Monday, October 20, 2008

Nyumbani Village and Other Interesting Tidbits

It’s been a while. Life has been heating up, and I often find myself without the energy to cook real meals (yay bananas and peanut butter), much less write a coherent blog entry.

Today is Kenyatta Day, so our program took Friday off and went on a four day trip to Kitui, a rural district about 3 hours outside of the city. Kenya has two very distinct cultures, urban and rural. Each has a separate way of speaking, dressing, cooking, and living. Most people living in Nairobi grew up in their rural village (“upcountry”) and moved to the city for opportunities and to see the world. So we spent four days experiencing how the other half of the country lives!

We stayed in a place called Nyumbani Village, which is best described as an experiment in rural development. A Kenyan NGO started this village, which is completely comprised of grandparents and grandchildren. Sadly enough, most of the middle generation of parents have died due to HIV/AIDs, so this community takes the parenting skills of dedicated grandparents, gives them a well built house, land to farm, and clean water to drink, and groups them with ten “grandchildren” (real or adopted orphans with no real grandparents) to raise. It works. There are 27 grandmothers and 2 grandfathers and they work the land with their grandchildren, who are all going to a school in the village. This village is also sustainable, in that it is 100% organic and grows most of the food it eats. An amazing sight of people working together to erase the scars of a missing generation.

As for my personal experience, I took bucket baths (I did it wrong and had to be told how to do it properly), went to the bathroom in squat toilets (think latrine with no lid or seat), and ate nothing but beans, chapati and rice. I never considered myself incapable of living in a rural area, but man was it an eye opener to experience the sheer work it took in keeping yourself clean, eating, etc. when there’s no electricity. A fun fun experience, but not something I could do for long! This really isn’t nearly enough to describe my experience, but it’s the best I can do for now.

In other news, I’ve started to go into the slums with my internship, and I’m having a blast. I can’t really help it. I love seeing the women in their houses, conducting their own meetings, and really trying to change their own lives. The slums are hard, so hard, so desperate. But I can’t get one experience out of my head. I was walking through the slum Kiambiu as the sun was beginning to set. The children were coming home from school in their uniforms, mamas were cooking dinner, and babies were playing on blankets. And despite the fact that I was stepping over sewage pits and experiencing every sign of extreme poverty, it was home. Not for me, but for the people surrounding me. It felt like community and home I feel in the States. Heartbreaking, but so amazingly empowering at the same time.

That’s about it for now! I just had some of the best food I’ve ever had in my life at an Indian place we found down the street, and discovered that there’s a place in D.C. that sells Tusker, so I’m pretty happy.


Gary said...

This Nyumbani Village sounds suspiciously like an exercise in communism. Which makes you a communist. And when you return to the U.S., you will be a communist invader, with your "new ideas" and your "world view." Can you say "no fly list"? :-)

But seriously, folks - please retain a reasonable sense of caution when walking through the slums or anywhere else, especially if you're on your own. An unnecessary warning, I'm sure, but humor me.

Re: latrines, ask Corey about "lolly bombs" at Boy Scout camp. Yep.

I remain in absolute awe of you. Keep fighting the good fight.

Emily McKnight said...

I'm in awe of you too Erin Owens!

That's all I can say...

Justin said...

I was SOOOOOOOOOO going to make the communism argument... damn.

I am so glad there are people in this world like you, it makes me really appreciate the differences in basic beliefs and views and even feelings I have with others. I love your perspective, and bananas with peanut butter.

Enjoy life, smile, and be free.

G and G O. said...

Dear Erin. Thank you again for another "hands on, tell it like it is" view of the conditions there as you see them. Bravo to you! Reminds me of personal experience of primitive conditions in the war torn "land of the morning calm" of a long ago time now fading in memory. Great that you found the indian cafe with such good food after the village experience. Staying tuned in to your continuing postings, we are. Love from G and G O.