Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ding Dong, the Mouse is Dead

You all remember my friend and unwanted roommate the mouse? Well, he is dead and I have won and I am sure you all want to hear the story. We have been competing as usual for a while. I have been stuffing a pair of pants that I don’t fit into anymore (cause I’m fat) in the space under my door to keep him out but he is very wily and sometimes sneaks in while I am visiting friends or in the choo. When he does, I chase him around with the broom for awhile. Sometimes I corner him and give a good whack, but usually I just get tired and reluctantly let him explore my house for the night. On Tuesday, I found him in my kitchen. That grosses me out and I am afraid he will get into my American food stash so I went after him. I noticed that he was missing half his tail. I don’t know if that was because of me or if he gets into mousy scuffles during his outside marauding hours. Either way, I thought to myself, “haHA! Jerk!” and trapped him behind my stove. I had a bucket in place on one side of the gas tank, hoping to drop it on him when he came out, and a wooden spoon for poking on the other side to encourage him to go into the bucket. I poked, he ran, and I squealed like a girl, dropped the bucket and spoon and fell over backwards. In my defense, my hand was low to the ground and the mouse TOUCHED me. (It was icky). As I was scrambling to get out of the mouse’s way, I noticed that he was not scampering away in fear like he should be. He was walking, WALKING, calmly to hide under the couch. Cocky bastard. I let him go, too lazy to go for him. Wednesday, I got home from school and opened my door only to be met with a smell. Now, my house is dirtier than it should be. I am not as proactive about dishes as I should be, but I make sure that everything is cleaned when it starts to smell. So when I walked in the house and was hit with the aroma of carcass, I knew something happened. It didn’t take me long to find him, my adversary, dead in the corner. I do not know what killed him, by the way he was moving the night before, I suspect some injury just got too much for him. Now, you’d think I would be happy. But, while I am glad I won’t have to fight with him anymore, I am more than a little concerned about what it was that took a BITE out of him after death. There was a large hole where his abdomen should have been and a pile of mouse hairs scattered around him. The only thought that goes through my head at times like this is, “where the hell do I live?”

Lokho brought me dinner on Tuesday night. For no reason at all, she just came over with a plate piled with food. She didn’t even stay, she said she had work to do around her house. To repay her for her kindness, when she came over on Wednesday I made potato pancakes for her. Kenyans only eat potatoes one way, peeled, boiled and served on rice as part of stew. Lokho had heard of mashed potatoes, but never had it, and she didn’t know you could eat the potato skins. We spent the evening sitting on my kitchen floor eating potato pancakes hot out of the pan. We gossiped about a 19 yr old teacher, fresh out of school, who has been staying with Lokho’s family. The girl is very rude. She treats Lokho very badly; making fun of her for not having a boyfriend (Lokho’s only 15), accusing Lokho of stealing, taking Lokho’s things, and just being an all around witch with a capital B. Lokho doesn’t want to complain to her Aunt because she knows her Aunt is a good person and will kick this girl out of the house. But Lokho got fed up today because the girl has been insulting one of Lokho’s very good friends: me. She was apparently telling people “that mzungu said she was cleaning her house, but its such a mess, she must not know how!” Now, anyone who’s ever lived with me knows that I can be pretty messy. But here in Kenya, I keep the clutter to a minimum, and only leave my kitchen as a disaster, everything else is not bad. Lokho agreed my house was not bad, and wanted to let me know what was being said about me. Lokho also said that every time this girl comes over to my house, it is just to get the free American food I dish out. She must a little slow if she thinks that I wouldn’t catch on to that, and so lately she has been complaining because I never give her food. I don’t like cooking for people, mostly because I cannot afford it and if I start doing it for one, I have to do it for many. And also, no Kenyans like my cooking. The only person who has liked my food has been Lokho, and I only feed her because she is always at my house, is such a sweetheart, and I love her. She told me this adorable story about Galgallo, her three yr old nephew. The family has a few chickens and they collect the eggs once a day. Yesterday, Galgallo picked up the eggs and, in his three year old brain, thought they were bouncy balls. He lifted the eggs up high and smashed them with enthusiasm on the floor. Everyone in the family laughed but Galgallo was so upset that he hid under the couch. And adorableness ensued.

On Friday morning, my form two girls pampered me. They are always trying to take care of me, making sure my skirt is on straight and my shoes are brushed. This morning the weather was drizzly and cold, I absolutely loved it, but it got me to school muddy up to the knees and with wet, frizzy hair in a messy braid. I did a decent physics review for the lesson and then I sat and chatted with them. They think I am a slob and don’t understand how I get so dirty. Two of the girls took my shoes and cleaned them, then they washed my feet very thoroughly. I got lotion and a foot massage, while other girls brushed my hair. They braided it, gave me a cool zigzag part and applied oil (it is not good for white people hair but they would not be deterred) . They even tried to put eyeliner on me but I wouldn’t let them because I was afraid of pink eye. They also told me exactly what to wear tomorrow during parents day. They asked me to come by tomorrow morning so they can dress me like a Barbie but I don’t think I am going to let them. I don’t like the amount of grease in my hair I’ll probably never get it to wash out. Also on Friday, the cow that lives at school became meat. I wanted to watch them ‘chinja’ her, but in the end, I couldn’t. I blame the American students from Minnesota; they named her! Everyone knows you should never name animals destined for food. I just couldn’t watch Martha die, and when I saw what they were doing to the body immediately after, I was unable to watch that as well.

Saturday was Parents’ Day. It is a day that traditionally was planned to let the parents of students come to the school to visit their kids and talk to teachers to see what their kids are up to. But all the schools in my area use this as an opportunity to celebrate and out-do each other. Dakabaricha Day School had two goats slaughtered for their Parents’ Day, but we had two goats and a cow. St. Pauls had their boys sing traditional Borana and Samburu songs, our girls dressed up in traditional outfits to perform their songs. We had a Board of Govenor come to ours, but St. Paul had him, plus the Bishop. Each school has a Parents’ Day and all the villages around know about them through rumor and come to all of them to see who has the best entertainment and food. It is a lot of fun for everyone, but a lot of work for the teachers and students. Friday, my students spent hours outside in the sun fetching stones to make a ‘driveway’ in the dirt. Then they spent hours whitewashing them with an ash/water mix. My jobs for Parents’ Day were to make professional looking certificates on the computer in town, help shop for presents for best performing students, wrap all the presents, make badges for all the important guests with ribbon and cardboard, and make meal cards so only parents of students could get food. I did all that work on Friday so I would be free to do other stuff on Saturday. Every teacher was assigned a job based on whether or not you were a man. If you were a man, you did work like: slaughtering goats, using a machete to chop limbs off dead goat carcasses that hung from trees, cutting heads off goat carcasses to use for ‘goat-head soup’, etc. The female teacher, Madame Ruth, was in charge of food. She was the General loudly yelling orders to her army of student helpers, and me. It was very annoying, though she is good at her job, I just cannot stand being told what to do. Especially when she acts as if I was only born with half a brain. “Did you wipe the dust off the water bottles? Do that. Use water… NOT TOO MUCH! No, wipe this direction, Ryan we should put them on tables like this…. Because we want everyone to have water… you know? No one chooses water, everyone gets one… so put them here… No, like this….” Etc, etc. And she would have these conversations as if I was contradicting her. I felt like she was dying to say “Because I said so!” but I never gave her the opportunity. She eventually put me in charge of my own little student army and gave me the important task of serving all the people wearing “distinguished guest” badges. She kept coming back to check on me, but eventually figured I could handle it. But man, that was tough to do. I served the men food, got them drinks, and then when they got up and walked away, I swept up the mess they left, took their plates to be washed, threw away their dirty napkins, returned their empty soda bottles. I felt degraded, and maybe I shouldn’t, after all, someone had to serve. But it was hard, I had been running around helping cook and prepare the meal and I was hot, sweaty, dirty, hungry, and tired and I had to stand there watching them eat and relax. I tried to go stand outside with my student army sneaking them drinks of water which they weren’t supposed to be having, but Madame Ruth caught me and told me to go back inside and supervise. She wanted me in the room ready to whisk away empty plates and right table cloths. In the end, it wasn’t so bad. Everyone from the village and all the important people in the area saw me working and complimented me on the meal I made (even though all I did was chop onions), how hard I worked, how welcomed they felt, etc. I felt like they didn’t really expect me to be working so hard, but since I was absolutely filthy and sweaty, they were pretty impressed that I did it. Everyone kept asking me if I was tired and encouraging me to go home, or take a break, but I just gave them a big smile and said I was fine. The worst part of the day was that I wore a white shirt and my pretty gold ballet flats. In 5 minutes, the shirt was seriously brown, and after ten minutes, my feet were actually bleeding from the shoes. I was limping around and wincing which is probably why I kept getting told to sit down. After an hour, I was nearly crying with the pain, but after two hours, all the blisters were rubbed off and I refused to limp anymore, cause I looked ridiculous, and eventually I stopped really feeling the pain.

The food was delicious, as all (okay, most) Kenyan food is. I love kachumbari which is sliced raw tomatoes and onions. I am not supposed to eat raw tomatoes, they cause fun giardia-type diseases, but I just love them too much. There was also matumbo which is every single innard chopped up and boiled, lungs, stomach, heart, kidney, intestine, everything. I have had it before, but didn’t really like it, for obvious reasons (it tastes like boiled lung), but I thought that my tastebuds have all gone on strike and rarely give a shit about what I eat now so I thought I would try it again. Nope, still tastes like boiled lung. I can eat some things like the liver and kidneys, but the large intestine just tastes exactly like a large intestine. The whole time I am eating it, I am thinking “hmm, I can nearly taste the grass this cow ate.” I can’t get it out of my head that I am eating the part of the body that makes poop. And if you think you can just hurry up and chew and swallow, nope. Nature wants you to savor the taste, so the texture is like trying to chew a balloon. You just roll that intestine around in your mouth for awhile and debate whether you’ll be able to swallow it whole or will you choke and die on a large hunk of the part of the cow that makes poop.

During the day, I had a long conversation with some people about the funeral I saw the other day. In the Borana culture, when a person dies, the women are not allowed to be anywhere near the grave. Only the men are allowed to bury the family member, even if the deceased was a woman, no females are allowed at the burial. As soon as the person dies, the family has to bury them before the day is over. They bury them in shallow graves, as I saw, and pile rocks over the top. The person I talked to didn’t know why they put them so close to their houses, but she did say that while there are no crosses allowed, the families put little things to remember the person by, for example, a nice pair of shoes for a young woman. It really disturbed me because I thought that little kids had been playing on the graves, and now I know why there is a tiny pair of sneakers on more than one of the rock piles that I pass on the way to school.

After the burial, everyone in that family has to stay in the house for three days. They are not allowed to bathe, change clothes, cook, fetch water, or leave for any reason. They are dependent on neighbors to come help them do everything. After three days, the family is allowed to leave the house, but if possible, they don’t go to school or work for 47 or 50 days. Again, the woman I talked with didn’t know how they decided on such a specific amount of time but the reason was because in their culture, after 50 days, the head of the person had separated from the body and the death or decomposition of the person was over. After this time, the family has a big celebration where a cow has to be slaughtered to celebrate the end of the official mourning period. Then the family is allowed to go back to their lives.
It was really a very interesting conversation. And Parents’ Day turned out to not be so bad. I think I would rather slave in the hot tin kitchen under the African sun while my shoes destroy my feet and serve all those men than sit through the hours and hours of endless speeches all the guests had to go through.
I’ll end there for today and I hope you all have a good week.

What the French, Toast!? You won’t believe this! A baby mouse just ran into my kitchen. Literally, less than six hours after I dispose of my erstwhile enemy his spawn return to torture me... Unbelievable. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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