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!

Andrea Chepkosgei
Peace Corps Kenya- Public Health 2011-2013


Wednesday, April 17, 2013


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.


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.


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.


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


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!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

No News Is Good News

Not much has been happening with the Kenyan election. They voted on the 4th and  have had a lot of problems with the system so people are just waiting for ballots to be counted. Some people had to wait in line for 6 hours to vote. I could never see an American doing that! There have been reports of some violence on the coast, but where they have us, it feels so far away. So that’s all the news for now, otherwise just wanted to let all my loved ones back home know not to worry about  me because….

I’ve been laying by the pool, playing football, teaching hip hop classes, enjoying electricity, hot showers, getting fat off good food and hanging out with my awesome Peace Corps friends. Life is very relaxing right now and I have no complaints. Besides my prayers that Kenya remains peaceful once we find out the results of the election, I have no problems.

Consolidation has been especially nice because of the really cool people I get to hang out with! Especially the ones that were in my training class. We are all almost done and have been here since the beginning together and we feel wise and bonded. We are now the oldest group in Kenya and it feels good to just sorta know how everything finally works. Going into Peace Corps I was like “two years?!, that’s so long!”, but now I understand why they make it two years. It takes that long to not only integrate into your communities and generate sustainable projects, but most importantly formulate friendships that will be life long. It is going to be bitter sweet when I have to leave this country. I’ll miss my community probably the most, but I will also miss getting to see these amazing PCVs on a fairly regular basis. The fun thing though is that when I go back to America, now I’ll know people from all over the country! Before I didn’t really know many people out of the west coast.

Anyway, things are obviously good on this end. I have pretty good internet so send me some emails or facebook me and let me know what’s going on in your life! I’d love some updates from home!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Kibendi Gaa (We're going home)

It’s hard to put into words the experience of visiting a true village home. I really think you can only understand if you have lived it as I have. However, I will try my best to convey this story through writing.

Geoffery is my mama’s farm boy. He has been working for her for 5 years. Around here people call him the “human lowrey” because he is so strong. He is also known as Baba Sangala because whenever I go out of town, he is the one to care for my dog. But, he is much more than that. He has become one of my best friends here. He has become the brother I never had. Geoffery can’t speak any English, let alone Kiswahili, so we mostly communicate in broken languages and hand gestures. He saves me from bugs, I let him eat my baking…we have a mutually beneficial relationship. 

Anyway, so for 5 years my mama had never been to Geoffery’s home. He lives with us, actually just two doors down from me. But through my encouragement, we ventured about an hour away and finally got to see where Geoffery comes from. His home is down a long dirt road. You could tell very few cars ever go that way from the roads condition (and also the looks we got as we drove by). It has to be completely impassable in the rainy season. Luckily, we had great weather.

We arrived to the gentle greeting of his father, an old African man of around at least 60 years. You could see the lines of a long life lived in the creases of his smile. His ears were cut in the traditional Kalengin way. Geoffery’s sisters in law prepared us a meal of rise, beans, potatoes and meat, and while they ate in the kitchen with the children, us “distinguished guests” sat in the house. The house was a modest mud hut with a tin roof, decorated with a few plastic chairs and a small table in the middle.

After we ate, we headed down into the farms to see some of his other family and neighbors. They all also live in very small round traditional mud huts. I was the first white person these people have ever seen so they were curious to say the least. We drank a cup of chai at every house, I thought I would burst. Sangala came along with us on the journey and everyone took to him very well. One little boy adopted him for the day and took him around on the leash. He wasn’t scared at all! One lady gave us a whole bag of sweet potatoes from her farm.
Our last stop, and one more cup of chai, we sang and danced and my mama presented the family with some gifts she had brought (a blanket, a laso (wrap for head/body), and thermos). Everyone got up and said a word or two. They were all so grateful we came. We went by a nearby school and I tell you, I know what it feels like to be a celebrity. All the children were screaming when I came in. They ran to me and petted my head and stroked my arm hair. They were asking me all about America and were surprised that I knew some of the language. All eyes were on me. Literally I felt famous. They sang me their national anthem and then I had to sing ours…which was horrible. I had to have broke some windows on “land of the freeeeeee”.

Anyway, the best part of the whole day was seeing how happy Geoffery was. He was so proud to introduce us to his family. After seeing where he comes from, I know Geoffery must have had a very impoverished upbringing, but the people don’t seem that way at all. They were all so happy and warm. It makes me realize how you are never truly poor in Kenya. Money is not the most important thing here. It’s family. And Geoffery is my family.

I think I will miss him the most. I always wonder how much closer we could be if he could speak at least Kiswahili. But it has also taught me that even language is not a true barrier of people. There really are none. We are all the same. Like I said, it’s hard to really write down the emotions that I went through during this experience, but I do know that a simple days journey has changed me at least in a way. I’m being changed here everyday little by little. And after a day like this, I think to myself, God is real, and I just want to smile. I feel so at peace.

Anyway, I'm now at consolidation. They are keeping all us Peace Corps Volunteers in one place during the elections. During 2007 there was mass violence and PC had to evacuate all the volunteers. This time it is said to be more peaceful, but we are still taking precautions. I am praying for peace in Kenya and I ask for your prayers too. I’m not quite ready to leave because I want to see my maternity ward completed. So far we have ¼ of the equipment. It’s been a slow (very slow) process. Until then, I’ll be resting by the pool with my PCV friends waiting for the results of the election. Most likely I’ll have wifi in the hotel so skype me if you can at: andrea.flynn.schneider

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hannah’s Going Away/Hells Gate

 Well my best friend left last week. Hannah was sent home by Peace Corps due to security reasons at her site. It was really sad because we talk everyday and have had each others backs since the beginning. We’ve really gone through this journey together. But I know she is going to do great things back home in America and her PC service will be with her forever. She brought her dog, Kibaibai, along with her which was a good experience for me to see since I want to bring Sangala home. It wasn’t easy, but she got him back safe and sound and says he’s “made for America”. I just hope Sangala fairs the same. We spent Hannah’s last night going out in Nairobi for happy hour and all drinking a little too much. Let’s just say we sent her off with a bang! 

We had planned a trip together for the next weekend, but since she had to leave, Lindsey and I decided we’d still go in her honor. We went to Hells Gate National Park in Navisha County. It is where the Lion King scenes are imagined from. It was soooo beautiful. Vast fields with high cliffs, zebras and giraffe roaming in the distance; makes you know God is real. We camped out on a high cliff for two nights drinking, talking and enjoying music. We lived off PB&J. While every other campsites near us luxury camped out of their cars, we hiked in and made do with head lamps and cold raman. During the day we rock climbed Fisher’s Tower which was measured at around a 5.0, but felt more like a 11.0! We all made it to the top though which was about a pitch high. It was beyond imaginable how beautiful it was at the top with impalas gliding through the grass below us. We also rented bikes and rode about 9km to the gorge. We hiked down through running water in the gorge and saw the hot springs and amazing volcanic structures. The park is named Hells Gate because of the hot springs. The Maasaii that lived there hundreds of years ago couldn’t understand why the water was hot except that it must have been the work of the devil. Anyway, I’m so happy we did this and it was exactly what I needed. Uninterrupted time in nature away from it all. Thank God my dad raised me to love camping and the outdoors. I couldn’t do without it now.

The maternity ward is fairing on strong. I’m actually almost done. Waiting for the equipment deliveries. We finished the shelving. Waiting for the grant money to come in for our building of the new structure. We are planning the fundraising for same right now. Things are pretty easy at site. I leave in a week and a half for consolidation during the election so I’m just trying to spend time with Sangala and get my house in order. I’m packing everything up just incase the election gets violent and I have to leave the country. Please send prayers for it not to be. Anyway, time seems like it’s going fast right now. I only have a few months left in this place. And as much as I complain and say I want to go home, it’s starting to hit me that it’s almost over and I’m getting really sad to say goodbye.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tipping Towards Thirty

This last week and a half was a blast and boy did I need it. After my amazing trip with Adam (which I will post about at a future date), I was really feeling the village blues. I got back to some disappointing news about my project. My community was worried they wouldn’t be able to get the 25% funds required by the donors to build our new maternity wing. I was really sad because I didn’t want my community to miss out on this opportunity. It just seemed like it was one thing after another and I didn’t want to be the only one holding onto this project since my job is to teach them to manage. So I decided even though I had just got back from vacation, I needed a break again.

I went to my closest volunteers just for a weekend and it was such a relief. I brought Sangala with me which was quite the task, but he was so good on public transportation I was really surprised. I decided I’m really going to try to bring him back to America with me. It’s been a back and forth debate because part of me knows that going back to school and moving to DC, it is going to be hard to have a dog and he loves running around free here, but also I can’t imagine life without him at this point and really when will it ever be easy to have a dog, so I’m just going to go with it. Anyway, getting back to the village I found the news out that in fact my community thinks they can raise the 25% with the help of my host father and his more wealthy Nairobi friends. So we will be able to keep the grant and move forward with construction.

The next week my wonderful brother in law Chris was here promoting a new phone for Intel. My friend Hannah and I met up with him and even though he was only here for a short while, it felt so good to see family. He was so gracious and let us use his nice shower (a luxury for village girls), he treated us to amazing food and drinks. Overall we had a blast! Plus he gave us the first try at the new phone, which we’ve been loving. We even got to go to the launch party which was fancy! Very different from the life we live in the village so it felt good to get out and do something nice.

After I said goodbye to Chris, Hannah and I headed up to El Doret to have an early celebration for my birthday. It was another girls birthday too so altogether there were 30 volunteers! The first night we stayed at Hannah’s house and had a “Dirty Vegas” theme party. Then the next day we headed into El Doret city to stay at a hotel. We swam at the pool all day and then went out to a club at night. It was such a blast. It really feels good to do things that are more “western” every once in awhile.

Getting back to site, my supervisor had finished the project timeline for the construction so I was able to send that to the donors which felt good. I also finished teaching a few of my village girlfriends how to make paper beads and jewelry so they can make a little extra money. Today is my actual birthday and I’m just spending it here at site with my dog Sangala. I actually feel really content and happy even though I’m alone here at site. People here don’t really celebrate birthdays because they usually only know what season they were born in. But I’m determined to show them how we do so I’m making cinnamon rolls to share with everyone and going to teach them “happy birthday”. Sangala and I are pampering ourselves too by doing our nails and both getting baths. I may even shave my legs! Ha! Overall, 26 is turning out alright. And it’s a relief to know that this is my last birthday in Kenya! Yeehaww! I can’t announce on this public blog when exactly I will be back in America, but just a hint, not much longer ;) I miss my family today but seriously so happy I will be seeing them soon and Chris gave me exactly the boost I needed to get through the end of this.

Anyway, missing you all. Thank you so much for the facebook bday messages and to Dad and Kate for waking me up at 6am to sing Happy Birthday. I’m truly blessed. Life just keeps getting sweeter and sweeter!