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

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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