Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hot off the press!

News Flash!!! ~Elisa is coming back to America in late December! ~ The plan is to spend Christmas with my sis in NYC, swing by OK to get my stuff, and make it to Houston before New Years! Now, you may be wondering..."WHY?! Huh?!" And it may take too long to blog about it now but to appease those curious minds, I'll just say for now its for numerous reasons both personal and professional alike. Not only is it a good stopping point for me here, but also I am rather ready to be go home. I will email my 2nd, and well, final (lol) newsletter soon. I haven't written/blogged as much since I've been busy finishing things up here and going to Nairobi almost every weekend to visit my other vol friends. (See pic for some of the fun I've had with other vols in Nairobi). When I visit Nai, I stay with 2 other girls there in an area called South B. But we fondly call it South Beach Sorority. :) It is literally my 2nd home now since I have a cot there too. :) I cook lovely things for them on the weekend in return for their company and shacking me up. I realized how MUCH I miss cooking. So I must say the last few weeks have been great! Plus, my dearest friend Haley will be visiting me in T-minus 3 days and we're going to Lamu (islands in Kenya) together for a week! There will be a cultural festival during the weekend. Woot woot! To be honest, I can't even wrap my head around the fact that its almost Christmas here. The weather is so warm I just keep thinking I'm in some sort of eternal summer "twilight zone." Its nice because its not unbearablly hot but at the same time, I wouldn't mind some "Christmas-y" weather. Plus, I will have a wicked tan for Christmas I guess. Anyhoo, just wanted to let ya'll know that I'll be seeing ya'll soon! :) Yippee! Will update you more soon!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Today I have been given an official Kenyan name - Kwageria. It is from the Meru tribe and it means "one who brings others happiness." Mission accomplished. I can now go home. :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's one big Obama Partay!

Note that in Kenya I usually introduce myself as such: "Hi! My name is Elisa and yes, I will vote for Obama. " Seriously, I can almost guarantee you that after asking my name, Kenyans will ask me something about Obama. I also tag on "And yes, I too am his cousin" since most people here also claim to be his cousin. :) His grandmother lives in Kogelo in western Kenya and her house has been on high security because of all the publicity! It is an Obama madhouse here with Obama shirts, songs, etc. Poeple have been partying since the previous night already celebrating his impending victory! I would compare the whole election coverage here to the World Cup times 100. Given that he is part Kenyan, the news can be quite biased when they have stories on the presidential election. The Obama "phenomena" is so big that some students said they'd refuse to go to school if Obama wasn't elected president!
Just some FYI about the Kenyan roots of Obama per a NY Times column online: "As for Africa, Mr. Obama’s Kenyan father was of the Luo tribe, a minority that has long suffered brutal discrimination in both Kenya and in Uganda (where it is known as the Acholi). The bitter joke in East Africa is that a Luo has more of a chance of becoming president in the United States than in Kenya." -By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Funny story - My colleagues have proposed that we take a trip to Kisumu to set me up with some Luo man so I can conceive the next American president and they can continue the Kenyan legacy. Hmmmm....tempting but I'll pass.

So get this.... tomorrow is a public holiday in Kenya per President Kibaki due to Obama's win! Wow! Being an American in another country has really opened my eyes on how influential American politics truly is. However, I hope some Kenyans aren't disappointed if there is no significant change in Kenya with Obama as president since some people have really high hopes. However, only time will tell. And with that I will leave you with two very interesting articles on:

The worldwide perception with having a Black president - Rebranding the U.S. With Obama
The tricky voting system of the US -
How Much Is Your Vote Worth?
How Kenyans are naming their kids Obama and Michelle - Name Craze

Monday, November 3, 2008

I got tested!

Sorry if this post is a bit TMI (too much info) or too personal for some peeps. I just thought it was a neat experience, some good info to share and something to encourage others to do.

I got HIV tested today and (yay!) I'm negative. I got tested even though I practice abstinence just because:
  1. The guy doing the testing looked really, really bored since no one was there
  2. I was curious to see how HIV testing and counseling is done
  3. I was curious to learn more about HIV and AIDS
So this traveling clinic set up a tent (no, really an actual camping tent) on the 2nd floor balcony for these tests. Initially I thought people just wanted to camp there (I'm now used to having anything happen!). I think I cut out a lot of the material to be discussed since I plan on abstaining until marriage so we didn't really get into the whole "previous experience" topics. But I did learn that:
  1. If 2 parents are positive, it doesn't necessarily mean the child will be positive too. Children can only get it upon birth or if the mother passes it through breast feeding the baby.
  2. HIV positive couples are still encouraged to use condoms to prevent re-infection since they can have different strands.
  3. Sexually active people are encouraged to get tested again after 3 months from their last intercourse.
So the experience went like this: I first signed a consent form to be tested. Then, he pricked my finger to get a blood sample. He actually had to squeeze what I felt was quite a bit of blood from my finger (that, and I'm also a baby with needles). While waiting for the results, we talked about ways of prevention. I also learned how to use a male and female condom. Now that was interesting! (And yes, we got to use the little private part wooden models). Just from my work though, I have seen that in Kenya, males are far less inclined to get tested (about half the number of women who get tested). Many reasons contribute to this: fear of knowing the results, women have "more of an opportunity" since they can be tested while attending antenatal care when pregnant or go during the day since they're usually home-bound taking care of the family, cultural/tribal attitudes towards it, etc. Plus, more women also attend HIV/AIDs related outreaches and other health education seminars. Unfortunately, there are still some very bad cases of stigma in the remote areas we visited in Eastern North Kenya. People still talk to HIV/AIDS patients through handkerchiefs since they're afraid of contracting it through the air. People are also outcasted in some areas if they are known to have HIV/AIDS. Misconceptions are also common. Some refuse ARV treatment since patients hear that the treatment can kill you; whereas in fact, the deaths are often because the patients can't afford good food (if any food at all) to sustain them through the physically taxing treatment phase. Or because of poor nutrition, they die due to other illnesses in their weakened state. So many of these issues we hear on TV or in the papers in the States take on a different light when you see it for yourself in person. No longer is it a distant problem that can be easily forgotten by a mere click of the remote or flip of the page but rather someone you're staring at right in front of you. And although beforehand I'd think the (easy) answer would be to say "Well, go educate those people on the truth about HIV/AIDS" but now I clearly see that its not so easy especially when you have to travel endless hours to some places in the desert and the harshest terrains, there are no roads to these places, you're trying to create behavioral change in people ingrained with hundreds of years of a certain belief and culture, language barriers, lack of food and water to sustain them through treatment, etc., etc., etc. So the problem becomes rather complicated. Historically speaking though, Kenya has done a really good job in reducing the HIV/AIDS rate since the early 90's when about 13%-14% of the population was infected. By early 2000, the rate had dropped almost in half to around 7% since the government initiated a national plan to address the rising issue. However, since the post-election violence, the rate has started climbed again so the need for HIV/AIDS prevention is more important than ever to reduce the rate before it regresses back to its initial state. But basically the whole purpose of this post is to encourage others to get tested and to hopefully open our eyes to this very real and serious issue not just in Kenya but in the world.