Cultural Camouflage

This entry is not about some magical way that I have managed to camouflage myself in Kenya.  That’s just impossible.   Even if I were to say I was a white Kenya, which there are, most people I meet don’t seem to believe it.  Instead, this article is about my camouflage bag.  That’s right.  But don’t go drawing up any mental images of brown and green splotched army bags or anything.  Instead, this particular camouflage is simply a miniature, black, plastic bag, a bit larger than a sandwich baggie, but smaller than one of those gallon zip-locs.

Let me preface this with why I need a cultural camouflage bag.  First, if I carry anything out in the open, especially anything computer-related, it gets stares.  People automatically assume that it is better than what they have, and I should give it to them.  Even a banana! Because I am carrying the banana, it must be better than the banana they are eating at the same moment, which I just saw them pluck from the same bunch.  Thankfully this does not happen often, because I immediately picked up on lesson one of transporting goods in Kenya: cover them.

You cannot just cover them in anything though.  For example, I tried walking from Nakumatt to the ferry holding Nakumatt bags.  That didn’t go over well.  Even if the bags just contained the same sugar or flour people could buy themselves, at the same cost, it was automatically assumed that I had just gone to Nakumatt and bought a TV, or Lawnmower, or that somehow my flour was special and would make me grow 500 feet tall.  Nakumatt bags attract attention, sometimes more than just carrying things outright.  Not good cover.

For the longest time since realizing this, I have just always carried around my faithful orange backpack (the one that I first got to go running around the bush in Australia.)  It has served me well these past few years, and continues to do so.  I still get eyes, but not the eyes of “I know you have something good in there.”  Instead, these are the eyes of “I know you’re a tourist.”  That isn’t always a bad thing, sometimes it gets your preferential treatment.  And more and more Kenyans themselves are using backpacks, especially in the city, so I still feel comfortable with it.  The Nakumatt bag-check attendant and I are buddies, and its always a running joke to see if I can fit my weeks grocerys into my bag.  I usually can, thankfully.  The one downside to the bag: it’s just a bit too big for taking on small trips, say, around camp.  Also, because its my bag, people want it.  It must be better than their backpack.

I have since found the perfect bag to use for carrying little things: the little black, plastic, duka baggie.  It’s the same baggie you use for buying bananas or anything else.  There are heaps of them in the country and they produce so much waste that many development organizations are trying to figure out what to do with them.  In ubiquity I have found protection.  I can carry anything in these little bags.  I frequently carry a portable hard drive, my iPod, my USB modem, and people are none the wiser!  For all they care, I have a bag of peppers or bananas.  It’s great!  I bet I could leave this little baggie out in the open and nobody would bother it.  Sorry if I don’t try to prove my anecdotal statement however.

In other news, I will be traveling back to Loitokitok this week to visit the new Trainees that came in, a group of about 30 Public Health Volunteers.  They are getting a Personal ICT training session hosted by yours truly.  We shall see how it goes.  I am hoping for feedback and whatnot, but it will be good to see new blood and to get back to visit my host family in Loitokitok.  Mama does make the best chapati in town.  I wonder if they are hosting again this group?  That’s about it for not.  Any requests on topics for future updates?

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One response to “Cultural Camouflage

  1. ojrac

    Nice… this totally counts as “hacking,” by the way.