Museums, Waterfalls and Demos

I have had little time to write a blog recently. It seems as if I have been moving and working nonstop. In the past two weeks, I stayed in Nairobi with Lelo’s daughter Carol. She took me to the National Museum and the Bomas of Kenya. At the Bomas we were able to see displays of different tribal homes and watch traditional dances. She also fulfilled my request in visiting the second hand clothes market. Most of you know, but I am rather addicted to second hand shopping and finding bargains! With the little time we had, I managed to find a new pair of black slacks and three shirts, and only spent $7.

Last week, Lelo had visitors from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The couple, their eldest son and his family were in Kenya for a university graduation. Mami and Papi Lelo had met the family when both of the men attended graduate school at Clark University in the States. With the guests, I experienced the extensive nature of welcoming visitors into a Kenyan household. I have never eaten so much food or meat in my life. I soon learned that Mami Lelo is notorious for feeding her guests until they cannot move. Several of us had to plead to her not to give us any more food.

On Thursday, Mami Lelo and the visitors scooped me from work early. I had little idea where we were actually going. We boarded a matatu and slowly made our way over and into an old crater basin, across the equatorial line, and climbed altitude again to make it to Laikipia University campus. This campus is where Papi Lelo works. The beauty of the environment blew me away. Peeking monkeys starred at us in the surrounding tall forest. A slight mist came down around us and chilled our bones. I inhaled the fresh mountain air and became reminiscent about other woodland adventures. As I stood in astonishment, overcome by my emotions, the other laughed at me, stated that it was too cold, and rushed into the warmth of Papi Lelo’s duty house. After some snacks, we drove to Nyahururu and visited Thomson Falls.

Friday, we had our first demonstration in the field. The day started with a nonstop downpour delayed some of our efforts. The bus finally made its way down a narrow dirt road and to a local homestead. We held a meeting with a group of about ten farmers. We introduced the nixtamalization process and together created several different food products with the maize. The farmers were excited and an energetic buzz filled the air. I left the demonstration feeling exhilarated and grateful that I have been involved in this project.

This most recent weekend, I traveled with Mami and Papi Lelo to their village home in Machakos county. The four hour drive took longer as expected since we hit thick fog on the plateau and later an accident blocking the road. As we crossed into Machakos county, the land became drier. Field after field of maize and other crops were dried to a crisp providing little to no harvest. Eventually we made it to Nguluni a village close to Tala. We drove behind small village homes and market stalls leaving a dust trail. Through two grand gates we made it to the Lelo’s ‘retirement’ house. The grand house was accompanied by a yard with chickens, ducks and turkeys running around. I was also shown the rabbits, goats, cows and dogs. The farm homestead seemed to have everything.

Later we went to a prewedding party for one of Papi Lelo’s family members. Although the woman had already married and has several children, this celebration was necessary in order to allow her own daughter to marry in the future. The celebration was held in a field beside a much more modest homestead. This area was where Papi Lelo grew up and where most of his family continues to reside.

Sunday, we all attended Catholic mass and assisted in a large church fundraiser. By late afternoon, we headed back to Nakuru.

This week at work, we have two more field days. One was yesterday. It went well but lacked the intimacy and buzz that was shared in the prior demonstration. This was most likely due to the open venue and the larger group number. The next demonstration is on Friday. On the weekend I plan to visit a coworkers home, climb Mt. Longonot with some friends and head to Nairobi for a short stint.

Next week is my last week here at KALRO. Pretty crazy! I am eager to see friends and family but am not so excited that I will be returning to Carlisle for my final year at Dickinson so soon. Next week is reserved for report write up—hopefully I can get it all done in time! Then I will head to Nairobi to stay with Grace’s family before flying home on the 23rd

A Little Bit of Kiswahili

Slowly but surely I am learning a bit of Kiswahili. In school, I was never good at learning languages. Even with 6 years of Spanish I always struggled with the verb conjugations and those who know me can attest that I am terrible with pronunciation. However, as I learned in Malawi and again now here in Kenya, I find myself dedicated and eager to actually learn the local language. Yes, sure almost everyone here speaks English, but it is so much more important and special if you can learn the local dialect. So to account for this testimony, here are some Kiswahili words to describe the last week:

Dawa: medicine. Last week, I began to battle the sniffles and was feeling extra tired. As I planned to go on a safari trip to Masai Mara, Mrs. Lelo worried about my constant nose-blowing and slight cough. Thursday last week, she took me straight from work to Java, the Kenyan coffee chain. I was directed to go order dawa and to make sure to use all the honey I was given. Without much explanation, I did as I was told. Turns out dawa, which literally translate to medicine in Kiswahili, is a tea like drink containing a significant amount of pure lemon juice and ginger. After handed the steaming drink I was also given a small bowl of honey, equating to about 1/3 cup of honey. I did not follow through and barely used half of the honey. The drink was hot in all sense of the word. It burned my throat as it went down. Luckily being a huge fan of ginger, I did not mind and enjoyed the drink. And sure enough Friday morning I woke up blew my nose once and felt a world better.

Daktari: Doctor. Fortunately with the dawa and some decongestant from some fellow travelers at Masai Mara I have avoided visiting the doctor while here.

Simba: Lion. So as I mentioned above I visited Masai Mara, lions were among one of the many animals that I saw. The Masai Mara was the best safari I have been on yet. My driver was a bit insane….he seemed to have very little social skills and drove extremely fast but it soon became evident he knew the roads extremely well and was determined for us to see all the animals. We saw two jackals, two hyenas, three ostriches, around fifteen giraffes, ten storks, two crocodiles, about forty hippos, around twelve elephants, thousands of buffalos, millions of wildebeest, hundreds of thousands of zebras, three cheetahs, twelve lions, seven warthogs, many impala and another antlered deer, thirty vultures and many other bird species. I was amazed by how close we were able to get to several of the animals. Unfortunately we missed the leopards although some other groups saw them. Rhinos are extremely rare in the park so it was not surprising that we missed them as well.

Baridi: Cold. I was absolutely freezing at night in the Masai Mara. Once the hot sun dropped below the horizon the temperatures sank. Even with many layers and a thick blanket, I could not get myself warm the first night.

Ng’ombe: Cow. As some might know, the Masai people are pastoralists. As we drove almost 60 kms down a bumpy dust road towards the Masai Mara national park, we zoomed past hundreds of cattle. Boys of varying ages, some rather young, herded the cows and goats with sticks. Outside of the tourist camps, you could pay to visit the local Masai village. I felt a bit weird about doing so as I felt it would not be a very authentic experience. However, other explained some of the traditions of the tribe to me. For example, the boys are sent into the park around age 14 to live in the savannah for 3 years learning various skills such as traditional medicine, healing, hunting, and their famous jumping skills. At the end of the 3 years, the group must kill a lion. Upon returning the village, there is a jumping contest. The individual whom can jump the highest is awarded a cow. This cow is then used as a gift to his wife’s father. The ng’ombe serve as a type of currency and a symbol of wealth in this culture. More cattle mean more wives, and the ability to trade for necessary commodities.

I hope to learn more about other tribes, as they are important part of the culture here. With almost 45 different tribes and along with them different traditions, I am learning the complexities and the diversity of the Kenyan people. The 6 women that I work with are almost all from different tribes. They talk about different indigenous foods and tribal differences almost always come up in conversation. Those who are from the same tribal region often speak to each other in a mother tongue that only they can understand.

Kupika chakula: To cook food. Prior to going to Masai Mara and the weekend, we began the nixtamalization process at work. We cooked the maize for one hour in a water and lime solution, and then let the maize steep overnight in the lime concentration. After almost 16 hours of soaking, we rinsed the maize and proceeded to wet grind the maize into a dough called masa. With the masa we experimented making both Mexican and Kenya dishes. (Why Mexican? The process is an indigenous method from Mesoamerica). We also set aside some maize to dry in the sun to dry mill for flour. With the nixtamalized masa and flour, this week at work we have been cooking lots of different food dishes.

Leta: bring. A young girl in Nairobi taught me this word within days of being in Kenya. It has been useful this week. I was able to notice when a coworker asked another to bring people to sample our food products. About 20 people a day have come to sample our food products. On Monday, they tried ugi, a Kenyan porridge and atole, a traditional Mexican porridge. Tuesday, we made fresh tortillas and our version of corn chips or crisps as they call them here. Today, we made githeri and mukimo, both indigenous Kenyan dishes that use maize kernels in a mixture of other ingredients such as beans, peas and vegetables. Only a few of the tasters knew about the nixtamalization process. It was interesting reading the comments and reading the ranking on the sensory evaluation sheets. Githeri and mukimo were definitely the hit products. This is most likely do to the fact that many other ingredients were used so the distinct lime taste was masked more than in the other food products. Tomorrow we will be cooking ugali, ugi again but with the fine flour and chapattis. This whole process is informing us which products are most accepted and in what ways we can introduce the nixtamalization process to the community.

Maje moto: Hot water (but in Kiswahili adjective follows the noun). To keep myself warm both in Nakuru and Njoro I have been drinking an obscene amount of hot water.

Rafiki: Friend. Today after work, I met up with a Kenyan that I met in the airport in Dubai. I enjoyed coffee and a good meal and several hours of talking about my experience so far. I had a really enjoyable time and returned home with a big smile on my face. I always appreciate quality conversations and genuine people.

Lala: Sleep. With it reaching almost ten at night here, I am headed to bed. Time to get those zzz before I wake up for work by six in the morning.



Food crops, animals and water

After unlocking the series of gates and doors to get to my room, I opened my door and stepped into a puddle of water. A mysterious amount of water filled about half of my room—the culprit being a drip from the sink pipe. Luckily before I had left for Nairobi on this past Friday, I had moved most of my things to the far corner of my room, close to my bed. Unfortunately, the three extra rolls of toilet paper, which had remained under the sink, absorbed as much water their thin paper sheets could hold. I quickly squeezed as much water out of the rolls as I could before I mopped the floor and reheated chicken masala for dinner. Being the frugal person I am, I hoped that maybe (just maybe!) that the toilet rolls would dry out and I won’t need to buy more.

Now after I cleaned up the mess, hopped in a cold shower and felt a bit settled, I sat on my bed to recap the weekend.

Due to a delay in our project funding, last week I spent much of my time at KALRO roaming between departments and learning about the different research projects and objectives of each section within the Njoro office. This included learning how to emasculate a wheatear and subsequently pollinate the plant in a conventional crossbreeding process. I took two trips to the surrounding KALRO agriculture fields. Esther from entomology showed me the soya field and the yellowing the plants are exhibiting. Victor from pathology lead me around to see the trials of various herbicides, fungicides and the testing of disease wheat varieties, which have been shipped to KALRO from all over the world. I also sat in on a consultation at the plant clinic, a clinic that KALRO has open every 2nd and 4th Wednesday for farmers to bring in diseased or ill crop samples. The researchers diagnosed and prescribed remedies for the problem, and further sent the samples to the lab for further testing. I was shown sample tests for determining which pathogen is attacking a particular sample. A master’s student gave me an in-depth lesson on the biotechnology lab and their work creating new varieties by through genetic markers and gene stacking. I was given a tour of the cereal chemistry lab and taught about the equipment and tests used to determine the quality of particular grains. Department heads from oil crop breeding, soil and crop management, and socioeconomics and biotechnology, gave me a quick overview of their department’s work.

After a short day at work on Friday, I managed to get to the Nakuru Mololine booking office around 12:30 and hopped on the next shuttle heading to Nairobi. Slowly but surely I made it with 10 other people to Nairobi on the bumpy highway in the matatu. We drove back through the savannah and low lands, climbed up onto a plateau with the Rift Valley sprawled below us, and shoved our way through traffic to enter the big, bustling city. The streets crawled with people shopping at market vendors along the highway road, buses and cars alike attempted to fight for the remaining road space to enter or leave the city as the work day closed.

Once dropped at the dusty street crowded with other matatus and even more people, I stood and waited at the booking office for someone to pick me up. I had been invited for the weekend (and any future weekend I would like) to stay with Grace, a 25-year-old gender strategist intern who works at CIMMYT at her family’s home. I met her and her family prior to coming to Nakuru and was eager to spend more time with them. Grace’s cousin, Javan found me in no time, stating that finding the only mzungu in a sea of people was not that difficult. We again pushed our way through the crowd and made our way to his car, which was parked several blocks away. The usual 15-minute drive to Grace’s house in Spring Valley took almost 45 minutes due to the clogged roads. Once we finally arrived, I was happily greeted by one of the family dogs (the only one I have met since the other ones are rather aggressive), Grace, Grace’s brothers and sister, her friend Candice and Grace’s mother. They excitedly welcomed me into their home and shared their plans for the weekend.

I took a screaming hot shower, inhaled chocolate cake with a glass of warm milk, and soon melted into a double bed for a good night’s rest. On Saturday I woke up over an hour before any of the other children, so I ate my first breakfast with Grace’s parents. Once the youth finally rose, we ate a full cooked breakfast curtsey of Grace and then headed out for the day.

The first stop was the elephant orphanage. Arriving with only ten minutes left of visiting hours, we rushed into the sanctuary and were immediately swarmed by at least a hundred tourists surrounding a small roped area with about 5 baby elephants. Having seen elephants by the tons in Malawi and Botswana, (and my inability to see much of the elephants) I became more amazed by the amount of people and the over zealous nature of these mzungus. Once most of the tour groups dispersed we were given a few short minutes to watch the elephants be herded out of the enclosure into the open sanctuary.

With the dust still stuck in the air from the mass of people exiting, we found Javan at the car and drove to the Giraffe Centre, which was only a couple minutes away. The giraffe center was much more exciting in my opinion. Again with many other tourists, we were able to feed these gigantic creatures. They even would take the grain pellets directly from your lips. Their anti-septic salvia made these kisses completely safe. The 100-acre sanctuary houses ten Rothschild giraffes whose natural habitat is all but extinguished. Viewing the acreage from a tall pavilion, I even spotted the 9-day-old male in the distance surrounded by several other adult giraffes. I had quite a bit of fun, especially when the tour groups quickly made their way out of the Centre.

Today, I bullied all the other children to go with me to church with Grace’s parents. I had no idea that they attended the service at the All Saints Cathedral in the Nairobi. ( I really enjoyed hearing the hymns echo in this beautiful structure and being surrounded by such spiritual and compassionate people. After a good lunch, Javan took me back to the Mololine booking office and made the journey back to Nakuru.

I had an awesome weekend and am excited to be able to call Grace’s home my second home. I have already been given a family nickname and spoiled to the max by the entire family. They hope to take me on a road trip to the coast to see Grace’s mother’s village home. Unfortunately, I am worried I may not be able to take off the time needed from work. But we will see! Time is flying, especially with busy days at work and busy weekends. Before I know it I will be returning to the States….eeek.


Near Naviasha on the way back to Nakuru. See if you can spot the white blobs that are actually zebras.

As the violence and terror continues to be splashed on social media and the news outlets, I have attempted to retreat into this bubble and focus on my time here. This proves to be more difficult than I originally thought. My heart seems to be filling with sadness for all those directly and indirectly affected whether they are from South Sudan, France, Europe, Michigan or Louisiana. However, I recognize there is only so much worrying will do when I am half way across the world. The least I can do, as my grandmother pointed out, is to continue to work on this nutrition project. In small ways such as this, and the other research KALRO does, we can each create a small amount of change to enact positive change in one community or another.





Locating My Identity

Today the ASK show officially finished. I was definitely glad for the opportunity to attend and participate with the KALRO researchers but it was very exhausting. Thursday and Friday at the showground were hectic! Due to the Muslim holiday (end of Ramadan) all the government offices and schools were closed on Thursday. The show was packed with families and school groups taking advantage of the day off. Friday became even busier as school groups benefited from the long weekend. I spent almost every waking minute at the stand, presenting and answering questions about value addition, the products we had on display, what KALRO’s role was and how to one could be trained by the organization. I became well versed in the specifics of consuming each type of cereal, starch and the varieties of tea. However, with the constant attention from school children, and some uncomfortable interactions with strange men, I was excited to leave by the end of Friday. Today was a much more calm day with fewer visitors and shorter hours, during which I listened to some conversations about various aspects of KALRO, which provided some valuable information for my field notes.

Once we packed up the entire exhibit (which included a rush of people claiming various products or crop displays that would soon be spoiled), I was able to make my walk home. I have moved from staying at Egerton University, to living in a small guest room outside of a coworker’s home in Nakuru. While the space is very tiny, and I must cook and clean outside, I am happy I am not alone in a hotel room. The Lelo’s home is directly behind the showground, in a large compound with many other attached homes and apartments. Walking up the hill and onto a down a bumpy dirt road I was able to arrive home in fifteen minutes.

Being independent and alone, more often than I am used to, is rather sobering. It is refreshing to be lost in my own thoughts while I walk by myself. To be able to fully observe the lone calf’s daunting look when realizing it must jump the drainage ditch to join its mother or to even just notice the haze which slowly appears in the air right before the late afternoon rainstorms come. However, I have noted that being alone comes with a marked vulnerability—something I ensure to remember. Similiar to times I have experienced unease in the US due to my gender (such as when entering a college frat party or being alone in a large metropolitian area) I have become ever aware that my female identity labels me in a unique way. Additionally, my white skin is associated with wealth and privilege, characteristics that can neither be denied nor simplified here in Kenya nor in the United States.

The past few days, I have been lost trying to navigate how I identify myself, how others identify me and how I as an individual am placed in particular environments, and settings. I have felt torn and heart broken in expressing my American identity as I watch violence evoke once again. I am sadden to discuss the ways minority populations are treated in my home country to people that once believed that the United States was a land of prosperity. I have noted a difference in the types of responses I receive when asked about my national identity—the excitement and wonder that was expressed when I was in Malawi three years ago stands cold compared to loaded questions about violence and politics I have endured while here in Kenya.

I continue to try to sort these emotions and thoughts and seek a rationale answer that I know may not be found. While I sit miles and an ocean away displaced from such commotion and unrest, I send my love to those who are hurting, I send my support to those resisting such discrimination and I send my hope that we will some day become the nation we so proudly claim to be.

I will leave it at that, as I have struggled for three days to write this blog. And hope my next blog will be a little more narrative in my time here in Kenya, but I felt these thoughts needed to be shared.

ASK: my first week in Nakuru

Today was a good day. It is approximately 4:30 in the afternoon. The sun is beginning to make its descent casting shadows on the trees and lawn outside the hotel window. Streams of children in light blue and navy uniforms make their way down the road, slowly meandering their way home. The weather is pleasantly warm compared to the early morning. As the sun brought warmth to the day, the children have rolled their knee high socks down to their ankles. I have returned from a full day in Nakuru, the city about a half hour away from Egerton University, Njoro where I am currently staying. Today and yesterday I spent my time at the Agricultural Society of Kenya Show (ASK) assisting my mentor, Rosemary with the nutrition and food value station at the KALRO exhibit.


A short glimpse of Njoro. 

I arrived in Njoro on Monday. From Nairobi to Nakuru, I took a 3 hour ride on a matatu, or a minibus. These vehicles are very inexpensive and are the public form of transportation. Squeezed in with other people in van only slightly bigger than a minivan, I made my way 150 km to Nakuru. Along the way I watched the scenario change as we crawled our way slowly out of the capital city and climbed in altitude. At one point we drove along a road beside a large drop off with astonishing views of the land below. Later, as the driver continued to maneuver around other slow moving trucks and the numerous potholes, I noted zebras and baboons meters away from the road in the bush near Naivasha. Unfortunately I was unable to get any photos. Rosemary picked me up from Nakuru and with a KALRO driver I was taken to the ARC hotel on Egerton University campus, just a few kilometers from the KALRO centre. I will stay here one more night before moving to a guest room at a co-workers house.

Yesterday, in the morning I was picked up by a driver and taken to KALRO. KALRO has over 400 acres of land most of which is agricultural fields. On the campus from what I could see there were various groups of buildings. Large sheds to house the farm equipment, buildings with labs and offices, greenhouses of varying sizes and a cluster of administrative buildings. Sometime next week I will be given a proper tour and orientation to KALRO. Hopefully, I will have tsome time to snap some photos. One lady whom I was with, a social economist, was telling me that KALRO was started in the 1800s but under the name KARI, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. However, recently the institute was combined with several other small institutes to create KALRO. Currently there are numerous centers around Kenya that focus on particular research topics such as livestock, agriculture, horticulture, biotechnology etc. Njoro is just one of them and largely focuses on food crop including wheat, soya, sweet potato and cassava.

After a lot of running around and disorganization, I went by car to Nakuru to the agricultural show. We waited at the gate for almost an hour, after already waiting at the centre for almost 2 hours trying to figure out who had the tickets for our entry.

The actual agricultural show was like a big state fair. Each organization had its own building/exhibit displaying its recent work, projects and research. There were organizations like KALRO displaying research, while others were industrial seed companies, tractor supply companies, universities as well as stalls for commercial businesses like Safari Com and Insurance companies. I believe there was also a section for children with games and “the fun stuff” as one of the woman stated.

I was directed to the KALRO stand and found Rosemary. Rosemary showed me around the nutrition stall and explained the various displays. First she led me to a poster that displayed a food pyramid. Around the pyramid sat various examples of the food groups. Here in Kenya, much like other parts of the world, Rosemary explained that lifestyle diseases and illnesses have become more common. This is largely in part to poor nutrition. This poor nutrition is associated to the perception that eating healthy has to be very expensive. Additionally, straying from eating crops such as maize and wheat, is only considered in times of need. For example, sweet potatoes and cassava are considered “poor man’s food” due to their disease resistance. Often families only rely on these two crops if the maize or wheat becomes diseased. KALRO seeks to educate people about nutrition and the variety of foods available to meet nutritional requirements while destigmatizing these food crops. This display shows individuals the variety of different foods that are under each food group and how one can eat the proper amount of servings.

Opposite this food pyramid display stood the main research exhibition, which displayed the projects run by nutritionists at Njoro and other KALRO institutes. On the display were different products that could be created from wheat, sorghum, soya, sweet potatoes, cassava, tea, dairy and bees. Through this display, KALRO is encouraging the production and consumption of high value products and showing the diversity of foods that can be produced by these crops. I have learned of all the nutritional benefits of each crop, the value additions and product diversifications of the above crops—however, I will not bore everyone with these details. 😛

Similar to yesterday, I attended the show. It was a much warmer day today without any rain. I felt much more at ease walking around the KALRO exhibit and the other stations. I was welcomed by all the other researchers and staff. Gradually I made more and more connections, began to make relationships with other researchers and discovered what their research interests are. Rosemary’s colleague and friend Lucy also took it upon herself to make sure I was comfortable and looked after. Several other women giggled when introducing me to others as their daughter or long lost relative.

I will continue to attend the show until Saturday. I am enjoying simply observing and talking to other researchers at KALRO. I am building a background and understanding of what KALRO as an organization does and the type of projects they focus on. So many brilliant researchers who are excited to share their knowledge on nutrition, agriculture and the Kenyan culture surround me. Starting next Monday, I will have an orientation to the KALRO centre and will begin my research on the nixtamalization project with Rosemary.

Speak soon and Kwaberi


Arriving in Nairobi

The past few days were exhausting. After 25 hours in transit, I finally arrived to Nairobi. I arrived at around 8 pm, with the sun already set. The same airport was housed in what appeared to be like a warehouse building with one gate, customs, baggage belt and currency exchange all in the same large room. There were quite a few security guards and military personnel. I waited by the baggage carousel for what seemed like forever, gradually becoming more and more anxious that my bag was lost in transit. With a layover that was over 8 hours in the Dubai airport—I would not have been surprised. Once I picked up my bag and gave up waiting in line for a SIM card I decided to head to the exit and find the taxi driver that was supposed to pick me up. Nearing the exit I saw no one but two security guards and a giant winding ramp down to the car park. Deciding to play it safe, I ask one of the guards to assist me in calling the taxi driver and ask him to meet me at the doors in the light.

About half hour later I was on my way to the hotel I was staying in. Still high strung and anxious about arriving in this foreign country by myself with little knowledge of where I was, I went to sleep shortly after I was taken to my room.

In the morning, I was feeling much better and recognized I was in a very safe place. At eleven I was taken to the CIMMYT office to meet with Dr. Mugo and the other individuals I only knew through email correspondence. CIMMYT alongside some other offices is tucked away in a compound with high security. The building had an open flour plan, each office and room opening onto an open air walk way and a small plaza. The grounds were very green and well manicured. I met with Dr. Mugo and ate lunch. We discussed my placement and the history of nixtamalization.

For those of you who do not know: Nixtamalization is a process in which maize is cooked in a lime or alkaline solution. By doing this, there are numerous amounts of nutritional benefits. The maize has a higher glycemic load and has lead to increase weight gain in previous studies. The maize also has higher calcium, protein, fat, and total fiber levels. Additionally the shelf life of these products is longer than normal maize products and the toxins produced over time are reduced. Due to these reasons, the Kenyan government through Kenyan Agriculture Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Sustainable Agriculture) from Mexico are collaborating to introduce nixtamalization in rural areas—both at the household level and at the industry level.

As we continued to talk, Dr. Mugo explained to me that cooking with lime is not unusual in Kenya but its nutritional benefits are not often recognized. Rather, cooking with lime is used to improve the taste, smell of the maize, and assist in removing the outside skin of the maize kernels. Through this initiative, hopefully more individuals become aware of the benefits of nixtamalization and adapt to eating nixtamal products including maize tortillas similar to the ones found in Mexico.

Following my meeting with Dr. Mugo, I returned to the hotel, and caught up on some reading and typed up our conversation.

In the evening I went to dinner with Rahma, another woman who works at CIMMYT as a gender strategist. I had a wonderful meal and felt even more comfortable about being in Kenya. She will definitely be a contact for me while here and has offered me her home whenever I am in need.

Yesterday, I moved myself out of the hotel (it was a bit to expensive for me) to a small B&B in a wealthier neighborhood close by. Initially I was feeling rather lonely. No one was around and my plans to meet up with Rahma fell through. However, I know am very happy that I was able to stay here.

In the evening, the owner, Diana, returned with her mother, aunt, sister, niece and nephews. The past 24 hours, I have spent all my time with this family. The 10-year-old girl is teaching me as much Swahili as possible, while I assist her with reading English from my NOOK. The 16-year-old boy is rather quiet but very smart and engaging when spoken to. He shared his dreams to go to university to study IT. The youngest boy is 4 years old with Down Syndrome. He has been attached to me since I joined their conversation in the kitchen. This morning at breakfast, he refused to leave my lap. Even as I type this blog, he continues to sneak away from his sister to watch me type.

This is why I came back to Africa and wanted to visit another African country. Much like Malawi, these Kenyans are very friendly, eager and excited to share their world with me. If I was not leaving for Njoro (the rural town I will be based in) tomorrow, I am sure that Diana and her family would have taken me under their wing and showed me around.

Even only three days in, I feel as if I have learned a lot. I recognize the differences from traveling as a volunteer and protected by an organization like Lattitude in Malawi versus being self-reliant and traveling independently. I am excited to see how Njoro is different from the big city and to further push my comfort zone. I am sure to learn a lot and hopefully I can begin to express it all through my writing.

I will continue to keep up the blog as much as possible but it may not be everyday. Keeping up with my research, and typing up conversations and field notes is my number one priority while here!

These Realities are just Dreams.

I sometimes nag at myself for not writing a blog entry for over 2 months. Instead I have become content with two filled journals and additional notebooks I wrote to myself. I felt the need to document every moment and every day but at the same time I could not be wrapped up in the writing and be missing out on the living part of Malawi. When I wrote my second to last entry “A Second Home”, I had no idea I would be creating somewhat of a stopping point for myself. So just for all of those who have been wondering, this is what I have been up to: 

Harvest season came and went. I hiked Mulanje. I continued to spend much of my free time with the Mahere family. Ruby and I chugged along with our teaching and handed out exams in the end of June. My mother came to visit and see the world I had been living in for the past 7 months. She and I traveled to Lake Malawi and Majete Nature Reserve and fumbled with multiple flat tires, a mad man, running elephants and a strong cross wind. Ruby and I cried and clung to our students as we watched the majority of the pupils leave on July 10th. We laughed and enjoyed the lack of electricity and running water for the remainder of our stay. Slowly we began to say goodbye and begrudgingly gave our congratulations to time winning the race. The 2 weeks after all of our children left, I decided to make the most of my time at Mountain View and the Blantyre/Thyolo region. I spent my last moments with the Mahere’s, Malawian friends and other volunteers. I pushed away travel and took my last spoonfuls of real culture and simple happiness.

July 29th, with a group of volunteers I made my way to the airport. We waved goodbye and yelled “Bao!” to any person looking to us on the way. Many volunteers were excited to go home, others mournful. This is when my sense of ground and realities began to slip away.

Now, everything is crisp but not clear. A paradox I know. Edges, colors and the size of things make my eyes want to do a double take. Is this the same street I used to always walk down 9 months ago? Was I actually sleeping in this bed, this room? Did I honestly think that this was important? All of these questions intermingle with questions of my recent experience in Malawi. Did I really teach adjective clauses in sign language? Were those children really running and calling out “azungu bao!”…to me? Or was it a dream? Is this a dream? I am stuck in two worlds and yet at the same moment I don’t feel as if I am living in either. My two worlds are attempting to morph but instead are facing each other fists up and screaming.

 Everyday I face a new realization and I know that the growth and knowledge that I found in Africa is only just settling in. The floodgates are pushing their way open. I have now accepted that I was naïve, am naïve and will be forever naïve. While I spent 7 months in Malawi and made it my second home, I can never fully understand what it is like to be Malawian or any other person for that matter. All I can do is try. Habits that I never thought of are now foreign: Oh yeah, the amount of people in a car must match the number of seat belts….no more “SQUEEZE!” I have become hyper-aware of how freaking huge America and everything in this country is…whether it is the length of the Bay Bridge or the amount of waste I see my family throwing out each day. At times, I feel claustrophobic in a big room full of “pretty things”. I know I need to love the family I was born into no matter how frustrated I get with their obliviousness. We are humans and are not perfect. I have learned that the complexities of life make living interesting and I have to pick and choose which “drama” is worth my time. Getting on with life and putting a smile on my face, no matter how hard, always makes my day brighter. I am to be grateful for at least three things a day and I know things may go my way. 

As I continue to watch the world tilt around me and feel as if I am on a movie set of a glamorous film, I take hands with my thoughts and ask them to teach me who I am and who I want to be. I hold tight to the free spirit I have and the culture I became a part of. Now, when I am asked, “so….how was Africa?”. I smile back, “great!” and get ready to tackle the endless questions.

As my sister once wrote,

“The world is not black and white, [and] while we might want to make things simple so much of the world is what happens in the spaces between what might be considered right and wrong.  It is about teasing out the nuances, the complexities, the messiness and understanding that each one of us holds onto a different piece of reality and that only by viewing them together do we get an idea of the ways in which power, privilege, oppression, and equality work” (, The Spaces in Between). 



Mt. Mulanje



The weekend of May 18th, Nina, Naemi and I headed to Mulanje. Friday night we stayed in Mulanje Boma with two other German girls. These girls, Lena and Christina have been volunteering in Mulanje for the past 10 months on their gap year. The German government gives them a small stipend for living expenses and free accommodation. I was extremely jealous of their situation and hope that someday in the future the USA will get on the Gap Year bandwagon).


Early Saturday we headed to the forestry office and acquired a guide. Having only two days to hike, we decided to climb to Chambe Hut on the Chambe Plateau Path and return on the less steep Chapaluka Path. The way to the plateau was difficult. A constant steep incline had us out of breath and taking many breaks. We all cheered when we finally reached the plateau. Once we caught our breaths we were in awe. The scenery was outstanding. Chambe Peak rose to the north and wildflowers covered the ground. Clouds were at eye level on the west edge of the plateau. We trekked on until we reached Chambe hut. I was pleasantly surprised to see a hut similar to those owned by the Potomatic Appalachian Trail Club that I have stayed in with my family. It was a small cabin with two rooms: one smaller room with bunk beds and a large room that served as the living area with a fireplace. A front porch allowed us to sit and have a great view of rocky Chambe Peak and the rest of the Chambe Basin. A watch man helped us make a fire and warmed water for us to take bucket showers. After making dinner on the fire, we sat around laughing with our guide George and eating Smores (shout-out to the friend that sent me all the Hershey’s, graham crackers and marshmallows)! As the fire died down a bit, we sat on the porch steps wrapped in thick blankets under the full moon. Everything seemed a bit eerie after listening to George tell us legends and ghost stories about the Mountain. Exhausted from the climb, the 4 of us headed to bed early piling on the blankets and sleeping next to the fireplace to hiding from the cold.


In the morning, I woke up and could see my breath. Sneaking out of the cabin quietly, I looked around and smiled. I love waking up early and seeing the world awaken. The brisk air and my surroundings gave me memories of chilly mornings spent with family at cabins around Thanksgiving. To be honest, I couldn’t get enough of the landscape. Around 7 am, we started to head down the Chapaluka Trail. This path was much different than the first one. We walked through a jungle and were surrounded by the morning mist. We had to scramble over boulders and cross the river three times. This path was definitely more adventurous. As we came closer to the bottom, we stopped at small waterfall and then headed to a local restaurant to refuel before our mini bus ride back to Mountain View.


Mulanje was gorgeous and two days was not enough time for me to be satisfied. I hope to climb to the highest peak sometime before I leave and spend more time on this beautiful mountain.

Mulanje-Chambe Peak

Chambe Peak

A Second Home

Everyday seems to fly by. I wake up and head to school and then before I know it I am pulling the mosquito net around my bed and slipping into my sleeping bag. Time used to play with my mind, tease my emotions and make it feel as if I was stuck in a time warp at Mountain View. Now the days have decided to run away from me.

Yesterday, the two German volunteers, Nina and Naemi headed off and started their journey back home. Catching a glimpse of the inside of the airport and the security check point, I realized how bittersweet going back to the USA will be. Mountain View and Malawi feel like home. Because of this, in recent weeks I have struggled to keep up with my writing. At first, I thought I was just being lazy but learned I struggle to write because everything is… well….ordinary. And this is not to say that ordinary is bad. I have become so accustomed to Malawian culture and am not surprised when things are slow, chaotic and just a tad unorganized. I am not fazed when there is no water and the electricity goes out. Ruby and I just pull out the candles, light the charcoal burner, fill buckets of water and laugh, wondering how long the power will be out this time.

The simplicity of life allows you to enjoy the long walks to the market, heartfelt conversations with people and the generosity of the community. I have learned that a lot of things that seemed a big deal at home are almost meaningless. Looking at facebook and seeing people worry about their unknown roommate and what color their prom dresses are I just have to laugh and hope they see the bigger picture.

On a lighter note, I have been spending a lot of my free time with Grace Mahere. While her mother is away at a teacher training course and her father is often in Blantyre, she has been the head of the house. Having just finished secondary school and is waiting for her exam results, she takes care of her younger brothers, cousin, the house work and chores… all at the age of 17. Last week we laid all the maize out on mats in the yard to dry and then gathered it in bags before it became dark. She has taught me to make African cake, as well as carry buckets on my head. Everyone has become used to seeing me in the Mahere household. Charity, Grace’s cousin who lives with the family, just smiles hello when she returns from school. She sings and dances around me as I help around the house. Trust, age 5, runs around yelling my name and speaking Chichewa hoping I will play with him. The Mahere family in a way have become my second family. Ammie loves to have me over for dinner and is someone I can go to if I need a “second mom”. Recently, I have even thought of remaining at Mountain View when school ends on July 12 until my flight on July 29th. These two weeks would allow me to spend more time with the Mahere’s and the community at Mountain View, something I may not get a chance to do again.

Busy Busy

The past couple of weeks have beyond busy. Here is everything is brief:

The weekend of April 27th, after helping with a yard sale fundraiser for Standard 8, I spent the weekend in Blantyre with friends that I originally met in Livingstone, Zambia. It was great to catch up with these boys and made me miss hanging with friends from home.
That following Tuesday, May 1st, we headed back into Blantyre to celebrate Ruby’s birthday. We met several new people and I also had a crazy small world moment: I met a man whose uncle owns Kennersley’s Farm in Churchill, MD and was off to visit the good ol’ Eastern Shore in a weeks time. Ruby, Jack (a peace corp we met) and I also stumbled upon Narnia: a glorious food court at the Malawi Sun hotel with an ice cream shop, bakery and fast food.
May 3rd we took our Standard 8 learners to Liwonde National Park and on a boat trip for their graduation trip. After a stressful week of trying to get things organized in a timely fashion we were able to pull of the visit.
That same weekend, Ruby and I headed to Blantyre to see a national football game at Kamuzu Stadium and spend time with some Malawian friends. As we stood in line to enter the stadium I noticed the swarms looked like a colony of ants heading for their nest. Everyone was extremely excited for the rival red and blue teams to compete. It was great to feel the energy and excitement of all the devoted fans around me.
This Friday, we had a graduation celebration and took the sports teams to the Catholic Institute in Blantyre to compete.
Oooopfffffhhhh. It makes me exhausted just thinking about the last few weeks.

Today, I was finally able to take a break and catch up on rest as well as my writing. I was oh so happy to wake up and see a clear sky with a hot Malawian sun shining. A breeze cooled down the bright rays. Everyone was outside enjoying the warmth and avoiding the cold concrete buildings. The weather has been changing and most days are rather chilly. As I hear of the warm days in the United States, I prepare for a cold June and July. I have become accustomed to putting leggings under my long skirts and expecting to a long sleeve, especially if I see the rain clouds coming. In the most recent weeks, I have gone to the extent of sporting the sandal and sock look. It is a good day if I decide to wear my neon orange socks!

With the seasons changing, I am realizing how long I have been in Malawi. A couple of weeks ago I struggled with major homesickness. The type of homesickness where all I wanted was home, family and familiarity. It was the kind of homesickness that aches. It was the first and only time I really felt I wanted to be at home and to leave this adventure behind. All of this coincided with a terrible migraine and difficulties teaching my students.

Having tackled the monster of homesickness, I have been feeling time run away from me. Standard 8 takes government exams this week and then are heading home. Before I know it, I will be on a plane heading home as well. I am nowhere near ready to leave Malawi behind. I am cherishing the last months as much as I possibly can. The times when I am not eating, sleeping or writing I am outside of my room playing and teaching with the children. I hope to travel to Mulanje this next week and see Zomba soon.

PS. Sending love home for Mother’s Day! Fun Facts: Mother’s Day in Malawi is not celebrated until the first weekend in October and oddly enough they do not have a Father’s Day.