• Eating sugar cane is extremely fun and tasty

    Posted on March 11, 2012 by in Photovoice

    So Thursday was the official launch party for the M&E project, which was designed to be a meal that got everyone on the same page and got the staff & volunteer’s buy-in. From my perspective, the best part was food preparation… The M&E project leaders (three foreigners including myself) asked the chef for his ideas what to make, bought the ingredients for chapattis & tea and the cooks made the chapattis on Wednesday afternoon… I got to watch them and it was really cool. I absolutely love chapattis, but never knew how much work went into them. You have to kneed the dough forever then divide the dough and have to roll them into perfect balls before rolling them out and cooking them over a charcoal stove. It took over 2 hours to make the 40 chapattis. In the morning, I got to help with the tea preparation – where tea serves more like a meal than a drink. It is made with half whole milk and half water as well as a substantial amount of sugar. I got to strain out the tea leaves and help to serve the meal… which felt important as we had imposed on the cook as well as to show that we are all a team (instead of us white people being in power and telling them what to do). Not everyone on my team agreed and there is some resulting tension… but I have to follow my belief system and stick to that. It also doesn’t help that I’ve lost some faith in the monitoring system we are trying to establish.

    I have realized that academically smart people (who know a lot about a lot) are really stupid sometimes. We (as I can be this person sometimes) get so wrapped up in methods, biases, short & long term outcomes, realistic goals that align with all key stakeholders needs, ensuring sustainability, understanding generalizability etc  that we don’t take the moment to actually look at the situation in front of you and see the obvious. At Tumaini, the M&E team has completely revamped the original document improving indicators, adding dimensions that should actually be important to Tumaini operations and adding photovoice to, hopefully, give us access to the real opinions of Tumaini users. I have been at Tumaini for about a month… and attendance is low. For unknown reasons, there are about 10-40 kids were a day. There are about 3000 street kids in Eldoret… does anyone else see a problem there? The context demands that we spend some time trying to figure out what services street children & youth are looking for and their opinion about the current situation  hopefully to figure out why they don’t come? Well that is my current thought and has led to my idea to create a survey to be given to about 500 street children & youth… only problem with this is I had never made a survey before in my life and am learning it is an epic process. In the last two weeks, (with immense help from so many people other than the M&E team – asante sana!!) we have created a survey that was piloted yesterday with 10 kids. Honestly, I feel so lucky to be part of this part of the project. Dan is giving the survey to the kids and I basically get to sit around in alleys, garage piles, store fronts, slums etc with street kids practicing my Swahili and getting to actually see how they live. I’m hoping I’ll be around so much that some might actually stop being so shocked I’m white and asking me to give them things or take them to Canada/school/get a job etc and we can have some conversations (assuming my Swahili will get better). Yesterday, I got to see this woman make this stew from scrapes gathered randomly for a group of kids – and she offered me some. She is literally homeless and yet still is willing to share with this rich white girl. Although I didn’t eat it (random goat from the garage is a little over my eating tolerance), it makes you smile from the inside. Watching Dan give the survey and seeing the passion in some of the kids responses… this is going to pretty fucking awesome. It’s going to mean 8 hour days in the sun and heat for the next few weeks…. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right? Next hurdle – I am in the middle of making the database for the results and have never made a database before nor used this program…. Fingers crossed for some beginners luck.

    The interviews for the research assistant for photovoice are going to be not next week but the following. This means all the prep into this (finding time to do them, informing the people, designing the questions and the notetaking skill test creation) must be done this week. I got about 15 applications so going to interview 5 and hope one of them is super amazing. Other than the ethics applications for IU and Moi University (which will be submitted on Monday finally), this will be the first big step forward for photovoice. I cannot believe it is scheduled to start within the next 4-6 weeks…. EEK and WOO WOOO! The rest of the cameras will be on their way this week via my professor (who is amazing… but not as amazing as Shannon who arranged with the camera man to get them, picked them up, packed them up and delivered them to UofT as I could get them… you are so awesome. Asante sana dada). Things are coming together….

    I am also working on a systematic review about orphans compared to non-orphans in Subsaharan Africa with respect to levels of physical and levels of sexual abuse. Although an interesting topic, it was the main agreement to get my flight here paid for meaning it is something I know nothing about and have no background in. I also don’t know how to do a systematic review… but I can now tell you to say no if someone asks you to do it. You have to document everything you do including definitions you are using for the terms, how you are going to search for these articles, what is included & not included in the search (i.e. include unpublished research articles but not newspaper articles) etc. You then have to search all the databases and record how many you find (found 1500 about). You save everything you find, go through and get rid of articles that were found more than once in the searching (down to 860… do do do). This is followed by looking at every one of the 860 articles’ title and seeing if it pertains to your topic (if not, you have to explain why). You repeat this in round two by looking at each article’s summary. You then have to review every choice with another person and debate each others’ choices. After a consensus, I had to download all the ones chosen (70) which took the entire day! You then look at every one to see if there is data (another whole day), review with other person again and reach a consensus then actually extract data & analysis (basically the black abyss part as I have no idea how to do this)….

    Sometimes it is so strange here because I am so clearly an outside that I feel like such an outsider and just miss home. It’s weird – I don’t want to go home. I miss people and certain things, but I love it here. There is something that feels so right and I have this unusual inner peace here. Nevertheless, some days are just too much. The work ethic here is outrageously slow. So many people are poor that over half the people you talk to want something from you – to give you money or buy them something or somehow help them get ahead. I feel so much like an outsider. Not because I want to be, but just because others see me and make me feel like it (plus the two cultures are so far from each other its literally unbelievable). Some people are never seen a white person before or the ones they have have made them thing all white people are millionaires. Kids yell Mzungue at you (like yelling down an entire street) (which is a slightly negetive way to say white person), adults say it to you and people call me at work all the time. I try to funnel that great gatby’s quote I put on my wall, but its so hard sometimes. Case in point – it was my dad’s birthday last week and I was sad I was missing the whole Nichols birthday tradition. I went to outreach with two additional people (and with the message that Unicef was coming so we had to bring back a bunch of kids in order to look busy as attendance was slow… real ethical eh?). So we had like 3X the kids we normally have (all younger ones). They just want to grab you and hold your hand and have your attention with varying levels of English. My Swahili is getting better but it still sucks especially when everyone is yelling (and they speak slang a lot so I have absolutely no idea). Anyways, we are walking back and we lose the main outreach worker (the guy I usually go out to outreach with) so we are just standing there – and its chaos around me. I decide to walk back walking holding 4 little hands with a smile as I was able to get everyone to come in Swahili. Everyone is starring because the visual is outrageous for everyone – white person who is suppose to be all higher class and, most Kenyans won’t even associate with street kids usually, with like 7 really dirty street kids making so much noise…. and then my world crashes when I realize one is missing as is the watch i borrowed from my roommate. The one kid I had especially paid attention to trying to get him to come to Tumaini as he & his clothes were so so so dirty… Oh man. I was raging. I got another volunteer to take them all back and just stormed back… ignoring all the hellos and comments. I storm about 10 minutes to the market and then realize that there is nothing I can do and I am way overreacting as it is just a watch. I had to take 1.5 hours off work, walk around the market, sit on the side eating watermelon spitting my seeds with vigour and go sit in a cafe & have a coffee before I realized I can replace it, it’s no big deal in the long run, I learned a lesson (come with nothing as anything of value makes me stand in another galaxy than the street individuals so I become just a dollar sign instead of a curious situation) and thinking that I would probably do the same if I was him and living on the street with absolutely nothing. That watch would be worth like at least a month’s worth of what they manage to make in all sorts of ways. It was a reminder to shake my current frame of reference from my usual to something more realistic in this situation… New mission is now to find a Timex watch somewhere in Eldoret. Do do do.

    Cooler stuff:

    I went to this giant outdoor market twice now – chaos and so much fun. There are about 500 stations where people have tarps or a wooden shelter with clothes on hangers selling everything. There is kitchen supplies, food, and tons of donated clothes (like everything and there are some hilarious gems in there (Shan – field day! I will be sure to bring you something back). I almost got my phone pickpocketed, but had moved it into my backpack’s inner pocket mid-market and felt the mans hand going through the outside pocket. Lucky day for me!

    I’ve now eaten boiled goat in a random local bar, had draft beer in another random bar as well as sitting on a bench in an alley with my co-workers outside a third random bar, helped prepare a traditional Kenyan goat meal, found my coffee hang out spot, got myself a Swahili teacher once a week, tried a Kenyan doughnut (basic fried bread), danced some traditional tribal dances at a bar (one was like a congo line and another was like Shikera dancing but with your shoulders instead of hips) and can now say “I am studying Swahili, but still speak very badly. Please speak slowly or else I don’t understand. Thanks” down in Swahili.

    Anyways, another epic entry. Thanks for sticking through and reading about my adventure through my crazy ranting and raving. Hopefully next time I write, I can talk about how well the survey is going and that I have a database to store the information!

    Tutaonana (See you again)


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2 Responses so far.

  1. Mom says:

    If anyone can do it, you will. Your determination to make this project work is astounding and inspiring.

    Thanks once again for sharing with us here at home…. love you SO much.

    Love Mom x0x0

  2. Shan says:


    Wow!!! What can I say but…YOU ARE FUCKING AWESOME YO!!!

    I tell ya, you are right, we have raised the bar so high I don’t even think those pole volter people could get over it 😛

    You do realize you are going to be my swahili teacher once you get back…you are so far ahead of me now…You’re going to have a language just for you 😉

    So proud of you man…and don’t worry about the systematic review…just go in to it with typical Jennica style and it will get done…that’s how starfish do 😉

    All these meals sound delicious, you will be pleased to know that I tried steak tar tar :O …and LIKED it…you’re not the only one trying new things haha…

    Cannot wait to hear your sexy voice again soon…and just remember, you are doing amazing things here, you are making a difference everyday and I love you with all my heart.

    Talk soon,