Wikiendi iliopita, mimi na wanafunzi wengine tulienda sarafi mlimani! Last weekend, the other students and I went on a trip to the mountains! It was the second time we did the hike, but we decided we wanted to come back and camp out for the night. So, Saturday afternoon we bought mats and a tarp at the market, packed up our bags, and set out. There were 11 of us who went: 7 students, Paul and Nathan (two of our teachers), Fahim, and Egbert. Fahim and Egbert are two of the greatest and funniest people I’ve gotten to know here.
Heading down into the valley on our first walk.
The crew settling down for the night.
It was about an hour and a half walk into the valley to the river. When we got to the river, it wasn’t a river at all. At least we didn’t think so the first time we saw it. Fahim had told us there was water underneath, but all we saw was brown saturated earth covered in head-high green grasses. But, as soon as we stepped out onto what we thought was land, it moved. The land actually ripples beneath your feet, and with every step the land rises and sinks. It feels like you’re walking on a waterbed. I have never seen anything like it in my life. The second time we crossed it, for the overnight trip, we decided it would be a good idea to all cross barefoot so we wouldn’t have to walk the rest of the way with wet socks and shoes. We slowly made our way across, squishing mud between our toes. From there, it's about another hour to the top of the hill where we ended up sleeping. When we got there, we set up our tarp in case of rain—the rains have started here, so it rains for a few hours almost every day now. We unpacked our food that Egbert put together for us and had the perfect picnic dinner: chapatti, avocado, chicken, bananas, pineapple, and mangos.
So, believe it or not, it actually gets cold in Africa. Especially up in the mountains, at night, during the rainy season. We ended up sleeping basically on top of each other, wearing every piece of clothing we brought, under all of the kangas and mats possible, to stay warm. In the middle of the night it started raining so we moved under the tarp, which proved much warmer because it blocked most of the wind. In the morning we woke up to find a herd of cows on the hilltop with us. The cows here are not only huge, but they have 3-foot long horns on their heads. Good thing Egbert used to herd cows—really though—and just shooed them away. In the morning we had chai, packed up, and headed out. Crossing the river on the way home was just as exciting if not more, because Nathan punctured the layer of earth on the river and fell in up to his waist. He was covered in black mud and smelled just great. Paul has a video of the river crossing, and in the background you can just make out Joyce’s voice saying “So guys. How many parasites do you think we all have?” Despite half-hearted worries about getting worms, I’m sure we’ll go again. The trip was great.
Our camping point - on the other side of the river
Since writing last, I’ve now been at my volunteer placement almost two weeks. I’m working at WOMEDA – Women Emancipation and Development Agency. It’s an NGO in Kayanga that provides support, counseling, legal aid, education, and clinics for women and children. I go to WOMEDA with Kara, another Amizade student. Our first week there, we mainly observed, listened and learned about the organization and how things work. Since our first day, we’ve been sitting in on social and legal counseling with Lida and Evelyne (two of the amazing young women who work there) which is almost overwhelming. We’ve heard the stories of women from all over Karagwe who come to WOMEDA for help. They speak mostly in Swahili or Kinyambo, the local tribal language, so Kara, Lida, and Evelyne have been helping me understand what they’re saying. It brings to life the gender equality issues that I’ve mostly just heard about.
All the girls outside of WOMEDA
Working at WOMEDA is also improving my Swahili so much. It forces me to speak, and everyone is so helpful in teaching me. For the semester, Kara and I will be working on a team with Lida and Evelyne to develop and write new WOMEDA policies on child protection and HIV/AIDS. I will be focusing most on the HIV/AIDS policy, and this past week I’ve been researching and reading a lot about the national policy and laws. Starting next week, the four of us will be going out into the community, to villages, hospitals, schools, and to the streets to talk to all different people about these issues and what they value, need, and want. The policy we are creating will cater to the people that it will eventually protect and support. It’s a very interesting project, in light of what we’ve been learning about sustainable development and project implementation. Plus, Lida and Evelyne are the greatest.
Funny story about WOMEDA. Yesterday, Kara and I were sitting reading through some research and taking notes when one of the men who works at WOMEDA, Ishengoma, comes in and tells me he needs my help. Just me. I get up and follow him down the hall to another room. I have no idea what he’s going to ask, or whether or not I’m going to understand him in Swahili. We walk into Evelyn’s office, and Ishengoma turns to me and says that he wanted me because he needed the help of an engineer, so he figured that, naturally, I could do it. The big task: Change the toner on the printer. I stepped up to the challenge, meticulously followed the instructions in the manual in English, and after 5 whole minutes of hard work I finally finished. What would WOMEDA do without an engineer around? I felt so important. My years at Carnegie Mellon are finally paying off.
Other exciting things—
1. I got my first skirt made from a seamstress at KVDPA where Joyce works.
2. This Saturday, we are starting construction on a huge water tank for a girls' boarding school in Chonyonyo village. We’ll be working every Saturday until it's completed. I think it will be really interesting to see how a design and construction project is carried out here, and I am excited to help build it!
3. We finally got electricity back last night! I wrote this entry last Thursday, but I wasn’t able to send it until now. I also ended up with a migraine this weekend and couldn’t go to Chonyonyo but I’m going Thursday instead.
4. As part of the Amizade program, we are writing a blog that is being posted on the Amizade website. Two students write each week. Here is the link if you want to take a look:
5. More pictures:
Kara, Edna, and I. Just dancing.
They got us cakes from the one place in town with an oven :)