Monday, October 4, 2010

Lessons Learned In Kenya

Now that we’ve been back in the homeland for just over three weeks, we’ve had a chance to catch up on all of our schoolwork, readjust to the real world and reflect on the past three months. It doesn’t feel like we ever left Canada; our three months in Kenya feels like it was simply a really amazing dream that we never want to wake up from. The memories are too many to count, the friendships lifelong and the life lessons invaluable.

Kenya taught us both more than we ever could have imagined it would when we applied for the trip. Not only did we learn some of a new language, a new culture and the technical skills we required for our research and presentations, but we also learned life skills that we’ll be able to carry with us indefinitely.

Lesson 1: Embrace the Awkwardness

Almost everywhere we went, we were meeting new people, we were being put into situations that we had never experienced before and we were doing things we had never done. A lot of these situations were really awkward. I can’t even count the number of times we were asked to speak in front of large groups of random people when we had nothing to say. We spoke to several churches, at a prize giving ceremony for the primary schools in the area, and in front of students at schools. We didn’t expect to speak at any of these events and really had nothing to say except thank you to these people. It was always incredibly awkward to be thrust in front of a group of more than a hundred people who are all staring at you expecting you to say something epic while your mind is blank and all you can hear are the crickets chirping between your ears. But if we had gotten worked up over every single awkward situation, we would have hated our lives the entire trip. Embracing the awkwardness allowed us to laugh about the absurdity of each situation.

Lesson 2: Don’t Underestimate Anything

It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that Kenya is so different from home. The standards of living are a dramatic contrast to the conditions we accept as livable and everywhere you go there is something shocking to see. The women we worked with seemingly had nothing compared to what we are used to. You can’t help but wonder how they manage to keep on keeping on day after day. It’s easy to underestimate these women, but they are the strongest, smartest, most generous women I have ever met. They are so incredibly proud of absolutely everything they have, and are so appreciative of anything you can contribute. We made the mistake of underestimating the impact we were going to have on these women. We thought we would go, teach them a few things about nutrition, and were hoping that maybe they would take one message home with them. Instead, at the end of the session, we had women standing up and telling us that we had changed their lives. We were happy that we had had such a great impact on the women we spoke to, but apparently word travels fast in Kenya. Before we had left the country, the tips we had given the women about nutrition had spread by word of mouth to villages over an hour away. We learned to never underestimate ourselves, the women, and the impact small acts can have on individuals, families and entire communities.

Lesson 3: Expect Nothing

I don’t think there was a single thing that we did in the entire 90 days that went like we expected it to. Eventually, we learned to expect nothing. Things never quite go as planned and as soon as you think you’ve got something or someone figured out, they find a way to surprise you. Expectations are tricky; they can make or break the experience. Expect too much and you risk being disappointed by your own unrealistic ideals, and expect to little and you’ve already mentally decided that the outcome will be negative. Instead of over thinking everything and getting all worked up, just go with the flow and let things happen.

Lesson 4: Take Advantage of Every Opportunity

We met the most amazing people in Kenya. These people are so proud of what they have and where they live that they were constantly asking us to go places with them. After a really long week of presentations, data collection and analysis and report writing, sometimes the last thing we wanted to do was climb mountains all day, go to a church fundraiser or sit through a very large, very starchy Kenyan meal at someone’s house. No matter how much we woke up dreading having to do anything but nap all day and relax, we were always so glad we dragged our butts out of bed. We wouldn’t have seen nearly as much, formed such close friendships or enjoyed the trip nearly as much if we hadn’t taken advantage of these opportunities. We probably would have gone a little stir crazy in the compound if we hadn’t gone on weekend adventures with our local friends. By taking advantage of every single opportunity we were presented with to try new things and meet new people, we gained respect from members of the community. They began to see how passionate we were about what we were doing and learned that we weren’t simply rich white people. The community members respected that we were so willing to get our hands dirty and try new things.

Lesson 5: SAWA SAWA

Sawa sawa doesn’t have an exact English translation, but it is a phrase that is very commonly used in Kenya. Sawa means ‘ok’, and sawa sawa basically means ‘take a deep breath, relax, it will all work out’. Kenyans are incredibly relaxed about everything. There is no such thing as on time, there is no such thing as ‘in a rush’ and there seems to be very little stress. Sawa sawa is not just a saying, it’s a way of life. It took us the entire trip to learn how to live sawa sawa, and now that we are back in Canada, we have to constantly remind ourselves to sawa sawa. We took taxi’s to all of our presentations. We felt that we should be at our sessions early so that we could arrive before the women, so that we had time to set everything up and get ourselves ready so that we could start promptly at the scheduled time. We often found ourselves sitting on the side of the road waiting for the taxi to arrive, checking our watches every 15 seconds, hard core stressing out because our session was supposed to start 15 minutes ago and we haven’t even left the hospital to drive to the session which is an hour away. This is where you have to give up. You have to tell yourself ‘sawa sawa’ – it will all work out, we’ll get to the session eventually, there will be women there who will learn a lot and it will all work out perfectly fine. Easier said than done! Eventually we learned that no on is ever on time, and that it worked best if we were over an hour late for our own sessions because then we weren’t waiting for 2 hours before any women showed up. Sawa sawa might be the most important lesson we learned in Kenya, and it’s a lesson we are still trying to master. It takes a lot of practice to let go and trust that everything will work out in the end.

We could all use a little more sawa sawa in our lives.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Recap of the Nutrition Students Last 2 Weeks in Kenya

Sorry for the delay in our story! It was been a busy last couple of weeks since we returned to Prince Edward Island. We do, however, have 2 final blogs to post! It was amazing to see how many people wanted the end of the story! Thanks for following!! We had an amazing last 2 weeks in Kenya and a great trip home! It flew by, wrapping up our final presentations, writing reports, just enjoying our last week in Kenya, and saying goodbye.

We started the week off a little outside of our scope of practice by taking the nursing students up on an invitation to watch a caeserean section at the hospital. It was quite amazing that they even let us in, but they did! We got all suited up and went right in to the OR. It was a new experience for both of us!

Then our goodbyes started: it was our last visit to the Muchui Business Center. Upon our arrival, there were only three mothers even though it was announced to the whole group only two days before. This was a very big disappointment. We waited for mothers to arrive and started the session with 5 mothers; another joined shortly after. Once again we had a good session even with such a small number of women. We did notice that these sessions have been much shorter than anticipated; nevertheless, we believe it to be a blessing in disguise. After reviewing the original outline for the session, we realized that it was planned to be about a two hour session even though we normally finish it in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. When we created the outline for the program we did not take into account all of the children that would be present for the session. We did plan to bring flags for the children but we quickly learnt this just isn’t enough to keep children occupied for a long time. By the one hour mark many of the children started getting bored with the session. We cannot imagine prolonging the session to be any longer than it was and that was only with 6 children, not the planned 15 or even more. Once again the mothers who attended the session really seemed interested in what we had to teach them and really seemed to have learned a lot from the session, including the mother who brought her 1year old daughter a lolly pop and her 9 month old baby a cake to keep them quite as we talked. We were a little nervous talking about how you should avoid feeding your baby these kinds of foods and how healthy snacks are very important.

This day we had lunch with our new Kenya Mother, Mama Salome. She lives right next to the Business Center so every time we visit there she insists on cooking us lunch! We tell her she is spoiling us but she just says, ‘No, that is what mothers do, you have become just like Salome to me’. It was very sad to say goodbye to her, but we got a very good picture with her and told her we will keep in touch via Salome. As we were eating we got some really exciting news from Salome about how she was planting with some of the women earlier that day and, without her bringing up the subject, they were talking about our family sessions. They were discussing how they have been trying some of the tips at home and how successful they are going over with their families. One of the stories that Salome shared with us was that one of the members whose mother in law complained of not being able to eat it whole maize everytime she prepared it. The whole mazie was hard for her to chew so she always used to sneak the maize to the posho mill to get it polished. The member prepared whole mazie for her mother in law using our recommend method and then spoke her mother in law about our session. A few days later the member visited the mother in law’s house to find her preparing soaked whole maize and beans, the member was shocked and very surprised. This made us so happy and really showed us that the women listened to what we had to say. They are really making some positive changes that we are so excited about.

This was a very “Salome filled weekend” (Salome works for Farmers Helping Farmers at the Muchui Business Centre), which was great! On Saturday we went in to Meru and did some shopping as well as visit her sisters in their second home. We went on a little adventure with them to see a couple of very beautiful waterfalls.. Sunday Salome came to the compound and taught us once again how to make Chapatti’s. Although we have been taught several times every time we make them alone they just don’t turn our right, we believe that it is the mzungu fingers. However, we think that we may have it this time. We also taught Salome how to make banana bread which she enjoys so much. We spent our last few days writing reports and enjoying the nice weather that Kenya is now deciding to give us. We were hoping not to have to arrive home as white as when we left. Our very last day in Kirrua was a busy one. In the morning, we visited a few of the schools with Mama Jen and the nurses to do some follow up work that they needed to do. This gave us a chance to say goodbye to some of the staff as well as last chance to be attacked by a mob of children! Then we went to the pool in Meru with Mamma Jen to relax and enjoy her company. This was really great; we have enjoyed spending time with her. We assured her that we will keep in touch. Martin then drove us back to Kirrua which allowed us to say good bye to him. We sat outside the compound for a long time as he continued the tell us how much of an impact that we had on the community and how thankful he is that we came and taught the women what we had. He told us that we really did a great job in getting to know the women and working with them instead of just teaching them. He shared with us that on his travels he even heard talk of our presentations in Maua, which is a town about 1 hour away. We have agreed to send him some of our resources so that he can continue to photocopy them and use them as he pleases with the women. This was a perfect ending to our day.

We went to the sisters for a final supper where we enjoyed a very great meal. We surprised them with a thank you gift of 6 different types of trees that we pursued from the Muchui Business Center. They were so happy with our ‘gift that keeps giving’. They also presented us each with a lasso and a very nice thoughtful card. This was above and beyond anything we expected and will be cherished.

We had a lot of mixed feelings about leaving. Two weeks before we left, we were so excited and could barely stand to think of anything but. Now that we are actually leaving its kind of a different story, we are still really excited but it is the strangest feeling to know that you will never be back to somewhere you called home for the last 3 months. We have all grown very fond of this place as well as the people we are living with and around. It is not even leaving Kenya, it’s leaving the other girls here (the nursing students). We have all grown close and it will be very different to not all live together and to not be staring at each other every second of every day.

Then started our long journey home. We got to Nairobi mid day to meet the very busy Henry. He had some activities planned out for us which was great. We spent some time buying a last few minute things that both of us really didn’t need and then headed back to relax with our free We do have to thank Henry for all of our luggage getting home because we had A LOT..... he worked his magic and it all got on! Then a long 24 hours later we were both meet by lots of people at the Charlottetown airport! Much to KP’s surprise her mom and sister and grandparents made special trips to the island to be there!

Stay tuned for our very last blog.....