 if you stretch it. Cement walls, floor and tin roof. Mr. Mutua has loaned me a bed, coffee table and sitting chair. The school is building me a work table (cooking + studying) and it will be nice to not cook on the floor. There are a lot of children and babies who live in this compound and people seem to like to play their radios rather loud. You know how I like my quiet – so this is my biggest challenge. I have met most of my neighbors and they are very nice. Some speak limited Kswahili and mostly kikamba and little English. A bit interesting asking questions and getting to know them. We have 2 outside choos and 1 shower which are shared by all. The caretaker and his wife keep this areas very clean which is reassuring. I am in awe of how a family of 5 can live in this tiny space, cook inside with charcoal and keep it clean. The women are washing clothes daily and I see them washing their floors. I plan on getting some type of floor covering so I can do a little yoga without being on the cement. I am trying to practice 2 times a day, focusing of breathing and standing postures. Thank you Rita Coolidge for your music to practice by! It is so dry and dusty here, I wear a blouse once and the wash water turns to mud! How Kenyans stay clean is beyond me. I only hope my clothes withstand the hand washing for next 2 years! Mr. Mutua wants to build me a clothes dresser, but I am waiting to see how the 3 months trial period goes. Then I can actually settle in and spend some more money on staying organized. Right now my food and kitchen supplies are in plastic baskets and my clothes are folded next to my bed. Papers and books are everywhere, so my next purchase will be a book case.

Water is scarce – We have a tap on the compound and I filled my 100L jerry can on Saturday. We did not have water again until Thursday. I had about 40-50L left, but was starting to get concerned. Refilled yesterday. It rained today so I had every tub and bucket out catching rain water for washing clothes, dishes and my floor. Never had been in this situation before, so it will take some getting used to and using water wisely. One PCV in her second year, was telling us that she used her dish water to wash her floors and anything left from washing clothes was used to clean the choo. I feel like I am camping with limited supplies! I am hoping to purchase a smaller, 20L jerry can for additional storage.

I walk 60 minutes to Tala to a grocery store. There are a few market stalls in Nguluni and a few dukas (shops) with limited supplies. Basically I have lived on PB&J, rice, mangoes and pineapple for the past week. I have no desire to eat any meat, but need more veggies in my life. Once my table comes and I can get somewhat organized I will try and do better. The less food in the house, the fewer the gnats. I have coffee every morning and have made chai only once. I am anxious to actually start cooking, but know I will have limited foods to chose from so I will have to shop wisely in Tala.

I finally found a Kswahili tutor – Mama Sharon. She is a primary school teacher in town and we met today for the first time. I was impressed with her style and patience and think that she will help me a lot. Pronunciation is my nemesis and she was very patient with me. We laughed a lot, English does NOT have ny, mb, nz combinations and they twist my tongue! I think I will enjoy knowing her as a tutor and friend. We will meet as often as possible, and learning new vocabulary will give me something constructive to do at night.

My short wave radio and the BBC are great friends. I am so glad to have my Ipod and all those books on it! Yes, Galitz, tell Ian it was well worth all my time and effort to put them there. Only wish I had done more! I am hoping to watch Barak on TV Monday. Mr. Mutua has a TV but we cannot figure out when it might be on. Sounds like it will Tuesday here because of the 8 hour time difference.

I have found a sanctuary in the Holy Rosary College where the cyber café is. It is a quiet campus and if they had housing I might just move there! It is a 30 minute walk, on the way to Tala. It actually has some trees and is a very quiet setting.

Basically, today, I am okay. We shall see how the weekend goes. Nights and non-work days are very challenging. There is really no place to escape to that I have found yet. I am looking though. I think this is part of the PC experience. Before I came I wanted to have my time – to focus on yoga, meditation, and spiritual growth. Now I just need to actually take advantage of the opportunity to do so! The outcome of this journey is up to me, and no one else.

For those of you who did not get an update from Katie, Mr. Mutua has allowed me to use the school PO Box in Tala to receive mail. Snail mail will always be appreciated. My new address will be:

Pat Novak,
c/o Kenbrick Vocational Training Centre
PO Box 539
Tala (90131)

Hopefully, this will expedite the receipt of any mail.

I hope this has updated you on my Kenyan adventure. Stay in touch.

Kwahereni to all
Love, Pat

Saturday – just a quick update. Another rainy night – most welcome by the maize and the people.

Have a conversation with a fellow PCV last night, and several SMS messages from others comparing sites. Some have great locations and poor assignments. This morning I am grateful for an assignment that will make a difference, even though I don’t have a coastal, resort area site location. I keep reminding myself of what my mission to PC is, and it is NOT to be on holiday but to make a difference in the lives of those I work with. Keep reminding me of this!

Another positive – since I have no one to ask Word/Excel questions, I am forced to deal with them on my own. I am actually being relative successful in that endeavor and the best thing is, I am not getting upset if I can find a solution immediately. This is so NOT me. Yikes, who is this person writing this blog?? Love

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Site assignment at last

Habari ya Mwaka Mpya – Happy New Year and may 2009 be a year of change and betterment world wide.   January 20 will probably become a new Kenyan national holiday.  I am going to enjoy viewing the world from this side of the Ocean.  I am hoping to finally be able to buy a newspaper and catch up on the news.


The holidays have passed.   I will be the first to admit Christmas was a bit rough emotionally.   Fortunately I heard from all of my children which was wonderful.  Packages had not arrived yet and I am hoping they will in Nairobi when we arrive.  Snail mail takes 3 weeks and packages may take up to 4.  I am hoping to have a PO box on site to eliminate some of that time.   I am trying to write “group” letters from Kenya to keep you updated since internet access is not the easiest.   It may or may not change when I get to site.


We had our language (LPI) exam last week – I actually improved my score from Novice medium to Novice HIGH which is encouraging.   The next level, intermediate low is the passing level.   Maybe 8-10 out of our group did that – and they are the ones who studied all the time.   Me – I liked hanging out with my host family.   Hopefully PC will provide a tutor on site (it’s in the manual!)   I felt pretty good about my score, since I felt rather low after actually taking the exam.  There must be a better way, but in the short time we have (which was cut shorter with the holidays) I don’t know what it would be.


Sunday is a family/partner appreciation dinner and then PC stays at Outward Bound where we stayed the first night in Loitokitok.   We leave early Monday morning for the 8 hour bus ride to Nairobi.   It looks like a packed schedule there and we will finally meet our counterparts and find out our site locations.  I haven’t  even looked at the location list and will be more than happy to go where I am assigned.   I  truly want electricity at home and at last easy access to running water.  AND, I want a work assignment that I will be comfortable with.  By the time I post this, I will know and let you all know.  The unknown isn’t bad if you don’t think about it!


I have had some great 4 hour hikes around the area over the past couple of days.  It has been a great stress reducer.  Yoga has been minimal, but am hoping to find PAT TIME on site and build it into my schedule.


I have not been successful in attaching pictures to this blog, but will work on it again today.  I would love to have you see the countryside which is absolutely georgous.  Mt. K looms everywhere.   I hope to be in the Rift Valley or in Central (Mt Kenya) areas.  There are quite a few assignments in the Coast area, which will have a totally different landscape.   Each will have its challenges and benefits.


Will finalize this in Nairobi and get it posted.   Thanks to all who have written – it is so much fine to get news from home.   Group letters are great – keep them coming.  Love to all – enjoy the cool weather – about 90 here today and the sun is HOT. 

We had a long, hot and dusty (8 hr) bus ride from Loitokitok to Nairobi on Monday - sitting several hours in stand still traffic.   Not much fun breathing that diesel fuel.  It was great to get to a fairly new hotel with private rooms, western toilets and hot water.  After a decent night's sleep it was back into peace corps pace, a lot of information and forms to fill out.  Today, Wednesday, we met our counterparts and finally found out where our site locations are.   I will be in Muranga, central province.   So from looking at Mt. K on a regular basis, I will be able to see Mt. Kenya.  A good location weather wise and it appears to be a good work position.   I will be assisting the Kanyenyaini Tea Factory which deals with fair trade products.  The person I met with is the accountant and I am not sure what all my work will entail, but at least Accounting is part of the equation.   My home, from what I can tell is 2 rooms and has electricity and running water.  It is 2 hours from Nairobi which is great.  The 8-10 bus rides do not thrill me a lot.  I will travel there with my partner on Friday and see my home then.   I think I will be able to buy everything I need locally which will be great.   I will furnish it pole pole (slowly) and buy only what I need.   

Kswahili continues to be a nemesis - the 16 who scored Novice High will be tested again in 3 months - we need to elevate to the next level so I will be hiring a tutor on site and working hard.  I think I will be okay, if I can just get over the fear of speaking!!!!!    I am quite good on paper, but that doesn't count.

Just finished eating a burger, fries and chocolate malt with friends.   Came back and consumed 6 of Betsy's chocolate chip/raisin/nut cookies I received today.   Too bad they were sent December 1, but they still tasted great.   Life goes on in Kenya - all is well.   Keep writing and staying in touch.   Thanks for all the Christmas notes, you might want to send Halloween cards soon so they get to me in time!    Love to all.   As for pictures, I will continue to work on that, but check out some of the other Kenya websites, we are all here together and they may be able to give you some indication of what I am doing.

My Great Family

My Great Family
Katie, Shannon, Lucy, Pat, Russ, Betsy

Contact Information

My email address is:

My snail mail address will be:
Pat Novak, PCV
        PO Box 539
        Tala   90131