Waiting For The Day That I Can Wear Shorts

Oftentimes when I’m in my house I’ll roll up my pants or wear shorts especially if I’m cleaning or working out.  However, if someone comes to my door I immediately roll my pants down or throw on a pair of pants over my shorts.

I have lived in my village for over a year and half and I have only seen ONE other girl/woman wear shorts.  That was our star netball student who wore a pair of shorts longer than any pair of shorts that I own.  That was only for part of the first term last year because she didn’t have the correct workout uniform (loose skirt that you tie around your waist, but many girls wore leggings under them because they were a bit flimsy).  Our younger students will wear shorts at the annual sports competition but that’s a special event and not the norm.

Sure, of course I could wear shorts when running outside.  That is if I want a million questions from my students.  If I want more people stopping to stare from outside the fence.  If I want more verbal harassment.

Even pants are considered ooooohhhhh! in my village.  From time to time you’ll see young women (teenagers/early 20s) visiting the village and they’ll be wearing pants but other than that it’s pretty rare (maybe once every 3 months).   There is one teacher who is from near Nairobi and from time to time she wears pants to teach but most of the time she sticks to skirts.  Other than that pants are pretty rare for women in my village and I do see the locals talking about women wearing pants as they pass by.

However, because I’m a mzungu people tend to judge me even more than they judge a local.  If you took me and a local woman and we wore the exact same outfit…we would probably get the opposite comments in terms of how much it cost, how nice it looks, verbal harassment, etc.  I also want to show the locals that I respect their values and expectations and this is one of the ways I can do that in my village.

There have been times that I’ll wear my loose fitting workout pants (not yoga pants..those things are NOT flattering on me) to the village market to get something quick from a vendor only to have people gossip about my pants or get asked if they can have my pants.

A great example about women who wear pants in Kenya outside of cities that I’m borrowing from another PCV:  This PCV had some sort of Kenyan volunteers/organization come to her school to educate deaf students about HIV/AIDs and I guess maybe one or two had HIV (I don’t remember the details).  Apparently there was a point where two of the lecturers (women) stood up and asked the students to guess which one was HIV positive.  The point of the activity was to show that you cannot always tell who is HIV positive.  The students guessed one of the woman was HIV positive and when asked why…they said it was because she was wearing pants.

So I pretty much leave the whole wearing shorts in my village thing alone except when I’m in bigger cities running or hanging out on the coast.  I can’t imagine what people would think if I wore shorts while running outside, they already think it’s crazy when they see a white woman  running in pants in their village.  

I keep telling myself that when I return that I’ll be able to wear shorts out in public while running and it’ll be accepted as the norm.  Then I remember December = Winter = Snow = Cold = Extra Cold After Living at the Equator for Two years

Let’s Try This Blogging Thing Again

Wow, it’s been a few months since I last blogged.  I’ve gotten bad about blogging regularly because I use Facebook so much.  Then again, I update Facebook way too much which I’m which I’m sure annoys people at times.  🙂

I just find it easier to update Facebook as I think of things and it’s nice to be able to have discussions on Facebook which almost never happens when blogging.  Facebook is just a bit more interactive than blogging in general even though blogging gives you the chance to say more than you can on Facebook.

Anyways, am going to give this whole blogging thing another try once again.

2nd Year, Term 1: DONE

Even though we finished classes and exams last Wednesday before the four day Easter weekend (Friday-Monday) our school officially closes today.  This means kids will go home for term break.  All kids except 40 who will stay for the regional sport competition held at our school.

Tomorrow, 80 kids and about 20 teachers from two other schools for the deaf will arrive.  Then we have sport events Thursday-Saturday and they’ll leave Sunday morning.  It should be a busy week but hopefully fun!

Quick Update: Consolidation and 1st Term

Quick Update!

During the last presidential election in Kenya there was violence which resulted in the evacuation of Peace Corps Volunteers.  This time around Peace Corps wanted to be prepared in case we needed to be evacuated for this year’s presidential election.  All 110 PCVs met up in a nice remote area for consolidation.  We spent about a week and half there.  It’s not often that PCVs get to meet so many other PCVs in their country so it was a great experience!  For the most part, things were calm across the country so we got to return to our sites via Peace Corps vehicles (was SO nice not having to drag all of our things across Kenya via public transportation).

The week prior to and after consolidation I think was stressful for most of us.  We didn’t know if we would ever return to our villages again, we didn’t know if we should say good-bye to our students/community members, we didn’t know if we would get to see loved ones in the States who we hadn’t seen in over a year, we didn’t know if we would be living in the States or Kenya in just a few weeks, we didn’t know if we would have a job in just a couple of weeks…..then there was the packing!  We had to make an inventory of everything in our house, pack things up to the point where if we were evacuated then certain things we left behind would be shipped to us yet not pack everything up in case we did come back, we had to make a few piles (things to be shipped, things to give to people, things to take with us to consolidation, PC properties, etc).  Then once we returned to sites we had to unpack everything, get settled back into things, come to terms that we were going to be able to continue our job and projects in Kenya, and readjust to Kenya culture after getting to be ourselves without judgement around other Americans for a week and half.

Things are great now!  I’m back into the flow of things and am glad to be back at my site with my kiddos!  It’s crazy though, the first term is coming to an end already!!  Final exams should be this coming week then we will start the annual sports events that occur during the first term.

Hopefully I’ll do a bit better about blogging.  It’s kind of hard now because I’ve forgotten what isn’t “normal” to Americans.  What was at one point new and unusual to me is part of my daily life and I don’t think about it as much anymore.  


How Do I……Cook?

Cooking can easily take all day in Kenya if you cook Kenya food.  Every once in a while I make chapatis but that’s usually the only Kenyan food I make..


My second host sister teaching me how to make chapatis on a jiko stove (my first host family had a family emergency so I ended up getting moved to a second host family during training).

If you want green grams or beans with your meal then you need to soak them in water the night before so that they soften up enough to cook.


Same with maize (corn), they need to sit out in the sun to soften up.


Like most PCVs, I stick with simple and food that’s quick to cook (e.g. spaghetti…I’ve never eaten so much spaghetti in my life before).  I also usually add Sossi which is soya (good source of protein) since it’s not exactly sanitary (by my standards) or easy to purchase meat in my village.  Meat is usually very tough and sits out in the sun for weeks until it’s all sold.  My school actually spent about 2-3 weeks eating meat from a cow that had to be killed due to an illness (no refrigerator or freezer….just tree shade).

Kenyans may cook outside or inside with gas, kerosene, charcoal (jiko stove) or firewood.


Most people in my village do not use gas tanks.  There aren’t any gas pipes that lead to houses, instead people travel to town to purchase gas tanks which can be a pain to transport back.  My first host family lived in town so they used a gas tank and a jiko stove.  My second host family lived out in the village and used wood to cook and a jiko stove.  They would chop down tree branches and carry them to the house on their back.


My second host family’s kitchen.  The red cup is on top of a pot which is where the stove is.


My first host family’s kitchen.  The gas tank is black, most tanks I’ve seen are about half this size.


My first host family’s jiko stove with charcoal


The school’s kitchen

I use kerosene which is around 80-90/= per litre, lasts for a while (around 400/= worth lasts a few months), and easy to transport.

I use a kerosene stove.  I light up all 8 wicks (it’s a pain to switch out the wicks when they get short) and hope a flame ball doesn’t shoot up.  Sometimes I’ll be cooking something before I realize I’ve just about ran out of kerosene ….this happens every once in a while and ends up doubling my cooking time.  I only have one stove so if I want to make spaghetti with white sauce and garlic bread then I time it so that I can still have warm food to eat after cooking one item at a time…it does take longer cooking one item at a time instead of all at once.  The downside to kerosene is when you get the smoke in your eyes and it’s a pain to clean the bottom of pots….ugh!


Yellow containers are reused cooking oil containers (Kenyans use SO much cooking oil) which are resold to be used as kerosene containers or to transport water.  You see them all over the place in Kenya.  When I need to get kerosene I wait 1-2 hours by the side of my dirt road for a vehicle, travel about an hour to town, hope I can get kerosene at the first gas station I go to (sometimes stations run out of kerosene), if the gas station is busy then I have to push my way through and stick the yellow container in front of the person who is doing the filling (they have an employer who does it and there is no concept of lines or going in order in Kenya….it’s all about pushing your way through) then it takes 0.5-4 hours to get a vehicle to leave town, and another hour back to the village.  I have spilled kerosene all over my pants before while traveling on the bumpy dirt road….am just glad no one near me lit a match!


One has to make sure they don’t run out of gas or kerosene completely….which is so easy to do. If I’m low on kerosene and I know I won’t be able to make it to town for a few days I’ll either eat a lot of PBJ sandwiches or something that’s very quick to cook (e.g. scrambled eggs).

How Do I…..Wash Dishes?

It’s Monday which means time for another “How Do I….” post?!

I typically throw dishes and pots into a basin that’s 1/3 full of water since I don’t have running water or a sink. This basin is in my “washroom” which is just an empty room with a small drainage that goes outside and is where I do all of my cleaning at (bathing, washing dishes, washing clothes, etc). Yes, the basin is on the floor….lots of things get done on the floor around here (bathing, cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes).


I then add dish soap (by the time I get a vehicle to go to town and return back to my village…it can take 4-6 hours to get this bottle of soap) to the basin.


Oftentimes the weather affects what I cook. If we’re in a dry spell then I’m more aware of what I cook. For example I may eat a PBJ sandwich and a boiled egg for one meal which requires minimal water to cook and clean up. I may choose to make spaghetti instead of pancakes…again, less water needed to clean up afterwards.

I use a small pitcher to clean pots since it’s a lot easier to use less water that way instead of filling up the basin full of water.


If I’ve had an easy lunch (e.g. PBJ sandwich) then I just reuse the water for clean-up after dinner if it’s clean enough. Since I have cockroaches, bats, spiders, etc. crawling around I wash my plate and fork right before I put my food on it even though I just washed them the day before.

Then, depending on what was cooked….I either sweep or mop up the floor! I was able to grab this broom a while back from town (vs the typical Kenya broom which I do use from time to time).  I later found a mop attachment which didn’t fit and the broom attachment wouldn’t come off so I ended up whittling down one end of the broom to attach the mop….hey…it works.


How Do I…..Use the Restroom?

A choo is an outhouse.  I do not have my own choo, so I share one with the headmaster, boys housemama, deputy headmaster, and the headmasters’ housegirls (it is common for middle class Kenyans to have housegirls who will clean, take care of young ones, etc.)  The choo is at the other end of the school campus from my house.

The door on the left is the choo and the blue door on the right is the washroom for the headmaster/deputy headmaster/boys housemama/etc) (lucky I have a room in my house that I can use as a washroom).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Where you squat down and do your business in a hole.  Our choo is usually clean most of the time (except when we have visitors) since the kids are responsible for cleaning the choos on a daily basis.  No one can ever aim into the hole…..just sayin’.  On bad days, there will be flies that fly up and hit your behind….so glad that doesn’t happen often though.  There are geckos that live in there, they scurry away whenever I open the door.  So far I haven’t seen any snakes but I do have to keep that in mind and do a quick snake check before I enter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur school is wonderful about cleanliness…the kids even bath twice a day.  We also have washing stations like this one outside of the choo.  During the dry season we keep the water that ends up in the basin and it’s either put back in the blue container to be used again (if it’s soapy enough) or used to mop classroom floors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe dreaded bucket.  This is what I have to use if I have to use the restroom in the middle of the night.  Nothing more awkward than having to carry a used bucket across the school campus to be emptied.  I’ll spare you the details……

One tip if you ever visit Kenya…always, always, always carry toilet paper with you. They’re not provided in choos and most public restrooms do not provide them either….

How Do I……Wash Clothes?

Clothes get damaged quickly here in Kenya since we wash our clothes by hand and hang them out to dry.  I have to admit knowing how to wash your clothes by hand is a handy skill that comes in when you travel (you don’t have to pack as much).

First, I get rainwater from a water tank.  If no kids are around (e.g term break) then I will wash my clothes outside.  When school is in session I usually bring the water inside and do my washing inside in the wash room because 1) the kids will either want to wash my clothes for me 2) kids + school staff will analyze how I wash things 3) people will ask me for my clothes 4) it takes a lot longer to get things done when you have kids around who want to chat 5) our school cows LOVE water and will come over to try to get some….their horns are scary…


I pour water into a basin (basins are so helpful around here) and add powder laundry detergent.  The kiddos use bar soap because it’s cheaper and lasts longer.  Then rub the fabric of a clothing article against each other to get all the dirt out (hence the reason why clothes wear out so quickly)….make sure you get a good lather.  You’re also likely to end up with blisters and rips on your hands afterwards.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Empty the dirt/soapy water out and add fresh water to rinse.  This gets tricky because it’s hard to get all the soap out…..it’s a challenge during the dry season when you’re trying to minimize the amount of water you use.  There have been times when I save the soapy water and use it to mop my house floor afterwards….the kids are told to do similar things during the dry season.

SQUEEZEEEEEEEE as much water out of the clothes as possible.


Put clothes into a bucket and take them outside to air dry.  Sometimes if I just have a few items, I’ll dry them inside my house by open windows…they dry quickly during the dry season because it’s so humid.  Also, undergarments should be dried inside (we were told this during in-service training) to be polite, besides I don’t want my kiddos to see their teacher’s underwear!

It’s not always easy to find a place to hang my clothes to dry when school is in session and I prefer not to put my clothes on the barbed fence (like some kids end up having to do) or on the grass/bushes (cows sometimes end up with the kids’ uniforms on their horns).  I also usually end up with ants crawling all over my clothes when I bring them back inside.


Sometimes during the week when the school staff don’t usually wash their clothes (usually done on the weekends) I’ll end up walking into the clothes wire on my way to the choo.  The wire always ends up sliding down the tree to about neck level after a school staff moves it up the tree.


During the wet season, we have plenty of water to wash clothes with but it’s hard to get clothes to dry.  It’s not as humid so I hang my clothes outside but sometimes it will be raining. It’s always something!  There have been times during the wet seasons that it’s taken days for my clothes to dry completely!

Laundry can take a couple of hours to do if you have a full load of clothes.  It’s a pain to wash jeans, sleeping bags, and blankets by hand.  Seriously, everyone should know how to wash clothes by hand…the skill does come in handy.