Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Semester of Strengthening

This is most likely going to be the post that closes out my blog! I am writing this post from somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as I fly from Amsterdam to Chicago on my way home. I am still not sure what to think of this semester, and I really can’t believe it’s over. This post I hope will summarize the changes that I feel I have experienced, and can capture some of the more “meta” experiences of this trip.

Before I lose any readers at this point, I want to take a minute to thank everyone who has been reading my blog! I know we are all busy, and taking the time to follow my experiences during these past four months means so much to me! The outpour of support from situations I experienced was incredible, and this blog really reinforced how far my ‘family’ stretches.

Now on to the sappy closing post….

As I seriously reflect on these past four months I realize that this semester was a complicated semester. Academically, it was one of the most enjoyable making my classes seem ‘easy’ but ‘easy’ is not a term I would ever use to describe my time in Nairobi. From fighting traffic, to getting fed up with institutional problems preventing resources, to simply being targeted by individuals it was a mentally and emotionally taxing semester.

Through this, many aspects of me became stronger…

  • First, my belief that I joined the right University and program (Public Health Scholars Program). None of this semester would have happened if I was at another University, and frankly was a lot less likely to happen if I was not part of a program that setup and forced the study abroad experience. AU was never a school at the top of my list, but the longer I am involved the more I think back and laugh that if only I had known my senior year of high school would have been a lot less stressful.
  • Second, my belief that I have chosen the right field of study and career field. Every course I took this semester (with the exception of Kiswahili) was directly related to public health and the career I want to have. These courses in addition to my work in the field (both the Community Health Diagnosis and with my attachment with MACODEP in Kibera) just strengthened my love of public health and medicine and have really re-fueled my passion for the field.
  • Third, my abilities to adapt to new environments and work in the ‘field’ have become stronger. A key theme of any study abroad experience is adaptation to the culture and the country you are living in, and that was no exception this semester. I have become better at adapting to new situations and environments, and have gotten much stronger at working in the field all-day and interacting with strangers to promote public health campaigns.
  • Lastly, my faith has been greatly strengthened during this semester. While this semester was the longest I have gone without attending a church service, going through these experiences and interacting with people of faith on a daily basis (some of whom were in destitute situations) provided me with a level of hope that reinforced my own faith. 

This semester was a semester of strengthening and a semester of growth. I am blessed to be able to have had these opportunities, and now it is my job to carry these experiences with me and use these experiences down the road. Whether it be in class, in talking with students who may be interested in studying abroad, using the skills during an internship, or just reminding myself of the little memories these experiences will always hold a special place in my heart.

I want to close this blog, with a Maasai saying I used on Thanksgiving, but that is just too fitting to not use again:

“When you walk alone, you may walk very fast but you don't get very far. when you walk with others, you may not walk very fast but you can go very far.”

Friday, December 12, 2014

Soon it's Back To Wyatt

Well the time has come. This point was inevitable, and while at times I may have been looking forward to, right now I am dreading it. I can’t believe I’m leaving in barely over a week, and our last week we will be on our last excursion.

As an earlier Blog post detailed how during my time here in Kenya I have adopted the name Peter. Peter is actually my middle name, and of high significance to me, but I never have gone by it, until this semester. With Wyatt being a challenge to pronounce and explain to most people, I just revert to saying my name is Peter. Back home I have, and always will go by Wyatt.

Individuals who work with study abroad programs always say that in their experience the hardest part for students is returning home. Many students say that they are a different person after study abroad, but I don’t like this narrative. I like to think that I am not a different person but someone who has grown from the experiences I have had. I am returning home to family, friends, classmates, and mentors who have followed my blog but haven’t experienced the same things I have, and only so much can be conveyed through writing. Having grown professionally, personally, emotionally, and any other way you could imagine, returning home to an environment where few individuals know or even understand what I experienced I expect to be quite the challenge.

This semester I have solidified my career goals, expanded my academic knowledge learned a bit of a new language, learned and adapted to a new culture, learned to cook new foods, made countless friends I have to leave behind, travelled across Kenya, and generally grew as a member of our global society. All of these experiences have certainly made me grow as a person, but it’s hard to explain the experience

Now, as the time approaches to go home I realize that I am returning to an environment that ‘Wyatt’ left. But I am returning months later after these experiences as ‘Peter’.

Since first really looking at this semester in-depth, back in June, during my Intro to Study Abroad Class with Dr. Blake Bennett, my leading question has always been “how can I make this semester mean something, and continue using these experiences beyond my time here in Kenya and my time in school?” I don’t want this experience to end as soon as I am back to “Wyatt”.

Here is how I am framing this “coming home experience”: ‘Peter’ will always be a part of me, even though I am back to the ‘Wyatt’ side of experiences the memories here will always share a special part of me.

I will always be ‘Wyatt Peter’, never just ‘Wyatt’ and never just ‘Peter’. At times, these experiences may fall back and not be on the forefront of my mind (like our middle names) but they will always be there to make me who I am.

Maybe one day I will return as “Dr. Wyatt Peter”. Using what I learned here to shape my future and push me to work harder, and using my education in the coming years to allow me to make an even larger impact one day.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Twilight Zone

Thursday night, our first night on Safari, one of my classmates was quite ill. She hadn’t felt well all day and decided to stay back at camp. She didn’t improve, and if anything felt worse. Alex and I decided she needed medical attention, so we encouraged her to go to the doctor. Alex located the area doctor, at another (much swankier [no-really $250 a night now $600 in the high season]) lodge. Alex, a local guide, myself, the one not feeling well, and two others loaded a van and ventured over. As we were helping her walk down the stairs, she almost collapsed, so I picked her up and carried her into the lobby and onto a couch (looks like some of that first-aid training has came in handy).

The lodge was nearly empty, seeing only two guests the whole time.

Not long after we arrived it started raining, pouring, and hailing. The winds were howling slamming the doors, and making the lights swing. Loud thunder could be heard and flashes of lightning could be seen.

As we are waiting in the lobby for the doctor, one guest comes to the desk to ask to exchange USD to KSH, the man behind the desk tells her to wait a minute for the person to come. A minute later I hear a thud and the woman says “are you okay?” in a normal non panicked tone. I look up and there is no one behind the counter.

I run over, to find the man laying on the floor unconscious, I signal for Alex to come over and as he is coming another lodge staff member does as well. She states “he will be fine” then calmly walks away. As Alex and I are helping this guy stand up, two other staff members come over and start helping him. I notice that he is holding his pants with his left arm, and dragging his leg. I suspect a stroke, but I am told again by the other staff “he will be fine”.

They bring him to a back room.

I begin questioning the woman standing at the desk as to what she saw, and all she can say is he just collapsed.

The woman working behind the desk returns, and I question her about this situation (having not seen or heard from the man who collapsed yet). Eventually, she tells me that he had an injury as a child, is on medication, and this happens occasionally.

About half an hour later the man emerges, walking fine, and after a bit returns to work elsewhere in the lodge.

All this time the doctor had still not arrived, because the roads became too impassable for the car he was in. We needed to meet him at our campground. We caught a brief break in the rain, made it to our van and started the journey back. This journey was in the rain and thunder, going whichever way was best. Alex at times stepped out to check the depth of water before proceeding.

We returned to our campground where the doctor was, and my colleague got the help she needed.

The campground prepared dinner for us separately, since we had missed the main meal, and relaxed a bit.

This entire night was out of the Twilight Zone. If the power had gone out at the lodge, I would have been convinced I was suddenly in a horror movie.

It didn’t help much our cellphones barely picked up any signal.

At the end of the day everyone was fine, and everyone was safe but this experience was incredibly….crazy. I never thought this would be the experience I would have on Safari, but hey it was a memorable experience nonetheless.


Well we finally did it. We trekked to the Maasai Mara and had an incredible 3 day, 2 night Safari.

14 of us loaded two vans at 7am Friday morning, with Alex (a good friend of Mwangi and Frances’) driving one and his colleague Steve driving the other. We started our journey, and before you know it we arrived at the Maasai Manyatta Tented Camp – where we would be staying for the next two days. We enjoyed lunch, then a couple hours to rest before our first game drive at 4pm.

At 4 we departed our camp for the famed Maasai Mara – known as one of the most famous reserves and safari locations in the world. Our lead driver, Alex, is from that area and is an expert in all things Maasai and Safari.

We entered the Reserve, and the fun began. We were greeted by Wildebeests, Impalas, and Thomson’s Gazelles, and as we kept driving saw Giraffes (including a dead one – it had lion teeth marks all down its neck), buffalo, elephants, then to what became a laughing matter for the whole day. A lion and his lioness on their “honey moon”. It is what you can imagine it would be, and we couldn’t believe we were watching this. We learned some good facts about a Lion’s mating cycle including that for every cub who makes it beyond 1 year of age, the lion and lioness would have mated 3000 times. At this point, we headed back to camp, as it was getting dark. Needless to say we were all struck with the natural beauty of the Mara, and the completely wild animals (nearly all of our driving was off road, and the roads that were there were more trails). Thursday night involved a trip to another lodge to get an ill classmate medical attention, this Twilight Zone experience will be detailed in another post.

Day two would be our long day on the Mara, we were to leave camp at 7:30am for a  full day, returning at 4. This day was just as incredible. We saw many things but the highlights were: a HUGE herd of buffalo, thousands of Zebras, ostrich, warthogs (including their babies!), lion cubs under a tree, a hyena feeding on a dead animal with vultures waiting patiently nearby (we also saw vultures feasting on a cow), another pair of lions, then we stumbled upon two male lions sleeping in the shade. As our other vehicle drove off, one woke up, looked right as, and sneezed. It was incredible. By this time it was just about 12:30, which meant time for lunch. We drove a bit more than found a nice shade tree, and set up our picnic lunch. Surrounded by zebras and warthogs. This was one of the most memorable picnics I’ve ever had! We got back on the trail about 45 minutes later, checked our the lookout to where we could see all of the Mara, then started heading towards the water. It was at this time our lead guide Alex spotted the rain clouds getting worse, and closer. We went down the hill, and were interrupted by Steve spotting two cheetahs sitting in the shade. We snapped a few pictures, then Alex insisted we leave. It was early, but we trusted him and didn’t complain. Before you know it were in a complete rain storm, the roads were flooding as we tried to drive, all the dust turned to mud making us hydroplane and lose traction at times. Despite this crazy downpour, and treacherous terrain Alex knew exactly what he was doing and got us out safely. After a bit of this the rain stopped, and we were able to see a few more animals before heading back to camp including more giraffes (sitting down and fighting), and a dead elephant. We saw a few monkeys on our way out, and then made it back to camp at 4. This is when Alex informed us had we stayed 5 more minutes we would not have made it out, all of the roads flooded and many became impassable. We enjoyed a nice afternoon tea, many enjoyed a nap, a calm dinner, then off to bed. Saturday would be our final day on the Mara, with an early morning drive.

We left camp at 6:30 on Sunday, unsure of the road conditions. We got a bit into the Mara, found more lions, then the roads were still muddy and more rain was coming in. We had to exit cutting our last drive, very short but the sunrise and the rain in the distance with the natural beauty of the Mara was breathtaking. Standing in the van with the cold morning air rushing by was an incredible experience. We ate breakfast then ventured back to Nairobi, encountering heavy rain and hail on our drive.

We made it back safe, but it still hasn’t sunk in what I just saw.

I know this blog post wasn’t great, and it made our journey seem so quick (which is exactly how it felt), but the Maasai Mara was absolutely incredible. The animals were all wild, and the views were constantly breath taking. I am at a loss for words when trying to describe the scenery, so I refer you to my photos here.

The animals we saw were….

Thomsons Gazelle
Dwarf Mongoose

African Crowned Crane
And any more I can’t name/remember!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gobble! Gobble!

Well like my birthday, this Thanksgiving was certainly one I will remember for a long time!

We all took the day off from our internships, after having quite a long conversation about what Thanksgiving was and what it stood for. Eventually, our friends accepted that this was a big deal in America and were happy to give us a break to celebrate our holiday.

The morning was spent relaxing, and running a few errands, then the early afternoon is when the real fun started! We all trekked over to Mwangi and Frances’ place for our good ole American Thanksgiving. Frances had been working on the food for a few days and we had a huge feast! There were two great turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn bread, deviled eggs, cranberry sauce, and gravy! In addition to this we had a few Kenyan additions such as chapatti. We enjoyed an afternoon and evening filled with great company, catching up about our colleagues internships, and most of all a fantastic dinner which was also Sammy (our great taxi driver and friend) and Sabina’s (our wonderful orientation assistant and friend) first Thanksgiving!

We even continued the tradition of going around the table and saying what we were thankful for, to make this blog post more than the bare bones it is I want to say what I am thankful for:

Opportunities and Memories.

I am thankful for the opportunity of spending this semester in Kenya, thankful for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people here, thankful for everybody back home (and across the US) supporting me, thankful for every opportunity I have had.

On the other side of these opportunities are memories.

The memories of my University of Nairobi classes, my internship in Kibera, the time spent exploring Nairobi, the excursions we’ve taken to Kitengela Glass, Nyumbani Village, Mt. Longonot, Paradise Lost, Hell’s Gate, The African Heritage House, Kisumu (Rural Week in Seme), and now Maasai Mara for Safari. These memories are incredibly special. Even if I end up working or living here for a bit of time, these memories stand apart. They are special and will always have a special place in my heart.

I am thankful for so many things, but this semester has put all that in perspective for me.