Monthly Archives: December 2009

I Told You They Were Magical

Walking around the Christmas market right next to our hostel in Zurich today, my brother and I come upon a booth selling African-style curios: wooden animal figures, necklaces, bracelets and the like. “Reminds me of home,” I say, at which the shop owner gives me a bit of an incredulous look and asks where I come from, to which my response of late has been, “Kenya.” Next thing I hear is, “Karibu chai,” and I am immediately thrust back into my life in Kenya while a cup of hot chai is thrust into my hand. Here I am, standing in freezing temperatures in Zurich, Switzerland, and I am having a conversation with a Kenyan in Kiswahili.

Lydia’s been living here for 18 years now, but her family comes from Nakuru and she is a Kikuyu. She seemed to get a kick out of the white boy in Zurich speaking Kiswahili with her, but it was a nice time. Actually, she even gave Chris a discount on what he was buying, which was really nice of her. The chai was delicious, spiced with cinnamon. We wished each other a merry Christmas and went our separate ways, myself still move convinced of our shrinking world (hurry, contact the geologists!), as well as the generally magical nature of Christmas markets.



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Old Town Christmas Market

Walking down the cobblestone street, encountering a lightly-flowing stream of other winter revelers, bundled against the cold bite of a December night, we head towards a faint glow in the distance. Snow crunches under my feet like it has a million times before; it’s a comforting sound. Nature tells us something with her snow. She tells us that no matter what we build, no matter how we tear her up and cover her in asphalt, she can always beat us. This snow crunching, it’s a natural sound, and no matter where I walk in this wintry city, there is the telltale crunch. For me, it’s comforting to know that we are still humbled by nature and her snow.

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Path Quotes

I have always wondered the purpose of quotations. What is the essence of a good quotation? As an individual, should we live only by those quotations we hear and remember, or in this day and age has the quotation, that little packet of wisdom, become so ingrained that any personal thoughts must be reinforced by elders and sages who themselves have had similar thoughts? Either way, I am finding a new hobby in finding quotations, especially since I more and more find myself appreciating prose as my art form of choice. Today, I used Brainy Quote to look up some quotes on, “Paths,” and here are my selections from the results that I like and feel carry the most weight:

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

-Henry David Thoreau , 19th century American philosopher, poet and transcendentalist

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”

-Buddha, 5th century BCE Northern-Indian spiritual leader and founder of Buddhism

“Adversity is the first path to truth.”

-Lord Byron, 18th and 19th centuries English poet of the Romantic movement

“I’ve already told you: the only way to a woman’s heart is along the path of torment. I know none other as sure.”

-Marquis de Sade, 18th century French writer and aristrocrat, best known for his erotic novels combining philosophy and pornography

“It’s good to follow the path of personal happiness to some extent. People tend to get upset however when you drive a steamroller down it.”

-Simon Travaglia, New Zealander and writer, known best for his Bastard Operator From Hell series

N.B. one-line biographic information provided by Wikipedia (of course).

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24 Hours In: Some Comparisons

I have been in Prague for about 24 hours and I already have some quick comparisons of life here to life in Kenya:

  • Cars drive on the left.
  • Not only do cars stop for you when you are in a crosswalk, they anticipate your crossing before you even get into the crosswalk!
  • There is food everywhere, and it’s all different.
  • The mall decorations for the holidays just feel… right
  • Everyone is walking around, even though it’s really cold…
  • …but there aren’t many smiles on peoples’ faces as they walk.
  • I have seen at least 8 different couples not just kissing, but effectively making out in public.
  • There is not nearly as much color here. People are all in greys and blues, browns and blacks. No kangaas or purple pimp hats.


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Ndege Kubwa

Ok folks, this is it, I am off on a flight in about three or four hours (do planes operate on, “Kenya Time?”), and may be silent for a bit while I figure out the Internet situation during my European adventures. I am still debating what the focus of my writing will be, whether purely whimsical, focused more on development-related activities, or descriptive of my adventures with my brother Chris as we tear up Prague, Zurich and Turino. Who knows?

Though I will be taking a bit of a holiday from regular blogging (for which you have been prepped for a few weeks now), I will most certainly continue in the New Year when I return home to Mtongwe and continue with my work as Peace Corps volunteer. Because I know you were all worried I would shut up. People, not even the gods can shut me up 😉

Until then, I wish all of my readers a Happy Holiday Season, whatever that may mean for you! I know for me it means time spent with family, enjoying hot chocolate by the fire with the dogs and enjoying the snow, and while I may not have all of these things this year, sometimes all it takes is a memory 🙂

P.S. Don’t worry about the title. It was a brief Kiswahili-related thought I had. Free association, ya know?

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The Correctness of Development Work

We have a lot of development work going on in Kenya, and around the world in general there is a growing international focus on aiding the developing world to develop. Of course, with any major shift in government spending comes outspoken public opinion, and with public opinion come the experts to discredit public opinion and tell the public how stupid they are for mis-perceiving the situation, and then with the experts come more experts telling the first group of experts that they themselves are wrong. Books are published, votes are had, TV commercials air talking about the plight of children in some worn-torn, resource-raped country, where the white man is the devil or where warlords are the devil, and everyone is just sitting around waiting for some god to save them. Off go even more development volunteers to credit or discredit everything with a first hand account, and the situation just grows.

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I think that if I could live in one place in Kenya, it would be Nanyuki. I love it here, and don’t tell Peace Corps, but I may secretly ship Gavin off to Europe and take over his life. I don’t think Gavin would mind. And mind you, I am writing this entry while it is pouring outside and is relatively chilly, which are usually not good days to judge that you like a place.

I didn’t first love Nanyuki when I visited here back in August for a perma-culture workshop. Driving up here, the land was gray and barren, and, well, not very inviting. Nanyuki town was nice, but I was too obsessed with surrounding barrens and the annoying hawkers at the, “You Are At The Equator,” sign and the not-so-relevant workshop to really appreciate the town for what it is.

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“We Want A Website!”

I hear it asked a lot, in a few different ways. We have the direct, “We want a website.” Or there is the more casual, “We are interested in a website.” And of course, the more inquisitive, “So, what would it take for us to possibly, maybe, in some way, request a bit of your time, to maybe, sorta, possibly build a website?”

Sometimes the requests come from organizations themselves, or sometimes through various volunteers working with organizations. Most of the time however, they come with a level of ignorance about what a website even is. The same kind of ignorance that many Americans have about what a website really is, but here, there are fewer people able to clear it up, fewer people advertising their services in ways that local NGOs or Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) might be aware of, or, most contributively, fewer people doing it for free.

So I pimp myself out as a web developer, or apparently more appropriately a web consultant.

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Quick Kiswahili-isms

Kiswahili is a language in which related words often tend to sound the same. Also, there are several instances where verbs are turned directly into nouns and vice versa. As a result of all of this, there are a few curious structures within the language that I thought I would mention. Sorry to keep the entry brief, but I don’t have much time to write at the moment, and I am hoping to get to sleep soon. Here’s a far-from-exhaustive list for you:

  • The noun for food is chakula. To eat is the verb kula, and the verb to take is kuchakua. This means that you are able to, kula chakula or kuchakua chakula. Hear the similarity?
  • In Kiswahili a man may marry, kuoa, but a woman may only be married, kuolewa.
  • The verb to organize or arrange is kupanga. The noun panga is the word for a common, machete-like device used as both a tool and a weapon.
  • The verb to hear is kusikia, and the word for the noun ear is sikio.
  • The noun for country is nchi, while the word for citizen is wananchi.

Hope you enjoyed your brief and simple Kiswahili lesson for the day.

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Nairobi, Just Gets Weirder…

We all know I don’t like Nairobi, but at this point, being here for more than a day or two gets boring. Money is in short supply because we are volunteers, and lunches that normally we pay 30 or 40 shillings for in the village cost ten times that amount, at minimum… literally. Get me out.

To top it off though, it is just starting to get weird. Not everything, but specifically the hawkers. I have mentioned before that Nairobi hawkers will hawk most anything, including giant inflatable chairs and etch-a-sketch. However, I have now repeatedly walked past a group of hawkers hawking pets out of boxes. You can walk down the road leading to Westgate shopping mall and you will have the opportunity to purchase puppies, kittens, rabbits, gerbils, and hamsters… out of fruit boxes. Better yet, if you live in Westlands you probably drive around in a big SUV with fancy acronyms like UNEP, UNDP, UN, WFP, DED, DRC, etc., (Peace Corps thankfully has no such labeling on it’s vehicles, much preferring a relatively inconspicuous but Kenya-mandated address stenciled on the driver side door near the tire), and these pets are all brought to your window like it’s some bizarre 50’s roller skate diner. Hamster for dinner? Don’t mind if I do!

To top it off, as we were walking, “home,” to the hotel, my friend Alex and I walked past a man hawking turtles out of a box. The price? 20,000 shillings. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Nairobi, where you can buy a $270 turtle out of a box from a guy on the side of the road.

Nanyuki tomorrow, unless these matatus stay on strike…


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