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Carnivore

If you are a vegetarian, you may just want to not read this.  If you are a meatatarian, I hope you enjoy!

Two weeks ago, while I was on my medical leave in Nairobi (I am back home in Mombasa now), a fellow Peace Corps volunteer had his birthday and to celebrate we all went out to Carnivore.  Carnivore is rated as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world (used to actually be in the top 10 apparently), and as its name suggests, is a very meat-oriented restaurant.  Being in Kenya, where the national dish is effectively roast meat (nyama choma), the meat served at Carnivore is just that: roasted to roasty, roastacular, deliciousness.

When one thinks of a top 50 restaurant, one might assume such nice things as white table-cloths, black tie waiters and waitresses, and bottles of bubbly water on the table.  How dare you have preconceptions!  This is Kenya (said with a roar)!  Instead, at Carnivore you sit at large wooden tables, with servers walking around in garish zebra-print aprons, and people singing happy birthday songs a la Applebees or TGI Fridays.  Apparently, “mature, quiet atmosphere,” is not one of the top 50 criteria.

Which is fine by me.  Because where Carnivore shines is in the meat, and its wide selection of different meats to be exact.  Back in the old days, before humans cared about animals and simply enjoyed eating them, you could get everything from zebra to giraffe to lion even, all of it roasted to perfection and served in endless quantity.  Sadly not anymore, but still the selection was good.  My meal consisted of: roast beef, turkey, chicken wings, chicken breast, crocodile, pork ribs, roast lamb, lamb chops, ostritch-meat meat-balls (written to be as unambiguous as possible), and pork sausages.  Each was roasted and seasoned or glazed appropriately and each was divine.

The meal is served Brazillian BBQ style (if I understand that style correctly).  You have a little flag that you keep up when you want the carvers to bring you more meat.  You can ask for as much per carving as you like, all for a flat fee (including a dessert and bread and soup, but not drinks).  Once you have your meat, feel free to sauce it with the appropriate sauces provided in a spin-server on every table.  Confused about which sauce to use, ask the carver for his or her recommendation.   Chow down.  Now, in reality we had to bug the carvers for more food towards the end, when normal people would be full.  Us, being far from normal, meat-starved volunteers, kept stuffing our faces and politely but insistently asking for more meat because as  anyone could see, our flag was up.

I left the meal quite happy, albeit with a significantly lighter wallet.  The roasted regulars (beef, chicken, turkey, pork) were far above any choma I could get on the street.  The chicken wing glaze must have been laced with some addictive additive because it was impossible to stop eating them.  The crocodile was… interesting.  It had a slightly fishy taste to it and each piece also seemed to have tough-muscle or tendon pieces or something.  The taste was good, the texture was fine, but these tough bits were a bit off-putting.  The ostritch-meat meat-balls were amazing, slightly spiced, and never enough.  Finally, the lamb chops were just what I needed to put me in a good mood, even served with a homemade mint jelly!

Lesson learned: don’t go to Carnivore for the atmosphere or for a nice, quiet, adult night out.  Go for the meat.

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The difference a laugh can make

Such an inspirational subject, eh?  I wrote that because I felt that “The difference a threat can make,” sounded far too intimidating and non-peace corps like and I am always trying to be oh so peace corps like…  But let’s get serious and let me be honest with you: with it only being halfway through my third week teaching this semester, I will glady predict it is going to be my best yet!  Why?  Well, I feel the indirect reason is that principal has informed all the students that my class will now be examined.  Who knew.  Not me!  At least not when he told the entire assembly of students, but that’s fine.  It just kicked me into high gear and got me prepping as a teacher.

The end result?  I don’t know, but for some strange reason I am now having full attendance, which I now feel obligated to call, as well as somewhat punctual students.  For Kenyans, the fact that even ONE of my students arrives BEFORE class is amazing.  Like, pants-peeing amazing.  The fact that I have whole majorities of classes showing before class starts almost causes anuerisms.  On top of that, they all respect my rule of, “You must have a pen and notebook in front of you.  I don’t care if you use it, I don’t care if you sleep on it, I don’t care if it just sits there unopened the entire time, it must be in front of you.”

On top of all this, they ask questions.  And when I answer them, if they don’t understand the answer, they ask again!  This is a huge improvement.  I gave them a test today, and asked them in as reassuring a manner as possible, how can I make this test better.  They said my questions were too long and they did not know what was expected of them.  This is a perfectly legitimate concern considering they have a grasp of english roughly consistent with an 8th grader in america.  It’s just not their primary language, and I need to know how to utilize it so that they understand me.  Last semester, if I had asked them to critique something I had done, they would have stayed quiet and I would never have known something so simple was causing so much distress.

Finally, they laugh at me.  They laugh at my jokes.  They laugh at my energy in class.  They never see one of their kenyan teachers energetically moving around the room telling people to treat their computer mice nicely like a lady (don’t ask…).  It’s different; I am different, and either they are getting used to me, or to being first years, I don’t know, but they laugh when they should.  And I don’t treat them like children, untrustworthy children like some of my peers say I should.  How are we ever going to teach trust here if a teacher cannot trust his students.  Connecticut College drilled into me the importance of its Honor Code, and I saw what an amazing academic environment springs up around such inherent trust placed in individuals.  But how can a student here ever feel trusted if the teachers call them liars and thieves blatantly to their faces.  Maybe I am naive on this point, but I have a lot of work on my plate, and if I don’t start trusting my students, it’s going to make life much more unecessarily difficult.  So they have my trust.

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Kenyan Dress

When joining the Peace Corps, a trainee is innudated with what can only be described as one of the most voluminous mailing processes originating from a single organization an individual can be a part of.  And the real kicker is that almost all of it is critical for your service, and my impression of my colleagues is that we all gobbled it up!  Buried deep in these mailings, often in the country profile, is the required dress for training.  Considering most people think of the Peace Corps as this rugged outdoor experience, the required dress for Kenyan training, oddly, seemed more appropriate for a round of golf with the other board members than living for two months on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro (which was called Mt. Kenya at that time… turns out we were relocated before we ever arrived).  Of course, this is all in preparation to blend into a, “conservatively dressed,” society, where a woman in jeans is a hooker, and a guy wearing shorts is a drug dealer.

So… Peace Corps lied to us.  Of course.  It would be the first of many, “miscommunications,” or “Peace Corps training philosophies,” which would force us trainees to live lives often contrary to what actual Kenyans perceive as their own culture.  But who were we to argue.  Nobody ever said “culturally appropriate,” was synonymous with, “culturally correct.”  And we in Peace Corps are far more concerned about being appropriate than correct, for better or worse.

I thought however, that I would kindly engage you all with some of the more traditional Kenyan outfits I witness in and around the Mombasa area.

Firsf off the generalizations.  There seems to be a fascination with belts.  Not everyone loves belts, don’t get me wrong.  But it seems that the many people wearing belts want you to know it.  They have nice big buckles, often in the shape of Texas, or some sports team, or just… I cannot describe belts.  They are big.  Really, really big.  A picture may be required.  I’ll try and get one.

People wear business suits.  In Nairobi.  And only in Nairobi from what I can tell from my travels.  That’s where the business happens I guess.  Maybe that’s another reason why I don’t like Nairobi.  I don’t even own a suit.

Women, especially on the coast, are often wearing kangaas that have either been wrapped, or tailored into some style outfit.  A kangaa is a giant rectangle of cloth, the same type of fabric used to make the bandanas that you would buy in A.C. Moore.  They oftentimes have bright patterns on them, adding a lot of colorful movement to the coastal villages.  I must admit, I can already see myself missing all the color when I go home, but such is life.

The average younger person (those pesky twentysomethings), will often be wearing t-shirt and jeans.  But we weren’t allowed to wear jeans (or shorts) during training.

If you are at work, it’s a collared shirt and khaki trousers for a man, and a blouse or nice top and skirt for women, though more and more women are also wearing trouers.  The funny thing about “collared shirt,” though is that it refers to ANY shirt with a collar.  I wear hawaiian shirts on Fridays because I can, and it helps put me in the mood for the weekend after a long week.  There is a fiftysomething year old teacher here at NYS that wears one of those giant button down dragon-print shirts you can get at Khols or Wal-Mart.  You all know what I am talking about?

When walking around town though is when true Kenyan creativity comes through.  Some of my favorites would be the gentleman casually walking around in the Mombasa sun wearing a faux-leopard-fur, “Pimp Hat.”  Or another gentleman I saw at the ferry wearing one of those French style (or russian?) brimless fur hats, minus the ear flaps.  Parachute pants are big here, and big not as in size, but as in on a given day, you will see more than one person wearing parachute pants.  And tracksuits.  Lots of tracksuits.

But my favorite are the t-shirts.  As I said, a very common style of dress is the simple t-shirt and jeans.  Many people (I would guesstimate 95%) purchase their clothing at the second hand markets (including yours truly).  These markets get their clothing from all the Western Charities that do their clothing donations (I am now living on the other end of clothing collection box; I find that most interesting).  So when you are in Kenya, keep your eye out for Mickey Mouse, Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh, Thomas the Tank Engine, every super hero you can think of, bar mitzfah shirts, high school shirts, professional sports teams, everything!  However, most kenyans have no idea that the shirt they are wearing actually has relevance to anyone.  Most just don’t care, it’s not that they think it means something other than what it does.  I have yet to see and Franklin, MA, but I have seen plenty of things from Massachusetts in general.  Though I still get a kick out of the Bar Mitzfah t-shirts.

Needless to say, I wear Hawaiian shirts without shame.  And no one can stop me!

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Stolen From Harmz

I stole this from Harmony’s blog because I liked it and felt like syndicating:

Here are a couple of amusing sayings about PCVs:

A pessimist sees a glass of water and says, “that glass is half empty.”
An optimist sees a glass of water and says, “that glass is half full.”
A Peace Corps Volunteer sees a glass of water and says, “I could take a bath in that!”

A Peace Corps Volunteer in South America returns politically charged.
A Peace Corps Volunteer in Southeast Asia returns spiritually enlightened.
A Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa returns drunk and laughing!

“It’s better to send in the Peace Corps than the Marine Corps.” – Ted Kennedy

Hope you enjoyed.

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Request For Content Results in Short Term Memory Dump

As I believe I stated in an earlier post, many times I find myself wanting to start a task but I become so overwhelmed in planning the task that I never get to bring it to completion.  Such has been my problem these past two weeks with blog posts.  I have a few larger things I wouldn’t mind expostulating on and possibly even result in interesting my readers, but I become overwhelmed in preparing them that I often find it better to just read a book.  So this blog is itself not about one of those larger things, but is instead, as the title suggests, a mere short-term memory dunmp, most likely taking the form of my favorite literary mechanism (the list, as you should know well by now), though possibly turning into paragraphical prose.  Maybe what I’ll do instead is think in terms of a list, but write paragraphs and just not include bullet points!  Genius!

There is a fly that is insisting on doing a jig all over my forehead right now.  One word: annoying

As I stated earlier, when I end up not completing a desired task, the default recorse is to read.  Reading is my escapism as choice.  Jason and Niki recently sent me a package (thanks again guys 🙂 ) and in it was the Han Solo Triology, three nice Star Wars novels.  Some may remember that I went cold turkey on star wars novels at the end of my senior year of college, as they had basically started re-hashing the prequel movie plot, but this time with Luke Skywalkers nephew.  I still do not know how it all turned out, nor do I want to.  But the Han Solo Triology was written during the Golden Age of Expanded Universe novels, so I felt like I could jump on the wagon just this one more time.  Besides, it’s next to impossible to find a Star Wars novel in Kenya anyways.  They were good, I liked them.  Before them I was reading some Anne McCaffrey and right now I am reading Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street, a fiction novel set in Edinburgh (love the city).  Apparently it was actually a serialized novel, written for The Scotsman newspaper, when McCall threw down the glove stating it was sad the serial novel had gone by the wayside.  Not far enough in to form an opinion yet.

But I do have an opinion on the new Third Eye Blind CD, courteously sent to me by Areti (thanks to you as well, I have the best friends 🙂 ).  It’s good, I like it.  I thought they would go a bit more mellow than three, but they kept the same tone as three, if not a bit more upbeat.  I think on a few of the songs they tried to actually go as upbeat as one and didn’t quite hit the mark, but still overall, a good CD.  Haven’t listened to it enough to rank it approriately though.  And the Rachael Yamagata you sent me, fantastic.  Love it.  She’s amazing.  New U2 is same old U2, can’t complain.  Green Day is sounding a little tired, am I right?  And Kings of Leon, haven’t listened enough to form an opinion.  This is the first time I have ever heard them.

Some friends of mine and I are thinking of starting a free HIV/AIDS information hotline here in Kenya.  There isn’t one, which is sad for a country with a 9% and growing positive population.  What this entails (and was going to be its own blog post), is contacting grant organizations, figuring out counselor qualifications, debating the many points of what a call center is, or should it just route to cell phones, accountability, sustainability, profitability (?), job creation, statistics, regions, demographics, on and on and on.  Needless to say I am not expecting it to be fully operational before I leave, but to have left a forward-moving project in the hands of future, capable volunteers and Kenyans.  Though admittedly I did throw down the glove with a PEPFAR rep from the CDC on this one in August, and we are racing to have something up and running before any USAID project gets off the ground.  Sipendi sana USAID kabisa (I really don’t like USAID at all)!!!

Another project I am working on is a website for WACAL, the organization my friend Erin volutneers with.  It goes slowly though as teaching takes over.

Because apparently I am teaching a real class now.  Principal kindly informed all assembled students last Wednesday that they need to take my class seriously because apparently there will be an exam at the end.  Of course, he never told me that before this assembly.  I’m pretty sure I made a funny face during the assembly when I heard this.

I have now been to the town of Malindi twice.  It’s ok.  I don’t get what the hype is all about though.  Also went out with some volunteers to watamu for a bit, which was nice to just sit on the beach.  Watamu is much nicer than malindi.  Much much nicer.  Although, according to my friends Deanne and Erin (a different Erin), Malindi has parmesean cheese somewhere.  This would make it the only place in kenya that sells parmesean cheese.  I also at a pizza there with gogonzola cheese on it.  It has all these cheeses because Malindi is basically the Little Italy of Kenya.  All the Italians flood there, like the Germans flock to South Coasst.  I never seem to make it to a beach during high tide so I am rarely actually able to get in the water, but this time it was high tide, and I got to go swimming.  The weekend before that I did also get to go snorkeling at my friend Ari’s site.  Yes, as a peace corps volutneer, it is Ari’s job to go snorkeling.  Beach corps has all the fun.

Wow, that is quite the memory dump.  Ok, enough of this.  Time to try and fix my precious iPod.  Hope you all enjoy.  Sorry for the terrible grammar, spelling, overall writing quality, etc.

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One for the McLeans

Our family motto in Kiswahili is:
Uaminifu, Nguvu na Ushuja

Thought that would be a fun little cultural exchange 🙂  Thanks to my friend Arthur for the translation.

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Took us long enough

Sorry for no real post recently.  I am currently working on one in my head though, and hope to get it up today.  In the meantime, enjoy this article from the BBC:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/africa/8244594.stm

Cheers!

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