It’s Culture, But Not As An Excuse!

This past Saturday I headed into Mombasa for my weekly excursion for shopping at the supermarket (it’s cheaper than shopping local, though I buy veggies local), as well as for a change of scenery.  I sit all week in the same computer lab, go to the same hoteli for lunch, and rarely have conversations because my lab is so far from all the other teachers and apparently I am just not a good conversationalist when it comes to things Kenyans are interested in.  To compensate, I got to town.  As I have stated before, I seem to have more of a social life with Kenyans I meet on the Internet who share my interests, than those I meet in person.

However, this past Saturday I lucked out.  First, some preface.  During training out bosses solicited us for information about ourselves to help them in our placement.  They told us to tell them anything we thought might impact their placing us.  This is not unprecedented, as every PC office is allowed to handle placement however they want.  With request in mind, I sent off an email explaining to my boss (APCD is the correct title: Associate Peace Corps Director), that though my interests are in computers, I am also very interested in History (with a capital H).  Due to this interest, and knowing full well that Peace Corps is also about integrating and learning about the culture, I told him that I would be appreciative of a coast placement, as my research of Kenya informed me that the coast had always had interactions between Arabs, Westerners and Africans.  Score!  Email sent, I banished the thought from my mind but was more than pleased when I discovered I would be not only in Coast Province but also right near Mombasa, the center of a lot of coastal historical intrigue.

Fast forward to two days ago.  I am sitting in an Arab-style coffee house in the Muslim quarters of Mombasa, Old Town.  All around me are buildings dating from hundreds of years ago.  Down the street is Fort Jesus, a surviving 16th-century Portuguese, and then later British, colonial fort.  We have red-brick, British-colonial style buildings.  Buildings around me bare names like, “Old German Consulate,” “Spice Trading Headquarters,” “British Trading House,” etc.  The Old Port still actively sends off dows to trade with Zanzibar.  Of course, they are trading modern products and are now motorized, no longer sail-driven, but it’s still an interesting notion.

Sitting across from me in the coffee house is the manager, Mohammed.  He’s a really nice guy, and with my being a regular in this place he knows a bit about me.  My friend Leah had just sent me some Kona Coffee from Hawaii and so I offered that Mohammed brew some up for us, and being a slow day we sat and chatted.  As we chatted, he mentioned that one of the patrons of the coffee house is an mzee (old man) who is a professor and works at the National Museum branch in Mombasa, as well as teaching exchange students Swahili, and is well-versed in the local history and is even knowledgeable in old Swahili poetry (to which I was hoping to be exposed).

This filled me with great joy, and even though I am leaving for adventures starting the first week in December, I feel that I will seek out this mzee and talk with him upon my return.  I really want to know more of the history of the area, and not many people know it beyond the superficial, “First there were Arabs.  They traded slaves.  Then there were the Portuguese.  They traded slaves.  Then there were the British.  They colonized us.”  I want a bit more information than this, because a peoples’ history greatly contributes to their ethos and there is still so much about the Kenyan ethos that I do not understand. Thus, starting when I get back, I am hoping to start diving more into the culture of Mombasa. Who knows, maybe I will even find a secondary project I am passionate about buried in all that history.

It is reasons like this that make me stick out the remaining year, and not even grumble (much) about it. If Peace Corps has taught me anything, it is that no matter what you do, ultimately opportunities come to those who are patient. My patience does not manifest itself in Zen-like calm, floating along through life, ungrounded and humbled by life’s magnificence. Instead, it is this subconscious thread that says, “Bitch and moan all you want, complain about everything, vent when you need to, just get through the day and tomorrow might be better. You’re not quitting.” There’s patience as calm, and then there’s patience as stubbornness. I manifest the latter. Both types get to the same place, though I guess ultimately one has more associated ulcers than the other. Maybe I should now work on the calm approach.

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One response to “It’s Culture, But Not As An Excuse!

  1. kim

    work on the calm. great entry. you are becoming a fabulous blogger.