Tuesday, July 22, 2008

July, 2008

It is better to wear out than to rust out.
Bishop Richard Cumberland

I have been putting off for days, no weeks, writing this final entry in the blog, Patty in the Peace Corps. Not sure exactly why I have been such a sluggard. It has not been for lack of time. I have had plenty of that these last 16 weeks. Being homeless and jobless has been a trial for me as I have transitioned from Kenya to the USA. Strange enough, that I really have not been motivated to do much of anything except shadow other peoples lives as I have bummed food and shelter from friends and family. Part of my reluctance to complete the blog is that it signals the end of an adventure I am probably not willing to let go of yet.

My first few weeks were caught up in trying to decide if I was going back to Kenya, doing my taxes, buying a car, and trying to figure out how I would spend my time while I found my place. My son, Mike, was gracious enough to let me stay with him in Atlanta as my home base. It was strange indeed adapting to his household schedule and way of doing things and letting go of my own. It was good practice for all the other people I ended up staying with over the following weeks. Mike will probably never let me live down “how to stack a dishwasher” Mom’s way. Like he hadn’t been stacking his own dishwasher for years……. Atlanta was a good choice for the weather as well. As warm as it was there in comparison to the Northeast in March, I was wrapped up in blankets and still had the shivers for weeks. Can’t imagine what it would have been like had I picked another place to use as home base.

The “weepies” and tiredness that I experienced on arrival in the USA took a couple of months to get rid off. I had a good visit with family and friends in upstate New York and my sister, Rose and her husband Frank, kept me smiling and let me rest up. I actually made a trip up the east coast and stayed with several friends for as little as a couple of days and as long as a week. Everyone opened their arms and homes to me. One friend, Yuanting, even forced me out of her apartment (a nice emotionally safe zone for me in Washington, D.C.) and made me go sight seeing downtown to keep from hibernating! I normally do not sightsee, eat in restaurants or even go to the movies by myself. This was a stretch for me and I ended up finally seeing the tourist attractions I missed on all my business trips in the past.

I spent about three weeks with my younger sister, Judy, and her family in Alabama. Unfortunately, she and her grandchildren were in a very serious car accident. So, I hustled over and lent my two hands in caring for her and the kids. Rachel, the 4 year old had a body cast and certainly had the toughest time. Those who know me and love me anyway can speak to my lack of patience. Rachel tested me to my limits! I am thankful I got to spend some time with Judy and her family. It gave me some meaningful work while I waited for other events with the Peace Corps and house hunting to run their natural course.

A couple of friends took me in for a while in as well. The Peace Corps required me to have follow-up medical treatment that included a colonoscopy and several doctor visits to help me get rid of my little parasite and some unwanted bacteria in my stomach. This all took place in metro Atlanta. Janet and Siomara took care of me and gave me space at their place and generally embraced into their lives for several weeks.

Each stay brought new situations that forced the comparison between my old life in Kenya and the new transitioned life back in the USA. Everything from the size of stores to how people interact with each other brought the differences home to me daily. Just the sheer abundance of food (and water and electricity) that is available was enough to repeatedly make me stand in awe. Even brushing my teeth with water from the faucet instead of bottled water was weird. Many are the times I reached for a bottle that was not there. The ability to access the internet from home and in any room, libraries (no libraries to speak of in Kenya) and the abundance of everything imaginable is still a continual amazement.

The first time I heard the national anthem sung (at a graduation ceremony) I was unprepared for the emotional effect it had on me. It took all the strength I had not to cry in front everyone. Trust me; there is no other place in the world as good a place to live as the USA. I am sure I did not fully comprehend my love of country until the soloist began singing that evening. It was overwhelming.

I still watch families interacting; people in shops with their customers; my new community and beautiful new home; and draw comparisons to my life in Kenya. Both are so different, yet the each has appeal. God has blessed me with contentment in both situations. I think about Shukrani LifeWorks, the women and youth in Mariakani and sometimes feel like it was a lifetime ago. I miss them all and at the same time, I am grateful to be here in my home country surrounded (even if by lots of miles from some) by family and friends who love and care about me. Just to be able to pick up the phone and call whenever I feel like it is a very big deal for me and still a cherished activity. I know that all the “newness” of being home is going to fade into routine and soon I shall take for granted all that I have here. The sadness that should accompany the loss will go unfelt by me because I will have fallen victim to the normalness of living in America.

And, as with many American’s, I am now a new homeowner in Davenport, Iowa. LeClaire turned out to be such a small town and Davenport, while small by Atlanta standards, is still plenty big to me after Mariakani. It is a river town and has just the right amount of “stuff.” I am near the water; all the big chain stores are here (gratefully positioned outside the city proper); and, plenty of walking and biking trails. My son, John and his family are less than 15 minutes away and I know that God has some meaningful work for me here. He just hasn’t told me what it is yet!

While I wait on Him, I am busy looking for a new church home, getting settled in my new home and planning a few excursions through the end of year. Included in that is a month long tour of China with my friend, Yuanting. She is between job assignments and has invited me to travel with her when she goes home for a visit. I still have a few friends to catch up with. They will come to me or I am going to them. Most importantly, I have numerous letters to my granddaughter, Guthrie, which I wrote while in Kenya, to edit and get ready to give her. I missed being a part of her life so much while I was there, they may be too dramatic and emotional. Taming them down a little is probably a good idea.

I shall miss our monthly chats through the blog. Your emails, notes and packages as a result of reading it were highlights of my days, weeks and months. Thank you for your friendship and for being a good listening ear while I served in Kenya

Patty Gillette
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Back in the USA 02/19/08

Unborn tommorrow and dead yesterday - why fret about them if today be sweet?
Omar Khaygameque

Ceasing My Service, or COS, as the Peace Corps refers to it, was a long 3 days. There were 53 of us from 4 different entry groups. Some, like Heather, had only completed their initial training two months ago. Regardless of length of service, we each had our reasons for being sad and angry and generally discouraged. Even with the full days of paperwork (almost as much as it took to get in the PC), medical exams and tests, and the endless hours of listening to administrative processes, we still found time as a team to laugh and cry together. They did provide a psychologist on site that each group formally met with and he was available for informal session’s one on one. Hey, I even have an authorized 127E form that allows me to charge the Federal government for 3 personal sessions with the psychologist of my choice back in the States.

The form shows a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress syndrome......ouch! I am not quite sure I like being called a victim of PTSS. One, while I was under stress daily for my 16 months here (the hair loss, stomach cramps, and general fatigue were consistent symptoms) I am not sure I would not have called it a syndrome. I just viewed it as a passing situation that would change when I finished my work in Kenya. Even with the civil unrest for the last two months, I never felt so at risk that I panicked. Yes, the daily tension in the village and the inability to accurately predict what was safe or unsafe on any given day that I traveled to Mombasa did wear me down, But, while you are in it, you just continue to think it is going to get better.

So, then, the civil unrest doesn’t get better; daily it just gets a little worse, You mentally and emotionally tuck it away saving it up and barely noticing that it is now a part of who you are. The fretting and worrying increases a little each day and then you add the fret and worry about what would happen if you get evacuated. You still go on telling yourself it will get better….and it doesn’t. I am now not clear if the trauma I am going to be treated for was a build up of all the small stuff or is just the “BIG” trauma of being pulled out of Kenya without my consent and full agreement. So, I guess it is official…..I have PTSS.

I treated myself to a side trip to Dubai on my way home from Kenya. That was such a good decision! Dubai, an Emirate in the United Arab Emirates, is a city made out of desert land right on the Arabian Gulf. Over the last 5 years it has grown from a small, growing port to an international population of over 1 million and has become a Middle East hub for commerce, entertainment and anything else the mind can imagine. It has the look of Los Angeles with all the highways, the feel of NYC when you are in the streets, the excitement and allure of Disneyland (they are now building a Dubailand) and all the entertainment of Las Vegas. The area has a rich Muslim heritage even though the city only really dates back 100 years or so when the first port was established. My hosts for the week were Abed and Mimi, friends from Bowling Green State University. They were more than gracious in showing me the area (Mimi is an excellent tour guide) and introducing me to their friends. More importantly, they incorporated me into their routines and life so I had a nice taste of normal; at least Dubai normal! It definitely lessened the stress I was experiencing during that last week in Kenya.

I arrived in Atlanta a few days ago and my son has graciously taken me in while I figure out next steps. I still have some leftover Peace Corps stuff to deal with…..an intestinal parasite and starting a pro-active treatment for malaria that requires some follow up lab work. All this means I have to find a doctor that takes government reimbursement and hang around a little longer than I planned to do the follow up lab work on the little parasite once they start me on the meds.

Car buying and phone buying have occupied my time. Phones in Kenya are cheaper, services is more affordable and there are no hidden charges…….they do prepaid for almost all wireless and once you buy the card, you can use it any way you want, voice, data or text. Here, everything has an up charge or add on to the plan……trust me, Americans are paying way too much for less technology than the rest of the world.

Everyone I talk to wants to know my plans………well, I hope to live in or near LeClaire, Iowa. My son, John, and his wife, Darah, and their beautiful daughter, Guthrie are moving closer to his job in Bettendorf. LeCalire may be just the right distance for a mother and mother-in-law to be away from them, yet close enough to be an involved grandmother. I do intend do keep working on behalf of LifeWorks through the end of the year doing some sales and marketing on the US side. I am also hoping to attach myself to another not for profit on a part-time basis. I have signed up for Peace Corps Response which is short-term assignments of 3 -6 months and hope to be on the national and international response team of the Red Cross.

I am re-reading this blog and I am hit in the face with the busy retirement I am planning for myself. I may need to readjust this plan as it unfolds…….but I like having options, so the goal is to explore everything for the present and pray I make right choices in keeping with God’s plan for me. I am hoping the future holds some travel and adventure “light” for me. I may have to change my blog to Patty in Retirement………

Thanks for being a part of this last 18 months with me and I hope you will continue to be a part of my life adventures as they unfold.

Special note: to all those who have contributed to the orphans and vulnerable children project. The money has been left in safe hands, another American, who will work with a trusted advisor to see the desks, text books and other needs of the children are met. Together, we raised over 500,000 Ksh, which equals about $7,000. Desks that seat two children cost $18.00 to build. That means we can build a lot of desks for the 6,000 children served by the OVC. Thank you for making a difference.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

February, 2008

Let nothing perturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves everything. Mother Teresa

Well, January has been a month emotional highs and lows. I started the year off with a wonderful New Year’s celebration with a local family. In the Kikuyu tribe it is traditional to kill a goat on New Year’s Day. So, I joined Mama Elimu, her husband, children and grandchildren at 8AM for the slaughter and the morning’s cooking for the afternoon feast. Since I am unmarried, I was allowed to participate in the slaughter. Married women do not participate since their “man” does the honors. All of us who helped in the slaughter ate the roasted liver and testicles together as a team. As a matter of fact, all the innards become the snack food of the slaughter team…..I mean everything from a steaming soup of intestines, stomach, etc., get put in this soup and eaten as dessert after the main feast. Of course, dessert would not be complete without the roasted goat head, hide and all……. I was brave enough for the liver and a small taste of the stomach, but had to take a pass on all the rest.

The main part of the goat is hacked up and some of it is roasted as choma (barbeque), some made into a rich stew and some is added to other traditional dishes like pilau. We also had metoke, knyaji (potatoes, maize, beans and some greens all mashed together). It was a good day. I left feeling very full and tired from all the preparation and feasting.

On January 2nd I left for the United States to attend a gift trade show in Atlanta. It was an important event for Shukrani LifeWorks because it was the first time our products were displayed for US buyers. The show was okay, but it would have been better if my boxes from Kenya for the booth set up had arrived. They got delayed due to the trouble in Kenya so I had to run a booth with nothing more than the gifts I brought home……… the best of course, was having a short visit with family and a few friends. We did take some orders and got some orders for customized samples which we are working on to get shipped out.

The weather was soooooo cold in Atlanta; I had the shivers for a few days. And, the trip home was a 48 hour nightmare beginning in Atlanta. We were delayed 6 hours (most of it on the runway) and so I missed all my connecting flights. The other strange thing was my toes hurt from wearing closed toed shoes. I had to put my Chakos back on for the last week because the pain was more than I could stand. Even the covers at night seemed like a heavy weight against them.

Ten Sisters, my merry go round, had some interesting events this month as well. The group voted to kick out one of the members. She refused to pay back a loan or to give the money for the last round in December. After much haggling, she paid everything and as punishment, the banished her from the group for one year………….

The last topic, of course, for January is the strife in Kenya. I could try and explain all the years of bitterness and anger that is really at the heart of the civil unrest but it would take volumes. The election is really just the excuse for mean spirited people to do meanness to others. All of the Kenyans I have been privileged to know abhor the violence that is happening and are sad and distressed for their country. So many people are now displaced, dead or injured it is almost more of a burden than the nation can bear. And yet, they have survived far worse disturbances, HIV/AIDS, malaria and many other terrible events over their history. As always, they will get back on their feet and continue to move forward as best they can. Please continue to pray for them.

My village is safe from the actual fighting and in some respects we have become spot of refuge for a few have been displaced. There are no words to describe some of the tragedy they have experienced or seen on their way to Mariakani. One woman watched her family burned alive, was raped and beaten over many days and cast out on the road like garbage. She ended up in our town, too traumatized to speak or eat or move. It makes the violence that is happening other places seem a little more real to those of us here. It makes me weep with sadness for this country and for us all.

As with most Peace Corps volunteers, the gnashing of our teeth in our sleep, or the continual hair loss has gotten a little worse as we have lived under the stress of what is happening in the country. I am forever grateful to my community for embracing me and making me feel safe. Knowing there are people I can count on for escape, if needed, for reassurance, or comfort in this turmoil has been a gift from God I will cherish always.

As I write this, it is February 3rd. I found out two days ago the Peace Corp is suspending the program in Kenya. They called me while I was standing in the Posta mailing a gift home to my brother and his significant other. I immediately burst into tears, and if you remember frrm previous posts, Kenyans do not like seeing a public display of tears. It makes them very uncomfortable. Heather and I were quite the sight!

Peace Corps has decided to cease our service due to the unstableness of the country. They are holding out hope some of us can come back in two months if things turn around. I do not know what my future holds today, tomorrow or for the next several months. I do know WHO holds my future and as Mother Teresa said, He does not change. My secondary projects with the OCV and Weighbridge and the Women’s group will go forward with the help of a few trusted friends here in Kenya and God’s grace. I will continue to update you on the progress. LifeWorks will also continue on. The Production Manager has been a good student these past few months and I am confident he can help it move forward. I probably will be working on US sales from the US! My fellow PC who has been at LifeWorks for two short months is considering whether to stay on without the PC. She has done a great job in jump starting the marketing and sales and it would be a great gift to LifeWorks for her to continue her role. The business is at a critical time in its growth.

So, kwaheri, for now. I hope to see you in the next few months as I travel back around the country before settling down. Thank you for all the love and support each of you has shown me. My fellow PC volunteers have been jealous of the cards, letters and packages I have received from you. You have big hearts and I am glad you have shared yours with me so freely.