Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"They are quiet and waiting in the shadows"

I ran out of kerosene in my gas tank this week and was unable to cook for four days. The first day I was unprepared and had to eat a room temperature leftover mashed potato sandwich. It was actually not bad. But two day leftover mashed potato sandwich on moldy bread? Not so much. I ate it for breakfast but didn’t realize the bread was moldy until halfway through the sandwich. That evening, I went over to the Brothers’ and told them my plight, they of course offered to let me eat there and I ate amazing food for those four days. Fried fish baked with red sauce and cheese, fruit salad with oranges, apples, mangoes, and passion fruit, samosas that tasted like Chinese eggrolls, vegetarian pizza with soft doughy crust topped with carrots, zucchini, eggplant, and a hard boiled egg (an odd, but delicious addition). Their cook is a lovely young woman named Nora. Nora is teaching me how to cook Kenyan foods and American foods in different ways. For example, I have always made fried chicken by dipping it in a whisked egg and then flour. She dips it in flour first, then in the egg. The breading ends up thicker and sticks to the food better. Intriguing! While she teaches me how to cook main dishes I am teaching her how to cook desserts. She had never heard of brownies, and so I made some. I was a little worried because I have never made brownies without using boxed mix, and I have no measuring cups so I was guessing with all the ingredients. And the oven in the Brothers’ house has no temperature control beyond “off” and “high”. But the brownies turned out great, and I feel a little better about mooching off the Brothers’ all the time. Next week, I am going to make sugar cookies while she teaches me the recipe for egg-roll-like samosas.
As I was leaving Sunday evening, I passed the gate keeper’s house and saw a friend of mine standing outside. Mr. Ngure called me over to ask if I was afraid of the dark. I said no and asked if he was, and he said “Yes! Of course!” He said that I should be afraid of hyenas. I have convinced myself that I am safe from hyenas and Mr. Ngure destroyed all my hopes. Our conversation went like this:
I said, “I am scrappy, I could fight them off.”
He responded, “they have strong jaws and can crack your neck.”

“I don’t hear any out right now, they don’t come out until late.”
“they are quiet and waiting in the shadows”

“They only hunt the weak or sick”
“You are alone and small, they hunt in packs and can take you”

I asked him, now that I WAS afraid, what I should do. He said I should carry a stick like a rongo (spelling?). It is a short, thick club carved out of wood with a knob on the end; the knob is for smashing in the skull of predators. Many of the men around here carry them for protection. It is the Mace of rural Kenya. So I said, “where can I get one?” And he told me that they were traditional and I wouldn’t be able to buy one. So he scares me, tells me the one weapon that will protect me, and then tells me I can’t have the weapon. Like they were waiting for this moment, the hyenas started howling. I walked briskly home, well aware of the wind that was blowing past me obscuring any sounds of paws in the bushes, and noticing again just how dark it is when you live in a village without electricity. My flashlight barely illuminated the path and the scorpions scuttling across in front of me; I could see nothing outside the beam. I made it home alive, obviously, but I don’t know what I am going to do in the future.

My good friend, Leah, had typhoid and malaria last week. She was sick enough to stay home from work, she is the secretary at St. Paul’s, for almost a week. I am not sure if she had actual malaria or “malaria” (with air quotes) which is the term Kenyans use for any illness. The typhoid was certainly real though, she was taking, like, eleven pills a day for the week. I introduced her to the American cultural norm where we bring hot soup to friends that are sick. (Does everyone do that or is it just me and actors in movies?) But I didn’t have hot soup, it doesn’t exist here (okay, it does but usually involves the boiling of the non-edible parts of a goat). I instead brought over my last packet of Lipton’s chicken noodle, sent by my wonderful American friends, and cooked it for her. She loved it and the sentiment. Here in Kenya, when friends are sick, not only do people cook dinner for them, but they also clean their house. Leah had all the male teachers doing her laundry and cooking all week. And since the Swiffer Wet Jet hasn’t quite made it here, she even had someone bent over with a rag mopping the floor by hand.

I got to school Wednesday after being away for a week on midterm break. My break was nice because I did nothing besides eating at the Brothers’, watching movies, occasionally marking mid term exams, and sleeping in until the decadent hour of 7 am. It was cool, cloudy, and beautiful the whole time. Now I am back for the last four weeks of the term. The heat and sun is back, and my group of wazungus from Minnesota left Wednesday morning. I didn’t say goodbye. I felt very bad because I had intended to go by and thank them for the three backpacks full of art supplies they gave me for my students, but I just made excuses all day and didn’t end up doing it. I realized, then, how much I hate goodbyes and clearly didn’t want to do it. (I avoid goodbyes whenever possible. I’m pretty sure my two year goodbye to my mother in America sounded like this: “Bye! Have a good day at work!”) I had seen the wazungus nearly every day that they were here for 4 weeks and I absolutely loved them. The kids were typical American teens: chattery, angsty, unintentionally self centric, funny, friendly, outgoing, and loud. I have never spent much time with the 14-16 age group and it was a little crazy, but fun. The four adults were awesome. They teased each other and actually laughed at my sarcasm which was a strange but glorious feeling. They caught me up on the news in America (Oprah retired!?) and even gave me some old American newspapers. The two women reminded me of my mother and the men reminded me of my dad. I didn’t know them very well, but when I thought about them leaving, it made me sad. They were also very generous and not only gave me bags and bags of things to give to my students, but also gave me shoes, clothes, and American snacky snacks. They really brightened up my little corner of Mars and I’ll miss them.

Things will get back to normal now, well, as normal as they can get around here. I just read in the newspaper from a few days ago that there is a string of crimes in a region to the south of me. Apparently people have been stealing arrowroot (tastes like chalky sweet potatoes) from farms and the farmers are retaliating by shooting the thieves with poison-tipped arrows. And I thought people only did that in Indiana Jones’ movies.

NOTE: If you are squeamish, skip this paragraph, I am going to talk about dead dogs. :/

In my area, the dog with suspected rabies has been killed. The local agro-vet decided it wasn’t worth the risk and is going around killing all the dogs by leaving out poison-tainted meat. On the one hand, it is sad to see them all being killed, but on the other, if rabies got into the human population around here, I can just imagine how awful that would be. Even an animal lover like me can see the sense in culling the pack now, before it gets bad. In case you are wondering what happens to the bodies I’ll be glad to tell you. The dogs wanted to die in their home, i.e. here on the school compound. They were poisoned and died in the morning, one behind the lab, one next to the Form three classroom, one in the field. There are probably more hiding someplace- I haven’t seen any live dogs all day and there are at least six adults in the pack. The local government said that they would come and collect the dogs, but by late afternoon there was no sign of them. Even a call to the Village Chief couldn’t get the ‘dog collectors’ out here. In this hot environment, the carcasses started decomposing immediately. The last thing we need is a bunch of rotting, poisoned, possibly rabid carcasses hanging out near the students. By the time our lab assistant got the animals into a wheelbarrow to be buried- our only other alternative- they were already well into the bloat stage. It was pretty disgusting. Our lab assistant thought it would be a good idea to bury them 20 feet from the staff room, right next to the kitchen. He got halfway through digging a shallow hole before the teachers decided that was probably a bad idea. We had him wander out into the desert with his load to get rid of it off in a distant corner of the school compound. I assumed they would still bury it- leaving a dead animal exposed is just asking for hyenas to eat it. And do we really want a pack of rabid hyenas? Or a pack of dead and rotting hyenas? But they were speaking kiborana and the only words I know in that language are “tree”, “house”, and “child”, none of which were helpful in the situation. So the dogs were dumped out near the far fence and we will just have to see what happens.

There is another unanticipated consequence of the dead dogs. They were completely infested with these gross, flying, spider-beetle things and as soon as the dogs were killed, the spider-beetles went off to find a new home. They have the same intelligence as all bugs and are zooming aimlessly around the school, pinging off peoples’ heads. It is very distracting in class. I was trying to stay on topic while my girls were twitching and squealing in their seats, only to be interrupted by a spider-beetle zooming into my hair, setting off my own full body twitch. The class would burst into laughter every time I said a sentence like “the density of concentrated sulfuric acid is 1.8 gcm-3 so to calculate the volu-ooOOOeee-ick”.

I apologize for the excessive use of parentheses this week. I got a little carried away- maybe I should start using footnotes?

1 comment:

Curtis (kuti) said...

One of the dogs in you blog made it onto the path i take to school everyday...i feel (smell) your pain every day. Keep writing, it's good stuff. i take to school everyday...i feel (smell) your pain every day. Keep writing, it's good stuff.