I cannot believe that tomorrow morning I will wake up and it will be September. August seems as quick and fleeting as a flash of lightning. I suppose it is appropriate I blog now as Photovoice data collection officially ended today. Let`s see if I can recap the month quickly.
We gave out the last cameras and talked about the resulting pictures in the beginning of the month, which got harder as the weeks went on as the groups were fatigued with talking and more talking so attendance was a bit sporadic. Nevertheless, we got some really interesting information. Because of the waning interest, we decided to combine the two last weeks into one session. We met with all the groups to give them an opportunity to give some of their pictures as gifts for Tumaini to use to raise awareness and funds for street children & youth in Eldoret. They then selected the pictures they wanted to put into an album for themselves to keep. Finally, they selected their masterpiece… the picture that told the story they wanted others to hear about their lives. They filled out biographies and did artist comments before consenting to the whole process. Due to the importance of this session, we held an extra 5 sessions during last week and this week to make sure we captured as many participants as possible. We have 21 pieces of art for next Saturday`s exhibit as well as over 400 pictures given to Tumaini. I acknowledge my bias, but I must say the pictures combined with their thoughts in the artist comments are so powerful. Some are heartbreaking while others are inspiring, but all are very real.
Two days ago we took 14 of the participants who had earned enough points through attendance and participation to a local resort about 15km out of Eldoret. A local bus came to Tumaini and picked us all up… and the chaos and laughter that came while all the participants crammed into the bus was energizing.
We got there and went down to the pool … and everyone quickly got changed into their various versions of a swimming costume (ranging from sweatpants to basketball shorts to boxers to tighty whities). It was amazing to watch them slowly put aside their street toughness and just be kids & youth. Many wanted me to watch their fancy jumps into the pool, their ability to do front crawl or float and to take their picture posing in the water…. They could have been children and youth from anywhere on a school trip. The morning was filled with football matches, a game of water polo and playing on the swings & merry-go-round. One of my highlights came when a 14 year old (who speaks perfect English) asked me to take a picture of him with a statue near the bathroom. He then asked me what this weird white thing was on the wall – it was a hand dryer. I told him to put his hand under it… but
he was suspicious and really unsure. After showing him it wasn’t dangerous, he tried it himself. I will never forget the look on his face when he did it. He looked at me bewildered and said, `Wow. White people have all sorts of technology I never dreamed of`. He then went running to bring another boy to try. I spent the next 30 minutes watching a whole range of emotions and shocked reactions come as these children discovered the crazy invention of a hand dryer. We later had lunch all together and afterwards over half of them came up to me to say thank you for the amazing day… it was really special and surreal as I felt as I should be the one to be thankful that they had chosen to participate in this project and share part of their life with me. We spent another 2 hours having fun before getting back on the bus to go back to town. The trip was absolutely perfect and, despite still being rainy season, the sky was without a cloud the entire day. During the day, the children and youth (now expert photographers) took pictures of the experience (most of the pictures you see here).
Today we had a focus group with staff and volunteers to talk about common themes we learned from the groups with the Tumaini users. It went better than I could have ever hoped. Almost everyone was extremely engaged and a lot of good ideas came out of the talk. People were participating so much that the talk went 30 minutes over time. The American nurse led the group and I was impressed with how good of a facilitator he is. I learned a lot just watching…. But, as the notetaker, it was hard to follow my role and not jump in. I realized I like to be in the thick of the action and find just listening hard… but it was rewarding and worth the effort to not say anything. It also showed me the need to work on my listening skills. This was the last part in the data collection stage. Next week we will be preparing the art work, getting Tumaini ready for the exhibit and canvassing to get people to come… I cannot believe the project is at this point! Next Saturday is the exhibition! I have so many feelings mixed together about next Saturday… relief that we made it here without disaster striking, anxiety wondering how the exhibit will turn out and how to get things finished in time, and apprehension about how the hell do we analyze the mass amounts of data we’ve got.
My parents arrive on the night before the exhibit… which will be great to share with them. I am a bit worried about their culture shock at the same time as the exhibit is happening… but getting to show them my work and home for the better part of this year will be quite the experience for all of us. After the exhibit, we are on vacation for the next 2 weeks…. the longest vacation I’ve had all year! We are going to go to the only rainforest left in Kenya, visit Lake Victoria and eat fish, explore Eldoret and all its quirkiness, visit Nairobi to take in some of the chaos and a cultural show and then go to the coast for 5 days to just eat fruit & chill on the beach. I CANNOT wait!
Other work notes… the systematic review is scheduled to be sent for circulation to the other authors by the end of next week. Assuming it gets done, it will be a HUGE relief. This thing is like the never ending story – you think you are close to finishing and then something comes up and you feel like you are back where you started. One plus is that we wrote a draft outline of the paper and sent it to Child Abuse & Neglect (a peer-reviewed scientific journal) as they don`t take reviews unless invited…. And they liked our idea and invited us to submit. This is especially exciting as finding a home for your paper can be really difficult and each journal requires different formatting so luckily we can format for this journal and hopefully be done. I also got invited to write another paper by the end of the year… which is exciting because publications are like academic currency so they mean better jobs and easier acceptance into a PhD program should I be crazy enough to go that way in the future. Note to my friends… remind me of this rosy spin on this when I am panicked or hating on the paper amidst all the other chaos of work. Ooooo… I cannot believe I forgot this. I am officially done my masters as of last week! It was quite the moment of excitement/relief when I hit the send button to hand in all my final documents and reports for my practicum in Kenya. All that is left is to survive the graduation ceremony and throw that hat after the 1 million pictures I’m sure my mom will take.
I think that is all work related things to talk about. This month I went to Lake Bagoria to see all the flamingos that had migrated there. We hitched a ride with a secondary school into the park and then
hiked the 14 km back out. It was quite the walk with the sun beating down on me… but the sites were beautiful and we got to go close to a wild herd of zebras as well as see some wild ostriches (Lauren, I thought of you instantly!). I also lucked out and got my first (and knock on wood only) food poisoning since arriving the last day of this weekend getaway…. Which made for a very interesting 3.5 hour bus ride home. I ate nyama choma (BBQ meat) for the first time this month (local favourite) as well as ticked a bunch of things off my To Do list that I was either nervous to do alone or was being lazy about. I have been training for the half marathon pretty consistently… on Sunday I am going to Iten (where the Kenyan runners train) to meet the girl I am raising money for [for more information about this amazing young women click here]. I didn’t get to watch that much of the Olympics, but it was really amazing to watch the running events with all the Kenya locals… it was somewhat like watching Olympic hockey at home. Sadly I missed synchronized diving and swimming, but that is what Youtube is for (Speaking of Youtube… watch this video
with Beyonce at the UN if you need some inspiration). Other eventful moments of August: I killed a giant spider (yes I screamed when doing it, but I did it), I made egg curry that was surprisingly tasty, and I worked with the amazing social worker at Tumaini to get 2 babies adopted to a local orphanage instead of being on the streets. I also worked with the social worker to try to get another two children to the same orphanage and empower the mother, but that ended in some heartbreak and she refused at the last minute. We went to the orphanage for Guardians Day with 7 street parents, the social worker, the outreach worker and myself. It was a really amazing time watching everyone with their kids (the picture with the baby is one of the twins with Tumaini’s social worker).
Well that is basically the month in a nutshell. I leave Kenya on October 4, spend a day in Amsterdam and am home the evening of October 5th (hello turkey and pumpkin pie!). It’s basically a month… which is insane. Half of me is incredibly excited to see my family and friends, have a Tim Horten’s coffee, be anonymous in a crowd again, ride the subway, eat sushi, have fast internet and sleep without a mosquito net. The other half is not looking forward to leaving the magic of this place, my friends here, the crazy market, the street children & youth who challenge and inspire me each day, the affordability of everything and this indescribable quirkiness of Eldoret that just makes you love it. I am reading this book by the Dalai Lama and he talks about the need to accept the transient nature of life and not foster strong attachment as this will ultimately always lead to mental anguish. I am going to have to re-read that chapter on the plane I think. Raising the bar is consistently difficult…
Alrighty… thank you for sharing in this journey with me. I really appreciate all of different kinds of support from a whole range of people. I really wouldn’t be here without the help of others… my current happiness and privilege to be doing the things I have done is dependent on so so many people. I don’t know how to express the gratitude I feel for being able to do this…. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Take care, Jennica