Monday, August 31, 2015

~Southeast Asia Adventure~

Hello! It's been awhile Blog World! 

I often have many friends ask me for recommendations on their travels when they know I've been to a country they are visiting. I've been able to use some of my past blog posts as a reference point. So, I was thinking it may be helpful, and probably fun for me to read back on, if I started the blog back up (at least this one time), to write about my most recent Southeast Asia adventure! I’ve even hyperlinked some of the hotels and places we visited for your convenience!

I just finished a busy summer in New York City interning for The Bronx Defenders, while my boyfriend, Adam, studied and took the California bar. After both working our butts off, we decided a little rest and relaxation was greatly needed and we jetted off to the majestic shores of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. 

Vietnam


Cow Dai Temple

Ho Chi Minh City/Siagon

We first landed in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where we stayed in Siagon, a busy little section of the city. We stayed in the Asian Ruby Hotel which was modest and hosted breakfast for us on the roof every morning. 


Our first day we took a tour a little outside of the city to a temple where the religion is Cow Dai. The temple was so beautiful filled with many colors and worshipers. We listened to them sing and play instruments before heading on towards the Cu Chi tunnels. 
  

Cu Chi Tunnel entrance
The Cu Chi tunnels where incredibly interesting. They were used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam war and run thousands of miles. The Vietnamese soldiers used the tunnels to transport war supplies, lay booby traps, and mount surprise attacks. American troops trained soldiers called "tunnel rats" to combat the guerrilla tactics. Adam and I got to actually walk through the tunnels, although we didn't go very far because they are really small and it was incredibly hot. 

Egg Shell Art










On the drive home, we stopped by a local arts and crafts center where victims of Agent Orange and the land mines use artisan skills to make income for their families. We bought a really beautiful landscape picture made out of egg shells. 




Back in Siagon, we visited the War Remnants Museum. The exhibits really drove home so effectively the brutality of war and its many civilian victims. From there, we did a walking tour through the city visiting the Reunification Palace and went shopping at the Ben Thanh market




There were so many propaganda posters in Vietnam. We actually bought a few. It's really interesting seeing the war from the Vietnamese prospective since I grew up hearing about it so much in my family. My mom's longtime boyfriend is a Vietnam Veteran, and deals with his memories of Vietnam almost every single day. My dad was actually drafted, but he qualified as a consciousness objector, something that was incredibly difficult to do at the time. Part of the museum had a section dedicated to how Americans, and the rest of the world, were actually against the war. 

Saigon was a busy, but fun city. We were also first introduced here to the Vietnamese motor-bike scene. Even women would drive motorbikes in heels and dresses! 





Hoi An
  
Hoi An was a magical little place, located in the peaceful outskirts of Danang City. I call it a "beach town," but Adam thinks of it as more of a historical marketplace. 

We stayed at Lemongrass Homestay, just a little ways from the downtown. It's in a rice field about halfway between the South China Sea and town, which means its a nice place to be in the evening because its quite. You can take a cheap taxi too and from town, or you can use complementary bicycles. Hoi An Chic, the "big brother" hotel, is located about a hundred yards away and you can use its facilities, like the pool, which we often did to cool off at the end of a long day exploring.  We arrived late, but we still mustered up the energy to go down to Old Town for dinner. 

Small streets full of locals selling crafts, tourists laughing in foreign languages, and foodies on the search for a yummy bite pretty much sums up Old Town. The shop fronts were lit by delicate handmade lanterns, and classical music played through speakers on the light polls. The food was pretty much unbelievable, and Adam enjoyed stopping at the local coffee shop every day. 












Vietnam is also known for its silk and garment industry. I was able to get a full on gown made for around $50! Now I just need somewhere to wear it! 


The Old Town market was, in my opinion, the best place where we picked up arts and crafts because they were really authentic and unique. We walked into one store where the women literally hand embroidered huge portraits that looked so incredibly real. Each piece would take anywhere from two to seven months! 

We also walked down to the Dragon Bridge where you can see lotus candles floating on the river. Local women sit by the river selling local snacks and you can watch dancing at the outside theater. So many restaurants and bars line the waterfront and Adam and I enjoyed sitting around during happy hour sharing some wine (Adam drank whiskey of course) and peanuts before dinner. 

The next day we headed to An Bang beach so Adam could splash in the waves. We got a little sunburned, but the water was clear and warm and it was hard to leave even when our skin began to tell us differently. 

We also went to My Son Temples. We rented a motorbike, Adam drove (I sat on the back terrified), and went north for about 2 hours. It wasn't really that spectacular, but we enjoyed the drive, or at least Adam did (I was too busy having a heart attack on the back). We stopped off at some huge boat on the river for lunch. 

Inside Marble Mountain. The pictures do not do it justice!
However, even more spectacular, was Marble Mountain....a MUST GO! We again rented the motorbike and drove about 35 minutes to one of the most spiritual places in Vietnam. You walk up stories of steps and come up on a giant white Buddha. Overlooking Danang to one side of the mountain, and Hoi An to the other, Marble Mountain was unbelievable. There were caves to explore in which huge Buddhas sat, monks quietly chanting, and dragon spiral marble stairs carved into the temples. 

















We saw some people who were repelling down into the caves! 

Hoi An was probably my favorite place I went in Vietnam because I liked the small feel of it, and of course the beach! I wish we had more time to spend in Danang, but next time! 




Hanoi

Luckily for us, our friend Blake lives in Hanoi! Blake and I met back in Peace Corps Kenya and were in the same training group. He was a business volunteer then, and now has some of his own projects going on in Hanoi. He's lived there for about two years now, so he was the perfect tour guide and we were grateful to have him. 

We stayed at the Hanoi Elite Hotel and loved this place as well. It is part of the Essence Group of hotels, all of which are nice and located in Old Town. 



While I thought the traffic was bad in Saigon, it was nothing compared to Hanoi, where once again, convinced by unafraid boys, I braved riding on the back of the motorbike again. We traveled through the city literally exhaust pipe to exhaust pipe, while I sang to myself to keep calm. Adam heard every song and I was actually pretty impressed with the playlists my brain could come up with in a time of near death. 



Our first day, Blake took us out on the town! We first went to a very local bar where Blake and Adam ate dried squid...not for me. We then traveled around the local lake and went to a happy hour spot for another drink. Then we went to dinner at another place and Adam and Blake had frog legs. Sufficient to say, by this time I was feeling pretty toasty. But that wasn't the end of the night. Finally, we headed to beer street where we sat on small stills among tourists and locals and had a few beers. 

Although the next day we were struggling, we mustered up the energy to explore the city. Adam tried egg coffee (apparently a secret recipe). It was actually really good and tasted like a pastry. We also ate at New Day, an amazing local restaurant near our hotel that was pretty cheap. A few other places we enjoyed eating were Red Bean and just the local Banh Mi spot. 

We also visited Ho Chi Mingh's body at the Mausoleum. Kinda creepy, but also cool. The dude, Chairman of the Communist Party of Vietnam for over ten years, died in 1969. So seeing his body embalmed was really weird. It looked wax (rumors are that it is). You are only allowed in until 10:30am and Mausoleum guards will shuffle you silently through. No pictures are allowed. 

We walked around the Old Town of Hanoi and did some shopping. Just a note for anyone into North Face gear, this is the place to get it. We bought a really nice bag for only $20, which would usually go in America for around $90. 


Our last day, Blake took us on a two hour drive up to Perfume Pagoda. Again, bearing the terrifying drive out of the city and down the country roads, we headed for another day of adventure. To give Adam credit, he was actually a really good driver...I'm just a wimp. 

Once you reach the site, you have to take a boat about 40 minutes out to an island. There are some colorful temples at the bottom of the mountain we explored, and after we took a gondola ride up to the cave at the top. The cave was a vast, dark, deep enclave with high ceilings and small rays of light peaking through the cracks. We heard it was good luck if a bit of the water falls on you from the ceiling and each of us was just lucky enough to get a drop. Local believers kneeled before alters in the cave and we watched them quietly pray. The rock walls of the cave looked like paintings, probably because of the way the dripping water has helped form them. 


Anyway, Hanoi was really fun, and our last stop in Vietnam. We had heard Halong Bay was also an amazing place to go, but unfortunately didn't have enough time to visit. I had a friend that did a cruise on the bay and loved it. We were also happy that we chose to fly to each city to save time and the flights were relatively inexpensive. We met some people who took a sleeper train which didn't sound too bad either if you don't mind a 12 hour trip. Vietnam was such a beautiful country and we were happy we had spent most of our trip there, and agree that we probably could have done the whole trip there since we didn't even get to see half of what we would have liked. 

Adam's suggested reading for the trip: "One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon," by Tim Weiner. 



Laos

Laung Prabang 

We flew into the small airport in Laung Prabang, Laos on August 15, 2015. Our hotel, Kiridara, was waiting for us and drove us the short drive to one of the most beautiful hotels we stayed in during our trip. The hotel was on a hill looking over the town onto Buddhist temples where monks lived and prayed. Our room looked out onto the infinity pool!


Our first night we got a ride down into town and walked around and did some shopping at the night market. We got my dad a really cool painted turtle back and ourselves a beautiful Buddhist painting. Adam tried rice whiskey. For dinner (basically every night we were there) we ate local street food. A little allyway near the night market had table after table of local eats. You could walk up, put what you wanted into a bowl, and a lady would heat it all up for you on a wok. We also enjoyed having drinks at Tangor each evening and watching tourists walk by while they shopped in the market.

After breakfast at the hotel each morning, Adam and I would wake up and head out for a day of adventure. Our first day, we explored all of the temples in the area. For one temple, you scaled the steps and at the top was an amazing view of the Mekong River. It was always so calming to come upon monks praying in the temples. Their singing is methodic and soothing. All of the temples had spectacular gold Buddha’s decorated with orange silk and sitting amongst offerings from local believers.

There were more temples in the area than we could do, so we took a break for lunch next to the river at a restaurant called Saffron.

One of the nights we went to the “ballet.” Of course it was me that convinced Adam into going. It was more like a play with interpretive movement. A little slow, but extremely beautiful. The costumes were so colorful and the women make you feel like you are in a trance when you watch them. They can flex their fingers so far back, it’s unreal! Some of the dances were from the 16th century.



One of the days we rented a motorbike and went out to hike around Kuang Si waterfalls. I thought I was getting better at being a passenger on the bike, until a butterfly hit me in the face and in a panic I almost made us crash…Anyway, we headed to the waterfalls down a narrow rural road for about 37km. When we ot there it was filled with tourists swimming in the crystal blue pools. When you first walk in there are black bears that had been rescued from poachers. The bears looked so docile. Adam and I jumped into the cool pools and swam around for a bit. We also hiked up to the top of the falls and admired the beautiful view of the Laung Prabang valley.

 Right near the falls is a Butterfly Sanctuary we visited and ate lunch at. You can put your feet in a fish pond for the fish to eat the dead skin off your feet. My feet, being so gross, were like a feast for those fish, and I couldn’t help screaming out of glee as they quickly swam to my feet and sucked on my toes. Finally, after a long day we took the bike back to town and ate dinner at Bamboo Shoot.

Our last morning we woke up at 5:00am to go watch the monks receive alms. We had been reading signs all over the town about how tourists needed to respect the culture by maintaining distance from the monks, not looking them in the eyes, and being below them. As the monks peacefully walked down the road receiving alms of rice (mostly from local believers, although some tourists also participated), a huge group of rude tourists acted like paparazzi taking pictures. It was really disrespectful. Otherwise, the tradition was beautiful and humbling to watch. There were so many monks. Some were old men, while others looked as if they could be as young as eight years old.


Anyway, Laos was absolutely amazing. While we waited for our taxi to the airport to leave, we shared a fresh tropical fruit juice.


Some other suggestions:
-dress appropriately to the temples…skirts below the knee and shoulders covered
-we heard Utopia was a fun bar for young backpackers if you have the energy at the end of the day.


Cambodia

Siem Reap 



Our last city of our trip was Siem Reap, Cambodia, home to the Angkor Wat Temples. We arrived late our first night, went out to dinner, and walked around Pub Street and the night market. Loud music, flashing lights, cheap beer ($.50 a glass), and drunk tourists pretty much sums up Pub Street.

Our hotel room at Nita ByVo was spectacular. We were upgraded, probably because we were one of the only people staying at the hotel, to a huge room with a balcony. The hotel actually won for best hotel from Trip Advisor, but since it was low season Adam and I got to enjoy the roof top pool to ourselves everyday and watch the sunset while the staff served us complementary happy hour drinks. It was the life!



Our first morning, we were picked up by our tuk-tuk driver, Tiger, and went sightseeing to the small circuit of the temples. The temples were so cool and we felt like we were in Indian Jones while we explored the ancient ruins. We even saw the Tomb Raider tree. Some local old women sitting under a huge gold statue of Buddha said a little prayer for Adam and I and put a string bracelet around each of our wrists.

To go to the temples you have to buy a three day pass. We had been told that it is a sin to only go to the temples one day, but that in order to see all the temples it could take almost a week. So, we went the next morning at 5a.m. and watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat. It was a glorious sight to see the sun peeking up over what use to be the temples high pillars painted in gold. Apparently, the pillars use to have faces on them and you can still see the faces when you look closely. 

We did the large circuit of the temples that day, traveling up over 30km to Banteay Srei. The reliefs were so well preserved at that temple. Bouncing around in the tuk-tuk was semi relaxing, semi terrifying. Tiger was a fast driver to say the least. Anyway, we ultimately felt like two days of temple exploring was enough. The days were really draining, particularly because we were at the end of our trip, but also because we were sweating through our clothes continuously.

We also went to the Cambodian Circus. You MUST go to this if you are in the area. The artists were so talented! And flexible! They really knew how to work the crowd, which is a real skill when your audience consists of people from all over the world who speak all different languages. The circus didn’t need a language. They told a story of a local bar that likes to scam its customers. It was really funny.

Our last night, I convinced Adam to go out on Pub Street. The night club thing isn’t really for Adam, as most of you know, but he braved the dance floor just for me that night.





And that was that. Our trip came and went entirely to fast. We had just enough time to enjoy each spot, but not enough time to see all that we wanted to see. South East Asia is like the coolest section of Disneyland! It gives you an incredibly full feeling—full spiritually, physically, emotionally, intellectually…I am going to miss the people, the food, and most of all the beauty of this distant world. And I cannot wait until our next trip! Hopefully we will go back so we can see Thailand too!


THE END. 





General observations/important things to note: 

-pay like $10-15 more for a hotel room and you’ll get something way better 
-pack sturdy hiking shoes and shocks 
-most places have laundry service
-there’s wifi freaking everywhere 
-get Vietnam visa ahead of time
-rest of the countries are around $35, but don’t need one for Thailand 
-bring US dollars 
-bring sun screen, you can’t get it there or it’s really pricy 
-eat the street food in Laung Prabang
-go to the Cambodian Circus

-you can eat cat and dog if that’s your thing…not for me.
-go to Marble Mountain, Laos

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rediscovering Society

Well I'm back folks! It feels weird and new and scary and wonderful all at the same time. I didn't really think I had changed much until I got back and started to see how much things haven't changed here. It's so nice to see my family and my closest friends, but I miss Kenya and my Peace Corps family a lot. I can't really relate with people here about my experience, but I appreciate the effort everyone is putting in for me. I've been home for going on 3 weeks now and it really just feels like it was all a dream. I keep asking myself, did that really happen? I brought my dog back though so he's a constant reminder of Kenya and the village which feels good. Everyone keeps asking, how was Africaaaaa?....It was good. I don't know. How do you sum up 2 years in a rural Kenyan village in one word? It had its ups and downs. Overall it was amazing, but there were a lot of times when I wanted to go home also. People tell me that they can't believe it was two years and didn't it go by so fast....not to me. I mean looking back, I can't believe I'm already home, but the days were long in the village. I spent days literally doing nothing. Life here is so fast! My day seems to fly by compared to Kenya. It's a little scary.

I've started a list of all the things that I've come to truly appreciate about living in America, the things that feel good to get back to and the things that are strange to me. Here they are:

1. Icecubes
2. Refrigeration
3. Having the urge to pee in public, but knowing that I can't just pop a squat in the bush
4. unlimited amounts of toilet paper
5. toilets
6. free public toilets
7. clean toilets
8. an oven
9. so much technology! (I got the iphone 5, facetime blows my mind)
10. Electricity...that always works
11. Tap water is ok to drink
12. water
13. there is a tap!
14. shower
15. dog laws
16. organized driving
17. wearing seatbelts
18. tomatoes are huge and avocados are tiny and expensive (I paid $2 extra dollars just to get guac on my burrito!...an avocado was 20 cents in Kenya)
19. pedestrian right away
20. being able to talk in English and correctly assuming that the person I'm talking to knows English
21. Americans are so loud
22. Being able to say "pants", not "trousers", and people know you are not talking about underwear
23. Having to pick up dog poo
24. Laundry machines
25. commercials/advertising
26. Transportation costs! Bai Gali!
27. Not having to share a bed with 5 people when I sleep over at a friends
28. Being able to load the regular version of GMail, not just the html version
29. Everyone is on their ipod/phone constantly, no one talks to each other on public transport
30. Realizing that my neighborhood I live in is actually really nice

Anyway, those are just a hand full of my many observations. I had dinner with my friend Hayley who did Peace Corps Burkina Faso and it was nice to share our experiences. I did the Bay to Breakers which was a trip. I saw so many people from high school and nothing has really changed, which is comforting, but also funny at the same time. I went to the Giants game. It was so nice to see a sporting event and cheer on a team. I helped back stage at a ballet recital and it was so cute to watch the little girls dance around, it brought me back to when I was a child. I miss dance and I plan to get back into it now that I'm home. I went and spoke about Peace Corps and Africa to my friends high school class which was interesting. Especially seeing their reactions when I told them I bathed in a bucket and slaughtered chickens.

I guess I'm just learning how to be an individual again. Not that I never wasn't, but I felt more of a collective part of something in Kenya. People are very much on their own in America. There's not really community in the way that there is there. I called my mama in Kenya on Mothers Day though and it was nice to hear her voice.

Anyway, it's all a big change. I'm temping some to make money since Peace Corps hasn't given me any of my readjustment allowance yet and it's been almost 3 weeks. I'm struggling and I realize I have a long road ahead of me with going back to school. Reality really slaps you across the face in America.

It's good to be back though and I'm so grateful for my family and friends. I want to thank all of those who supported me along the way and continue to support me. Life is a blessing and I am one of the lucky ones. I just hope if anyone learns something from my experience, it's that there is a whole world out there. Get out of your bubble and help those less fortunate. Someone always has it worse than you so count your blessings. God is real.

This may be my last blog entry so again thank you to all my readers and signing out!

Sincerely,
Andrea Chepkosgei
Peace Corps Kenya- Public Health 2011-2013


 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ethiopia


Ethiopia was a world full of amazing food, dancing and especially people. As my 14th African country to visit, I can honestly say, I think it was one of my favorites if not my favorite.

What we did:

I’ll first start by giving an overview of all the amazing activities we did and the places we saw. We flew into Addis Ababa from Nairobi early in the morning and went straight to Taitu Hotel, the oldest hotel in the city. It was quaint and we met some other really nice travelers there. From there we took a car about 150km to Wenchi Crater, a beautiful gorge we took horses down into with a lake at the bottom. It was straight out of Lord of The Rings with wild horses roaming around, a rickety water mill and mountain goats fighting each other for the highest points on the rocks. Throughout the bottom there were also local scattered villages where children would come out of their homes and wave to us as we trotted by. We took a canoe across the lake at the bottom and saw a monastery on the island in the middle. Then we took the horses back up the other side. It was truly one of God’s gifts to us, a beautifully serene landscape luckily still untouched by ugly industrialism. 

Our next city was Lalibela, home of the historic rock churches still used by the Orthodox Christians. We stayed in the Three Olives Hotel which is famous for its delicious tibs, spicy cuts of beef marinated in some magically delectable sauce. We hired a guide to take us to the churches and again I am at a loss of words at how to describe the beauty in them. We just happened to go on a religious holiday so people had pilgrimage from all over the country to be there. Adorned in white robes, they kissed the walls and prayed on the floors and chanted. I felt so honored to be able to be a part of this. One of the main deacons was there and he was blessing people with his holy cross. The people would take off their shirts and expose their bare skin to the cross believing that they were being healed by its touch. There was nothing but pure faith in the air and it made me wish I could believe in something so much. We were also introduced to tesh in Lalibela, a local honey wine. Christina loved it, but me…one sip and I was done ha!

The last city, but not least, that we visited was Gondor. It reminded me of a city we have here in Kenya called Kisumu. We particularly loved it because it was the first city we got to have a hot shower in. We explored ancient castle ruins and had a photo shoot with almost every Ethiopian visiting the site ha! Everyone wanted to take their picture with us, we almost started charging money. Gondor was also cool because of the night life. We went to a few clubs and, I’ll get into it more later, but we danced our butts off! We were also fortunate in Gondor to be sitting at a restaurant and overhear some people talking and found out that they were Peace Corps! 2 Peace Corps Uganda traveling through and 2 PC Ethiopia volunteers having dinner with us 3 Kenya volunteers. It was awesome! We had an instant bond! It was so fun comparing our countries and experiences. Finally, we took another horse tour through the mountains near Gondor and were able to see how local people live. It was similar to Kenya, but we were able to see how the local food and beer were made which was really cool. I was so scared on my horse cause he kept trying to fight with the other horses and also the terrain was really rocky and steep.

We flew back to Addis for one last day and went to the museum and then back to Kenya.

Food:

Ok so I have to dedicate a section just to the food. Oh MY GOD was the food good. We ate traditional Ethiopian cuisine for almost every meal, even breakfast! I must have gained 10kg on this trip. If you haven’t tried Ethiopian food, it consists of njera bread and then a bunch of lentil curries or veggies placed around on top of it. You eat with your hands as a group. I wish Kenya had local food like that. There was so much flavor and it was all so healthy. No wonder Kenyans are so much fatter than Ethiopians.

Dancing:

Of course I have to talk about the dancing as well, being a dancer myself. If you’ve ever read The Witch of Portabello by Paulo Chelo (spelling?), it reminded me of that. In the book they let themselves go with dancing in order to connect with God. Watching and dancing with Ethiopians felt like spiritual awakening for me. They totally let themselves go moving their shoulders every which way, disconnecting from their spines and fearless of seeming foolish. Dance until you sweat through your shirt seemed to be the motto. Also, they didn’t seem to have a problem dancing with the opposite sex as Kenyans do. One night I danced so hard I made 22Bir (about 1US$). As a tradition they stick money on peoples foreheads who they feel are dancing well. The music was so pretty too.

People:

Ethiopians (in my opinion only) are very different than Kenyans. For one, no one ever seemed to be barefoot. Also they didn’t harass us as much as we are use to in Kenya. We are so fearful of getting robbed in Kenya that we were clutching our bags so tight throughout the trip and not trusting even 5 year olds, but as time went on we began to relax and realize that it is not within Ethiopian culture to screw you over. People were so gracious and willing to help us. The only difficult thing was not being able to speak the language. It made us realize how happy we are to know Kiswahili in Kenya. We were lost in translation on too many occasions. But it is all a part of the adventure.

Anyway so now I’m back in Kenya. This last weekend we had a going away party for me and lot of PCV friends came. It was very emotional for me to hear all the nice things everyone had to say. They were saying how much I love my community and how lucky I am to have all these wonderful people in my life. I couldn’t agree with them more. My villagers were saying thank you for all my help and giving me their blessings for America. They said that because my name is Chepkosgei and it’s a name from here, that I have to come back here someday. I know I will. Kenya and especially my village will always be a part of me. It is who I am. They danced for me and gave me really sweet gifts. They are even planning on having another going away on the 27th! I feel so blessed.
I officially COS May 17th and then I’ll be able to come home. I have World Malaria Day coming up next week and then a conference so it’s going to fly by. It’s bitter sweet, but I’m ready to come home and see my family friends and boyfriend. I’ll be home until August before I move to DC so I plan on making the most of it.

Thanks to all of those who have supported me along this journey.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

OH BABY!


March 19, 2013 4:44pm

I am sitting in the newly built maternity ward with Chepkurui Lona, an 18 year old girl from my form 3 class at Singorwet Secondary School. She is about to have her first baby. She is scared and tense so I am helping to relax her. Her mother and grandmother have accompanied her today. According to her, she has been in labor for almost 12 hours. I am beginning to think we may unfortunately have to send her to Tenwek Hospital. It is only for her own health, however I am happy we now have the facilities to provide for most births. When I asked her if she was ready to be a mother, she responded, “I am ready to be a student so my baby can have a better life than me.” She says that the boy refuses to marry her or help her financially. I told her a baby isn’t a reason to get married and she said she didn’t want to marry him anyway, but her grandmother was pressuring her into it.

Update: We ended up having to refer Chepkurui to a hospital where she got a c-section. She named the baby Chepkosgei, after me. I was so happy to have been a part of that and to have helped her at least a little. I can’t wait to go visit the newborn as soon as she can go home.

We are so fortunate in America where you can choose to have a baby at a hospital and even better have an epidural. Watching someone have a baby makes me actually less scared of having one myself someday. I love children so much, which was my motivation for the maternity ward in the first place. I really want to adopt someday and have a diverse family. I know it sounds cliché, but with all my hopes and dreams of a career, the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted was to be a mother and I hope someday, when I’m ready, that will come true. At least for now I’m enjoying being an auntie to my niece Annemaire and my nephew Ethan and to all the village babies I get to play with every day.

On another note, today I taught about dental hygiene to the mothers at the MCH clinic. I recently had a mouth guard made in Nairobi and they let me keep my teeth plaster so I used it as a model. Due to the generous grant of Just Faith, I was able to buy 30 tooth brushes to provide to the women at the clinic. I taught them the importance of good eating for your teeth and also how to clean them. Most people here do not have any access to dental care, let alone tooth brushes. They make tooth brushes out of bamboo sticks. Anyway, I’m hoping that these mothers will go back and teach their children what they have learned. Kenyans never smile with their teeth, and maybe that can change.

I bought my ticket to Ethiopia! I’ll be going April 2nd through the 9th with two of my girlfriends. I’m so excited! It will be my last big trip before I head home. I believe I will hopefully be home around May 19th so keep your fingers crossed. I’m just waiting for the go ahead from Peace Corps Washington headquarters and then the money so I can book the flight. Sangala will be in tow and I’m so excited for you all to meet him. He is going to love America and I plan on fattening him up.

Finally, a huge thank you to Alain OConnor, Susan Poor, and Desi Smith whom I have received checks from to sponsor some school girls at Singorwet Secondary. I have successfully paid off Term 1 and 2 for three of the girls in my scholarship program and am waiting for a few other promised checks so I can pay off Term 3. This program has been a huge success, especially the savings part of the program for the mothers. It has not only continued to reinforce the importance of education for girls, but also has taught the mothers financial responsibility. So again, thank you so much for your selfless donation to these girls futures!

Anyway, the countdown to home begins with about 7 weeks left in Kenya!