Who would have ever thought that something as simple as how to get another person’s attention would become such a cultural battle. Over the past few weeks there have been some very explicit examples that just serve to remind me that sometimes, I still just don’t get, “it,” and though I won’t share the examples, I thought I would use the reminder to typify the experiences to my readers.
Tag Archives: kenya
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?
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.
In December 2007, Kenya underwent what was arguably its second, “free, democratic, election,” which in this situation I will present as a democratic, multi-party election in which the former effectively-dictator leader, Moi, was not running.
Kenya, Africa’s shining star of stability and super economic growth, failed.
The result was months of post-election violence, allegedly instigated by all major political parties, in which inter-tribal tensions were highlighted and used to fuel days of rape, arson, burglary, murder and extra-judicial, vigilante-style attacks. Continue reading
Recently, an fellow online Peace Corps volunteer directed me to a recent blog post of his entitled, “How (Not) To Write About Africa.” In it, he syndicates another article written by a Kenya, Binyavanga Wainaina, which goes at length to satire the most common topics of white Westerners writing about Africa. I don’t want to take the time to go and compare all of my blog entries against the list, but I am sure I myself have written in this stereotypical fashion at points, though there really are monkeys all around my house that I frequently catch engaging in the most monkey-like antics you have ever seen! With these points in mind I thought I would write about the least stereotyped topic I could think of that I have more than average engagement with: the Kenyan middle class. Continue reading
I thought I would write a more light-hearted entry from my past two. And I haven’t gotten to use a list in a while. Here’s a compare and contrast of my life in the States to my life in Kenya:
- I have running water… it comes from a magically invisible catchment tank somewhere and when that runs out, I get to scoop it from a giant bucket in my kitchen.
- I take a shower every day… with no hot water, and no water pressure ever.
- I cook on a gas stove… but one that many Americans would laugh at and might not even take with them on a camping trip.
- I do my laundry… using three buckets, about 18 litres (I am lucky to be able to use so much), and my knuckles.
- I can judge distances, measures and whatnot… using the Metric system. Take that you Imperial [System] Dogs!
- I have a drying machine, and it’s got its own Energy Star rating… it’s called the jua kali ya Mombasa (harsh sun of Mombasa).
- I take public transportation… that very often fits about 28 people into a van smaller than a Ford E-150 Econoline.
- We get into traffic jams… often caused by cows or people pushing over-sized wheelbarrows. Yes, this even includes cities like Mombasa and Nairobi, and yes, even on the, “highways.”
- I go to bed every night on a college dorm-quality mattress… underneath a chemically-treated mosquito net.
- I fall asleep peacefully to the sounds of crickets chirping… and cats fighting, and bush-babies screeching, and Christian Revivals/Crusades/Really-Loud-Get-Togethers-That-Go-‘Til-5-AM
- At which point I wake up in the morning… to the sound of the mosque’s call-to-prayer.
- I worry about my safety at home… Will baboons attack me as I walk outside? Will the monkeys break in and steal my food? Is that green snake that just slithered into my ceiling poisonous (no, mouth and fangs were too small)?
I am sure this list could go on forever, but I also know my past few entries have been quite long, so I will keep this one short. Hope you have enjoyed 🙂
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Sorry for the mad rush of entries today, but I like keeping them separate based on content. I just thought I would point everyone over to my Photo Blog link at the right. I know I haven’t really updated the Flickr page since, oh, April or May so I dumped about 20 new photos up there. A lot of the photos are of people I have worked with since that time. Still none of my lab, though I believe that’s a mission of mine for the week. I hope you enjoy them. There’s also now photographic proof that I can cook when given the proper motivation (such as Jeff saying, “Jon, let’s cook,”).
The people around here not from New England don’t get. They secretly mock me. I try to explain, they say they understand based on some broader concept of simply missing that which we love, but they don’t understand the magic of it. I miss Fall. That’s right. I am not even going to call it Autumn. I am calling it Fall.
What’s even funnier about it is that I am missing things I thought I never would. I miss starting a new year of school, and though I don’t necessarily miss the exams and onslaught of papers, I miss the friends sharing a summer’s worth of adventures with one another; the excitement of slipping into a new routine just as summer started to get boring; the prospects of having advanced one more year, because remember, growing up in America, the year starts in September. None of this January nonsense.
More specifically though, I am missing Fall in New England. Apple cider and apple cider donuts; pumpkin carving and Halloween; leaves changing color and falling from trees; that perfect sweatshirt and pants weather that keeps you comfortable while still enjoying the great outdoors, the oppressive humidity of a New England summer simply a fading memory.
Life seems to slow down in Fall, leaves gently easing their way to the ground, children in no hurry to get home from school. I spent my last Fall in the States at the Franklin Public Library and around downtown Franklin more than ever before in my life. I was doing last minute work, or simply hanging around, too antsy to stay at home. I was also teaching little kids how to swim at Boston Sports Club. I loved finishing up lessons and coming out into the crisp air after having spent hours in the pool. Not to mention always stopping by for one of the myriad of “Fall-flavored” drinks at Dunkin’ Donuts. It was all going at the perfect speed. Probably good preparation for the Kenyan speed of life at which I now operate.
I walk back from the computer lab every day over a path littered with fallen and dried palm fronds and other large leaves. They crunch beneath my feet. The sound is the same, but the spirit just isn’t there. I don’t see Kenyans raking these leaves into piles and jumping into them. The students just burn them. The leaves are just rubbish here. Maybe I will show them the magic of these fallen leaves one day.
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?
Everyone knows about all the pirate attacks that are happening near the Gulf of Aden, and generally along the coast of the Horn of Africa, suspiciously near the coast of Somalia. If you haven’t heard about them, then I am afraid to speculate you’ve been living in a cave, on mars, with fingers stuck in your ears, holding your eyes tightly shut. As a result of the proximity, I have been getting all sorts of questions about pirates: Are there pirates where you live? Is mombasa filled with pirates? Do pirates attack nightly? How many times has your house been pillaged? Are you a pirate? I hear you are a pirate, really?
Up until a couple days ago however, I would have been absolutely confident in claiming that pirates have zero impact on my daily life. The local papers rarely mention them, nobody talks about them, and the only proof I have of their existence is reliant upon my trust that the BBC is not lying, and I do in fact live in the age of modern pirates; pirates equipped with rocket launchers, something which only in my wildest childhood fantasies of trying to discover how a pirate could beat a ninja could I have dreamt.
Of course, this all changed a couple days ago. I was walking down the path, coming back to the NYS compound, getting the usual barrage of “How are you?” from the kids, when out of nowhere a kid walks up, looks at me and says, “Ahoy!” I stop dead in my tracks, literally turn around and in Kiswahili say, “What, no ‘how are you?’ Do you think I am a pirate?” His repsonse: “yes.” So there you have it. The pirates have in fact landed in Mombasa, and I’m one of them. Terrorist sleep-cells got nothing on me, I’m a pirate sleeper-cell and I didn’t even know it!
In other news, I finally fixed my bike. It got two flat tires in the week I have owned it. I don’t know how. Well, the first one had a huge gash in the tube, but the second one didn’t seem to have any problems. I think they were just low quality tubes. But this time, instead of paying the fundi (tradesman) a ridiculous price to fix my bike with an inferior tube, i paid even more money and bought my own tools and a new, high quality tube and fixed it myself. Wooo for self-reliance! It’s worth it in the long run.