Friday, March 6, 2009
Boy a month has flown buy, currently I am in the Kenyan Continental hoteli. Tomorrow I will go back to the coast by mash poa busi. So why am I in Nairobi? I broke a tooth, one of the front ones, on some pilfered beef jerky. Serves me right for eating it. 10 years ago I broke a tooth and every 4-5yrs or so it breaks again. This time it is done, no more superglue. The dentist was very nice and came up with two solutions for my dental delima. One is a root canal, the other (which I prefer) is an orthodontic solution. It would require 6mths of pulling down the remaining of my living tooth and putting a crown on it. I enjoy it b/c it keeps the life span of my tooth. A root canal is an eventual tooth death sentence. The hotel is quiet tonight and it lends itself to thinking, about up coming training about so many things happening in the US.
When you eat in Nairobi you eat alone. All told it was a poa (cool)experience. Last night I ate at a nyama choma joint, a nice one. Expats and Nairobi businessmen with their girlfriends, it was an interesting juxtaposition. It was out of a movie I might just rent. It gets very lonely at times though, always on the outside of what is going on lakini it seems here no one is on the inside. I could write a whole entry on the emotions involved with eating chakula (food) in Kenya. Mayhaps I will make it a later well thought out diatribe. Tonight I ate some of the best Indian food I have ever had, I finally had a vindaloo. For all you geeks keeping score the vindaloo is the dish the one of the main characters of Red Dwarf was always eating. I decided a long time ago if I ever got the chance I would eat one, and I got that one out of the way.
The mash station, my cool Kenyan jeans and a footballers jersey. I know I'm cool. Its good to be me. Today I got dropped at the mash station. The Mash is a bus company that runs from Nairobi to Mombasa several times a day. They do other runs as well, but I am not interested in them at this time. Going to Nairobi I took the Mash Cool which I have on good authority (Kenyan mama's aren't wrong about this type of thing) is the mzungu bus. Sure enough she was right. I sat next to a US couple that were on vacation and there were missionaries.
The Tourists and the Middle Eastern Bwana
So I had the privilege of hearing Americans interact in another culture. Trying to understand a culture and present their ideas in a constructive fashion. It didn't go so well. Next to the tourists from other regions south of Kenya was a man of great opinion from Mombasa who took to informing them about a culture they didn't have the tools to deal with. The men seemed to start off in an innocent conversation about shiria law and polygamy and ended up with a theological debate. Both seemed to think their ideas were absolute and mutual exclusivity was assured. In not going into the arguments they used but I will say I got a good look at how Americans are in the rest of the world. The man who spoke of values but stated they were secular seemed unaware and denied the fact America was started by the religious as a refuge. He talked down about theocracy while supporting countries based in religion. It is my hope that while opinionated in the US I could see my arguments and the fallacy involved in their emotional content. The topper is while the men so protected their pride and talking points even taking it as far as talking about the state of Kenya they completely ignored the current relevant issues of the day. The bus passed shamba after shamba of maze crops in hatari (danger) of failing due to the prevailing weather patterns. When I made an attempt to quell the religious discussion” and point out the importances of aid and domestic issues I was dismissed. This is when I realized neither person was interested in getting along or learning about the other only in point pushing. In the end it was a conversation I can describe in two words, boorish misanthropy.
So whats the deal about pickles? And kwa nini they always seem to been green? I decided I am going to get to the bottom of this mystery as well as many of the other mysteries about picking in the up coming month. My first experiment is pickling tomato and onions. Later, meats.
Variations on a theme: Family in Kenya part 1
To my readers: I have a kiswahili test coming up so there will be some words you might be unfamiliar with.
Not surprising families in Kenya very much the same as families in America, there is a mother, father, sisters, brothers, grand and great grand all sorts of things and cousins coming out the wazu. This however isn't where this blog ends.
While the players are named the same often the roles change. Mama's tend to be the heart of a family. Between raising the children and cooking the food they all find the time to work some bodies shamba (a small farm) for food. A family with out a mama at the helm of domesticity falls apart. Baba's work, mainly. If a good baba is out of work then he is out either hustling (working many small jobs) or standing by his wife in the family shamba planting for his family. There is a difference between men and women in Kenya. Its all contained in one word: Polygamy. While it is on its way out both socially and legally there is still quite a lot of polygamy. I hear about it everyday, an old wife pushed aside by a much younger one. It isn't as common as all that but it does happen in places other than Tanzanian bongo flicks. The Kiddos, they are everywhere. If they are lucky the are going to school with a chance at a future. Not all children get to go to school. The educations public and free, but the parents must buy the uniforms. You want to meet some of the most grown up children on the planet you come to my village. A place where even the five year olds put a seat out for you because you are an elder. I was never so well behaved. Well, there is one area for improvement. This is for anyone planning to visit anywhere ever. DO NOT GIVE THE CHILDREN STUFF, and by stuff I mean, candy, pens, money, bicycles, fruits or anything you might just have in your hands. It doesn't help anyone, no not even the childern. Other than that they are the biggity bomb. I know several whose missions in life are to give me a high five. You can almost see the train of thought on the child's face. “Nitakupiga sana mzungu mkono.” Then the next thought occurs “Nipe parimende!!” As we all have heard this a million times I give a quick “sina parimende mtoto, pole sana, labda kesho.” or something like that. But before I tell the kid I don't have any candy and it occurs to the kiddo I might just have something to give them the only mission is to slap that hand and good!! Easily the best part of my day. I didn't even know I liked kids so much till I got here. In America I am always worried about conflicting the directives given by overprotective parents, here the community helps to raise children. They help look after socially acceptable behaviors and have the right to turn in mtoto mbaya to their parents. You can trust me when I say that is the last thing the child wants.
In other news:
Now is the time of Linux. I'm giving it a try, its not so bad. Music, finally after all this time.
This past weekend great get together and camping on the beach.
Next weekend, medical, and a little after that a LANGUAGE INTENSIVE. It will be a blast.
Tune in here for all your news dates coastal and Kenyan.
Oh ya, Amelia, Happy Birthday... I give a call if I can.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Pickles, thats right, Pickles. I'll get more to that later. Maybe in the next installment, but there will be pickles mark my words.
Kwanza (first), welcome to my first ever Kenyan blog, or maybe a blog about Kenya. Or whatever. For those whom do not know me, I am Jeff. a twenty-something who likes to use the word “whom”, and I live in Kenya. I know what you are saying, you always were so curious, why Kenya? Why now? Why not then? And the ever popular “I don't feel like any “whom” in particular!”. Just to let you know you are a particular whom, and really now thats more of a statement, isn't it? The answer is a resounding “yes, Jeff, that is most definitely a statement the Whom are making”, but you aren't reading this to revel in me reveling in me agreeing with myself. I'm sure you are looking to learn more about what is like to live in Kenya, or something similar to that line of thinking. Though if you do enjoy reading people agreeing with themselves shoot me an email, I do it 24/7.
Kenya, a land of mystery, beautiful in its subtle complexities and, well, very warm. Thats right, no surprise, its just plain hot. Though thats not all. There are 42(?) tribes that call Kenya home. It is also the home of Swahili culture (well Kenya and Tanzania). It has a rich and interesting history and some of the most (down right) friendly people on the planet. And anyone keeping score at home, the children really like candy. Thats candy - 2 and caster oil – goose egg. Caster oil? I have seen quite a bit of this land at the time this blog has been written. I will be posting pictures showing its charms, of which there are sooo many and occasionally writing out an either dry or interesting history dissertations. It will depend on how you feel about culture and history.
Why Kenya? Well, this is where I elected to go. Currently I am on a two year assignment in Kenya, working as a small business developer. Its not easy, but so far the best most satisfying job I have ever had and Ive only been here since November.
It all started with an early morning plane flight to Pennsylvania. Nov 11th was a very long day. My roommate was a man named Paul, who was from NY. Then I registered, met everyone, and then promptly forgot their names. Not on purpose mind you, that would be rude. All and all a charming first day. The next day didn't end for a day and a half, almost a full two days even. We were shuttled to New York city by bus. The lurid allure of the Jersey Turnpike was at once overwhelming. It was brimming with the flowery New England romance you read about in the books of such authors as say, Stephen King. Until we arrived at our destination. The Big Apple, New York city, what can I say. So I won't. There we all were in a plane bound for Europe. Sure there was night but transatlantic flights don't lend well to sleep. After a 15min nap and several hours of sitting in Amsterdam everyone got on another plane bound for Nairobi.
Skip ahead, skip ahead, skip ahead.
All the intricately beaded wrists pulled back into the open windows from which they suddenly came and we were alone again. The bus was pulling out of the gas station and it was quiet. I felt some what relieved as there are only so many ways to say “No, thanks thought, its a nice necklace, but.. wait no don't drop it in my lap!!! No take it back, I don't want it.” and I didn't want to have to invent any more. Turning down old ladies hockin' tourist souvenirs isn't my style normally but you really had to be there. I felt good, the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro could be seen, its peak still obscured by clouds. At the time coming from Texas, and not dealing with large volcanic mountains every day it seemed to go on forever upward. Eventually the Great Mountain unmasked itself a stunning beauty. We arrived at the city we would call home for the next eight weeks. No one could have known what waited ahead.
What is a PACA tool? It sounds like something to perhaps fix a pipe, or maybe a program for when your computer shows you the blue screen of death. No a PACA tool is a community/business assessment technique. I now have a shinny set of PACA tools in my box. We learned quite a bit in training. During the training period we where paired up with a great Kenyan family. I grew quite close to mine. Spending the evenings talking and joking with them are some of the best memories I have from training. Baba yangu bwana Zackary Mumo na mwalimu. Mama yangu anaitwa Grace, and a great mama at that. Which brings me to kaka nne na dada moja. All wonderful smart as whips and will go places. There will be more entries about them. We stayed up late and talked about most things. American and Kenyan alike. I also got them addicted to chess and thieved a board from my friend (I have not forgotten you Gav, I owe you a brand new board) It was good. Then there were the classes. Rigorous and I really liked my trainers. Thats all I'm going to say on the matter. If you where there you know, if not don't worry. Just know its hard. Going though all this with people will make you thick as thieves who steal chess sets.
The people who join Peace Corps are crazy. Okay, maybe not. I will say they are some of the best people I have met. They all come from different backgrounds, all successful in their own right. Also talk about a friendly (and its been said good looking) group. We quickly got to know each other, in the early days just over conversations about squat toilets. Oh, the glorious choo. After eight weeks of apprehension we traveled to Nairobi to get our assignments. It made me sad to leave Nairobi knowing it would be a very one time before I would see again some of the people who I have grown so very close to.
My assignment is a great one. I am working with a CBO on the coast of Kenya. I am working on developing the small businesses in my town as well as developing my host organization. I will also be spreading information bringing awareness to HIV/AIDS here. I am lucky in the fact I will have a VCT to work with. VCT is a center where they test and council people with HIV and AIDS. This has the potential for some real meaning. Perhaps something very fleeting in life. I enjoy working with my supervisor Bwana Koi and live in a room in a family compound. My landlord Abdallah is great and I enjoy his company as well as the company of the mama (thats what she wants me to call her) and his children. Also other than the many friends I am making in the community I am not far away from other volunteers whom I can share the little differences that make Kenya, well, Kenya.
It is beautiful here and I spend some time many days walking on the beach, eating mango, and enjoying a little quiet smug solitude. Why smug you may ask? Kwa sababu I used to just work a 9-5 I didnt like , just like most everyone else. Now I do this.