Under the African Sun Part 2

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Under the African Sun Part 2

By: Darryn Difrancesco | International Co-op Student
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Darryn Difrancesco is currently volunteering as an HIV/AIDS counselor and educator with Global Volunteer Network located in one of many Kenyan slums, in a small community called Lenana, approximately 30 minutes, northeast of Nairobi.  In this article, the second of a series, Darryn shares her insights to the beauty, the corruption and the desperation of people of Lenana. 

Rose and Anne

Rose and Anne working on the necklaces

I cannot believe I've already been in Africa for over a month. In some ways the time has flown, in other ways the days seem to drag forever. This probably has something to do with 'African Time' - similar to 'Mexican Time' for those who haven't heard of it.

I think every day about sending out updates to my friends and family, but when I actually go and sit down in the cyber cafe, I find it difficult to locate the right words to explain what is going on here. Perhaps because there is no perfect way to capture all of what is happening in words?

There is nothing endearing or particularly charming about Kenya. In fact, Kenya is a country of beautiful landscapes, breathtaking mountains and animals and scenery.  Marbled into this place is an underlying corruptness, which is sometimes difficult to endure, even at moments when you feel the most empowered.

Under the African Sun

I think my most horrific realization of this corruption was during one discussion I was having with the HIV+ women at the Tumaini Project. They were asking me for advice on how to talk to their friends about preventing the spread of HIV - I gave the usual answer of encouraging condom use. I was not expecting what I was told next: that many Kenyan men poke holes in condoms to intentionally infect the women they sleep with. The attitude seems to be that many HIV positive Kenyans wish others the same fate - if they have to live and die with the disease, they believe others should have to as well.

A sad fact is that we even have trouble trusting some of the members of the Tumaini project. Many of them have been known to steal beads and other supplies, as well as money directly from the group, or from my supervisor, Sophia. Many of them lie about their circumstances and relationships - I can understand this. Why would they want to tell some privileged white girl about problems I will probably never have to look in the eye?

One of the women has been dealing with alcoholism, even though she is on ART (anti-retroviral therapy), which actually decreases its effectiveness and can take a huge toll on one's health. We had a practice seminar last Thursday and she came in drunk. This morning she showed up with a black eye, claiming that she had slipped and fallen at her doorstep. Domestic abuse is another issue I have seen too much of in the two weeks I've been in Lenana. Just the other day, my host mom, Margaret, had a friend with a two-week old baby over early in the morning - she had been badly beaten by her husband the night before.

I feel so fortunate to have a supervisor who happens to be the most honest and hardworking individual I have met in Kenya. Sophia is such a genuine, humble and caring person it makes the rest of us look pitiful. Although she is the founder and headmistress of both a school and the Tumaini Project, Sophia still lives in shambles, in a tiny shack in the slum, without electricity or running water. She records all of the funds she receives and makes sure that 100% of those funds go towards the school to Tumaini. The other volunteers and I have heard too many stories of volunteers with corrupt supervisors (my friends Taylor and Brie are a perfect example of this), and we have met far too many corrupt individuals - we have all kept a close eye on Sophia and I feel so happy to say that I don't think I could be in better hands. Every day when I say good-bye to Sophia, she holds my hands and tells me, "Doreen (this is how she pronounces my name), I love you so much."

Although there are moments of hopelessness, I am not pessimistic about the future of Kenyans. Something that has really become evident to me is that people will do almost anything when they are desperate. Whether that is economically, emotionally, or mentally desperate, the same rules apply. It is a sad fact that so many of us will never have to know. But how do we pull people out of desperation? I don't have the answer...will anyone, ever?

Until next time...

love always,

Darryn

PS. For those of you who don't know, Kenya and Tanzania have been experiencing a torrent of earth tremors originating at a volcano in Tanzania. We've had 11 tremors since last Thursday. There is no major warning yet, but we're all on alert. I wonder if it has even grazed the surface of western news...

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Posted on March 07, 2011