Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rural Week (approaching fast!)

The start of our 11 page Community Diagnosis Survey
A full copy will be posted after our time in the field
This past Thursday we took some time out of our Kiswahili class to receive and introduction to Rural Week!

Rural Week is a week coming up very soon, where we leave Nairobi and travel to a rural area, usually quite far. During this week we are individually placed with host families where we sleep, eat, do chores, and do our best to seamlessly blend into the family and community. For those here on the Development track, all of their time will be spent with the family, truly becoming a part of it. For those of us on the Public Health track, we will spend a lot of time with the family, but our afternoons will be spent conducting a Community Diagnosis Survey. This Survey is something we built during the past 8 weeks of our Community Health class, and it is going to be used to address the objectives we set out for it:
  • To determine the population size, structure, and dynamics in the community
  • To assess the socio-economic status of the community
  • To determine types of illness experienced and actions taken by community members in the two weeks preceding the study
  • To assess the community knowledge of Malaria (causes, presentation, and prevention)
  • To assess the Environmental Health situation and practices among members of the community

When we return we will compile all of our results (although we are in the same community, we will rarely see each other during the week as we have been placed on the outskirts) and write a report and recommendations for the community. In standard practice we should return to the community to present our findings and assist them in implementing an intervention but due to logistics that is not possible. We will be presenting this report to both the program director, as well as our professor, and they will hopefully find a way to present it back to the community.

I’m incredibly excited for this once in a lifetime opportunity, where we will be applying all of the skills, knowledge, and expertise we have acquired not only in this course but throughout our time as public health students. We will be testing ourselves and our ability to conduct a ‘real’ public health diagnosis, and our abilities to interpret the findings. This is an incredibly opportunity, and will most certainly be a highlight of my time here.

A few fun facts about Rural Week:
  • My host family has three children (4, 9, 12), and both parents are self-employed in business working at the market.
  • The community we are going too speaks little Kiswahili, a little English, but mainly the local language. Our communication will be quite fun.
  • For the community diagnosis each public health student is assigned a guide to ensure our safety as we travel around the community throughout the week, in addition because of the language barrier these guides will serve as our translators
  • We will have no access to WiFi (my advisor has to register me for spring) through the week, and will not be seeing our program staff (except the community member who arranged the host-families who will be staying with his family)

I’m very excited and expect quite the blog post when I return!

Grill Time!!

This past Friday Mwangi and Frances (our program director and student affairs coordinator, who also happen to be husband and wife) invited us to their place for a Friday evening get-together and dinner. It would be a time for all of us to hang out, and enjoy each other’s company. Since the program is small, we see each other quite frequently but it’s always a challenge getting everyone together, and the Public Health students don’t see Mwangi that often (he teaches a class for the development folks) and with Frances’ immersion in another culture class being completed we also have not had a lot of time to catch up with Frances.

We were brought to their beautiful home right from our internships, and started helping prepare some things for dinner (well- some of us helped I relaxed). The menu was: make your own kabob with plenty of veggies and meat, salad, couscous, hummus, and plenty of other sauces. We were hanging out on the roof for a bit, then trekked down the stairs and prepared our kabobs! I was talking with Mwangi and Victor, and Mwangi asked me if I liked grilling to which I naturally responded: yes!

Much to my surprise, a few minutes later Frances asked me if I would like to grill and I jumped at the chance. Victor and I took our places at the grill (which got quite hot – quite fast) and started grilling! We started with the vegetable kabobs then worked our way to the meat. Mwangi jumped in quickly and started rearranging the kabobs, because we were noticing the vegetables were burning by the time the meat was cooking. We kept grilling, and Frances was our chief inspector ensuring that all of the meat was done and safe to eat.

It was great fun to grill, and be able to visit with Victor and Mwangi as we all got the kabobs going. The best part of all of it, was we were eating as we went. The fish was falling off the skewers, and of course we needed to taste the chicken to make sure it was done. I swear we snacked on so much by the time I sat down for the actual meal I was already half full!

The actual meal was full of laughs as Victor kept egging on the vegetarians, and even convinced one of them to eat meat! It usually started with him asking if they’ve ever eaten meat, then explaining that Kenyan meat was much better meat. Another great laugh was when Mwangi said quietly to me “I just had a piece of tofu….I was hoping to avoid it the whole night” to which I found great humor as he slid the rest to the edge of his plate to ensure he wouldn’t accidentally eat anymore.

We (I) found out that Victor graduated with a Bachelors degree in Business Administration on October 10, and he didn’t tell anyone! Naturally, I felt a toast and round of applause was necessary, and everyone seemed to agree.

We enjoyed a nice meal, but then came the real fun. We were to grill an entire goat leg. THE ENTIRE LEG! It was amazing. Head Chef Frances had soaked it in an amazing sauce, and we got it on the grill. The longer it was on, the louder and louder the dogs barked (we all credited to the amazing smell wafting off the goat leg). When it was done, only a few of us wanted to try it. I was so excited. Throughout the evening Mwangi, who also loves grilling, was teaching me a few tricks of the trade. He taught me how to cut the leg, and then offered me the best part, an incredibly tender piece of meet right along the bone. This meat was by far one of the best things I have ever eaten!

This entire evening was incredibly relaxing, fun, and overall a great time to be together. I enjoyed being able to jump behind the grill, show off some talents and learn some new things. It was even more fun to be able to talk with Mwangi and Victor about Kenya, my time here so far, and the time going forward (the half-way point is just two days away!). 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Finding Paradise on a Rainy Day

This Saturday, a small group of us had a last minute plan to check out a local park called Paradise Lost. It is about 20kilometers from where we live – just close enough that we could take taxis there.

Now, after the torrential downpour experienced Friday night, we weren’t sure if the weather would be conducive to our picnic plan.  We woke up Saturday to find a day that was supposed to be only partly-cloudy, with little to no rain. All that held true until we are waiting by the gate for the taxis, when it begins to rain. By now it was too late to cancel the taxis, and it we just hoped that this rain would pass over quickly. We loaded the cabs to head to Paradise, and embarked on what turned out to be quite the exciting journey. Everything was going incredibly well, until we turned onto the last road before arriving at the park. It was a dirt road. Now, it was pure mud. While we were fortunate enough to never be stuck there were frequent spots where the mud was controlling our fate. When we arrived, it was still raining a bit but nonetheless all of us were excited to start exploring – so we did! We started the nature trails. Now, as we soon discovered these “trails” involved loads of ducking, hoping, and the unfortunate slide or two because everything was either muddy or slippery. After sliding our way over we reached one of our key destinations: a beautiful waterfall, and stone-age caves. The waterfall was absolutely gorgeous and was quite fierce because of the rain. We couldn’t help but take loads of pictures with the gorgeous waterfall. We decided to venture into the cave, which was incredibly claustro—I mean amazing! It was quite claustrophobic but it was also to be cave crawling in Nairobi Kenya. There was electricity running through the cave, so we had plenty of light. When we reached the big opening, we were surprised to find a few holes. As we glanced around, we realized one was filled with bats. It was time for us to go! My heart dropped a bit, as I know bats are carriers for some of the nastiest diseases. We hustled our way out of the cave, and enjoyed the waterfall once more. We continued along the trail, stopping every few feet to take pictures and just admire the beauty around us. After we hiked and stopped for a brief picnic of fruits, some of the group chose to go boating, while myself and three others decided to find the horseback riding.

We did find it and all got to ride horses! I felt like a real cowboy, that I was named after hint: Wyatt Earp ;) we rejoined the others at the lake, as we bird-watched and just took in the scenery around us. It was absolutely beautiful.

As we waited for our taxis, we were all scraping mud off of our shoes, when we look up and see about 5 horses running free through the picnic area. They had not escaped from any pen – this entire area was their pen. The last horse to go through was very blonde- and of course we had to crack the joke that this was the Mzungu horse.

Overall, this satruday was incredibly fun and relaxing! We found Paradise and had a little fun in the mud. On the way back we all decided to enjoy dinner and dessert together and settled on sub sandwiches (make your own) and an ice cream sundae bar for dessert. We did the best finding the ingredients we all love, and enjoyed each others company on an evening that proved to be yet another rainy one.

Photos from the adventure can be found here

A little commercial...

I’ve been wondering how long it would take for me to write a blog post like this….Ebola. Now, Ebola has yet to be officially found in Kenya yet there is always a discussion about it. While the current areas of infection are not close, it is also not possible to believe that Kenya will be safe from Ebola forever. It most likely will happen, but it’s just a matter of when and how it will happen. Nonetheless, prevention is a huge part, and I encountered a very surreal moment of this prevention this past week.

This past Friday, a few of my friends and I decided to head to a bar we had been to before. It is fairly close to where we live and pretty convenient to get to. We had been there before and it was a nice atmosphere to hang out at. We arrived and were enjoying some drinks at our table, when we noticed something very unique on the television. It was a commercial for Ebola prevention.

It was one of the most surreal feelings I’ve had. I was casually at a relatively up-scale bar with some friends, and the commercials during the soccer game were Ebola prevention commercials.

Whether or not we notice it on a daily basis this country is on edge about Ebola, but I will say the manner in which they have been handling it is far more admirable than what seems to be happening in the United States.

The Ministry of Health has published announcements in the newspaper, there are easy-to-understand commercials, and the radio frequently is talking about it. However, through all of this discussion there is a very small sense of panic. It is hard to say how prepared Kenya actually is (recent articles about health-care workers and their training does not make it look very promising), but this nation is resilient. Even more admirable, is that throughout this discussion they is always the rhetoric of “helping our brothers and sisters in West Africa”, a sentiment that I wish would emerge more from the United States.

What was more surreal was seeing the issues that this commercial highlighted including: washing dead bodies, and refrain from eating bats. While these two factors are incredibly important in preventing Ebola from spreading, these are not warning that will be seen in the US. It was a very odd juxtaposition between the direct environment we were in (a place where if it weren’t for the security, you might forget where you are) and what the TV is featuring as its commercials. As part of our safety here, we are all monitoring the situation very closely, and necessary precautions will be taken if needed. We will remain safe.

More exciting than the commercial, was the fact that as we were leaving it was raining incredibly hard. So hard you could barely see the road in front of you and the staff at the bar, had to keep pushing the overhang to prevent it from caving in. It was quite the heart-racing taxi ride home.

Midterms & Special Guests

This week was midterm week! I had a midterm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. But hey- now it is over!

Interspersed with these midterms were meetings with some great individuals from “home” - American University. This group included the Director of AU Abroad, the chair of the Anthropology Department, as well as Dr. Gardner the director of the Public Health Department, and Gihan Fernando the executive director of the Career Center. It was amazing to meet with all of them and share our experiences.

It was also great to be able to meet with Dr. Gardner and share our ideas for the program here and how it could be improved or changed to create a better experience for all students. Having met Dr. Gardner before her trip here, it was great to see a new familiar face and have at least another person who will appreciate all the little stories we are bound to have.

Additionally, I was fortunate enough to sit next to Gihan at dinner Monday. While we didn’t realize it at the time, it was very similar to a job interview. He was asking us loads of questions, yet all of these questions got us thinking about very key points: why Nairobi, what do we love/don’t love, what do we want to do, and what do we want to take away from this experience. These questions were incredibly helpful in allowing us to verbalize some of these amazing experiences we are having. In addition to this great conversation, Gihan would like to help me explore ways for the clinic to fundraise – and I know he will be a great resource for help on my projects!

Overall, I had quite the hectic week but we are also fortunate enough to have a three-day weekend as Monday is a Kenyan National Holiday.

That’s all for now, but more updates coming soon!