Back at Tizi camp, this is likely our last trip to Mal Tisa and Karero. This has been our little home away from home. We spent the night discussing various strengths and challenges in Kenya. That is to say, we have been wrestling with and talking about our experience of what we understand to be strengths and challenges. I say this with great humility as a mzungu who has only been in Kenya for 2 months. I remember struggling with something similar in JVC…struggling with owning and reflecting upon my understanding of my lived experience. I was working in an AIDS hospice, which was very difficult at times. For months upon end I refused to acknowledge my own sadness and grief because I did not think I was “worthy” for such feelings. After all, who was I to be sad or to grieve when the real suffering was occurring in the lives around me. Well, time (and many months of therapy) revealed to me the absurdity of this egotistical way of thinking and I finally embraced my own experience of the life I was living. As I finally came to realize, who was I not to be sad or to grieve?
That being explained (again to myself) I now embrace my understanding of my lived experience in Kenya. It is hard. Life is hard here. There is development happening all around, but a bit of chaos throughout as various organizations work at different paces with many projects left unfinished. Most days are spent waiting, mixed with moments of hard work. There are so many uncontrollable factors and the idea of a plan is laughable. Poor roads, lack of supplies, unpredictable weather conditions, and, unfortunately, unreliability influence every project. One thing holds true, the women work so hard. They cook, clean, farm, chop wood, sew, make jewelry, and raise the children. I struggle with the treatment of women, particularly in rural Kenya (as we have not spent much time in Nairobi so am unable to speak to urban gender roles). I can get behind clear role separation, but it is difficult to accept the lack of conversation about the role definitions. Many of the women have no voice. They have no options if the man drinks away the money or sleeps with other women. There is no recourse. I struggle with the tension between that which I can accept as “cultural” and that, which, in my opinion, is simply wrong. I see hope in the younger generations and I believe the key is education. I have started to teach health classes at Oloile Secondary School. I am teaching these young adults about health, reproduction, contraception and disease. We have started a health club, with the hope of empowering young men and women to become health consultants within their own families and communities. My next step is to work with the young women to create a women’s group. I would love to share discussion around individual and communal esteem so that women feel confident and entitled to stand up for their rights. I know there are exceptions to the rule, but I have seen only few of these exceptions. Young females are at a disadvantage in society due to their gender as well as their age. The youth grow up in a hierarchical system in which corporal punishment is liberally utilized…and without explanation. I often wonder if these kids and young adults know and understand why they are being beaten. Do they really learn a lesson? Do they learn not to be late because it is irresponsible and a reflection of character, or do they learn to be punctual so they are not beaten? I think the latter.
And so are some of the challenges. In the midst of the challenges, we are repeatedly overwhelmed with the hospitality and generosity of the people. As I have mentioned many times before, there is bold spirit among the people. Their resiliency and perseverance in the face of corruption and poverty continues to humble me. It is beyond words. I always hate to generalize. For every generalization, there are many contradictions. But, I embrace my understanding at this time with an open invitation to learn and to grow in my insights.
We are off to Karero now, going to check on the clinic and do a bit of work. We are looking forward to visiting with the community and, of course, falling asleep to the sounds of hyenas. My fear of hyenas has diminished a bit now that I have had my first black mamba sighting! It occurred last week in Kimana and I am trying very hard to forget that snakes exist in Africa. I think the Poisonwood Bible scarred me for life! Anyway, we are off to the bush. Hope to write again soon.